- Daniel Klassen
The Calm Heart of the Gospel
One of the great promises of the gospel is rest. Jesus' evangelistic call to the crowd captures His heart in the gospel. "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). If you want this rest, however, you must first ask the question: how do sinners come to Christ? The answer is simple, they come through the equally important call of repentance and belief in Christ. When sinners come in repentance and faith, they do not come through an old and antiquated route, as is believed by many, but they come to Christ through the only route capable of producing true rest.
In the same passage where Christ promised rest to those who come to Him, we find a key feature of Christ's rest. "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" (11:29). The combination of a yoke, a device used to connect working animals, and the promise of rest is noteworthy because of the apparent paradox of work and rest. Christ, however, does not mean we have to assist Him in His labours when we put on the same yoke as Him, but that we receive His benefits when we connect to Him through repentance and belief. Repentance and belief are the act of putting on Christ's yoke; repentance is wholesale surrender to Christ, and belief is wholesale trust in Christ. When we put on Christ's yoke, we do not contribute to His work; we are recipients.
What we receive is rest. Christ's work gives us rest from our work, or more correctly, rest from our futile efforts to carry our load. In the scope of Scripture, this promise has always played a part in God's promises for His people. It is an integral part of the created order since, on the seventh day, God rested from His work. In the Ten Commandments, the special place the Sabbath was to hold in the weekly routine of God's people dimly pointed toward an eternal rest. The Promised Land also served this purpose, promising rest from sojourning and war. But because of sin, true rest could not be found. Strivings and unrest characterized God's people. Christ, however, brings us complete rest in the gospel, not only by being obedient in our place and qualifying us to receive God's rest but also leading us directly to it and implanting it in our hearts.
The kind of rest we receive is a changed character resembling Christ's humility and gentleness. Humility brings us Christ's rest because it turns us away from pride, which is the fountain of every sin. Humility is also love (agape) as defined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, thereby bringing us to live out the two greatest commandments perpetually. This is rest from the inside out, dealing a blow to sin, relational failures, disobedience, unrighteousness, and selfishness. The unsung hero, however, is gentleness. Gentleness is the calm character of Christ, produced by humility and resulting not in somberness but rather quiet confidence in all circumstances. We do not lose passion, focus, or diligence by putting on the gentleness of Christ; instead, gentleness serves as a harness to direct our passion, focus, and diligence toward eternal purposes.
When we put on the gentleness and humility of Christ, we do not automatically become humble and gentle people. We grow through increasing our understanding and knowledge of God. The reason is the foundational role the interconnectedness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit play in the gospel and its promises. When we come to Christ and put on His yoke of humility and gentleness, we put on a yoke grounded in the doctrine of God, particularly His perfect and eternal attributes. So, the more we understand the doctrine of God, the more our humility and gentleness flourish.
The heart of God's attributes is His holiness and sovereignty, or in simpler words, His perfection and rule over all things by His wisdom and power. In Christ, every attribute is for our benefit, causing humility to flourish under the greatness of God and gentleness to grow in the fact that God cares for us. Therefore, in the face of any circumstance, the gospel causes calm behaviour to encompass a Christian's character. We know God is in control, and we know God cares for us, and these two truths ground us in eternal reality while the current carries our society along. When things go awry, as has characterized most of this year, we remind ourselves that all this is going according to God’s plan. If we have a problem with God’s plan, it is not because of any defect in His plan, but because of our absence of infinite wisdom. Therefore, we rest because God is in control.
In a world bent to sin, and a western culture increasingly hostile to Christianity, the gospel calms us. We show distrust in the gospel if what we read in the newspapers riles our feathers. We show a lack of faith if we meet the threat of our comforts with panic. We show the absence of the gospel's power in our lives if we agree with the culture's methods of counteracting sin. The gospel calms us because it is God's gospel. It is a gospel with more power than the greatest armies ever amassed in the history of the world combined. It is a gospel that lasts forever. And it is a gospel at work in us.