Rhonda and I recently went to the movie “Overcomer”.  It is a message of hope, forgiveness, and restoration.  We follow along as the main character, a high school cross-country runner, finds new life in Jesus.

Following her conversion, she begins to learn who she really is by listing all that God says about her as a new believer.  She started in the book of Ephesians.  And her list is incredible.  “I am loved, I am chosen, I am redeemed, I am forgiven, I am a child of God, I am raised up with Christ, I have been brought near to God… and so much more”.

At the end of the film, she shared her story with her new college friends.  One line of her testimony touched me deeply.  After talking about some of the new labels God has pronounced upon her, she said, “The Creator is the one who defines the creature.”  The Creator is the one who defines who you are.

Who we are in Christ is not left to our description, not left to how we feel, or how we experience life, or our past, or how we describe ourselves.  Who we are in Christ is defined by what God says about us.  And these new and beautiful ways we are described are not just theological jargon or blanks to fill out in a notebook.  They really are who we are.

But we will only experience the freedom, the joy, and the peace of these new truths about us if we really believe they are true.  If we believe, by faith, that we are loved, chosen, redeemed, forgiven, a child of God, raised up with Christ, brought near to God … and so much more.  If we believe that God Himself, and His grace, live inside us, we will walk in this broken world with His guidance leading us.

I love this thought from Ted Dekker in his book, The Forgotten Way, “It is never what you believe about yourself that defines you; it is your Father’s opinion of you that defines you.  Your opinion of yourself only defines the experience you have in this life.”

My prayer and my passion in writing on our new identity in Christ is to help each one of us bring our thoughts about ourselves into alignment with what God says about us.  But it is even more than this.  This alignment in our thinking is just the start.  The next step?  To let what God says about us penetrate beyond our minds to our deepest heart and not just be our theology, but be our actual every day experience as well.

And the experience of being an overcomer, of seeing everything God says about us come to life in our day-to-day walk, is brought about by faith.  “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (I Jn 5:4).  If you have embraced the gospel message, you are a child of God; a son or daughter who has overcome the world by faith.  Believe what God, your heavenly Father, says about you!

Victory is Waiting

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!

The Defeated Enemy

Over the past few months, we have been considering the connection between our path to spiritual growth and the experience of the children of Israel on their path to the promised land.  We have compared Israel’s escape from Egypt with our initial salvation which set us free from sin’s penalty.  We have compared God’s promise to take Israel into the land with His promise to us of a Sabbath rest.  This is not a one-day-a-week rest.  This is a life of rest in Him.  A life of walking in the Spirit by faith.  A life of peace and victory.

Finally, when Israel shrunk back and refused to go into the land due to a lack of faith, they were destined for a generation of wandering in the wilderness.  This detour is a picture of today’s believer who shrinks back from God’s promise of freedom from the power of sin.  The wilderness Christian is content to live the life in his own power, going around in circles without direction; without progress along the path of spiritual maturity.

If this gospel analogy between Israel and us is awakening something in you, we have one more passage about Israel’s journey that, quite frankly, blows me away.

Let’s fast forward from Israel’s initial rejection of entry into the promised land.  Forty years of wandering in the wilderness have now passed.  A new generation of the children of Israel are camped across the Jordan River from Canaan, ready to cross over and enter the land of promise.  Joshua, Moses’ successor and leader of the nation, has sent two spies into the land reminiscent of an earlier spy mission forty years before.

When the spies arrived in the house of Rahab, the Canaanite, in the city of Jericho, they made a startling discovery.  Listen to it in Rahab’s own words to the spies.  “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away [become demoralized] before you.  For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  And when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Josh. 2:9-11).

What did the spies discover?  That for forty years, Canaan had been a defeated foe.  The people of Canaan, who the original Israelite spies said were giants that would devour their woman and children, were only paper tigers.  They had already conceded victory to Israel forty years ago when Israel crossed the Red Sea.  Their Canaanite “hearts melted” and they had “no courage” to take on the children of Israel.  But instead of claiming this victory when they were on the doorstep of the promised land, Israel shrunk back and marched around the wilderness completely unaware that the so-called giants of the promised land had already given up; had already lost hope of defeating God’s people.

Faithless Israel had no idea that the victory was already theirs.  The enemy had already given up.  So how does this compare to our experience today?

When you look at the path ahead, do you see giants?  So you see besetting sins that cannot be conquered?  Do you see a past that holds you in prison?  Do you see unrelenting guilt and shame, fear and worry, pride and selfish ambition?

Did you know that all of these enemies were defeated by Jesus at the cross?  Yes, the victory is ours even when we are unaware or unsure if that is really true.  How can I know that for sure?  Because the Bible tells me so.  Because God not only told us about it; He promises to do something about it.  He sent Jesus to die in our place, the righteous for the unrighteous, for two purposes.

One to take away our guilt before a holy God and remove the penalty of sin from our future.  But He also died to remove the power of sin in our present by literally coming to live His life in us.  This is what the Bible means by us “being justified by Christ’s death and being saved by Christ’s life” (Rom 5:10).  So in the here and now, He is offering you a promise to set you free from guilt, shame, fear, worry, idolatry, pride, and sin’s mastery in your life.

This is the lesson of Joshua chapter 2.  Read the whole chapter and you will see a beautiful picture unfold of laying claim to victory over an already defeated enemy.  For us, the power of sin still raises its ugly head in the life of a believer, but pick up your sword of faith and lay claim to the victory that is in Christ Jesus.

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?