Spiritual unity

Jesus spent the last night of his life celebrating Passover with the twelve apostles that had been a part of his three year ministry on earth and who were expected to carry on his ministry after his death. During what is now referred to as the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus focused his apostles’ attention on the essential elements of spiritual life. Jesus began with a reminder that his followers would spend eternity with him in a place that he was going to prepare for them (John 14:1-3) and then, went on to say that a Helper would come and remain with them forever (John 14:16). Jesus said of the Helper, “You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). Jesus’ statement that the Holy Spirit would dwell with his apostles and be in them was an indicator that they were going to be united with God in a way that was not possible before. Speaking of the day when his disciples would receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). The Greek word that is translated in, en (en) denotes a fixed position. “Christ is in the believer and vice versa, in consequence of faith in Him (John 6:56; 14:20; 15:4, 5; 17:23, 26; Romans 8:9; Galatians 2:20).” En also refers to “the believer’s union with God (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 John 2:24; 3:6, 24; 4:13, 15, 16)” and “of the mutual union of God and Christ (John 10:38; 14:10, 11, 20),” as well as, “of the Holy Spirit in Christians (John 14:17; Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19)” (G1722).

Jesus’ explanation of how spiritual unity works included the example of a vine and branches. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). The phrase “bears much fruit” refers to the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly (G2590) that causes believers to act not according to their own wills, “but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342). Jesus used the term fruit in numerous illustrations of both good and bad types of spiritual activity. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

The Apostle Paul talked about the fruit of the Spirit in the context of walking and keeping in step with the Spirit and contrasted it with the works of the flesh. Paul stated:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-26)

The Greek word Paul used that is translated keep in step, stoicheo (stoy-khehˊ-o) means “to march, in (military) rank” and is used “in an exhortation to keep step with one another in submission of heart to the Holy Spirit, and therefore of keeping step with Christ, the great means of unity and harmony in the church” (G4748).

Jesus expressed his concern that his apostles would abandon him and become disconnected from each another. After he told them that he was leaving the world and going to his Father, the apostles claimed to be solid in their faith, but Jesus warned them, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33). The Greek word that is translated tribulation, thlipsis (thlipˊ-sis) means “pressure…anything which burdens the spirit” (G2347). Jesus indicated that the pressure of their circumstances would cause the apostles to be scattered, to leave him alone (John 16:32). Therefore, Jesus prayed that God would keep them and that they would be one, even as Jesus and his Father are one (John 17:11).

Jesus’ high priestly prayer began with an acknowledgement that it was time for him to complete his mission. Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:1-3). Knowing God is an essential part of being united with Him. Jesus equated knowing God with eternal life. The Greek word that is translated know, ginosko (ghin-oce’-ko) in a beginning sense means to come to know, to gain or receive a knowledge of someone. In a completed sense, ginosko means to know and approve or love, to care for someone (G1097). The reason why Jesus equated eternal life with knowing God may have been because God is the source of eternal life and therefore having a connection with him is critical for life to be perpetuated. In the Greek language, life eternal “is equivalent to entrance into the kingdom of God” (G166).

In his prayer to his Father, Jesus openly declared:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:9-11)

Jesus’ request that his Father keep the disciples had to do with him keeping an eye on them. Because he was leaving the world and would no longer be physically present with them, Jesus wanted his disciples to be protected from the negative influence that the world had on their relationship with him and the evil forces that would try to distance them from each other. Jesus asked that “they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). The one that Jesus was speaking of was an emphatic one, meaning “one and the same” (G1520). The Apostle Paul talked about the oneness of believers in Christ in the context of being a body with many members. Paul said:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:1-5)

The Greek word that Paul used that is translated body in Romans 12:4-5 is soma (so’-mah) which refers to the body “as a sound whole” as well as “an organized whole made up of parts and members” (G4983). Paul indicated that each member had a function or “practice” (G4234) in the sense of something that is performed “repeatedly or habitually” (G4238). Paul said, “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5). The idea that Paul was trying to convey was that believers should not think of themselves as being independent of each other, but as a single entity that is dependent upon each and every part that functions within it.

Jesus’ request that his followers would be one (John 17:11) was not about them being brought together, but the need for God to keep them from breaking apart. The same problem existed when the children of Israel took possession of the Promised Land. The Israelites inherited the land by lot according to their clans (Numbers 33:54) and were expected to occupy the same land continuously throughout their generations. Special provisions were made for the Levites who were not given any land of their own to possess (Numbers 35:2-3) and for men that didn’t have any sons to pass their inheritance to (Numbers 36:2), but ultimately, the families had to stay intact in order for them to remain in the place that they had been assigned to live. Numbers 36:6-9 states:

This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father. The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.’” (Numbers 36:6-9)

The Israelites’ inheritance locked them into a particular geographic location within the nation’s boundaries. As long as the family members followed the rules of marriage and didn’t transfer possession of their land to an outsider, the Israelite community remained intact, but over the years, ownership changed (1 Kings 21:3-16) and possession of the land was eventually lost all together (2 Kings 25:1-12). When the exiles returned to the land after being held captive in Babylon for 70 years, only a remnant of the tribes of Israel came back and they occupied a very small portion of the land that was originally given to the Israelites (Ezra 2, Nehemiah 3).

Jesus told his Father that he had kept all of them that had been given to him while he was in the world and said, “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12). Jesus’ reference to none of his disciples being lost except the son of destruction was related to his message about the vine and branches. Jesus said, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6). The critical point that Jesus was focusing his apostles’ attention on was the state of abiding or not abiding in him. Abiding in Christ means that we are remaining in a particular state or condition. The state that believers must maintain is holiness. Jesus talked about this in a conversation with Peter when he was washing his disciples feet. John 13:6-11 states:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

“Jesus did not say, ‘you have no share in me’ (en [1722] emoi), which would indicate Peter lacked salvation, but ‘you have no share with me‘ (met’ [3326] emou), meaning Peter would have no communion and fellowship with him. Christians need constant cleansing and renewal if they are to remain in fellowship with God” (note on John 13:8). Regeneration has two distinct parts; paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-eeˊ-ah) “(spiritual) rebirth” and anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) “renovation.” “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).

Jesus used the Greek word katharos (kath’-ar-os), which is translated clean, to signify that someone has been saved. The Apostle Paul identified the ongoing process that Christian’s go through of being cleansed from their sins as sanctification. The Greek word hagiasmos (hag-ee-as-mos’), which is properly translated as purification “refers not only to the activity of the Holy Spirit in setting man apart unto salvation and transferring him into the ranks of the redeemed, but also to enabling him to be holy even as God is holy (2 Thessalonians 2:13)” (G38). Jesus prayed to his Father, “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 them in 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 sanctified in truth” (John 17:15-19). Jesus asked that God would sanctify his followers in the truth. What Jesus meant by truth was the divine truth, “what is true in itself, purity from all error or falsehood…In the New Testament especially, divine truth or the faith and practice of the true religion is called ‘truth’ either as being true in itself and derived from the true God, or as declaring the existence and will of the one true God, in opposition to the worship of false idols” (G225). Thus, when we read and study the Bible, the process of sanctification is taking place.

Jesus extended the scope of his prayer to include all the people that would eventually come to believe in him as a result of his gospel message being spread throughout the world. Jesus prayed:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23)

Jesus asked that “they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” and “that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:21, 23). Jesus associated becoming perfectly one with being loved by God the Father. The Greek words that are translated become perfectly one have to do with the end result or final outcome of sanctification. What the process of sanctification is actually doing is making all believers into one person, what Paul referred to as the body of Christ (Romans 12:5) of which Jesus is the head (Colossians 1:18).

The King James Version of the Bible translates the phrase become perfectly one as “may be made perfect in one” (John 17:23). The Greek word that is translated made perfect, teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) which means “To complete, make perfect by reaching the intended goal…particularly with the meaning to bring to a full end, completion” was used by Jesus in John 17:4 where he said “I have finished the work” and by Paul in his letter to the Philippians to convey the result of completing his ministry. Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14). The goal that I believe Paul was referring to in this verse was spiritual unity, the body of Christ becoming perfectly one as a result of everyone being saved and sanctified according to God’s predetermined plan (Ephesians 1:4-5).

The journey

The twelve disciples that Jesus called to be a part of his ministry were summoned with the simple phrase, “Follow me” (John 1:43). The Greek word that is translated follow, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊ-o) is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” (G190). The root word keluthos means a road which is sometimes referred to as a way or you might say a means of traveling. Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus spoke of himself as the way for us to get to God. The Greek word that is translated way, hodos (hod-osˊ) means “a road; (by implication) a progress (the route, act or distance); (figurative) a mode or means” (G3598). In that sense, Jesus was saying that access to God is made possible through a relationship with him. After Philip asked him to show the disciples his Father, Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and you do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:9-11). The works that Jesus was referring to were the miracles that he had performed during his ministry. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44), the chief priests planned to not only kill Jesus, but “to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus” (John 12:10-11).

The spiritual journey that Jesus invited his followers to be a part of was based on a transformative event that Jesus described as being “born again” (John 3:3). 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 used the example of the wind to show that spiritual movement takes place even though it is undetected by our physical perception. The Greek word that is translated enter, eiserchomai (ice-erˊ-khom-ahee) implies motion from a place or person to another and also indicates that a point has been reached (G1525) similar to a planned destination on a trip. Jesus was aware that Nicodemus wanted to be a part of God’s kingdom, but he lacked the spiritual capability to get there. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that in order to get to the kingdom of heaven, he must first experience a spiritual rebirth. “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” (G3824).

Spiritual life requires certain elements to sustain it in the same way that physical life does. Jesus told his disciples, “If you love me you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17). One of the critical elements of spiritual life is connection with God. Jesus indicated that the Father dwelt in him (John 14:10) and that the Holy Spirit dwells in us (John 14:17) and then, he used the illustration of a vine and branches to show that we all are connected to each other from a functional standpoint.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11)

Jesus made the statement “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) to make it clear that he is the source of our spiritual strength. The Greek word that is translated can, dunamai (dooˊ-nam-ahee) “means to be able, to have power, whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources (Romans 15:14); or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances (1 Thessalonians 2:6)” (G1410). Jesus went on to say, “if anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6), indicating that separation from him will result in eternal punishment.

Jesus referred to the kind of relationship we are to have with him as abiding. He said, “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4). The Greek word that is translated abide, meno (menˊ-o) means “to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy) and suggests that no spiritual movement is taking place, but in the context of a vine and branches, what it means to abide is that we are going wherever Jesus goes. We do not go anywhere unless Jesus does. The Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land illustrates the concept of abiding in that “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22). Chapter 33 of the book of Numbers recounts Israel’s journey and begins with the statement, “These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places” (Numbers 33:1-2). The English Standard Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word massaʿ (mas-sahˊ) as stages. The New King James Version of the Bible translates the word massaʿ as journeys. In it Numbers 33:1-2 states:

These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who went out of the land of Egypt by their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron. Now Moses wrote down the starting points of their journeys at the command of the Lord. And these are their journeys according to their starting points.

The variations between these two versions of the Bible show us that journeys are made up of various stages that are associated with starting points. The Hebrew word mowtsaʾ (mo-tsawˊ) means “a going forth…an exit” and is associated with the rising of the sun (H4161). The Hebrew word chanah (khaw-nawˊ) means “to decline (of the slanting rays of the evening)” (H2583). Therefore the starts and stops of the Israelites’ journey were comparable to the continuous cycle of the earth spinning on its axis. Numbers 33:5-8 states:

So the people of Israel set out from Rameses and camped at Succoth. And they set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. And they set out from Etham and turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which is east of Baal-zephon, and they camped before Migdol. And they set out from before Hahirothand passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, and they went a three days’ journey in the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah.

The repetitive nature of the Israelites’ journey is evident in the record of their first few starts and stops. One of the things to note about their trip to Pi-hahiroth is that is says the Israelites turned back to Pi-hahiroth. The Hebrew word that is translated turned back, shuwb (shoob) means “to retreat (not necessarily with the idea of return to the starting point)” (H7725). Pi-hahiroth was the location where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. It says “they set out from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea” (Numbers 33:8). The Hebrew word that is translated passed, ʿabar (aw-barˊ) “refers primarily to spatial movement, to ‘moving over, through, or away from.’ This basic meaning can be used of ‘going over or through’ a particular location to get to the other side” (H5674). Each of the specific aspects of the Israelites’ journey, their starting points, retreat to Pi-hahiroth, and their crossing over of the Red Sea illustrates the complex nature of journeys. It’s not simply a matter of getting from Point A to Point B.

A comparison of the Israelites’ physical journey through the wilderness to the spiritual journey that Jesus called his disciples to reveals an important aspect of spiritual life. It involves acts of obedience that are intended to draw us closer to God. The difference between the Israelites’ journey and the journey of those who follow Christ is that a physical journey involves going out, a departure from places that we need to leave behind, whereas a spiritual journey involves going into the human heart and dwelling with the Holy Spirit on a continual basis. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as another Helper that will be with us forever (John 14:16). The Greek word that is translated Helper, parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) “is the one summoned, called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid” and refers to both Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was “destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after Christ’s ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom (John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7)” (G3875). Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be with his disciples forever. The Greek words that Jesus used that are translated forever, eis (ice) which means “to or into (indicating the point reached or entered), of place, time” (G1519) and aion (ahee-ohnˊ). “The primary stress of this word is time in its unbroken duration” (G165). From this vantage point, the Holy Spirit is a type of spiritual guide that enables us to experience eternal life as a result of being born again.

Jesus indicated that spiritual activity will produce fruit. He said, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5). The Greek word that is translated bears, enegko (en-engˊ-ko) signifies being impelled by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to our own wills, or simply expressing our own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided by Him (G5342). The Greek word karpos (kar-posˊ), which is translated fruit, is used metaphorically “of works or deeds, ‘fruit’ being the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly, the character of the ‘fruit’ being evidence of the power producing it…As the visible expressions of hidden lusts are the works of the flesh, so the invisible power of the Holy Spirit in those who are brought into living union with Christ (John 15:2-8, 16) produces ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22 the singular form suggesting unity of the character of the Lord as reproduced in them, namely, ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance,’ all in contrast with the confused and often mutually antagonistic ‘works of the flesh’)” (G2590). The Apostle Paul talked about the fruit of the Spirit in the context of intrapersonal conflict. Paul wrote, “But I say, walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-25). Paul’s reference to keeping in step with the Spirit had to do with submission of the heart to the Holy Spirit. Paul was encouraging the Galatians to let the Holy Spirit override their own inclinations and to do what didn’t come naturally to them.

Jesus told his disciples:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:9-13)

Jesus’ command went beyond human capability. He didn’t tell his disciples to just love one another, but to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). And then, in case there was any uncertainty as to what he meant, Jesus added, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Jesus realized that the intrapersonal conflict that each of his disciples was going to experience would not only lead them to abandon their commitment to him, but also to each other. Therefore, Jesus reminded his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another” (John 15:16-17). The key to Jesus’ disciples being able to love one another was their mutual dependency upon him to complete their spiritual journey. Each of Jesus’ disciples was chosen and appointed to go and bear fruit. Their common mission was a tie that bound them together as a unit and it forced them to depend on and support each other after Jesus had departed. As a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples were able to reproduce the quality of love that they received from him, agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o), a type of love that expresses itself in faithful service (G25).

One of the similarities between the Israelites’ physical journey through the wilderness and the believer’s spiritual journey through life is that both were intended to bear witness to the ministry of Jesus Christ. When two spies were sent into Jericho to prepare for Israel’s first battle in the Promised Land, they met a prostitute whose name was Rahab and were given the following report:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9-11)

Likewise, Jesus said his disciples would bear witness of him after they had received the Holy Spirit. He told them:

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)

Jesus said that the reason why his disciples would be able to bear witness about him was because they had been with him from the beginning. Essentially, what Jesus meant by that was that his disciples had been traveling with him since he had chosen them “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). In other words, there was never a time when Jesus and his disciples weren’t traveling together and the same is true for us. Our journey doesn’t begin when we choose to follow Christ, but at the point when Jesus predestined us for adoption into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5).

Confession of our faith

Jesus used the parable of the sower to illustrate the process of spiritual birth, growth, and development. Jesus said:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” (Luke 8:5-8)

Jesus later explained the parable of the sower to his disciples. He told them:

“The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:11-15)

Jesus’ illustration and explanation showed that spiritual birth does not happen automatically when a person hears the word of God. A person must believe in order to be saved, but there is more to the process than just that. Jesus indicated that the word of God must take root in a person’s life and then, bear fruit so that their faith is evident to everyone around them. Jesus took his illustration one step further when he told his disciples:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:23-26)

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead in general terms (1 Corinthians 15:1-34), and then, Paul went on to explain how the transformation of physical life into spiritual life actually takes place. Paul said:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:35-49)

Paul reiterated Jesus’ point that “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15:36). Paul’s explanation made it clear that there are two types of bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44) and therefore it can be assumed, two types of death that need to take place in order for the transformation of our physical life into an eternal spiritual life to be complete.

Jesus told Martha shortly before he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Jesus wanted Martha to understand that spiritual life and spiritual death are more important than physical life and death when it comes to eternal existence. Jesus indicated that everyone who has experienced a spiritual birth will never experience a natural death (John 11:26). The Greek word that is translated die in John 11:26, apothnesko (ap-oth-naceˊ-ko) “is used of the separation of the soul from the body, i.e. the natural ‘death’ of human beings (e.g., Matthew 9:24; Romans 7:2); by reason of descent from Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22)…all who are descended from Adam not only ‘die’ physically, owing to sin, see above, but are naturally in a state of separation from God, 2 Corinthians 5:14. From this believers are freed both now and eternally, John 6:50; 11:26, through the death of Christ, Romans 5:8” (G599).

In the same way that a person who has experienced a spiritual birth will never experience a natural death, so a person that has experienced a spiritual death will not experience a natural life, but a supernatural type of existence similar to God’s. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). The Greek word that is translated live, zao (dzahˊ-o) means “spiritual life” and refers to “the present state of departed saints” and in particular to “the way of access to God through the Lord Jesus Christ” (G2198). With regard to physical life, zao means “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” and is sometimes translated quick in reference to God’s word. “Quick implies the ability to respond immediately to God’s word and living stresses the ongoing nature of His word; it is just as effective today as tomorrow.” John emphasized that Jesus and God’s word are one and the same. John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).

When Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), he was talking about the effect of God’s word on the soul of a man. Unlike physical death, spiritual death is an ongoing process that starts when a person accepts Jesus as his or her Savior and continues until a physical death or the rapture, allassō (al-lasˊ-so) takes place (G236). Paul said:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:50-57)

With regard to spiritual death, “Believers have spiritually ‘died’ to the Law as a means of life, Galatians 2:19; Colossians 2:20; to sin, Romans 6:2, and in general to all spiritual association with the world and with that which pertained to their unregenerate state, Colossians 3:3, because of their identification with the ‘death’ of Christ, Romans 6:8” (G599). Paul said, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 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. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:19-21).

Paul used the Greek word zao when said that it was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in him and that the life Paul lived in the flesh he lived by faith. Our spiritual life and spiritual death are closely connected to our faith in Jesus Christ. One of the things that seems to be particularly important in the establishment and development of our faith is obedience to God’s word. When Jesus performed miracles, he often instructed the person who wanted to get well to do something so that his obedience became a part of the healing process. Jesus instructed the man who was born blind to, “’Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing” (John 9:7). On another occasion, Jesus told a man that had been an invalid for 38 years, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). In the same way that faith in action can produce miraculous results, a denial of God’s word or unbelief disconnects us from Jesus, the source of our spiritual life and power (John 8:21).

In order to put a stop to Jesus’ ministry, the Jews “agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). The Greek word that is translated confess, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) literally means “to speak the same thing,” but the specific connotation in John 9:22 is “to declare openly by way of speaking out freely, such confession being the effect of deep conviction of facts” (G3670). In other words, the Jews didn’t necessarily care if people believed that Jesus was the Christ, they just wanted to stop people from saying that they believed Jesus was the Christ. Their issue was with believers making a public profession of faith. Jesus told his followers, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men. I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). The denial that Jesus was talking about was the contradiction of a previous oath, to disavow oneself of a former commitment. John’s record of Peter’s denial of Christ states, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not” (John 18:25).

A Jewish oath was “a sacred promise attesting to what one has done or will do” and was also used “to pledge loyalty to God” (H7621). Matthew’s gospel indicates that Peter denied Jesus with an oath, stating, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:72). According to the Mosaic Law, if a man swore with an oath, to bind himself by a pledge, it was impossible for the man to unbind himself, meaning that he couldn’t be forgiven if he didn’t do what he promised to (Numbers 30:2). After Jesus was resurrected, he discovered that Peter had returned to his former occupation as a fisherman (John 21:7). Peter may have thought that his denial of Christ had disqualified him from the ministry, but Jesus loving restored him and repeated his original command, saying to Peter, “Follow me” (John 21:19). Similar to the Greek word homologeo, which means “to speak the same thing” (G3670), the Greek word that is translated follow, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊo) means “to be in the same way with” (G190). Jesus’ command to Peter to follow me was essentially a command to restore fellowship with him. Jesus wanted Peter to get back to doing what he was supposed to be doing, preaching the gospel (John 21:15).

The Jews unbelief was primary attributed to their spiritual blindness. Jesus said that the ruler of this world, Satan needed to be cast out in order for the Jews fellowship with God to be completely restored (John 12:31-32). John wrote:

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.” (John 12:36-40)

John said that the Jews “could not believe” (John 12:39). In other words, it was impossible for the Jews to put their trust in Jesus, but then, he went on to say, “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43). John indicated that the problem was not that the Jews couldn’t believe, but that their leaders had set a bad example for them by refusing to make a public confession of their belief in Jesus because they didn’t want to be put out of the synagogue.

The dilemma for the Jews seemed to be that they were caught in the middle of two ways of thinking about how they could obtain eternal life. The Jews thought “they were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41), but Jesus taught them that they needed to experience a spiritual birth (John 3:5) in order to obtain eternal life (John 3:13-15). Jesus said the only way anyone could know for sure that he had received salvation was by the evidence of his works. John 3:19-21 states:

“And this is the judgment: 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.”

James elaborated on Jesus’ statement in his letter to the Jewish believers. James stated:

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)

The Greek word that James used that is translated dead, nekros (nekˊ-ros) “is used of the death of the body, cf. James 2:26, its most frequent sense, the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men” (G3498). The point James was trying to make was that the evidence of spiritual life is spiritual activity. If there is no spiritual activity going on, then a person cannot truly have been born again.

Jesus continually reminded the Jews that everything he was doing was being done in obedience to his Father. Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49-50). Jesus explained that his words were an ongoing confession because he was always speaking “the same thing” (G3670) that his Father told him to. As followers of Christ, we do the same thing Jesus did when we say what the Holy Spirit prompts us to. The writer of Hebrews encouraged believers to confess their faith on a regular basis so that the assurance of their salvation would give them confidence to not grow weary or fainthearted in their struggle against sin (Hebrews 10:23; 12:3-4). In that sense, confession of our faith is like an exercise that strengthens our spiritual muscles. The more we do it, the more agility and endurance we develop in our walk with the Lord.

The good shepherd

The transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua took place shortly before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the land of Canaan. At the end of Moses’ life, Numbers 27:12-17 tells us:

The Lord said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.”

Moses’ association of the people of Israel with sheep was due at least in part to the substitutionary process of atonement that had become a part of the Israelites’ daily lives. When a burnt offering was made, it says in Leviticus 1:3-4 that the person making the offering was to “bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” The people of Israel understood that the burnt offering was being sacrificed in their place and that the sacrifice was meant to pay the penalty for the person’s sin so that the person’s sin could be cancelled or forgiven by God (H7521/H3722). The daily burnt offering consisted of “two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering” (Numbers 28:3). Therefore, large flocks of sheep were necessary to sustain the Israelites’ daily sacrifices.

Moses’ depiction of the Israelites as “sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:17) established the importance of the role of a shepherd in the spiritual lives of God’s people. The Hebrew word that is translated shepherd, raʿah (raw-awˊ) appears in Jacob’s blessing of his son Joseph as a reference to Jesus. It says in Genesis 49:23-24, “The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel).” King David also referred to God as his shepherd. Psalm 23 illustrates how God’s spiritual leadership works in the lives of believers. It states:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. (Psalm 23:1-6)

The Hebrew word raʿah also appears in the book of Jeremiah in connection with faithless Israel being called to repentance. Jeremiah 3:12-15 states:

“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
    for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.

Only acknowledge your guilt,
    that you rebelled against the Lord your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
    and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the Lord.
Return, O faithless children,
declares the Lord;
    for I am your master;
I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
    and I will bring you to Zion.

And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.’”

The Apostle Paul identified the shepherd as one of the essential roles in the body of Christ in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). The King James Version of the Bible states Ephesians 4:12 this way, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Paul identified edification as a key feature of spiritual growth and said, “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 whole body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Jesus told his disciples, “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) and then, he added:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5)

Jesus used the illustration of entering and exiting the sheepfold to depict the process of salvation that God used to make him the Savior of the World and said, “he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). Jesus’ death on the cross was a critical component in God’s plan of salvation because the penalty for everyone’s sins had to be paid in order for his sacrifice to be sufficient to save us. Jesus said that anyone who “climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” because some of the Jews’ religious leaders were teaching them that they could be saved by keeping the Mosaic Law and were in essence stealing souls from God’s kingdom.

Jesus told the Jews:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:7-15)

Jesus indicated that the shepherd is the owner of the sheep (John 10:12) and said, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (John 10:14-15). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated know, ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) means to know in an absolute sense through the perception of the mind and has to do with “what one is or professes to be…with the idea of volition or goodwill: to know and approve or love, to care for” (G1097).

Jesus talked about being the door of the sheep and said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9). Jesus discussed entrance into the kingdom of heaven at length with a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) and went on to say, “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). The Greek word that is translated lifted up, hupsoo (hoop-soˊ-o) speaks literally “of the ‘lifting’ up of Christ in His crucifixion” (G5312). The belief that gains us entrance into the kingdom of heaven is that Christ died for our sins, not that he is just “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), but that Christ died for me personally and is the atoning sacrifice for my sin, one that satisfies the debt I owe to God completely (Leviticus 1:4; Hebrews 10:1-18).

Jesus said that all who came before him were thieves and robbers (John 10:8). This seems to suggest that all of the Old Testament and even the New Testament priests were intentionally leading the people of Israel astray. Israel’s first High Priest, Moses’ brother Aaron, was responsible for the people of Israel worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32:2-6) and Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were killed for offering unauthorized fire before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-2). The connection between Israel’s priests and Satan’s attempt to thwart God’s plan of salvation is particularly evident in Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Luke’s gospel tells us, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22:1-6).

Jesus said that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Jesus’ reference to the thief in this instance might be construed to mean Satan or the devil who are considered to be the enemies of our souls (1 Peter 5:8). In his explanation of the parable of the sower, Jesus indicated that Satan is able to stop people from being saved by preventing the gospel from taking root in their hearts. Jesus told his disciples, “The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them” (Mark 4:14-15). The Greek words that are translated steal, kill, and destroy in John 10:10 have to do with the eternal state of a person’s soul. The Greek word that is translated destroy, apollumi (ap-olˊ-loo-mee) means “to destroy fully” and is “spoken of eternal death, i.e. future punishment, exclusion from the Messiah’s kingdom…This eternal death is called the second death (Revelation 20:14).” With respect to sheep, apollumi means “to be lost to the owner (Luke 21:18; John 6:12)” and is “spoken of those who wander away and are lost, e.g. the prodigal son (Luke 15:24); sheep straying in the desert (Luke 15:4, 6)” (G622).

In his first letter, Peter talked about straying sheep returning to the Shepherd. Peter said of Jesus, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25). When Jesus sent out his twelve apostles to preach the gospel, he instructed them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6), but later Jesus relented when a Canaanite woman asked him to heal her daughter. Matthew 15:24-28 states:

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep further illustrated the great lengths to which God was willing to go in order to save a lost soul. Luke’s account of this parable states:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7)

Jesus portrayed the shepherd as rejoicing because he had found his lost sheep, but clarified what had actually happened when he said that there was joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. One of the ways we know we are saved is that we experience God’s presence through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When we repent of our sins, we make it possible for our fellowship with God to be restored. The Apostle Paul explained the reconciliation that takes place when we are saved in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

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. (Ephesians 2:11-16)

After he told the Jews that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). The Greek word that is translated abundantly, perissos (per-is-sosˊ) is derived from the word peiro in the sense of going beyond the boundaries of ordinary existence. Peiro “means ‘on the other side, across,’ is used with the definite article, signifying the regions ‘beyond,’ the opposite shore” (G4008). From that standpoint, the abundant life that Jesus was talking about may have been a type of heaven on earth, an ability to experience eternal life in the here and now.

Jesus told the Jews, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11), and then, went on to say, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). Jesus indicated that he was laying down his life for the sheep of his own accord. In other words, Jesus wasn’t being forced to sacrifice himself for the sins of the world. Jesus had the same free will that we do and was given the ability to decide for himself whether or not he would go through with the crucifixion. The reason why Jesus did it was because he knew he would be resurrected three days later. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

Jesus rebuked Peter because he was looking at things from a human perspective. The only way we can really comprehend and truly appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is by looking at things from an eternal perspective.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28)

Spiritual blindness

Jesus’ miracle of healing a man that was born blind (John 9:1-7) portrayed in practical terms the spiritual condition of the Jews that Jesus was ministering to. “The Jews took pride in their ancestry as God’s chosen people and totally disregarded their own spiritual need” (note on John 9:39). Their spiritual blindness caused the Jews to cling to the false hope of their Mosaic legal system (John 9:28-29) and reject Christ’s message of salvation by grace. Paul wrote about the Jews spiritual dilemma in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Paul talked about the world not being able to know God through wisdom, but only through the foolishness of preaching. God saves those who believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:21). The Greek word that is translated wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, sophia (sof-eeˊ-ah) means “skill in the affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in forming the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense” and speaks “specifically of the learning and philosophy current among the Greeks and Romans in the apostolic age intended to draw away the minds of men from divine truth, and which stood in contrast to the simplicity of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17, 19-22; 2:1, 4-6, 13; 3:19; 2 Corinthians 1:12)” (G4678). Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 29:14 set the context of his statement as dealing with an intentional effort on God’s part to keep certain spiritual truths hidden from the unsaved. The broader context of spiritual blindness can be seen in Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and God’s judgment of his chosen people. Isaiah 29:9-16 states:

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

Isaiah’s declaration, “the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden” focuses on the lack of spiritual perception that was evident among the Jews during Christ’s ministry on earth. Isaiah may have been using the phrases wisdom of the wise and discernment of the discerning to signify a lack of spiritual or divine gifts among the Jews. The Greek words sophia and sunesis cover a broad range of mental capabilities that have to do with comprehension. A derivative of sunesis is the Greek word sunetos (soon-etˊ-os) which means to reason out and hence to be intelligent (G4908). In a bad sense, sunetos means conceited (G5429) and therefore, suggests that intelligence or perhaps even an understanding of God’s word without the faith that is required to interpret it correctly may be the root cause of spiritual blindness. Jesus told the man that was born blind, “For judgement I came into the world, that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). The Greek word that is translated blind, tuphlos (toof-losˊ) means “opaque (as if smoky)” (G5185) and is derived from the word tuphoo (toof-oˊ) which means “to envelop with smoke, i.e. (figurative) to inflate with self-conceit” (G5187).

A conversation between the Pharisees and the man who was born blind after Jesus healed him exposed the Jewish religious leaders’ conceit. The man who had been blind told the Pharisees:

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:25-34)

The point that the man who was born blind was trying to make was that his eyes were opened as a result of Jesus’ divine intervention and yet the Pharisees didn’t accept what happened as a miracle. The man who was born blind stated, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:33). The phrase “he could do nothing” consists of four Greek words that convey the absence of power, but also suggests that Jesus’ ability to do miracles did not come from within himself, but from his spiritual connection to God the Father. The man’s statement, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him” (John 9:31) implied that the power Jesus displayed in opening the blind man’s eyes was a direct result of him doing God’s will. On the contrary, the Pharisees looked at the situation from a legalistic perspective and determined, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16).

The Pharisees argument, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29) was unfounded because on more than one occasion God declared Jesus to be his Son. Matthew’s gospel states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17). Mark’s gospel contains a similar account of Jesus’ baptism and also states about his transfiguration, “A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’” (Mark 9:7). Rather than arguing with the Pharisees about his deity, Jesus approached the man who was born blind after he was excommunicated and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man” (John 9:35). The man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him” (John 9:36). Jesus told the man who was born blind, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you” (John 9:37). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated seen, horasis (horˊ-as-is) has to do with both physical and mental perception and refers specifically to “an inspired appearance” (G3706). With regards to seeing God, horasis means “to know Him, be acquainted with Him, know his character” (G3708). Moses’ role in delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was particularly important because he was God’s designated representative, but Moses was human and therefore, couldn’t replicate God’s divine character. At the end of his life, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin)” (Numbers 27:12-14). Moses’ disobedience at the waters of Meribah is recorded in Numbers 20:2-13 where it states:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

Paul explained the significance of Moses and Aaron’s mistake in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). Paul indicated that the Rock that Moses struck was Christ, the source of the Israelites’ salvation, and that the waters at Meribah were meant to quench the Israelites’ spiritual thirst. Jesus eluded to this in a conversation he had with a woman of Samaria whom he met at a well. Jesus told her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus went on to say, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Jesus referred to the spiritual drink that he wanted to give the woman at the well as living water (John 4:10) and indicated that quenching “one’s spiritual thirst was synonymous with eternal life (v. 14)” (note on John 4:10-14).

The Israelites associated eternal life with living in the Promised Land because God promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan as an eternal possession (Genesis 13:15). The problem with the Israelites’ expectation was that they didn’t realize they needed faith in order to enter the land. God told Moses and Aaron that they couldn’t bring the Israelites into the Promised Land because they didn’t believe in Him (Numbers 20:12). The Hebrew word that is translated believe, ʾaman (aw-manˊ) “signifies the element of being ‘firm’ or ‘trustworthy’…Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting or believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what He said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with his promises” (H539).

The Pharisees that criticized Jesus for opening the eyes of the man who was born blind on the Sabbath (John 9:16) claimed to be disciples of Moses. They said about Jesus, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29). Their refusal to accept Jesus as the Israelites’ Messiah stemmed from a belief that the Jews were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41). Jesus rebuked their unbelief by stating:

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 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.” (John 8:39-47)

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing)” (G4100). Pisteuo is derived from the primary verb peitho (piˊ-tho) which means “to convince (by argument, true or false)” (G3982). Jesus told some of the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (John 9:41). In other words, the Pharisees’ spiritual blindness made them think they were members of God’s kingdom, but in actuality, they were going to spend eternity in “the lake of fire” because their sins had not been forgiven (Revelation 20:15).

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).

Israel’s Messiah

God’s promise to give Abraham and his descendants all the land of Canaan forever (Genesis 13:14-15) was the first indicator that a resurrection would take place sometime in the future. We know that Abraham believed in life after death because Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense” (NKJV). God reiterated his unconditional divine promise to Jacob who told his son Joseph shortly before his death, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession’” (Genesis 48:3-4, NKJV). When Jacob called his sons together to give them his final blessing, he spoke of a time period that he referred to as “the last days” (Genesis 49:1) and he told his son Judah:

“Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s children shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He bows down, he lies down as a lion;
And as a lion, who shall rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes;
And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” (Genesis 49:8-10, NKJV)

The Hebrew word that is translated Shiloh in Genesis 49:10, shiyloh (shee-loˊ) is an epithet of Israel’s Messiah (H7886). The scepter that Jacob mentioned is a symbol of authority in the hands of a ruler (H7626) and in connection with the last days was likely meant as a reference to Christ’s second coming when he will reign on earth for a thousand years. Revelation 20:4-6 states regarding this time period:

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

The scepter of Israel’s Messiah is also mentioned in Balaam’s final oracle. After the Israelites defeated the king of Sihon and Og the king of Bashan (Numbers 21:21-35), Balak the king of Moab wanted to stop the Israelites from taking over his territory. Balak hired Balaam, who was a false prophet, to curse the Israelites so that he could drive them from the land (Numbers 22:6). When Balak promised to give Balaam a position of honor in his kingdom in exchange for his cooperation, Balaam responded, “Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak” (Numbers 22:38) and before he pronounced his final oracle, Balaam referred to the time period known as “the latter days” (Numbers 24:14). Balaam said:

I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
    and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be dispossessed;
    Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
    Israel is doing valiantly.
And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
    and destroy the survivors of cities!” (Numbers 24:17-19)

Matthew’s gospel contains a record of the visit of wise men who came to King Herod at the time of Jesus’ birth asking the question, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). Herod immediately went to work to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:16) and his family likely remained in hiding until Jesus’ public ministry was launched (Matthew 2:19-23). Jesus’ role of Savior of the world was not talked about openly, but those who came to know him were aware of the fact that he was Israel’s Messiah (John 4:42).

One of the key factors of Jesus’ revelation of his kingdom was that everyone would be resurrected, not just the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus said in his Olivet Discourse:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus identified two possible outcomes of being resurrected, eternal punishment or eternal life. The Greek word that is translated punishment, kolasis (kolˊ-as-is) means “penal infliction” and is “spoken of the temporary torment produced by fear in the soul of one conscious of sin before the love of God brings peace at salvation (1 John 4:18)” (G2851). Therefore, it might be said that eternal punishment is the never ending torment that results from an awareness of one’s unforgiven sins. On the other hand, eternal life is characterized by the uninterrupted peace that comes from a knowledge of God’s forgiveness and the removal of all guilt.

The Greek word that is translated life in Matthew 25:46, zoe (dzo-ayˊ) speaks “of life or existence after rising from the dead” and “in the sense of existence, life, in an absolute sense and without end” (G2222). Zoe means “life as God has it, which the Father has in Himself, and which he gave to the Incarnate Son to have in Himself (John 5:26), and which the Son manifested in the world (1 John 1:2). From this life man has become alienated in consequence of the Fall, and of this life men become partakers through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:15), who becomes its Author to all such as trust in Him (Acts 3:15), and who is therefore said to be ‘the life’ of the believer (Colossians 3:4), because the life that He gives He maintains (John 6:35, 63). Eternal life is the present actual possession of the believer because of his relationship with Christ (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14), and that it will one day extend its domain to the sphere of the body is assured by the resurrection of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Timothy 1:10).” Zoe is derived from the Greek word zao (dzahˊ-o) which simply means “to live” and refers to “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” (G2198).

Jesus used the miracle of feeding more than five thousand people with a five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:5-13) to demonstrate the principles of eternal life. An important thing to note about this miracle is that Jesus started with food that already existed. Later on, when Jesus referred to himself as “the bread of life” (John 6:35) and compared what he had to offer people to the manna that Moses gave the Israelites (John 6:32-33), the focus of Jesus’ attention was zoe, life in the absolute sense. John recorded the event this way:

Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:4-14)

John’s account of Jesus’ feeding the five thousand focused in on Philip’s conclusion that the disciples didn’t have the material resources that they needed to feed the people. Even though they started with just five loaves of bread and the 5000 men ate as much as they wanted, afterward Jesus instructed the disciples to “gather up the leftover fragments” (John 6:12). The twelve baskets full of broken pieces that were gathered indicated that there were actually more material resources than were necessary to meet the people’s physical needs. The abundance of resources resulted in Jesus being recognized as Israel’s Messiah (John 6:14).

Jesus told his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In this statement, the Greek word zoe, which is translated life, associates the kind of life that we receive when we are born again with abundance. The Greek word perissos (per-is-sosˊ) denotes “what is superior and advantageous” (G4053). Jesus was therefore implying that eternal life is better in both quantity and quality than the temporal, physical existence that ends when we die. Jesus explained:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:47-51)

Jesus referred to himself as “the living bread” (John 6:51). By that, Jesus meant that the manifestation of divine power was already at work in his physical body and it could not be destroyed by death as evidenced by his resurrection three days after he was crucified. Jesus said, “If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51). The process of chewing and digesting food in order to sustain our physical lives is something that everyone does without giving much if any thought to what is happening. In order to gain any nourishment from our food, there has to first of all be substances that can be absorbed into the body and then chemicals in our bodies that can break the food down and convert it into energy. The substances that we are able to absorb that come from Jesus are his words and what is necessary for them to be converted into spiritual energy is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus went on to say:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)

Jesus used the terms flesh and blood to represent the basic elements of physical life. These elements were associated with the sacrifices that were required for the atonement of sins (Exodus 30:10). Jesus incorporated these elements into his institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29) and made it clear that the purpose of this practice was to identify oneself with his death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Therefore, it can be assumed that the Eucharist was intended to be a means of activating and sustaining zoe, eternal life.

Jesus told his disciples, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6:63-64) indicating that faith is necessary for our spiritual existence. John recorded, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:68-69). The Greek word that is translated Holy One, christos (khris-tosˊ) means “anointed, i.e. the Messiah, an epithet of Jesus” (G5547). Peter indicated that Jesus’ twelve disciples had believed and also come to know that he was Israel’s Messiah. The Greek word ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) is simply translated sure in the King James Version of the Bible. Peter seemed to be saying that it wasn’t just faith that led Jesus’ twelve disciples to the conclusion that he was their Messiah, but that they were sure of it because of a complete and absolute understanding of his teaching.

The Greek word ginosko “is also used to convey the thought of connection or union, as between a man and woman” and as a verb, ginosko means “to know by observation and experience” (G1097). Part of the reason why Jesus became known as Israel’s Messiah was because he acted like the person he claimed to be, God’s only begotten Son. Peter told Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Another way of saying this might be, “You sound like you know what eternal life is all about.” Jesus knew what eternal life was all about, even before he died on the cross, because according to John’s gospel, Jesus existed before the creation of the world and “without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). In the note on John 1:1-17, it says, “John’s gospel is the only one that begins with a discussion of the eternal existence of Jesus Christ rather than the time he appeared on earth. He is called the logos (G3056), ‘word,’ the term used by the Greeks in reference to the governing power behind all things. The Jews used the term to refer to God. Jesus created everything that is (v. 3) and later came to dwell among his creation (v. 14). There are two main verbs that contrast what Jesus had always been and what he became at his incarnation. There is ēn, the imperfect of eimi (G1510), ‘to be,’ which could be translated as ‘had been.’ This verb is found in every instance in this passage where Jesus is referred to in his eternal state of being (vv. 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 15). The divine nature of Christ is clearly seen in the statement theos (G2316, ‘God’) ēn ho logos, literally, ‘the Word was God’ (v. 1). The second verb is egeneto (the aorist form of ginomai [G1096], ‘to become’). It refers to becoming something that one was not before. The Lord Jesus became that which he was not before, a physical being (v. 14).”

The resurrection of the dead signifies an important transition in the activities that take place on earth. After the great white throne judgment, John tells us in the book of Revelation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

The former things that John was referring to were most likely the government systems that preceded the Messiah’s reign. After the devil and his followers are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10, 15), God’s eternal kingdom will be established.

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).

Overcoming the world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

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

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

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

Children of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus went on to explain in his Sermon on the Mount that if we have been born again, our behavior is important to our Father. God wants us to act like we are his children and he rewards us when we do so. Jesus warned his disciples, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven…But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1, 3-4). Jesus also talked about prayer and taught his disciples to address God as “Our Father” (Matthew 6:5-13). Jesus concluding his teaching about the believers relationship to God by stating, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9-10)

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

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

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

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