In Numbers 21:4-9 there is a case in the history of Israel that illustrates God’s healing grace. However, the healing of Israel at the time was based on the conditions that God prescribed.
At the time, the Israelites were in a state of rebellion against the authority and leadership of Moses. The people complained, “Why have you [Moses] brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, nor is there any water; and our soul loathes this miserable bread” (Nm 21:5). As punishment of the people for their rebellion against God’s sanctioned authority, Moses, “The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people” (Nm 21:6). The biting serpents subsequently brought the desired result. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned” (Nm 21:7).
The Lord heard the mournful pleas of the people. He then commanded Moses to “make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole” where it could be seen by all the people (Nm 21:8). However, in order for the people to procure healing (grace) from God’s offer, there was a condition: “And it will come to pass that everyone who is bitten, when he looks on it, he will live” (Nm 21:8). It was grace that provided the opportunity for healing. However, the condition was that the faith of the people had to move them to look upon the brass serpent for healing. Their faith had to move them to respond to the instructions for healing. If there were no movement, there would have been no healing.
God’s grace provides the opportunity for forgiveness. His opportunity for healing was communicated to the people. The people must have faith that what is provided by God will accomplish the desired forgiveness. And then, the people must act on their faith to receive the blessing of the opportunity that has been provided by grace. As there was no such thing as “faith only” healing of those who were bitten by the serpents in Israel, so there is no “faith only” healing from sin by those today who recognize that they are sinners. One must following the instructions of God in order to access the grace of God that is offered by the One who was lifted up on the cross two thousand years ago.
Through faith we have access to the atonement for our sins. The offer of atonement comes as a result of grace. But there must be a responsive faith on our part that moves us to “look upon” what God offers through grace in order that we access the blessing that comes through grace. It is for this reason that the Hebrew writer stated, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hb 11:6). If the believer makes no effort to come to the source of healing, then there is no reward.
The grace that provided salvation from the flood of Noah’s day was offered to Noah. The offer and acceptance is not unlike the grace that is offered by God today that we be delivered from the coming destruction of all humanity by fire. Those of Noah’s generation “were disobedient when the longsuffering of God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared” (1 Pt 3:20). As God offered a way of escape to those of faith when the ark was being prepared, He does the same today. Through His grace He offers a way of escape from the coming destruction (See 2 Th 1:7-9).
Notice what Peter said in applying the situation of Noah’s day to our’s today: “The like figure whereunto even baptism does also now save us” (1 Pt 3:21). As the waters of the flood washed away a sinful generation of Noah’s day, so the waters of baptism bring one into a realm of safety from the impending destruction that is coming (See 2 Th 1:7-9; 1 Pt 4:17). The comparison between the two cases is that Noah was saved by grace because of his obedient faith in response to God’s instructions concerning the building of the ark. The rebellious Israelites who were bitten by snakes that brought death were healed when they, by faith, were moved to look upon the serpent of brass that was made by Moses. Sinners today are saved through obedient faith when they obediently look to Jesus and respond to God’s instructions to be baptized for the remission of sins (At 2:38).
Noah and the Israelites were saved by an obedient faith, just as sinners today can be saved by obedient faith. But because Noah was saved through an obedient faith that moved him to follow the instructions of God to build the ark does not mean that he was meritoriously saved through works. Likewise, sinners today are not saved by meritorious obedience in following the instructions of God as to how one must access the grace of God. Obediently doing what God tells us to do is not meritorious obedience. It is an obedient response to the will of God. If such obedience were meritorious, then we could do nothing in following the Bible without it being meritorious obedience. Obeying God’s commands is a manifestation of our faith.
In the cases of Noah and Moses, faith and grace were consistently carried out in five simple steps in order to bring the condemned into a reconciled relationship with God. In the same manner, God brings all those who walk by faith into a saved relationship with Himself.
- God makes an offer to bless. Through grace, God offers reconciliation and life. God does not bless or condemn without first revealing how one is either blessed or condemned.
- The offer is communicated to those whom God seeks to bless. God communicates His offer to man through words of revelation. We cannot invent our own means by which we would accept God’s offer. With the offer also comes the consequential condemnation if one does not acept the offer.
- There must be faith in what one will realize as a result of obedience to the offer. We must have faith in what God has freely offered, for without faith in what God offers through grace, we will not respond to God’s offer of deliverance.
- One must respond with obedience. Through obedience that originates from faith one must comply with all that God would require of us to receive the free gift that comes through a grace offer.
- Obedience leads to reaping the benefits of the offered blessing. Upon obedience to the conditions to receive the free gift of grace, we reap the blessings of grace.
In reference to accepting the grace of God, this is the way it has always been since the beginning of time. This is the way it will always be until Jesus comes again. Any theology, therefore, that changes this simple plan as to how God works with man in reference to salvation, distorts the purpose of the cross and brings into question the sufficiency of the grace of God.
[Next in series: Oct. 26]