The Rest of Worship

Volume 14, No. 9 (September 2019)


God’s Work, God’s (and Our) Rest

God created over six days, and on the seventh day “He rested from all His work that He had done”(Genesis 2:2b), precisely because “He had finished His work that He had done”(2:2a) Bonhoeffer maintains, “In the Bible ‘rest’ really means more than ‘having a rest.’ It means rest after the work is accomplished, it means completion, it means the perfection and peace in which the world rests.”[1]  Similarly, Saphir, states, “The rest of God is the consummation and crown of the creation. Without it the creation would not have been complete.”[2]

The idea of sabbath rest hence begins with God. Moskala builds on this:

God is entering into His rest, and He makes it possible for humans to rest. . . . When we pause, we participate in divine rest; we rest in Him. . . . Karl Barth explains it precisely by pointing out that God’s rest day is man’s first day, that man rests before he works—man’s life therefore begins with the gospel, grace and not the law, in freedom to celebrate with joy the seventh day and not with an obligation to work.[3]

In Barth’s own words:

It is only by participation in God’s celebrating that he [man] can and may and shall also celebrate on this seventh day, which is his first day. But this is just what he is commanded to do. Hence his history under the command of God really begins with the Gospel and not with the Law, with an accorded celebration and not a required task, with a prepared rejoicing and not with care and toil, with a freedom given to him and not an imposed obligation, with a rest and not with an activity.[4]

Or, as James Torrance has observed:

The indicatives of grace are always prior to the imperatives of law and human obligation.

Christ’s Work and Our Rest

Christ also himself came to do the work of God:

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work. (John 4:34)

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17)

“But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about Me that the Father has sent Me.” (John 5:36)[6]

That work culminated (was “accomplished,” “finished”) of course in Christ’s atoning death on the cross:

“I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is My distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50)

 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish My course. Nevertheless, I must go on My way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 13:32-33)

And taking the twelve, He said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” (Luke 18:31)

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)

When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

And because Christ came and finished the great work, everything necessary for our salvation (“I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do,” John 17:4), He is able to extend us grace and give us rest and release from our spiritual burdens and strivings:

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law. (Galatians 2:16)

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace. (Ephesians 1:7)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

 He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

Worship Is Not a Work!

Because Christ’s death has granted us free access into the very presence of God, we are able to come confidently and boldly into the father’s presence in worship:

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

According to these verses, we can come with assurance both because of Christ’s past, finished work (19-20) and because of His present, interceding work at the Father’s right hand on our behalf (21). In addition, we read in Hebrews 2:12, in Christ’s words to His Father, that He has committed Himself to being present in our midst through the Spirit whenever we gather for worship:

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

Not only does He show us the way to the Father; He takes us with Him! Calvin in his commentary on this verse calls Christ “the Chief Conductor of our hymns,” as He gathers up our imperfect expressions of worship and offers them as part of His own perfect praise of the Father. As James Torrance put it:

Here lies the mystery, the wonder, the glory of the Gospel, that He who is God, the Creator of all things, and worthy of the worship and praises of all creation, should become man and as a man worship God, and as a man lead us in our worship of God, that we might become the sons of God we are meant to be.[7]

And so Gregory Nelson’s statement about God’s rest and ours after creation applies equally well to our present state of rest in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: “God does the work, human beings enjoy the results.”[8]

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)

This is God’s grace for our worship. We do not need to worry about whether our worship is “good enough;” when we come in and through and, indeed, with Christ, the Father is always pleased with our worship, because He is always pleased with His Son. Hence worship is not a work, not something by which we strive to make ourselves somehow acceptable to the Father. Torrance reminds us:

We are accepted by God, not because we have offered worthy worship, but in spite of our unworthiness, because He has provided for us a Worship, a Way, a Sacrifice, a Forerunner in Christ our Leader and Representative, and our worship is our joyful Amen to that Worship. This is the heart of all true Christian worship. It is our response of faith to God’s grace. So we worship God “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” and pray “in the name of Jesus Christ.”[9]

Worship is always and only a response, a grateful response because of God’s merciful self-revelation and gracious initiative in providing for us, and bringing us to, eternal salvation. The great work has been done! We rest and bask in the light of God’s (unmerited) favor, and offer God our thanksgiving and praise with wonder, joy, freedom and assurance.

reprint by permission from Reformed Worship © 2021 Worship Ministries


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Interpretation of Genesis 1–3 (New York: Macmillan, 1959), 40.

[2] Adolph Saphir, Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publication, 1983; reprint of Expository Lectures on the Epistle to the Hebrews, London: J. F. Shaw, 1874), 221.

[3] Jiri Moskala, “The Sabbath in the First Creation Accounts,” 13 (Faculty Publications, Paper 14, 2002)

[4] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III.4:52.

[5] James B. Torrance, “Covenant or Contract? A Study in the Theological Background of Worship in Seventeenth-Century Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Theology 23 (1970):56. This crucial truth has also been emphasized by C. F. D. Moule (cf. and Sinclair Ferguson (

[6] See also Matthew 11:20,23; 13:54,58; Mark 6:2,5,14; Luke 10:13; 19:37; John 5:20; 7:3,21; 10:25,32,37-38; 14:10-11; 15:24; Acts 2:22.

[7] James B. Torrance, “The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” in Theological Foundations for Ministry, ed. Ray S. Anderson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 351.

[8] Gregory P. Nelson, A Touch of Heaven: Finding New Meaning in Sabbath Rest (Nampa, ID:Pacific Press, 1999), 30.

[9] James B. Torrance, “The Place of Jesus Christ in Worship,” 352.

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