18 October 2012

A stick, salt water, salvation — and us

by Dan Phillips

"God works through means," we say.

And it's true. In fact, He usually works through means. That is to say, God uses some portion of His creation to affect some other portion of His creation.


This is maybe better understood if we think of the one occasion in which God used no means: the creation of the universe. Unless you wish to press the thought that God used His word (Ps. 33:6), God did not create the universe by means of anything in the universe. One timeless moment; the triune God alone; the next (first!) moment, a word, and bam! — the universe.

Otherwise, He uses means. Adam must feed himself, must build a shelter. Eve must make clothes. Noah has to cut down a lot of trees. And so on.

Now, sometimes the means are plain and proportionate. Right now, I'm tapping keys, and letters are appearing on the screen. No letter appears without a tap; a tap produces a letter. Or a space. Means, simple and straightforward.

And then there's this scene:
The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” 
19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:15–22)

What obvious causal relationship was there between Moses lifting his staff, and that great body of water cleaving in two? None. Zero. If he'd poked it in the sea, he'd have displaced a bit of water. But holding it out? No relationship whatever. After all, this is a walking stick. It isn't some wand from Hogwarts.

Yet, would the waters have parted, had Moses not stretched out the staff? No.

So though there was no direct causal relationship between Action A and Action B, the former was necessary for the latter. Why? Because God ordained it to be so. Because God ordained to use the means of Moses raising his staff. When Moses did what God told him to do, God accomplished what Moses was unable to effect.

Now to the abrupt payoff.

Tell me how this relates to Romans 10:8-17, and what effect this truth should have on you and me.

Don't let me down.

Dan Phillips's signature


24 comments:

E1970F said...

Scary to be the first one commenting here. I don't want to let anyone down.

We see four human activities mentioned here that roughly correlate with the stretching forth of Moses' rod: confession, belief, calling, and hearing. Confession causes salvation, belief causes justification, calling also lends to salvation, and hearing* leads to faith.

Again, there is no innate power or direct causal relationship between these actions and their results. Rather God has ordained them as means to bring about His ends.

In my opinion we have here a beautiful balance between human responsibility and divine sovereignty. Yes a person must confess, believe, call, etc., but we see that salvation is still entirely of the Lord. Human confession, belief, and calling obviously have no power to accomplish a resurrection. But God has incorporated these things into His life-giving work.

The logical extension then is that hearing is required, hence preaching of the word of Christ is also required. Hyper-calvinists need not apply. While God is sovereign, He has graciously condescended to include us in His work. Rather than lazily sitting back to enjoy the show we should be actively and passionately preaching His Word and pursuing His kingdom.

"...thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness..." Matt. 3:15

Sheldon Clowdus said...

Let me take a stab at this....

Just as what makes the raising of Moses' staff a cause of the parting of the Red Sea, despite there being no direct causal relationship, was the Word of God making it so...so the cause of the salvation of sinners is the Holy Spirit regenerating hearts through the power of the gospel, despite there being no logical or direct causal relationship between the two. The proclamation of the biblical gospel is necessary to the salvation of sinners because God has ordained it to be so.

For us that means that we must proclaim, preach, teach, share, and guard the gospel as it is laid out in the Word of God because God has ordained the end of salvation to be accomplished through the means of earthen vessels such as ourselves preaching the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Frank Turk said...

With huge respect, and I think full agreement, I think you forgot a word: "ordinary" means.

God can do whatever he wants to do, but He has chosen ordinary means in Scripture, preaching, and of course the local church to complete his will.

Tom Chantry said...

The only thing that made holding out a rod over the sea effective was the fact that God had ordained it, and the only reason Moses could have thought to do it was that God told him to.

Similarly, the only reason preaching is ever effective to the saving of souls is that God ordained it to be so, and the only reason it occurs to us to preach is that God told us so.

Having little time to unpack all the implications, I'll stick to two that jump to mind.

1. As a preacher, I should feel about as much pride of accomplishment when someone is saved as Moses should have felt when the sea parted. I had about as much to do with it as he did.

2. For a preacher / church to decide that preaching isn't likely to work and we ought to try something else is roughly equivalent to Moses deciding to chuck rocks into the sea instead of holding out his staff.

Bill said...

Q: Tell me how this relates to Romans 10:8-17, and what effect this truth should have on you and me.

A: It relates thusly: we are to obey. "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word;"
Methods are His. Results are His. Glory is His. Doing is ours.

Eric said...

But Tom, chucking rocks into the sea is so fun, and people like it!

Cathy said...

We discussed 2 Cor.4 last night at church fellowship which is overlapping with your post. All Moses had to do was simply hold up his staff- a very simple, easy thing to do. We are to proclaim the good news of Jesus- also a very simple, easy thing to do. The fact that God uses our doing a simple easy thing in order to do miraculous things like parting the Red Sea or regenerating a dead person- is by design, so that the surpassing greatness of His power will be on display, not mine or Moses', and so that He will receive all of the glory.
The effect is twofold: it humbles me by reminding me that it's God's power that saves, and He is to receive all the glory due Him for salvation.
It encourages me by reminding me that telling people about Jesus is a simple, easy thing to do. I can do that. I don't have to be a great apologist or theologian. God has ordained that He will work through clay pots to accomplish His will.

JackW said...

Mishandling the staff is also easy and comes with a heavy price to pay.

jbboren said...

"This is maybe better understood if we think of the one occasion in which God used no means: the creation of the universe."

I don't think you've spoken a contradiction, but some might take it that way, and it very much matters to the context of your question. So, how do you equate your above proposition with Col 1:16?

For by1 him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

DJP said...

No contradiction. Second paragraph:

"In fact, He usually works through means. That is to say, God uses some portion of His creation to affect some other portion of His creation."

Christ is no "portion of His creation."

Jim Pemberton said...

But I notice something else. Let me set this up. Some may contend that although God ordained means, that the means are still a cause of sorts and still go back to human will.

Verse 9 contains what appears to be a conditional statement. I’m always careful when seeing conditional statements because most people formulate them backwards in normal speech thinking that the antecedent causes the consequent where the consequent is almost always the cause of the antecedent since results usually have multiple causes. So you wouldn’t say, “if the light switch is up then the light is on,” because some other necessary cause might not be present, like a functioning light bulb or an adequate power source. You would say “if the light is on, then the light switch is up.” The light being on (antecedent/effect) is sufficient for concluding that the light switch is up (consequent/cause).

So the next question is: is the conditional statement in verse 9 logically formulated or reverse-formulated? Given the future tense of “will be saved”, it’s tempting to say that the confession causes the salvation, but since the resulting salvation is an eternal condition, the future tense is merely incidental. This leads me to verse 14. It’s not a conditional formulation. What is the difference between believing and calling if one is mute? Don’t we often say one merely has to have faith (pistis is also the word for believe)? What place does calling have? Verse 10 makes a distinction between justification and salvation that we would recognize is an unnecessary distinction. The two are always true. We can’t say, “Well, you have faith so you’re justified, but you didn’t confess Christ, so you’re not saved.” This list reminds me of the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3 that links Jesus to the messianic title “Son of God” through Adam. If this were causal by necessity then each of us could likewise be considered “Son of God”. So the causal chain in Romans 10 is likely incidental.

But if the causal chain is similar to Moses, which I believe it is, then the causal chain is a visual sign of what is happening that is not visible. The evidence of the difference is not in the chain, however. The evidence is in verse 16: “But they have no all obeyed the gospel.” If the causal chain is independent of the work of God in the hearts of believers, then why do some not believe? Some may say “human will”, but that would spoil the causal chain. That means that the point I made about verse 10 doesn’t apply to the whole chain… unless the chain is evidence that God is the sustaining cause throughout – that he has ordained the visible to give testimony to the invisible and that it is really he who is at work in the hearts of believers.

Daryl said...

We must confess and believe in order to be saved.

However we are saved by God's regenerating power, not by our confession and belief.

To rip off Chantry and mix his metaphor with mine...false converts are those who had a better idea and rather than confessing and believing and repenting, they chucked rocks into the sea...

Verification code...Impowa.

As in, unless God impowas an action, it will not accomplish the will of God.

Jeremiah Greenwell said...

Well, apart from Chantry's excellent answer:

"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?...

"But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "LORD, who has believed our report?"

If you look at the passage Paul is referring to in Romans 10:5-8 in Deuteronomy, what immediately follows is an exhortation to obey (Deuteronomy 30:15-16).

The point is that obedience is the substance of faith; it isn't obedience that saves (just like it wasn't Moses obedience to God's command that parted the Red Sea), but the one who is saved will obey (just as Moses obeyed unquestioningly even though it didn't make any earthly sense).

Michael Coughlin said...

We need to remember to preach the gospel always, and use words because they are necessary.

Tobias said...

So, Jim Pemberton, if I follow you, you're saying v9 might more accurately be understood, "If you are going to be saved (eg. if you're for-ordained to be saved), you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and nbelieve in your heart othat God raised him from the dead."

Is that where you're going?

Jim Pemberton said...

Tobias, What I'm saying that the potential for uncertainly runs deep on this verse. Most likely, I think Paul is conveying an apparent causal relationship where confessing causes salvation. But understanding that, we can't plug it into a formal logical argument.

I think many fine commenters have already pointed out that there is a call for obedience in this passage in general. I would say that it applies to verse 9 as well as the others. We must profess although technically God is the first cause of both the professing and the saving.

But who of us doesn't want to profess? Actually, it makes a huge difference in parts of the world where professing is the difference between life and death. But that goes in a direction I don't think Dan intended with this post.

Ken said...

The best of the comments together;

Chucking rocks into the sea could be fun, and people might enjoy it.
But if Moses had decided to chuck rocks into the sea instead of holding out his staff, as God had told him to do.
Would the sea have parted ?
No, the thing that made holding out his staff over the sea effective was the fact that God had ordained it.
When Moses obeyed, God parted the sea.
God has ordained that hearing the Gospel is the means to salvation.
So why do so many people just want to chuck rocks into the sea ?
Just give people the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
And have faith in God to save them.
After all obedience to God is the substance of faith.

Lord, please help us to be obedient and just do things Your way, so that all the Glory will go to You !!!

DJP said...

Some absolutely terrific comments, folks.

More?

Robert said...

There is so much here to unpack and I'm sure I'll only touch on the surface, but here goes...

1) The word of faith that we proclaim - the gospel - is near us...in our mouths and heart. And we know that Paul has already said that this is the power of God for salvation to all - Jew and Greek.

2) If this word brings salvation through the act of preaching, then we should be preaching it because that is what God has prescribed as the means of bringing salvation to the world. Yes, we pray, study, and examine ourselves, but we also need to be about the business of preaching the word in whatever circles God has given us (or the Holy Spirit convicts/encourages us - not through signs and wonders) to do so within.

3) We need to send people to spread/preach the gospel. The church should actively support missionaries financially, through prayer, and also through encouragement and times of refreshment/renewal. I also strongly believe that missionaries and churches should be accountable to one another and the missionary needs to be submitting himself to the leadership of a local church that sends him out.

4) We are not assured that everybody who hears the gospel will have their hearts turned to God by God. That isn't our work. Paul said that he and Apollos each did their own task (watering, planting) and God caused the growth. Each would be reawarded according to their work, not the results. Same goes for us...we do the work of preaching the gospel and God rewards us according to our work.

5) God says that our feet are beautiful for preaching the gospel. Take that in for a moment - God says that something we do is beautiful. That doesn't mean we need to slap our own backs, but we should be honored to receive such a blessing just for doing what God says we need to do.

6) God will bestow His riches on all who call on His name in belief (of Jesus, as He shows Himself to be in the Bible - not misconceived notions). Who do we want not to have the opportunity to receive this blessing? Especially when we consider the mercy that God has shown to us.

7) Belief in Jesus and preaching the Word. This is of utmost importance...we must be about the business of showing people Jesus from all of the Bible. This isn't trying to force Him into every verse, but being diligent to show the true nature and character of Jesus from all of the Bible. There are too many people who believe in a caricature that they have put together from a few random verses and how they feel in their hearts. And then they blaspheme by saying that Jesus is this caricature they have put together. The world is more than happy to put their own spin on Jesus and define him in their own way. Keep in mind that Satan and more demons than most people can imagine are active in the world. Paul said that we fight against principalities and powers - and that is what he is talking about. And their influence in the world is great, so we should be actively preaching the truth about Jesus and not just letting such principalities and powers be the ones telling people about Jesus.

We have so much in the Bible to preach about and point us and others to Jesus. The more I read, the more I want to share because it is so great. It is like I just can't hold it in sometimes. And I can't help but to defend the truth when I hear somebody malign the name of Jesus.

Not sure if all of this is what you are looking for, but it is just what comes to mind. Also, this post is quite a timely blessing, as I am about to complete a wonderful book on evangelism that covers all imaginable areas of the ministry of evangelism.

Linda said...

I believe in all that God does it's monergistic..

And I also believe that "God inspires us to fear him as is
stated in Jeremiah 32:40

In light of Romans 10:8-17 the next Chapter in Romans verse 36 it says~ "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen."

Act 17:28a 'For in him we live and move and have our being.'

1Cr 4:7a For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?

God doesn't need anyone to do his will. But I believe he does indeed choose to use a willing person who is willing so that he can express his mercy and grace and they can be in on enjoying God in their lives

trogdor said...

"And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?"

And as an ordinary means, I would axe: how can they preach if they don't know what the Word says? Preaching is an ordinary means through which people can believe, and diligent study of the Word is an ordinary means through which you learn something worth preaching.

Sure, God could just put the knowledge in you, like when He created the universe from nothing. But isn't it infinitely more likely that He'll make you use the truth that He's already provided in scripture?

donsands said...

"I believe he does indeed choose to use a willing person"=Linda

So the believer can be willing to share of the mercy God has brought into his or her life: But the unbeliever is not willing.

Jesus is the Truth. Only he can open a heart, so that this heart will have all the qualities that are needed to believe, follow, and love Christ.

Good thoughts about Moses and his walking staff.
have a terrific weekend and especially Lord's Day in the Lord's house with the Lord's people!

Nathan said...

Taking this exact illustration to another time Moses was told to use his staff. Exodus 17, the means of obtaining water was ordained by God to be Moses striking a rock with his staff. Later on in Numbers 20 the same problem of no water arose, but this time God's ordained means was for Moses to speak to a rock. Moses, furious with the lack of trust and complaining nature of the Israelites, struck the rock twice rather than just speaking to it. For this, he was excluded from entering the promised land, despite the physical fruit, which was still water from a rock.

semijohn said...
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