In this passage from the Institutes IV.14.7, Calvin argues that the rejection of Christ in the sacraments does not imply that the sacraments are not efficacious. Instead, to those who receive them in faith, the sacraments are evidences of God's grace to us, "seals of the good-will which he entertains toward us." They "nourish, confirm, and increase our faith."Read More
Precious is the blood that healed us;
Perfect is the grace that sealed us;
Strong the hand stretched out to shield us;
All must be well.
--Mary Bowley PetersRead More
"Therefore, though we receive a perfect Christ by faith, yet the measure and degree of enjoying him is imperfect; and we hope still, so long as we are in this world, to enjoy him in a higher degree of perfection than we have done." - Walter MarshallRead More
Numbers 13-14 contains the history of God’s people being given over to His fatherly judgement after turning away in unbelief from a difficult obedience. In my first post I pointed out that they had sadly failed the test before they started: the recon team failed to obey in faith Moses’ command to “be of good courage.” Their timidity and doubts spread rapidly among the congregation, and only Caleb had the faith to stand up and silence the revolt against God’s Word and His established church government.
In this post I’m hoping to dig deeper and press some applications to our consciences before we move on farther in the story.
We all know the temptation Israel fell under, and if honest, we know the experience of such a failure (known in the Bible as sin, wickedness, unbelief, and other non-PC things that offend the tenderhearted.) Like Israel, we cannot legitimately plead ignorance, instead we should admit to lacking courage and hope since we've not believed God's promises. We know what God’s word says: “Honor your father and mother.” “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together.” “In everything give thanks.” “Obey your rulers.” “Forgive as you have been forgiven.” “Do not lose heart.” He's even promised to bless these things. And yet, looking the obedience in the face it often appears: too difficult (the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large), nice but not rewarding enough (it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However…), and not what we would have chosen (we came to the land to which you sent us.)
There is a lot more in the passage for us, but maybe this is a good place to camp out and let it soak in: when I know what is right to do, the following lies are the enemies of my soul that I need to identify and fight:
- This difficulty isn’t best for me. I know how my life should feel.
- The blessings of obedience are good, but not good enough to justify the sacrifice.
- I can’t do this. It is too hard.
Against these lies, the Word of God gives us many remedies. Here are some I have found:
Against: “This difficulty isn’t best for me. I know how my life should be.”
“You sent us here” the spies opine against Moses, and by extension, God. Isn’t this doubt in God’s goodness and sovereignty, which later in the passage comes to full display, behind so many of our “reasons” (otherwise known as excuses) for not doing what we know is right. We often dress this unbelief up in nicer words, but its essence is the same. God is either not good, we believe, or he is not in charge of what I am facing. But even when we do not believe God is good, he still is. Even when we think he has made a mistake in our life, he has not. When everything around us looks and feels differently, the promise of God’s sovereignty & goodness to his children is a rock underneath our lives that holds firm, sustains hope, and motivates obedience. It’s only a cliche when you do not believe it: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” Romans 8:28
Against: “The blessings of obedience are good, but not good enough to justify the sacrifice.”
The spies saw the good stuff in Canaan, it just wasn’t good enough. I hate to say it, but I have seen this a hundred times in church life: “Look, what you’re teaching is good and I can see how it’s biblical and would work well, but for me it’s just too [hard, confusing, boring, painful, scary, unnecessary, inconvenient, harsh, heady, simple, etc., etc. etc.]” In this situation the failure consists in not appreciating the reward of obedience, not valuing the pleasures of God above our temporal or personal concerns. In Matthew 6:18-23 Christ teaches a piety that is concerned about the secret sight of the Father and his delight in graciously rewarding what he sees us doing to please Him. This reward has temporal dimensions but in Matthew 6 is primarily a heavenly treasure that is stored up like an account and will certainly have its payday. There are temporary rewards to serving the here and now, to serving what we see and feel to be circumstantially beneficial, but Jesus calls this laying up treasure on earth. He assures us that all such benefits will soon be destroyed, our joy lost with it. If we don’t see clearly the immeasurable difference between the pleasures of God and the temporal pleasures of unbelief and its disobedience, how great is our darkness!
...that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matthew 6:18-23
Against: “I can’t do this. It is too hard.”
Colossians 1:10-12 contains the apostle’s prayer for us to know God’s will, to live in a way that pleases God, growing in our good works and good doctrine. Part of his prayer is that we would have strength that comes directly from God: “all power, according to his glorious might.”
...so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Colossians 1:10-12
So pray, believing God is both able and willing to give us all the power we need for patience and endurance in doing his will more and more until the day of our inheritance in glory. That day is coming. Let’s not shrink back.
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who shrink back but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Hebrews 10:35-39
Over the next several posts, I hope to look at a scene from the life of Israel recorded in Numbers 13-14. If you can, open your Bible and read through these two chapters, reacquainting yourself with this well known story. The Lord has used this passage in my own life through the years to bring me repentance, to show me the way forward as a Christian, and to encourage other believers. It is the story of the people of Israel at the entrance to the promised land: spies were sent, grumbling ensues, few have faith, and many die in the wilderness under God’s judgement. It is, I believe, one of the saddest episodes in Israel’s life and demonstrates an important truth that must be firm in our hearts if we are to pass the test: “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)
In an act of strategic planning on God’s part, he commanded Moses, to send twelve spies to survey the future plunder of His people. Moses obeyed and commanded them to look carefully at the whole region for who lived there and how strong they were, what the land was like and what was its bounty. But alongside these instructions he gave an important command, one that would be disobeyed by ten of the spies and the mass of the people:
“Be of good courage” (vs. 20)
None could know from the reappearance of the spies back in the camp, loaded down with grapes, pomegranates, and figs that they had disobeyed this most important command, yet the fruits of that heart-disobedience among the spies and congregation ripened instantly. They and the whole congregation begin to grumble. Against this unified dismay, a righteous division emerges. A hopeful and powerful man, Caleb, silences the grumbling, submits to God’s government in Moses, and demonstrates that unlike the mass of the spies, he was of good courage:
“But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said,’Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.’” (vs. 30) Let me stop here to note that such behavior is completely unacceptable in American Christianity: he made the aggrieved, the anxious, the reasonable, the deeply-convinced, the very-concerned, and all other forms of unbelieving congregants basically shut up. What a jerk! He quieted them under the command and commander given by God. What a patriarchal oppressor! He then turned them away from their doubts to the obedience of faith. What a legalist! As icing to the jerk-cake he could have added, “Turn in your Trinity Hymnals to selection 672, ‘Trust And Obey.’”
Imagine all the weak-hearted, unbelieving congregation! “He first tells us to be quiet; then he says ‘obey! God is with us!’ Then he has the nerve to choose that hymn? He doesn’t care how we feeeel! (BTW: I love Bible heroes who make me look winsome!)
Against the mob of worry and unbelief, this one voice of faith is the hero of this part of the story. He was the lone obedient, believing one. He had taken good courage in God’s promise and it gave him an entirely different perspective on the massive challenges ahead. Like the others, he knew this meant war. Unlike the others he knew that the roots of fear and unbelief would mean utter failure. Against the misery-wallowers of his time, through faith in God’s promise and power, he exclaimed, “We are well able to overcome it!”
Dear Christian, have you failed the test that you are facing from the outset? Did you forget that in order to survey the difficult obedience in front of you the right way you need to “be of good courage?” There is only one way forward in the Christian life: trust and obey! And without such trust it is impossible to please God.