Spurgeon, Snake Bites, and Sanctification
It was a snowy day in January 1850, and Charles Spurgeon was only 15 years old. Walking to Sunday service at his own church, he was overcome by the snowstorm and slipped into a small, sparsely attended church along the way. The pastor was absent, presumably due to the storm, and a lay leader took to the pulpit. He preached on a single verse from Isaiah:
“Look to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)
That day changed young Charles Spurgeon forever—he came to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Spurgeon went on to be one of the most prolific ministers of the 19th century, whose mark on the church today is hard to overestimate.
Spurgeon was saved through the irresistible call of God’s Word to look to the only Savior. But what does “look to Christ” mean? It may feel frustrating because it sounds so deep and spiritual. How do we do it?
Deadly Snake Bites
In Numbers, we come to a truly harrowing scene as the people of Israel travel with Moses through the wilderness:
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4–9)
Did the people have to crawl over and touch the bronze serpent to be healed? Did they have to chant any particular words or pray with special emotion? No! They looked.
Our Only Cure: Look and Live!
When we look to Christ, we’re doing the same thing that the snake-bitten Israelites did in the desert. Stung by serpents, with venom coursing through their veins, they were doomed. The problem was within them—death was certain. Can you see the amazing simplicity of their salvation? As Spurgeon said, “look and live!” What must we do to receive God’s effective and ready help? Simply look! Even those who are suffering and weary can look. You may not feel you can run a race; maybe you can barely lift your head. But can you look?
Jesus is not only the destination for our soul’s rest; he is the way as well.
Jesus points to this story, too: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14–16). What is salvation? Believing in—looking to—Jesus.
But looking to Christ is not a single action when we first come to saving faith. Looking to Jesus is a believer’s continual act and lifelong pursuit. Jesus is not only the destination for our soul’s rest; he is the way as well (John 14:6).
Where do you find yourself today? Are you stuck in a rut? Does your broken marriage, your pornography secret, or the struggles of your child feel like a death sentence? Have you given up hope that Jesus can help you in the mess of your suffering and sin?
Reasons We Don’t Look
Shame can feel like a heavy blanket covering us. It can be a powerful de-motivator, keeping us from risk or transparency because our hearts are sunk deep down. I’ve been there. The paradox is that the true antidote to shame is to be known and loved amid it, not waiting to look to Jesus until you feel you’re on the other side. Jesus bore our shame; he became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). As your compassionate Savior, he sympathizes with you as you feel shame’s sting; he longs to meet you in it with his gentle care.
It’s humbling to look outside yourself for the rescue you need. Some days I’m addicted to self-sufficiency— “pulling myself up by my bootstraps.” One painful lesson I’ve been learning is that my pride keeps me from receiving the humbling help I need from outside myself. Why is it so humbling? Because I have nothing to do with it! Looking to Christ requires that we abandon all hope in ourselves—our best intentions, our best efforts—and wholly cast ourselves on Christ’s mercy and strong help.
Sometimes looking to Christ seems too good to be true. How can God really help me? What could Jesus possibly do in this darkness? We ask these questions from a place of unbelief and hard-heartedness, not knowing that the God we serve is able to do more than we could even ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20)!
Jesus Is Your Only Real Hope
Referring to Israel’s pilgrimage in the wilderness, Jesus speaks about himself as the bread of life and gives an incredible promise: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).
Your growth in holiness depends on Jesus and happens as you behold him!
Jesus repeats the very same “look and live” concept, and he points to himself as the only hope for eternal life. Believing Jesus is not merely coming to Christ for salvation; by believing, we have life in his name (John 20:31). The whole life of the Christian—in suffering, through struggles with sin, and all the way to heaven’s sinless glory—is believing the Lord Jesus, not just all that he has said, but all that he is to his people. Looking to Jesus is turning our attention to him as our only hope, rescue, and refuge and surrendering to obey him, whatever the cost.
Behold! Your Path of Sanctification
What does all this have to do with the struggle of a pornography addiction or feeling ensnared by an unholy relationship? Friends, it is only by looking to Jesus that we will be transformed to look more like him (2 Cor. 3:18). Your growth in holiness depends on Jesus and happens as you behold him! Will you agree today that your greatest need is to look to Jesus and live? Let your heart be changed by beholding him in his Word, with his people, and by his Spirit. We all need help to grow more like Jesus; we can’t do it alone. Reach out to a trusted friend, a church leader, or Harvest USA. In whatever darkness you’re carrying, you’re not alone.