Let’s take a last look at the symbolism in Israel’s Old Testament journey to the promised land. Recall that the wilderness represents the believer who, having received the Holy Spirit, is not experiencing His presence. He struggles to live the Christian life by his own efforts as if the Spirit were not there on the inside. The promised land, on the other hand, represents the Christian life at rest; a life of walking in the Spirit by faith. Or put another way, a life lived in the power of the risen Christ.
If you think about it, there is a brand of Christian teaching today that is basically how to survive in the wilderness. It holds no promise of a life at rest, only a life at work. We must keep the work level up to be accepted and approved by God. And if it has a soundtrack, this is what we hear. “The Christian life is going to be very difficult, but God said to do it. You are not going to want to walk in His ways, but it is what is required. This obedient life is going to be a drudgery, but buck up and stick to it. All of this will feel like a burden, but take courage heaven is coming.”
There is not a lot of joy or optimism in that kind of teaching. And it is also not what the over-arching message of the New Testament teaches. Not only do you have a new heart, a new nature, a new power, and a new Spirit inside, but in a very misunderstood and underappreciated promise, you also have a new hunger, a new “want to” inside you. As Andrew Murray wrote in The Two Covenants, over a hundred years ago, “The New Covenant’s central promise is a heart delighting in God’s law and capable of knowing and having fellowship with Him.”
God is inviting you out of the wilderness. God is inviting you to cross the symbolic Jordan River. God is inviting you into His rest in the here and now. And we enter that rest by faith. Faith that even when we are not feeling it, we do indeed have a new heart, a new nature, a new power, a new Spirit, and a new hunger to follow God’s ways.
Once we recognize God’s offer of rest and embrace it by faith, those negative voices of shame we saw at the top of this blog post are replaced by the incredible promises of God.
- His burden is light and His load is easy (Matt 11:30). Why? Because Christ Himself is in the yoke doing the heavy lifting.
- His commandments are not burdensome (I Jn 5:3). Why? Because you were made for this. God is good and His instruction is for our good.
- Our old self and its evil practices have been laid aside (Col 3:9). Why? Because sin is no longer your master. Christ is our guide.
- His divine power has given us everything we need for godliness (II Pet 1:3). Why? Because Christ is always near to give us the energy and desire.
- We are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6:7) Why? Because our old nature died with Christ and sin has lost its power over us.
- Christ is living His life through us (Gal 2:20) Why? Because He came to indwell us and as instruments of good, we show His goodness to the world.
- We are motivated by love, not by selfish ambition (II Cor 5:14). Why? Because we have the Spirit to influence and check our motives.
- There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). Why? The price has been paid in full by our Savior. There is no more shame or rejection from God.
- Christ has set us free (Gal 5:1), and He invites us to walk in that freedom.
Of course, these promises are just the tip of the iceberg. Just the New Testament imagery of God as our good and tender and kind Father – that one concept alone – carries incredible implications for resting in Him.
By God’s grace, I believe the church and it’s teaching on discipleship is headed in this direction. I am seeing so many musicians, artists, teachers, and preachers recognizing this supernatural provision of Christ and His Spirit living in us. And it is leading to freedom, joy, and peace in the our Christian experience.
Will you join us? Is the path in this promised land always smooth? Not at all. Just as for the nation of Israel, there are battles to be fought even in the promised land. Sin, though no longer our master, still presses upon us with its ugly and lying influence; it’s guilt and shame, it’s fear and worry. But victory – powered by our faith and the sureness of God’s promises – is waiting!