The choice

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included a list of spiritual blessings that every believer has as a follower of Christ. Paul wrote, “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 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” (Ephesians 1:3-6). Paul told the Ephesians that spiritual blessings are distributed by God based on adoption into his family and also indicated that God’s children are predestined for adoption based on a choice that God made before the foundation of the world. “Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him” (H977). The Greek word that is translated predestined, proorizo (pro-or-idˊ-zo) means “to limit in advance, i.e. (figurative) predetermine” (G4309). Paul discussed predestination in his letter to the Romans. Paul said, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30). Paul outlined the process that God established to conform believers into the image of his Son. God started with foreknowledge and predestination and then, called, justified, and glorified everyone he planned to adopt into his family. The purpose of being adopted into God’s family is to be conformed to the image of his Son or rather to be assimilated into the same kind of relationship that Jesus had as a man with God the Father.

The Book of Revelation focuses on the separation of believers from unbelievers and describes a period of time referred to as the Great Tribulation. During that time, a person known as the Antichrist will seek to be worshipped by everyone on earth. John described the Antichrist as “a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads” and said, “Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:7-8). John indicated that everyone who was chosen by God before the foundation of the world had their names was written in the book of life and were not subject to Antichrist’s authority. John went on to explain that Antichrist will seek to establish a kingdom on earth that is not subject to God’s sovereignty, but he will be defeated by Jesus and his followers. John said:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly. But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17:1-14)

John’s vision revealed that Antichrist would “rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction” (Revelation 17:8) and that his kingdom will go to destruction with him (Revelation 17:11), but those whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will want to follow Antichrist because he imitates Jesus’s death and resurrection (Revelation 17:8). John concluded with a declaration that Jesus Christ is “Lord of lords and King of kings” and John said that those who are with him when he defeats Antichrist are “called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).

The first mention in the Bible of anyone being chosen by God is in Numbers 16 which deals with Korah’s rebellion. Korah and his followers assembled themselves together against Moses and Aaron because they claimed, “all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them” (Numbers 16:3). Numbers 16:4-5 states:

When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him.”

The Hebrew word that is translated chooses, bachar (baw-kharˊ) is “a verb whose meaning is to take a keen look at, to prove, to choose. It denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977). Moses’ statement that the one whom God chooses he will bring near (Numbers 16:5) had to do with service in the tabernacle of the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated near, qarab (kaw-rabˊ) means to approach. “This word stresses to approach or draw near and is often used of man’s entrance into the presence of the living God; a nearness of the closest and most intimate kind (Numbers 16:9; Psalm 65:4)” (H7126).

Drawing near to God is discussed in the Book of Hebrews in the context of believers acting in the full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:19-39). The writer of Hebrews talked about redemption through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:11-28) and said that the Old Testament sacrifices could not make perfect those who draw near to God (Hebrews 10:1), but believers “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). Hebrews 10:11-14 states:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

The writer of Hebrews indicated that all who were chosen by God before the foundation of the world were perfected forever by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, but referred to this select group of individuals as “those who are being sanctified” suggesting that the final state had not yet been achieved. The Greek word that is translated sanctified, hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to make holy (G37). Hagiazo is derived from the word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os). “Hagios fundamentally signifies separated, and hence, in Scripture in its moral and spiritual significance, separated from sin and therefore consecrated to God, sacred…Hagios expresses something more and higher than sacred, outwardly associated with God; something more than worthy, honorable; something more than pure, free from defilement. Hagios is more comprehensive. It is characteristically godlikeness” (G40).

Genesis 1:26 tells us that God created man in his own image, after his likeness. The Hebrew word that is translated likeness, dᵉmuwth (dem-oothˊ) “means ‘pattern,’ in the sense of the specifications from which an actual item is made” (H1823). Man is like God in that he has the same functional capabilities as was demonstrated by Jesus’ physical birth and life on earth. The image of God is his essential nature. “God made man in His own image, reflecting some of His own perfections: perfect in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and with dominion over the creatures (Genesis 1:26). Being created in God’s image meant being created male and female, in a loving unity of more than one person (Genesis 1:27)” (H6754). The argument that the serpent used to tempt Eve to disobey God’s command was that the knowledge of good and evil would make her like God (Genesis 3:5), but the part that the serpent didn’t tell her was sin, disobedience to God’s command, would separate Adam and Eve from God forever because of his holiness (Exodus 19:21-22).

The Greek word Hagios is sometimes translated as saints, a term that is used throughout the Bible to refer to God’s chosen people (Deuteronomy 33:3; Psalms 16:3; Daniel 7:18; Acts 9:32; Ephesians 1:1; Revelation 5:8, KJV). Hagios is also translated as Holy and is used to refer to God as the Holy Spirit. Paul designated the work of the Holy Spirit in believers as renewal and said, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6). Regeneration and renewal refer to different aspects of a single event that Jesus referred to as being born again (John 3:3). Regeneration “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth.” Renewal, “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).

The Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt was a type of salvation in that it freed them from the bondage that was keeping them from realizing their destiny. Moses explained to the Israelites that God had chosen them and that it was because of his love for them that he had redeemed them from their slavery in Egypt. Moses said:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-11)

The covenant God made with the Israelites was “a conditional divine pledge to be Israel’s God (as her Protector and the Guarantor of her blessed destiny), the condition: Israel’s total consecration to the Lord as His people (His kingdom) who live by His rule and serve His purposes in history” (Major Covenants in the Old Testament, p. 16, KJSB). The Israelites entered into this covenant with God at Mount Sinai when they were given his Ten Commandments, “And all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.’ And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:3-4). Forty years later, the covenant was renewed in Moab (Deuteronomy 29:1-15) and Moses gave the people of Israel the choice to be blessed or cursed by God (Deuteronomy 30:19).

One of the things that Moses pointed out when he renewed the covenant in Moab was that some of the Israelites’ hearts were already in the process of turning away from God and everyone was going to suffer because of it. Moses warned the people:

Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. (Deuteronomy 29:18-19)

The Hebrew word that is translated safe in Deuteronomy 29:19, shalom (shaw-lomeˊ) is usually translated as peace. Shalom expresses the root meaning of “to be whole” and “signifies a state in which one can feel at ease, comfortable with someone. The relationship is one of harmony and wholeness, which is the opposite of the state of strife and war…Shalom as a harmonious state of the soul and mind encourages the development of faculties and power. The state of being at ease is experienced both externally and internally” (H7965).

Moses set the record straight about claiming the benefits of salvation (shalom) without submitting oneself to God. Moses said about the man who walks in the stubbornness of his heart, “The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 29:20). Moses’ reference to the stubborn man’s name being blotted out from under heaven is connected to the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15. Revelation 20:15 states, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Jesus talked about names being blotted out of the book of life in his message to the Church in Sardis. Jesus said, “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Revelation 3:1-6).

The Book of James focuses on the ethical aspects of the Christian life (Introduction to the Letter of James). In his letter, James argued that “true faith results in outward acts of obedience and righteousness.” James addressed his letter to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion (James 1:1) and said, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:21-25). James went on to say, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead” (James 2:14-17).

James’ admonition echoed that of Moses in his final discourse. Moses said, “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it? But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). Moses pointed out that God’s laws were not based on a divine standard, but were meant to correct man’s sin nature. Moses concluded his discourse by giving the Israelites a choice between life and death, blessing and curse. Moses said, “If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live…But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish” (Deuteronomy 30:16-18). Moses made it clear that the Israelites’ disobedience was a result of their hearts turning away from God. The only way the people could keep God’s commandments was by exercising their faith, making the choice to do what God told them to. Moses said, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

A spiritual perspective

The Bible identifies two distinct perspectives that typically contradict each other with regards to interpretation of the events and circumstances of our lives. A materialistic perspective is concerned with the physical processes that produce things that we can see and touch; whereas, a spiritual perspective is concerned with invisible processes that produce things that cannot be seen or touched. One of the ways that the Bible distinguishes these two perspectives is by what they focus our attention on. A materialistic perspective focuses our attention on the world around us, the things that we come in contact with on a daily basis. Therefore, a materialistic perspective might also be thought of as a worldly perspective. A spiritual perspective focuses our attention on God and therefore, can be thought of as a godly perspective. Jesus told a Samaritan woman that he met at Jacob’s well, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The Greek word that is translated spirit, pheuma (pnyooˊ-mah) means “a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze, by analogy or figuratively a spirit, i.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc.” (G4151). The analogy of a spirit being similar to a current of air has to do with the characteristics that we associate with the wind. Its strength, vigor, and force are evident even though the wind is invisible to us. Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, “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).

Jesus implied that being born again or born of the Spirit would result in a person being influenced by spiritual things (John 3:8). Even though we are not always aware of it, God is actively involved in every person’s life that has committed themselves to Christ. Jesus talked about this in his parable of the seed growing. He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29). Jesus also used the analogy of seed in his parable of the sower and illustrated the effect that God’s word has on the human heart. Jesus said:

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 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. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)

Jesus explained to his disciples privately that the seed represented the word of God and he used the four scenarios in his parable to show them that the outcome was dependent on the condition of the human heart. 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)

The unseen activity of the human heart is an example of how a spiritual versus a materialistic perspective can alter the effect of God’s word and can change the outcome of our relationship with the Lord. Jesus pointed out that when we hear the word and do not understand it, the evil one is able to snatch away what has been sown in our hearts (Matthew 13:19). It is only when we understand what we are hearing that spiritual fruit can be produced (Matthew 13:23).

The Greek word that is translated understands in Matthew 13:23, suniemi (soon-eeˊ-ay-mee) means “(to send); to put together, i.e. (mentally) to comprehend” (G4920). Suniemi is derived from the word sun (soon) which denotes “union” (G4862) and has to do with fellowship with God and other believers. When Jesus told his disciples the night before his crucifixion that they would all fall away, Peter replied, “’Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with (G4862) you, I will not deny you!’ And all the disciples said the same” (Matthew 26:33-35). Peter’s emphatic declaration that he would not deny Jesus, even if he had to die with him, was an indication that he was looking at things from a spiritual perspective, but Peter’s actions proved otherwise. Proverbs 2:2 suggests that understanding requires an intentional effort on our part to see things from a godly perspective. Proverbs 2:1-5 states:

My son, if you receive my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
    and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.

According to King Solomon, the author of this proverb, the process of obtaining understanding involves more than just an intentional effort on our part. Solomon identified a series of steps and used the conditional language of if/then to indicate that obtaining a spiritual perspective is dependent upon us having a relationship with God. Solomon went on to say, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints” (Proverbs 2:6-8).

The Hebrew word that is translated saints in Proverbs 2:8, chasiyd (khaw-seedˊ) denotes “those who share a personal relationship with the Lord” and signifies “the state of one who fully trusts in God” (H2623). Solomon said that God watches over “the way of his saints” (Provervs 2:8). By that, Solomon meant that God charts the course of believers’ lives and makes it possible for them to be spiritually successful.

The Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan is an example of God’s direct intervention in the lives of believers. Although the Israelites were resistant to following God’s commandments and rebelled against him on numerous occasions, they eventually ended up where God had planned in advance for them to fulfill their destiny. Numbers 33 recounts the Israelites’ journey from a spiritual perspective. Even though it took them 40 years to accomplish what could have taken place in short eleven-day span of time, the Israelites were successful in achieving God’s ultimate goal, their occupation of the Promised Land. Moses explained to the people of Israel that their success was not a result of their own efforts, but a matter of being chosen by God. Moses said, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). The Hebrew word that Moses used that is translated chosen, bachar (baw-kharˊ) “denotes a choice which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim…Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him” (H977).

Moses went on to say that from a materialistic perspective, God’s choice of the Israelites didn’t make any sense. It was only because God was keeping the oath that he swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that the Israelites received his blessing (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Moses indicated that God’s motivation for choosing the Israelites and keeping the oath that he swore to their fathers was love. Moses said:

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. (Deuteronomy 7:9-11)

The contrast between those who love God and those who hate him makes it seem as if our perspective is shaped by our emotions, but the Hebrew word that is translated hate, sane (saw-nayˊ) makes it clear that it is a matter of our will or more specifically, our preference to not be associated with God. “In a weaker sense, saneʾ can signify being set against something” and it is sometimes translated as enemies, enemy or foe (H8130).

Moses’ final discourses were intended to focus the Israelites’ attention on the way they were expected to live their lives after they entered the Promised Land. Within that context was Moses’ consolidation of the Ten Commandments into a single great commandment (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) that would help them to keep a spiritual perspective of things at all times. Moses added to this commandment a guiding principle that made it crystal clear to the people of Israel that a materialistic perspective could not sustain their physical existence beyond this present world. Moses said:

“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3)

Moses admonished the people to remember the whole way that the LORD had led them and said that man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God. The idea that Moses was trying to convey was that of completeness, the primary characteristic of a healthy spiritual life.

Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word that is translated perfect, teleios (telˊ-i-os) means complete or “brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness” (G5046). The Apostle Paul talked about this in his letter to the Romans. Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies 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). The phrase that Paul used conformed to this world, has to do with the effect that living in this world has on people in general. Paul said that rather than being conformed to the world, we need to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. The contrast between the verbs conformed and transformed is particularly evident in their opposing emphasis on the external (conformed) and internal (transformed) influences on our minds. The present continuous tenses of both verbs indicate a process (G3339). This suggests that a spiritual perspective is gained over time as God’s word continually becomes more and more the focus our attention and the primary source of our knowledge.

John’s gospel contains a lot of information about Jesus’ mission to save the world. John 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). In this instance, the world stands for the human race, mankind (G2889). In a collective sense, everyone and everything in the world needs to be redeemed from the curse of sin. Quoting Psalm 14, Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). In his high priestly prayer, shortly before he was crucified (John 17:1-26), the primary focus of Jesus’ attention was his mission to save the world. In this prayer, Jesus asked his Father to keep the ones that had been entrusted to his care. Jesus prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Jesus didn’t seem to be concerned about the world’s influence on his followers, but instead, he identified the problem as the evil one. The Greek word that Jesus used, poneros (pon-ay-rosˊ) “is connected with ponos (G4192) and means labor and expresses especially the active form of evil” (G4190). Proverbs 2 indicates that understanding is a byproduct of wisdom, which is given to us from God (Proverbs 2:6), and will guard us from the way of evil. Solomon wrote:

For wisdom will come into your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
discretion will watch over you,
    understanding will guard you,
delivering you from the way of evil,
    from men of perverted speech,
who forsake the paths of uprightness
    to walk in the ways of darkness. (Proverbs 2:10-13)

Walking in the ways of darkness would mean that you are practicing evil and it has become a way of life for you. Solomon used the word darkness in a figurative sense to represent misery, destruction, death and may have even meant it to express ignorance of God’s word.

Moses’ assertion that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3) was based on his personal experience of leading the Israelites through the desert for forty years. One of the ways that we know Moses had developed a keen spiritual perspective by the end of his life was his understanding of the preincarnate presence of Christ in the midst of the Israelites’ camp. Moses said:

“Hear, O Israel: you are to cross over the Jordan today, to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you. (Deuteronomy 9:1-3)

Moses’ communicated his awareness of God’s presence by stating that he would go over before the Israelites and said that he would destroy the cities. Moses continued to emphasize his spiritual perspective of things when he said:

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.” (Deuteronomy 9:4-6)

Moses repeated three times that it was not because of the Israelites righteousness that they were going to possess the land, but because of the wickedness of the nations that the people were being driven out and then Moses stated emphatically, “for you are a stubborn people” (Deuteronomy 9:6). The people of Israel had turned aside quickly out of the way that God had commanded them (Deuteronomy 9:12) and therefore, did not deserve his blessing; but from a spiritual perspective, they were God’s chosen people and he would not abandon them. Proverbs 2:21-22 states:

For the upright will inhabit the land,
    and those with integrity will remain in it,
but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
    and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.

The Hebrew word that is translated upright, yashar (yaw-shawrˊ) means “straight” (H3477) and is derived from the word yashar (yaw-sharˊ) which “can be used to refer to a path” and with regard to straightness “the commands of God” (H3474). “The Old Testament often talks of two paths in life and warns people to stay on the straight path and not to stray onto the crooked path (Proverbs 2:13)” (H3476). From that standpoint, staying on the straight path would mean that we look at things from a spiritual perspective and make an intentional effort to understand God’s word.