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.

Canaan and the Enjoyment of Christ’s Indwelling

We learned last time that our old nature died with Christ.  So what is to take its place as the controlling principle of my life?  Remember, when you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you became a son or daughter of God.  And an incredible outcome of that is this, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (Gal 4:6).

The controlling principle of your life, if you will, is God’s Spirit – the Spirit of His Son – living inside you.  In the New Testament, the Spirit living in you and Christ living in you are interchangeable.  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the live which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).

The old you is gone.  Christ is living His life through you.  I don’t think you can get a much more powerful “controlling principle” than Christ Himself living His life through you.  This is the promised land.  This is Canaan.  This is what Israel in the land of Canaan in the Old Testament represents; us experiencing the indwelling Christ by faith.

I first came across this idea of three types of people represented in the exodus story in a book by Major Ian Thomas, The Saving Life of Christ.  Let me quote his description of Canaan:

“It is this enjoyment of Christ’s indwelling which is represented by the land of Canaan – the land of promise and of plentiful provision.  Canaan in the Bible is not heaven.  It is Christ Himself, and right now, living His victorious life through me.  Indeed, it is only the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who is capable of living the Christian life.”

“As Romans 5:10 declares, He not only reconciles you to God by His death, but He saves you moment by moment by His life; that is to say, He died not only for what you have done, but He rose again to live in you, to take the place of what you are.  His strength for your weakness! His wisdom for your folly! His drive for your drift! His grace for your greed! His love for your lust! His peace for your problems! His joy for your sorrow! His plenty for your poverty! This is Canaan!”

Wow! So if this is the path – a radical transformation from lost and dead in our sin to Christ literally living His life through us – why the wilderness?  The short answer is that the transition from lost in sin to fully experiencing Christ in us is not automatic.  In fact, as we know from both our life experience and the teaching of Scripture, it is a process.  It is a process of growing faith and trust; of growing belief in the promise of Christ to live His life through us.  And it is a process that can include some detours into the wilderness.

Baptized in the Sea

Let’s go back to the beginning of the exodus of Israel and our three categories of men and women today.  Recall that the children of Israel in Egypt represents us in our lost condition; unbelievers under the taskmaster of sin.  Just like the Israelites were slaves under the taskmasters of Egypt.

After God rescued Israel through the ten plagues, they were finally allowed to leave Egypt behind.  But the outbound journey was not without peril.  After sending the children of Israel on their way, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army to bring Israel back to their life of slavery.  The escaping nation appeared to be trapped.  They were boxed in by the Red Sea ahead of them and the advancing Egyptian army behind them.

The story of what happened next is one of the most famous in the Bible.  God parted the sea.  Israel passed through.  The Egyptian army marched into the open sea in pursuit.  God closed the sea, drowned the Egyptians, and left them buried under the sea.

The apostle Paul describes this rescue as a baptism.  “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (I Cor 10:1-2).  The Egyptian taskmasters – who represent our slavery to our sin nature – were drowned and buried in the sea.  But the children of Israel passed through this place of death (the sea) which Paul referred to as “baptized into Moses”.  After this baptism, the children of Israel moved forward toward the promised land and a new life.

Compare this passage about Israel’s baptism in the sea to our baptism into Christ.  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4).

Do you see the connection?  The Egyptian taskmasters were left buried in the place of death; a place from which the children of Israel were miraculously “raised” by God as it were to go claim the promised land.  Likewise, our old self, our sin nature, our controlling flesh was buried with Christ in the place of death.  And we were “raised” with Christ to walk in a new life; to walk in the “promised land”.  (Remember, one of our three categories of people is a believer walking in the Spirit represented by Israel in the promised land.)

If we are unsure about this death to our old self, Paul makes it clear in the very next verses in Romans 6.  Continuing, he writes, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin”  (Rom 6:5-7).

To summarize, the children of Israel left their Egyptian taskmasters behind in the sea of death.  We left the taskmaster of our sin nature behind when we were baptized into Christ.  That is, when we accepted and embraced the gospel message of Christ.

All of this leads to the next question.  If my old nature was crucified with Christ and has lost its power as a controlling principle in my life, what has taken its place as my new motivation, my new energy for living?  We will explore that very question next time.