The Gaze of the Soul
Looking into Jesus, the founder and perfected of our faith.(Hebrews 12:2)
In a dramatic story in Numbers, faith is seen in action. Israel became discouraged and spoke against God, and the Lord sent fiery serpents among them. “And they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” Moses sought the Lord for them; He heard, and gave them a remedy against the bite of the serpents. He commanded Modesto make a serpent of brass and put it upon a pole in sight of all of the people, “that everyone that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” Moses obeyed, “and it came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived”(Numbers 21:6-9)
In the New Testament this important bit of history is interpreted for us by no less authority than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is explaining to His hearers how they may be saved. He tells them that it is by believing. To make it clear, He refers to this incident in the Book of Numbers: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life”(John 3:14-15). Notice here that “look” and “believe” are synonymous terms. “Looking” on the Old Testament serpent is identical with “believing” on the New Testament Christ. The looking and believing are the same thing; while Israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.
The whole tenor of the inspired Word regarding faith is summed up for us in the Hebrew epistle when we are instructed to run life’s race”looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith”(Hebrews 12:2). Faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God.
God’s plan of salvation is so simple that even a little child can comprehend it, receive it and know they as saved. The simplicity of salvation is believing that the work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for saving grace. Yet we often want to add to that work by our own deeds or works so that in some way we can feel as though we somehow have merited being saved.
Tozer points out to us that the only remedy for the bite of the fiery serpent in the wilderness was to gaze upon the serpent. We must remember that the Israelites were ritualistic in their relationship with God and much of their relationship with God was through obedience to His commands. In other words there were things they must do to find themselves under the saving and protection of God.
On the night of the Passover, for example, they were to kill the lamb, roast the meat, smear the blood on the door post and lintel, prepare and eat unleavened bread, and stand fully dressed waiting for the signal to march. Only those who carried out these acts were spared for God had said:
“The blood shall be a sign for you on [the doorposts of] the houses where you live; when I see the blood I shall pass over you, and no affliction shall happen to you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”
Throughout their wilderness journey and their continued journey with God, they lived a life largely based on their actions. But now we come to the incident of the fiery serpents. This time there is noting they can do, so sacrifice, no offering, and no work will be sufficient to deal with the fiery serpents. Why? Because the fiery serpents came as a result of their complaining and rebellion against God. Proverbs says that if one breaks the hedge, a serpent will bite him. Satan is described as a serpent and nothing humans can do has the power to eradicate the sting of sin. So the Israelites are told they who have been bitten only have to gaze upon the brass serpent lifted up on the pole and believe that it is sufficient and they will be healed from the bite, otherwise they die. What simplicity and yet what faith is required.
When we come to the New Testament believers, we find ourselves often wishing to add the word “and” to the work of Christ. For example, “Confess your sins “and” change your ways as though we have the power to do so. Paul tells us that the ultimate sting of sin is death and that only Christ and Christ alone can remove it.
Dear believer, may I ask if you truly believe that the work of Christ on the cross is fully sufficient to forgive your sins, to cleanse you from all unrighteousness and to qualify you for the blessings of heaven now and eternally? If that is so then may I gently ask why you have little joy and why do you wonder if you are doing enough to please God, and why do you still hold yourself accountable for all your sinful past that has been removed from you? If the work of the cross has brought us near to God, adopted us into His family as dear children, why then do we live as though we are strangers hoping for an occasional blessing when all of heaven’s treasures are available to the children of God? Why do we vainly attempt to earn or justify our salvation through our deeds and works rather than understanding that our salvation is the gift of God and our conduct and actions are the outflow of grateful hearts rather than a vain attempt to merit His love.
If you’re being bitten with the fiery serpents of doubt and unbelief and failure, may I invite you to come to the foot of the cross, gaze upon the One who was nailed there, and believe that His death and resurrection is once and for all sufficient to deliver you from the sting of sin.
Paul describes this feeble attempt of humans to live right and points out that it is literally impossible to do so. He cries out asking who can deliver him from this cycle of despair and spiritual death.
For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness—my sinful capacity]. For the willingness [to do good] is present in me, but the doing of good is not. For the good that I want to do, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.But if I am doing the very thing I do not want to do, I am no longer the one doing it [that is, it is not me that acts], but the sin [nature] which lives in me. So I find it to be the law [of my inner self], that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully delight in the law of God in my inner self [with my new nature], but I see a different law and rule of action in the members of my body [in its appetites and desires], waging war against the law of my mind and subduing me and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is within my members. Wretched and miserable man that I am! Who will [rescue me and] set me free from this body of death [this corrupt, mortal existence]? Thanks be to God [for my deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind serve the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness, my sinful capacity—I serve] the law of sin.
What then is our role in this simplicity of salvation?
If we say we have no sin [refusing to admit that we are sinners], we delude ourselves and the truth is not in us. [His word does not live in our hearts.] If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just [true to His own nature and promises], and will forgive our sins and cleanse us continually from all unrighteousness [our wrongdoing, everything not in conformity with His will and purpose]. If we say that we have not sinned [refusing to admit acts of sin], we make Him [out to be] a liar [by contradicting Him] and His word is not in us. My little children (believers, dear ones), I am writing you these things so that you will not sin and violate God’s law. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate [who will intercede for us] with the Father: Jesus Christ the righteous [the upright, the just One, who conforms to the Father’s will in every way—purpose, thought, and action]. And He [that same Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins [the atoning sacrifice that holds back the wrath of God that would otherwise be directed at us because of our sinful nature—our worldliness, our lifestyle]; and not for ours alone, but also for [the sins of all believers throughout] the whole world.
1 John 1:8-2:2
So open your heart as a little child, gaze with wonder on this incredible Savior, Christ Jesus; confess your sins and believe that it’s all sufficient for your salvation. Cease trying to earn His grace and favor and enjoy being one of His adopted and loved children.
Dr. John Thompson