Predestination

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included a list of spiritual blessings that belong to God’s adopted children. Speaking to the saints who were in Ephesus, Paul said that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world and, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:4-6). Paul stated that God’s plan of salvation was formulated before the world was conceived and that its express purpose was to build a family for Jesus. In order to accomplish this, God predestined everyone that he intended to save for adoption into his family. The Greek word proorizo (pro-or-id-zo) is derived from the words “pro (G4253), before, and horizo (G3724), to determine. To decide or determine beforehand, to foreordain, to predetermine…Proorizo is used to declare God’s eternal decrees of both the objects and goal of his plan of salvation (Romans 8:29, 30), of the glorious benefits that will come from that salvation (1 Corinthians 2:7), and of our adoption and inheritance as sons of God (Ephesians 1:5, 11)” (G4309). Paul outlined God’s process of salvation in his letter to the Romans. Paul said, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). Paul indicated that predestination was based on God’s foreknowledge. God’s foreknowledge “is not simply that which God was aware of prior to a certain point. Rather, it is presented as that which God gave prior consent to, that which received his favorable or special recognition. Hence, this term is reserved for those matters which God favorably, deliberately and freely chose and ordained” (G4267).

Paul explained to the Ephesians that the reason why we were adopted into God’s family was so that we could receive an inheritance and that the Holy Spirit guarantees that we will acquire possession of it. Paul wrote:

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14)

The Greek word that is translated obtained an inheritance in Ephesians 1:11 kleroo (klay-roˊ-o) means “to allot…In the passive, to obtain an inheritance, as through the casting of lots” (G2820).

Each of the twelve tribes of Israel were assigned an allotment of property after they entered the Promised Land. It says in Joshua 16:1-3, “The allotment of the people of Joseph went from the Jordan by Jericho, east of the waters of Jericho, into the wilderness, going up from Jericho into the hill country to Bethel. Then going from Bethel to Luz, it passes along to Ataroth, the territory of the Archites. Then it goes down westward to the territory of the Japhletites, as far as the territory of Lower Beth-horon, then to Gezer, and it ends at the sea.” The Hebrew word goral (go-ralˊ), which is translated allotment in Joshua 16:1, is similar to the Greek word kleroo. Goral means “a pebble, i.e. a lot (small stones being used for that purpose); (figurative) a portion or destiny (as if determined by lot)” (H1486). The correlation between the Israelites’ allotment of property and the inheritance that God has promised to all who have faith in Jesus Christ is God’s ownership of the world and everything else that was created by him out of nothing in the beginning (Genesis 1:1). God the Father determined that ownership of his creation would be transferred to his Son and shared among all who believed in him. Jesus was born King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2), Israel’s Messiah (John 1:41), but he died as the Savior of the World (1 John 4:14).

Genesis 12:1-3 records God’s call of Abraham. Just as Jesus’ disciples were called to follow him, God told Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” “This promise to Abraham is one of the most significant passages in the entire Bible. It points ultimately to the redemption of the whole world. Abraham’s family became a divinely appointed channel through which blessing would come to all men. This promise was formalized in a covenant (Genesis 15:17-21) and was repeated four additional times: twice to Abraham (Genesis 17:6-8; 22:16-18), once to Isaac (Genesis 26:3, 4), and once to Jacob (Genesis 28:13, 14). This promise is emphasized in the New Testament in Acts 3:25, Romans 4:13, Galatians 3:8, 29 (where it is called “the gospel”), and Ephesians 2:12. Its importance to the Gentiles is evident, for it is clearly stated that Gentiles who were ‘separated from’ and ‘strangers to the covenants of promise’ have been brought to it by the blood of Christ (Galatians 3:8; Ephesians 2:12, 13)” (note on Genesis 12:1-3).

Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians that we “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Greek word that is translated sealed, sphragizo (sfrag-idˊ-zo) means “to stamp (with a signet or private mark) for security or preservation” (G4972). Sphragizo is derived from the word sphragis (sfrag-eceˊ) which means “a signet (as fencing in or protecting from misappropriation)” (G4973). The boundaries that were designated for the allotment of the people of Joseph were like a signet in that they made it possible for the people of Joseph to claim their territory and to protect their land from being misappropriated. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit indicates that believers’ bodies, souls, and spirits belong to God and cannot be possessed by Satan or his demons. Paul indicated that the Holy Spirit guarantees our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. The Greek word that Paul used that is translated guarantee, arrhabon (ar-hrab-ohnˊ) means “a pledge, i.e. part of the purchase money or property given in advance as security for the rest” (G728). One way of looking at the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is that He gives us a small taste of what we will experience in our resurrected bodies, the inheritance that we will acquire possession of after we die.

One of the main points that God communicated to the Israelites was that they had to take possession of their inheritance. God told Joshua, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess” (Joshua 13:1). In order to take possession of their inheritance, the Israelites had to actually occupy the land by driving out its previous tenants and possessing it in their place (H3423). This example suggests that the guarantee of the Holy Spirit does not mean that we will inherit everything that we are entitled to, but only that we will receive whatever inheritance we have taken possession of in this life.

Joshua 18:2-6 tells us, “There remained among the people of Israel seven tribes whose inheritance had not yet been apportioned. So Joshua said to the people of Israel, ‘How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers had given you? Provide three men from each tribe, and I will send them out that they may set out and go up and down the land. They shall write a description of it with a view to the inheritances, and then come to me. They shall divide it into seven portions. Judah shall continue in his territory on the south, and the house of Joseph continue in their territory on the north. And you shall describe the land in seven divisions and bring the descriptions here to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the LORD our God.’” The Hebrew word that is translated put off, râphâh (raw-fawˊ) is “a verb meaning to become slack, to relax, to cease, to desist, to become discouraged, to become disheartened, to become weak, to become feeble, to let drop, to discourage, to leave alone, to let go, to forsake, to abandon, to be lazy” (H7503). All of these are symptoms of spiritual sickness. When God made the bitter water sweet at Marah, he referred to himself as “the LORD, your healer” (Exodus 15:26). The name healer is another form of the word râphâh (raw-fawˊ) which “means to heal, a restoring to normal, an act which God typically performs (Genesis 20:17)” (H7495).

Jesus healed many of the people that he came in contact with. When Jesus sent out his twelve apostles to minister to the people of Israel, Luke 9:1-6 tells us:

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

The connection between preaching the gospel and healing may be that the Holy Spirit’s power always has a twofold effect; he saves and as a result, heals those he comes in contact with.

Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians that God’s predestination of those who would be adopted into his family involved the impartation of a secret and hidden wisdom. Paul said:

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
     nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)

Paul talked about things being revealed to us through the Spirit and said that “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11). When believers receive the Holy Spirit, it is as if we have been given a spiritual treasure map that directs us to our eternal inheritance. We are able to discover spiritual truths because the Holy Spirit reveals them to us. Paul concluded with the statement, “’For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Paul equated the Holy Spirit with the mind of Christ and indicated that spiritual discernment is impossible without it.

God’s eternal decrees of both the objects and goal of his plan of salvation may be embedded in the Holy Spirit’s DNA so to speak in that he is hard wired to accomplish a specific outcome. Paul indicated that believers are predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29). Being conformed to the image of God’s Son has to do with assimilation, which means that we have to take in and understand fully Jesus’ life and teaching through the Bible. Paul expressed the essential features of having the mind of Christ in Christ’s example of humility. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:4-8)

The key feature of Jesus’ life on earth was obedience to the will of his Father. Jesus told his disciples, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:38-40).

God’s predestination of believers for adoption as sons and Jesus’ death on the cross worked together with the sealing of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the end result of saving mankind. The joint effort that was required was an example of how and why God exists in three persons, but operates according to a single will or objective. Shortly before his death, Jesus prayed for all believers to become one, just as he and his father were one (John 17:20-23). Jesus used the phrase become perfectly one to describe the kind of union he was expecting. One of the Greek words that was used, teleioo (tel-i-oˊ-o) means “to complete, make perfect by reaching the intended goal” (G5048). This word suggests that our will is also a factor in God’s plan of salvation and that our decision to follow Christ is just as important as God’s predestination with regards to being adopted into his family. When Jesus saw a paralyzed man lying by the pool of Bethesda, he asked him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). The man gave the excuse that he had no one to put him into the pool when the water was stirred and then, “Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed and walk’” (John 5:7-8).

Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost clearly stated that it was God’s will for Jesus to die for the sins of the world, but God was able to raise him up afterward because death had no power over him. Peter said, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24). The Greek word that is translated definite in Acts 2:23, horizo (hor-idˊ-zo) is one of the root words of proorizo, the word that is translated predestined in Ephesians 1:5, 11 and Romans 8:29-30. Horizo is derived from the word horion (horˊ-ee-on) which specifies “(a bound or limit); a boundary-line, i.e. (by implication) a frontier (region)…the border of a country or district” (G3725). Peter depicted Jesus’ crucifixion as combination of God’s predestination and man’s free will. Even though Jesus was boxed in so to speak by his destiny to go to the cross, the responsibility for his crucifixion fell on the shoulders of mankind.

Paul linked together the issues of man’s predestination and his free-will in his message to the men of Athens. Paul said of God:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:26-31)

Paul implied in his message to the men of Athens that the determination of the boundaries of every nation were a part of God’s plan of salvation and that they were meant to facilitate the outcome of predestination.

Paul indicated that God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world and that Jesus was appointed as the instrument of God’s judgment (Acts 17:31). Paul also said that God has given assurance to all by raising Jesus from the dead. The Greek word that is translated assurance, pistis (pisˊ-tis) is “a technical term indicative of the means of appropriating what God in Christ has for man, resulting in the transformation of man’s character and way of life…especially reliance upon Christ for salvation” (G4102). Pistis is also translated as belief and faith. “Pistis is conviction of the truth of anything, belief; of a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it. It is related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ; to Christ with a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God” (G4102, SEEC). Essentially, what God did when he raised Jesus from the dead was give everyone something specific to believe about him that was related to their own salvation. God raised Jesus from the dead; therefore, I am able to believe that God will raise me from the dead, if I am adopted into his family.

Spiritual sacrifices

The Apostle Peter used the metaphor of a spiritual house to describe the structure that the whole body of believers forms as a collective unit (1 Peter 2:5). Peter stated, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). The terms Peter used, living stones, spiritual house, and spiritual sacrifices all pointed to the temple that was the focal point of the Jewish religion. Paul touched on this in his letter to the Corinthians when he addressed the topic of divisions in the church. Paul stated:

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you, are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:1-17)

Paul indicated that building up the body of Christ was a joint effort that no one person could take credit for and said that each person’s work will be tested to see if it was done through human or spiritual effort. Peter may have described believers as living stones because of the effect of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the active nature of God’s word in the human heart. The Greek word that is translated spiritual in 1 Peter 2:5, pneumatikos (phyoo-mat-ik-os’) is used to describe things “pertaining to or proceeding from the Holy Spirit. Of persons who are spiritual, i.e. enlightened by the Holy Spirit, enjoying the influences, graces, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (G4152).

Peter stated:

For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Peter 2:6-8)

The word that Peter was referring to was most likely the Ten Commandments that were communicated directly to the Israelites from God on Mount Sinai shortly after they were delivered from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 19-20). The Greek term that is translated word in 1 Peter 2:8, logos (log’-os) was used by the Apostle John to identify Jesus as an eternal being that was present at the beginning of creation. John stated, “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” (John 1:1-3). Peter indicated that those who disobey the word of God were destined to do so and Paul’s letter to the Ephesians revealed that the destiny of every person was established before the foundation of the world. Paul stated, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Peter indicated that the spiritual house that was being built up by believers was “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). By definition, spiritual sacrifices have to do with God’s divine influence upon the heart. The Greek word “pneumatikos always connotes the ideas of invisibility and of power. It does not occur in the Old Testament or in the Gospels; it is in fact an after-Pentecost word” (G4152). Peter most likely used the term spiritual sacrifices to differentiate between the kind of sacrifices that are made according to our own will and those that are made according to God’s will. When believers offer spiritual sacrifices they are supposed to be doing things that please God. When Jesus was baptized by John, “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). Likewise, when Jesus was transfigured, “a voice from the cloud said, ‘this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 17:5). The Greek word that is translated well pleased, eudokeo (yoo-dok-eh’-o) means to approve of an act and stresses “the willingness and freedom of an intention or resolve regarding what is good” (G2106).

Peter linked the spiritual sacrifices of believers to God’s original plan to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Peter said, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). After the Israelites entered the wilderness and camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses went up to God and “The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:3-6). God’s stipulation that the people obey his voice and keep his covenant was what led to the downfall of the nation of Israel. Peter was letting believers know that they were taking the place of the Israelites that were originally called to serve God. The key to our success being obedience to God’s word.

God described the nation of Israel as his “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). The Hebrew word cegullah “signifies ‘property’ in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves” (H5459). The descriptors “a kingdom of priests” and “a holy nation” suggest that the kingdom of heaven centers around the spiritual sacrifices of God’s people which are dependent on faith in Jesus Christ. Peter said, “So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:7). Jesus also quoted Psalm 118:22-23 after he told the parable of the tenants to the chief priests who wanted to know where his authority came from. Matthew 21:38-44 states:

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated people in Matthew 21:43 is ethnos (eth’-nos). Ethnos is derived from the word etho (eth’-o) which means “to be accustomed”, signifying a custom or a particular way of doing things (G1486). Ethnos has to do with human nature and in the sense of people producing fruits it refers to born again Christians who are walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Paul contrasted the works of the flesh with the works of the Spirit and said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Ten Commandments were meant to restrain the Israelites from what Paul described as the works of the flesh. Paul said, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, disensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21). The goal was to make the Israelites a holy nation, but without the help of the Holy Spirit. When the LORD came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with the people directly (Exodus 19:11, 20:1), the people were afraid of him and couldn’t process the information he was communicating to them because they were spiritually dead (Exodus 20:18-19). One of the primary issues that prevented the Israelites from connecting with God was that they couldn’t approach him unless they were consecrated, which meant that they had to be cleansed from all of their sins (H6942). In other words, they needed to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, something that was impossible on a large scale until after Jesus died and was resurrected.

Exodus 20:1-17 records the discourse that took place between God and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments were in essence a brief synopsis of the rules that God expected his chosen people to follow. They were as follows:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness.
  10. You shall not covet. 

After hearing these commandments, the people told Moses they didn’t want God to speak to them directly (Exodus 20:19). It says in Exodus 20:22, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven.” The point the LORD was making was that he had already communicated all that was necessary for him to establish his covenant with the people of Israel. He didn’t need to say anything else to them.

The people of Israel understood that the essence of spiritual sacrifice was contained within the Ten Commandments. Hundreds of years later, when Jesus was teaching his disciples the principles of the kingdom of heaven, he was asked to identify “the great commandment in the Law” (Matthew 22:36). Essentially, what the lawyer wanted to know was which of the Ten Commandments was most likely to be broken by every person and would therefore cause everyone in the whole world to go to hell. Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). The two commandments that Jesus identified were similar in that they both focused on loving others. Jesus likely emphasized that we need to love God with all of our being because we tend to hold back certain parts of ourselves in order to keep a safe distance between us and our Creator. The fact that we are expected to love our neighbor as ourselves suggests that in the spiritual realm there are no boundaries between one soul and another. That’s why we must act like we are responsible for everyone’s happiness.

Shortly before his death, Jesus prayed that all believers would be united in the same way that he was with his Father (John 17:11). Jesus prayed, “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 have loved me” (John 17:22-23). The Greek words that are translated “become perfectly one,” teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) eis (ice) heis (hice) and o (o) refer to the joining together that Peter and Paul talked about when they said that believers are to be built up (1 Peter 2:5, Ephesians 4:16). The Greek word oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o) means to be a house-builder and oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) refers to architecture. Peter and Paul likely used these words to convey the process of edification because believers are joined together in a systematic way that results in an enduring structure somewhat like a home that is passed on from generation to generation which can be remodeled as needed. Peter’s depiction of a spiritual house that was built using living stones (1 Peter 2:5) was probably meant to convey the idea of a community that is in constant motion. If you look at the kingdom of heaven as a state of being as opposed to a physical space that has occupants, you might see that spiritual sacrifices are ones that go beyond the boundaries of physical life and deal with the immaterial needs of human beings.

Jesus’ attempt to convince a rich young man that he didn’t need all the possessions he was depending on was most likely hindered by the young man’s image of the kingdom of heaven as a place that was luxurious and designed to provide comfort. Matthew’s gospel states, “And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible'” (Matthew 19:16-26).

Jesus indicated there is only one who is good (Matthew 19:17) and suggested that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven one must be perfect (Matthew 19:21). His disciples realized that it would be impossible for anyone to meet God’s standard because giving away one’s possessions went against the very core of human nature. Jesus’ statement, “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) was meant to point out that God doesn’t expect us to go against our nature, but provides a way for us to do what is humanly impossible. Jesus went on to tell them a parable about laborers in a vineyard in order to show them that it wasn’t a matter of giving things up that hinders people from serving God, but the expectation that God will reward our spiritual sacrifices according to how long or hard we work for him. In the parable, everyone was paid the same wages even though some worked all day and others just one hour. Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). In other words, God’s goodness isn’t controlled by our human efforts to please him. It is only when we do God’s will that we receive rewards in heaven.