Moses and the power of faith
Consider the following scriptures:
Matthew 17:20: ‘Jesus said to them … if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you’.
Acts 6:8: ‘And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people’.
Romans 1:16-17: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes … For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith”.’
These and many other verses link faith with power. More specifically, they link the believer’s faith with God’s power.
We see this principle worked out in the life of Moses, the man of God. Consider in Hebrews 11:24-29 how: (1) faith has power to justify the sinner; (2) faith has power to motivate the soul; and (3) faith has power to overcome Satan.
We shall deal with the first two points in this article and with the third next month.
Firstly, faith has power to justify the sinner. ‘By faith [Moses] forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them’ (Hebrews 11:27-28).
These verses bring us to the heart of ‘the work of faith’ – the role of faith in justifying the sinner before a holy God. They tell us that Moses’ faith, fixed on the invisible Christ, accomplished not one but two deliverances – deliverance from the wrath of Pharaoh and deliverance from the wrath of God!
Although God’s elect are ‘saved by grace’ they are ‘saved by grace through faith’ (Ephesians 2:8). ‘This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent’ (John 6:29). God’s free grace is the ultimate cause of salvation, but the faith he imparts is a necessary and contingent means of salvation – that is why we must say to sinners, ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31).
Faith in Christ is instrumental in saving us both from God’s judgement upon sin and from our bondage to sin. Although these two things necessarily go together, they are different aspects of the work of salvation.
Delivered from judgement
Hebrews 6:18 declares that we have ‘fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us’. This hope is the expectation of eternal life, but to obtain that life we must first find refuge from the wrath of God upon our sin.
Moses kept the Passover by faith and the message of the Passover is the message of the cross of Christ. That is, we find refuge from God’s judgement as we believe in Christ, ‘Who himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed’. God is ‘just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ (1 Peter 2:24; Romans 3:26).
The Passover lamb foreshadowed Christ – a perfect, innocent substitute died in the place of the Hebrew firstborn. Of course, God’s anger was directed chiefly against Pharaoh and his people, not the Jews. But divine judgement does not respect persons and falls equally on all who have sinned in the sight of God (and that includes everyone).
Throughout OT times, animal sacrifices were offered in which a creature died in the sinner’s place, releasing the sinner from his debt and thus providing forgiveness for his sin. All such sacrifices were pictures of the Christ who would one day make ‘one sacrifice for sins for ever’ (Hebrews 10:12).
When the Hebrew householders, obeying Moses’ instructions, splashed the lamb’s blood on their lintels and doorposts they were exercising faith in the ability of that blood to protect them from God’s impending judgement on the land of Egypt.
So today we trust in the death of Christ to shield us from God’s righteous anger against our sin and reconcile us to God – for ‘Christ also suffered once, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18).
The Bible doctrine of penal substitution is under attack today, but such attacks must be resisted. For unless Christ was ‘made … sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21), the Passover lamb means nothing and we are still in our sins.
Rather, let our faith rejoice that ‘Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us’ (1 Corinthians 5:7) and thank God that as we believe on Christ ‘the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7).
Delivered from bondage
By faith Moses not only kept the Passover but he also forsook Egypt, ‘not fearing the wrath of the king’. That is, he led the exodus trusting that God would protect the unarmed multitude – even though he knew that Pharaoh would pursue them. Humanly speaking there was much to fear but faith drives out fear because God is greater than any enemy.
By leaving Egypt, the Hebrew people escaped slavery and found freedom. So also, faith in Christ brings liberty to spiritual captives, freeing us from slavery to sin. ‘But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine [the gospel] to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness’ (Romans 6:17-18).
This freedom is not freedom to commit sin (which is antinomianism) but freedom to avoid sin and live a life pleasing to God.
As Paul shows earlier in Romans 6, our practical experience of this freedom stems from an understanding that, as believers, we have been ‘crucified with Christ’ and raised to new life in him:
‘Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:11). ‘Reckon’ does not mean ‘pretend’ or ‘imagine’, but rather ‘believe it to be so, trust in it as a spiritual reality’.
We shall then have the power to enjoy and display that liberty by producing the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit rather than the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-25).
Our second main point is that faith has power to motivate the soul. As ‘the son of Pharaoh’s daughter’, Moses had everything that a young man’s heart could desire – the pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt!
Yet we read: ‘By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the [heavenly] reward’ (Hebrews 11:24-26).
By far the greatest challenge we face as Christians is not to exercise power over demons but to have power over ourselves! Until we know the delivering power of faith in Christ, of course, we have no power at all but are slaves to sin and in bondage to Satan (Romans 6:15-23).
But even when we are delivered we often have to lament with Paul: ‘I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not do, that I practice’ (Romans 7:18-19).
Yet Moses discovered the power of a faith that enabled him to renounce the allurements of pleasure and wealth and treat these things as rubbish by comparison with ‘the reproach of Christ’ – a reproach he embraced by faith and deemed of greater value that the treasures of Egypt. Like Paul he could say, ‘What things were gain to me I have counted loss for Christ’ (Philippians 3:7-11).
What an incredible, even incomprehensible, choice Moses made! Had he been motivated merely by principle or conscience he might have remained at court, avoided the sinful lifestyle of those around him and become an influence for good. But it was altogether beyond human logic to willingly embrace ‘affliction with the people of God’ as the alternative to ease and comfort.
A different kingdom
But faith, remember, sees what is invisible, and Moses ‘looked to the reward’. What was that reward? It was an altogether different kingdom from that of Egypt – ‘the kingdom prepared for [God’s people] from the foundation of the world’ (Matthew 25:34).
Moses saw by faith that those who are called by grace to follow Christ – and who thereby embrace his reproach – will inherit a kingdom that does not pass away. It is a kingdom eternal in the heavens, filled with the riches of the glory of God and affording sinless pleasures for evermore.
Moses’ faith motivated him to choose a path that the world would never understand. Faith gave him power over himself in making (and living with) his amazing choice.
So also ourselves. The gospel calls us from a life of sinful self-indulgence to a hard and costly pilgrimage. Not only must we choose to follow Christ and share his rejection by the world, but we must ‘take up our cross’ daily, choosing the narrow way that leads to life.
By what power can we do this and triumph over our natural inclinations and propensities? By the power of faith, replies Moses - looking to Christ and to the reward of eternal fellowship with him as an heir of the kingdom of God.
Paul sums it up thus: ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God’ (Romans 12:1-2).
Overthrowing the enemy
Our final point is that faith has power to overcome Satan. Moses displayed the power of faith not merely in escaping from Pharaoh and his army but also in overthrowing them: ‘By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned’ (Hebrews 11:29).
God deliberately led the Israelites towards the Red Sea rather than by the northerly coastal route – perhaps because it would have been too easy for them to turn back to Egypt had they taken the shorter path (Genesis 13:17). But this meant that the Israelites were trapped between the sea and the pursuing army and there seemed no way out.
We also may have bad experiences from which there appears to be no escape. But there was an escape route that they could never have dreamed of – straight through the sea itself! The Lord promised that as we trust him there is always a way of escape from sin. He also promises: ‘when you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you’ (1 Corinthians 10:13; Isaiah 43:2).
Indeed, God’s purpose was not merely escape for his people but victory – over their fears, their circumstances and their greatest enemy. So also we can say, ‘Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of his knowledge in every place’ (2 Corinthians 2:14).
The work of faith
But how exactly did Moses’ faith accomplish these things? In three ways: (1) Moses believed in the purpose of God; (2) Moses believed in the providence of God; and (3) Moses believed in the power of God.
First, consider God’s purpose. Moses’ faith understood that God would not have brought them so far just to destroy them at the Red Sea. The deliverance that God had begun he would also complete.
Apply this principle to your personal life, your ministry and your church! Whenever we are tempted to feel trapped or defeated by Satan let us remember ‘all the way that the Lord our God has led us’ hitherto – and be encouraged by faith to see that he will complete his work in us and through us.
Next, observe God’s providence: ‘Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will accomplish for you today … The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace”’ (Exodus 14:13-14).
Hebrews says, ‘By faith they passed through the Red sea’. But Moses and the people actually did nothing except ‘stand still and see’ the amazing providential work of God! The pillar of cloud became darkness to the Egyptians so that they could not approach the fugitives. Then a mighty wind blew all night to drive back the waters of the sea. These events were miraculous in their timing but God used natural means providentially to protect the people from their enemies.
We too shall overcome Satan by ‘standing still’ and trusting in the providential care and outworking of our sovereign God. Sometimes we do have to fight, but ‘we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
We wield the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6), but in truth it is always the Lord who fights for us, because the battle is his.
Finally, Moses’ faith triumphed by trusting in the sovereign power of God. It was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart and caused him to pursue the Israelites:
‘And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honour over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord …’ (Exodus 14:17-18). At God’s command, and in the obedience of faith, Moses lifted his rod and the waters returned to swallow the Egyptian army.
The sovereign power of God over man and nature, over earth and heaven, over Satan and hell, is one of the cardinal doctrines of the Bible and an anchor for our faith. Even a heathen king was constrained to confess this great truth:
‘I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honoured him who lives for ever: For his dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; he does according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”’ (Daniel 4:34-35).
How much more should we, who have believed in Jesus Christ, put our faith and trust in this same all-powerful God?
An address given at the FIEL Portugal Conference, October 2007