“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.” — Hebrews 4:9-10
One of the most commonly embraced American virtues is not liberty or innovation; it is the great American virtue of ceaseless activity. As a culture, we wear it like a badge of honor. Americans work longer hours, take less vacation, and retire later in life than anyone on earth. Without realizing it, most of us are living in the tyranny of performance, forever trying to prove ourselves through ceaseless activity.
The book of Exodus in the Old Testament tells the story of the people of Israel, who were slaves in Egypt and, for four hundred years, never had a single day off. Each morning, God’s people would wake up, collect straw, and make bricks—day after day, generation after generation.
Through their years of oppression, the people of God internalized a lesson: you exist to produce. Your value and worth are directly connected to your performance, and if you do not produce, you have no reason to exist.
Through a series of miracles, God set his people free from slavery in Egypt. Now, they were a new nation not yet arrived at their homeland, and God gave them a gift. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:9–10 NIV).
The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat. It literally means “to cease, to stop.” The word can also be translated “to celebrate.” This is the dual essence of the Sabbath. God told his people that, on one day out of seven, he wants them to completely stop. Don’t labor. Don’t push any of your goals forward. Just stop and celebrate. The rest of the Old Testament records for us how God’s people struggled to obey the Sabbath command, revealing just how difficult this requirement really is.
In fact, by the time Jesus walked the earth, the religious leaders of the day had somehow turned Sabbath into a performance of its own by adding dozens of man-made regulations. In Luke 6, they were furious with Jesus because of his lack of rule-keeping on the Sabbath, and he finally threw down his ace: “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5).
What did he mean by that? Jesus was trying to reframe their understanding of the practice of Sabbath. The day of rest was given to God’s people as a physical reminder of a deeper spiritual truth: You don’t need a break from physical work only—you also need the peace and inner rest that come from perfect acceptance before God.
God tells us in the book of Exodus. “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy’” (Exodus 31:13 NIV).
Do you see it? The Sabbath is a sign. And what does a sign do? It points to a destination. The practice of Sabbath as physical rest points to God’s promise of deeper soul rest for his people. This rest can be obtained only when we realize that we cannot make ourselves holy. God makes us holy through the death of Christ on the cross. Jesus received our restlessness, writhing in agony on the cross, so that we could receive his perfect record of righteousness before a holy God. He makes you holy!
This is why the book of Hebrews tells us, “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” (Hebrews 4:9–10). Christ is your Sabbath rest! But you must enter into him. You must see yourself in Christ. You must abide in him as a branch abides in a vine (John 15).
So how do you find true inner rest? You find it by realizing that, when God looks at you, he sees your life through the lens of his Son. And because of the cross, God sees you and is deeply satisfied with you. You don’t have to prove yourself. You don’t have to perform. In the eyes of the one whose opinion matters most, you are his beloved. This is the true Sabbath, knowing you are loved by God.
What is the weekly practice of Sabbath for the believer in Jesus? Biblically, Sabbath is a twenty-four-hour block of time in which we stop work, enjoy rest, and delight in and contemplate God. This leads us to habit 6.
Habit 6: Practice living by grace through a weekly Sabbath routine.
Father, I have deeply internalized the false virtue of ceaseless activity. Forgive me. Right now, I repent. I commit to a life of Sabbath-keeping. Help me not to turn this gift into a law. Help me to learn from Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. Write the truth of your grace and my belovedness deep within my heart.