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If there is one Old Testament passage that the New Testament invites us to read in a Christ-centered way as a paradigm of Christ’s salvation, it’s the exodus.

I’ll never forget nearly 40 years ago sitting in R. C. Sproul’s living room in Stahlstown, Pennsylvania. Alec Motyer, a British Old Testament scholar I had never heard of, was visiting. I was on the floor with a bunch of other college and seminary students, and Sproul said to Motyer, “Tell us about the connection between the Old and New Testaments.” Motyer replied something like this:

Think about it. Think of what an Israelite would say on the way to Canaan after passing through the Red Sea. If you asked an Israelite, “Who are you?” he might reply, “I was in a foreign land under the sentence of death and in bondage, but I took shelter under the blood of the lamb. And our mediator led us out, and we crossed over. Now we’re on our way to the Promised Land, though we’re not there yet. But he has given us his law to make us a community, and he has given us a tabernacle because we must live by grace and forgiveness. And he is present in our midst, and he will stay with us until we arrive home.

Then Motyer added, “That’s exactly what a Christian says—almost word for word.” And my 23-year-old self thought, “Huh.”

What can we learn from the Red Sea crossing about Jesus and our salvation?

No Ordinary Religion

Christianity, which of course is the fulfillment of Judaism, is absolutely and utterly different from every other religion. I’ve been saying this for more than 30 years, and I regularly look at other religions to make sure that someone won’t pull a “preacher gotcha” on me: “What about this religion over here?” and I’d have to say, “I haven’t heard about that one. Let me read about it.” No, every other religion is like building a bridge. You build a bridge by putting pylons down, and then you build the bridge over the pylons. And if you run out of money, it’s the bridge to nowhere. There are a few like that. That is what every other religion is like. It’s a process in which you are trying to get over to the other side. You never feel like you have arrived, but you’re trying. In every other religion, people are trying to work their way across.

Not with Christianity. One minute you’re not regenerate and the next minute you are. One minute you’re not adopted and the next minute you are. Either you are regenerate and adopted, or you aren’t. There’s no process. Either you’re in the kingdom of darkness, or God has brought you into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Col. 1:13). Think of all those statements and images that make Christianity unique: you either are a Christian or are not. “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

This idea of crossing over—going from death to life immediately—is something that Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to use as a little test or analogy. When he was talking to individuals and trying to get a sense of where they were spiritually, he would ask them, “Are you a Christian?” If they said, “Well, I’m trying” (and many people said this, especially British people, who want to be modest), then Lloyd-Jones would proceed to explain that their answer indicated that they had no idea what Christianity is about at all. Not in the slightest. What makes one a Christian is a change in status.

  1. You were in that kingdom, and now you’re in this kingdom.
  2. You were out of the family of God, and now you’re in the family of God.
  3. You were not born again, and now you are born again.
  4. You were under God’s wrath, and now you’re justified.

Bang! It happens like that. Do you know the power of this?

Not Saved By Your Faith’s Strength

Cate Blanchett acted in a 2002 movie called Heaven. It’s not a well-known movie, but Cate Blanchett is one of the best actresses out there. It’s a movie about a normal woman who is upset about how a drug dealer is ruining the lives of children in a particular part of the city. The police won’t listen to her, so she decides to detonate a bomb in a drug dealer’s office and kill him. But a night watchman takes the bomb out, having discovered it in a waste basket, and puts it into an elevator where it explodes and kills four people, including children. When Blanchett’s character, a woman who loves children and is doing this for the sake of children, learns that she has killed children, she collapses. Because Blanchett is such a great actress, you can see her collapse physically and emotionally. She is a smoking wreck. In one sense she goes into a hell of guilt and shame, and she never gets out of it.

Paul sensed that same guilt and shame, and yet he wrote, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). How could he say such a thing? Paul crossed over. He didn’t say, “Well, I’ve got a lot to atone for in my life.” That is the way the heart works for a person who is in bondage to the law. But Paul was unbelievably humble about who he was, and it wasn’t false modesty. Why? Because he crossed over. He knew where he stood. Of course, Paul had only begun to change on the inside, but he knew where he stood with God. It’s astonishing.

Somebody says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re saved by grace apart from works and your moral effort. But you’ve got to believe, don’t you? And you’ve really got to believe with all your heart because salvation is by faith.” Don’t do that. Do you know what you’re doing? Even this text tells us something about that: “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left” (Ex. 14:21–22). The Israelites all crossed over, but that doesn’t mean that they all crossed over with the same disposition.

  • Some walked through marveling at the walls of water: “Wow! Look at that! God is on our side! Eat your heart out, Egyptians! The Lord is fighting for us.”
  • Others were probably walking through like this: “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die!

Yet they all crossed over. Individual Israelites had different qualities of faith, but they were all equally saved. They were equally delivered. Why? Because you are not saved because of the quality of your faith. You are 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 is by grace.”

Charles Spurgeon preached on Moses’s saying, “Stand firm . . . . be still” and let God fight for you (Ex. 14:13–14). When you try to add to God’s salvation, you subtract. If you try to merit God’s salvation, you haven’t believed in God at all; you are trusting yourself, even if you try to do only a little bit. At one point Spurgeon says:

I dare say 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. It is, perhaps, the first thing we learn in the drill of human armies, but it is one of the most difficult to learn under the Captain of our salvation. The apostle seems to hint at this difficulty when he says, “Stand fast, and having done all, still stand.” To stand at ease in the midst of tribulation, shows a veteran spirit, long experience, and much grace.

If you’re a Christian, you’ve already crossed over. God has dealt with sin and death, and all of your other problems are merely flea bites in comparison. That’s how you deal with your flea bites—by not looking at them as massive problems. Look at what God has already done for you.

Editors’ note: 

This is an adapted excerpt from The Scriptures Testify about Me: Jesus and the Gospel in the Old Testament (Crossway, 2013), edited by D. A. Carson.