Deception

After the Israelites defeated the king of Sihon and Og the king of Bashan, Balak the king of Moab devised a plot to keep the Israelites from entering his territory. Balak offered Balaam, a well-known false prophet, fees to pronounce a curse on the Israelites so that they would be powerless to overtake him (Numbers 22:6-7). Balak’s plan backfired and instead of cursing the people of Israel, Balaam blessed the Israelites four times (Numbers 23-24), but that was not the end of the story. Numbers 25:1-3 tells us, “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” The Hebrew word that is translated whore, zanah (zaw-nawˊ) means “to commit adultery,” but in this instance it is being used figuratively to refer to “the Jewish people being regarded as the spouse of Jehovah” (H2181). Deuteronomy explains from God’s perspective what was going on when Balak tried to curse the Israelites. Numbers 23:3-6 states:

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.” (Deuteronomy 23:3-6)

It says in Deuteronomy 23:5 that the LORD God was in love with the people of Israel in the same way that a man and a woman have a strong emotional attachment to each other (H157). The LORD protected the Israelites from Balaam because of his deep affection for them. When the Israelites participated in the sacrifices to the Moabite gods and bowed down to worship them, they were in essence disassociating themselves from the God that had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and who had provided for all their needs throughout their 40 years of wandering in the desert.

It says in Numbers 25:3, “So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor.” The Hebrew word that is translated yoked, tsamad (tsaw-madˊ) has to do with being like-minded, two or more people thinking the same way about things. The Moabites likely had a mental framework that excluded God’s existence, but it wasn’t obvious to the Israelites. In the book of Revelation, John was instructed to write letters to the seven churches that pointed out the things that each of them was doing right and the things that they were doing wrong. In his letter to the church in Pergamum, the Lord told John to write, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14). The Greek word that is translated stumbling block, maʿaqash (mah-ak-awshˊ) means “a crook (in a road). Maʿaqash is derived from the word ʿaqash (aw-kashˊ) which means “to knot or distort; figuratively to pervert” (H6140). One way of looking at what was going on between the Israelites and the Moabites was that their practices of making sacrifices seemed to be so similar that the Israelites might have thought it didn’t matter if they did it one way or the other. The problem was that the Moabites were sacrificing to a different god. The Moabites were pledging their allegiance to Baal of Peor and the Israelites by participating in their sacrifices were doing the same (Numbers 25:5).

Numbers 25:18 indicates that the Israelites had been harassed by the Moabites with their wiles and that they had been beguiled by them in the matter of Baal of Peor. Wiles are methods of deceit that are intended to defraud someone (H5231/5230). The Apostle Paul talks about the wiles of the devil in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul told the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11, NKJV). The Greek word that is translated stand, histemi (hisˊtay-mee) means to stand fast against an enemy, but it is also used metaphorically “to impute, e.g., sin unto someone’ (G2476). In Acts 7:30 the dying martyr Stephen used the word histemi when he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In that sense, standing against the wiles of the devil might mean that we don’t let the devil’s false accusations stop us from doing God’s will. Jesus was constantly bombarded with false accusations by the Jewish leaders who wanted to put a stop to his ministry. On one occasion, after Jesus healed a man that had been an invalid for 38 years, “the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, “Take up your bed and walk”’…And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:10-11, 16).

The Jews tried to discredit Jesus by shifting the focus of peoples’ attention from the fact that Jesus was doing miracles to the fact that he was doing them on the Sabbath. Jesus countered the Jews argument against him with this statement:

“I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:21-24)

On the surface of things it seemed as if the Jews were in the right and Jesus was in the wrong, but Jesus pointed out that appearances can be deceiving. The Greek word that is translated right in John 7:24, dikaios (dikˊ-ah-yos) has to do with being impartial. Dikaios is used “especially of those whose hearts are right with God” and of things being just as they should be (G1342).

It is clear that the Jews weren’t able to discriminate between good and evil because they didn’t even realize that Jesus was their Messiah. It says in John 7:5, “For not even his brothers believed in him. John tells us, “There was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.” However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews” (John 7:12-13, NKJV). Some of the Jews thought that Jesus was deceiving the people, but the opposite was actually true. The Greek word planao (plan-ahˊ-o) is used with the definite article in Revelation 12:9 as a title of the Devil, “the Deceiver” (G4105). Planao appears throughout the New Testament in connection with the devils activities. Jesus warned his disciples, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5, NKJV). Jesus went on to say about the end times, “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:11-14, NKJV) and later, “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24, NKJV). The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).

John’s first epistle states about Christ, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:7-8). Jesus’ question to the Jews pointed out the obvious discrepancy between their behavior and their espoused beliefs. He asked them, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” (John 7:19). The Jews intended to murder Jesus and yet they proclaimed, “You have a demon!” (John 7:20). The Jewish authorities’ hypocrisy was evident to everyone and yet the people justified their doubts about Jesus’ deity based on facts about his human birth. They posed the question, “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?” and then, answered themselves, “But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” (John 7:20-21). The people were confused because they weren’t looking at things from a spiritual perspective.

Paul explained the lost state of the unsaved 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 bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.(Ephesians 2:1-3)

Paul described unbelievers as being dead in trespasses and sins, “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” (Ephesians 2:1-2). The picture Paul presented was one of involuntary cooperation. Unsaved people are dead spiritually and yet they are subject to Satan’s influence. Satan’s ultimate goal is to use deception to keep people under his control until it’s too late for them escape eternal punishment. Paul told believers:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

The Greek word that is translated darkened in Ephesians 4:18, skotizo (skot-idˊ-zo) means “to obscure” (G4654) and is derived from the word skotos (skotˊ-os) which is “spoken figuratively of moral darkness, the absence of spiritual light and truth, including the idea of sinfulness and consequent calamity” (G4655).

Jesus battled against the deceptive forces at work in the Jews minds by teaching them the spiritual truths that govern the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount began with the key principles of spiritual life, what we know today as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). Jesus also compared the ways of the world with the ways of his kingdom in order to show the stark contrast between saved and unsaved individuals. Jesus stated:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus’ declaration that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect was meant to point out that the standard for Christian living is not obedience to the Ten Commandments, but complete surrender to God’s will through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus illustrated this point when he said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).

Jesus’ reference to the Holy Spirit caused a division among the people. John 7:40-47 states:

When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?

The lines that were being drawn between the Jewish religious leaders and followers of Christ made it difficult for anyone associated with the Pharisees to make a profession of faith. Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night to find out how he could be born again (John 3:1-21), was unwilling to openly declare his faith (John 7:50-52). “When Nicodemus urged the other Pharisees to consider Christ’s words before determining whether he spoke the truth, they sought to discredit him” (note on John 7:52).

Paul talked about the deceitfulness of sin being the root cause of the Jews unbelief. Paul said:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:12-19)

In a very simplistic sense, unbelief is merely a rejection of the truth, but what is really at work in the hearts of unbelievers is an unconscious choice to believe Satan’s lies. Satan’s deception cannot prevent a person from becoming a believer, but it does provide him with an alternate choice. The Holy Spirit’s instruction, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:15) implies that unbelief is a decision to not listen to the voice of God.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul expressed his concern about them getting caught up in the deceptive practices of religion. Paul wrote:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. (Galatians 4:8-11)

Paul went on to remind the Galatians that the central and perhaps only principle they really needed to focus on in order to live a godly life was God’s law of reciprocity. Paul said:

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)

Paul admonished the Galatians to not be deceived, suggesting that what he was about to say to them would be disputed by the three satanic forces that work against our belief in Christ: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jesus indicated that we must give the Holy Spirit free reign in our hearts and lives so that we are not taken in by Satan’s deception,  (John 7:38-39).

Spiritual perception

Jesus’ spiritual perception made it possible for him to see things that other people were unaware of. Sometimes this capability came through in subtle, somewhat ambiguous ways such as when Jesus told a parable about the tenants of a vineyard that killed their master’s son in order to steal his inheritance. Afterward, Mark tells us the chief priests and the scribes and the elders knew that Jesus’ parable was about them. Mark said, “And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away” (Mark 12:12). At other times, Jesus’ spiritual perception was revealed in an open and direct way so that there wouldn’t be any confusion about what he meant. On one occasion, Peter began to rebuke Jesus after he told his disciples he was going to be killed by the Jewish religious leaders and Matthew recorded their conversation. Matthew said, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (Matthew 16:22-23).

Jesus’ awareness that Satan was speaking through Peter wouldn’t have been possible if Jesus hadn’t kept his attention focused on the spiritual realm. Typically, our primary objective is to look at things from a factual, objective basis, but from a reality standpoint; what is apparent on the surface of things, the physical manifestation of our circumstances, is only a small part of what is actually going on in our world. Jesus indicated that some things are intentionally hidden from our physical perception so that only those who have faith in God will be able to discern them. Jesus explained it to his disciples this way:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matthew 13:10-17)

“Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand (1 Corinthians 2:14). They could watch and hear Jesus with their physical eyes and ears, but they were not capable of understanding the truth in their hearts because they had rejected him (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4). Those who accept the true light they have been given will receive even more light, while those who turn away from the light will continue to be increasingly shrouded in darkness (Matthew 13:12). The word ‘for’ at the beginning of Matthew 13:15 should be understood as having the same meaning as ‘because.’ People do not hear and see because their hearts are full of wickedness; consequently, they fail to understand the truth that has been given them. They are so opposed to God’s message that they harden themselves against it, lest they should understand it and ask forgiveness of God. Once they reject Jesus, they also reject the possibility of understanding the parables that Jesus told (Isaiah 55:6-8)” (note on Matthew 13:10-17).

Jesus used the phrase “see but never perceive” (Matthew 13:14) to show that physical and spiritual perception are independent of each other and also indicated that spiritual perception is connected with the heart (Matthew 13:15). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated perceive, eido (i´-do) implies “not the mere act of seeing, but the actual perception of some object” (G1492). Metaphorically, eido is “spoken of the mind: to perceive by the senses, to be aware of.” Therefore, it can be assumed that spiritual perception is a type of heart knowledge that is associated with being born again (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The Apostle Paul talked about spiritual perception in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). “The ‘natural spirit’ is a translation of the Greek psychikos (5591), referring to the man who is governed by his fallen nature (Romans 5:12). This man is unable to fully understand and apply spiritual truths because he does not possess the indwelling Spirit of God” (note on 1 Corinthians 2:14).

Before Jesus came to the earth and it was possible for a person to be born again, spiritual perception was limited to a select number of individuals that were anointed or temporarily gifted with the power of the Holy Spirit. An example of temporary spiritual perception being granted to an individual in the Old Testament appears in Numbers 22:31 where it says that “the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam.” Balaam was a prophet that had been hired by Balak the king of Moab to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22:7-21). While he was on his way to meet with Balak, Balaam was confronted by the angel of the LORD who “took his stand in the way as his adversary” (Numbers 22:22). Then, it says in Numbers 22:23-27:

And the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff.

The donkey that Balaam was riding on was able to see the angel of the LORD standing in the road, but Balaam was not able to because he didn’t have any spiritual perception of what was going on right in front of him. Rather than immediately giving Balaam the ability to see what he was missing, the LORD allowed his donkey to communicate with him. Numbers 22:28-30 states:

Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

At the point that Balaam began to realize that something was going on that he wasn’t aware of, the LORD gave him spiritual perception. Numbers 22:31-35 states:

Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.

The reason why Balaam bowed down and fell on his face when he saw the angel of the LORD was because he knew he was standing in the presence God in the form of the preincarnate Lord, Jesus Christ. Once his spiritual perception was turned on, Balaam was able to spiritually discern the purpose behind Balak’s desire for him to curse the people of Israel and realized that he needed to stop what he was doing.

Jesus used his spiritual perception to stay one step ahead of the Jewish religious leaders that wanted to kill him. After they perceived that Jesus had told the parable of the wicked tenants against them, the religious leaders tried to get Jesus to say something that would justify him being arrested. Luke 20:19-26 states:

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

The scribes and the chief priests had spiritual perception, but they were using it for their own benefit instead of its intended purpose which was to minister to God’s people. Jesus was able to turn the tables on these hypocrites because his awareness of what they were doing went beyond their human comprehension into the spiritual realm where Satan operates.

In addition to being aware of what was going on around him that was a threat to his ministry, Jesus’ spiritual perception made it possible for him to see what was going on in the hearts of the people he came in contact with. John’s record of Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria focused in on the way Jesus was able to get people to see the sin that was at work in their lives. John said:

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:7-18)

Jesus’ conversation with the woman of Samaria began with a physical need that she could relate to. In the same way that we all have physical hunger and thirst, we also have spiritual hunger and thirst and Jesus wanted the Samaritan woman to become aware of her need for spiritual nourishment. As their conversation continued, Jesus pinpointed a specific spiritual need that the Samaritan woman had: unconditional love. The Samaritan woman wasn’t open to accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation right away, so he went on to explain to her how a relationship with God works. Jesus said:

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:22-26)

Even though the Samaritan woman didn’t receive salvation herself, she told others about her encounter with Jesus (John 4:29) and John said, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). Eventually, many more people believed and there was a spiritual awakening in Samaria. John 4:42 states:

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

The Greek word that is translated know in John 4:42 is eido (i´-do); the same word that is translated perceive in Matthew 13:14, indicating that the Samaritans had spiritual perception of Jesus’ true identity. The important thing to note about the Samaritans’ experience is that the only people who believed in Jesus were the ones that had a spiritual awareness that he was who he claimed to be.

Jesus pinpointed the problem in his own disciples of why their spiritual perception wasn’t working properly. They were discussing among themselves the fact that they had no bread. “And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?’” (Mark 8:16-17). A hardened heart is a spiritual condition that makes it impossible for spiritual truth to get past the exterior surface a person’s being. Jesus illustrated this point in his parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-8) when he said, “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root they withered away” (Matthew 13:5-6). In his explanation of this parable, Jesus went on to say, “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” (Matthew 13:20-21). According to Jesus, a person that has a hard heart is someone that has believed the gospel at some point and perhaps has even made a commitment to follow the Lord, but his or her faith didn’t develop properly and it wasn’t able to be sustained over time.

The Apostle Paul dealt with the issue of spiritual complacency in his second letter to Timothy. Paul encouraged Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you” (2 Timothy 1:6) and then, instructed Timothy to “follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 13-14). Paul indicated that it’s the believer’s responsibility to keep his or her spiritual perception in working order. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts, but we must guard our hearts against the evil influences of the world and the devil so that our faith can be developed and mature over time. Paul warned Timothy that times would be difficult in the last days and that some people would have the appearance of godliness, but would deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5), “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). The Greek word that is translated knowledge, epignosis (ip-ig´-no-sis) means “recognition, i.e. (by implication) full discernment” (G1922). The reason why we need our spiritual perception to be working properly is so that we can recognize the truth when we see it.

You must be born again

Jesus’ conversation with a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus revealed important information about how to get to heaven. Nicodemus approached Jesus with the intent of discovering the secret to his success. John’s gospel tells us, “This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’” (John 3:2). Nicodemus knew there was a spiritual component to Jesus’ ministry that couldn’t be overlooked, but he didn’t realize that Jesus was more than just a teacher and that he had the ability to do things that were beyond the scope of normal human comprehension. Nicodemus’ recognition that Jesus had come from God was a step in the right direction, but Nicodemus missed the mark when he admitted “No one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). God was not with Jesus, Jesus was God in human flesh. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated see, eido (iˊ-do) has to do with experience and suggests that Jesus wanted Nicodemus to connect the kingdom of God with something beyond the perception of his physical senses. The phrase that Jesus used, born again isn’t related to a person’s physical birth, but has the connotation of spiritual regeneration.

You might say that Jesus’ comment about being born again went right over Nicodemus’ head because he responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). Jesus likely used the term born, or gennaō (ghen-nahˊ-o) in the Greek, because birth signified a definite event that occurred at a specific point in time. We all know that being born is something that is necessary for us to be alive and can relate to birth as a significant event in everyone’s life. If you have been born, you are clearly aware of it. The part that was probably confusing to Nicodemus was the part about being born again. The Greek word that is translated again in John 3:3, anothen (anˊ-o then) means “from above” (G509). Anothen is derived from the word ano (anˊ-o) which means “upward or on the top” (G507). In Acts 2:9 ano is used to signify being “in a higher place” and also refers to heavenly things in the sense that they are above or more important than other things. Nicodemus may have misunderstood Jesus’ use of the term anothen in the phrase born again because he knew that all life originates with God, but Jesus wasn’t talking about a second physical birth. Jesus was talking about an actual event, a second birth that superseded the first one because it was of a spiritual rather than a physical nature.

John said about Jesus, “He who comes from above is above all” (John 3:31). In this statement, John used the same Greek word anothen, which is translated again in John 3:3, to convey Jesus’ superiority over everything else. When we are born again, our spiritual life begins to take precedence over our physical life and we are able to live on a higher plane, the spiritual plane which is associated with heaven. Matthew referred to the kingdom of heaven on numerous occasions and his gospel contains many parables that Jesus used to describe what this realm is like. After telling his followers the parable of the sower, Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10). Jesus answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:11-13).

Jesus connected being able to understand what he was saying to being born again and said that you cannot see or hear things associated with heaven unless you have access to that realm. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8). Jesus equated being born again with entering the kingdom of God. The Greek word that is translated enter, eiserchomai (ice-erˊ-khom-ahee) is derived from the words eis (ice) which signifies the primary idea of motion into any place or thing (G1519) and erchomai (erˊ-khom-ahee) which represents movement in a particular direction (G2064). Essentially, what Jesus was saying was that there was a passage way that one had to travel through in order to reach the kingdom of God. Somewhat like the birth canal that must be passed through when a child is born, there is a particular way for a person to get into the kingdom of heaven and Jesus equated that with being “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5).

Jesus noted the Holy Spirit’s prominent role in the process of spiritual birth when he said that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). It seems that Jesus’ indication that both water and the Spirit were involved in spiritual birth means that both are required for it to happen. In the same way that it takes both an egg and a sperm to make a child, the Holy Spirit and water or perhaps water baptism make it possible for spiritual regeneration to take place. It could be that Jesus’ comment about entering the kingdom of God was not about spiritual birth, but about spiritual life. As we all know, conception takes place inside the mother’s womb, but the child’s birth doesn’t happen until later. Birth makes is possible for a new stage of the child’s development to begin. It’s possible that being born again happens in two stages. First the conception, when the Holy Spirit comes in and regenerates a person and then, the birth, when a person is baptized and makes a public profession of faith.

Jesus associated the human spirit with the wind and said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). A unique characteristic of the wind that differentiates it from other natural forces is that you can’t see it, but you know that it’s present because of its effect on the things that it comes in contact with. The Greek word pneuma (pnyooˊ-mah) is translated as both wind and Spirit in John 3:8. Pneuma is “the vital spirit of life, the principle of life residing in man. The breath breathed by God into man and again returning to God, the spiritual entity in man (Matthew 27:50; Luke 8:55; 23:46; John 19:30; Acts 7:59; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Revelation 13:15)” (G4151). Pneuma is derived from the word pneo (pnehˊ-o) which means “to breathe hard, i.e. breeze” (G4154). This might make it seem as if the spiritual aspect of man is uncontrollable, but it could be that God causes us to be born again so that like the wind he can get us moving and so that his power will have a channel to flow through.

Psalm 135 focuses on the greatness of God and his ability to accomplish things. Psalm 135:5-7 states:

For I know that the Lord is great,
    and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
    in heaven and on earth,
    in the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
    who makes lightnings for the rain
    and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

The Hebrew word that is translated wind in Psalm 135:7, rûwach (rooˊ-akh) is similar to the Greek word pneuma. Ruwach also describes the breath of a human being or the natural wind that blows. “The human spirit is sometimes depicted as the seat of emotion, the mind, and the will. The human spirit and the Spirit of God are closely linked with moral character and moral attributes” (H7307) It says in Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 that God will give his His people a new spirit so they will follow His decrees and laws.

Psalm 135:7 emphasizes God’s control of the natural forces. The psalmist said that God “makes the clouds rise…makes lightnings for the rain…and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.” It could be that when we are born again, we become more like that natural forces that are under God’s control. Jesus eluded to this in his final words to Peter who had previously denied his relationship with Jesus three times (John 18:17, 25-27). Jesus told Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18).

Following Jesus comment that “the wind blows where it wishes…but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8), Nicodemus openly acknowledged his lack of spiritual perception by asking, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). Rather than explaining things to Nicodemus, Jesus took the conversation in whole new direction. He stated:

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but youdo not receive our testimony.If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:11-15)

Jesus referred to an experience that the Israelites had while they were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. The incident is recorded in Numbers 21:6-9. It states:

Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronzeserpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Moses’ account of what happened included three important steps that the Israelites had to take in order to avoid death after being bitten by the fiery serpents. The first step they took was to admit that they had sinned (Numbers 21:7). The Hebrew word that is translated sinned, chata (khaw-tawˊ) is a verb meaning to miss the mark…It indicates failure to do what is expected; the one who fails to find God in this life destroys himself (Proverbs 8:36)” (H2398). Second, the Israelites asked Moses to intercede with God on their behalf (Numbers 21:7). It says in Numbers 21:7, “So Moses prayed for the people.” The last thing that the Israelites had to do was to look at the bronze serpent (Numbers 21:9). The Israelites didn’t just glance at the bronze serpent and live, they had to consider its ability to save them and make a conscious decision to rely on it as a cure for their sin.

Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Jesus emphasized the requirement of belief in order to have eternal life. Believing in something or someone means that you have faith in him with the idea of hope and certain expectation (G4100). One of the keys to having faith is trust. When you believe in someone, you trust that he will do what he says he’s going to, that he won’t disappoint you. The Greek word that is translated believes in John 3:15, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) is derived from the word pistis (pisˊ-tis). Pistis is “a technical term indicative of the means of appropriating what God in Christ has for man, resulting in the transformation of man’s character and way of life. Such can be termed gospel faith or Christian faith (Romans 3:22ff.)” (G4102). Pistis means “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation.” The Greek word pistis comes from the word peitho (piˊ-tho) which means “to convince…meaning to let oneself be persuaded…to assent to, obey, follow” (G3982).

The argument that Jesus presented to Nicodemus was that God loved the world and wanted to save it. Jesus said:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)

Jesus’ explanation of why God sent him into the world to save it made it clear that condemnation was the thing that needed to be avoided. Condemnation is the result of sin and will be the outcome of everyone’s lives that does not put their trust in Jesus Christ.

Jesus went on to say, “And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21). Jesus used the contrast of light and darkness to show Nicodemus that the Pharisees criticism of his ministry was motivated by guilt. Jesus said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20). Jesus was likely prompting Nicodemus to search his own soul and see if there was anything that needed to be forgiven. It seems that Nicodemus left without making a decision one way or the other to follow Christ because their conversation ended abruptly after Jesus’ comment about those who do wicked things hating the light.

John the Baptist echoed Jesus’ sentiment when he said, “He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all…Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:31-36). The Greek word that John used that is translated does not obey is apeitheo (ap-i-thehˊ-o) which means “to disbelieve (willfully and perversely)” (G544). Apeitheo speaks of a conscious decision being made to not believe what one knows to be true. It’s not clear in John 3 if Nicodemus accepted or rejected Jesus’ message the night that he spoke to him or went away and gave it some more thought before making his final decision. John recorded in his gospel that Nicodemus later defended Jesus when the Pharisees spoke against his ministry (John 7:49-52) and was present when Joseph of Arimathea prepared Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:38-40).

Endurance

The Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to his spiritual son Timothy from a Roman prison and “believed that his death was near…Some suggest that Paul was writing a more personal letter to Timothy because of the fact that he was expecting to die soon” (Introduction to the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy). Paul encouraged Timothy to endure suffering so that he could present himself to God “as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul said:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Paul used three analogies to get his message across to Timothy. First, Paul told Timothy that he must share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers are mentioned throughout the New Testament account of Jesus’ ministry because of the Roman occupation of Israel at that time. The Greek word that Paul used, stratiotes (strat-ee-oˊ-tace) refers to “a (common) warrior” (G4757). Paul’s idea of a good soldier of Christ Jesus was probably someone that was always engaged in spiritual battles. Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Paul told Timothy, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). The New King James Version of the Bible states it this way. “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” The Apostle Peter also talked about becoming entangled in the affairs of this life in the context of false prophets and teachers. Peter said:

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:17-22)

Paul’s use of the phrase “the affairs of this life” (2 Peter 2:4) was probably meant to be interpreted in the context of normal everyday life. The Greek word that is translated life in this instance, bios (beeˊ-os) refers to “the present state of existence” and by implication “the means of livelihood” (G979). The struggle between doing God’s will and our own will often centers on the question of how we earn our living. The struggle between the two is clearly portrayed in the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. After the Israelites “set out for the first time at the command of the LORD by Moses” (Numbers 10:13), it says in Numbers 11:1, “the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes.” Moses went on to say:

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6)

The strength that was dried up may have been the people’s physical appetite, but there was likely more to what was going on than just a lack of physical nourishment. The Hebrew word that is translated strength, nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) in an abstract sense refers to vitality and often represents “the inner being with its thoughts and emotions” and by extension, “the whole person” (H5315). At this point in time, it seems that some of the Israelites were beginning to miss their old way of life. Moses referred to the group of people that had gathered together to complain to each other as “the rabble” (Numbers 11:4). It’s not stated exactly who these people were, but it seems likely that they were dissenters who were opposed to the military campaign that was about to take place as the Israelites approached the Promised Land (Numbers 13:1-2, 17-19).

The second analogy that Paul used to encourage Timothy’s endurance was an athlete that is engaged in a competition. Paul said, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). The point that Paul was making was that it is possible for Christians to be disqualified from the spiritual rewards that they expect to receive from God. An example of this principle was the 40 year delay that kept everyone that grumbled against the LORD from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 14:26-30), as well as Moses’ exclusion because he broke faith with the LORD (Deuteronomy 32:48-51). Paul told Timothy at the conclusion of his letter, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will award me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The crown of righteousness may be the crown that Paul was referring to when he said that an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5). If so, competing according to the rules might have something to do with preaching the gospel accurately, meaning that there isn’t anything added or taken away from the message that Jesus proclaimed to his followers.

Paul’s final analogy, the hard working farmer, indicated that the principle of sowing and reaping came into play with regard to suffering and endurance. Paul said, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6). Metaphorically, fruit as it relates to work or deeds is “the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly, the character of the ‘fruit’ being evidence of the character of the power producing it” (G2590). Paul’s suggestion that the hard-working farmer should receive the first share of the crops meant that the person preaching the gospel would receive some of the benefits of his own message. In other words, the power of the Holy Spirit would spill over into his own life as the preacher of the gospel went about sowing the seeds of God’s word. Paul concluded with the statement, “Think over what I say; for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). Paul seemed to be aware of the fact that his words of encouragement to Timothy weren’t really all that encouraging, at least not from a human perspective. The Greek words that Paul used, noieo (noy-ehˊ-o) which is translated think over and sunesis (soonˊ-es-is) which is translated understand have to do with the faculties of the mind and may be connected with Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23). Paul told the Ephesians that they must “put off your 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 4:21-24). Basically, what Paul was referring to was the process of sanctification which results in the divine character of God being manifested in the life of the believer (G38).

After the Israelites complained to the LORD about their misfortunes (Numbers 11:1), they were commanded to sanctify or consecrate themselves (Numbers 11:18). Numbers 11:18-20 states:

“And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’”

The Hebrew word that is translated rejected, maʾaç (maw-asˊ) speaks of “despising one’s spiritual condition” and describes the Israelites’ actions “in refusing to heed God or accept his authority” (H3988). The Israelites were instructed to consecrate themselves, meaning that they had to go through a process of rededicating themselves to the LORD in order to reinstate his blessing upon them.

Moses’ role of keeping the Israelites in check was a difficult one because of the constant friction between God and his chosen people. Moses asked the LORD:

“Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.” (Numbers 11:11-14)

A short while later, Moses’ authority was challenged by his own brother and sister. Numbers 12:1-9 states:

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

Moses’ personal relationship with the LORD made it possible for him to understand things that no other human being could. God said that he spoke to Moses “mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles” (Numbers 12:8).

Like Moses, Paul suffered because of the message that the Lord entrusted to him. Paul said that he was suffering, “bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:9-10). The Greek word that is translated endure, hupomeno (hoop-om-enˊ-o) is derived from the words hupo (hoop-oˊ) which refers to an inferior position or condition (G5259) and meno (menˊ-o) which speaks of “a person remaining in a state or condition” (G3306). The literal translation of hupomeno is “to stay under,” meaning to remain in an inferior position (5278). Paul said that he was enduring prison for the sake of the elect, “that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul believed that he was in prison because it was a part of his ministry, something that he needed to do to in order to finish his race (2 Timothy 4:7).

Paul encouraged Timothy to endure suffering because of the assurance that he had of future rewards. Paul said:

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:11-12)

The Greek word that Paul used that is translated reign, sumbasileuo (soom-bas-il-yooˊ-o) refers to a co-regent (G4821). Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Jesus talked about his future glory in his high priestly prayer to his Father. Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).

One of the conditions that Paul identified for being approved by God was being able to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul contrasted being able to rightly handle the word of truth with irreverent babble that leads people into more and more ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16). Another way of describing irreverent babble might be a fruitless or meaningless discussion. Some people talk about God in a way that destroys other people’s faith rather than building it up. Paul used the example of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had said that the resurrection had already happened (2 Timothy 2:18), in order to illustrate how a central fact could undermine the entire gospel. Paul encouraged Timothy to cleanse himself from what is dishonorable, so that he would be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

Paul’s final recommendation for endurance had to do with the spiritual battles associated with winning souls for Christ. Paul said:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Paul’s description of salvation as coming to our senses and escaping from the snare of the devil emphasized the importance of spiritual warfare and its role in helping or hindering a person’s belief in God. The Greek word that is translated captured, zogreo (dzogue-rehˊ-o) means “to take alive (make a prisoner of war)” (G2221). The concept of a prisoner of war suggests that the devil is able to render believers useless to God by tricking them into believing things that are untrue.

Paul admonished Timothy “not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14) and then went on to explain that it is the condition of our hearts when we share the gospel that makes all the difference in the success or failure of our attempt. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The idea that Paul was conveying of presenting ourselves to God was about the genuineness of our faith or you might say the accuracy of our view of ourselves compared to God’s view of us. We might think we are right with God, but when we stand in God’s presence every unconfessed sin will be exposed. Paul wrote in his message to the Hebrews:

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
    and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

The shrinking back that Paul mentioned may have had something to do with lowering a sail and so slackening the course of the ship. Paul was likely referring to being remiss in holding to the truth of the gospel (G5288). In other words, leaving out some of the details of the gospel in order to make it more palatable to unbelievers is a dangerous compromise that can diminish your faith and result in spiritual ruin. 

God is holy

Psalm 99, which is titled The LORD Our God is Holy, begins with a tribute to God’s exalted position in the world. Psalm 99:1-5 states:

The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!
    He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name!
    Holy is he!
The King in his might loves justice.
    You have established equity;
you have executed justice
    and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
    worship at his footstool!
    Holy is he!

The Hebrew word that is translated holy, qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) “is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, and set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9). Therefore, in the Old Testament, God is accorded the title ‘The Holy One of Israel’ (2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 78:41; Isaiah 17:7; Jeremiah 50:29). As such, God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918).

God indicated that the way that people were to become holy was through consecration. He said to the Israelites, “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45). On another occasion, God made it clear that all the people of Israel were to be holy (Leviticus 19:2) and later added that he is the one that sanctifies us (Leviticus 20:8). God said, “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:24).

In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul explained the process that God established before the foundation of the world to make his chosen people holy. Paul said:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:3-10)

Paul continued his explanation using the analogy of a husband and wife’s relationship to each other to illustrate how sanctification works. Paul said:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:22-27)

The process of sanctification is focused on the unification of Christ with his church. Paul said that we need to submit ourselves to Christ, so that his word can make us holy. The Greek word that is translated sanctify in Ephesians 5:26, hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to make holy” and when “spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will” (G37). Hagiazo is derived from the word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) which is translated as both holy and saints throughout Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:1, 4, 13, 15, 18; 2:19, 21; 3:5, 8, 18; 4:12, 30; 5:3, 27; 6:18). When the word saints is used in the New Testament, it is referring to someone that has been purified and sanctified by the influences of the Holy Spirit. “This is assumed of all who profess the Christian name” (G40).

The term saints is also used in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) which is usually translated holy is translated saints in Deuteronomy 33:3 in the King James Version of the Bible. Qadowsh is also translated as saints or holy ones in Psalm 16:3, 34:9 and 89:5, as well as in several books of prophecy (Daniel 8:13, Hosea 11:12, Zechariah 14:5) and in the book of Job (5:1; 15:15). Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming Day of the LORD seems to link together both the Old and New Testament saints and the unification of Christ with his church. Zechariah proclaimed:

Behold, the day of the Lord is coming,
And your spoil will be divided in your midst.
For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem;
The city shall be taken,
The houses rifled,
And the women ravished.
Half of the city shall go into captivity,
But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

Then the Lord will go forth
And fight against those nations,
As He fights in the day of battle.
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,
Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the north
And half of it toward the south.

Then you shall flee through My mountain valley,
For the mountain valley shall reach to Azal.
Yes, you shall flee
As you fled from the earthquake
In the days of Uzziah king of Judah.

Thus the Lord my God will come,
And all the saints with You.

It shall come to pass in that day
That there will be no light;
The lights will diminish.
It shall be one day
Which is known to the Lord—
Neither day nor night.
But at evening time it shall happen
That it will be light.

And in that day it shall be
That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem,
Half of them toward the eastern sea
And half of them toward the western sea;
In both summer and winter it shall occur.
And the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
In that day it shall be—
“The Lord is one,” And His name one. (Zechariah 14:1-9, NKJV)

Zechariah’s vision indicated that the LORD would come to the earth “And all the saints” with him (Zechariah 14:5). This is what is referred to in the Bible as the second coming of Christ, the appointed time when he will return to the earth and will reign over the entire world. The period of time in between Christ’s first and second coming is sometimes referred to as the Church Age, a period of time when the Gentiles will gain equality with the Jews and will enter God’s kingdom on the same basis, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Paul talked about the Jews and Gentiles becoming one in Christ in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the same household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-22).

Paul used the Greek word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) to refer to both “the saints” and the “holy” temple that was being built together into a dwelling place for God (Ephesians 2:19, 21). The Greek word that is translated are being built together, sunoikodomeo (soon-oy-kod-om-ehˊ-o) means “to construct, i.e. (passive) to compose (in company with other Christians, figurative)” (G4925). Sunoikodomeo is derived from the words sun (soon) which denotes a union “i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition etc.” (G4862) and oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-ehˊ-o). Figuratively, oikodomeo means “to build up, establish, confirm. Spoken of the Christian Church and its members who are thus compared to a building, a temple of God, erected upon the one and only foundation, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Colossians 3:9, 10) and ever built up progressively and unceasingly more and more from the foundation” (G3618).

The Greek word oikodomeo is sometimes translated as edify and is related to the word oikodome (oy-kod-om-ayˊ) which means “architecture that is (concretely) a structure” (G3619). Oikodome is usually translated as edifying or edification and was used by Paul to describe the process that the Church is going through in order to reach maturity and unification with Christ. Paul talked about this process in his letter to the Ephesians under the topic of unity in the Body of Christ. Paul said:

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, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Edification may be a type of joint sanctification in which each member of the Body of Christ that is continually being added contributes to the collective state of the whole. Hebrews 12:12-14 indicates that holiness is the final state of the Church and a necessary condition for the Lord’s return. It states, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” The Greek word that is translated holiness, hagiasmos (hag-ee-as-mosˊ) is derived from the word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) which means to make holy (G37) and refers to the resultant state of the process of sanctification (G38).

The book of Leviticus teaches us that holiness is a state that can be transferred between things and people. The opposite of holiness is to be defiled which resulted from coming in contact with something that was unholy or profane. Leviticus 21:7 and 22:1-3 indicate that a woman whose virginity had been violated entered a state of defilement (H2491) and was cut off from the LORD’s presence. Numbers 5:1-3 states that anyone that was defiled had to be put outside the camp, “that they may not defile their camp” because the LORD resided there. In the same way that something or someone could become defiled; things and people could be made holy by coming in contact with something that had been consecrated to the LORD. Exodus 29:36-37 states, “Also you shall purify the altar, when you make atonement for it, and shall anoint it to consecrate it. Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy.”

In addition to the altar, the sanctuary of the tabernacle, all the utensils that were used for sacrifices, the priests, and even the priests’ garments were considered to be holy things (Exodus 30:29; Leviticus 6:18, 27). The transfer of holiness from one object to another was connected with physical touch, but the Hebrew word that is translated touch, naga (naw-gahˊ) is sometimes used figuratively in the sense of emotional involvement and also sexual contact with another person (H5060) suggesting that the physical contact might have something to do with intimacy. Jesus often touched the people that he healed and on at least one occasion had physical contact with a man who had leprosy, a condition that defiled a person (Leviticus 13:3). Matthew tells us that when Jesus “came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord if you will, you can make me clean. And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:1-3). The Greek word that is translated touched in Matthew 8:3, haptomai (hapˊ-tom-ahee) is properly translated as “to attach oneself to” (G680). Haptomai, used figuratively, means “to have sexual intercourse” (1 Corinthians 7:1), so the sense of intimacy seems to apply to the circumstance of Jesus healing the leper.

Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room validates Jesus’ inherent holiness. Isaiah wrote:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3)

Isaiah referred to Jesus as the “Holy One” and said of him, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called” (Isaiah 54:5).

“God’s presence is what makes any place, anything, or anyone holy (Exodus 3:5)” (H6944). One of the distinct characteristics of the Israelites’ camp while they were traveling to the Promised Land was that the Lord was dwelling in their midst (Numbers 5:3). Numbers 7:89 states, “And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak to the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.”

Moses’ interaction with the LORD involved a type of emotional involvement that might be considered to be intimacy or attaching oneself to another person. It says in Exodus 33:11 that God spoke “to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” and in Exodus 34:29 it states, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” The rays of light that were coming from Moses’ face bare a resemblance to the description that Matthew gave of Jesus’ transfiguration. Matthew recorded, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him” (Matthew 17:1-3).

The Greek word that is translated transfigured in Matthew 17:2, metamorphoo (met-am-or-foˊ-o) appears to be related to the process of sanctification. Metamorphoo is derived from the words meta (met-ahˊ) which denotes accompaniment (G3326) and morphoo (mor-foˊ-o) “to fashion.” “Morphoo refers, not to the external and transient, but to the inward and real; it is used in Galatians 4:19, expressing the necessity of a change in character and conduct to correspond with inward spiritual condition, so that there may be moral conformity to Christ” (G3445). Paul used the word metamorphoo in his second letter to the Corinthians in connection with the veil that Moses put over his face to cover the light that shone from it (2 Corinthians 3:12-16; Exodus 34:33-35). Paul said, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Paul expanded on his discussion of transformation in his letter to the Romans. Paul wrote:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

According to Paul, the renewal of the mind was the key to sanctification. Paul said that we are not to be “conformed to this world” but transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). The Greek word that is translated renewal, anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) stresses “the continual operation of the indwelling Spirit of God” (G342) which is commonly referred to as the Holy Spirit or hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) pnuema (pnyooˊ-mah) in the Greek.

Children of God

John opened his gospel about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ with a somewhat confusing statement about the nature of God’s only Son. John said:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

John referred to Jesus as the Word. The Greek word that John used, logos (log’-os) refers to something said and in this case signifies “the Divine Expression” (G3056). John connected Jesus’ divine expression with life in an absolute sense, life without end, “that life of bliss and glory in the kingdom of God which awaits the true disciples of Christ after the resurrection” (G2222). John went on to say:

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13)

John used the phrase children of God to express the kind of relationship we have with God when we accept Jesus as our Savior. John indicated that we are born into the family of God in the same way that we are born into our biological family, except that we are not born “of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Jesus described this transaction in his conversation with a man named Nicodemus. Jesus said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

Jesus made it clear that our birth into the family of God is a spiritual birth and suggested that it will be like we are starting all over from the beginning. That’s why Jesus referred to it as being born again. The Greek word that is translated again, anothen (an’-o-then) means “from above” with regard to place. We are born from a higher place. “Hence spoken of whatever is heavenly or from heaven, and since God dwells in heaven, it signifies from God, in a divine manner” (G509).

Jesus talked about the believer’s relationship to God in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). Jesus’ instruction to let our light shine before others was intended to point out that we are not meant to keep our spiritual birth a secret. Eternal life is something that everyone would want to have if they knew that it was available to them. We know that eternal life is available to everyone because Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

Jesus made it clear in his Sermon on the Mount that spiritual life is not easy. In fact, spiritual life goes against our human nature and is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45). The Greek word that is translated sons, uihothesia (hwee-oth-es-ee’) means “the placing of a son, i.e. adoption…In the New Testament, figuratively meaning adoption, sonship, spoken of the state of those whom God through Christ adopts as His sons and thus makes heirs of His covenanted salvation” (G5206).

Jesus went on to explain in his Sermon on the Mount that if we have been born again, our behavior is important to our Father. God wants us to act like we are his children and he rewards us when we do so. Jesus warned his disciples, “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…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, 3-4). Jesus also talked about prayer and taught his disciples to address God as “Our Father” (Matthew 6:5-13). Jesus concluding his teaching about the believers relationship to God by stating, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

John went a step further in his first epistle in explaining our relationship to God by talking about the kind of love that we receive from God as his children. John said:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

John said that when Jesus appears, “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Even though believers become children of God through a spiritual birth, they are not immediately transformed into the likeness of Christ. The Greek word that is translated like in 1 John 3:2, homoios (hom’-oy-os) means “just like, equal, the same with: in kind or nature (Jude 7); in conduct, character (John 8:55); in authority, dignity, power (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Revelation 13:4)” (G3664). John indicated that the key to being like Christ was seeing him as he is. In other words, seeing Jesus in his glorified state will have such a great impact on us that we will not only want to, but also will be, immediately transformed into his likeness.

John’s comment about everyone who hopes in Christ being purified as he is pure (1 John 3:3) had to do with believers possessing a confident expectation of good things to come (G2192/G1680). One of the reasons why the Israelites had to go through a continual process of purification in order to have a relationship with God was that they weren’t able to do the things that they were expected to in order to remain in fellowship with him. God’s deliverance of the Israelites wasn’t based on their relationship to him, but their relationship to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

John the Baptist discouraged the Pharisees and Sadducees that were coming to him to be baptized from doing it because he knew they didn’t believe his message about salvation. John said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham s our father, for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:7-9).

The biological descendants of Abraham were used to thinking of themselves as the special people to whom God would grant eternal life. They didn’t understand that eternal life was connected to spiritual life and therefore, it was necessary for them to experience a spiritual birth. The closest thing the Israelites had to the concept of spiritual birth was the process of sanctification. Sanctification made it possible for the Israelites to become holy or pure. The LORD instructed Moses, “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Leviticus 20:7-8). The LORD’s emphasis of his expectation for the Israelites to be holy made it seem as though it was a permanent state that they were able to attain, but in actuality, being holy was impossible for anyone but God. The only way the Israelites could be holy was for them to be completely isolated from everyone and everything that was not dedicated to God (Leviticus 20:22-26).

Throughout the book of Leviticus, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referred to as the children of Israel. God gave Jacob the name Israel after he wrestled with him all night. Genesis 32:24-28 states:

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:24-28)

The Hebrew name that is translated Israel, Yisra’el (yis-raw-ale’) means “he will rule as God” (H3478). The idea being that of equality. God gave Jacob the name Israel because he had striven with God and with men, and had prevailed (Genesis 32:28). The King James Version of the Bible translates it this way, “for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” The Hebrew word that is translated power, sarah (saw-raw’) is “a verb meaning to persist, to exert oneself, to persevere” (H8280). The Hebrew name Yisra’el is derived from the word sarah and is also connected with the name Sarah which was given to Abraham’s wife after Isaac’s birth was promised to them (Genesis 17:15-16).

Jacob’s ability to prevail against God and man had to do with his attitude about life. Jacob believed that God had the power to save him from death (Genesis 32:30; H5337) and that God’s blessing would ensure that he obtained eternal life because he would be resurrected after his death (Genesis 49:29). When God called the Israelites the children of Israel, God was essentially reminding them of their relationship to Jacob and the encounter that Jacob had with him, as well as the blessing that Jacob received, even though he wasn’t Isaac’s oldest son. God often pointed out that the connection that kept the children of Israel in a state of blessedness was their common bond of sanctification (Leviticus 22:31-33), which was linked to the celebration of appointed feasts and more specifically, the holy convocations (Leviticus 23:1-2) that were intended to focus everyone’s attention on obedience to God’s commandments.

John contrasted believers who were purified through Christ with unbelievers that ignored God’s commandments by pointing out that habitual sin was evidence of being in an unregenerate spiritual state. John stated:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:4-8)

John distinguished the children of God from the children of the devil by their ability to practice righteousness. John said that “whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7). In other words, our righteousness is a result of our identification with Christ.

John said the reason why the Son of God was made visible to the world was to loosen the bonds of sin and wickedness that the devil had imposed on those who did his will instead of God’s. John indicated that anyone that is not a child of God is by default a child of the devil. 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)

John’s explanation of why someone that has been born of God cannot practice sin may seem like an over simplification of the believer’s ability to resist the devil’s temptations, but John’s use of the Greek term meno (men’-o), which is translated abides, reveals an important truth about the type of sanctification that comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit in Christians that actually keeps them from practicing sin (G4690). John referred to the Holy Spirit as “God’s seed” (1 John 3:9), indicating that He is the source of our spiritual birth in the same way that the sperm is the seed of conception to a woman’s egg, and John said that God’s seed abides in us, meaning that the Holy Spirit keeps us united with Christ in such a way that we are one with him in heart, mind, and will (G3306).

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that it is our spiritual birth into God’s family that entitles us to share in Christ’s eternal inheritance. Paul said:

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17)

Paul indicated that believers are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, but also added the stipulation that we must suffer with our Savior in order to be glorified with him. Paul went on to talk about God’s everlasting love for his children and the fact that Christ is seated at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34) and then, Paul asked the rhetorical question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35). Paul concluded by reassuring believers that our relationship with our heavenly Father is unbreakable. Paul stated, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

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).

The grace of God

The grace of God is an overarching theme of the Bible and a central element in God’s plan of salvation. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians stated plainly that God’s grace is what makes it possible for us to be saved. Paul said, “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” (Ephesians 2:4-9). The Greek word that is translated grace in Ephesians 2:8, charis (khar’-ece) refers to the unmerited favor that God shows us in saving us from sin, “the grace exhibited in the pardon of sins and admission to the divine kingdom…especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude” (G5485). Charis is derived from the word chairo (khah’ee-ro) which means “to be ‘cheer’ful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off…Particularly, to rejoice, be glad” (G5463). Paul talked about how the grace of God had caused the churches of Macedonia to give beyond their means. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul said:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

Paul contrasted the Macedonians abundance of joy with their extreme poverty in order to make it clear that the Macedonians’ generosity wasn’t a result of their circumstances. It was actually in spite of their circumstances that the Macedonians had chosen to participate in the relief of the saints. Paul referred to the Macedonians “wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2), their sincere desire to give to others according to God’s riches rather than their own. Paul used the phrase “the favor of taking part” (2 Corinthians 8:4) to emphasize the spiritual aspect of the Macedonians giving. The two Greek words that are translated the favor of taking part, charis koinonia literally mean the gift of fellowship or you might say that the Macedonians’ were actively responding to the saints’ common financial need.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to follow the Macedonians example by participating in the act of grace that was being presented to them by Paul’s companion Titus. Paul said, “Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also” (2 Corinthians 8:6-7). Paul might have viewed the collection of money for the relief of the saints as an act of grace because he knew that the Corinthians would not be inclined of their own free will to give as generously as the Macedonians had. His plea for them to excel in this act of grace as they had in all the other areas of their relationship with Christ may have been Paul’s way of stirring up the Corinthians’ collective conscience and was perhaps intended to make the Corinthians feel uneasy about the fact that they weren’t doing their part. Paul understood that the grace of God was not something that could be initiated from a material perspective. God’s grace originates in the mind of Christ and is transmitted to believers through the Holy Spirit. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that believers are the object of God’s effort to bless mankind. Paul said, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The idea that we are God’s workmanship, a product that is made by him (G4161) is based on Paul’s comprehension of how transformation occurs in the heart of a believer. Paul understood that it is impossible for us to make ourselves good and therefore, good works are the result of God’s grace, his divine influence upon the heart (G5485).

Paul talked to the Ephesians about the new life that is possible when we yield ourselves to God’s divine influence. Paul told them:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your 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 4:17-24)

Holiness was the primary objective of the legal system that Moses established after the Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt. Ongoing sacrifices had to be made in order to cleanse the people from their sin. Even if someone sinned unintentionally, atonement had to be made for the sin so that the guilt of the offense would not be held against the person or the congregation of Israel as a whole (Leviticus 4).

The key to the Israelites’ release from guilt when they committed a sin against God was the grace of God which was demonstrated through his act of forgiveness. The Greek word that is translated forgiving and forgiven in Ephesians 4:32, charizomai (khar-id’-zom-ahee) means “to bestow a favor unconditionally” (G5483). Charizomai is derived from the word charis (khar’-ece) which means graciousness. “Grace indicates favor on the part of the giver, thanks on the part of the receiver. Although charis is related to sins and is the attribute of God that they evoke, God’s eleos (1656), the free gift for the forgiveness of sins, is related to the misery that sin 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” (G5485). The Old Testament concept of forgiveness is similar in that it depended on God’s grace, but atonement had to be made in order for forgiveness to be effective before Christ died on the cross. The Hebrew word calach (saw-lakh’), which means to forgive, is reserved especially to mark the pardon extended to the sinner by God. It is never used to denote that inferior kind and measure of forgiveness that is exercised by one man toward another. It is the Divine restoration of an offender into favor, whether through his own repentance or the intercession of another. Though not identical with atonement, the two are closely related. In fact, the covering of the sin and the forgiveness of the sinner can only be understood as two aspects of one truth; for both found their fulness in God’s provision of mercy through Christ (cf. Hebrews 9:22)” (H5545).

Forgiveness is mentioned most often in chapters four and five of the book of Leviticus, where it states that the priest must make atonement for a sin, and then it shall be forgiven him or them (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35, 5:10, 13, 16, 18). Jesus made a point of letting people know that he was able to forgive sins. On one occasion, Jesus was accused of blasphemy because he told a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven. Matthew’s gospel records the incident this way:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 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. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8)

Jesus associated his forgiveness of the paralytic man’s sins with the faith he saw in the people that brought the man to him to be healed. Matthew 9:2 states, “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.‘” The connection between faith and forgiveness seems to be our reliance upon God to save us from our sinful behavior. The Greek word that is translated faith in Matthew 9:2, pistis (pis’-tis) is “a technical term indicative of the means of appropriating what God in Christ has for man, resulting in the transformation of man’s character and way of life. Such can be termed gospel faith or Christian faith (Romans 3:22ff.)” (G4102).

The important thing to note about the way faith and forgiveness work together to save us from our sins is that action is required on both parts. God’s act of grace toward us would have no effect if it weren’t for our act of faith in receiving his gift of salvation. Jesus commanded the paralytic man to “take heart” (Matthew 9:2). Essentially, what Jesus wanted was for the man to activate his faith. The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase “be of good cheer” instead of take heart to express what Jesus expected from the paralytic man. Another way of stating it would be “to have courage” (G2293). The reason why the paralytic man needed to have courage was because his guilt was getting in the way of him being able to recover from his disease. What was likely going on was that the paralytic man knew he deserved to be punished for the sins he had committed and may have associated his disability with something specific that he had done wrong in the past. It appears that the man was correct because Jesus told him his sins were forgiven (Matthew 9:2) before he commanded the paralytic man to “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6).

Leviticus 4:27-31 points out that it is possible for us to sin unintentionally and therefore, a penalty can be incurred without us knowing about it. This passage states:

“If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. And all its fat he shall remove, as the fat is removed from the peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.”

John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus made it clear that his sacrificial death on the cross was intended to pay the penalty for every sin that ever had or would be committed. John said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The Greek word that is translated takes away, airo (ah’-ee-ro) means “to take away what is attached to anything, to remove” and speaks of the effects of Jesus’ Atonement in the believer’s life (G142). John’s declaration of Jesus taking away the sin of the world was connected with the original punishment for sin that was enacted in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Paul indicated in his letter to the Romans that Jesus brought justification and the free gift of righteousness to all when he died for the sins of the world. Paul explained:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Paul went on to talk about the gifts of grace and pointed out that God’s grace should result in generous giving. Paul said:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

The principle behind generosity is that there should be unity in the body of Christ. We should think of the needs of others as we do our own needs and give as we would want others to give to us if we were the ones in need of assistance. Paul told the Corinthians, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:8-9).

Paul told the Corinthians that he expected them to finish what they had started. Apparently, the Corinthians had pledged to give a certain amount toward the relief of the saints, but hadn’t followed through on it. Paul said, “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (2 Corinthians 8:10-14). The fairness that Paul was talking about had to do with equality in their conditions rather than their status as citizens or positions in society. Paul stated plainly that he didn’t want to make things easier for the Christians in Jerusalem at the expense of believers in Corinth. Paul indicated that the Corinthians gift would be considered acceptable if is what according to what they had, not according to what they didn’t have.

One of the final requests that Jesus made of his Father when he was dying on the cross was that God would forgive the sin that was being committed against his only Son. Jesus petitioned, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The conclusion that Jesus’ crucifixion was an unintentional sin may seem a little far fetched, but our Lord understood that the collective heart of mankind was hardened by centuries of rebellion against God and the people’s lack of faith was due in part to the misrepresentation of God’s character by the Jewish priests. The Greek word that is translated know, eido (i’-do) refers to perfect knowledge (G1492) or you might say knowing someone completely. Jesus’ conclusion that the people didn’t know what they were doing was based in part on the fact that the Holy Spirit had not yet come into the world and made Jesus’ work on the cross evident to everyone. From that standpoint, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was still somewhat of a mystery. It wasn’t until the people had the influence of the Holy Spirit that they were able to see things clearly, repent of their sins, and seek God’s forgiveness (Acts 2:32-41).

An earnest desire

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was meant to restore the fellowship that he had with them when he first established their church. The dishonorable behavior of some of the church’s members had caused Paul to pay them an unpleasant visit and resulted in harsh treatment of the offender. Paul urged the Corinthian believers to forgive the sinner (2 Corinthians 2:7) so that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Paul said, “So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:8-11). Paul went on to explain that his ministry of reconciliation was intended to restore fellowship between God and mankind and that we are all new creatures in Christ. Paul stated:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:16-19)

The Greek word that is translated reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:18, katallage (kat-al-lay-ay’) means exchange “i.e. restoration to (the divine) favor” (G2643). Reconciliation has to do with God’s ability to give us credit for Christ’s righteousness even though we haven’t done anything to earn or deserve it. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talked about putting off the old self and putting on the new self in order to be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:22-23). Paul said that the new self is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Paul addressed the Corinthian sinner’s transgression by admonishing him to cleanse himself from the moral pollution that had affected not only his body, but also his spirit. Paul said, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Paul’s use of the term beloved indicated that he was speaking to someone that was a follower of Christ. The Greek term that is translated beloved, agapetos (ag-ap-ay-tos’) is “spoken of Christians as united with God or with each other in the bonds of holy love…meaning conjoined in the bonds of faith and love” (G27). Bringing holiness to completion was probably Paul’s way of referring to the process of sanctification which unites believers with Christ and each other. Paul implied in his letter to the Ephesians that it is possible for us to achieve spiritual success. He said that we are to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1). Paul’s reference to a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God was connected to the peace offering that was a part of the moral and ethical instruction of God’s chosen people (Leviticus, Introduction, p. 113). Leviticus 1:3-9 states:

“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”

The offering of a male without blemish signified the perfection, as well as the completion of the sacrifice that was being made. The Hebrew word that is translated blemish, tamiym (taw-meem’) “means complete, in the sense of the entire or whole thing” (H8549). Tamiym is translated blameless in Genesis 17:1-2 where it says, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.'” Christ’s atoning sacrifice fulfilled the requirement of perfection that God demanded from Abraham and all those who would seek entrance into his kingdom. Jesus told his followers, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and he later instructed a rich young man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).

The blood of the sacrificed animal was symbolically thrown against the sides of the altar in order to depict the violence involved in the act of atonement. Leviticus 17:11 states, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make an atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” The Hebrew word that is translated “to make atonement for” in Leviticus 1:4 is kaphar (kaw-far’). “On its most basic level of meaning, kaphar denotes a material transaction of ‘ransom’…The righteous God is neither implacable nor capricious, but provides Himself the ‘ransom’ or substitute sacrifice that would satisfy Him. The priest at the altar represents God Himself, bringing the requisite offering before God; sacrifice is not essentially man’s action, but God’s own act of pardoning mercy. Kaphar is first found in Genesis 6:14, where it is used in its primary sense of ‘to cover over.’ Here God gives Noah instructions concerning the ark, including, ‘Pitch it within and without with pitch.’ Most of the uses of the word, however, involve the theological meaning of ‘covering over,’ often with the blood of sacrifice, in order to atone for some sin. This means that the ‘covering over’ hides the sin from God’s sight until the death of Christ takes away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29, Hebrews 10:4)” (H3722).

When he instituted the Lord’s Supper, a celebration of his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus told his disciples, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16). The Greek words that Jesus used that are translated earnestly desired, epithumia (ep-ee-thoo-mee’-ah) epithumeo (ep-ee-thoo-meh’-o) were meant to emphasize the passion that Jesus had to complete his mission of saving the world. Epithumeo means “to fix the desire upon” and stresses the inward impulse to do something regardless of the outcome (G1937). Epithumia suggests that it was an irrational longing that drove Jesus to give up his life for his friends (G1939). During the Lord’s Supper, Jesus revealed that he would be betrayed by one of the twelve apostles that he had personally chosen to serve with him. Luke’s account of the incident states it this way:

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. (Luke 22:17-23)

Jesus’ earnest desire to institute the Lord’s Supper may have been centered around the fact that it would be the remembrance of him that would keep his ministry active in the hearts of believers. Jesus pointed out that even Peter, who was the most vocal in his allegiance to Christ, would be subject to Satan’s devices. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).

Paul’s compassion for the sinner in Corinth that had disrupted his ministry was most likely a result of his understanding of the schemes of the devil. Paul talked extensively about spiritual warfare in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul encouraged believers to be joined together with the Lord in order to defeat Satan. Paul told them, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13). Paul mentioned his own struggle against spiritual forces in connection with the incident in Corinth which had disrupted his ministry. Paul said, “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7). Paul was encouraged by the fact that the Corinthians had repented and were also seeking a restoration of their fellowship with him. The Greek word that Paul used that is translated longing in 2 Corinthians 7:7 is translated earnestly desire in the King James Version of the Bible. In the same way that Jesus earnestly desired to eat the Lord’s Supper with his disciples, the Corinthians wanted to restore fellowship, or you might say, have communion with Paul.

Paul explained to the Corinthians that the grief he had caused them had served a purpose in that it worked to bring them back together and strengthened their relationship with each other and the Lord. Paul said, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us” (2 Corinthians 7:8-9). Paul referred to a godly grief that brought the Corinthians to a place of repentance. Repentance has to do with thinking differently about our behavior. The Greek word metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) in a religious sense implies “pious sorrow for unbelief and sin and a turning from them unto God and the gospel of Christ” (G3341). The reason why Paul associated repentance with godly sorrow may have been because it is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that produces repentance in the believer’s heart. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter and said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 15:26). Paul talked about God as the one who comforts the downcast (2 Corinthians 7:6). In this instance, comfort has to do with coming along side and encouraging someone that is in need of help (G3870).

Paul talked in his letter to the Ephesians about Christians being fellow citizens and “members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21). The metaphor Paul used of a holy temple in the Lord was meant to connect the sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law with the process of sanctification which unites believers in and to Christ. Paul identified the Holy Spirit as the source, or you might say, the power that drives sanctification when he said, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). The Greek word that is translated are being built together, sunoikodomeo (soon-oy-kod-om-eh’-o) is derived from the words sun (soon) which signifies union (G4862) and oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) which means “to be a house-builder” (G3618). Oikodomeo “is used metaphorically, in the sense of ‘edifying,’ promoting the spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example, suggesting such spiritual progress as the result of patient labor.” Paul wanted both the Ephesians and Corinthians to understand that what he was doing may have been painful for them, but was necessary for their spiritual growth. Paul told the Corinthians, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Paul contrasted godly grief with worldly grief in order to point out that grief in and of itself was not the objective of his message. Paul wanted the Corinthians to see that the work of the Holy Spirit was essential for his preaching and teaching to be effective. Paul said that worldly grief produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10). What he likely meant by that was that the sorrow we feel when we do something wrong can sometimes be overwhelming, Excessive grief can lead to things like suicide and depression. One of the ways that we know that the Holy Spirit is working in our hearts is that we experience the comfort of God as we admit our mistakes and take responsibility for our wrong actions. Paul said “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). In other words, godly grief draws us closer to God, not away from him. Paul said that godly grief also produces earnestness. The Greek word spoude (spoo-day’), which means “speed,” is translated many different ways, e.g. diligence, haste, earnest care, and forwardness (G4710). One of the ways to think of earnestness is a person in motion, someone that is always making forward progress. This is an important aspect of the Christian life because believers will inevitably experience setbacks and must be able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start over again whenever they are overtaken by sin or become the target of Satan’s devices. An example of this was Peter’s restoration to the ministry after he had denied Jesus three times. Jesus asked Peter, “‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep’…And after saying this he said to him, ‘Follow me'” (John 21:17-19).

Paul told the Corinthians that they had proved themselves innocent by their indignation, longing, and vindication by God (2 Corinthians 7:11). The Greek word that is translated proved, sunistemi (soon-is’-tay-mee) means “to set together” (G4921). What Paul may have meant by proved themselves innocent was that the Corinthians he was talking to had remained members of the body of Christ. They had not left the church because of the trouble they had gotten into, but had stuck it out and worked through their conflict with Paul. Paul was commending them for it and said, “So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all” (2 Corinthians 7:12-13). Paul’s experience with the Corinthians was considered to be a success because it led to the church being built up and the faith of the believers that were there being strengthened to the point that they became an encouragement to others that were struggling. Paul said that Titus’ spirit had been refreshed by the Corinthians. In other words, Titus, a fellow minister and friend of Paul’s, was able to take a spiritual vacation because of the remarkable turnaround at the Corinthian church.

God’s supernatural ability

It’s not unusual for everything that God does to be considered a miracle because he is a supernatural being. On the other hand, humans have a limited amount of strength and ability that they can rely on and therefore do not typically do extraordinary things on a regular basis. The 40 years that the Israelites spent in the desert after they were delivered from slavery in Egypt demonstrated that it is possible for people to live miraculous lives by relying on God’s power to accomplish things that they cannot do themselves. Most of the miracles that happened in the desert were a result of God working through Moses to perform supernaturally feats (Exodus 15:25; 17:6, 11), but the construction of the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was kept was a collective effort that showed God’s supernatural ability could be distributed among the people in such a way that everyone could play a part in getting the job done. Moses started by asking everyone to “take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twisted linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece” (Exodus 35 5-9). Basically, everything that was needed to construct the tabernacle and its contents had to come from the Israelite’s personal belongings. Moses asked everyone who had a generous heart to give up their possessions so that their material wealth could be used to benefit the LORD’s work.

A generous heart is not something that comes naturally to human beings. For the most part, the Israelites were selfish with their possession just like most people are today, but Exodus 35:20-29 tells us:

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.

The freewill offering to the Lord was characterized by spontaneity. “This term can denote that state of being which allows a person to offer a gift or a favour to someone else without any thought of return or payback. The favour is not given out of any obligation owed by the giver; rather, it is the result of an overflow from an abundance within the heart” (H5071).

In addition to the materials that were needed for the tabernacle to be constructed, there was a need for laborers as well. Moses asked the people to give up their time and talent too. He said, “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded” (Exodus 35:10). Exodus 36:2-7 states:

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.

Moses indicated that the Lord had put skill into the minds of every craftsman, “everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work” (Exodus 36:2). The Hebrew word that is translated stirred up, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). This seems to suggest that the people whose hearts were being stirred up were believers that wanted to participate in the process of salvation that God was enacting.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was focused on his ministry of spreading the gospel which God had entrusted to him by way of supernatural revelation (Ephesians 3:3). Paul said, “Therefore having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose hart. But we have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-4). Paul emphasized the fact that God’s word was able to affect the minds of believers because it was the truth. The Biblical definition of truth is something that is real, it conforms to the nature and reality of things, therefore it is credible and not to be rejected (G227). An open statement is an expression of truth that makes something visible or observable to you that might otherwise go unnoticed (G5321). Paul’s mission of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles was necessary because it was a mystery that they were “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6). Paul said that he had “commended himself to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he was leaving it up to God to convict and convince the people that he was preaching to that his gospel message was indeed the truth.

The conscience enables people to see things from God’s perspective. It is a “faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong and prompts one to choose the former and avoid the latter” (G4893). Paul said that his gospel message was veiled to those who were perishing because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul referred to Satan as the god of this world because everyone that has not accepted Jesus as their Savior is under his dominion. Paul told the Ephesians that “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” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might…that you might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 5:10-11) and identified the word of God as a sword that can be used offensively to defeat Satan’s army (Ephesians 5:17). The Greek word that is translated strong, endunamoo (en-doo-nam-o’) means “to empower” and is used metaphorically of the mind being strengthened by God (G1743). Endunamoo is derived from the Greek words en and dunamoo. Dunamoo comes from the Greek word dunamis (doo’-nam-is) which refers specifically to God’s ability to do miracles (G1411).

God’s supernatural ability is transferred to believers, at least in part, through our minds and in particular through our understanding of his word. Paul told the believers in Corinth that he had not tampered with God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he hadn’t mingled the truths of God’s word with false doctrines (G1389). Paul had kept his opinions to himself and only conveyed to the Corinthians what God’s Spirit had prompted him to. Paul said, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6). Paul used the metaphor of light shining out of darkness to show that God’s word is not constrained by the limitations of our human comprehension. Paul went on to say, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). The surpassing power that Paul was referring to was dunamis. “Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person or thing” (G1411). Paul thought of his gospel message as a treasure that had been placed in jars of clay in order to show that its effectiveness was linked to God’s supernatural ability rather than Paul’s preaching.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked a lot about the foolishness of preaching the gospel. He said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul used the word dunamis to describe the power that God uses to save people. The word of the cross is basically the gospel message which states that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Paul indicated that this message was considered to be folly or an absurdity (G3472) to those that were destined for destruction (G622). Paul explained that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Spiritual discernment is the ability to understand that which is non-physical by nature (G4153). Paul went on to say, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Paul’s statement corresponds to Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2). Then Jesus stated:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

Jesus bracketed his teaching about the power that is available to believers through God’s word with a commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This seems to suggest that we are expected to refrain from using God’s word as a tool to hurt others, but rather as an instrument of encouragement and support. Paul eluded to this in his explanation of why he was suffering even though he was doing God’s will. Paul said:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

Paul hinted at that fact that God’s supernatural ability was at work in his life when he said that even though he was afflicted in every way, he was not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). The contrasting language that Paul used made it clear that his ability to preach the gospel had not been diminished by the trouble he had gone through. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he was still strong in his faith and was determined to accomplish the mission that was entrusted to him. Paul’s statement that death was at work in him (2 Corinthians 4:12) was meant to convey the idea that there was a cost associated with undertaking the responsibilities for the sins of others. Paul encouraged the Corinthians by stating:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The outer self and the inner self that Paul was referring to were the physical and spiritual aspects of mankind. The Greek word that is translated self, anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) is generally used to designate a human being without reference to sex or nationality and in distinction from God and animals. In this phrase, “the inner man means the regenerate person’s spiritual nature personified, the inner self of the believer…as the sphere of the renewing power of the Holy Spirit” (G444). Paul’s prayer for spiritual strength included a petition for power through the Holy Spirit. He 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, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Being filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) has to do with the process of sanctification which leads to our oneness with Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Paul indicated that this process is driven by the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16). Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper and said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). Thus, the role of the Holy Spirit is to help us remember God’s word and to teach us spiritual lessons.

Paul’s prayer concluded with an acknowledgement of God’s supernatural ability. Paul stated, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Paul used the superlative “far more abundantly” to express the infinite degree to which God is able to do what we ask of him. The point Paul was trying to make was that we can’t deplete God’s resources. His supernatural ability is beyond what humans can even think or imagine him doing. Paul made it clear that believers can access God’s supernatural ability through the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work within us. What Paul likely meant by the statement “according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20) was that dunamis, miraculous power and/or ability, is not available to believers on an as needed basis, but it can be stored up or put to use at any time. An example of this is the parable of the talents which Jesus told his disciples not long before he was crucified. In this parable, the servant that received five talents was commended for using them to gain five more talents by putting them to work (Matthew 25:21). The servant that received one talent was rebuked because he didn’t even bother to invest his talent so that his master could gain something from the resources that had been entrusted to him (Matthew 25:26-27). Afterward, the talent was taken away from him and given to the servant that had ten talents (Matthew 25:28). Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29)