Set free

Jesus illustrated the effects of spiritual bondage when he healed numerous people by forgiving their sins. Matthew’s gospel records one such account this way:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8)

The authority that was referred to in Matthew 9:8 was the authority to release the paralytic from his spiritual bondage. The Greek word that is translated forgiven in Matthew 9:2, aphiemi (af-eeˊ-ay-mee) means “to let go from one’s power, possession, to let go free” (G863). A concept that is rooted in forgiveness is pardon; that of setting a prisoner free who has been condemned to death.

Jesus took his illustration one step further when the Jewish scribes and Pharisees asked him to interpret the Mosaic Law regarding adultery. John tells us:

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:2-11)

The condemnation that Jesus wanted to focus everyone’s attention on was to condemn someone “by contrast, i.e. to show by one’s good conduct that others are guilty of misconduct and deserve condemnation” (G2632). By contrast, Jesus was the only one present that was qualified to condemn the woman caught in adultery, and yet, he said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11), indicating that the woman had been set free from the effects of her spiritual bondage and was expected to live differently from that point forward.

The key to the woman’s release was her recognition of who Jesus was and what had just happened to her. Jesus asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” and the woman responded, “No one, Lord” (John 8:10, 11). The Greek word that is translated Lord, kurios (kooˊ-ree-os) means “supreme in authority” (G2962). The woman realized that her life was in Jesus’ hands and she respected his ability to condemn her. It is likely that in that moment, the woman put her trust in Jesus as the God of the Universe and was willing to accept whatever outcome he determined for her, life or death because of her sin. Even though it was unspoken, Jesus forgave the woman’s sin and set her free from the penalty that she deserved.

Jesus went on to tell the Pharisees, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The phrase walk in darkness means “to continue in sin” (note on 1 John 1:5-7). It can be assumed from this statement that the power that is necessary for us to stop sinning is derived from having a relationship with Jesus Christ. John went into more detail about the difference between walking in the light and walking in darkness in his first epistle. John said:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as his is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).

“To ‘walk in light’ (v. 7, cf. John 8:12) is to live in obedience to and have continuous fellowship with God” (note on 1 John 1:5-7). John said that when we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. The effect of Jesus’ death on the cross counteracts the effect of sin in our lives. When John said that Jesus’ blood cleanses us from sin, he meant that the sacrifice of Jesus’ life atoned for our sins completely. It erases our sins from the record book of our lives, it is as if our sins have never been committed.

John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “To ‘confess’ (homologeo [3670]) means to agree with God that sin has been committed. Even though Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath toward the believer’s sin (1 John 2:1, 2), the inclination to sin still remains within man (vv.8, 10). Therefore he must realize the need to continue in a right relationship with God by confession of sin. God grants forgiveness in accordance with his ‘faithful and just’ nature” (note on 1 John 1:9). In other words, if we confess our sins, God’s forgiveness is guaranteed. We don’t have to be afraid that God will punish us when we admit to him that we’ve done something wrong. John went on to say:

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:6-10)

“John is not teaching the possibility of sinless perfection; he is merely indicating that the person who has experienced regeneration will demonstrate righteousness in daily living. Only the one who ‘practices righteousness’ (v. 7, ho poion [4160], a participial phrase meaning ‘the one habitually doing’) is to be considered righteous. Believers are to make the righteousness and holy life of Christ the object of their trust but also the pattern of their lives. The expression ‘he cannot keep on sinning’ (v. 9) means the true believer cannot sin habitually, deliberately, easily, or maliciously (e.g., Cain sinned out of hatred of goodness, 1 John 1:12). The truth of the believer’s sonship (John 1:12; Romans 8:16) and eternal security (John 10:28; Romans 8:38, 39) should never cause him to think that he can live in deliberate, continual sin. Those who do not ‘practice righteousness’ give evidence that they do not belong to God (1 John 3:10)” (note on 1 John 3:6-10).

Jesus talked about dying in your sin and said to the Pharisees, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ So the Jews said, ‘Will he kill himself, since he says, “Where I am going, you cannot come”?’ He said to them, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins’” (John 8:21-24). Dying in your sins basically means that your sins haven’t been forgiven when you enter into eternity, but the Greek word that Jesus used for die, apothnesko (ap-oth-naceˊ-ko) actually has to do with being spiritually dead even though you are still physically alive (G599). The message that Jesus was most likely trying to convey to the Jews was that their time was running out. Jesus was about to be crucified and his mission to save the world would be completed. Jesus was warning the Jews that if they continued to reject their Messiah, the Jewish people would have no other means to obtain eternal life and would die without gaining access to the kingdom of God.

The example of the Israelites dying in the wilderness further illustrates the point of how it’s possible to be chosen by God, but die in your sin. After 40 years of wandering in the desert, a census was taken “of all the congregation of the people of Israel, from twenty years old and upward” (Numbers 26:2) and “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Among these the land shall be divided for inheritance according to the number of names” (Numbers 26:52-53). The inheritance spoken of here was the land that had been promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The only ones that actually received the inheritance among those that were delivered from slavery in Egypt were those that were still alive when the Israelites took possession of the land of Canaan. Numbers 26:63-65 states, “These were those listed by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who listed the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not one of those listed by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had listed the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, ‘They shall die in the wilderness.’ Not one of them was left, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.” The Hebrew word that is translated die in Numbers 26:65, muwth (mooth) is “a verb meaning to die, to kill, to put to death, to execute…Dying, however was not intended to be a natural aspect of being human. It came about through unbelief and rebellion against God (Genesis 3:4) so that Adam and Eve died. The word describes dying because of failure to pursue a moral life (Proverbs 5:23; 10:21)” (H4191).

The Apostle Paul’s testimony of his conversion included a message that he received from the Lord on the road to Damascus. Paul told King Agrippa:

“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:12-18)

The Lord’s message indicated that in addition to forgiveness of sins believers receive an inheritance that is described as “a place among those who are sanctified” Acts 26:18). John noted this fact in his gospel account where he recorded the following words of the Lord, Jesus Christ:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:1-7)

Jesus indicated that he was going to prepare a place for his disciples (John 14:2) and then went on to say, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus told his disciples that he was going to take them to a place in the future and it may have seemed to them that he was a type road that would lead them to that destination (G3598). In that sense, the other words that Jesus used to describe himself, the truth and the life might have been thought of as types of signposts that would direct his disciples as they traveled on their designated route.

Jesus told the Jews, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). In this instance, the Greek word that is translated know is ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko). “In the New Testament ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person ‘knowing’ and the object known; in this respect, what is ‘known’ is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of the relationship…The same idea of appreciation as well as ‘knowledge’ underlies several statements concerning the ‘knowledge’ of God and His truth on the part of believers, such ‘knowledge’ is obtained, not by mere intellectual activity, but by operation of the Holy Spirit consequent upon acceptance of Christ” (G1097). From that standpoint, Jesus’ statement “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32) could be interpreted “you shall know me and I will set you free.”

Jesus argued that the reason the Jews didn’t accept what he was saying was because the Jews didn’t have a relationship with God. John 8:42-47 states:

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Jesus identified the devil as a liar and indicated that the Jewish religious leaders were his children because they were acting like him. When he asked the question, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46), Jesus was likely mocking the men that tried to test him by condemning the woman that was caught in adultery (John 8:4-5). Jesus’ question, “If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (John 8:46) pointed out that the Jews couldn’t find any fault in what Jesus was saying and yet, they still didn’t want people to accept him as their Savior and be set free from the power and punishment of sin (G1659).

Jesus told the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36). The Greek word that is translated indeed, ontos (onˊ-toce) has to do with having certainty about what is real. Its root word on (oan) is a present participle of the word eimi (i-meeˊ) which means “I exist” (G1510). When we are set free, we become like Jesus in that our existence is no longer threatened by death. We have the assurance that we will never be condemned for our sins. Paul explained this in his letter to the Romans where he stated. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2). According to Paul, the law of the Spirit of life supersedes the law of sin and death and therefore, Christ is able to pronounce us innocent of any and all charges that the devil tries to bring against us (Revelation 12:10).

You must be born again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual success

A major problem with life is that it always ends in death. The goal of Jesus’ ministry on Earth was to overcome death, to make a way for humans to live forever. Jesus told his followers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24, ESV). The Apostle Paul expanded on this point by stating, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2, ESV). The Greek word translated condemnation, katakrima means an adverse sentence or verdict (G2631). Paul was referring to the punishment that is associated with sin and made it clear that believers are excluded from God’s judgment of mankind.

One of the stipulations Paul placed on the believer’s freedom from condemnation was to “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). What Paul meant by that was to think about things from a spiritual or eternal perspective rather than a carnal or temporal perspective. Paul said, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). The Greek words translated spiritually minded, pneuma (pnyoo’-mah) phronema (fron’-ay-mah) have to do with the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit (G4151/G5427). In other words, Paul was saying that we need to listen to the Holy Spirit and let him tell us what to do in order to achieve spiritual success. Paul described this process as intercession and stated:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches our hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Intercession is possible because the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of the believer and is able to see what is going on from both a temporal and an eternal perspective. An advantage that believers have over unbelievers is that the Holy Spirit knows the will of God and can lead us to do the right thing in every situation. Paul stated, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). Paul associated God’s calling with his purpose in the life of a believer and suggested there was a spiritual joining that takes place when a believer accepts Christ. Paul may have been referring to the marriage supper of the Lamb mentioned in Revelation 19:9 which is probably retroactive to the believer’s date of salvation.

In addition to the intercession of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer, Jesus is also interceding for believers in heaven. Paul asked, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). Paul made it clear that our spiritual success is not dependent on our knowledge or understanding of God’s will. Even as much as we might like to know everything that God has planned for our lives, we have to live on a need to know basis of what God wants us to do. Many of the things that we do during our life on Earth that are God’s will for us might not be known to us until we get to heaven.