|by James A. Fowler
Soul-rest and Practical Christian Living
It is a common tendency among Christians to ask, "How do I achieve this soul-rest?" "What must I do to enter that rest?" Geared, as we are, to religious "how to" formulas and "self-help" procedures, we seek "Twelve Steps to Rest." This only leads to the unrest of self-effort in religious performance activity. The definition of "rest," you may recall, is ceasing from our performance of doing and striving to get what God has already given to us.
As ironic as this may appear, soul-rest often involves a repudiation of religion. In fact, the entire ecclesiastical system of Christian religion, with its constant inculcations to commitment, church attendance, involvement and tithing, is often one of the greatest trials that Christians face. It is imperative that we distinguish between what is called "Christian religion" and the living reality of Christianity. The English word "religion" is derived from the Latin religio, meaning, "to bind up" or "tie back." Many religious people seem to take delight in the masochism of being beaten and bound by overbearing preachers, but Jesus did not come to bind us up in rules and regulations or tie us down in rituals and duties of devotion. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8:32), for Truth is personified in the Son (Jn. 8:36) who is "the Truth" (Jn. 14:6). Jesus did not say, "I came that you might have religion, and practice it more faithfully," but rather, "I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly" (Jn. 10:10).
The abundant freedom of the Truth-Reality of Jesus Christ as our life sets us free from thinking that we must engage in the moral and ethical performance of behavior modification in "dos" and "don'ts" or "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots" that are alleged to please God. We no longer have to defend those rigid rules and regulations of religion that are proposed as the strict and inflexible means of achieving holiness. Even the regularity of a "quiet time" of Bible reading and prayer, or any other of the spiritual disciplines, are not an end in themselves that will bring soul-rest, even though they may serve as means by which the Spirit of Christ can bring "revelation" to our spirit and minds. Many Christians long to be freed from the religious pressures to engage in witnessing and evangelism under the false premise of a "great commission" that is interpreted to mean, "Go ye, means you!" Or to be relieved from the false-guilt of not becoming a missionary based on the false pretense that "the need is the call." Or to be released from the burden of the false incentive that they are "saved to serve" in full-time Christian ministry. Paul explained, "God is not served with human hands, as though He needed anything" (Acts 17:25). When we experience soul-rest in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ we recognize that "ministry" is just the overflow of Christ functioning in us, as us, and through us. There need never be any ministry "burn-out" when we live in soul-rest.
Evangelical humanism has brainwashed many genuine Christians into thinking that their effort and performance is the basis of Christian living. Incentives to more commitment and increased "works" never leads to soul-rest, but only to frustration, uncertainty, insecurity, and doubt. Instead of the Avis Rent-a-Car theology that touts, "We try harder," Christians need a theology of grace that explains the dynamic indwelling of the living Lord Jesus and how He wants to be the Christian life in and through us. Such soul-rest will set us free from the performance striving of religious "works" that are alleged to make us acceptable to God. We can quit trying to change ourselves, internally and externally, into an aligned conformity that will please God, and begin trusting that "He Who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6).
Living by Grace through Faith
Much of Christian teaching recognizes God's grace as the threshold factor of salvation, but fails to understand that divine grace is the total dynamic of Christian living. They see God's grace in redemption, but not in sanctification. Without the awareness and experience of God's grace whereby He continually acts in accord with His character, without any "help" on our part, Christians can never participate in soul-rest. The Christian life is lived only by the grace of God. None of us can "pull it off" or "make it happen." The Christian life is impossible, unless the life of Jesus Christ is lived out in us by the grace of God.
Some have objected that this sounds like passivism, quietism, or acquiescence. Not at all! We are not denying that there is Christian responsibility. Our responsibility as Christians is to continue to respond by faith to God's grace action. That was our initial responsibility when "by grace you were saved through faith, not of yourselves for it was the gift of God, and not a result of works lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:8,9). Paul also wrote, "As you received Christ Jesus," by grace through faith, "so walk in Him. . .established in your faith" (Col. 2:6,7). Our responsibility is a response-ability to God's ability. We are responsible for faithful availability to His ability. Perhaps the best definition is, "Faith is our receptivity to His activity." There is no passivism or inaction in such Christian faith, for by its very definition it involves the activity of God's grace. That is why James declares, "Faith apart from the outworking of God's activity is useless and dead" (James 2:17,20,26). By faith we choose to open ourselves up as conduits of the grace activity of God in Christ to allow for the free flow of His divine action through us. "Led by the Spirit" (Rom. 8:14), we effortlessly "go with the flow" in the current of God's grace. Our faith is in His faithfulness (cf. Phil. 1:6).
Jesus told His disciples, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5). How much did we "do" to be redeemed or to become a Christian? Nothing, for "it is not of works lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:9). How much must we "do" to remain a Christian or live as a Christian? Nothing, for all the "doing" is but an expression of God's grace as He seeks to manifest His character in Christian behavior. We are not expected to "work for Jesus" as some religionists have intimated, but it is our privilege to participate in the "good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). "God is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13), and that is how we "work out our salvation" (Phil. 2:12). Understanding the grace dynamic of the Christian life, Paul could thus say, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13), for it is He Who "works in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ" (Heb. 13:21). "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God" (II Cor. 3:5).
It should be evident now why soul-rest has often been referred to as "grace rest" or "faith rest," for it is faithful receptivity to the grace activity of God. The Christian life is not what we do, but what we allow the living Lord Jesus to do through us. Christians experience soul-rest when they submit to being "clay in the Potter's hands" (Jere. 18:6) and cease trying to control their own lives. "All authority is given to Me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:19), Jesus said, and it is He Who wants to function as the living Lord in our lives. Accepting the Lordship of the living Jesus by faith is the only way to have soul-rest.
Living Out of Spirit-union
From the settled reality of spirit-union with Christ, Christians can experientially have communion with God - a genuine spiritual intimacy of interactive relationship. Christian writers of yesteryear used to call this "intercourse with God." There is no greater soul-rest than to know that we are connected in union and communion with God. What peace and fulfillment is ours in knowing that we can "draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith" and "enter the holy place" (Heb. 10:19,22) and worship at the altar/throne of God's presence at any time and in every place. The entirety of our lives is then the worship of expressing the worth-ship of God's character. In the midst of this genuine spiritual worship we serve as priests in the company of the "priesthood of all believers," representing God to man and man to God. Thus serving as priests, we visibly express the invisible reality of God and function as the personified sacrament of God.
Soul-rest relies on the "finished work" of Jesus Christ. When Jesus exclaimed, "It is finished," from the cross, He knew that redemption was accomplished and He had set in motion the restoration of humanity by the available presence and function of His own life in man. We rest in the dynamic of His continuing "finished work" of manifesting His life in us.
The Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9) is the "Spirit of liberty" (II Cor. 3:18), and "it was for freedom that Christ set us free" (Gal. 5:1,13). The freedom of the Christian is not only a freedom from sin, law, and death, but also a freedom to be and do all that God wants to be and do in us. Religious bondage always produces restlessness, but our freedom in Christ allows for soul-rest. We are free to celebrate and enjoy life. By His abundance of "party parables" Jesus often portrayed the Christian life as a celebratory opportunity.
Soul-rest is participation in the kingdom of God. Jesus explained, "The kingdom of God is within you" (Lk. 17:21). The kingdom is not only a realm that we expect in a future earthly millennium or in heaven some day. When the living Christ reigns in us as Lord, we "reign in life through Christ Jesus" (Rom. 5:17), and experience the royal rest of the kingdom. Since the "kingdom of God" and the "kingdom of heaven" are synonyms, Christians are participating in heaven right now, for heaven is the presence of God. Future heavenly existence is simply the continuum of the life that we now have in Jesus Christ. We should not conceive of heaven as receiving something more than we now have in Jesus, but as the perpetuity of His eternal life. If the future experience of heaven is regarded as a "rest," then we should be developing an appreciation of that "rest" in the present. Avoiding the mercenary and materialistic concept of receiving rewards in heaven, we should learn to "rest" in the appreciation of the sufficiency of Jesus right now. Soul-rest is a present heavenly experience.
Living as Who We Are
Knowing our spiritual identity, who we are in spirit-union with Christ, allows us to experience the soul-rest freedom to be ourselves. We are each unique and novel expressions of the life of Jesus Christ. We do not have to conform to others' expectations of what they think a Christian ought to be or to do. With a "positive personal concept" of who we are in Christ, we can "be real" and avoid the hypocritical masks of trying to be what we are not and do what others expect of us in religious role-playing. Avoiding the self-protective barriers of self-consciousness and self-reputation, and comfortable with who we are, we can spontaneously express Christ as us. We can be open and transparent, not embarrassed to share feelings of tenderness, compassion, joy or sorrow. We can be vulnerable to engage in emotional intimacy with others. In our unique expression of the life of Jesus Christ, it is permissible to be different, to "take a stand" and "stand alone," to "march to the beat of the distinctive drummer that Christ wants to be in us." Unfazed by what others think, we have the soul-rest to be bold, courageous, uninhibited, confrontational, or whatever Christ wants to be in us. Such behavioral expressions will, however, always manifest the character of Christ, the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22,23), for Christ always "acts in character."
Living in soul-rest allows for a Christ-consistent spontaneity that might even be expressed as "doing what comes naturally." Since we are "partakers of the divine nature" (II Pet. 1:4), when we live out of that nature of Christ within, we live in the realm of the Spirit-natural (almost an oxymoron) wherein it seems natural to manifest His character of holiness, righteousness, goodness, etc. In fact, it can become so natural that the Christian has no recollection of being loving or humble, no awareness of sufferings or trials for they are regarded as opportunities, and no consciousness of temptation for it rolls off "like water off of a duck's back." Ceasing to analyze every detail of what he is doing, the Christian can live so spontaneously that he feels like he is not "doing" anything, as he lives by the Life of Another.
Living for Others
Jesus lives in us and as us, not so we can become spiritually bloated and proud of our spirituality, but always for the purpose of being poured out for others. Paul wrote, "The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:5). When the love of God is poured into our hearts, it is always for the purpose of being poured out for others. Love can't be stored as a deposit within; it is always actively seeking the highest good of others. The antithesis of love is self-orientation, in direct opposition to the other-orientation of God's love.
To live and love like Jesus is not something Christians have to try to accomplish. Many Christians have been told that the Christian life is trying to "live like Jesus" and "love like Jesus." They soon realize they are incapable of such. Soul-rest is experienced when we realize that Jesus lives in us and loves through us. As we are receptive by faith to the expression of His life, He pours out His character of compassion, patience, and forgiveness toward others.
The living Lord Jesus gives us a heart for humanity. We recognize that fallen humanity is abused and misused by Satan, their hearts being "veiled" and "blinded" (II Cor. 4:3,4) to God's intent. As they search for meaning, and purpose, and worth, and rest, their selfish pursuits are often expressed in sinfulness. The love of Jesus within us cries, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34).
Christ in us cannot help but love others, and continues to serve as a sacrificial intercessor willing to lay down His life for others. Soul-rest is the acceptance of such self-abandonment for the sake of others. In accord with Paul's sentiment, we "become all things to all men, that we may be all means save some" (I Cor. 9:22). We become "slaves to all, that we might win the more" (I Cor. 9:19). This was the basis of Martin Luther's comment, "A Christian is a most free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a most dutiful servant, subject to all."16 There is great soul-rest is the recognition that we serve not ourselves, but others.
Many Christians have failed to discover God's "rest" in the incessant activity of religion. Though soul-rest is the birthright of every Christian, many, like Esau, have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage, i.e., the psychologized explanations of contemporary Christian religion. Genuine soul-rest is only to be found in spirit-union with the Son of God, and the faithful recognition of the grace sufficiency of His life. Augustine prayed, "My heart, O Lord, does not rest, until it rests in Thee." When we "abide" and "rest" in spirit-union with Christ, He brings rest to our souls.
Isaiah prophesied that when Christ came "His rest shall be glorious" (Isa. 11:10). Historically, this was made available when Jesus came saying, "I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). Experientially, we "find rest for our souls" (Matt. 11:29) when we "enter His rest by resting from all our works" (Heb. 4:10), and simply appreciate all that God has done and is doing by His grace. What a glorious privilege to participate in God's rest (Gen. 2:2,3).
- Fowler, James A., Union with Christ. Fallbrook: CIY Publishing. 2003.
- Phillips, J. B., The New Testament in Modern English. New York: Macmillan Co., 1958.
- Horton, Michael, ed., The Agony of Deceit. Chicago: Moody Press. 1990. Chapter Four, "Scripture Twisting" by Henry Krabbendam. Pg. 77.
- Fowler, James A., Man As God Intended. Fallbrook: CIY Publishing. 1998. Chapter Two, "The Constitution of Man."
- Baxter, Richard, The Saint's Everlasting Rest: A Treatise of the Blessed State of the Saints in their Enjoyment of God in Heaven. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics. N.d.
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- Barber, Wayne A., The Rest of Grace: Entering into the Wonder of the Christ Life. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers. 1998.
- Stone, Dan & Smith, Greg, The Rest of the Gospel: When the Partial Gospel Has Worn You Out. Dallas: One Press. 2000.
- Upham, Thomas C., A Treastise on Divine Union, Designed to Point out Some of the Intimate Relations Between God and Man in the Higher Forms of Religious Experience. Boston: Henry V. Degen. 1857.
- Nee, Watchman, The Normal Christian Life. Fort Washington: Christian Literature Crusade. 1973.
- Thomas, W. Ian, The Saving Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1961.
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. Viking Press (Penquin Classics). 1964.
- Descartes, Rene, Passions of the Soul. Hacket Pub. Co. 1989.
- Luther, Martin, The Bondage of the Will. Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell. 1996.
- Luther, Martin, "On Christian Freedom," (1520).
©2004 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.
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