Work Versus Rest

In the movie Gladiator, the story begins with the Roman army having just won a battle against the “Germanic barbarians.” In one of the early scenes in the movie, the main character, Maximus, is talking with the emporer, Marcus Aurelius. In their conversation, the emperor tells Maximus, “you have proven your valor once again, Maximus. Let us hope for the last time.”  Maximus responds by saying, “there is no one left to fight, sire.”  The Roman empire had fought so hard and for so long, that they had conquered most of the known world.  The only thing left was to go home and rest.

When you are engaged in truly difficult work, especially gruelling physical labor, there is always a lingering thought in the back of your head, a vision of the rest that awaits you at the end of your labors. For many religions, this is the best way to describe how it must feel to live your life – working hard to earn your way into an afterlife of rest and everlasting peace and joy. Or working hard to move up in the order of things, so that you may live a life more restful than your previous life.  Today’s lesson in the course The Power of the Gospel is titled A Gospel of Rest, and it talks about how Christianity, as outlined in the message of the Gospel, is nothing like this. The Gospel, it says, “is unlike any religion in the world. The work of salvation is not something we must work hard to attain. It is already complete.”**

Salvation is a Gift

The Gospel affirms again and again that eternal life is a gift of God. Jesus, when talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, said “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10, emphasis added). Paul wrote in Romans 6:23 that “…the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (emphasis added). No where in the Bible can you find it saying that, if you work hard enough, if you do enough good, that God will smile on you and grant you eternal life.  The message of the Gospel is that salvation is a gift.

There’s a reason God has set up the Gospel this way, and it can be seen if you look at the comparison Paul made in Roman 6:23 above. Paul compares the gift of God to the wages of sin – the keywords being gift and wages. Wages are earned – your employer has an obligation to give them to you. A gift is not earned, but is given in love.  Paul talks about the difference in Romans 4:4-5, and The Message paraphrase captures this idea very well:

If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.

Nothing we could do – no amount of good deeds, no amount of praying, no amount of singing praise songs, no amount of teaching Sunday school – could put us right with God. “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6). If this is true (and it is!), then there is no room for boasting in our good works. Paul said “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Finished Work

My mother’s birthday was about a month ago, and we had ordered her an Italian charm bracelet with our daughters’ names inscribed on the charms. The problem was that, when my mom’s birthday got here, not all of the charms had come in. We knew we couldn’t send her the bracelet without those charms – that would have been an incomplete gift, and that isn’t acceptable!  The same is true of the gift of salvation – God is not offering an incomplete gift. He has already finished the work of salvation. In Romans 4:25 it says “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” These things have already been done! The work is complete!

So what is the natural consequence of the fact that there is nothing left to do?  It’s the same as the natural consequence as in Gladiator when they had no one left to fight.  All that is left is rest

The Sabbath Rest

In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul writes “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (emphasis added).  Paul says here that the Sabbath day, which God instituted in the Old Testament as a day of rest, was a “shadow of the things that were to come…”  That thing that was to come was Christ, and more specifically the rest that He gives us because of the fact that He has already finished the work.  This is affirmed by Hebrews 4:9-10: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”

Motivated by Love

What is left for us to do, then?  Absolutely nothing! Everything has been done for you by Christ.  Every thing has been given to you by Christ.  It’s all in the past:

  • “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3, emphasis added)
  • “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life…” (2 Peter 1:2, empahsis added)

Everything is in the past tense. It’s all been done already. If that’s the case, why do we see passages in the Bible that suggest that we should do good works?  It’s all about your motivation.  The lesson calls this switching you from a “get” mentality to a “have” mentality.** If your works are motivated by you trying to “get” something – salvation, God’s approval, etc., then your works are in vain.  But if your works are motivated by the fact that you already “have” everything you need, and you are doing good works out of an overflow of your love for Christ, then your works are a physical act of praise to God.  If your actions are in based in some lame attempt to repay God for the gift He has given you, your actions are worthless…filthy rags, even. But if your actions are out of a “just to show you how much I love you”** mentality, then you are motivated by love, and this is the same thing that motivated Christ. This would be following Him, which is what we are called to do.
**Quoted from Lesson 4: A Gospel of Rest, from The Power of the Gospel, OBC


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