Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls. – Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:29)
Why do many American Christians lack rest for their troubled hearts? The reason is simple: we are a land of wimps, doubters, and complainers. American Evangelicalism is weak and ineffective. Hence we wanderers, restless and without peace.
Let us observe the Jews. Christians in America lack rest for precisely the same reason the ancient Israelites were denied God’s rest. The vast majority of Israelites who were freed from the bondage of Egyptian slavery died in the wilderness and did not enter the Promised Land. These liberated Jews misused and abused their freedom. They complained of the many hardships brought about through the exodus. They quickly fell into idolatry, sin, and rebellion. The uncertainties of a life set free caused them to doubt Moses’s leadership and ultimately it caused them to doubt God. Despite witnessing first hand His goodness and miraculous liberation from Egypt, the Israelites allowed their hearts to be hardened with unbelief. God was not pleased with these doubters[i]. The consequence was loss of rest[ii]. Many of these doubters God destroyed [iii]. The primary mistake Israel made was grumbling about their circumstances. This grumbling led to idolatry. Idolatry led to unbelief. Paul warns Christians to avoid these same errors [iv].
Today, those who go by the name “Christian,” especially the American variety, are in real danger of never entering the rest that Christ offers. Men and women call themselves by Christ’s name; yet when they encounter the least bit of suffering and hardship, or when inconvenience of any sort is experienced, complaining and doubt immediately set in. Life is too hard for them. They do not keep their eyes fixed on Jesus. American Evangelicals do not want to be set free in a way that causes them discomfort, and they do not want the responsibilities that go along with freedom. They would rather be slaves.
Yet Christians are called to suffer, just as Christ suffered [v]. We are told to endure suffering because it produces endurance [vi], and for this reason we should embrace it joyfully. Christians should accept hardship and tolerate it without complaint. Early Christians welcomed persecution and were honored to suffer shame in the name of Christ [vii]. Christian apologists like to have a “ready defense” handy to prove that Christianity’s claims are true by using proofs, argumentation, techniques, and evidences. But 1 Peter 3:15 is not talking about debating the existence of God or convincing unbelievers that Christianity is true. The context of the passage is clearly about a Christian providing an account of his inner hope in Christ amidst tremendous suffering and overwhelming persecution. Furthermore, we are told to endure suffering for whatever time is necessary until God calls us to our eternal home [viii]. We are to accept whatever hardship comes our way as a badge of honor. We are to take it as a man, as it were. In other words, stop complaining. Stop whining. Be brave. Be diligent. Be strong.
A Christian will only find rest if he endures suffering, hardship, and persecution. A Christian is to embrace self-denial. The hypocrisies of American evangelicalism, with its worldliness and man-centered worship, is a recipe for great unrest.
Calvin says in his commentary on Hebrews 4:11-13 that the word of God is like a hammer. The unbelievers’ hearts are anvils. The unregenerate man’s heart therefore repels the word of God when the hammer slams into the anvil. Likewise, they are too hard-hearted for the two-edged sword (The Bible). Allow the word of God to penetrate your soul and spirit so that your inner thoughts and intentions are exposed to His truth [ix].
Christians are warned to be diligent in working toward entering the rest that Christ has promised. Our sufferings and hardships are only temporary. Great reward lies ahead for the faithful. Restlessness awaits the weak, those who doubt and complain.
Closing thought to encourage you to press on throughout suffering and hardship:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16