A harvest of righteousness

The biblical concept of righteousness can be confusing if think of it in terms of actions or duties. The Greek word dikaiosune (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay) has to do specifically with Christian justification and can be thought of as “being just as one should be” (G1343). In other words, Christians that have been justified are just the way they were intended to be when God created them. From an internal perspective, justification means that our hearts are right with God, hence we are considered to be righteous with regard to our relationship to God. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Righteousness was imputed or counted to Abraham because he believed what God told him. The Apostle Paul explained Abraham’s justification by faith in his letter to the Romans. Paul said:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:1-8)

Paul made it clear that the only way we can be justified in God’s sight is by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul stated, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26)

Justification by faith is expected to produce a change in the believer’s lifestyle. In his first epistle, the Apostle John talked about God’s seed abiding in all who have been born again. John said, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:9-10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) means “something that is sown” (G4690) and is derived from the word speiro (spi’-ro) which means to scatter (G4687). Jesus’ parable of the sower and parable of the weeds illustrated how the believer’s heart is either influenced by the Holy Spirit to practice righteousness or by the devil to practice sin. Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower indicated that we must understand God’s word in order to benefit from it. Jesus said:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

Paul associated righteousness with the fruit of the Holy Spirit and said, “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Paul identified the fruits of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Sprit” (Galatians 5:22-23, 25). Keeping in step with the Spirit essentially means that we are conforming our behavior to be consistent with God’s word. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians included a reminder of their pledge to take part in the relief of the saints. Paul was concerned that the Corinthians’ reputation of excelling in spiritual matters might be hurt by their reluctance to participate in this act of grace (2 Corinthians 8:1-7). Therefore, Paul admonished them saying:

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)

Paul identified the Corinthians’ contribution as a willing gift. The Greek word that is translated willing gift, eulogia (yoo-log-ee’-ah) means “fine speaking” and is used of God and Christ in connection with the invocation of blessings, a benediction (G2129). Paul emphasized the importance of the execution of the Corinthians’ act of grace by linking their pledge to give to the relief of the saints to the invocation of a blessing. The point Paul was likely trying to make was that every word that comes out of the mouth of a believer is considered to be a testimony on behalf of Christ. Paul indicated that he would be humiliated if the Corinthians didn’t do what they said they were going to because they would be making him out to be a liar (2 Corinthians 9:4).

Paul seemed to be linking the Corinthians’ giving with Jesus’ parable of the sower when he used the analogy of sowing and reaping to convey the significance of the size of their gift. Paul said, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Paul eluded to a connection between teaching the word of God and receiving financial support in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)

According to Leviticus chapters 6-7, many of the animal sacrifices that were made to the LORD under the Mosaic Law were able to be eaten by the priests. The guilt offering in particular was considered to be compensation to the LORD for an offense that an individual had committed (Leviticus 6:6). Leviticus 7:5-6 states, “The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering. Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy.”

God specifically commanded the people of Israel to give a portion of their peace offerings to Aaron the priest and to his sons because they were serving him. The LORD told Moses, “Whoever among the sons of Aaron offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat shall have the right thigh for a portion. For the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed I have taken from the people of Israel, out of the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons, as a perpetual due from the people of Israel. This is the portion of Aaron and of his sons from the Lord’s food offerings, from the day they were presented to serve as priests of the Lord. The Lord commanded this to be given them by the people of Israel, from the day he anointed them. It is a perpetual due throughout their generations” (Leviticus 7:33-36). The portion that was given to Aaron and his sons was a consecratory gift that signified justification on the part of the gift and the giver.

Paul explained in his second letter to the Corinthians that giving would result in God’s grace overflowing in a believer’s life. Paul said, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; righteousness endures forever” (2 Corinthians 9:7-9). The phrase righteousness endures forever refers to an eternal state of justification, which is “the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344). Paul indicated that when God’s grace abounds to us, we have all sufficiency in all things at all times. In other words, we are completely content with our circumstances. Whether Paul was talking about an eternal state of bliss or a life that is available to believers as soon as they accept Christ isn’t completely clear, but it seems that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they were able to effect their circumstances by giving generously.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to rely on God’s provision for their gift. Paul said, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) is used figuratively in 1 John 3:9 “of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in Christians that keeps them from practicing sin” (G4690). From that standpoint, Paul’s reference to “the harvest of your righteousness” may have had to do with the fruits of the Spirit. The Greek word that is translated harvest, gennema (ghen’-nay-mah) means offspring (G1081) and is derived from the word gennao (ghen-nah’-o) which speaks “of one who by means of preaching the gospel becomes the human instrument in the impartation of spiritual life” (G1080). Paul seemed to be saying that the Corinthians financial support of the saints in Jerusalem had the same impact and reward of preaching the gospel to them. It could be that the act of grace that Paul associated with the relief of the saints (2 Corinthians 8:6-7) was a type of ministry that complimented the preaching of the gospel in that it depicted the love of God in a tangible way that was unmistakably supernatural and gave the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in the hearts of the people that were receiving the gift and to bring them to Christ.

Paul’s explanation of the harvest of righteousness that he hoped the Corinthians would experience seemed to center around the grace of God being activated in the lives of believers. The Sermon on the Mount had a similar objective and in it Jesus mentioned giving to the needy in the context of receiving spiritual rewards. Jesus said:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

The phrase Jesus used, practicing your righteousness, had to do with bringing forth fruit (G4160) and is related to a statement Paul made in his letter to the Ephesians about God’s effort to transform the lives of believers. Paul talked about the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and his kindness toward us in bringing us to Christ (Ephesians 2:5-7) and then he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Greek word poiema (poy’-ay-mah), which is translated workmanship in Ephesians 2:10, refers to a thing that is made, a product (G4161). One of the reasons God saves people is so that he can use them to bless others. We can’t take credit for the good things we do because they are actually a result of God working in and through us to accomplish certain tasks that he had already planned ahead of time to do regardless of our involvement. Jesus’ ministry is filled with examples of the kinds of things that God wants to do and how our submission to his will can make a difference in the world. Jesus indicated that our giving should be done in secret so that our Father “who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4). What Jesus meant by that was that our spiritual growth is a private matter, but God is aware of everything that goes on in the spiritual realm and is keeping track of our spiritual progress. The New King James Version of Matthew 6:4 states “your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” One way of interpreting this statement would be that God will make himself apparent in our lives or that the reward we get will be visible to others. With regard to a harvest of righteousness, this might mean that we will receive a greater portion of the Holy Spirit which would be evident to others through the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The important thing to remember is that we are a spiritual work in progress and God is behind every act of grace that we are prompted to do.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be generous because it would result in more fruit for the entire body of Christ. Paul stated:

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:11-15)

Paul specifically mentioned the Corinthians submission to the will of God in order to point out that they were following the example of Christ and were in turn being good examples to others. Paul also made note of the fact that the recipients of their gift would be longing and praying for the Corinthians as a result of their generosity and would be able to recognize that the surpassing grace of God was upon them (2 Corinthians 9:14).

The surpassing grace that Paul referred to (2 Corinthians 9:14) may have been what Peter was talking about when he encouraged believers to be good stewards of God’s grace. Peter said, “Since therefore Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1). Peter went on to say that believers should not be judged in the flesh the way people are, but “live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6). To live in the spirit means that we have recovered the physical life from the power of death. The Greek word zao (dzah’-o) means to live “in the sense of to exist, in an absolute sense and without end, now and hereafter: to live forever” (G2198). Jesus told his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Regeneration

Jesus described a future state of his kingdom as the new world and told his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:28). Jesus’ comment about the first being last and the last first had to do with the amount of sacrifice one made in order to follow him. Jesus explained this further in his parable about laborers in a vineyard. He said:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16)

The laborers who grumbled about receiving the same wages as those who worked only one hour were concerned about the fairness of the master paying everyone the same amount. The Greek word that is translated equal, isos (ee’-sos) has to do with perception (G2470) and suggests that the laborers who were hired first thought they were superior or you might say had worked harder than their fellow laborers. The master of the house said he hadn’t done anything wrong because the laborers that were hired first thing in the morning agreed to be paid a denarius (Matthew 20:2).

The thing that distinguished the laborers was not how much they got paid, but when they got paid their wages. The owner of the vineyard told his foreman to call the laborers and pay them their wages and instructed him to do it, “beginning with the last, up to the first” (Matthew 8). One of the key characteristics of the new world that Jesus was explaining to his disciples seemed to be the importance of activity. The Greek word that is translated idle in Matthew 20:3 and 20:6 is argos (ar-gos’) which refers to inactivity in the sense of being unemployed (G692). When they were asked why they had been standing idle all day, the laborers that were hired at the eleventh hour replied “Because no one has hired us” (Matthew 20:7).

In this instance the word hired seems to refer to God’s divine election and appointment of duties in Christ’s kingdom. The Apostle Paul identified five occupations that believers can be appointed to. He said, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7, 11-12). Paul indicated that the work of the ministry is accomplished through grace which is a gift that is received as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The owner of the vineyard admonished the laborers who complained about receiving the same wages as those who had worked only one hour. He said, “Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:14-15).

The Greek word that is translated generosity in Matthew 20:15, agathos (ag-ath-os’) “describes that which, being ‘good’ in its character or constitution is beneficial in its effect…God is essentially, absolutely and consummately ‘good'” (G18). Titus, a gentile convert of Paul’s, wrote to believers about being ready for every good work. He said, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3-5).

The Greek word that is translated regeneration in Titus 3:5, paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) is the same word Jesus used in reference to “the new world” in Matthew 20:28. “Regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old. This word means ‘new birth’ (palin, ‘again,’ genesis, ‘birth’), and is used of ‘spiritual regeneration'” (G3824). Titus indicated that salvation involves two things, “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Regeneration (paliggenesia) and renewal (anakainos) work hand in hand to restore the believer to a healthy spiritual state. Anakainosis (an-ak-ah’-ee-no-sis) “is the result of paliggenesia. The paliggenesia “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainos, by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

Jesus illustrated the transition from paliggenesia to anakainosis in his parable of the laborers in the vineyard by the master of the house going out and hiring laborers to work in his vineyard. The ones who were standing idle in the marketplace (Matthew 20:3) could be believers that had not yet experienced anakainosis. Their passive state signified a lack of what Titus referred to as “the renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Even though the believer is in an active state when renewal takes place, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that makes renewal possible and it is a result of God’s grace rather than human effort. That’s why the rewards, or wages according to Jesus’ parable, were not based on anyone’s merit, but God’s goodness and loving kindness toward the workers of his kingdom.

Joseph’s transformation from a slave to the governor over the land of Egypt illustrates a type of regeneration in the life of an Old Testament believer. When Pharaoh sent for Joseph and he was brought out of the pit (Genesis 41:14), it was because he had a prophetic gift that Pharaoh wanted to make use of. “Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer'” (Genesis 41:15-16). Joseph didn’t take credit for his ability to interpret dreams and later he told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). The Hebrew word that is translated sent, shalach (shaw-lakh’) “suggests the sending of someone or something as a messenger to a particular place” (H7971). After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and gave him a plan for storing up grain as a reserve to be used during the seven years of famine that were ahead, Pharaoh asked his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:38).

Joseph seemed to understand that the suffering he experienced was a part of God’s plan to establish his kingdom on earth. Joseph explained to his brothers, “For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:6-7). The Hebrew word that is translated preserve, siym (seem) “means to put or place someone somewhere” and refers to appointing or assigning a task (H7760). Jesus informed his disciples about the task that God had assigned him. He told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:18-19).

Jesus linked his crucifixion with his resurrection in order to show that regeneration was not only about the institution of something new, but also the destruction of something that was old. “Regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old” (G3824). There is a connection between the old and the new that makes them both relevant in the context of eternal life. Jesus pointed this out when the mother of the sons of Zebedee asked “‘that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.'” (Matthew 20:21-23).

The Greek word that is translated prepared in Matthew 20:23, hetoimazo (het-oy-mad’-zo) means to make ready (G2090) and refers to fitness or laying the foundation for a particular objective to be accomplished (G2092). Jesus talked about his disciples preparation for leadership by stating, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). The Greek term that is translated slave, doulos (doo’-los) refers to “one who was in a permanent relation of servitude to another one whose will was completely subject to the will of another…The focus is on the relationship, not the service” (G1401). In that sense, Jesus was talking about having a relationship with Christ and being dedicated to doing the will of God on a continuous basis.

The Apostle Paul often referred to himself as a servant of Jesus Christ and explained in his letter to the Ephesians that believers need “to put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). The Greek word that is translated renewed is ananeoo (an-an-neh-o’-o). “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ, and of the fulfillment of the will of God” (G365).

When Paul said we are to put off our old self (Ephesians 4:22), he was most likely referring to changing our outward appearance so that we don’t resemble the kind of person we were before we came to know Christ e.g. drug addict, prostitute, or thief. After Joseph was brought out of the pit, he prepared for his meeting with Pharaoh by shaving himself and changing his clothes (Genesis 41:14). Joseph’s brothers didn’t even recognize him when they came to buy food in Egypt because he looked like an Egyptian. When Joseph finally revealed his identity to them, “his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence” (Genesis 45:3). Joseph told his brothers, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt'” (Genesis 45:8-9).

The Hebrew word siym (seem) which is translated made in Genesis 45:8-9 “signifies the creation of the thing (fixing its nature) and its use (its disposition)” (H7760). In that sense, Joseph was regenerated, there was an inception of a new state in contrast with the old (G3824). Jesus’ reference to “the new world” that will exist when he sits on his glorious throne (Matthew 19:28) suggests that things as well as people can undergo spiritual renovation. Paul talked about the renovation of the earth in the context of a future glory that has yet to be revealed. He said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:18-24).

Contentment

In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul talked about the importance of godly living and told his son in the faith to “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, NKJV). In addition to outlining his pastoral duties, Paul gave Timothy instructions about the use of wealth. Apparently, there were some pastors that were becoming rich as a result of preaching the gospel (1 Timothy 6:9). Paul told Timothy, “Men who are not able to use their minds in the right way because of sin argue all the time. They do not have the truth. They think religion is a way to get much for themselves” (1 Timothy 6:5, NLV).

Paul went on to say that the benefits of godly living outweighed the benefits of wealth. He told Timothy, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8, NKJV). Paul’s opinion of gaining material comfort seemed to be that it was an unnecessary waste of time. His comment that we brought nothing into this world and we will carry nothing out focused on the practical aspect of Christian living. We don’t have to worry about accumulating material possessions on earth because our treasure will be waiting for us when we get to heaven (Luke 12:33).

Paul warned Timothy against the love of money and said, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9-10, NKJV). Paul seemed to be concerned that Timothy would fall into the same trap that other ministers of the gospel had of taking money unnecessarily from the churches that they were responsible for. Paul wasn’t suggesting that Timothy should work for free (1 Timothy 5:18), but he was saying that Timothy shouldn’t take money unless he needed it for things like food and clothing.

Paul’s final charge and benediction to Timothy pointed out that Christian living isn’t meant to be about getting rich, but about giving away the things that God has blessed us with. He said, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19, NKJV). Basically, what Paul was saying to Timothy was that Christians need to focus their attention on accumulating treasure in heaven because they will be there for eternity compared to a few years of enjoying material possessions on earth.

Hidden treasure

Paul described the power of the Holy Spirit as being somewhat like hidden treasure in the hearts of believers. Paul stated, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). The Greek word translated power, dunamis refers specifically to miraculous power and usually by implication a miracle itself. “Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours” (G1411). One of the mechanisms Paul used to illustrate the hidden treasure inside the believer’s heart was to contrast his suffering with the supernatural ability he had been given to deal with it. Paul said, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down but not destroyed: always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

Paul talked about a process of renewal that he compared to the renovation of a house. He said “but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). The Greek word translated renewed, anakainoo (an-ak-ahee-no’-o) has to do with the renewal of spiritual power (G341). Paul talked more about this renewal process in his letter to the Colossians. He said, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Colossians 3:9-10). The Greek word translated knowledge is epignosis (ip-ig’-no-sis). Epignosis is about the Holy Spirit having a more powerful influence on the mind of the believer (G1922). When we submit ourselves to God’s will, the Holy Spirit is better able to lead us in the direction God wants us to go.

The argument Paul made for enduring suffering in this life was centered around the idea that development of the unseen power of the Holy Spirit would result in eternal glory or a never ending state of blessedness in the afterlife (G1391). Paul said, “The little troubles we suffer now for a short time are making us ready for the great things God is going to give us forever. We do not look at the things that can be seen. We look at the things that cannot be seen. The things that can be seen will come to an end. But the things that cannot be seen will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, NLV). Paul’s suggestion that the persecution Christians experience in this life are like little troubles compared to the great things we will receive in heaven was based on his understanding of eternity. According to Paul, eternal things do not wear out, grow old, or loose their attraction. Eternal things get better, stronger, and more satisfying as time goes on (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Unbelief

 

At the close of Jesus’ ministry, the Apostle John summarized his accomplishments by saying, “But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him” (John 12:37). The primary cause of the Jews unbelief appeared to be their concern for other things that they thought were more important. John said, “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). Jesus’ parable of the sower revealed a deeper problem that was evident during his ministry. Using the analogy of seeds being sown on different types of soil, Jesus showed that the words he spoke about God’s eternal kingdom were not received because “the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22, ESV).

Jesus identified some extenuating circumstances that may have been preventing the Jews from recognizing him as their Messiah. He said, “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:14-15). The primary issue that Jesus was pointing out was that the Jews were content with their situation. They didn’t want their lives to be disrupted by his radical teaching.

The central point of Jesus’ ministry was his death and resurrection. Just before he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told his sister Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” and then he asked her, “Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26). Martha’s response showed that she had a limited understanding of what Jesus was talking about. She said to him, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:27). Martha’s acknowledgement of Jesus’ identity, but avoidance of the topic of his resurrection probably meant that she wasn’t convinced at that point that life after death was possible.

Jesus warned his twelve apostles repeatedly that he was going to be put to death, and yet, after he was crucified, they didn’t expect him to come back to life as he had promised. Mark reported that after Jesus “appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:12-14). In other words, in spite of eye witness accounts, Jesus’ apostles actually refused to believe that he was alive until they saw him themselves.

Jesus said of himself, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). The Greek phrase Jesus used that is translated “abide in darkness” meno en skotia could mean to live in obscurity (G3306/G1722/G4653). What Jesus may have been trying to say was that belief in him would bring meaning or purpose to life, an understanding of what life was really all about. With that in mind, it seems likely that the reason the majority of the Jews’ were trapped in a state of unbelief was because they had already established a relationship with God and already knew about his plan for the world. In their case it wasn’t a matter of knowing too little, but of knowing too much.

Everlasting life

Jesus told his twelve apostles they would sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel when his eternal kingdom was established (Matthew 19:28) and then he added, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:29). The Greek words translated everlasting life, aionios (ahee-o´-nee-os) zoe (dzo-ay´) referred to an endless existence similar to that of God. The implication being that an association with Christ entitles you to share in the inheritance he will receive from his heavenly Father.

Jesus used a parable of a worker in a vineyard to explain the reward that would be given to faithful servants of God. He said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1-2). Jesus also talked about a future harvest in the context of non-Jewish believers receiving salvation. He said, “Say not ye, There are yet four months and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together” (John 4:35-36).

Jesus’ reference to the reaper receiving wages (John 4:36) suggested that preaching the gospel was a type of work that would be rewarded in heaven. The persecution of the early church made it very difficult for those that wanted to share their faith with others to do so publicly. All of the twelve apostles were tortured and/or killed because they refused to denounce their belief in Christ. Even the Apostle Paul was killed because of his commitment to preach the gospel. In his parable, Jesus said the labourers that were hired first murmured against the goodman of the house because he rewarded everyone equally. They said “These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day” (Matthew 20:12).

Jesus responded to the issue that was brought up about bearing the burden of the work by stating “Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto the last, even as unto thee” (Matthew 20:14). The Greek term translated last, eschatos (es´-khat-os) may refer to the lowest person in rank or the farthest from a place or time (G2078). Believers today are far away in time from the events that took place when Jesus was alive on Earth and therefore much more reliant on faith to accept him as their savior. On the other hand, we could be very close to the events that will take place when Jesus returns and have a much greater sense than ever of our need for salvation from this world. Jesus said, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many are called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:16). By this, I believe Jesus meant that only the believers far removed from the actual events of his death and resurrection would be able to appreciate his sacrifice and be willing to give up everything in order to inherit everlasting life.

Thank you

The many miracles Jesus performed not only proved his deity, but also demonstrated his compassion toward those who suffered from various spiritual diseases. As he set out on his final trip to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee and entered into a certain village. It is possible this village was a leper colony because it says in Luke 17:12-13 that as Jesus entered the village, “there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus told these men to “Go shew yourselves unto the priests” and as they went they were healed of their disease (Luke 17:14).

There is no indication that the ten lepers Jesus healed were believers or did anything to warrant the miracle they received from him. In fact, it states in Luke 17:16 that only one of the ten men even bothered to thank Jesus for what he did. Jesus may not have been surprised that the man that did show him gratitude was not a Jew, but a Samaritan (Luke 17:18). Samaritans were hated by the Jews and considered to be half-breeds, both physically and spiritually. Even though the Samaritans and Jews practiced open hostility toward each other, Jesus showed that his love had no national boundaries (note on Luke 10:31-33). Jesus told the Samaritan, “Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole” (Luke 17:19).

Jesus’ statement, “thy faith hath made thee whole” (Luke 17:19) indicated the Samaritan was saved, meaning his sins were forgiven and he received eternal life. The Greek word translated whole, sozo (sode´-zo) is the same word Jesus used when he told Nicodemus, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world  through him might be saved” (John 3:17). The Samaritan’s faith was the cause or you could say driving force behind his spiritual transformation. Jesus didn’t withhold salvation from the Samaritan, even though he wasn’t entitled to it. Because the Samaritan understood he needed his sins to be forgiven and relied upon Christ for his salvation, he received eternal life.

 

The narrow gate

Jesus’ analogy of the kingdom of God being like a grain of mustard seed made it seem as if there would be only a small number people that would make it into heaven (Luke 13:19). Therefore, someone asked him, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” (Luke 13:23). Jesus’ response made it clear that the limitation to getting into heaven was not because of the size of God’s kingdom, but the method by which people would have to enter into it. He said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). Jesus previously referred to the strait gate in his Sermon on the Mount in which he said:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth to life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

The Greek word translated narrow, thlibo (thlee-bo) has to do with a path of life that is filled with trouble and suffering (2346). What Jesus was saying was that most people wouldn’t chose the strait or narrow gate because it runs counter to our natural instincts. Jesus further illustrated this point when he said, “And behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last” (Luke 13:30). The Greek terms Jesus used for first and last suggest he was describing a processional or steady stream of people going through the gates of heaven. In this processional those who started out at the end of the line might get in first due to their effort to enter the gate as quickly as possible. Others who were at the head of the line, but hesitated to go through the gate (i.e. experience suffering in their lives), might not make it in because the doors would eventually be shut (Luke 13:25).

Jesus’ instruction to “strive to enter in at the strait gate” (Luke 13:24) may have been a reference to spiritual warfare. The Greek word translated strive, agonizomai (ag-o-nid´-zom-ahee) means to struggle and is literally translated “to compete for a prize” (75). Figuratively, agonizomai means to contend with an adversary. Satan is sometimes referred to as our adversary (1 Peter 5:8) and the Apostle Paul talked about spiritual warfare in the context of wrestling “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Something that Jesus seemed to want his listeners to understand was that the strait gate couldn’t be entered into without expending some effort. In the illustration he used of the master of the house rising up and shutting the door unexpectedly, Jesus said of those that didn’t make it in, “Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence you are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity” (Luke 13:26-27).

Justification

One of the advantages God built into his plan of salvation was a provision for all sinners to be acquitted of every charge brought against them when God judges the world. In other words, by their admission of personal wrong doing, sinners are by default guilty, but through the justification provided them, they are declared innocent by God (1344). In order to qualify for this justification, a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and accept his payment of their debt to God through his death on the cross. Once justification takes place, the sinner is awarded eternal life and entrance into God’s kingdom. The believer’s one-way ticket to heaven can only be redeemed on an individual basis and is thought to be irrevocable after salvation has been received.

As the Savior of the World, Jesus was given authority over demonic forces and enabled to accomplish certain tasks on earth that no mortal man was able to. For instance, Jesus rebuked a devil that possessed a lunatic boy and caused him to depart from him (Matthew 17:18) and he restored the sight of a man born blind (John 9:7). In addition to the many miracles he performed, Jesus also taught his followers about the kingdom of heaven and forgave the sins of people considered to be hardened criminals (John 8:11). In preparation for his departure, Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples to spread the good news that Israel’s Messiah had arrived. After they returned, the disciples reported, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name” (Luke 10:17).

Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to understand the significance of the justification that he was making available to everyone. Although they had the power to perform miracles because of Jesus’ authority in the spiritual realm, the primary purpose of justification was so that people could go to heaven when they died. Jesus explained, “I  beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall be any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18-20). The book of life that Jesus referred to is a permanent record of each person’s salvation (Revelation 3:5).

Following Jesus’ interaction with his disciples, a lawyer asked him the question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25). Essentially, what this man was asking was how he could get to heaven without being justified by Jesus. The lawyer understood God’s commandments and thought he had lived according to them. He basically stated that he needed to love God and his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:27). It says in Luke 10:29, “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus used the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) to show this man that it wasn’t enough for him to just refrain from harming others, he needed to demonstrate his love to anyone in need in order to earn his own way into heaven.

The good shepherd

Jesus often used parables and analogies to describe the kingdom of heaven to those that wanted to know about the spiritual life that awaited them after their physical death. One of the ways Jesus portrayed himself in the believer’s journey to heaven was a shepherd caring for his flock of sheep. Perhaps, the most famous psalm written by King David was Psalm 23 which stated, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want, he maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:1-2). The role of the shepherd was to protect and guide his sheep along a pathway that was usually predetermined in order to keep them safe and well fed. When Jesus referred to himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:11), he meant that he was perfectly suited for or well adapted to the circumstances of a shepherd (2570). The reason why that was true was because Jesus made it as easy as he possibly could for believers to go to heaven by making it a free gift that one could obtain simply by believing that he was who he said he was, the Savior of the World. Essentially, you could say that Jesus paved our way to heaven through his death on the cross.

Jesus’ statement, “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7), was a reference to the gate that had to be passed through in order for a sheep to enter the sheepfold, a place for him to rest at night. Jesus went on to say, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). The connection between entering the sheepfold and being saved was evident in the purpose of the sheepfold, to keep the sheep from the death they would certainly face if they were to be left out in the open, unattended overnight. Jesus depicted Satan as a thief that wanted to steal, kill, and destroy his flock of sheep (John 10:10). In order to drive home the point that Satan would stop at nothing to damage God’s kingdom, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus also stated that his death was a voluntary act that he was predestined for. He said, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18).

An aspect of Jesus’ analogy that may have been difficult for his listeners to grasp was the reference he made to his sheep hearing and knowing him by his voice (John 10:3-4). In the same way that someone today might be labeled crazy if he said he had heard God speak to him, the people that lived in Jesus’ time didn’t expect God to speak to them directly. Up to that point, God had always spoken to his people through prophets who were considered to be his spokespersons or quite literally his mouthpieces (5030). Something that Jesus made clear was that his voice was a unique identifier that made it possible for his followers to distinguish him from strangers (John 10:5), and more specifically, to prevent believers from being influenced by satanic forces that might try to lead them astray (John 10:8). Jesus’ primary goal as the good shepherd was to protect his sheep from anything that might harm them. One thing that made Jesus more than just a good shepherd was his ability to fulfill every spiritual need of those that chose to follow him. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Greek word translated abundantly, perissos can mean to go beyond or exceed (4053). In other words, the life Jesus gives us exceeds our expectations.