Often it seems that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses is making this plain when he tells the Israelites that what was in their parents is also in them.
God’s people are on the cusp of entering the Promised Land, and Moses says, “Let me remind you how we got here…” Moses goes back 40 years: “The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain…’” (1:6), and he tells the story of how the people rebelled against God.
You were unwilling to go up… You rebelled against the Lord… You grumbled in your tents and said ‘The Lord hates us…’ You did not trust in the Lord your God (Deut. 1:26-27, 32).
Why is Moses saying this? Is he blaming the children for the sins of the parents? No! He is teaching the children to learn from their parents. You will face the same temptations, the same struggles they did.
The people of God had refused to trust Him and, instead of entering the Promised Land, they wandered in the desert for 40 years. What defeated them, their children must now overcome in their own lives. What is in them (and us) by nature, that must be overcome?
- By nature, I rebel against God (Deut. 1:26).
- By nature, I treat God with contempt (Deut. 1:27).
- By nature, I blame others (Deut. 1:28).
- By nature, I resist the truth (Deut. 1:29-31).
- By nature, I refuse to believe (Deut. 1:32).
- By nature, I am under the wrath of God (Deut. 1:34).
Moses is saying to God’s people, “Don’t think these natural, sinful impulses stopped with your parents. All of them are also in you.”
By nature, this is our condition today. The sinful human nature crosses all economic and social barriers. By nature, we have no basis on which to enter the land of promise that is full of good things.
When God’s people realized they had messed up in their rebellion and unbelief, they decided to try and put it right. They were sure that they could fix their own problems. They decided to go up to Canaan after all, but God said to them, “Don’t go up because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies” (Deut. 1:42). They went up anyway and were completely defeated!
Turning over a new leaf doesn’t change us. Trying harder won’t work; it’s never the answer. So, where can we find the power for a fresh start? What hope is there for us to change the future—to get into the “promised land”?
Owning What is Ours Brings Hope
In Deuteronomy 5, Moses summons all of Israel and reminds them: “The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb” (vs. 2). God had made this covenant before they were born, but it is for them.
God made a covenant of grace before we were born, too, and it is for us. He promised to redeem sinners like us through His Son, Jesus Christ. This covenant was not written on tablets of stone; it is sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ. His blood was poured out for us. His body was given for us. Through the shedding of this blood, Jesus sealed a new covenant for the forgiveness of our sins.
Two great events shaped our lives before we were born: What’s in us, by nature, goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. What can be in us, by grace, goes all the way back to the cross of Jesus Christ. And we change the future through repentance and faith.
Own it: Repentance
We need to own what is in our nature. This is what the Bible calls “repentance.” Knowing what we are up against in living the Christian life, we can pray: “Lord, by nature I’m a rebel who treats your kindness with contempt, blames others, resists your Word, refuses to believe, and deserves to be under Your righteous judgment.
When we tell ourselves what great and good people we are, we will never make progress in the Christian life. Owning what is in us, by nature, is where repentance begins and how it continues.
Own it: Faith
We need to own what is ours, by grace. This is what the Bible calls “faith.” We need to know who we are in Christ. We need to be clear about what our Savior has for us in living the Christian life.
Faith looks at all that the grace of God has done: God has made a covenant for us, He has sent His Son to redeem us, and He has given His Spirit to empower us. Faith says, “All this is mine!” Faith begins when I own what is mine, by grace.
Fresh Start, New Future
Moses was leading a new generation who stood on the verge of change. Would they follow what was in them by nature? Or would they receive what was theirs by grace?
What about us? Will we follow the impulse to hear God’s Word, or will we follow the impulse of unbelief? Will we spend our lives praising God, or will we treat Him with contempt? Will we own what is in us, by nature, or will we spend our lives blaming others and end up under the wrath of God?
Repentance and faith are not only what unbelievers do to become Christians; both are what believers do to live as Christians. God calls us to a life of repentance and faith in which we sustain an ongoing fight against what is in us (our nature) by laying hold of what Christ has for us by His grace. We can lay hold of these gifts:
- The Son of God loves me and gave Himself for me.
- The Lord reigns, and nothing happens to me unless it comes through His loving hand first.
- I don’t understand all that He allows to come into my life. Nor do I expect to, because He is God in heaven and He sees the events of this world from eternity. I am only on the earth in a little capsule of time. But I know that I can trust Him. I know that He is for me.
- I know that I am forgiven and not under His wrath. I live in His mercy and am never alone, because He walks beside me.
- By grace, I have come to love Him, to trust Him, and to count Him worthy of the supreme devotion and sacrifice of my life.
This is faith.
My prayer is that God would breathe increased faith into our souls. May we see that, in all our battles and struggles, Christ is for us. We can embrace Him with faith that says, “If God is for me, who can be against me?”
This article is adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Change the Future by Owning the Past”, from his series, Take Two: The Power of a Fresh Start.