by Whaid Rose
I wasn’t prepared for this statement: “Moses was an amazing leader who never reached his redemptive potential.”
I was half asleep, listening to religious TV, when this comment jolted me fully awake. No way, I thought. Put that on some other Bible character, not Moses.
Outside of Scripture, there is broad consensus that, among mere men, Moses is the greatest spiritual leader who ever lived!
So, if he didn’t reach his redemptive potential, can anyone else? And what does that even mean?
A Wholeness Problem
Unfortunately, I heard this at the tail end of a message and the only other comment I heard that could provide context is that Moses had a “wholeness problem.”
This gave me pause. If “wholeness” speaks to the business of spiritual formation, this may be worth exploring.
We all have inner and outer selves, public and private personas. The goal of Christian discipleship is to bring these aspects of our character into harmony, to live and serve from a place of wholeness—mature, complete, and spiritually formed.
That was the Apostle Paul’s vision for those under his pastoral care—“to present every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).
We Are God’s Workmanship
Furthermore, Paul asserts that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10). In Greek, “workmanship” is “poema,” meaning a work of art, a masterpiece.
But Paul goes on to say, “which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” In other words, becoming God’s work of art has been His vision for us from eternity past. Each new creation in Christ (you and me) has been pre-ordained to become a masterpiece!
This means every believer has a redemptive potential, which calls to mind a statement by the late Dallas Willard. Regarding God’s saving work in our lives, what does He get out of the deal? Willard’s answer: “The person we become.”
God wants to put us on display, and His best exhibits are believers who pursue the optimum potential of their new life in Christ.
This is especially true for leaders—those who model Christian discipleship before others. For, as John Maxwell says, “We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.”
Moses’ Identity Crisis
This is a good segue back to Moses, from which vantage point the speaker’s comments seem less improbable.
It’s been suggested that being born a Hebrew and raised an Egyptian likely created an identity crisis for the young Moses. The Egyptian oppression of his people produced in him a high sensitivity to injustice, which led to a colossal failure. In a moment of unrestrained anger, he killed an Egyptian and sought to hide the evidence.
Recalling what happened the next day when Moses’ effort at peacemaking was rejected by two Hebrews, Stephen surmised that Moses had what is called a messianic complex: “Moses thought that his people would realize that God was using him to rescue them” (Acts 7:25, NIV).
An Honest Look at Moses
This isn’t an attempt at psychologically dissecting Moses. Rather, this is an honest look at everything we read about him in Scripture—the good and the bad. The saying that “the best of men are men at best” is really true, even of the man who knew God face to face.
This helps us better grasp God’s severe judgment when Moses disobeyed the instruction to speak to the rock. That he would not be allowed to enter the land of promise (Numbers 20:12) does seem harsh.
However, probing deeper, we ask why did Moses strike the rock? He was angry with the people. “Listen, you rebels” he shouted in verse 10! In Moses’ defense, the abuse leveled at him by the Israelites was enough to make any person angry.
But Moses’ anger reveals a pattern. It made him murder an Egyptian (Exodus 2:1-12), break the stone tablets by throwing them to the ground in reaction to the golden calf the people had made (Exodus 32:19), and now strikes the rock in a fit of anger (Numbers 20:11).
Leadership Failures Are Often the Result of Slow Leaks
There is much here we could parse out, including the important typology Moses violated in striking the rock, and the way God described his offense: “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them” (verse 12).
But suffice it to say that leadership failures aren’t usually the result of big blow-outs. More often, they’re the result of slow leaks—serious character flaws left unaddressed over a long time.
Thankfully, in God’s economy of grace, our failures aren’t final, as is shown by the fact that Moses appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9) and the fact that the saints standing around the throne on the sea of glass in Revelation not only sing the song of the Lamb, but the song of Moses (Revelation 15:3-4).
What’s at Stake Is the Believer’s Reward
We derive from this that, regarding our potential, what is at stake isn’t eternal salvation, but rather, the believer’s reward. This motivates our love and devotion to Jesus, being careful not to do anything that would diminish His glory in our lives.
For that reason, Paul was ruthless in his self-discipline: “I beat upon my body, bringing it into subjection, lest, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified for the prize” (I Corinthians 9:27, paraphrased).
Seeing it through this lens helped me come to terms with the notion that Moses may have indeed missed the mark of his redemptive potential. It is no small matter that he was denied the very privilege he spent his entire ministry preparing his people for.
This sobering reality is played out in various scenarios over and over again. The private sins of a leader with an impressive profile are exposed and he fades into the shadows. A talented young Christian lives way below his potential because he doesn’t believe in himself. A dear saint comes to the end of a long journey of faith and speaks only of regrets and disappointments.
Thanks for Making Me Sit Up and Reflect
So, to whomever the speaker is who made the statement that so grabbed my attention, thanks for making me sit up and reflect, not only on Moses’ remarkable yet imperfect journey but on my own flaws and imperfections as well.
Thanks, too, for the reminder that each of us has a redemptive potential, a God-shaped vision of all that we can become.
And thank God for His enabling power in the process, as Paul is careful to underscore in Colossians 1:29 (NIV): “To this end, I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”