Do you spend much time reading in the Old Testament? If you dropped Psalms, Proverbs, and Genesis (which often gets a brief run-through every January before we give up on our Bible reading plan resolutions) from the equation, how much time do you spend in the Old Testament? Based on the analytics from Bible Gateway, the answer for most of us is “not much.” Old Testament stories and language can be hard to read and even harder to apply—and because we have the New Testament, we may feel like we don’t even need them anymore.
But nothing could be further from the truth. We need them more than we may realize. When we neglect spending time there, we forfeit a rich treasure of assurance. Whenever I hear someone admit that she avoids the Old Testament, I remember a childhood friend. This particular friend was memorable for having been baptized five times. That’s four times too many.
I say that with conviction, but I also say it with compassion. My sweet friend sought rebaptism because she wrestled with assurance of salvation, and each time she fell back into an old sin pattern she would recommit and re-submerge. Five times she declared the New Testament formula of Romans 6:4 that she was buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life. In her lowest moments, she wondered if she had ever been truly converted. It just felt to her as if her salvation couldn’t possibly stick.
If you knew a believer who was wrestling with doubt about assurance of salvation, where would you take them in the Scriptures for help? Many of us would point to Jesus’s words in John 10:28: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” Or we might go to a verse like Titus 3:5 which assures that “[God] saves us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
But I would suggest the Old Testament is the perfect place to go. For many, the Old Testament doesn’t connect naturally to a practical concern like assurance of salvation. But it should. The Old Testament gives context to the message of the New Testament, and it overflows with messages of assurance on a grand scale. It presses against our modern notion that salvation is primarily about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, inviting us into the much larger story of salvation. I wish my friend had recognized that her personal salvation story was a reassuringly minuscule piece of a much bigger story. Perhaps then, even the picture her baptism was painting about “the washing of regeneration” might have impacted her with greater staying power. Let me show you how.
You no doubt know that baptism is the sign of the new covenant, instituted in the New Testament. But its roots lie in the Old Testament, where we find the recurring theme of safe passage through the waters of death to new life on the other side. The first is the flood story of Genesis, in which Noah and his family are sealed inside the only boat in the history of shipbuilding that was completely unsinkable. By God’s hand, they pass safely through the waters of death. When they emerge on the other side, their world is no longer as it was. Nor could they return to their old life if they chose. God has placed them exactly where he wants them and marked them for a particular purpose. The way is forward.
The baptism theme repeats in Exodus 2 when the infant Moses is placed in an unsinkable basket in the Nile. By God’s hand, he passes safely through the waters of death. When he is drawn out on the other side, his world is no longer as it was. Nor could he return to his old life if he chose. God has placed him exactly where he wants him and marked him for a particular purpose. The way is forward.
We see a third baptism in Exodus 14 when the infant nation of Israel is drawn through the Red Sea. By God’s hand, they pass safely through the waters of death. When they emerge on the other side, their world is no longer as it was. Nor could they return to their old life if they chose. God has placed them exactly where he wants them and marked them for a particular purpose. The way is forward.
In each of these Old Testament stories, we learn something not just about baptism, but about the God who baptizes and about assurance. Noah, Moses, and the nation of Israel would all sin grievously on the far side of those cleansing waters, yet God would persevere in His promises to them. He would uphold His covenant with both disobedient individuals and disobedient nations. Pay attention, because that is some serious assurance of salvation. God is not a man that He should change His mind. He does not save with His mighty arm only to un-save with it at the first sign of faltering faith. If God maintained His covenant with an entire nation of repeat offenders, He will certainly do so with each of us.
In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul stated, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” When we are saved, we are joined with every believer who has ever lived by faith in the promises of God. Our faith family stretches back to the earliest pages of the Old Testament. Their stories joined with ours bear witness to the steadfastness of God toward those whose obedience has faltered. They tell of his faithfulness to all generations.
We, too, have been drawn safely through the waters of death to new life on the other side. Our world is no longer as it was. Nor could we return to our old life if we chose. God has placed us exactly where he wants us and marked us for a particular purpose. The way is forward.
I wish someone had told my friend that. I wish she had been encouraged to be slower to re-submerge and quicker to recollect. If we were better at connecting the Old Testament to the New, perhaps she would not have thought that her single story of faltering faith was enough to shatter the faithfulness of God.
The Old Testament is filled with repetitions that shadow spiritual truths fulfilled in the New. Paul told us they were written for our examples (1 Cor. 10:11). They are there to help us remember, repent, and rejoice, particularly when our faith falters. And they are there to bring alive the New Testament witness in its fullness. Want your reading of the New Testament to deepen? Need assurance to grow? Remember what is old.
Ready to dive into the Old Testament? Study Exodus with Jen Wilkin. In Jen’s second Bible study on the book of Exodus, God of Freedom, she teaches on chapters 19 through 40. Through her Bible study book with video access, Jen tells the story of God shepherding His newly liberated children into an understanding of what their freedom means—lives consecrated for service to God and to one another. Preview this new study at lifeway.com/freedom.
Jen Wilkin is a speaker, writer, and teacher of women’s Bible studies. She has a background in women’s ministry, and has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. Jen and her family are members of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. She writes and teaches the Flower Mound Women’s Bible Study, an interdenominational community study. Jen’s passion is to see women become articulate and committed followers of Christ, with a clear understanding of why they believe what they believe, grounded in the Word of God. You can find her at jenwilkin.net.