Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. (Hebrews 04:01-02, NKJV).
All but two men of the original generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt perished in the Wilderness without entering into the Promised Land of Canaan.
Their corpses fell in the desert because of unbelief. Even Moses, the Lawgiver, failed to enter in because he misrepresented God by striking the rock twice in anger at Meribah.
This promise of rest is the underlying subject of Hebrews Chapter 4; a rest ultimately made possible by the excellence of our Lord Jesus in fulfilling the Law and dying in our place. And this greater rest was a theme threaded throughout the history of ancient Israel; a rest that they failed to achieve because they did not receive the word of the promise with faith.
The writer uses them as an example to warn those who came after them, and he does so in a way that, if we are paying attention, should stab us with fear at the possibility that we too may fall short. He will also shortly continue the comparison between Moses and Christ, and introduce a parallel line of reasoning between Joshua and Christ, all again to argue the indisputable superiority of Jesus to everyone and everything.
Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest confirms that the fulfillment of rest has yet to take place. It will, because it must, for a promise of God will never remain incomplete, but Israel, though offered it first, did not avail herself of it because the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
God revealed to them the good news, that righteousness was attained through believing in Him, but they did not accept it, and in their rejection they fell short of it. He brought them to the very cusp of entrance into His rest, assuring them He would be their strong tower and their rear guard; proving by His defeat of Egypt that He would fight their battles and guarantee their victory, and yet, they turned aside in rebellious unbelief.
This tragic outcome of coming to the brink of belief but failing to take that final step of faith can also occur to those of us who hear the gospel today, and perhaps even pay lip service to it, yet fail to trust solely in His promise, or falsely profess to receive it. For these people there will never be rest.
The exhortation let us fear is not meant to keep us questioning our faith, but to continually examine the state of our hearts, and to not be presumptuously confident of the wrong things.
By this I mean we are to guard our hearts from false reliance on family tradition, or church attendance, or good works, or lack of obvious sin, or self-righteousness of any kind. We should be constantly aware that we are incapable of knowing what really goes on in our fallen minds, and can never assume that our motives apart from Him are pure or good.
We need to mix with faith God's Word, and not just receive it on either an emotional or intellectual level. It has to sink down into our souls and transform us into His image, despite ourselves.
This entails an act of willful surrender to Someone we trust.
And the only way to attain that trust is to approach the word with meekness and fear, often and regularly.
We must invest the time in fellowship with our Savior, otherwise, and this is vitally important, we are in danger of falling into the same unbelief that plagued the Children of Israel.
It is this fear, this awe and terror of the Living God, who is a consuming fire that inoculates us from taking anything for granted about ourselves.
We can and must have complete faith in Him, but tread on dangerous ground indeed if we have that same kind of faith in ourselves.
We must be like Peter, who after denying His Lord three times, would not presume to answer with false bravado Christ's questions during his reinstatement as the Lord's disciple in John 21.
We must be like the father who cried out in desperation, "Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!"
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5, 6, NKJV).