Pastor’s note: The presumption of (self) salvation (Deuteronomy 1)

The account of Israel’s past failure to believe in God’s promises takes a central role in Deuteronomy 1.  Moses addresses the second generation with a stern warning not to repeat the mistakes of their fathers in the past.  The root of the problem is fear (Deuteronomy 1:28-29).  Fear allows unbelief to creep in, which ended in failure to receive God’s promises for themselves, including Moses! (Deuteronomy 1:34-39).  What we are looking at here is an example for believers through the ages (Hebrews 3:13). What will be the reaction to God’s promises? Fear and unbelief or trust that the Lord gives what He has promised?

As we embark in a new ministry year, the question is still, Will we believe in the promises God has made to us both individually and corporately, or will we be filled with fear and unbelief? —here, name your own challenges you are facing—-We also remember that even in the mundane task of planning to visit churches, Paul appeals to God’s promises now fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His faith, just like Joshua and Caleb’s faith, is boundless: “For all the promises of God find their yes in him [Christ]” (see 2 Corinthians 1:15-22).

Presumption is essentially rolling the dice. With presumptions, we don’t know what we don’t know.  When it comes to a life of faith, presumptions ended up in a disaster for our spiritual forefathers in Deuteronomy 1 and the danger remains real today (Hebrews 3:14). In contrast, faith is a conviction: you know what you know, even if you can’t see it.  Faith is “the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

In Deuteronomy 1:41-46, the sin of presumption is broken down in bite-size pieces. The background is  God has just ruled they should not receive the promise of the land because of their unbelief. Here is what the people said in response:

“we have sinned against the Lord.”   This sounds pious enough; at least they’re acknowledging they’ve done something wrong. But their next action gives us ample evidence this was all an act. ‘Fake repentance’ is a very real thing!

“we ourselves will go up and fight…”  The phrase precisely captures the sense in the original Hebrew.  It’s an action they alone think they can carry. This just about defines the notion of self-salvation and gives us a lot to think about in our culture obsessed with self (ies).

“….just as the Lord commanded us” completes the text-book definition of spiritual presumption.  We’re doing it ourselves and we are commandeering God’s blessing upon our willful decisions rooted in our own fear and unbelief.  Pause and reflect upon this and think about all the times you and I have acted out of fear and unbelief (and presuming God would bless what we’re thinking/doing!)

“…[they] thought it easy to go up into the hill country”   The deception of presumption feeds the idea that things can get done without God.  When the people ceased to believe in God’s promises and that He alone saves, their faith in their own capabilities to save themselves became boundless.  Unbelief in God-boundless faith in self became their new motto.

God in response tries to talk them out of their own presumption, “Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.”

In response, it is said of the people:

“you would not listen”

“you rebelled”

“you presumptuously went up”

As a result, they were defeated, chased down like bees chase you down (Deuteronomy 1:44).  God wasn’t about to bless their presumption and arrogance that somehow they could take the promise land all on their own!

Without faith, it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  God loves to hear and answer our prayers, even those formed in the depths of our despair when we are struggling with doubts (read the Psalms!)  But the presumption that somehow we can get to where we need to go all on our own and then expect God to be on our side is nothing less than a spiritual rolling of the dice.  There is no guarantee God will hear this kind of prayer! (see Deuteronomy 1:45).

We also remember that the real promise land is not a piece of real estate on earth in ancient Israel (Deuteronomy 1), but it’s eternal life, being in His presence forever.  The presumption of self-salvation has life and death consequences, with eternal consequences.  It’s no small matter!

What is the answer to this problem of the human heart?  Just as Joshua (his name means Yahweh saves) took the Israelites into the promised land, Jesus (a transliteration of Joshua) is the One taking us into the rest of the heavenly promise land (Hebrews 12: 22-24).  We look to Him, the author and perfecter of our faith; the One who is not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses (doubts and all), but He is standing by to give us help in our time of need.


Questions for discussion:

First things first: Have you put your trust in Jesus to save you from your own unbelieving heart?  Jesus alone can save us and deliver us from death and into eternal life.  We will never be able to save ourselves from forces far greater than us (sin, death and the devil).  The journey of faith begins here.

If you are on the way on this journey of faith, in what ways are you and I trusting in God to carry out our goals and desires for this new year?

Or, to put it differently, in what ways are you and I trusting in our own powers to bring about these goals to reality?


As an illustration, what does presumption look like?

“I can approach (and pet) a great white shark and not become his/her dinner.”  (see




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