Substitution

Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross was based on a spiritual principle that was established when the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt. It states in Numbers 3:11-13:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.”

The LORD told Moses that he had taken the Levites instead of the firstborn of the people of Israel who had been consecrated to him when he spared them from the plague that killed every firstborn in Egypt (Exodus 11:7).

The process of consecration enabled people and things that were unholy to become holy. “The tabernacle, the ark, the table of showbread, the altar of burnt offering, and all the smaller accessories and utensils used in the cult of Israel were anointed with a special anointing oil so they become holy. Whatever came in contact with them became holy (Exodus 30:26-29)” (H6942). The first occurrence in the Bible of God making something holy was the seventh day. It says in Genesis 2:3, “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” The King James Version of the Bible uses the word sanctified to describe what God did to make the seventh day holy. God told the Israelites, “For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44).

Sanctification is the ultimate goal and ideal state of everyone and everything that is connected with God. The problem is that it is not the natural state of human beings because of their sin nature. Paul dealt with this problem in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul stated:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

The Greek word that is translated reconcile in this passage, apokatallasso (ap-ok-at-al-lasˊ-so) means to reconcile fully. “This word means to change from one condition to another so as to remove all enmity and leave no impediment to unity and peace and is used in Ephesians 2:16, of the ‘reconciliation’ of believing Jew and Gentile in one body unto God through the cross” (G604).

Spiritual rebirth involves two actions that work together to produce a single effect. “The new birth and regeneration do not represent successive stages in spiritual experience, they refer to the same event but view it in different aspects. The new birth stresses the communication of spiritual life in contrast to antecedent spiritual death; regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old…Anakainosis (G342) is the result of paliggenesia. The paliggenesia is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparations for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainosis, by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824). “Palingenesis (G3824) stresses the new birth; whereas, anakainosis stresses the process of sanctification” (G342).

Both aspects of spiritual rebirth were demonstrated through the Levites substitution for the firstborn of the people of Israel. The LORD instructed Moses, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:6-7). Bringing the tribe of Levi near and setting them before Aaron was similar to the paliggenesia in that the Levites had nothing to do with God selecting them from among the other tribes to be his servants. The Hebrew word that is translated set, amad (aw-madˊ) means to stand. “Such standing is not just standing still doing nothing but includes all that one does in ministering before God (Numbers 16:9)…The verb can suggest ‘immovable,’ or not being able to be moved…This is not the changelessness of doing nothing or standing physically upright, but the changelessness of ever-existing being, a quality that only God has in himself” (H5975). When the Levites were set before Aaron, they were to a certain extent translated into God’s eternal kingdom and became his spiritual agents among the other tribes of Israel. Anakainosis or regeneration has to do with an individual becoming adapted to God’s spiritual kingdom. The Levites demonstrated this through their ministry of guarding over Aaron and the whole congregation which required them to focus their attention on the well-being of others rather than themselves.

The Hebrew words that are translated minister in Numbers 3:6-7, ʿabad (aw-badˊ) and abodah (ab-o-dawˊ) refer to work of any kind. The LORD assigned the Levites specific duties. (Numbers 3-4). It was the Levites’ job to take care of all of the furnishings of the tabernacle and to move them from place to place as the people of Israel traveled through the desert. The Levites’ responsibility of keeping guarding over Aaron and the whole congregation meant that they had to act as sentries and had to maintain the security of the camp. If there was an attack, the Levites’ were expected to warn others and to potentially put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect the tabernacle’s valuable furnishings. The Levites’ service wasn’t voluntary and so to a certain extent they were like slaves, but there is no indication that they resented or rebelled against their substitution for the firstborn among the people of Israel.

The Levites’ were numbered according to a different standard than the rest of the tribes of Israel. Moses was instructed, “List the sons of Levi, by fathers’ houses and by clans; every male from a month old and upward you shall list” (Numbers 3:15). The other tribes of Israel were listed according to the number of men “from twenty years old and upward” who were able to go to war (Numbers 1:3). The reason for this distinction was because the Levites were exempt from military service. It was determined that “all those listed among the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron listed at the commandment of the LORD, by clans, all males from a month old and upward, were 22,000” (Numbers 3:39). “And all the firstborn males, according to the number of names, from a month old and upward as listed were 22,273” (Numbers 3:43). The excess of 273 persons was dealt with through the process of redemption. Numbers 3:44-49 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. The Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord. And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, you shall take five shekelsper head; you shall take them according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel of twenty gerahs), and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are over.” So Moses took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the Levites.

The 273 firstborn of the people of Israel who were over and above those that were redeemed by the Israelites’ through substitution still had to be accounted for. A redemption price had to be paid for them in order for them to be excused from service. The Hebrew word that is translated redemption price, paduwy (paw-dooˊ-ee) is derived from the word padah (paw-dawˊ) which means “’to redeem, ransom.’ Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…The word is connected with the laws of the firstborn. As a reminder of slaying all the Egyptian firstborn but sparing the Israelites, God retained an eternal claim on the life of all Israelite firstborn males, both of men and cattle. The latter were often sacrificed, ‘but all the firstborn of my children I redeem’ (Exodus 13:15). God accepted the separation of the tribe of Levi for liturgical service in lieu of all Israelite firstborn (Numbers 3:40ff.). However, the Israelite males still had to be ‘redeemed’ (padah) from this service by payment of specified ‘redemption money’ (Numbers 3:44-51)” (H6299).

“In the time of the patriarchs, the firstborn son had a position of special honor and responsibility in the family structure. God proclaimed Israel to be his firstborn (Exodus 4:22). All the firstborn sons of the Israelites were to be sanctified unto the Lord (Exodus 13:2, 11-16; 22:29)” (note on Numbers 3:12, 13). Jesus’ high priestly prayer shortly before his death included a section that addressed the sanctification of his followers. Jesus told his Father:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify themin the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself,that they also may be sanctifiedin truth. (John 17:14-19)

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated consecrate, hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to consecrate, devote, set apart from a common use to a sacred use since in the Jewish ritual, this was one great objective of the purifications…Spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will (John 10:36, ‘whom the father consecrated and sent into the world’ [ESV]; 17:17, ‘Sanctify them in [or in the promulgation of] thy truth’ [cf. John 17:18, 19])” (G37). Jesus indicated that believers are sanctified in truth. According to the definition of hagiazo, that meant that sanctification was a direct result of preaching the gospel.

Drawing on the parallel of Jesus’ death on the cross to the animal sacrifices that were made for the Israelites, the book of Hebrews points out that the only way sanctification can occur is through the shedding of blood. Hebrews 13:10-16 states:

We have an altar from which those who serve the tenthave no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

The connection between sanctification and the offering up of a sacrifice of praise to God is evident in the definition of the Hebrew word ʿabad (aw-badˊ) which is translated as service in Numbers chapters three and four. “When the focus of the labour is the Lord, it is a religious service to worship Him. Moreover, in these cases, the word does not have the connotations of toilsome labour but instead of a joyful experience of liberation (Exodus 3:12; 4:23; 7:16; Joshua 24:15, 18)” (H5647).

Psalm 134 reflects this kind of experience and is identified as a psalm of ascents indicating that it was sung at the beginning of the worship services at the temple. It states:

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
    and bless the Lord!

May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth!

The reference to standing by night in the house of the LORD was most likely associated with the Levites’ service of guarding the tabernacle. The Hebrew word that is translated stand in Psalm 134:1 is the same word that was used in Numbers 3:6 to indicate that the tribe of Levi was set before or designated to minister before God (H5975). The exchange of blessings in verses two and three of Psalm 134 suggests that there was a reciprocal action going on between those who blessed the LORD and those who were blessed by the LORD. We know from the prophecy of Micah that Zion will be the location of Jesus’ headquarters during his millennial reign (Micah 4:7-8). Therefore, it seems likely that the LORD’s servants will be rewarded for their service during that time period.

Jesus told his twelve disciples that “in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). A short while later, James and John asked for the privilege of sitting one at Jesus’ right hand and the other at his left in his kingdom (Matthew 20:21). The other ten disciples were indignant and so “Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). The Greek word that is translated ransom, lutron (looˊ-tron) refers to a redemption price and literally means “‘loosing money,’ i.e. price paid for redeeming captives” (G3083). Jesus gave his life in exchange for our freedom from the bondage of sin and death. The substitution that was made had to do with “the soul, the immaterial part of man held in common with animals…his spiritual and immortal nature with its higher and lower powers, its rational and natural faculties…that which strictly belongs to the person himself” (G5590).

Paul’s letter to the Romans explains how the substitutionary death of Jesus makes us free from sin and death. Paul wrote:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old selfwas crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11).

Paul indicated that the substitutionary process that resulted in believers being baptized into Christ’s death in order to be redeemed by his blood also produced a reciprocal result of them being able to walk in newness of life. Paul explained this transaction further in his second letter to the Corinthians and in his letter to the Galatians. Paul said, “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 flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Godly behavior

Jesus summarized the entire Mosaic Law into two simple commandments that focused everyone’s attention on loving God and other people. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-39). When God first spoke the Ten Commandments from the top of Mount Sinai, he intended that the children of Israel would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6), but the Apostle Peter’s first letter indicated that never happened and that believers in Jesus Christ have become the treasured possession that God sought for himself (1 Peter 2:9). The details contained within the Mosaic Law were meant to provide specific examples of how to deal with the various conflicts that would inevitably arise from living in a close-knit community. Most of the laws dealt with conflicts between family members and neighbors that were interacting on a regular basis. They are still applicable today because the principles behind the laws are eternal and can prevent believers from harming the people they love.

At first glance, the laws about slaves might seem irrelevant, but Jesus’ messages about the kingdom of heaven clearly portrayed believers as servants (Matthew 10:24) and he often talked about doing God’s will in the context of a slave that was being obedient to his master (Matthew 18:22-35, 22:2-14, 25:14-30). The laws about slaves introduced an important principle that carries over into God’s plan of salvation, the redemption of souls. Exodus 21:7-11 states, “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.” This law partially explains why God hasn’t forsaken the people of Israel even though they haven’t met his expectations with regard to becoming a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

The nation of Israel was originally intended to be the bride of Christ, but the church has replaced it and now has the responsibility of making disciples of all the nations and teaching them all that Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 28:18-20). The concept of redemption had to do with the liberation of human beings from slavery, but it can also be applied to sinful behavior and addictions to harmful substances. The Hebrew word that is translated redeemed in Exodus 21:8, padah (paw-daw’) means to release. “Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…When God is the subject of padah, the word emphasizes His complete, sovereign freedom to liberate human beings” (H6299). Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant portrayed God’s forgiveness of sins as something that should be reciprocated. After a servant that owed his master ten thousand talents was released from his debt, he went out and demanded payment from his fellow servant who was unable to pay him the small amount he owed. The parable states, “So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:29-35).

In addition to introducing the concept of redemption, the Mosaic Law also taught the Israelites about the principle of restitution. Although the laws that dealt with restitution may have seemed like common sense, it was necessary for them to be spelled out because of the natural human tendency to justify our own behavior, while at the same time condemning the actions of others. Exodus 21:33-34 states, “When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his” and “If a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution” (Exodus 22:5-6). The Hebrew word that is translated full restitution, shalam (shaw-lam’) means “to be safe (in mind, body, or estate)…Shalam means to finish, complete, repay, reward. The Hebrew root denotes perfection in the sense that a condition or action is complete…Perfection and completeness is primarily attributed to God. He is deficient in nothing; His attributes are not marred by any shortcomings; His power is not limited by weakness” (H7999). Therefore, when a person makes full restitution, he is exhibiting godly behavior.

Peter’s first letter indicated that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross, “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Essentially, what that meant was that we have been released from sin’s power to control our behavior and can live a godly life if we choose to. The Greek word that is translated die in the phrase “die to sin,” apogenomenos (ap-og-en-om’-en-os) means to be absent (G581) and seems to suggest that our sinful human nature has been removed, but Peter indicated that we might die to sin. In other words, dying to sin involves volition and is not guaranteed through Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. As hard as we may try to do things that please God, righteousness is not something that we can attain through our own efforts, it is something that is imputed to us, or credited to our account, because we have identified ourselves with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through water baptism. As far as God is concerned, anyone that accepts Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior has fulfilled all the requirements of the Mosaic Law and will be rewarded with eternal life. What is left then is for us to reflect the character of Jesus through conscious choices that align us with God’s will.

Peter specifically addressed the conduct of husbands and wives and gave instructions to all believers that were intended to be a model for godly behavior. After stating that believers are to be subject to every human institution, Peter went on to say, “Likewise wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:1-4). The Greek word hupotasso (hoop-ot-as’-so) which is translated be subject “was originally a Greek military term meaning to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader. In non-military use, it was a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden” (G5293). Peter encouraged wives to be subject to their husbands so that if they weren’t believers they would be won over to the Lord without their wives having to say anything to them about being a follower of Christ. This was important in the time period in which Peter gave this instruction because Christians were being persecuted for their faith and wives were expected to conform to their husbands’ belief system.

Peter’s mention of a woman’s external adorning in contrast with her internal beauty was likely intended to point out that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was meant to transform our character and make us look different to the outside world. The Greek word kosmos (kos’-mos), which is translated adorning, is often used in connection with worldly people and sometimes is associated with a system of government that is opposed to Christ. The Apostle Paul used the word kosmos in his letter to the Ephesians to describe the former way of life that believers are expected to leave behind when they choose to follow Christ. Paul stated, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3, emphasis added). Peter indicated that wives should let their adorning be “the hidden person of the heart” (1 Peter 3:4). In that sense, adorning had to do with a woman’s attractiveness and Peter wanted women to know that the hidden person of the heart could be much more compelling to a man than the way she dressed herself.

The hidden person of the heart is connected with the mortal human nature that affects our behavior. When we think of ourselves exhibiting godly behavior, we have to realize that our mortal human nature is a hindrance to us becoming like Christ. Peter encouraged wives to display “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). Imperishable beauty implies immortality and suggests that Peter was referring to the Holy Spirit when he talked about the hidden person of the heart. It could be that Peter meant for wives to rely on the Holy Spirit to make them godly women, but his comment about a gentle and quiet spirit being very precious to God seems to suggest that there is a volitional element involved in all godly behavior. The Greek word that is translated very precious, poluteles (pol-oo-tel-ace’) was used in Mark’s gospel to describe the ointment that Mary used to anoint Jesus (Mark 14:3). It seems likely that Peter was referring to a gentle and quiet spirit as being a type of spiritual sacrifice that pleases God and wanted women to know that godly behavior is more important to the Lord than any other type of sacrifice that a believer can make.

After he addressed the conduct of their wives, Peter told husbands, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). Peter made it clear that husbands should treat their wives as equals and should not expect their prayers to be answered if they were treating them with disrespect. Peter told men to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” An understanding way is one that is based on a comprehension of God’s word. Typically, men received instruction in the holy scriptures and then, passed the information along to their wives, but they were not required to and weren’t held accountable for their wives’ spiritual training. The Apostle Paul seemed to have a more liberal viewpoint than Peter about women’s involvement in the church and even identified Phebe as being a teacher of God’s word at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1). When Peter described wives as being the weaker vessel, he may have meant that they were at a disadvantage when it came to getting an education and didn’t typically have access to the Old Testament scriptures which were important for understanding the bigger picture of God’s plan of salvation.

In his general comment to all believers, Peter stated, “all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8). The qualities Peter identified were focused on the collective suffering of believers that was due to the persecution of the church. The Greek word that is translated sympathy, sumpathes (soom-path-ace’) is derived from the word sumpascho (soom-pas’-kho) which means “to experience pain jointly or of the same kind (specifically persecution; to sympathize)” (G4841). Peter continued, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). To bless someone means that you speak well of them. Peter indicated that believers are called to bless others which may have meant that believers were expected to intercede on behalf of unbelievers in order for them to receive salvation. Since Peter was referring to Christians blessing those who do evil to them, it seems likely that he was talking about the Roman officials that were persecuting the church, but Peter may have been thinking about the internal conflict that was taking place within the Jewish community.

Peter’s first letter was most likely written in the AD 60s not long before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jewish nation ceased to exist. Peter addressed his letter to the Jewish exiles in “the five Roman provinces in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) north of the Taursus Mountains (Introduction to the first letter of Peter, p. 1418). This particular group of Jews had already left the land of Israel and were living among foreigners which made them particularly vulnerable to outside pressure to conform to the Roman government’s way of doing things. Peter asked, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17).

Having a good conscience is something that happens when we exhibit godly behavior. The Greek word that is translated conscience in 1 Peter 3:16 is suneidesis (soon-i’-day-sis) which means “co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness…Suneidesis literally means ‘a knowing,’ a co-knowledge with one’s self, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God, as that which is designed to govern our lives. The word is stressing that we receive input from our surroundings [temptations, decision-making events, etc.] and we are driven to make a decision. We compare what we know with our conscience [con – ‘with’, science ‘knowledge’], our knowledge base about this input. If we follow our conscience we act according to what we know to be true about the situation and the consequences/blessings of our decision. We can violate our conscience by overriding that knowledge” (G4893). That’s why Paul said that we need “to put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Peter explained that water baptism does not wash our sins away like when we take a bath to clean ourselves, but makes it possible for us to put on the righteousness of Christ. Using the ark that saved Noah and his family from the flood as an example, Peter said, “Baptism which corresponds to this, now saves you not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with the angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:21-22). Essentially, what Peter was saying was that when we get baptized we are expressing a desire to be cleansed from our sins and it is because of that act that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, resulting in a good or you might say clear conscience. The reason why Peter said that we are saved through baptism is because it protects us from being condemned by our own consciences when we stand before God in the final judgment and are asked to give an account of our actions during our lifetimes on earth (Matthew 25:31-46). When John the Baptist questioned Jesus’ desire to be baptized by him, Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

A remodeling project

Every remodeling project begins with the demolition of something that needs to be transformed. God began his remodeling of Earth with the destruction of every living thing that he had created. God warned Noah, “For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground” (Genesis 7:4). The phrase blot out is properly translated as “to stroke or rub” and by implication to erase (H4229). In a sense, you could say that God intended to get rid of the evidence of his creative effort, but there was more to his plan than destroying everything that was alive.

The Hebrew word that is translated living thing, yequwm (yek-oom’) refers to something that is standing (H3351). Yequwm is derived from the word quwm (koom) which means “to arise, to stand up, come about” (H6965). Quwm is sometimes used “to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged.” I believe God’s complete destruction of life on Earth was connected to his plan of salvation and was intended to enable a different kind of structure for life on Earth to be established.

One of the ways of looking at the world we live in is an orderly arrangement of things that God controls (G2889). The Greek word kosmos (kos’-mos) is derived from the word komizo (kom-id’-zo) which means to provide for (G2865). God’s decision to blot out all of the life that he had created was based on his awareness of mankind’s need to get rid of the effects of his sinful behavior. God specifically intended to flood the Earth so that he could provide a means of salvation for the world, but his plan began with a single person, Noah.

God commanded Noah to “Go into the ark, you and all your household” (Genesis 7:1) and it says in Genesis 7:5 that “Noah did all that the LORD commanded him.” The Hebrew word translated did, ‘asah (aw-saw’) has to do with the relationship of an individual to another in his action or behavior in the sense of what one does. “The emphasis here is on an ongoing mutual relationship between two parties obligating them to a reciprocal act” (H6213). Noah responded to God’s command because he wanted to have a relationship with him or you might say because Noah wanted to keep his relationship with the LORD intact.

God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:18) guaranteed that he and his family would be saved from the flood that was intended to wipe out every living thing from the face of the earth. Even though God guaranteed his safety, Noah had to do something to put God’s promise into effect. Noah’s obedience to God’s command to build the ark and bring in all the animals that he wanted him to save (Genesis 6:14, 19) symbolized Noah’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation, but to a certain extent, you could say that Noah still had to save himself by doing what was necessary for his life to be spared.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explained that everyone has to make a choice to leave behind the world that is controlled by Satan and become a member of God’s family. He stated:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5)

Genesis 7:16 states, “And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in.” The Hebrew word translated shut him in, cagar (saw-gar’) figuratively means to surrender and in an extreme sense, “to imprison” (H5462). This seems to suggest that God shut the door of the ark from the outside so that no one could escape. A Hebrew word that is similar to cagar that might clarify why God shut Noah and his family inside the ark is cegullah (seg-ool-law’) which means to shut up in the sense of wealth being preserved. “Cegullah signifies ‘property’ in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves. Six times this word is used of Israel as God’s personally acquired (elected, delivered from Egyptian bondage, and formed into what He wanted them to be), carefully preserved, and privately possessed people” (H5459).

The Apostle Paul referred to himself as “a prisoner for the Lord” and encouraged the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). The Greek word Paul used that is translated prisoner, desmios (des’-mee-os) refers to “a captive (as bound)” (G1198), meaning a prisoner that is in shackles or some other form of physical constraint. Paul considered himself to be serving a good cause by suffering for his commitment to preaching the gospel. In reference to walking in a manner worthy of one’s calling, Paul said believers should walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Noah and his family experienced extremely dangerous circumstances during their captivity in the ark which lasted for a whole year (Genesis 7:11, 8:14). It’s likely that Noah had to deal with some issues related to creating and maintaining a peaceful environment. Paul’s instruction to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) had to do with agreement about the principles of Christianity. Paul felt that it was his job to preach to the gospel to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:7), but there were many obstacles to him doing that. One of the specific claims that was brought against Paul while he was in Ephesus was that he was ruining their economy by preaching against idolatry (Acts 19:26-27). After a riot broke out, Paul had to flee Ephesus (Acts 20:1) and was forced to say his final goodbyes from a distance (Acts 20:25).

Noah’s three sons and their wives entered the ark with him, but there is no evidence to suggest that any or all of them were in agreement with his decision to obey the LORD’s command. Noah’s faith was an internal persuasion that most likely contradicted his external circumstances. There were no signs that confirmed Noah’s belief that a flood was imminent and that all who lived on Earth were going to be destroyed by God (Hebrews 11:7). The Apostle Peter referred to Noah as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5) and Paul said he “condemned the world,” and became an “heir of righteousness” by his faith (Hebrews 11:7). The single thing that differentiated Noah from everyone else was his conviction that God was going to do what he said he would.

Peter connected the flood of Noah’s day to the second coming of Christ (2 Peter 3) and indicated that the word of God “that brought watery destruction on the wicked of Noah’s day will bring fiery destruction on the world that exists today and on its wicked people” (note on 2 Peter 3:7, KJSB). According to Peter, Noah’s salvation from the flood illustrates God’s redemption of his chosen people and typifies baptism. Peter said of Noah’s confinement to the ark while water covered the face of the Earth, “This is like baptism to us. Baptism does not mean we wash our bodies clean. It means we are saved from the punishment of sin and go to God in prayer with a heart that says we are right. This can be done because Christ was raised from the dead” (1 Peter 3:21, NLV).

Paul stated in his letter to the Ephesians, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:4-7). Paul’s argument that there is only one hope for mankind makes it clear that God’s salvation of Noah and his family was not different from what we are able to experience today. The critical element that connects these two ways of being born again is water baptism. “Baptism is a symbol of salvation in that it depicts Christ’s death, burial and resurrection and our identification with Him in these experiences” (note on 1 Peter 3:21, KJSB).

It says in Genesis 8:1, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.” The Hebrew word translated remembered, zakar (zaw-kar) is properly translated as “to mark (so as to be recognized)” (H2142). You could say that God’s covenant with Noah caused Noah to be recognized as a member of God’s family. Somewhat like the bond between a mother and her child, God and Noah became permanently attached to each other in such a way that God would never forget about or abandon Noah because of the feelings he had from him. The bond between God and Noah was most likely the same kind of bond Paul referred to as the “bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Paul indicated the primary characteristic of believers that are joined together in the bond of peace is unity. The Greek word Paul used, henotes (hen-ot’-ace) is derived from the word heis (hice) which represents the primary numeral one (G1520). Emphatically, this means “a single (‘one’), to the exclusion of others.” Henotes may be the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the hearts of believers. Since there is only one God and one faith that is received from him, it makes sense that all believers will eventually come to the same conclusions about their belief in Christ, that his incarnation made it possible for him to die for the sins of the world (note on Ephesians 4:8-10).

God’s renovation of the world would not have been possible if he was unable to systematically replicate its original structure. One of the things that had to be preserved during the 375 days that Noah and his family were in the ark was the spiritual ecosystem that connected every living thing to its partner in the physical realm. It says in Genesis 7:8-9, “Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah.” The perfect one to one correlation of males and females meant that every living thing that went into the ark had to come out alive or God’s spiritual ecosystem would be disrupted.

The ark that Noah built was somewhat like a life preserver that was meant to keep the lives of all those who were in it safe until they were able to return to the land. In the same way that a dismantled plumbing system has to be replicated or it won’t function properly, the people and animals living on the ark each represented a critical piece of structure that had to go back in place and be able to function properly after the flood was over. Paul used the metaphor of a human body to describe the structure that results from believers being united by knowledge of the Son of God. He said, “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 4:15-16).

Paul talked about the whole body of Christ being joined and held together (Ephesians 4:16) as if it was a physical structure with pieces that could be perfectly connected to each other. The Greek word Paul used that is translated building up in Ephesians 4:12, oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) refers to architecture (G3619) and implies that there is a spiritual building or structure that every believer functions within. Paul indicated this building is being repaired or adjusted to fit the needs of its members as growth takes place (G2675). The way this adjustment happens is through a complete discernment or comprehension of God’s plan of salvation (Ephesians 4:13).

Paul identified five roles involved in the equipping or complete furnishing of the spiritual building that is made up of believers: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Paul indicated each of these roles has a unique contribution to make in believers’ spiritual growth. Paul said they are like joints or ligaments that join muscle to bone and “when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16). The process whereby this growth takes place is fellowship or in the Greek, koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah). Paul referred to koinonia as the “plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made know to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:9-10, italics mine).

To a certain extent, you could say that Noah and his family were the first members of Christ’s church and their time on the ark was an opportunity for Noah and his family to learn firsthand what God’s plan of salvation was really all about. After they were released from the ark, it says in Genesis 8:20-21, “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.”

God’s conclusion that the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth confirmed that Noah’s righteousness was not a result of his own human nature. “Although righteous Noah and his family had been saved, he and his offspring were the descendants of Adam and carried in their hearts the inheritance of sin” (note on Genesis 8:21, KJSB). Paul described the sinful condition of humans as “the futility of their minds” and said, “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” (Ephesians 4:17-18).

Paul’s description of unbelievers as being “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18) basically meant they were alienated from God’s family and therefore didn’t fit in with the body of Christ. You might say they were stray parts because God had no use for them due to their ignorance of his plan of salvation. Paul told the Ephesians that they needed to “put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated renewed in Ephesians 4:23, ananeoo (an-an-neh-o’-o) means to renovate. “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ, and of the fulfillment of the will of God” (G365). In other words, Paul’s instruction to put off the old self and put on the new self meant that he wanted the Ephesians to be born again and to be completely remodeled into dwelling place that was fit for God’s Holy Spirit.

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

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

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

God bless you!

How it works

Christianity is often mistaken for a religion that includes activities such as praying and worshipping in a church or temple. It could be said that Christianity is actually a process that takes place because we have a relationship with God. Paul identified the particulars of this process in his letter to Titus. He stated:

There was a time when we were foolish and did not obey. We were fooled in many ways. Strong desires held us in their power. We wanted only to please ourselves. We wanted what others had and were angry when we could not have them. We hated others and they hated us. But God, the One Who saves, showed how kind He was and how He loved us by saving us from the punishment of sin. It was not because we worked to be right with God. It was because of His loving-kindness that He washed our sins away. At the same time He gave us new life when the Holy Spirit came into our lives. God gave the Holy Spirit to fill our lives through Jesus Christ, the One Who saves. Because of this, we are made right with God by His loving-favor. Now we can have life that lasts forever as He has promised. (Titus 3:3-7, NLV)

If you were to translate this process into a formula, it might look something like this: sins washed away + renewed by the Holy Spirit = justified by God’s grace. The mechanism God uses to take away our sins is called regeneration, a spiritual rebirth that is somewhat like a renovation project that turns an old house into something that is desirable again. “The new birth stresses the communication of spiritual life in contrast with antecedent spiritual death; regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old” (G3824). That is what Paul was referring to when he told the Corinthians, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Greek word translated passed away, parerchomai (par-er’-khom-ahee) means “to come near or aside, i.e. to approach” (G3928). Paul was most likely talking about our identification with Christ’s death on the cross through baptism. When Christians are baptized, they are publicly expressing their identification with Christ’s death and resurrection. It could be said that baptism is when we experience the reality of being born again. It spiritually connects us to the event that took place 2000 years ago when Jesus died and rose again to pay the penalty for our sins.

Being justified by God’s grace means that we have been determined to be innocent, “being the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous” (G1344). It is clear from Paul’s explanation of the way Christianity works that our religious activities do not cause us to be acquitted from guilt. According to Paul, Christians demonstrate to others that they have already been acquitted from guilt by doing good works (Titus 3:8). Therefore, apart from preaching the gospel, the only thing that God expects believers to do is to display or express to others the result of having their sins forgiven.

Christ in you

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Christianity to comprehend is the fact that Jesus lives in the heart of every believer. Paul referred to this doctrinal truth as a secret and said;

Now I am full of joy to be suffering for you. In my own body I am doing my share of what has to be done to make Christ’s sufferings complete. This is for His body which is the Church. I became a preacher in His church for your good. In the plan of God I am to preach the Good News. This great secret was hidden to the people of times past, but it is now made known to those who belong to Christ. God wants these great riches of the hidden truth to be made known to the people who are not Jews. The secret is this: Christ in you brings hope of all the great things to come. We preach Christ. We tell every man how he must live. We use wisdom in teaching every man. We do this so every man will be complete in Christ. (Colossians 1:24-28, NLV)

Paul wanted the believers in Colosse to understand that the truth of the gospel was not conveyed to them through natural means, but that God had imparted the wisdom and knowledge of Christ directly to them through his Holy Spirit. Paul described the supernatural process of regeneration in Colossians 2:11-15. He said:

When you became a Christian, you were set free from the sinful things of the world. This was not done by human hands. You were set free from the sins of your old self by what was done in Christ’s body. When you were baptized, you were buried as Christ was buried. When you were raised up in baptism, you were raised as Christ was raised. You were raised to a new life by putting your trust in God. It was God Who raised Jesus from the dead. When you were dead in your sins, you were not set free from the sinful things of the world. But God forgave your sins and gave you new life through Christ. We had broken the Law many ways. Those sins were held against us by the Law. That Law had writings which said we were sinners. But now He has destroyed that writing by nailing it to the cross. God took away the power of the leaders of this world and the powers of darkness. He showed them to the world. The battle was won over them through Christ. (NLV)

Christ’s death on the cross was the final step in God’s effort to reconcile the world to himself. Because the penalty for all our sins was paid by Jesus, we are able to live free from the guilt of sin and escape the penalty of death that we deserve. Through the process of regeneration we have not only been united with Christ, but also with every other believer in the world. Paul said, “And not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.” (Colossians 2:19, NKJV).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated knit together in Colossians 2:19 is sumbibazo (soom-bib-ad’-zo) which means “to drive together that is unite (in association or affection)” (G4822). Mentally, sumbibazo infers showing or teaching someone something. The Greek word sumbibazo is derived from the words sun (soon) and basis (bas’-ece). These two words have to do with Jesus’ ministry on earth when he was spending all his time with his disciples teaching them about the kingdom of heaven (G939/G4862). What Paul was saying was that when we become Christians, we enter into the same kind of relationship with Jesus that his disciples had. He is with us all the time, actually dwelling inside us through his Holy Spirit, and he causes us to grow spiritually.

Baptism

When Paul returned to Ephesus during his third and final missionary journey, the topic of baptism came up. Paul’s conversation with the Ephesian believers is recorded in Acts 19:2-6 where it says:

He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

Paul’s differentiation between John’s baptism of repentance and the baptism of the Holy Spirit emphasized the fact that repentance was only one aspect of salvation and that it was insufficient for conversion or being born again. Paul’s interaction with the believers at Ephesus was probably a result of his awareness that there had been no change in their behavior in spite of their profession of faith. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul discussed the new life with Christ and talked about walking according to the course of this world (Ephesians 2:2). Paul told the Ephesians they “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:2-4).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated quickened, suzoopoieo (sood-zo-op-oy-eh’o) means to reanimate conjointly with (G4806). Suzoopoieo is a contraction of the words sun (soon) and zoopoieo (dzo-op-oy-eh’o). These two words together convey the idea of a connection that facilitates co-life, somewhat like how Siamese twins sharing vital organs cannot be separated after birth. The Greek word zoopoieo refers specifically to resurrection life which involves the changing or fashioning anew of the bodies of the living. In this context, quicken means to be enabled to respond to the voice of God. “Once born again and indwelt by the Holy Ghost, one does not have to wait to be able to respond. Response comes fully and instantaneously” (G2227). Paul’s understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit seemed to include an aspect of shared power. Just like blood flowing through our physical veins, Paul seemed to see the Holy Spirit as a lifeforce that flows in and through the believer’s spiritual heart. According to Paul, without the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a believer was for all intents and purposes, still spiritually dead. In their conversation about being born again, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

Equality

Peter’s trip to Caesarea (Acts 10:24-48), the headquarters for the Roman forces of occupation, could be described as a life altering experience. Peter’s attitude toward non-Jewish people caused him to isolate himself from anyone that did not share his religious beliefs. After he heard a voice saying, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 10:15), Peter was directed by the Holy Spirit to “Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them” (Acts 10:20). The 30 miles distance between Joppa and Caesarea probably seemed like a great distance to a man that had likely never traveled outside of his hometown before he met Jesus. Peter was a fisherman and may have wondered what the beautiful port city of Caesarea was like, but he never would have traveled there if it hadn’t been for the Holy Spirit’s instruction to go with the men that sought his help.

Cornelius, the man that sent for Peter, was described by Luke as a centurion, “a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews” (Acts 10:22). A centurion was a Roman soldier that commanded a military unit of at least 100 men. Centurions were carefully selected; all of them mentioned in the NT (New Testament) appear to have had noble qualities (e.g. Luke 7:5). The Roman centurions provided necessary stability to the entire Roman system” (note on Acts 10:1). After Cornelius told Peter about his angelic visit, Luke recorded, “then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). Peter’s statement was an amazing testament to the impartiality of God. The Greek word translated accepted, dektos means approved (G1184) and refers to the status of everyone that receives salvation by Jesus’ propitiation of sin.

According to Peter, the equality of the Gentiles with the Jews was demonstrated when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Afterward, Peter asked, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47-48). Later, in his explanation to the Jews in Jerusalem of what had happened in Caesarea, Peter referred to Jesus’ teaching about baptism. He said, “Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 11:16), and then he added for emphasis, “Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God” (Acts 11:16-17). Peter’s endorsement of Gentile believers resulted in them being viewed as equals by the Jews in Jerusalem. Luke stated, “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).

Living water

Jesus used an everyday experience to teach an important lesson to a woman that no one else would have dared to interact with. She is identified only as “a woman of Samaria” (John 4:7). Samaria became the capital of Israel after the nation was split into two separate kingdoms (Israel in the north and Judah in the south) following the death of king Solomon (1 Kings 16:29). Samaria was later destroyed when Shalmaneser king of Assyria defeated Israel and took its people into captivity (2 Kings 18:9-11). It says in 2 Kings 17:24, “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans was evident in the Samaritan woman’s response to Jesus’ request for a drink of water. She said, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).

Jesus’ open discussion with the woman of Samaria showed that he was willing to invite into his kingdom anyone that recognized him as Israel’s Messiah and the savior of the world. Pointing out her ignorance of God’s plan of salvation, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have have given thee living water” (John 4:10). The Greek words translated living water, zao (dzah´ – o) and hudor hudatos (hoo´ – dor hoo´ – dat – os) literally mean to live (2198) and water (as if rainy) (5204). What Jesus was referring to was the spiritual birth or eternal life that he associated with water baptism. In essence, Jesus saw God’s gift of salvation as an opportunity for everyone to experience a spiritual birth or as he explained it to Nicodemus, to be born again. In the same way that Jesus clarified the difference between a physical and spiritual birth to Nicodemus, he told the woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).

The concept of eternal or everlasting life was not new to the Israelites, but Jesus’ description of this kind of life as a well of water springing up inside the person was meant to convey eternal life as something that was a continual, ongoing gift from God that never ran out or dissipated. Rather than seeing salvation as a one-time transaction that merely entitled the recipient to entrance into heaven, Jesus wanted the woman of Samaria to understand that the gift that God wanted to give her was something that was available to her immediately and it could be replenished without limit. Jesus also revealed that the key that unlocked this everlasting fountain of life was worshipping God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Jesus’ reference to spiritual activity in the physical realm linked together the gift of eternal life and its source, the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit was not available to believers until after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus was preparing the way for his arrival and also letting his followers know that there was another person (Holy Spirit) involved in God’s plan of salvation.

Baptism

John’s baptism was meant to cleanse sinners from the stains upon their spirits that caused them to separate themselves from God. Just like Adam in the garden of Eden, everyone that commits a sin against God knows that he is guilty and deserves to be punished for what he has done. The key to understanding the effect of John’s baptism was to realize that God didn’t want people to live with the guilt they felt for the rest of their lives and had made a way for their sins to be removed from their spiritual awareness. The description of John’s ministry found in Mark 1:4 states, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” The Greek word translated remission basically means freedom, but it also has a legal connotation that suggests a pardon, such as when a prisoner is set free and is forgiven of his offense. Although John’s baptism was welcomed and there were many who took advantage of his offer of forgiveness, John made it clear that he was preparing the way for Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. “And he preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the lachet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Mark 1:7-8).

John’s baptism of Jesus is recorded in all four of the gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Although the details vary, there is one aspect of Jesus’ baptism that is the same throughout, the arrival of the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit on the earth. Mark described it this way, “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10-11). The baptism of the Holy Spirit was different than John’s baptism because it signified the beginning of a new life. Not only did God intend to forgive the sins of those who accepted his Son as their Savior, but he also wanted to enable believers to live a life similar to that of Jesus Christ, one that would be consistent with his commandments. The Holy Spirit, who is also God in the same way that Jesus is, dwells within believers and causes them to be convicted or aware of their sins. The Holy Spirit’s job is to cause believers to repent and to seek out God’s will for their lives. Only through the Holy Spirit can one really understand what it means to be a child of God. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, no one can realize what Christianity is really all about.

John recognized that Jesus did not need to be baptized by him, because he had no sins to repent of. John tried to forbid him from doing it, but Jesus persisted, “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). What Jesus was saying was that the Holy Spirit needed to be introduced to humanity through his own baptism. You could say that Jesus’ baptism was symbolic of the baptism of everyone that would follow in his footsteps. As the Holy Spirit descended upon him, Jesus represented all of mankind in its sinful state being reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit appeared immediately after Jesus was raised up out of the water (Mark 1:10), because it is the Holy Spirit’s presence that regenerates the believer’s heart and makes him alive spiritually or what we think of now as being “born again” (John 3:3). In his first gospel message, Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus’ instruction to believe the gospel was intended to be a reminder that repentance was not enough. In order to be truly born again, one must believe that a new way of life is possible.

Repent

John the Baptist’s message was very simple and direct. The single most important point he made could be summed up in one sentence, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The Greek word translated repent, metanoeo (met-an-eh´-o) means “to think differently or afterwards that is reconsider” (3340). At the core of John’s message was the idea of looking at the world differently, to see things from God’s perspective. The kingdom of heaven had to do with the rule of God and was considered to be both a present reality and a future hope for the Jewish people that lived during Jesus’ ministry on earth (Note on Matthew 3:2). The unique time period in which John preached was a key factor in the way he talked to people about repentance. According to John, time was of the essence; there was no time to waste when it came to getting right with God.

Some of John’s harshest messages were directed at the religious leaders that appeared to be righteous, but were only pretending to be interested in God’s kingdom. What the religious leaders really wanted was to control the Jews behavior. They made up rules that they expected everyone to lived by, but the rules were actually too difficult for the people to follow. Matthew 3:7-12 states about John:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

John’s introduction of the spiritual concept of fruit was meant to make people aware of the fact that God wanted to see evidence of the change that had taken place in people’s hearts. Merely saying that someone had repented was not enough. As fruit is a tangible sign that a tree is reproducing or bringing forth a new source of life, so fruit in a Christian’s life showed that a real change of heart had taken place and a new way of living would follow.