Overcoming the world

John concluded his first epistle with a bold statement about the victory that every believer can expect to have as a child of God. John said:

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:2-5)

John equated overcoming the world with keeping God’s commandments and indicated that our faith in Jesus is what makes this victory possible for us. John’s concept of overcoming the world was most likely linked to the Jewish belief that eternal life could be attained through moral perfection (Matthew 19:16). The Greek word that John used that is translated world, kosmos (kos’-mos) “is first a harmonious arrangement or order, then by extension, adornment or decoration, and came to denote the world or universe, as that which is divinely arranged” (G2889). The reason why John thought it was necessary for Christians to overcome the world was because the present condition of human affairs is alienation from and opposition to God. If we go the way of the world, we will end up separated from God for all of eternity.

God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them the opportunity to go in and possess the land that he had promised to give their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but along with that opportunity came the obligation for the children of Israel to serve God and keep his commandments. God assured the Israelites that he would bless them for their obedience and said:

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (Leviticus 26:3-13)

God’s expectation that the children of Israel would walk in his statutes and observe his commandments was based on his deliverance of his chosen people from slavery. God told them, “I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Leviticus 26:13). God used the euphemism of breaking the bars of your yoke to signify that the Egyptian Pharaoh was no longer the Israelite’s master. The children of Israel were free to do as they pleased. God’s declaration that he had made the Israelites walk erect meant that his sovereign will had been carried out according to his plan of redemption that was set in motion before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-4). All the Israelites had to do was choose which way they wanted to go.

In order to convince the Israelites that it would be best for them to pursue a path of righteousness, God informed his chosen people of the consequences of their disobedience. God said:

“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.”

“Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.”

“And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.”

“But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.” (Leviticus 26:14-32)

God’s stern warning was likely intended to inspire the awe and reverence that his chosen people seemed to lack. The grumbling and complaining that was a constant part of Moses’ assignment to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt was a reflection of the Israelites’ negative attitude about leaving behind their lifestyle of spiritual bondage.

The book of Leviticus concludes with an important lesson about the value of a soul. Leviticus 27:1-8 states:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.

The Hebrew word that is translated valuation in this passage, erek (eh’-rek) is derived from the word arak (aw-rak’) which means “to set in a row, i.e. arrange, put in order…’To arrange in order’ makes it possible ‘to compare’ one thing with another” (H6186). In many ways, that is what happens when we get involved in activities in the world. We compare ourselves with other people and we often think we are better than they are.

Jesus talked about the value of our soul in the context of compromising our commitment to him in order to gain an advantage in the world. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus used the same word interchangeably for life and soul indicating that the part of a person that is saved or becomes born again is the soul. Salvation is comparable to the redemption of persons that was discussed in Leviticus 27 except that salvation is a permanent state of redemption that can only be attained through a spiritual transaction with God. When Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for the sins of all of mankind, he completed the necessary transaction on our behalf. Thus, we can experience the benefits or gain from this transaction without doing anything ourselves. Jesus asked the question, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). In other words, if we work to get ahead in the world and neglect the salvation of our souls, we won’t experience any real benefit.

John concluded, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). John’s statement had to do with personal conquest. The point I believe John was trying to make was that at the end of our lives there is only one thing that really matters and that’s the salvation of our souls. In order to be saved, we need to be born again (John 3:3) and John made it clear that the only way we can do that is by faith. The Apostle Paul talked about this in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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 2:1-10)

Paul indicated that we are saved by grace through faith, therefore, grace and faith work together to accomplish the task of saving a soul. You might say that grace is God’s part and faith is our part, but Paul went on to say that “this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). I believe this was the point Jesus was getting at when he asked the question, “what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). A person that is in unsaved state, is spiritually bankrupt and has no means of redeeming himself. It is only through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross that we can be reconciled to God and have eternal life.

John seemed to be addressing a concern that some believers had when he said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:13-15). Like the Israelites who grumbled and complained about everything that didn’t seem to be right with them, some of the 1st Century Christians may have expected a life of ease after they committed their lives to Christ. John emphasized the fact that God hears our prayers, but also pointed out that it is only when we ask for something according to God’s will that we know we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 John 5:15). One of the evidences that we have overcome the world is that our will and God’s will are aligned with each other.

John’s message about overcoming the world was continued in the book of Revelation. Each of the seven churches that the Lord instructed John to write to was encouraged to overcome a difficult circumstance in order to obtain a reward. The letter to the church at Ephesus stated, “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7, NKJV) and the church in Smyrna was told, “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11, NKJV). The Lord told the church in Pergamos, “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17, NKJV). Each of these spiritual rewards was connected with the kingdom of heaven that Jesus talked about throughout his ministry on earth and seem to form a comprehension picture of what believers will experience after the resurrection of the dead. The final piece of the puzzle was given to the church at Laodicea. The Lord told them, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21, NKJV). In this instance, sitting down on a throne denotes the assumption of power and rule over a specific dominion. When Jesus sat down with his Father on His throne, his conquest over the world became a reality in that he was able to exercise his authority over it (Ephesians 1:20-23). Jesus indicated that we who have overcome the world will do the same after we are resurrected from the dead.

Hypocrites

Jesus confronted the religious leaders that wanted him to follow certain traditions that were contrary to God’s commandments. Jesus exclaimed, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophecy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'” (Matthew 15:6-9). The Greek word that is translated hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage-player)” (G5273). The word hupokrites is derived from hupokrinomai (hoop-ok-rin’-om-ahee) which has to do with pronouncing an opinion concerning right and wrong (G2919). One way of looking at hypocrites is to see that there is a false pretense that is driving their behavior. Hypocrites pretend to be something they are not in order to get you to draw a wrong conclusion.

An example of hypocritical behavior is the story that Jacob’s sons told him in order to convince him that his favorite son Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:32). Joseph’s brothers hated him because their father gave him a special coat and loved him more than the rest of his sons (Genesis 37:4). After he told his brothers about two prophetic dreams he had of becoming a world ruler (Genesis 7-11), Joseph’s brothers conspired against him to kill him (Genesis 37:18) and ended up selling him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:28). “Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, ‘This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.’ And he identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:31-33).

Joseph wasn’t actually dead, but his brothers wanted Jacob to believe that he was so that they wouldn’t have to explain why he didn’t come back with them when they returned from the pasture. Jacob’s conclusion that Joseph was torn to pieces by a wild animal was based on the false pretense that the blood on his coat was his own and not that of a goat (Genesis 37:31). The reason why Jacob’s sons were hypocrites was not because they lied to their father, but because they pretended not to know what happened to their brother. When they showed Jacob Joseph’s coat, they said, “please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not” (Genesis 37:32) as if they didn’t recognize it, but having stripped Joseph of his robe of many colors (Genesis 37:23), they knew exactly who it belonged to.

Jesus explained to his disciples that hypocrisy was a heart problem. Rather than worrying about whether or not they had defiled themselves by eating without washing their hands, Jesus said, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11). What Jesus meant by being defiled was that fellowship with God had been broken off. Jesus asked his disciples, “Are you also still without understanding?” (Matthew 15:16) to point out that a connection with God was necessary for spiritual truth to make sense to them. The Greek word that is translated understanding, asunetos (as-oon’-ay-tos) means unintelligent and by implication wicked (G801). Jesus asked, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:17-18).

Jesus’ statement, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” (Matthew 15:18) was referring to the origin of thoughts and indicated that the heart was equivalent to the mind. The Greek word kardia (kar-dee’-ah) comes from the Latin word kar (cor, “heart”). “Kardia is the heart, the chief organ of physical life, and occupies the most important place in the human system. By an easy transition the word came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements. It is used figuratively for the hidden springs of the personal life: the seat of total depravity, the principle in the center of man’s inward life that defiles all he does (Mt 15:19, 20)” (G2588). The idea that our words come out of our hearts was not a new concept that Jesus introduced, but a reminder that the heart reveals the inner man’s true condition which is affected by having a sinful human nature.

Jacob’s false conclusion that his son had been devoured by a fierce animal could have been corrected by his other sons admitting they had sold Joseph into slavery, but they were unwilling to confess their sin. Genesis 37:34-35 states, “Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, ‘No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.’ Thus his father wept for him.” The Hebrew word that is translated comforted, nacham (naw-kham’) means to repent. “Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (H5162).

Jacob’s refusal to be comforted about Joseph’s death suggests that he was struggling spiritually to understand why God had taken his son away from him. Jacob lacked the spiritual strength he needed to get over the devastating news that his beloved son was gone. The Apostle Paul indicated that God is the source of spiritual strength. Paul said, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:14-16). It seems reasonable to assume that the reason God didn’t give Jacob the strength he needed to repent of his son’s death was that Joseph wasn’t actually dead. Joseph was living in Egypt as a slave.

Genesis 38:1 states, “It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.” In this instance, time “connotes ‘time’ conceived as an opportunity or season” (H6256) and the words turned aside signify “God’s active, sovereign, and mighty involvement in the affairs of men” (H5186). One way of looking at Judah’s situation was that God decided to teach him a lesson, somewhat like the parables Jesus used to convey spiritual truth. What happened was that Judah married a Canaanite woman and had three sons (Genesis 38:2-5), but after the oldest one got married, God put him to death because he was wicked (Genesis 38:7). When the second son refused to give offspring to his brother by conceiving a child with his widow, the LORD put him to death also (Genesis 38:10). Finally, “Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, ‘Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up’ — for he feared that he would die, like his brothers” (Genesis 38:11).

Judah may have thought he had outsmarted the LORD when he kept his youngest son from marrying his brother’s widow, but God used Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar to convict Judah of his hypocrisy. Genesis 38:12-19 indicates that God was working in Judah’s life in spite of his unwillingness to do things his way. It states:

In the course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died. When Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it—” He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.

Judah didn’t think anyone would find out about him having sex with a prostitute. Three months later, when he was told his daughter-in-law was pregnant by immorality, Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned” (Genesis 38:24).

The critical point in Judah’s situation with his daughter-in-law was that he thought his secret was safe and that he could get away with condemning Tamar even though he was the one that was guilty of committing a sin. One thing that stood out about Tamar’s confrontation of Judah was that he couldn’t deny that he was the one that had gotten her pregnant. Genesis 38:25-26 states, “As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, ‘By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.’ And she said, ‘Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.’ Then Judah identified them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.'” The similarity between Tamar’s statement “Please identify whose these are” and the statement Jacob’s sons made when they showed him Joseph’s coat, “please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not” (Genesis 37:32) may have been what caused Judah to admit, “She is more righteous than I.” It seems that Judah not only became aware of his hypocrisy, but also repented of his sin because he refrained from having any further sexual contact with his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38:26).

An interesting thing to note about Judah’s circumstances was that unlike Jacob’s reaction to losing his beloved son Joseph, Judah was comforted after his wife’s death (Genesis 38:12). The process of grieving for a loved one may be likened to repentance because of the involvement of the heart. “To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action. The emphasis is on turning to a positive course of action, not turning from a less desirable course” (H5162). What this seems to suggest is that being comforted means a person has grown closer to God or is more open to God’s influence in his life. Spiritual strength is similar to physical strength in that there is an increase in vigor (G2901). Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be strengthened with power in their inner beings “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). It could be that after Judah’s wife died, he was open to God’s influence in his life and that’s why he was able to see that he had wronged Tamar and needed to repent.

Judah’s statement about his daughter-in-law Tamar, “She is more righteous than I” indicated that both he and Tamar believed in the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated righteous, tsadaq (tsaw-dak’) has to do with justification by faith. “The basic meaning of tasadaq is to be righteous, be in the right, be justified, be just…This word is used of man as regarded as having obtained deliverance from condemnation, and as being thus entitled to a certain inheritance. Thus a man is accounted or dealt with as righteous. It is really the reception and exercise of tsedeq (6664)” (H6663). Tsadaq is derived from the word tsedaqah (tsed-aw-kaw’) which is translated righteousness in Genesis 15:6 where it states Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Tamar’s faith in the LORD caused her to be listed in Jesus’ genealogy. Matthew indicated, “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar” (Matthew 1:2-3).

Jesus didn’t discriminate between Jews and Gentiles when it came to faith. He departed from Israel for a short period of time and entered the district of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21). While he was there, Jesus was approached by a woman described as a Canaanite from that region. The woman cried out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matthew 15:22). The Greek word that is translated mercy, eleeo (el-eh-eh’-o) means “to feel sympathy with the misery of another” (G1653) and is derived from eheos (el’-eh-os). “Eleos is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sins brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery” (G1656).

Jesus didn’t immediately respond to the Canaanite woman’s plea for mercy. In fact he tried to deter her from seeking his help. He answered her, “‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:24-28). The Canaanite woman referred to Jesus as Lord, indicating that she recognized his supreme authority over all of mankind (G2962). Her response, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” showed that her attitude toward Jesus was respectful and submissive to his will, but the Canaanite woman’s faith was what got Jesus’ attention.

Jesus responded to the Canaanite woman’s request because she believed he was able to do what she asked of him. Jesus said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28). Jesus connected the woman’s faith to her desire for her daughter to be made well, suggesting that it was the woman’s strong desire that caused her faith to be great or you might say big enough to get the job done (G3173). The Greek word that is translated desire, thelo (thel’-o) stresses the involvement of the will. Thelo can mean to wish something, but it implies volition and purpose, to be resolved or determined that something will happen (G2309). Jesus’ command, “Be it done” meant that he had acquiesced or gave in to the woman’s desire to have her daughter healed. Even though she was not a Jew, the woman received the same treatment from Jesus as the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment and write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Compassion

One of the essential characteristics of God’s plan of salvation is its impartial treatment of sinners. God’s word makes it clear that every person has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of living and that we are all “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23). Beginning with Abraham, God counted righteousness to mankind based on each individual’s belief in his ability to take away the effects of sin. Through justification, God declares believers to be innocent of all charges that are brought against them in his heavenly court of law (G1344).

The life of Jacob clearly portrays justification by faith. You might conclude that Jacob did everything wrong and yet, he ended up on the right side of God’s concern for the suffering and misfortune of others. God helped Jacob to overcome the circumstances that threatened to ruin his life. Jacob was the younger and weaker of Isaac’s twin sons, but he managed to steal his brother’s birthright and tricked his father into blessing him. Jacob also obtained the blessing of Abraham which entitled him to possession of the Promised Land (Genesis 28:13-14). With all of these advantages going for him, you would think Jacob would be content, but he continued to pursue prosperity and wound up with two wives that were just as discontent with the status quo as he was.

Jacob’s uncle Laban had two daughters. “The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance” (Genesis 29:16-17). Both of these women became Jacob’s wives, but Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (Genesis 29:30). “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). The Hebrew word that is translated hated, sane (saw-nay’) is an antonym of the Hebrew verb ‘ahab (H157), meaning to love. The reason why Jacob hated Leah may have been because she reminded him of the sin he committed against his father Isaac (Genesis 27:19). Jacob had to serve Laban for seven years in order to get Rachel as his wife, but on the evening of his wedding, Laban deceived Jacob and substituted his daughter Leah for Rachel in the consummation of their marriage (Genesis 29:25).

Leah may not have had the affection of her husband, but she gained an initial advantage over her sister Rachel by giving Jacob four sons to carry on his legacy. After Leah’s fourth son was born, Rachel envied her sister and decided to give her servant Bilhah to Jacob as a wife so that she could give birth on her behalf (Genesis 30:3). “And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son” (Genesis 30:5-6). God’s vindication of Rachel showed that he was being impartial toward each of Jacob’s wives. God could see that both Rachel and Leah were suffering from the disadvantage of having to share their husband. Rachel said God had heard her voice, in other words God understood Rachel’s situation and showed her compassion.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that when some people brought a paralytic to him lying on a bed, “Jesus saw their faith” (Matthew 9:2). Another way of describing what happened would be to say that Jesus was moved with compassion or you might say affected by the people bringing a paralytic to him to be healed. Jesus said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2) indicating that he saved the paralytic man. Jesus then explained to the cynics who were watching him that salvation and physical healing were essentially the same thing. Matthew 9:4-7 states:

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.

The critical point that Jesus wanted to make clear was that the paralytic’s well-being was dependent on both his physical and spiritual health. The paralytic wouldn’t benefit from being saved if he had to continue living as a cripple and he wouldn’t be satisfied being able to walk if the guilt of his sins continued to torment him.

Jesus asked the question, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5). The Greek word that is translated easier, eukopoteros (yoo-kop-o’-ter-os) suggests that it was Jesus’ intention to eliminate the paralytic’s grief or perhaps to improve his mental health (G2123). It seems likely that the paralytic’s situation had caused him to become depressed and he may have even thought about suicide in order to escape his unbearable circumstances. Jesus’ command to “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6) meant that Jesus expected the paralytic to immediately start living a normal life.

Rachel viewed her moral struggle with her sister Leah as being linked to her physical ability to give her husband a son. After Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a second son, “Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed'” (Genesis 30:7-8). The Hebrew word that is translated wrestled, pathal (paw-thal’) means to struggle or figuratively to be morally tortuous (H6617). The Hebrew word Yakowl (yaw-kole’) or prevailed in English refers specifically to physical ability (H3201). Even though Leah had given Jacob four sons and Bilhah had given birth to the two she claimed as her own, Rachel saw herself as having won the moral victory over her sister.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of Rachel and Leah’s battle. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob two more sons and then Leah herself conceived and bore Jacob two more sons, bringing the total of Jacob’s sons to ten. “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach.’ And she called his name Joseph, saying, ‘May the LORD add to me another son!'” (Genesis 30:22-24). The Hebrew word that is translated reproach, cherpah (kher-paw’) denotes a state of disgrace. “The disgrace found in a person or a nation become the occasion for taunting the oppressed. The disgraced received abuse by the words spoken against them and by the rumors which were spread about them” (H2781).

Jesus’ disciple Matthew who had been a tax collector for the Roman government was among the class of citizens that we might refer to today as low life or the scum of the earth. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

A sinner is a person that practices sin as a lifestyle. This category of people would most likely include prostitutes, thieves, and murderers. Jesus referred to these people as being sick and in need of a physician. The Greek word that is translated physician, iatros (ee-at-ros’) refers to physical treatment, but figuratively it speaks of spiritual healing (G2395/G2390).

Jesus’ quote, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” came from the book of Hosea which focused on the unfaithfulness of God’s people. Hosea was instructed to “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea’s message was one of mercy and redemption and indicated that God was “concerned with the attitude of the hearts of men rather than the ritualistic performance of religious acts, and he values a relationship with his people more than outward ceremonies” (note on Hosea 6:6). Hosea 6:6 states, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The words steadfast love and mercy are often used interchangeably in the Bible and refer to God’s compassion toward sinners (G1656).

Mercy is God’s attitude toward those who are in distress. The Greek word eleos (el’-eh-os) “is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sins brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery. Eleos is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it” (G1656).

Jesus used the example of new wine being put into fresh wineskins to explain how regeneration makes it possible for believers to rejoice in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. He said, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wine- skins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16-17). The Greek term that is translated preserved, suntereo (soon-tay-reh’-o) has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and his ability to keep us from being separated from God.

Jesus used the phrase, “take heart” (Matthew 9:2, 22) to signify the effect of being saved. The King James version of the Bible translates the phrase take heart as “be of good cheer.” The Greek word tharseo (thar-seh’-o) means to have courage (G2293) and is derived from the word tharsos (thar’-sos) which means to be daring or to have boldness (G2294). It could be that Jesus used the word tharseo in order to communicate the idea of activating one’s faith by making a bold move or what we might call today taking a leap of faith. Jesus seemed to be encouraging the recipients of his grace to act out the amazing transformation that was taking place inside of them.

Genesis 30:25 indicates that “as soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country.'” It was somewhat of a daring move for Jacob to attempt to separate himself from Laban when he had 12 children to feed and no means of supporting them. Thus far, the only wages Jacob had received from Laban were his wives Rachel and Leah. When Laban tried to convince him to stay a little longer, “Jacob said to him, ‘You yourself know how I have served you, and how your livestock has fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I have turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?'” (Genesis 30:29-30). Jacob realized that he had been blessed by God, but the benefit had gone to Laban instead of himself because of his agreement to work for Laban in exchange for his wives. Jacob wanted to gain his independence, but he agreed to continue working for Laban, probably because he lacked the courage to try and make it on his own.

After Jacob made a deal to continue serving him, Laban cheated Jacob out of his wages (Genesis 30:35-36), so Jacob resorted to unusual methods of producing speckled and spotted livestock in order to gain an advantage over his adversary (Genesis 30:37-39). It seems likely that Jacob’s tactics were not only unconventional, but also involved some type of sorcery. Jacob may have thought he needed to fight fire with fire so to speak, but the bottom line was that God’s blessing was all that Jacob needed to succeed and yet, he continued to do things his own way and managed to get ahead in spite of his lack of faith (Genesis 30:43).

Jesus confronted two blind men when they came to him to be healed. He asked them directly, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28). Jesus wanted to know if these two men were willing to entrust their spiritual well-being to him as their Savior. The two blind men replied, “Yes, Lord” (Matthew 9:28) indicating that they recognized Jesus’ deity (G4962) and wanted to be saved. Jesus responded, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29). The Greek word that is translated according, kata (kat-ah’) suggests that the blind men’s faith in Christ was necessary for them to be healed. By putting their trust in Jesus, the blind men were giving their Savior permission to do a miracle on their behalf.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus “went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 9:35). Proclaiming the gospel meant that Jesus was telling everyone how to be saved. The fact that Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages suggests that he was leaving no stone unturned in his effort to inform the masses that God’s kingdom was open for business. Matthew indicated Jesus was healing every disease and every affliction and “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36).

The Greek word that is translated compassion in Matthew 9:36, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) is derived from the word splagchnon (splangkh’-non). “Splagchnon are the bowels which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of the tender affections. It is used always in the plural, and properly denotes ‘the physical organs of the intestines’…the word is rendered ‘tender mercy’ in Luke 1:78…and ‘inward affection’ in 2 Corinthians 7:15” (G4698). The primary connection between compassion and God’s mercy is that compassion expresses the motivation behind God’s plan of salvation. The King James version indicates that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:36). In other words, the compassion Jesus felt inside himself prompted him to heal the people of their diseases and afflictions.

Jesus used the analogy of sheep without a shepherd to express the unbeliever’s need to be taught the word of God. The Greek definition of a sheep is “something that walks forward (a quadruped)” (G4263). Jesus may have chosen sheep to represent the multitudes that sought his help during his ministry on Earth because sheep were known for their tendency to go astray and had to rely on someone else to guide them to their destination. Jesus described the crowds as helpless and harassed (Matthew 9:36). The King James version indicates that Jesus had compassion “because they fainted, and were scattered abroad.” Another way of saying it might be that Jesus was moved with compassion because he saw that the fabric of the Jews’ society was being torn apart and he knew that they were in jeopardy of losing their political identity.

Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but he laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Jesus probably described the salvation of souls as a harvest because it was the result of someone’s intentional effort and occurred at a specific time each year. There was a certain amount of reliability and necessity to the process of agriculture that made it a desirable occupation. Jesus said “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” suggesting that there was an abundance of work to be done, even more than the labor market could handle. One of the reasons Jesus instructed his disciples to beg God to send out evangelists to preach the gospel was because there was a lack of faith on the part of the Jewish religious leaders (Matthew 9:34) and if the job was left to them, no one would be saved.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believer you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write to me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Unshakable faith

Paul’s appeal for endurance in his letter to the Hebrews pointed to the ultimate goal of God’s plan of salvation, that believers inherit the kingdom of heaven. Comparing the Israelite’s interaction with God on Mount Sinai with the believer’s entrance into heaven, Paul stated:

But instead, you have come to the mountain of Jerusalem. It is the city of the living God. It is the Jerusalem of heaven with its thousands of angels. You have gathered there with God’s children who were born long ago. They are citizens of heaven. God is there. He will judge all men. The spirits of all those right with God are there. They have been made perfect. Jesus is there. He has made a way for man to go to God. He gave His blood that men might worship God the New Way. The blood of Jesus tells of better things than that which Abel used…On Mount Sinai, God’s voice shook the earth. But now He has promised, saying, “Once more I will shake the earth and the heavens.” (Hebrews 12:22-24, 26 NLV)

The Greek word translated shake in Hebrews 12:26, seio (si’-o) means to rock or vibrate sideways moving to and fro like an earthquake. Seio is used figuratively “to throw into a tremor (of fear or concern)” (G4579). Paul’s mention of God’s promise to shake the earth and the heavens probably had to do with the universal battle that will take place at the end of the great tribulation that results in Satan being cast into the bottomless pit and shut up for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3).

Paul went on to say that God’s promise to shake the earth and the heavens signified the establishment of his kingdom on earth. He explained, “When God says, ‘Once more,’ He means He will take away everything of this world that can be shaken so the things that cannot be shaken will be left” (Hebrews 12:27, NLV). The Greek word translated shaken, saleuo (sal-yoo’-o) means to waver or to be insecure about what we believe in (G4531). Paul’s reference to things that cannot be shaken related back to the acts of faith that he mentioned in Hebrews chapter eleven. What Paul was getting at had to do with his definition of faith. Paul said, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:1-3).

Paul’s understanding of faith was that it causes God’s kingdom to be made visible on earth. Jesus eluded to this in his parable of the sower. In his explanation of the parable, Jesus told his disciples:

And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:10-15, NKJV)

Jesus indicated that God’s word becomes fruitful in our lives when we keep it or translate it into action (G2722). In other words, we have to do what God’s word tells us to in order to reap the benefits of it.

Paul described the results of Abraham’s faith in terms of dwelling in the Promised Land. He said, “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10, NKJV). In Hebrews 13:14, Paul linked all believers to Abraham’s inheritance by stating, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”

The city Paul was referring to was depicted by the Apostle John in the book of Revelation. John stated, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God'” (Revelation 21:1-3, NKJV).

The interesting thing about John’s description of the New Jerusalem was that he likened it to a bride adorned for her husband and John said, “the tabernacle of God is with men” (Revelation 21:3). Revelation 19 portrays the union of believers with Jesus as a marriage ceremony and it states specifically in Revelation 19:7-8 that, “‘ the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (NKJV), the phrase “the righteous acts of the saints” means an equitable deed or a demonstration of faith (G1345). According to John, the visible manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth will involve the body (bride i.e. church) of Christ being transformed into a unified physical structure that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:27), coming down from heaven and becoming the eternal dwelling place of God (Revelation 21:3).

God's eternal kingdom

As creator of the universe, God exercises divine control over all things. One of the unique abilities that God has is to ordain events and circumstances that accomplish a specific, desired outcome. In other words, God can make things happen the way he wants them to. The Hebrew word hayah (haw-yaw) means “to exist, i.e. be or become, come to pass” (H1961). In Genesis 12:2, God told Abraham “…I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be [hayah] a blessing.” “The use of hayah in such passages declares actual release of power, so that the accomplishment is assured — Abraham will be blessed because God has ordained it.”

The prophet Isaiah, who lived approximately 700 years before Jesus was born, wrote about future events that were ordained by God. He stated, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptist fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy and declared about Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:23, 29). Jesus’ ministry on Earth was a part of God’s divine plan of salvation that was intended to correct the effects of every human’s sinful nature. Instead of death and eternal punishment, all who trust in Jesus for their salvation will receive forgiveness of their sins and live forever (John 3:16).

The mechanism by which God chose to save mankind was the death of his son Jesus on the cross (John 14:6). After Jesus was resurrected from the dead, he entered into heaven and now sits on the right hand of God (1 Peter 3:22). The book of Hebrews reveals what is taking place in heaven while Jesus waits for his eternal kingdom to be established on Earth. It says in Hebrews 4:14-16, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Jesus’ role of great high priest in God’s eternal kingdom consists of two primary responsibilities, making sure that all who get saved stay saved and go to heaven when they die. During his ministry on earth, Jesus told many parables about things getting lost, such as a coin (Luke 15:8-10), a sheep (Luke 15:4-7), and a son (Luke 15:11-32). In each of these stories, the lost thing was found and restored to its rightful owner. After he told these parables, Jesus talked about an unjust judge that refused to respond to a woman’s plea for help. He told his disciples:

And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man, yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her; lest by her continual coming she weary me? and the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:4-8)

The point I believe Jesus was trying to make was that God is willing to answer our prayers, but he won’t do it unless we exercise faith. Therefore, it is Jesus’ responsibility to keep our faith alive and active through continual use (Hebrews 6:4-8). God was so certain that Jesus would be able to fulfill this responsibility that he confirmed his new covenant with an oath. It says in Hebrews 6:17-18, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

Some things to think about

Paul understood that heaven was not like a treasure chest that was waiting for someone to discover it. Paul emphasized the importance of pursuing things on earth that would result in a prize or crown in heaven (Philippians 3:14, 1 Corinthians 9:25, 2 Timothy 4:8). As he concluded his letter to the Philippians, Paul stated, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). The Greek word Paul used that is translated think, logizomai (log-id’-zom-ahee) means “to take an inventory that is estimate” (G3049).

Paul’s list of things to think about had to do with the process of imputation. Paul talked about believers being imputed with Christ’s righteousness in his letter to the Romans. Speaking of Abraham, who believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, Paul said, “And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:19-22).

Imputation has three steps: 1) the collecting of all charges and remissions; 2) the totaling of these debits and credits; 3) the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account (G3049). If you think of faith as the PIN to Jesus’ bank account, every time we activate our faith, think about what God has promised to do for us, we get a credit for that thing placed on our account. The key to imputation is of course thinking about the right things. That’s why Paul told the Philippians to think about things that are true, honest, pure, lovely, of good report (Philippians 4:8). Paul wasn’t talking about these things in a general sense, but meant for the Philippians to think about specific incidents in which these elements of faith had been witnessed by them.

The Greek word translated true in Philippians 4:8, alethes (al-ay-thace’) means true in the sense of not concealing something. Alethes speaks of true things as “conforming to reality” (G227). What Paul may have had in mind with regards to thinking about things that are true was being genuine, not trying to sugar coat things or pretend that we are someone that we’re not. Jesus used the word alethes when he told the Samaritan woman he met at a well, “for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly” (John 4:18, NKJV). Jesus wasn’t so much concerned about the fact that the woman had been married five times, but that she told him the truth about it. Being truthful with God is one of the ways that we can get credit in heaven for being a Christian.

A new mind

It could be said that the human mind is a culmination of all the experiences we have had in our lives. The Greek word phroneo (fron-eh’-o) means “to be minded in a certain way” (G 5426). Phroneo implies “moral interest or reflection, not mere unreasoning opinion.” Paul used the word phroneo when he said, “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16). Paul’s instruction to be of the same mind one toward another could only be accomplished through the transformation of one’s thinking processes. Paul was essentially saying that believers should try and understand the world from other people’s perspective. We need to walk in each others shoes so to speak.

In order to accomplish the task of thinking like others, Paul admonished believers to renew their minds, similar to the way you would renovate an old home. He stated, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV). The word Paul used that is translated mind in Romans 12:2 is nous (nooce). Nous refers to the intellect and denotes, “speaking generally, the seat of reflective consciousness, comprising the faculties of perception and understanding, and those of feeling, judging and determining” (G3563).

The Greek word translated renewing in Romans 12:2, anakainosis (an-ak-ah’-ee-no-sis means “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). God initiates the process of transformation in our lives by prompting us to think differently. We can cooperate with the Holy Spirit and yield ourselves to his work in our hearts or resist change and live our lives as we always have. Paul said that we should not be conformed to this world. What he meant by that was not acting like everyone else. The Greek word suschematizo (soos-khay-mat-id’-zo) “stresses outward conformity and means to shape one thing like another and describes what is transitory, changeable, and unstable” (G4964). In other words, following the latest fad.

Paul indicated that God gives each of us a measure of faith which we as believers are expected to use to develop our spiritual gifts. Paul said the gifts we receive differ according to the grace that is given to us (Romans 12:6), “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of another” (Romans 12:4-5). The Greek word translated office, praxis means practice and by extension a function (G4234). God’s kingdom is operating in the world today in a somewhat invisible fashion. Even though we don’t see everything that is going on, there is constant activity that believers are expected to participate in. It is through the renewing of our minds that we begin to detect these activities and are able to contribute to the establishment of God’s kingdom on Earth.

Confession of faith

Paul identified the two-step process by which salvation can be obtained. He said, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV). The Greek word translated confess, homologeo means “to confess by way of admitting oneself guilty of what one is accused of, the result of inward conviction” (G3670). Another way of looking at a confession of faith is to see it as a means of identifying oneself with the death of Jesus on the cross. You are confessing that Christ died for or because of your sins. He is your personal savior by way of accepting his death as punishment for your sins.

Placing ones faith in Jesus Christ is a transaction that takes place in the heart, but Paul emphasized that a confession of faith was necessary for the transaction to be complete. He stated, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10, ESV). Verbal acknowledgement of having placed one’s faith in Christ can be as simple as telling someone, I believe in Jesus. Paul didn’t stipulate that any kind of formal confession had to occur. It was merely the outward confession of the inward faith that needed to take place.

Paul acknowledged the simplicity of receiving salvation by stating that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). The intent behind calling on the name of the Lord is to express interest in being saved. Basically, what Paul was saying was that anyone that wants to be saved can be. There is not a limit to God’s grace. It’s not as if God could say, I’m sorry, heaven is full and I’m not going to let anyone else in. Paul said that God is “rich unto all that call upon him” meaning he can make more room if necessary. The only limit to God’s grace is our willingness to receive it.

Paul emphasized the importance of preaching the gospel in his explanation of how people get saved. He said, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The kind of hearing Paul was talking about was not just listening to a message. The Greek word he used, akoe (ak-o-ay’) means a decision is made in the sense of a courtroom hearing where a verdict is given by a judge or jury after hearing testimony. In essence, what Paul was saying was that you have to decide if what you’ve heard is true or false. I believe this or I don’t believe it. The key to salvation being that your faith is activated when you hear the gospel and you are able to discern the truth because your spirit has been quickened or reanimated by God (Ephesians 2:5).

Guilty

Paul indicated the common denominator between Jews and Gentiles was that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). What Paul was saying was that the human race as a whole was affected by Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. The only hope for mankind was being justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24). Paul differentiated the physical and spiritual aspects of Judaism and said, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28-29). Paul wanted non-Jewish believers to understand that “the true sign of belonging to God is not an outward mark on the physical body, but the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit within” (note on Romans 2:29).

The primary reason Paul wanted to remove the distinction between Jews and Gentiles was so that the Roman believers could see that they were on equal footing with Paul. There was no advantage to being born Jewish. Paul stated, “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-10). Paul went on to say that spiritual blindness was the reason no one could satisfy God’s requirements. He stated, “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” The Greek word Paul used that is translated good is chrestotes (khray-stot’-ace). “This word refers not to a virtue of a person that encompasses only to a person’s word and countenance, it refers to the virtue that pervades and penetrates the whole nature, that mellows anything harsh and austere. It is that virtue that is gentle, charming, and calm, suited to the company of all good people, attracting their friendship, delightful in encouragement and moderate in manners” (G5544).

Paul’s declaration that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) was meant to bring the Romans to the conclusion that they, like the Jews, were in need of a savior. Paul explained that Jesus’ blood was the only way to remove the guilt of sin and stated, “God gave Jesus Christ to the world. Men’s sins can be forgiven through the blood of Christ when they put their trust in Him. God gave His Son Jesus Christ to show how right He is” (Romans 3:25, NLV). Paul’s explanation of salvation centered on the fact that the blood of Christ could only atone for sins through an act of faith, putting one’s trust in him. Paul concluded by stating, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). In other words, we cannot be made righteous by doing what God’s law commands; the guilt of our sin can only be removed by putting our trust in the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s sinless son.

Strongholds

A spiritual stronghold is an invisible structure that Satan erects to disable a believer’s faith. The Greek word translated strong holds, ochuroma (okh-oo’-ro-mah) “is used metaphorically in 2 Corinthians 10:4 of those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794). A better understanding of the word ochuroma can be obtained by looking at its origin. Ochuroma is a derivative of the word echo or scheo (skheh’-o), a primary verb which means to hold. “This word stresses that one has the means to accomplish a task” (G2192). Another word derived from scheo, ochlos (okh’los) means a vehicle, “a disorganized throng (as borne along)” (G3793). Another way of describing a stronghold might be popular opinion or what we read in the news headlines and hear on TV. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

Paul used the Greek word kathairesis (kath-ah’ee-res-is) to describe the process of eliminating strongholds. Kathairesis means demolition and suggests that Paul was thinking about a forceful removal of any thought that interfered with belief in the truth of God’s word. Paul stated that believers are to cast down imaginations (2 Corinthians 10:5). What Paul was likely referring to was the estimation of our own abilities. When we feel convicted to do something as a result of what we have read in the Bible, our imagination causes us to think; that’s impossible, I could never do that. Paul’s instruction was to get rid of that thought by means of spiritual warfare. Paul said, “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God (2 Corinthians 10:4). The Greek word translated mighty, dunatos means powerful or capable (G1415). In other words, we must believe what God says is possible in order to demolish Satan’s stronghold.

Paul made it clear that Satan seeks to gain an advantage over believers (2 Corinthians 2:11) and he uses unfair means to trick us into believing his lies. Paul described Satan’s servants as “false prophets, deceitful workers” and indicated they transform themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). The Greek word translated transforming in 2 Corinthians 11:13 is metaschematizo (met-askh-ay-mat-id’-zo) which means to transfigure or disguise (G3345). Metashematizo is derived from the words meta (G3326) and schema (G4976). These words have to do with Satan working through external circumstances to disrupt believers’ lives. Paul talked about those who wanted to disrupt his ministry as desiring an occasion or looking for an opportunity to trip him up. Paul said, “But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them (2 Corinthians 11:12). Paul’s tactic to frustrate Satan’s effort was to do what he said he was going to. In his first letter, Paul told the Corinthians he was going to visit them (1 Corinthians 4:19). Even though he was delayed, Paul eventually made it to Corinth as promised (2 Corinthians 13:1).