The book of Hebrews is an urgent appeal for Christians to NOT GO BACKWARDS in their pursuit of God. Namely, don’t go back to trying to be righteous through works of the Old Covenant. Instead, know that Christ has fulfilled the Law / Old Covenant.
Following Him supersedes following the Old Covenant rules and regulations. Christ is greater than angels (ch. 1-2), greater than Moses (ch. 3), greater than any high priest (ch. 5), and is Himself the beginning of a new covenant built on Him as the Only High Priest (ch. 7), etc. In all this, Christ/Christianity is shown superior to the Old Covenant of following God.
And in Heb. 3-4, we see that Christ is greater than a regular sabbath rest (another staple of the Old Covenant). Instead, faith in Him brings God’s people into a permanent rest from all other efforts of righteousness. And that is the TRUE SABBATH:
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, strive to enter that rest, so that no one will perish…(Heb. 4:10-12)
After saying this, God continues to plead with these Christians NOT to mix faith in Jesus WITH Old Covenant works in order to fulfill righteousness and follow God. Instead, to those tempted to go backwards to attain righteousness through works of the law:
- “let us hold fast our confession [that faith in Jesus is sufficient to approach God]” (Heb. 4:14)
- “go on to maturity,” (Heb. 6:1)
- “It is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened…and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance,” (Heb. 6:4-6)
Then he continues his argument with Abraham (see Heb. 6:11-20).
Here he explains that Abraham inherited the promise, “through faith and patience,” (Heb. 6:12). Not faith PLUS works. Rather: faith PLUS patience.
This formula of faith PLUS patience (over faith PLUS works) becomes even more startling when contrasting the mistake Abraham made before he received his promised child (Isaac) through faith and patience. Namely, he first trusted in his own works to attain God’s declared promise. He set out to fulfill God’s righteousness through his own works, and produced Ishmael (Gen. 15-16).
This Ishmael would later antagonize the promised Isaac (Gen. 21:9; Gal. 4:29). And in Gal. 4:24-31, Paul sets these 2 sons as pictures of something much greater:
- Ishmael = Israel after the flesh, trying to work out their own righteousness
- Isaac = God’s people after the spirit/promise, who trust and rest in God’s word and righteousness alone
So, today, when God tells us to rest in His finished work, we must STRIVE to stop working for our righteousness. It will go against the first instinct in you. This prideful striving to prove our righteousness is the basis of every religion except true, biblical Christianity. But we must press on by resisting to trust in our flesh and works. We must be as one who, “rests from their works,” and, thereby, “strive to enter the rest,” (Heb. 4:11).
And the kicker is, when we trust in God’s righteousness in Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection ALONE for our righteousness, we will end up doing FAR MORE true and right works for the living God than if we start with a trust in faith PLUS works.
Consider the outcome of Abraham’s promise (Isaac) who was attained through faith AND patience (alone):
Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.James 2:21-23
And those works/actions will happen without us even realizing it many times (Matt. 25:37-40). They are the testimony of God’s life in all of us who trust in Jesus ALONE for our righteousness. So we can join Abraham in inheriting our promise through faith AND patience.