So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:9-12)
Hebrews 4:12 is probably one of the first verses I remember memorizing. I remember getting vivid images in my mind of God’s Word going forth in the hands of Christians as a double-edged sword slashing and hacking down the enemies of the cross in a war-like, Ephesians 6, Armor of God reality. God’s Word is indeed the “Sword of the Spirit” as Paul describes in Ephesians 6:17. However, the context of Hebrews 4:12 reveals that the object of the Word’s of God’s energy in this passage is not the forces of Satan but is instead the disobedient and many times faltering hearts of God’s Church.
In Hebrews chapter 4, the writer powerfully reminds God’s Church about the necessity of obedience through perseverance. Instead of giving up on Christ and yielding to the gut-wrenching and very real pressures that they faced, an exhortation was given to encourage these weary Christians to persevere and strive by God’s grace to enter into the beautiful Rest that all of creation has been anticipating since mankind’s fall from grace. This Rest is one where all will be right again, sin will be forever gone, Jesus Christ will be King, and all His people will be worshiping Him without any desire to sin due to a perfected vision of His glory. The promised Rest of the Messiah in Matthew 11:28 will indeed be realized in its entirety, for He will have inaugurated His promised Rest to all the weary and heavy-laden souls who were drawn to His light through saving grace. Such a promised future Rest dominates the focus of true believers throughout all ages as God’s Spirit works obedience in their hearts through grace.
But there’s a problem–we are indeed disobedient people. We all live out our disobedience daily. Yet all of God’s people are called to a radical life of daily repentance, dependence, and perseverance in the faith. This isn’t a cyclical pattern of empty and frustrating Keswick surrender and re-surrender with the false hope of sinless perfectionism. This is the a reality of living a grace-dependent, Word-dominated, Romans 6-8 life in the reality of a sin-cursed world.
The exhortation in Hebrews 4:11 is for Christ’s Church to, “Strive to enter that Rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” Which sort of disobedience? The writer is referencing those who failed to believe God in the wilderness in Joshua’s day and thus were denied entrance into Christ’s promised Rest. In a nutshell, they didn’t believe the Word of God and therefore they undervalued and ultimately disobeyed His Word in their hearts and actions. The punishment was damnation. In other words, they failed to enter into God’s promised Rest. This is the powerful cutting stroke of Hebrews 4:12: God’s Word is alive, living, active, and incredibly effective. It is so effective that it will slice through a true Christian’s sin-calloused heart. It will cut cleanly through our hypocrisy-drenched testimonies. It will forcefully slash to the core of our sinful desires and lay them bare as a surgeon’s scalpel neatly lays open the vulnerable flesh surrounding a deadly tumor. When the Spirit of God openly steps down into our lives through His Word and makes bare the true thoughts and intentions of our heart, we find peace, healing, and hope because this necessary action of God’s Spirit is designed to help us persevere through grace.
This means that God’s Word knows us better than we know ourselves. This gives us comfort, for our Creator knows that we are dust and that we need grace. Hebrews 4:13 reminds us that nothing is hidden from His view as Creator. This also means that if we are not opening our eyes and hearts to the Word of God and being pliable to the Spirit of God’s working then we will not enter into Christ’s promised Rest. It’s that cut and dry. Those who love God as His Church will persevere through grace–and this perseverance will be manifested through their obedience to the Word of God.
Hebrews 4:12 is a two-edged reminder from the Spirit of God to His Church that true followers of Jesus Christ will find both comfort and exposure of sin through God’s Word. Both of these realities give hope. They give Christians hope since both the comfort and the exposure of sin remind them that they are truly “born of the Spirit of God” (John 3:6) and promised Rest awaits them. The exhortation from Hebrews 4 is for God’s people to experience how grace-empowered obedience allows them to experience God’s living Word as it controls, comforts, and reforms their hearts and actions. God’s Church does indeed have a faithful High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16) who went to the cross and rose again from the grave so that we might be able to come boldly before the “throne of grace” as we persevere in obedience to God’s revealed Word.