Faith is the Victory

The book of Hebrews lays out for us the idea that the children of Israel entering the promised land is a picture of us entering God’s rest in the here and now.  The promised land does not represent heaven.  After the children of Israel finally crossed the Jordan River and entered Canaan, there were still battles to be fought.  There were still enemies to contend with.  Likewise, in the Christian life of entering God’s rest and walking in the Spirit, there are still battles to be fought and enemies that we contend with.  But just like the children of Israel, we have the promise of victory.

Think this through with me.  When Israel eventually occupied the promised land of Canaan, it was not without a struggle.  But along with the ongoing battles was the promise of God that Israel would prevail; that Israel would be victorious.

Today, your life in God’s rest, your life in the Spirit, is not without challenges and difficulty.  We face many enemies within and without.  We hear the lying and deceptive voices inside our heart and head and outside in the world system that is controlled by Satan himself.  But, thinking about the picture of victory in Israel’s conquest of the promised land, we too have been promised the victory over our enemies.

The victory promised to you and I comes about through the same means as it takes to enter God’s rest; our faith.  “For whatever is born of God [you and I when we accepted Christ] overcomes the world [our enemies]; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.  And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes [that’s us] that Jesus is the Son of God” (I Jn 5:4-5).

A verse we have quoted often in this recent series is, “They were not able to enter because of unbelief” (Heb 3:19).  Israel could not enter the land due to their lack of faith.  Just as faith is necessary for Israel entering the land and us entering God’s rest; so faith is also necessary for experiencing the victory once we arrive.

What promises must we believe by faith to experience this promise of victory in living the Christian life?  Here are a few specific promises to those who have placed their trust in Christ.

  1.   Your separation from the Father has ended.  God is not waiting to love a future version of yourself.  He loves the you in the mirror that you see today!
  2.   Who you really are at your core is wrapped up in who Christ is because He is living His life through you.  Your true identity is who you are in Christ.
  3.   You have a moral resemblance to Christ.  Your new  and righteous nature is not something that earned your salvation.  It was a gift at your salvation.  Our righteous actions did not save us, but they demonstrate to the world around us that we are saved; that we are children of God.
  4.   A new power over sin is waiting for you.  I say “waiting” because the Christian life is not lazy, automatic, or on cruise-control.  We only experience this power when we rest in the Spirit; when we walk with an ongoing faith in the Power behind the power, when we practice what He has shown us as righteous behavior.

These promises require faith because they are not something we can necessarily put our hands on.  We don’t always see them in our lives.  We don’t always feel their power.  But based on God’s Word and character, we know by faith that the promises are real and true.  And faith is where victory begins!

Rest For Your Soul

Our emphasis over the past several posts has been this:  the children of Israel could not enter the promised land on the first try (Numbers 13-14) due to a lack of faith.  Likewise, the book of Hebrews looking back at their example, teaches us that faith is required of us to enter the believer’s rest.  The offer for us to enter a life of rest – walking in the Spirit by faith and experiencing the power of Christ living in us – it is accepted and received and embraced by faith.

Looking back at Israel’s example in the book of Numbers, there is an obscure incident in Israel’s refusal to enter the land that again illuminates our own walk of faith.  Recall that when Israel first arrived on the doorstep of the promised land, ten of the spies who scouted out Canaan came back with a message of doom.  “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants” (Num 13:32)  And by implication … “it will devour us and our children if we go in.”

The children of Israel believed the spies report and turned their back on God’s promise to give them the land.  “And all the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!  And why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword?  Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?’  So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt’ ” (Num 14:2-4).

We know what happens next.  As a result of Israel’s refusal to go in, God delivers a curse.  “Say to this evil congregation, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me…Your children, however, whom you said would become prey – I will bring them in, and they shall know the land which you have rejected.  But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this wilderness’ ” (Num 14:28-32).

Now comes the less well-known next scene.  Did you know that faced with God’s punishment of a 40 year trek across the wilderness, the children of Israel change course and decide to go into the land after all – right here in Numbers 14?

But it is too late.  Moses warns the children of Israel against this plan.  “But Moses said, ‘Why then are you transgressing the mouth of the Lord, when it will not succeed?  Do not go up, lest you be struck down before your enemies, for the Lord is not among you’ ” (Num 14:41-42)

But they went up anyway against the Canaanites.  “But the children of Israel went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses left the camp.  Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in the hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah” (Num 14:44-45).  The Israelites struck out on their own and the result was disaster and defeat because “the Lord was not among them.”

Here is the application for us in light of all we have been studying in Israel’s example.  God has promised us a rest that comes from abiding in Him (Matt 11, Jn 15, Heb 4, and many New Testament passages).  This rest is characterized by a complete trust in Him.  Trusting Christ to keep His promises of love, acceptance, forgiveness, peace, power, victory, and so much more.  But it only happens if we put our full trust in God’s promise of provision.

When we follow Israel’s example of rejecting God’s plan and seeking to accomplish the same result on their own terms, we are living the Christian life with Christ out of the picture.  We are living the Christian life on our own.  We are following the rules in our own power and putting our trust in our own checklist.  We are engaged in “sin management” through our own self-effort with no regard for His promise to live His life through us.

This is Israel trying to take the land in their own power in Numbers 14.  And this is us, trying to live the life in our own power; trying to work hard enough to gain God’s acceptance and approval.  Israel’s effort ended in disaster and defeat.  Our self-effort will also end in defeat; lost in a cycle of pride when we are doing well and shame when we fail.  A lost peace, lost power, and lost victory.  A lost closeness to the Father, a lost connection with the Son, and a lost power from the Holy Spirit.

The Father is reaching out to you today.  Will you embrace His offer of rest for your soul?

Resting from our Work

So we learned last time that God’s rest is sometimes called a Sabbath rest.  Just as God rested after six days of creation (a rest that provided a basis for observing the Sabbath), so we, upon entering God’s rest of walking in the Spirit by faith, are also to rest from our work.  “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  For the one who has entered His rest has himself rested from his works, as God did from His” (Heb 4:9-10).

What does this “rested from our works” look like for you and me?  Are we just sitting on a cloud reading a magazine?  Or is there work for us to do even as we enter God’s rest?

The short answer is, “Yes, there is much work to do.”  The deeper answer is, “We are in fact resting even as we work because we are not doing the work in our own power.”  Let’s see how the New Testament connects work and rest.

First, we were created for good works.  “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).  Even though these good works were created specifically for us to walk in them, we are not the one who is doing them.  What do I mean, “not the one doing them?”

Think for a minute about the yoke of Jesus that we were introduced to in our last post.  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My load is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

“My yoke is easy and My load is light” has tripped up many a believer who have yet to experience that Jesus’ load is light.  After all, the Christian life can look like a burden; an overwhelming job to keep up with the rules, to keep up with the expectation of always doing the right thing.  It appears to be anything but “easy and light”.

The key to understanding Jesus’ promise of rest in these verses is the yoke.  Yes, bound in the yoke, we are working.  Yes, the load we are pulling behind the yoke is a wagon of good works.  But look who is in the yoke with us; Jesus!  Jesus is doing the heavy lifting.  Jesus is bearing all the weight of us working, of us living a righteous life, on His shoulders.

How do we know this?  Because the promise throughout the New Testament is that Jesus and His Spirit will live their righteous life through you if we embrace their presence.  The rest promised and the yoke shared in Matthew chapter 11 is a beautiful visual image of the promise that Jesus Christ is here to live His resurrection life through you.

When we are resting in Christ, He is doing the work through us.  Our good cheer and diligence at doing good works comes from Him, not our own will-power or self-discipline or genius.  And the absolute beauty of this is we do not have to figure out and over-analyze “Is that Christ or me doing the work?”

Because our separation from the Father ended at our conversion, we can forge ahead doing the things God has asked us to do.  And we can trust that it is Christ Himself doing the work through us.  We are now one with Christ, one with the Spirit, and one with the Father.  And they are living and working in you!  And our beautiful Christian life becomes an ongoing dialogue of dependence on Him.

Entering God’s Rest in the Here and Now

The book of Hebrews in our Bible paints a clear picture of how Israel’s inability to enter the promised land due to a lack of faith is an example for us to learn from today.

“For who provoked Him when they had heard?  Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?  And with whom was He angry for forty years?  Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  And to whom did He swear, that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?  And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief” (Heb 3:16-19).

This is Israel’s story.  They could not enter God’s rest because of unbelief.  And the rest they failed to enter is a picture of God’s rest offered to us today; the simple rest of walking in God’s Spirit by faith.  This thought is taken up in the next verse.

“Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it.  For indeed, we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united with faith in those who heard.  But we who have believed enter that rest” (Heb 4:1-3).

Notice the emphasis on faith for entering God’s rest.  The promise of entering the promised land did not profit Israel because the promise was not accompanied by faith on the part of the hearers; was not “united with faith” as the Scripture says.  Israel’s lack of faith made the promise essentially useless.  Likewise, faith is the key for us to enter God’s rest today.  “But we who have believed, enter that rest” (Heb 4:3).

There is a beautiful rest promised to believers today.  Jesus described it in the gospel of Matthew.  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my load is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

This offer of rest for our souls is resting in God’s grace.  It is resting in Christ doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.  It is resting in Christ living the life we could not live.  Both His sinless life on earth that set the stage for His death in our place that took away the penalty of our sins, and the life He lives inside us now that defeats the power of sin in us.

To emphasize, the sinless life that Christ lived on this earth was a life we could not live.  Likewise, the Christian life that we have been called to live today is a life we cannot live… on our own!  We need the Spirit’s power.  We need Christ living His resurrection life through us.  We need Jesus to live the life.  And His promise is that He is here and ready and willing and able with what is needed for you to enter His rest; to enter the place where Christ is living His life through you.

Hebrews chapter 4 continues, “There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.  Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience” (Heb 4:9-11).

When we enter God’s rest, what works are we resting from?  We will take up that thought next time.

At the Doorstep of the Promised Land

The Bible teaches us that Israel was unable to enter the promised land because of a lack of faith.  In Hebrews chapter 3, the author summarizes how the children of Israel “tried” God with their “evil unbelieving hearts” when they turned against God in the wilderness.  He concludes the chapter with these haunting words, “And so we see that they [Israel] were not able to enter [the Promised Land] because of unbelief” (Heb 3:19).

The author of Hebrews goes on in chapter 4 to explain that similarly, there is a “rest” for New Testament believers; a life of restful walking in the Spirit’s power by faith.  And just like the children of Israel, the danger for us is to miss that rest due to a lack of faith.  But before we look at that application for us, let’s go back to the test of faith that Israel faced the first time they approached the promised land.

Accompanying the children of Israel on their escape from Egypt was the promise that God would bring them safely into Canaan, the Promised Land, at the end of their journey.  They first arrived on the doorstep of Canaan in Numbers chapter 13 when “The Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel” (Num 13:1-2).

Notice that God restates His promise, “… land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel.”  The mission of the spies was not to evaluate whether or not they should take the land.  It was not to make a decision whether to go in or not.  God had already promised to take them in and vanquish every foe in their way.  The point of the spies was to plan their approach to entering the land.

If you are familiar with the story, you know that the spies did see a land flowing with milk and honey.  The spies came back with pomegranates, figs, and giant clusters of grapes.  But they also came back with fear of the “inhabitants of the land who were strong with large and fortified cities” (Num 13:28).  And they turned their spy mission into a go or no-go decision about entering the land.

When Caleb reminded the children of Israel of God’s promise to take them in, the other spies (with the exception of Joshua), replied, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.  The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.  And we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Num 13:31-33).

The children of Israel turned their back on the Lord’s promise because of unbelief.  They refused to enter the land because of a lack of faith in God’s promise.  We see it in this passage, and we see it emphasized again in the New Testament.  A lack of faith kept the children of Israel from entering into everything God had promised them.

Let’s fast forward to us today.  We stand at the doorstep of living life with Christ at the center.  Living life believing that God’s promises about His presence in us are true.  Living life with a restful walking in the Spirit’s power.  What lack of faith is holding you back?

Israel’s story was written as an example for us.  And we will investigate next time more of the book of Hebrews to understand how Israel’s lack-of-faith decision at the doorstep to Canaan is a warning for us today.