Many times when preachers or other teachers of Scripture come to passages in the Old Testament such as Joshua taking the men of Israel to extinguish Jericho or plunder the city of Ai, or when looking at the story of David and Goliath, they will make the point of the story, “Look at the faith and might of Joshua and Israel, or David, and the confidence they had when going into battle. Imitate that faith in the Jericho’s, Ai’s, and Goliath’s of your life.” While that is true at a duty level, there is a big problem if we just make that the point of the story and leave it there. But what’s the problem, you might say? That’s true, right? It’s that there is a much greater point to the story that seems to go overlooked, the most important point I would say. And also, there is a big problem with just making that the point of the story: it is called moralism.
I just have a few questions to maybe give us some clarity on this: what is it that Christ came to do for us? Amongst many many things, was it not to fulfill and abolish the power of the law over those who have faith alone in Christ alone? And the law brings death right? So when a teacher of Scripture states for you to “pull up your boot-straps and git-er done for God, imitating the faith of Joshua and David,” is this not just another law and statement of reliance upon self for faith, for strength to conquer things in your life, instead of reliance upon God alone for strength through Christ? Where did Joshua’s strength come from? What about David’s? David was a weakling compared to Goliath. Goliath was trained for war, but was David? Obviously not, because all he had was a slingshot. But what was David’s response to his father who doubted his ability to win in going before Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:37? “And David said, ‘The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.‘” David’s only hope was not in himself and what he could do to defeat Goliath, but what only God alone could do through him. The focus is not on the strength, faith, and might of David, but on God alone, and David himself makes this clear! Was it not God alone that upheld David with His righteous, omnipotent hand and sovereignly orchestrated all of the law’s of nature (including all of David’s physical movements) so that when David threw that final stone it hit Goliath with such force that he died? So what is the main point of these stories? I believe the key is a few things God says in Joshua, amongst many places, that struck me in particular. For one, in Joshua 6:2, God states to Joshua, “And the LORD said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.'” Only God gives us the strength through the cross of Christ to do anything.
God’s purpose in all things is that His name might be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:16, Romans 9:17-18). And so everything God does in His actions is to that end. And we know the character of God is to be compared with nothing, because He is infinitely glorious. Therefore, everything He does is right and just, even if we can’t humanly understand why it is He allowed for sin in His universe (and is yet without sin), or sovereignly brings calamity on the world. So the point of these stories is that it is God alone who is just and mighty to save (eternally [salvation] and temporally [in our own personal dealing with indwelling sin and trials]), and we look at how God removed their enemies before them, His glory, might, and infinite power; and all this in order that you not rely in any way on your strength and might in the midst of any and every circumstance, but on God’s alone in Christ’s death and resurrection, living under God’s grace alone in Christ. Most importantly, the point of the story is to say that, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing,” (John 15:5). We have been saved unto God in Christ, not just saved from His wrath. Christ came to abolish the law so that it’s no longer a duty for us, but rather a delight. The Gospel is the antithesis of the law. The law says, “Do this and you will get a good outcome. If you don’t, you won’t.” The Gospel says, “We already have the outcome in Christ’s death and resurrection. And it is very good. Believe in Jesus and He will give You His perfect record, in order that You may be presented to God the Father as perfect, possessing the very righteousness and perfection of Christ.” And for the believer, what is it that produces true, continual life-change? Is it focusing in on yourself and your strength or God’s alone in Christ? We look to the cross and see that Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only thing that produces life-change for the believer. So we are saved through the cross of Christ and changed through the cross of Christ. The application of the Gospel in our lives at every facet and level of our existence (emotionally, mentally, psychologically, spiritually, relationally) is the only thing that will ever produce life-change for the believer. Not the Law. The Law produces death (Romans 7:7-12). Telling people to go do this “law” and that “law” is the very thing the Pharisees were guilty of, to those whom Jesus stated the harshest words! May we take our place with David before this great and mighty, powerful God in Psalm 51:1-3,
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me,”
… and then fall on your knees before our Savior and state with David from Psalm 32:1-5,
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Only because of Christ’s strength through the cross and His resurrection can you do anything to conquer sin, death, Satan, and hell. “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”
(Special thanks to the Lord God for using Tim Keller and Jon Dansby in many of these insights into the Lord’s Word)