I want us to look at the account of the crossing of the Red Sea. You might call it the climax or epitome of Exodus. It's hard to overstate the importance of the Red Sea crossing for the rest of the Bible. Alec Motyer, the Old Testament scholar, said there are at least two dozen other direct references to the Red Sea crossing in the rest of the Old Testament. And there are probably innumerable illusions to it in the New Testament—significant statements like this one in Matthew: Matthew says about Jesus, "Out of Egypt I have called my son," quoting Hosea 11, which was a reference to the Exodus. The "son" in Hosea's saying was Israel. Therefore, Matthew is making a very direct connection between Jesus' work and the Old Testament Exodus in the Red Sea crossing.
When you go to Luke 9, the transfiguration, in Luke's version we have Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah, who appear and speak to him. But as many of you know, when you read the English text it says that Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about his departure which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. They seem to be referring to his death, which, of course, they were, except that the Greek word there is the word "exodus"—a rather big hint that Luke is saying that what Jesus was going to accomplish in Jerusalem was the ultimate getting out, the ultimate exodus.
And then you go to Hebrews, and of course Hebrews 3 and 4 says that Jesus is the greater Moses, that Moses points to Jesus. Then Hebrews 11:29 says that by faith the Israelites passed through the sea on dry land, but the Egyptians couldn't do it because they didn't have faith. It's pretty clear that Hebrews 11 is talking about Christian faith; it's using the Red Sea crossing as a paradigm for Christian faith.
Probably the most significant of all the references is 1 Corinthians 10, where Paul makes that enigmatic statement saying that when the Israelites passed through the cloud and the sea they were baptized into Moses. Then just a few verses later, he talks about that and several other incidents. In verse 6 Paul says, "These things are written as examples for us"—that is, for us as Christians.
If there's one Old Testament passage that the New Testament invites us to read Christocentrically, invites us to see it as a paradigm of Christ's salvation, it's this passage in Exodus.
I'll never forget sitting in R. C. Sproul's living room in Stallstown, Pennsylvania, nearly forty years ago, and for the first time, J. Alec Motyer, the Old Testament scholar, was visiting from Britain. I had never heard of him. I was sitting on the floor with a bunch of other college and seminary kids, and R. C. Sproul told us something about the connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Alec Motyer said this: "Think about it. Think of what an Israelite would say on the way to Canaan, having come out of the Red Sea and so forth. Here's what an Israelite would say: If you said, 'Who are you?' he would say, 'I was in a foreign land under the sentence of death, in bondage, but I took shelter under the blood of the lamb. Our mediator let us out, and we crossed over, and now we're on our way to the Promised Land. We're not there yet, but he's given us his law to make us a community. And he's given us the Tabernacle because you have to live by grace and forgiveness. And his presence is in our midst, and he's going to stay with us until we get home.'"
And Alex Motyer said, "That's exactly what the Christian says—almost word for word." My 23-year-old self said, "Huh."
Now, what can we learn just from the Red Sea crossing about Jesus' salvation—about our salvation through Jesus? There are three things: (1) We learn what we're getting out of; (2) we learn how we're getting out of it; and (3) we learn why we can get out of it.
This text is about what our salvation is. What do we get out of? Bondage with layers. How do we get out of it? Crossing over by grace. Why we can get out of it? The Mediator. That's what the Exodus text points us to in the rest of the Bible. Without the rest of the Bible, we wouldn't know this. But with the rest of the Bible, we know that this is what Exodus is pointing to first.
What do we get out of?
Christ's salvation is all about getting us out of bondage. That's what the word "redemption" means. The very beginning of the text says that when the King of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds and wanted to get the Israelites back. They said, "What have we done? We have lost the Israelites' services." What a nice way of putting it—"their services." If the Egyptians just lost services, then why didn't they go hire other people? What they really lost was there entire slave labor force. The Israelites were slaves to the Egyptians. Pharaoh determined to get the Israelites back. He said, "We let them go, but we've changed our minds. We're going to bring them back, or we're going to kill them."
When the Israelites saw the Egyptians coming for them again, they were terrified and said to Moses, "Why have you brought us out here? Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone'? Didn't we say that it would've been better to serve the Egyptians?" Is that really what the Israelites said to Moses when they were in bondage? No! Exodus 4:29: "And Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites and told them everything the Lord had said and performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down in worship."
By the way, this isn't the last time the Israelites are going to do this. Just two chapters later, they say to Moses: "In Egypt we sat around with pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted. And you have brought us into this desert to starve."
Now, there's no more basic word in the Bible than "redemption." And the Greek version of the word redemption originally meant "to loose." Redemption means to be released from bondage. At the very heart of our understanding of what salvation is all about is this being released from bondage.
The Israelites are a picture of us. They were in bondage. But this bondage has layers. They got out of one layer of bondage—their slavery to the Egyptians—but as soon as the slave masters said, "No, we want you back," they revert back to their old ways. Though they were objectively free from their bondage, the Israelites were subjectively—in their own hearts—still slaves. You can take the people out of slavery, but you can't take the slavery out of the people very easily. And this is something we see all through the Bible. The redemption of Jesus, the redemption of God, is to redeem us from bondage, but there are layers to it. Let me give you four layers.
First of all, let's look at Paul. Christian salvation, our salvation, means that we are free from the law objectively. We were once in bondage to the law objectively. We were under guilt and condemnation, but through Jesus, we get out.
What does it mean to be under condemnation? It means that we have sinned. We don't love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and we don't love our neighbors as ourselves. We're under God's wrath. And what is God's wrath? Well, God's wrath is his settled, judicial opposition to evil and to sin. Because we have sinned, we are objectively guilty. God's wrath is an objective wrath, and we're in bondage to it. We are under the law. But through Jesus we get out. There's no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We're no longer under law, but we're under grace. That's an objective thing.
But there are layers here because, secondly, there is also bondage to the law subjectively. The whole book of Galatians is about people who from what we can tell were objectively free from guilt. They seemed to have really believed in the grace of Jesus. Yet they were going back into a form of works-righteousness. I'll tell you why I think this is. I think that maybe we experience this return to works-righteousness because of the image of God. I think that deep down inside, we all know we should be perfect. Parenting can do something with this basic intuition. Some parents aggravate it by being very, very cruel; by being impossible to please; by maybe being abusive. That natural belief that we all have—that we really ought to be perfect—gets aggravated to a place where some kids grow up needing to prove themselves or hating themselves.
There's another kind of bad parenting which I'll call "self-esteem-ism." That's where you tell your child over and over again—because popular culture tells you that you should—"You can do anything you want. You can be anyone you want." The kid's thinking, Okay, I'm 23 years old, I'm 5'3", I'm 125 pounds, and the parent still says, "If you want to be an NFL linebacker, you just have to go for it with all you've got. You have to climb every mountain, ford every stream, and follow every rainbow." That's what popular culture pressures us to do.
When you parent like that, your kids grow up with this incredible sense of entitlement. It's seemingly impossible to make them feel ashamed or guilty for anything. Still, I don't think we can put out what all human beings know: that we should be perfect; that we should love God ad love our neighbor.
When I've watched people on their death bed—no matter who they are or how they've been parented—I've seen them start to open up. The one sentiment that seems to shine clearest is a sense of regret—the sense that they haven't lived life as they should have.
We all know deep down that we should be perfect. And just being told a few times, "If you believe in Jesus Christ, all your sins are forgiven; there's no condemnation for you; you are accepted," doesn't put out that knowledge. This is why we go right back to works-righteousness. It's just the natural default mode of the human heart. We stay in bondage to the law subjectively, even if we're not actually in bondage to the law objectively anymore, because we have believed and become Christians.
Let me give you another layer: the bondage to your sin nature. Paul talks about this in Romans 6:14-15, where he says, "You're no longer under law, but don't sin." It's very possible to not be under the law, meaning you have been freed from the law objectively and your objective guilt has been taken away, but Paul says it's very possible to still be a slave to sin. And he says, "Don't be a slave to sin." Why?
W. G. T. Shedd is an American Reformed systematic theologian of the nineteenth century. He says, "Sin is the suicidal action of the human will against itself." What he means is very simple: when you commit a sin, it makes it much easier to do it again and much harder to avoid, much harder to resist.
Every time you sin—each little one—you're destroying your ability to resist that sin. Every single time. "Sin is a suicidal action of the human will against itself." And that doesn't go away right away. When you accept Christ—when Christ accepts you—when the objective guilt is taken away, there's still a tremendous amount of bondage to sinful habits. You not only have a certain bondage to the law subjectively, but you have a tendency to go back into works-righteousness. And there's a tendency, of course, that we're still in bondage to our sin nature.
Lastly, we're still in bondage to idols. This is so important here to Exodus. If you love anything more than God—if there's anything more important to your own significance or security than God—even though you believe in God, then that is a kind of pseudo-god. It's a false god; it's a power in your life; it's a covenant master. You're in a sort of covenant with that thing or idea, and it will continually say, "Serve me or die." Just like Pharaoh.
Objectively, Pharaoh is no longer the Israelites' master. He said, "Go," and the Israelites left. But then Pharaoh comes back and says, "I want you back." And this happens in all our lives. Let me give you an example that can be true for your career, your children, or your ministry. Wanting to be a good minister is fine, as are all the emotions that come with it. If things go wrong in your ministry, you'll be sad. If someone gets in your way of doing a good job in your ministry, you'll be mad. If there's a threat to the future of your ministry, you'll be afraid. But if your ministry and your success in ministry is actually more important to your self-image than what God says about you, it's functionally an idol; it's more important to you than God. If you really start to believe that you're an important person, that you're worth something, that you have value because you're a successful minister, then when someone gets in the way of your ministry, you get incredibly angry—not just angry, but vehemently angry. When something goes wrong with your ministry, you're not just sad, you melt down. You completely lose it. And when something threatens your ministry, you're not just afraid, you're absolutely petrified. You are paralyzed with fear. Why? Because those are your old covenant masters coming back, in spite of the fact that you've given your life to Christ. They're coming back and saying, "Serve me or you will die. You need me. You can't live without me."
And that's the point. The point is that there's still slavishness in the Israelites' hearts. You still have the things you thought you were free from. And while you are free from them in one sense, in another sense they come back to you and rattle their sabers.
Years ago, I was trying to understand this, and I read David Martyn Lloyd-Jones' series of sermons on Romans 6. He has a fascinating illustration there that helped me unlock what Paul was talking about. He said this: Imagine that you are a slave in the Southern United States before the Emancipation Proclamation. That means you cannot vote, you have no power, somebody could beat you up, somebody probably could kill you. You don't have rights. And therefore when you were in town and some white person told you do this or do that and was abusive to you, you would be very frightened and would do anything they said.
Now it's ten years later, and Emancipation Proclamation has passed. You've got rights, but you walk into town and a white person starts to yell at you. Even though you know in your head, Hey, I have some rights here, you're still scared. You still act like a slave.
Lloyd-Jones says that this is actually the condition of every Christian: you know but you don't know that you've been saved. You know that you should be free. What you know with your head—that there is no condemnation for you because you're in Christ Jesus, and that God regards you as perfect in Christ's righteousness—you don't fully know in your heart. If you let what people think of you, or you let success or failure in this or that endeavor, completely build you up or destroy you, you are still a slave in your heart even though theoretically, technically, and objectively you're not. God has freed you from things you remain enslaved to, and you just haven't worked it in.
In other words, systematic theology class says that in God's salvation we're freed—in past tense—from the penalty of sin; we're getting free—present tense—from the power of sin; and eventually we will be free—in the future—from the very presence of sin. That's justification, sanctification, and glorification. You've heard that before, but here you have a picture of this process.
So the first thing we learn about Jesus' salvation is that it's about getting out of bondage. But bondage has layers. What do we do with that?
How do we get out of bondage?
What does the Red Sea story account tell us about how to get out of bondage? The answer is this: crossing over by grace.
In verses 13 and 14, when Moses hears the Israelites crying out, this is what Moses says (and boy is this classic): "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance of the Lord, the salvation of the Lord." He says, "Be still. The Lord will fight for you." And actually, he says, "See, the deliverance of the Lord will bring you."
Now, on the one hand, the principle of grace could not be clearer: Stand still. God's going to do your fighting. Watch. You can't do it. You can't perform it. You can't contribute to it. You're not going to do a dog-gone thing about this deliverance; God is going to do the whole thing.
And when Moses says, "Be still and trust the God who will fight for you," that comes close to Romans 4:5 which says, "And now to him who worketh not"—that's being still—"but trusts the God who justifies the ungodly, to him his faith is credited as righteousness." That sure comes awfully close. Be still. Don't look at your works. Receive a complete salvation, done not by your works but by Christ's work.
So there's the principle of grace, but I like that we're not just given the principle; we're actually given a wonderful image. How does that grace operate? It operates by crossing over.
On one side of the Red Sea, the Israelites are within reach of their old false masters. They are under sentence of death. Pharaoh said, "We're going to go get 'em. We're going to get 'em or we're going to kill 'em." So when they were on that side of the sea, they were reachable, still under sentence of death. But as soon as they crossed over, they crossed over from death to life. They crossed over from being under condemnation, and they were no longer under the sentence of death.
This is one of the reasons why we have a religion that is absolutely and utterly different than any other religion. I've been saying this for 30 years and every so often I look at even minor religions to make sure that no one can present to me a religion that I haven't read about yet. But every other religion is like building a bridge. There's water, so you put a pylon down, then you put another pylon down, then you build a bridge out over that pylon, and if the government changes and they run out of tax money, the bridge goes nowhere. But then when more money comes, you put another pylon down, and so on.
That's what every other religion is like: it's a process. You're trying to get over to the other side. You never feel like you've really quite arrived, but you're trying. This is not so with Christianity. One minute you're not regenerate; another minute you are. One minute you're not adopted; another minute you are. What does it mean to be adopted? You either are or you aren't. There's no process. You're either in the kingdom of darkness, or you've been transferred into the kingdom of his Son.Think of all those statements and images that make Christianity unique. You either are a Christian, or you're not a Christian.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones used this as a little test with people: when he was talking with someone and trying to get a sense of where they were spiritually, he'd say, "Let me ask you a question. Are you a Christian? I mean, are you a Christian today?" Many, many people, especially British people who always want to be very modest, would say, "Well, I'm trying." The doctor would proceed to explain to them that their answer indicated they had no idea what Christianity was about at all. Not in the slightest. Because, he says, "What makes you a Christian is the change of status." You're in that kingdom, now you're in this kingdom. You were out of the family of God, now you're in the family of God. You're not born again, now you are born again. You were not justified—you were under the wrath of God—and now you are justified." Bang. It happens like that.
Do you know the power of this crossing over? Look at Paul. As a Pharisee, he killed people. And we're told in Romans 7 that somehow the law of God seems to have broken through Paul's self-righteousness. He says, "The commandment came home and it slew me." We're never quite sure just what that autobiographical note means, but it seems like Paul began to realize what he had done.
In a 2002 movie called Heaven, Cate Blanchett plays a teacher. She's just a normal woman who is so upset about how a drug dealer is ruining the lives of children in a particular part of the city. No one, including the police, will listen to her concerns, so she decides to detonate a bomb in the drug dealer's office and kill him. But what happens is, the night watchman takes the bomb out of the office not knowing it was in the waste can. He takes it with him into an elevator, and it explodes and kills four people, including children. When Cate Blanchett's character learns that the bomb has killed children, she just collapses. Physically, spiritually, she is a mass of smoking wreckage.
In a sense she goes into a hell of guilt and shame. I have to use the word hell mainly because it's not just a guilty conscience she has. She collapses, and she essentially goes into a hell of guilt and shame. She never gets out of it the rest of the movie.
Paul must have known that same guilt and shame. And yet then he says, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." How could he say such a thing like that? He crossed over. He didn't say, "Well, I've got a lot to atone for in my life." That's the way the heart works. That's what the person would say who is still in bondage to the law. But no, Paul says, "Now there's no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." He says, "I was the chief of sinners. And yet God is using me the most." Paul's able to be that realistic. He's unbelievably humble about who he is, and yet he's able to say, "I'm really, honestly, the most fruitful of all the apostles."
Paul has astounding boldness and humility at the same time. Why? He crossed over. He knew where he stood. He hadn't really begun yet to change on the inside, but he knew where he stood with God. It's astonishing.
Somebody says, "Yeah, you're saved by grace apart from your good works, but you've got to believe, don't you? You've really got to believe with all of your heart. Isn't that right? Because salvation is by faith." Our text in Exodus tells us something about that. I love that it tells us that the "waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and a wall on their left." Now, I can tell you, some of these Israelites walk through saying, "Look at this! God's on our side. Eat your heart out, Egyptians! The Lord is fighting for us!" They walked through with confidence. But I know there was a bunch of others walking through thinking, I'm going to die. I'm going to die. I'm going to die, I'm going to die! Oh my gosh!! They all walked through with completely different qualities of faith. They were all equally saved. Why? Because you're not saved based of the quality of your faith. You're saved because of the object of your faith: the Redeemer, the God who is fighting for you.
Everything about this text says, "Grace, grace, grace, grace, crossing over." Charles Spurgeon talks about the face that Moses says, "Stand still. Be still and let God fight for you." That part is very important, because if you try to add to God's salvation, you subtract. If you try to do something to merit God's salvation, you actually haven't believed at all. You're putting your faith in yourself.
At one point Spurgeon says, "I dare say that you will think it a very easy thing to stand still. But it is one of the postures which a Christian soldier learns not without years of teaching. I find that marching and quick marching are much easier to God's warriors than standing still." He goes on and says, "The apostle seems to hint at this difficulty when he says, 'Stand fast.' To stand at ease in the midst of tribulation shows a veteran spirit, long experienced, and much in grace."
I'm afraid many people take what Spurgeon says and even take this text and say, "You see? Moses says stand still, and the Lord will fight for you. If I have enough faith, if I let go and let God, God will fight my battles for me. God will deal with these circumstances." I don't think that's what Exodus is saying. Exodus is saying to stand still and see that God has already fought the big battle for you. It's already been accomplished. If you're a Christian, you've already crossed over. Sin and death have been dealt with, and all your other problems are flea bites in comparison with that. And that's how you deal with your flea bites: instead of looking at them as this big thing, you see what he's already done for you.
So, what is Jesus' salvation according to the Red Sea? It's freedom from bondage, though it has many layers. How does this salvation come? It comes obviously by grace, and it comes by crossing over. But we're not done, for a couple reasons. One of the reasons is that we're still saying, "How do we make sure that we bring to bear Christ's salvation to these bondage layers we are becoming free from?" Why is it possible for us to get out of bondage?
Why is it possible for us to get out of bondage?
The Egyptians went through the water and were devastated, right? They were killed. But when the Israelites went through the water, they were fine. Why did the Israelites get out? Let's go back to the water for a minute.
Flood waters. If you go to most commentaries on Noah's flood, most are going to say, "God could've judged the world a whole lot of ways." But water was significant. Why? If you go back to Genesis 1, the very beginning, we see that darkness is upon the face of the waters, darkness is on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moves across the face of the waters. And then things began to happen. Instead of darkness, God separated the darkness from the light, and there was day and night. And God brought the waters together, and then there was land.
When the Spirit of God moves across the faces of the water, it's the Spirit of God bringing order out of chaos. Not only in the Bible, but actually in the ancient culture surrounding Israel at the time, water represented chaos, and justifiably so. Water is chaos. Water is death. And yet God's creative Spirit comes across the face of the water and things get orderly. He brings order out of chaos.
Therefore, when God uses the flood to destroy the world in the time of Noah, what he's actually doing is making a very appropriate judgment. It's what some people have called "de-creation." What's happening is a reversal of Creation. If you turn away from the Creator, you actually turn away from the goodness of Creation, and disintegration and chaos are unleashed.
You know this. Those of you here who are married, if one of you hurts the other person, and the one who is hurt decides to withhold forgiveness but doesn't necessarily say that, that person is unleashing chaos into your marriage until the other person obeys. The wages of sin is disintegration, which is another way of saying death.
In the flood, God was actually unleashing the forces of chaos, which is a justifiable judgment. Because when you turn away from the Creator, you turn away from the goodness of Creation and you bring into your life de-creation. You bring into your life disintegration, the reversal of Creation. And many people have pointed out that that's what the plagues are. Just before this incident, God visited Egypt with plagues Those plagues are the same thing.
See, as Pharaoh decided to resist the Creator, what came down into Egypt was what you can call de-creation, disintegration. There was darkness upon the face of the land. The darkness might actually be called the eleventh plague, because what is happening here? Egypt's sin has unleashed the forces of chaos, and they have experienced de-creation, and they are being judged. The flood waters represent what happens to you when you turn away from God. We don't mind that, because the Egyptians deserve it. But if you say, "Well, the Israelites were good people, the Egyptians were bad people, so of course the Israelites would get through the waters," you haven't read your Bible very far.
Not only do you see the Israelites' petulance and their childishness right here, but the fact is that they're not just fools, they're murderous fools; they just don't have the same power the Egyptians have. That's all. They can't do the genocide right now, because they just don't have the technology. They're no better than the Egyptians. So the real question is, if God's waters of judgment are standing up on both sides, and they come down on the Egyptians rightly, why don't the waters come down on the Israelites? And of course you know the answer: the Israelites had a mediator.
Verse 14 says that everyone cried out. They said, "Didn't we say to you, 'Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians," and so on. Then you get down to verse 15, and the Lord says to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me?" Earlier, we see the Israelites crying out in rebellion, "We wish we were back in Egypt," and God shows up and rebukes Moses. But there's no indication that Moses was crying out with them. Commentaries go two ways on this. I've seen a number of liberal commentaries say, "Well, of course Moses must have been doing that, or God would not have rebuked him." But I've seen a couple of other commentaries ask, "Why?"
Later on, by the way, in verse 21, we're told Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, but before the verse is over, it says and all that night the Lord drove the sea back. Here's what you've got: You've got one man who is so identified with the Israelites that their guilt is upon him, and a man so identified with God that God's power is coming through him. Moses is the man in the middle. He's so identified with the people that he gets rebuked for their sin. And he's so identified with God that he's a vehicle for God's saving power.
But I know a better mediator. We don't have in Jesus Christ just a mediator who was fully man and close to God. We have a mediator who is fully God and fully man. Not only that, we don't have a mediator who's rebuked for one sin in one verse.
When Jonah was in the boat and the storm and waves of God's wrath were about to sink the boat, Jonah turned to all the sailors and said, "This is a storm of God's wrath. And the only way you're going to be saved is for you to throw me in. Throw me in and you'll be saved." And so the others threw him in and they were saved.
And Jesus had the audacity to say, "Someone greater than Jonah is here," talking about himself. What does that mean? It means that Jesus Christ on the Cross was thrown into that ocean of God's wrath. Remember that Jonah said, "I'm cut off from thy sight," which of course wasn't literally true; it was a figure of speech. When Jesus Christ said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" he was being put under a notion of God's wrath. In fact, all the plagues came down on Jesus: darkness came down on Jesus. What was going on? Jesus Christ was being de-created so you and I could be re-created.
Jesus Christ received the reality that all these flood waters and all this flood stuff points to. He received the reality of it in his life. And that's the reason why all the other things we're talking about are possible. It's the reason why we can be brought out and the reason why we can keep going back to the well of Jesus' salvation to deal with layer after layer of bondage.
At one point Moses as the mediator went to God when God said, "I've had it with these people." And Moses said, "Save them and blot my name out of the book." And God didn't do it. But when our mediator Jesus Christ offered himself, God did save. Jesus is the ultimate mediator, and that's the reason why you and I can cross over.
Here's something vital to see: the children of Israel go from Egypt to Sinai. One of the easiest ways to explain the gospel to somebody from the Old Testament is to say that when the Israelites started to obey God's law, he brought them out. But God actually brought them out and then gave them the law. That's the gospel, right? The gospel isn't "Because I've been obeying God, now I'm saved." Oh no. It is because I've been saved by his free grace that now I want to obey God. More than that, in Leviticus 11:45 God says, "I brought you out of Egypt. Therefore, be holy."
The more you meditate on what Jesus has done, the more you see the flood waters go over his head in your heart and in your minds' eye; the more you see what he's done, the more holy you will be. When someone says to me, "Well, I know I shouldn't be doing that, but I know God forgives me," I think, You don't know the first thing about forgiveness! Nobody who understands the grace of God would ever take sin lightly. The more you deal with the free grace of God, the more you work it into your heart, the more you understand that your salvation has nothing to do with how you behave, the more radically that's going to change your behavior.
God says: I brought you out of Egypt that you be holy. I brought you out of Egypt to take you to Sinai and give you the law. When you think about this, why do you sin? Sometimes you sin just because it's the easiest way. Let the gratitude you should have for God fill your heart with so much joy that you say, "I'm not going to do that anymore."
But often the reason we sin is because of the idols. We sin because we're afraid, because we're being controlled by these things. But the grace of God frees us from our idols. Therefore, anybody who says that it doesn't matter how you live still hasn't begun to come to grips with the truth. Not in the slightest.
When God says, "I brought you out of Egypt so you can be holy," he's basically saying that we're saved by faith alone, but not by faith which remains alone. You're saved by faith, not with works, but if your works do not grow out of faith, then you don't have any faith. We see this through the Exodus narrative, too. It's amazing; it's just the gospel.
I've always been moved by one of Charles and John Wesley's friends, William Holland. He was converted one night when they were reading aloud from Luther's preface of Commentary on the Galatians, and there's a place where Luther says, "What then? Have we nothing to do? No, nothing but accept Christ who is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption. Have we nothing to do? No, nothing. Be still." Do you realize what the Hebrew is basically there? When it says "Be still and see the salvation of the Lord," it's essentially the word Yeshua. Be still and look at Jesus, the Lord. Be still. Realize that all your salvation is in him. Realize you have nothing to contribute at all, and look at him. That will make you holy. And actually, it will make you a Christian if you're not one now.
Nathan Cole became a Christian while listening to George Whitfield preach in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1744. He was practically illiterate, but he wrote what it was like to listen to Whitfield preach and how he became a Christian. I've always been moved by his writing. He said this: "My hearing him preach gave me a heart wound. And by God's grace my old foundation was broken up, and I saw that my righteousness could not save me." If that's beginning to happen to you now, go on and don't stop until you know what this means: the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sins.
Timothy Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. He is also the Chairman & Co-Founder of Redeemer City to City, which starts new churches in New York and other global cities, and publishes books and resources for ministry in an urban environment.