The choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greek word Hagios is sometimes translated as saints, a term that is used throughout the Bible to refer to God’s chosen people (Deuteronomy 33:3; Psalms 16:3; Daniel 7:18; Acts 9:32; Ephesians 1:1; Revelation 5:8, KJV). Hagios is also translated as Holy and is used to refer to God as the Holy Spirit. Paul designated the work of the Holy Spirit in believers as renewal and said, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6). Regeneration and renewal refer to different aspects of a single event that Jesus referred to as being born again (John 3:3). Regeneration “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth.” Renewal, “by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The adulteress

A character that appears throughout the Bible and is key in understanding the struggle between good and evil is the adulteress. The seventh of the Ten Commandments states, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Although adultery was typically associated with women that broke wedlock (H5003), the Mosaic Law indicated that both the man and the woman were to be punished for the sin of adultery. Leviticus 20:10 states, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” King Solomon warned the people of Israel about the dangers of committing adultery. Solomon said, “Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul” (Proverbs 6:32, NKJV). The Hebrew word that is translated understanding, leb (labe) means “the heart.” In the Hebrew language, “The heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820). From that standpoint, a man that lacks understanding might be described as someone that doesn’t know God or a person that is not open to the influence of the Holy Spirit. Solomon said whoever commits adultery “destroys his own soul” (Proverbs 6:32, NKJV). The soul like the heart is associated with the inner person. “The soul of man, that immaterial part, which moves into the after life [the body is buried and decomposes] needs atonement to enter into God’s presence upon death” (H5315). The destruction of the soul doesn’t mean that committing adultery will cause your soul to be dissolved by death or that your soul will be extinguished by some other means. The soul is immortal and was designed for everlasting life (G5590), but it can be ruined or you might say completely corrupted to the point that it is no longer useful to God and Solomon said committing adultery is one of the ways that can happen.

Solomon’s warning against the adulteress began with some advice about how to avoid being taken in by her flattery. Solomon said:

My son, keep my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you;
keep my commandments and live;
    keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
bind them on your fingers;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
    and call insight your intimate friend,
to keep you from the forbidden woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words. (Proverbs 7:1-5)

Solomon suggested binding the commandments on your fingers as well as writing them on the tablet of your heart. What Solomon was talking about was using memory devices to keep the Ten Commandments at the forefront of your mind. It’s probably not a coincidence that God gave the Israelites Ten Commandments and ten fingers that they could use to remember them.

Solomon also referred to the adulteress as “the forbidden woman” (Proverbs 7:5). The Hebrew word Solomon used, zuwr (zoor) means “to turn aside (especially for lodging)” (H2114). Solomon later described the forbidden woman as being, “dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart” (Proverbs 7:10). In this instance, Solomon used a word for committing adultery that is associated with idolatry (H2181). The Hebrew word zanah (zaw-nawˊ) “means ‘to go a whoring, commit fornication, be a harlot, serve other gods.’ This is the regular term denoting prostitution throughout the history of Hebrew, with special nuances coming out of the religious experience of ancient Israel. It is used for the first time in the text at the conclusion of the story of the rape of Dinah by Shechem, as her brothers excuse their revenge by asking: ‘Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?’ While the term means ‘to commit fornication,’ whether by male or by female, it is to be noted that it is almost never used to describe sexual misconduct on the part of a male in the Old Testament. Part of the reason lies in the differing attitude in ancient Israel concerning sexual activity by men and women. The main reason, however, is the fact that this term is used most frequently to describe ‘spiritual prostitution’ in which Israel turned from God to strange gods” (H2181).

When God renewed his covenant with Israel, after they had made a golden calf and worshipped it (Exodus 32:1-6), he warned the people about spiritual prostitution. God said:

“Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.” (Exodus 34:10-16)

God identifies himself in this passage with the name Jealous and tells Moses that he “is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). The word jealous has a somewhat negative connotation, but “God is not tainted with the negative connotation of the verb. His holiness does not tolerate competitors or those who sin against him” (H7065). God’s jealousy is associated with a consuming fire that destroys whatever is opposed to his holiness (Deuteronomy 4:23-24), but the driving force behind God’s jealousy is the perfect love that caused him to sacrifice his only begotten Son in order to pay the penalty for our sins (John 3:16). The Song of Solomon 8:6-7 depicts the zealousness of God’s love and his desire for it to be reciprocated by others. It states:

Place me like a seal over your heart,
    like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
    its jealousy as enduring as the grave.
Love flashes like fire,
    the brightest kind of flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
    nor can rivers drown it.
If a man tried to buy love
    with all his wealth,
    his offer would be utterly scorned. (NLT)

Solomon’s description of love as something that flashes like a fire, the brightest kind of flame (Song of Solomon 8:6) makes it clear that God’s passion for his people is not just the result of a strong emotional attachment, but also an enduring devotion that cannot be quenched.

Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s love for them when he instructed them to obey his commandments and to remain faithful to his covenant. Moses said:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today. And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-13)

The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love in Deuteronomy 7:9 and 7:12, chesed (khehˊ-sed) is one of the most important terms in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. “In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel)…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law” (H2617).

The seriousness of worshipping other gods is demonstrated in the sin’s punishment of stoning the person to death. Deuteronomy 17:2-6 states:

“If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.”

Throughout the Old Testament the Israelites demonstrated their unwillingness to be faithful to God. Even Solomon, who was in many ways the most successful king over Israel, was involved in idolatry (1 Kings 11:4-8). The prophet Hosea, whose ministry extended from about 770 to 725 BC, was called to exemplify the relationship between God and Israel through his marriage to a harlot (Introduction to the book of Hosea). Hosea 3:1 states, “And the LORD said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”

Solomon’s depiction of the adulteress indicated that she was making an intention effort to lead others astray. Solomon said:

For at the window of my house
    I have looked out through my lattice,
and I have seen among the simple,
    I have perceived among the youths,
    a young man lacking sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
    taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
    at the time of night and darkness.

And behold, the woman meets him,
    dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.
She is loud and wayward;
    her feet do not stay at home;
now in the street, now in the market,
    and at every corner she lies in wait. (Proverbs 7:6-12)

Solomon used several words in this passage that are associated with spiritual activity. The young man that went to meet the adulteress was lacking sense; his heart was not open to the influence of the Holy Spirit (H3820). The young man was passing along the street near her corner; he had crossed over the boundary of right and entered the forbidden land of the wrong (H5674). The young man was taking the road to her house; he participated in the adulteress’ life-style (H1870) and the young man went “in the evening, at the time of night and darkness” (Proverbs 7:9); he intended to relinquish his spiritual protection and keep what he was doing a secret (H3915/H653).

Solomon portrayed the young man’s decision to commit adultery as being trapped in a life or death situation and cautioned him against taking that first step. Solomon said:

With much seductive speech she persuades him;
    with her smooth talk she compels him.
All at once he follows her,
    as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
    till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
    he does not know that it will cost him his life.

And now, O sons, listen to me,
    and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
    do not stray into her paths,
for many a victim has she laid low,
    and all her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is the way to Sheol,
    going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:21-27)

Solomon referred to the words the adulteress used to convince the young man to do what she wanted him to as seductive speech and smooth talk. The essence of these types of communication is that they are easy to listen to, what you might call ticking your fancy or making you feel good about yourself, but it is clear that Solomon was concerned about the effect of adulteress’ words on the young man’s spiritual perception.

The underlying message of Solomon’s warning against committing adultery was the spiritual prostitution that believers become susceptible to when they listen to false teaching about God’s word. The Hebrew word that is translated seductive speech in Proverbs 7:21, leqach (lehˊ-kakh) “means teaching; instruction; persuasiveness; understanding, in the sense of something taken in” (H3948). An issue that came up at the time of Moses death was how the people would know if they were being lied to. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 states, “’But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” “The existence of prophets during the period of the monarchy necessitated a means by which to distinguish between a true prophet and a false one. Turbulent times, during which the people wanted to hear words of hope and security, produced outbreaks of prophets for hire and seers with optimistic lies. Shortly after Judah started going into exile in Babylon, but before the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah and Ezekiel had to contend with a rash of charlatans, upon whom they issued stern denunciations (Jeremiah 23:9-40; Ezekiel 13:1-23)” (note on Deuteronomy 18:20-22).

Moses told the people of Israel that God would raise up a prophet to take his place, someone that they could trust who would assure them of spiritual success. Moses told the Israelites, “And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:17-19). “The identity of this unnamed prophet is not revealed anywhere in the Old Testament. By Jesus’ day, the Jews had developed a clear expectation of a figure that would fulfill Moses’ words. Priests and Levites from Jerusalem asked John the Baptist if he was ‘the prophet,’ and he denied it (John 1:21). Peter identified ‘the prophet’ as a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 3:22, 23)” (note on Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Jesus fulfilled the test of a true prophet in that he predicted his own death and resurrection and it happened exactly as he said it would.

Jesus’ compassion toward a woman that was caught in the act of adultery showed that God was not so much interested in punishing the sinner as he was revealing the hardened condition of the religious experts’ hearts. John’s gospel 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 scribes and Pharisees wanted Jesus to condemn the woman who had been caught in adultery, but he wouldn’t do it. Instead, “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground” (John 8:6). The King James Version of the Bible states in John 8:9, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” No one knows what Jesus wrote on the ground, but whatever it was, it caused everyone in the crowd to be convicted by their own conscience. Although it seemed at first that the adulteress was a wicked sinner that deserved to be put to death, it turned out that no one was able to condemn her and so, Jesus liberated her from the power and punishment of her sin (G1659).

Led astray

Moses’ summarization of the law in the book of Deuteronomy was focused on a key commandment that was intended to guide the Israelites into a successful relationship with God. What Jesus referred to as the greatest commandment is recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which states, “Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  In order to love the LORD and obey his commandments, Moses pointed out that the people needed to deal with the hardened condition of their hearts. Moses said, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD which I am commanding you today for your good?…Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:12-16). The Israelites had quickly established a pattern of turning away from the LORD because of a rebellious heart (Deuteronomy 9:12) and were susceptible to being led astray by the people that occupied the land that God intended to give them (Numbers 25:1-5), so Moses commanded them to circumcise their hearts, which meant they needed to open themselves up to God’s spiritual influence and pay attention to the things they were doing that were not consistent with the Ten Commandments.

Moses warned the people of Israel about following the example of the nations around them. He said:

“When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:29-31)

Moses indicated that following the religious practices of other nations was a trap that the Israelites needed to be careful to avoid. The Hebrew word that is translated ensnared, yaqosh (yaw-koshˊ) “always refers figuratively to the catching of a person in an undesirable situation” (H3369). Moses’ statement, “they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:31) was intended to point out that idolatry was a dangerous path to follow because of its association with the depravity of the human heart.

Moses went on to identify three scenarios that were associated with the people being led astray. The first scenario involved the LORD testing of the Israelites’ faith. Moses said:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4)

Testing does not always suggest tempting or enticing someone to sin. The Hebrew word nasah (naw-sawˊ) also means “to try, to prove” (H5254). The purpose of a spiritual test could be to strengthen one’s faith. In the situation where a prophet was able to perform a sign that indicated he had been sent by God, but told the people to serve other gods, the message was to be disregarded because the first of God’s Ten Commandments stated “You shall have no other gods before me” (Deuteronomy 5:7). The Ten Commandments were authoritative and set a precedence for everything else that was in the Mosaic Law. Moses said, “But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your god who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk” (Deuteronomy 13:5-5).

Leaving the way was a habit that the Israelites established early in their relationship with the LORD. Moses reminded the people before they entered the Promised Land that they didn’t deserve God’s blessing. Moses said, “Know therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD” (Deuteronomy 9:6-7). The Hebrew word that is translated rebellion in Deuteronomy 13:5, sarah (saw-rawˊ) means “apostasy” (H5627). In simple terms, apostasy is a false teaching that is intended to undermine one’s faith in God. The result is a lack of confidence in God’s word and a tendency to look for the answers to life’s problems in other places. The phrase leave the way comes from two Hebrew words, nadach (naw-kakhˊ) derek (dehˊ-rek) that together convey the root cause of most sin, getting off on the wrong track. Among the laws for sin offerings that were identified in Leviticus 4 were sins that were committed unintentionally (Leviticus 4:2). An unintentional sin was one that was considered to be a mistake or one that was committed through ignorance of God’s laws (H7684). The Hebrew word that is translated sins unintentionally in Leviticus 4:13, shagah (shaw-gawˊ) means “to stray” (H7686).

The Hebrew word shagah appears three times in Proverbs 5 which focuses on the sin of adultery. Proverbs 5:1-6 states:

My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
    incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
    and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
    sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
    her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
    her ways wander, and she does not know it.

The adulteress or forbidden woman as she is referred to in Proverbs 5:3 does not know what she is doing and is therefore a danger to those around her. Proverbs 5:5 states, “Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol.” The son is warned to stay far away from her (Proverbs 5:8) and to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). In this particular instance, shagah is translated twice as intoxicated and at the end of the proverb as led astray. Speaking to the son about the wife of his youth, the proverb states:

Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
    be intoxicated always in her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
    and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
    and he ponders all his paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
    and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
    and because of his great folly he is led astray. (Proverbs 5:19-23)

The illustration of being intoxicated with love makes it clear that being led astray is associated with having an emotional response to a pleasurable situation. It could also have something to do with being open to the influence of another person.

The second scenario that Moses presented to the Israelites about being led astray had to do with people that were close to them, members of their own households. Moses said:

“If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 13:6-10)

The extreme response of stoning to death a member of your own family shows that the influence of a person that is close to you can be a significant threat to your spiritual well-being. If a loved one tries to turn you away from the LORD, it seems likely that he or she will succeed.

The final scenario that Moses talked about had to do with the corruption of an entire city. Moses said:

“If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to dwell there, that certain worthless fellows have gone out among you and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently. And behold, if it be true and certain that such an abomination has been done among you, you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword.” (Deuteronomy 13:12-15)

Devoting a city to destruction was an indicator of the severe judgment of God. It was important that the Israelites keep themselves separated from things that were devoted to destruction (Deuteronomy 13:17) because they were considered to be a deadly threat to the formation of God’s people. (H2764).

Moses referred to the Israelites as “the sons of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 14:1) and said, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2). The Hebrew word that is translated sons is ben (bane) which generally refers to a son as “the direct male offspring of human parents,” but ben is also a relational term that can express an adopted child (H1121). The Israelites’ special role as the chosen people of God was intended to be a testimony to rest of the world of not only God’s existence, but also his involvement in the affairs of men. The Israelites’ obedience and loyalty to the LORD their God was a critical pieces of God’s plan of salvation. By the time Jesus was born, the Israelites’ sacrificial system had been perfected, but the people seemed to be completely ignorant of what their religious practices actually meant.

Jesus continually criticized the religious leaders of his day for leading people astray. On one occasion, Jesus pronounced seven woes on the scribes and Pharisees because they were abusing their power. Jesus said, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2-4). The sharp contrast between the Pharisees’ teaching and their day-to-day activities showed that they were faking their devotion to God. Jesus said to them:

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:13-15)

The phrase child of hell was likely intended to convey the distinction between a person that had a relationship with God and a person that did not have a relationship with God. The people of Israel thought that being a descendant of Abraham guaranteed them access into the kingdom of heaven, but Jesus pointed out that a relationship with God was required. Jesus told the Jews:

I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “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 8:37-47)

Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees was followed by a sermon that focused on a period of time that he referred to as the end of the age. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:3-14)

Jesus indicated that one of the signs of the end of the age was that his followers would be led astray, just as the Israelites were.

The Book of Hebrews contains warnings against apostasy and advice for believers that want to keep themselves from being led astray. It states:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 5:11-6:6)

According to Paul, the safest way for believers to keep themselves from being led astray is to have your “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). The phrase powers of discernment refers to spiritual perception and suggests that the only way we are able to distinguish good from evil is by training our minds to do so on a regular basis. In order to do that, Paul said that we must “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). The Greek word that is translated go on, phero (ferˊ-o) 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 and ministered by Him” (G5342). Jesus explained the Greek word phero in the context of bearing spiritual fruit and said in his parable of the sower, “other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding (phero) thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:8). Jesus later revealed to his disciples the secret of yielding spiritual fruit; when you hear the word of God, you must accept it as the truth (Mark 4:20).

Walking with the Lord

The Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho (Numbers 33:1-49) from a physical standpoint should have taken them about eleven days (Deuteronomy 1:2), but it took the people of Israel forty years to get there because of their rebellion against the LORD. As they prepared to cross over the Jordan and enter the land that God had promised to give them, Moses instructed the Israelites to take care lest they forget the LORD, who had brought them out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 6:12). Using a spiritual metaphor to illustrate his point, Moses said, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Moses wanted the people to remove the hardness from their heart so that they could love God the way they needed to in order to follow his commands (H4135). The Hebrew words that are translated stubborn, qashah (kaw-shawˊ) ʿaraph (aw-rafʿ) have to do with the people’s resistance to worship God wholeheartedly (7185/6203). Because the LORD had gone to great lengths to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Moses said, “You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always” (Deuteronomy 11:1).

Moses associated keeping God’s commandments with spiritual strength. He said:

“For your eyes have seen all the great work of the Lord that he did. You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess, and that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 11:7-9)

The Hebrew word chazaq (khaw-zakˊ) is used to describe both obstinate and courageous behavior. It represents moral strength combined with physical in the context of spiritual warfare (H2388) and is used in conjunction with the word ʾamats (aw-matsˊ) to convey the attributes that were necessary for the Israelites’ to obtain victory over their enemies (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Moses went on to spell out the specifics of the blessing that the Israelites would receive if they obeyed God’s commandments and the result of turning away from him. He said:

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 11:13-17)

Moses cautioned the people about their hearts being deceived. He used the word shamar (shaw-marˊ), which means “’to keep’ in the sense of ‘tending’ and taking care of” (H8104), to indicate that the people had to make an intentional effort to keep their hearts from being deceived. Shamar also means “’to keep’ in the sense of saving or retaining.” From that standpoint, taking care of our heart might mean that we keep our relationship with the Lord in the forefront of our minds at all times so that we don’t do something that might compromise our walk with the Lord. The Hebrew word that is translated deceived, pathah (paw-thawˊ) means “to be open, i.e be (causative make) roomy; used figuratively (in a mental or moral sense) to be (causative make) simple or (in a sinister way) delude (H6601). The idea that our hearts can be open or roomy may have something to do with outside influences wanting to make themselves at home in our thought processes. In addition to deceived (Deuteronomy 11:16), pathah is also translated as entice (Judges 14:15, 16:5). Pathah appears in Exodus 22:16 where it states, “If a man seduces (pathah) a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.”

Moses used the phrase turn aside to describe what happens when our hearts are deceived. He said, “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them” (Deuteronomy 11:16). The Hebrew word that is translated turn aside, suwr (soor) means “to turn off’ both literally and figuratively (H5493). Suwr is translated depart in Hosea 9:12 where the LORD says, “Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them!” In this context, to turn aside means that the relationship is broken or you might say communication has been turned off. Moses encouraged the people of Israel to not let this happen in their relationship with the LORD. Moses stated:

For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours. Your territory shall be from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the western sea. No one shall be able to stand against you. The Lord your God will lay the fear of you and the dread of you on all the land that you shall tread, as he promised you. (Deuteronomy 11:22-25)

Moses made it clear that obedience to God’s commandments was a condition of his blessing. In addition to that particular requirement, Moses said that the Israelites must also love the LORD their God, walk in all his ways, and hold fast to him (Deuteronomy 11:22). Loving the LORD and holding fast to him are similar in that there is an attachment that is being maintained, love representing an emotional attachment (H157), and holding fast a physical attachment (H1692). In Genesis 2:24, dabaq (daw-bakˊ) is translated cleave (KJV) in connection with Adam and Eve being husband and wife and becoming “one flesh.”

Jesus talked about him and his followers becoming one with each other and with his Father shortly before his death. Jesus said to God, the Father, “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 went on to say, “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 they you have sent me. The glory that you have given to 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 his followers be one, even as he was one with his Father, and described the resulting relationship as, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (John 17:23). The spiritual unity that Jesus was asking his Father for had to do with the way that God’s kingdom operates in the world. The Apostle Paul talked about spiritual unity in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…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, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

Paul indicated that spiritual unity is maintained “in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The Greek word that is translated bond, sundesmos (soonˊ-des-mos) is derived from the words sun (soon) which denotes “union; with or together, i.e. by association, companionship, etc.” (G4862) and desmon (des-monˊ) which means “a band, i.e. ligament (of the body) or shackle (of a prisoner); figurative an impediment or disability” (G1199). Paul used the word desmon four times in the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians where he talked about being thankful for the opportunity he had been given to preach the gospel while imprisoned in Rome. Paul wrote:

But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds (desmon) in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds (desmon), are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds (desmon): but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:12-18, KJV)

Paul said that his bonds in Christ were manifest in all the palace. What Paul meant by that was that everyone knew about his relationship with the Lord and that Paul had been imprisoned because he wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul went on to say, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:1-2). The Greek word that is translated participation is koinonia (koy-nohn-eeˊ-ah), which speaks of participation in what is derived from the Holy Spirit and of having “fellowship with the Father and Son” (G4862). Paul also used the Greek word sumpsuchos (soomˊ-psoo-khos) which is translated in full accord and means “co-spirited” (G4861). The underlying message in Paul’s letter to the Philippians was that Paul believed he had achieved the oneness that was eluded to in Jesus’ high priestly prayer through his imprisonment in Rome and he was encouraging the Philippians to join him in his reckless abandonment to Christ in order that as Jesus had prayed to his Father, “they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23)

Moses’ instruction to the Israelites to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, and to hold fast to him (Deuteronomy 11:22), was intended to be a uniting principle that would keep the people of Israel bound together throughout their conquest of the Promised Land. Walking in all the ways of the LORD meant that the people would go God’s way instead of their own. Moses said, “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes, for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance that the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 12:8-9). Moses indicated that up to that point, everyone had been doing whatever was right in their own eyes, meaning that the people were not following the Ten Commandments. The rest that Moses was referring to had to do with the people of Israel peacefully occupying the land that God had given them. The Hebrew word shalom (shaw-lomeˊ) “signifies a state in which one can feel at ease, completely comfortable with someone. The relationship is one of harmony and wholeness, which is the opposite of the state of strife and war…Shalom also signifies ‘peace’ indicative of a prosperous relationship between two or more parties” (H7965).

The people of Israel never came to a state of rest because they were always at odds with God’s way of doing things. The prophet Amos exposed the Israelites’ guilt when he said to them:

Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel—against the entire family I rescued from Egypt:

“From among all the families on the earth,
    I have been intimate with you alone.
That is why I must punish you
    for all your sins.”

Can two people walk together
    without agreeing on the direction? (Amos 3:1-3, NLT)

The Hebrew word that is translated together, yachad (yakhˊ-ad) is properly translated as “a unit” (H3162). Yachad is derived from the word yachad (yaw-khadˊ) which means “to be (or become) one” (H3161).

Moses let the people of Israel know that they had a choice. They could choose to walk with the Lord and receive his blessing or they could choose to walk in the ways of the world. Moses said, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). The way that Moses was referring to when he said, “Turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today” can be thought of as a road or a pathway that has been prepared for you. The Hebrew word derek (dehˊ-rek) is used figuratively of “a course of life or mode of action…This noun represents a ‘distance’ (how far or how long) between two points” (H1870). In the book of Jeremiah, derek is used to signify the overall course and fixed path of one’s life, or his “destiny.” Jeremiah said, “I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course” (Jeremiah 10:23, NLT).

Proverbs 3 tells us that we should trust in the LORD with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) and it goes on to say, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:6). A straight path is what you might think of as a direct route, there are no detours or roadblocks on it (H3474). On the other hand, a crooked path is one that is distorted. The road might seem like it will get you to your destination, but you may actually be headed down a dead end street. Proverbs 4:19 states, “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” The Hebrew word that is translate stumble, kashal (kaw-shalˊ) “is often used figuratively to describe the consequences of divine judgment on sin” (H3782). The fact that the wicked do not know what has caused them to stumble suggests that they are unaware of God’s commandments, but the Hebrew word that is translated darkness, aphelah (af-ay-lawˊ) is associated with dusk, the period of time that is in between day and night. Jesus contrasted darkness with light and said, “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). Jesus later added, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (John 11:9-10). According to the Lord, the key to not stumbling is walking in the light or more specifically, to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Proverbs 4 instructs believers to “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23) and tells us to “ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure” (Proverbs 4:26). Pondering the path of our feet might also be expressed as, consider which road you’re traveling on or determine which direction you’re headed. The important thing for you to know is whether or not you are walking in the ways of the LORD (Deuteronomy 11:22) or you are doing whatever is right in your own eyes (Deuteronomy 12:8). In his letter to the Romans, Paul talked about walking with the Lord in the context of being dead to sin and alive to God. Paul asked, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-4).

The tablets of your heart

The way that we think of our hearts as an organ that pumps blood throughout our bodies is correct from a materialistic perspective, but the Bible has a different view of the heart’s primary function. The Hebrew word leb (labe) indicates that “the heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself.” In some instances, “Leb is used of the man himself, or his personality (Genesis 17:17)” and from a spiritual perspective, “the heart could be regarded as the seat of knowledge and wisdom and as a synonym of ‘mind’ when ‘heart’ appears with the verb ‘to know.’” The heart encompasses some of the activities that we typically associate with the brain. “Memory is the activity of the heart (Job 22:22),” but it goes beyond that and may even be “the seat of conscience and moral character.” The Bible tells us that “God controls the heart” and he is able to give us “a new one (Ezekiel 36:26).” The heart can also be thought of as a source of expression, it “stands for the inner being of man, the man himself, and is the fountain of all he does (Proverbs 4:4). All his thoughts, desires, words, and actions flow from deep within him. Yet a man cannot understand his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9)” (H3820).

The first appearance of the word leb in the Bible is in Genesis 6:5-6 where it says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” In these verses we are told that God also has a heart and that it is the source or you might say the motivation for his spiritual activity. The Hebrew word that is translated intention in Genesis 6:5, yetser (yayˊ-tser) has to do with creation and is figuratively thought of as conception. Yetser is derived from the word yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) which means “to mould into a form; especially as a potter; (figurative) to determine (i.e. form a resolution)” (H3335). A word that appears to be identical with yatsar means “to press (intransitive), i.e. be narrow; (figurative) be in distress” (H3334). The fact that the intention of the thoughts of men’s hearts was only evil continually after sin entered into the world indicates that the situation was hopeless. God wanted to give up on his creation (Genesis 6:6), but instead he started working out a way for people to be saved from the wickedness that is inherent in our fallen human nature.

The book of Job shows us that spiritual conflict is the result of Satan’s intervention in the lives of godly people. Although Job was described as “a blameless and upright man” (Job 1:8), God allowed Satan to afflict Job in order to prove that his devotion was sincere. During the process, Job’s friends tried to convince him that his wickedness was great and that he deserved to be punished (Job 22:1-11). Eliphaz the Temanite suggested to Job, “Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you. Receive instruction from his mouth, and lay up his words in your heart” (Job 22:21-22). In his defense, Job stated:

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
    and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
    he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
My foot has held fast to his steps;
    I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
    I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
    What he desires, that he does.
For he will complete what he appoints for me,
    and many such things are in his mind.
Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
    when I consider, I am in dread of him.
God has made my heart faint;
    the Almighty has terrified me;
yet I am not silenced because of the darkness,
    nor because thick darkness covers my face.” (Job 23:8-17)

Job thought that God had made his heart faint and that the Almighty had terrified him (Job 23:16), but in actuality, it was Satan that was responsible for the tragedies that Job experienced (Job 1:13-19, 2:7). Job knew that he needed to keep God’s commandments and also said that he had stored up God’s word as if it was necessary for his continued existence (Job 23:12), but the result Job got from his effort was not what he expected (Job 24:22-25).

Psalm 37 offers advice to those of us that feel God has abandoned or rejected us even though we have been doing the right things. It states:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:1-4)

Putting our trust in the Lord is a part of the process that we go through to be saved. The Greek word peitho (piˊ-tho) “in the active voice, signifies ‘to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over; to persuade,’ bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations” (G3982). The Greek word pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence, hence it is translated ‘commit unto’, ‘commit to one’s trust’, ‘be committed unto’” (G4100). “Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter, cf. Hebrews 3:18-19, where the disobedience of the Israelites is said to be the evidence of their unbelief. Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God” (G3982).

Proverbs 3:5-6 indicates that trust is an activity of the heart. Solomon instructed us to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” The Hebrew word that is translated acknowledge, yada (yaw-dahˊ) has to do with knowing someone both relationally and experientially. One of the most important uses of the word yada is “depicting God’s knowledge of people: The Lord knows their hearts entirely (Exodus 33:12; 2 Samuel 7:20; Psalm 139:4; Jeremiah 17:9; Hosea 5:3)” (H3045). Jesus’ knowledge of the Pharisees hearts caused him to rebuke them on numerous occasions. In one instance, Jesus indicated that they had committed an unpardonable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32). Jesus asserted that the words we speak are an indicator of the condition of our hearts and said of the Pharisees, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35).

The book of Hebrews reveals that the Israelites never entered into the kind of relationship that God wanted to have with them because their hearts were hardened (Hebrews 3:8-9). The term that was used to describe the condition of the Israelites’ hearts was an “unbelieving” heart (Hebrews 3:12). The Greek word that is translated harden in Hebrews 3:8 is skleruno (sklay-rooˊ-no). “This word stresses that the nape of the neck stiffens and thus renders the head in an unbending position” (G4645). This condition of the heart is illustrated in the Old Testament by Pharaoh who persistently refused to obey the LORD’s command to let his people go. It says in Exodus 7:13 that Pharaoh’s “heart was hardened.” “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (H2388).

Moses’ summarization of the Israelites’ forty year journey included some sharp rebukes because of their unbelief. Moses said:

“At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.” (Deuteronomy 9:22-24)

Moses said that the Israelites did not believe or obey the voice of God indicating that there was not only a lack of faith on their part, but also a lack of reverence toward God and yet, Moses interceded on their behalf and asked the LORD to give them a second chance. Moses prayed, “Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which you brought us say, ‘Because the LORD was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness’” (Deuteronomy 9:27-28).

The prophet Ezekiel’s message from the LORD indicated that the only way the problem of the Israelites’ hardened hearts could be fixed was to give them a new heart. The LORD told Ezekiel:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.(Ezekiel 36:22-27)

The LORD said that the Israelites’ heart of stone would be replaced with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). The Hebrew word that is translated stone in this verse is the same word that is used in Deuteronomy 10:1 in reference to the tablets of stone that God wrote the Ten Commandments on.

Moses’ account of the Israelites’ journey shifted dramatically from a materialistic perspective to a spiritual perspective when he started talking about the second writing of the Ten Commandments. Moses stated, “At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandmentsthat the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the Lord commanded me” (Deuteronomy 10:1-5). Moses emphasized the fact that everything had been done just as it had been before and that God himself wrote on the tablets, “in the same writing” (Deuteronomy 10:4), meaning that it was God’s handwriting, signifying the legality of the documents. Moses went on to specify the terms of the contract that had just been ratified. Moses said:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Moses specified five things that the LORD required. First, the people were expected to fear or reverence the LORD, “whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). Second, the people of Israel were expected to walk in all the ways of God, meaning that they were to exhibit a godly lifestyle, their behavior was supposed to be consistent with the God they served. Third, the Israelites were required to love God; they were expected to have a strong emotional attachment to him and have a desire to be in his presence. Fourth, the Israelites were required to serve the LORD with all their hearts and with all their souls. This meant that the people’s attention was to always be on the LORD and that he would be their number one priority in their daily lives. The final requirement that the people of Israel keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD was a matter of the greatest commandment (Deuteronomy 6:1-9) being evidenced in their lives. Everything that the Lord required of Israel really boiled down to whether or not the people would actually put their trust in God and believe that he was going to do what he promised to.

The stone tablets that the Ten Commandments were written on were likely meant to be representative of the Israelites’ hardened hearts. The Hebrew word that is translated tablets in Deuteronomy 10:1, luach (looˊ-akh) is used in Jeremiah 17:1 where it says, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of a diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart.” The concept of the heart being a tablet that can be engraved upon also appears in the New Testament in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3). Paul compared the Ten Commandments to a letter from Christ that was written with the Spirit of the living God, suggesting that it was possible to engrave the word of God on the human heart in the same way that God wrote the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets. The key to this process being successful might be what Moses described as the circumcision of the heart.

After Moses talked about the requirements of God’s relationship with the Israelites (Deuteronomy 10:12-13), he said, “Behold to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:14-16). When Moses commanded the Israelites to circumcise their heart, he meant that they were to “remove the hardness and to love God” (H4135). This willful act was necessary to change the condition of the people’s hearts. Paul talked about the new life that believers are expected to live in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul instructed the Ephesians to “put off the old self” and to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22-23). The Greek word that is translated put off, apotithemi (ap-ot-eethˊ-ay-mee) is derived from the word apo (apoˊ) which means “off” (G575) and tithemi (tithˊ-ay-mee) which means “to put” (G5087). Tithemi is associated with appointment to any form of service. “Christ used it of His followers.” From that standpoint circumcision of the heart or putting off the old self could mean that believers are expected to cut off any activity or relationship that interferes with their worship and/or service of God.

According to Paul, in addition to putting off the old self, it is necessary for believers to put on the new self in order for them to be able to trust in the LORD with all their hearts (Proverbs 3:5). It could be that Proverbs 3:3 is a prescription for doing just that. It states, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.” Steadfast love and faithfulness are two of the primary characteristics of God that are evident in his work of salvation. The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) “is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics…Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…The Bible prominently uses the term chesed to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within” (H2617). The Hebrew word ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth), which is translated faithfulness, means “stability” (H571) and is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ) which means to “believe.” (H539). Writing steadfast love and faithfulness on the tablet of our heart might mean that we commit to memory specific verses of the Bible that are relevant to these characteristics of God. At the end of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:23-26)

The Holy Spirit’s job is to help us understand God’s word and to remind us of the things that we’ve learned about Jesus, but he can only do that if we are committing scriptures to memory, i.e. writing them on the tablets of our heart.

The greatest commandment

Jesus’ controversial teaching enraged the religious leaders who wanted the people to see them as the authorities on Jewish religious matters. On one occasion, the chief priests and the elders directly challenged Jesus’ authority and asked him the question, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). Jesus’ response may have seemed like a clever sidestep, but it showed these men that he was not intimidated by their positions of power (Matthew 21:24-27). When he was later tested on his interpretation of the scriptures, Jesus clearly demonstrated his superior exegesis of God’s word. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “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.”

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:34-46)

Jesus’ summation of the entire written word of God into two simple commandments likely astounded his audience, but it was his understanding of the Messiah’s identity that silenced the crowd that was trying to publicly discredit him. In other words, Jesus blew them away with his incredible insight into God’s word, so much so, that the Pharisees realized they were no match for Jesus’ keen intellect.

Jesus referred to Deuteronomy 6:5 as the great and first commandment. What Jesus meant by that was that this verse of scripture takes precedence over everything else. The Greek word that is translated great, megas (megˊ-as) means “big” and is sometimes translated as higher, larger, older, profound, severe, strong, too much (G3173). The Greek word that is translated first, protos (proˊ-tos) means “foremost (in time, place, order or importance)” (G4413). Today we might refer to this verse as a heavy hitter and might think of it in terms of getting the most bang for your buck when you’re trying to understand the Bible and want to live according to its principles. Jesus said that we are supposed to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37). I think the point that Jesus was trying to make was not that we are to love God with our heart, our soul, and our mind, but that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. The Greek word that is translated all, holos (holˊ-os) means “whole” or “’all,’i.e. complete (in extent, amount, time or degree)” (G3650). In that sense, you could say that we are expected to love the Lord with every bit of our heart, with every bit of our soul, and with every bit of our mind.

The heart, the soul, and the mind are likely similar to the three parts of the Godhead: God, the Father; God, the Son; and God the Holy Spirit; in that we have a triune nature like God that is meant to function in an integrated fashion. We can’t love God with just our heart because we wouldn’t be able to understand who God is and have a relationship with him, nor can we love Him with just our mind because we wouldn’t feel close to Him or have a desire to be in His presence. The soul is what makes it possible for us to identify with God as an eternal being that is connected to everything around us. The issue for us is being able to focus our minds completely on God or being able to give our hearts to him without any reservations. Jesus said that we must love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds (Matthew 22:37). The only way that we can do that is by becoming one with God. In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed to God the Father, “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” (John 17:120-21).

The unity that Jesus has with his Father is clearly expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4 where it says, “Here, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The Hebrew word that is translated one, ʾechad (ekh-awdˊ) means “united” (H259) and is derived from the word ʾachad (aw-khadˊ) which means “to unify, i.e. (figurative) collect (one’s thoughts)” (H258). ʾAchad is translated “go one way or other” in Ezekiel 21:16. From that standpoint, you might say that God is the unifier of all things and that His word is a unified thought that makes us go one way or the other. The fact that all believers read the same Bible and seek to live according to the same principles is what makes us look, act, and talk like each other and how we essentially become one with Jesus and the Father. Jesus,’ through the example of his relationship with his Father, took it one step further by stating that we should “become perfectly one” (John 17:23). I believe what Jesus meant by become perfectly one was that we would not just understand God’s word, but that we all would understand what it means in the context of our own lives. In other words, for each and every person to understand and seek to attain God’s perfect will for their lives. Paul talked about this in his letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote:

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. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:12-4:1)

Paul indicated that there was a three-fold effort involved in becoming perfectly one. First of all, our thinking must be aligned with God’s word. Paul said, “If in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15). Paul is talking here about our minds being submitted to God and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word phroneo (fron-ehˊ-o) means “to exercise the mind, i.e. entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; by implication to be (mentally) disposed (more or less earnestly in a certain direction); intensive to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience)” (G5426). Secondly, Paul instructed believers to imitate him and to “keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Philippians 3:17). The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase followers together to describe the process of imitating other believers. The Greek word that is translated example, tupos (tooˊ-pos) refers to a prototype and is “spoken figuratively of a person as bearing the form and figure of another, a type, as having a certain resemblance in relations and circumstances (Romans 5:14)” (G5179). The point that Paul was trying to make was that we shouldn’t just mimic the behaviors of other Christians, but we need to pay attention to what mature believers are doing and follow their examples. Keeping our eyes on someone means that we watch them closely and therefore, regard them in our heart. It is important that we don’t regard the wrong people, such as the ones that Paul identified as “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). Finally, Paul indicated that Jesus will transform our bodies to be like his glorious body and said that he will do this by “the power that enables him to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21). The involuntary transformation of our bodies suggests that the physical change that is necessary for us to become perfectly one with other believers is not something that we are able or would want to do on our own. Obviously, no one would want to follow Christ if it involved crucifixion, but according to Paul, the believers’ old man was crucified with Christ and we will all one day be united with him in a resurrection similar to his. Paul said, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:5-6).

Moses’ recitation of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:7-21 was followed by the statement, “You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33). The Hebrew word that is translated careful in Deuteronomy 5:32, shamar (shaw-marˊ) appears 16 times in Deuteronomy 4-6 where Moses talks about obedience to God’s commandments. In Deuteronomy 4:9, Moses elaborated on his instruction to be careful and stated, “Only take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.” The idea that we can forget the things that our eyes have seen and that they can depart from our heart has to do with us becoming oblivious to or intentionally turning off our spiritual discernment.

The book of Proverbs, which was primarily written by King Solomon who is thought by some Bible scholars to be the wisest man that ever lived, contains numerous analogies between spiritual and material things (Proverbs, Introduction, p. 714). It says in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Solomon indicated that fools have no regard for wisdom or instruction. “The fool’s only authority is himself.” He “twists God’s ways into his own” and “is insensitive to godly prodding” (H191). On the contrary, Solomon said, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). The kind of fear that Solomon was referring to was the fear that is “produced by God’s word and makes a person receptive to knowledge and wisdom” (H3374). God employed wisdom as his master craftsman to create all things and thus, it is inherent in the created order (H2451). Knowledge has to do with knowing how to please God. These two qualities are the theme of the book of Proverbs as a whole. “The acquisition and application of wisdom are paramount concerns throughout the book” (note on Proverbs 1:1-7).

Solomon took great care to illustrate for us the results of becoming oblivious to or intentionally turning off our spiritual discernment. Solomon began with the enticement of sinners. He said:

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.
My son, if sinners entice you,
    do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
    let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
    and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
    we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
    we will all have one purse”—
my son, do not walk in the way with them;
    hold back your foot from their paths,
for their feet run to evil,
    and they make haste to shed blood.
For in vain is a net spread
    in the sight of any bird,
but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
    they set an ambush for their own lives.
Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors. (Proverbs 1:8-19)

Solomon emphasized the foolishness of committing a crime by stating, “in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird” (Proverbs 1:17) and then, drove home his point about the punishment that sinners will ultimately receive in his statement, “but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives” (Proverbs 1:18). The Hebrew word that is translated lives is nephesh (nehˊ-fesh). The best Biblical definition of this word is found in Psalm 103:1 where nephesh is defined as “all that is within” a person. Nephesh is usually translated as “soul” which “makes sense in most passages. The Hebrew system of thought does not include the opposition of the terms ‘body’ and ‘soul,’ which are really Greek and Latin in origin. The Hebrew compares/contrasts ‘the inner self’ and ‘the outer appearance’ or, as viewed in a different context, ‘what one is to oneself’ as opposed to ‘what one appears to be to one’s observers.’ The goal of Scripture is to make the inner and the outer consistent” (H5315).

The reason that Moses gave for the Israelites being careful to do as the LORD had commanded them was “that you may live, and that is may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33). In this instance, to live meant more than physical existence, it meant to revive the spirit or to revive the heart (H2421). The Hebrew word that is translated well in Deuteronomy 5:33, towb (tobe) means “to be happy, to please, to be loved…the word naturally expresses the idea of being loved or enjoying the favour of someone” (H2895). Moses repeated the statement that it may go well with you for emphasis and linked it with the blessing that was promised to Abraham in order to drive home his point that God’s covenant with the nation of Israel was conditional and was dependent upon their obedience to his commandments (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). Moses said:

“Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 6:3)

Afterward, Moses summarized the law by stating the greatest commandment:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

And then, Moses concluded his summarization with some personal advice:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6).

The King James Version of the Bible indicates that the words that Moses spoke should be “in” the Israelites’ hearts rather than on their hearts. The difference between something being on our heart and something being in our heart may have to do with the memorization of scripture as opposed to the external viewing of it on a scroll or in a book. Moses’ warning to not forget it or let it depart from your heart (Deuteronomy 4:9) would make more sense in that context.

One of the words that Solomon used to describe the person that ignores God’s word was simple. He asked, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” (Proverbs 1:22). The Hebrew word that is translated simple, pᵉtha˒iy (peth-aw-eeˊ) is derived from the word pathah (paw-thawˊ) which means “to open, i.e. be (causatively make) roomy” (H6601). In that sense, someone that is simple might be thought of as being empty headed or lacking in education. Solomon may have been thinking about a person that had never studied the scriptures or committed a single verse to memory. Solomon reproved the simple ones, encouraging them to repent before it was too late and said of wisdom:

“Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:24-33)

Solomon stated that “the simple are killed by their turning away” (Proverbs 1:32). The Hebrew word that is translated turning away, mᵉshubah (mesh-oo-bawˊ) means apostasy and is usually translated backsliding (H4878). What Solomon likely meant by the simple are killed by their turning away was that since the simple have turned their backs on God and have no protection from him, they will become victims of the violence that is going on in the world around them and will die as a result of it.

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).

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).

God is holy

Psalm 99, which is titled The LORD Our God is Holy, begins with a tribute to God’s exalted position in the world. Psalm 99:1-5 states:

The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!
    He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name!
    Holy is he!
The King in his might loves justice.
    You have established equity;
you have executed justice
    and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
    worship at his footstool!
    Holy is he!

The Hebrew word that is translated holy, qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) “is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, and set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9). Therefore, in the Old Testament, God is accorded the title ‘The Holy One of Israel’ (2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 78:41; Isaiah 17:7; Jeremiah 50:29). As such, God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918).

God indicated that the way that people were to become holy was through consecration. He said to the Israelites, “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45). On another occasion, God made it clear that all the people of Israel were to be holy (Leviticus 19:2) and later added that he is the one that sanctifies us (Leviticus 20:8). God said, “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:24).

In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul explained the process that God established before the foundation of the world to make his chosen people holy. Paul said:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself 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. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:3-10)

Paul continued his explanation using the analogy of a husband and wife’s relationship to each other to illustrate how sanctification works. Paul said:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:22-27)

The process of sanctification is focused on the unification of Christ with his church. Paul said that we need to submit ourselves to Christ, so that his word can make us holy. The Greek word that is translated sanctify in Ephesians 5:26, hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to make holy” and when “spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will” (G37). Hagiazo is derived from the word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) which is translated as both holy and saints throughout Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:1, 4, 13, 15, 18; 2:19, 21; 3:5, 8, 18; 4:12, 30; 5:3, 27; 6:18). When the word saints is used in the New Testament, it is referring to someone that has been purified and sanctified by the influences of the Holy Spirit. “This is assumed of all who profess the Christian name” (G40).

The term saints is also used in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) which is usually translated holy is translated saints in Deuteronomy 33:3 in the King James Version of the Bible. Qadowsh is also translated as saints or holy ones in Psalm 16:3, 34:9 and 89:5, as well as in several books of prophecy (Daniel 8:13, Hosea 11:12, Zechariah 14:5) and in the book of Job (5:1; 15:15). Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming Day of the LORD seems to link together both the Old and New Testament saints and the unification of Christ with his church. Zechariah proclaimed:

Behold, the day of the Lord is coming,
And your spoil will be divided in your midst.
For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem;
The city shall be taken,
The houses rifled,
And the women ravished.
Half of the city shall go into captivity,
But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

Then the Lord will go forth
And fight against those nations,
As He fights in the day of battle.
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,
Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the north
And half of it toward the south.

Then you shall flee through My mountain valley,
For the mountain valley shall reach to Azal.
Yes, you shall flee
As you fled from the earthquake
In the days of Uzziah king of Judah.

Thus the Lord my God will come,
And all the saints with You.

It shall come to pass in that day
That there will be no light;
The lights will diminish.
It shall be one day
Which is known to the Lord—
Neither day nor night.
But at evening time it shall happen
That it will be light.

And in that day it shall be
That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem,
Half of them toward the eastern sea
And half of them toward the western sea;
In both summer and winter it shall occur.
And the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
In that day it shall be—
“The Lord is one,” And His name one. (Zechariah 14:1-9, NKJV)

Zechariah’s vision indicated that the LORD would come to the earth “And all the saints” with him (Zechariah 14:5). This is what is referred to in the Bible as the second coming of Christ, the appointed time when he will return to the earth and will reign over the entire world. The period of time in between Christ’s first and second coming is sometimes referred to as the Church Age, a period of time when the Gentiles will gain equality with the Jews and will enter God’s kingdom on the same basis, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Paul talked about the Jews and Gentiles becoming one in Christ in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the same household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-22).

Paul used the Greek word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) to refer to both “the saints” and the “holy” temple that was being built together into a dwelling place for God (Ephesians 2:19, 21). The Greek word that is translated are being built together, sunoikodomeo (soon-oy-kod-om-ehˊ-o) means “to construct, i.e. (passive) to compose (in company with other Christians, figurative)” (G4925). Sunoikodomeo is derived from the words sun (soon) which denotes a union “i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition etc.” (G4862) and oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-ehˊ-o). Figuratively, oikodomeo means “to build up, establish, confirm. Spoken of the Christian Church and its members who are thus compared to a building, a temple of God, erected upon the one and only foundation, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Colossians 3:9, 10) and ever built up progressively and unceasingly more and more from the foundation” (G3618).

The Greek word oikodomeo is sometimes translated as edify and is related to the word oikodome (oy-kod-om-ayˊ) which means “architecture that is (concretely) a structure” (G3619). Oikodome is usually translated as edifying or edification and was used by Paul to describe the process that the Church is going through in order to reach maturity and unification with Christ. Paul talked about this process in his letter to the Ephesians under the topic of unity in the Body of Christ. 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, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Edification may be a type of joint sanctification in which each member of the Body of Christ that is continually being added contributes to the collective state of the whole. Hebrews 12:12-14 indicates that holiness is the final state of the Church and a necessary condition for the Lord’s return. It states, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” The Greek word that is translated holiness, hagiasmos (hag-ee-as-mosˊ) is derived from the word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) which means to make holy (G37) and refers to the resultant state of the process of sanctification (G38).

The book of Leviticus teaches us that holiness is a state that can be transferred between things and people. The opposite of holiness is to be defiled which resulted from coming in contact with something that was unholy or profane. Leviticus 21:7 and 22:1-3 indicate that a woman whose virginity had been violated entered a state of defilement (H2491) and was cut off from the LORD’s presence. Numbers 5:1-3 states that anyone that was defiled had to be put outside the camp, “that they may not defile their camp” because the LORD resided there. In the same way that something or someone could become defiled; things and people could be made holy by coming in contact with something that had been consecrated to the LORD. Exodus 29:36-37 states, “Also you shall purify the altar, when you make atonement for it, and shall anoint it to consecrate it. Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy.”

In addition to the altar, the sanctuary of the tabernacle, all the utensils that were used for sacrifices, the priests, and even the priests’ garments were considered to be holy things (Exodus 30:29; Leviticus 6:18, 27). The transfer of holiness from one object to another was connected with physical touch, but the Hebrew word that is translated touch, naga (naw-gahˊ) is sometimes used figuratively in the sense of emotional involvement and also sexual contact with another person (H5060) suggesting that the physical contact might have something to do with intimacy. Jesus often touched the people that he healed and on at least one occasion had physical contact with a man who had leprosy, a condition that defiled a person (Leviticus 13:3). Matthew tells us that when Jesus “came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord if you will, you can make me clean. And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:1-3). The Greek word that is translated touched in Matthew 8:3, haptomai (hapˊ-tom-ahee) is properly translated as “to attach oneself to” (G680). Haptomai, used figuratively, means “to have sexual intercourse” (1 Corinthians 7:1), so the sense of intimacy seems to apply to the circumstance of Jesus healing the leper.

Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room validates Jesus’ inherent holiness. Isaiah wrote:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3)

Isaiah referred to Jesus as the “Holy One” and said of him, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called” (Isaiah 54:5).

“God’s presence is what makes any place, anything, or anyone holy (Exodus 3:5)” (H6944). One of the distinct characteristics of the Israelites’ camp while they were traveling to the Promised Land was that the Lord was dwelling in their midst (Numbers 5:3). Numbers 7:89 states, “And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak to the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.”

Moses’ interaction with the LORD involved a type of emotional involvement that might be considered to be intimacy or attaching oneself to another person. It says in Exodus 33:11 that God spoke “to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” and in Exodus 34:29 it states, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” The rays of light that were coming from Moses’ face bare a resemblance to the description that Matthew gave of Jesus’ transfiguration. Matthew recorded, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him” (Matthew 17:1-3).

The Greek word that is translated transfigured in Matthew 17:2, metamorphoo (met-am-or-foˊ-o) appears to be related to the process of sanctification. Metamorphoo is derived from the words meta (met-ahˊ) which denotes accompaniment (G3326) and morphoo (mor-foˊ-o) “to fashion.” “Morphoo refers, not to the external and transient, but to the inward and real; it is used in Galatians 4:19, expressing the necessity of a change in character and conduct to correspond with inward spiritual condition, so that there may be moral conformity to Christ” (G3445). Paul used the word metamorphoo in his second letter to the Corinthians in connection with the veil that Moses put over his face to cover the light that shone from it (2 Corinthians 3:12-16; Exodus 34:33-35). Paul said, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Paul expanded on his discussion of transformation in his letter to the Romans. Paul wrote:

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. (Romans 12:1-2)

According to Paul, the renewal of the mind was the key to sanctification. Paul said that we are not to be “conformed to this world” but transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). The Greek word that is translated renewal, anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) stresses “the continual operation of the indwelling Spirit of God” (G342) which is commonly referred to as the Holy Spirit or hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) pnuema (pnyooˊ-mah) in the Greek.

Us and them

The Apostle John’s first epistle began with a declaration that made it clear that God had become a part of the physical realm in which we live. John referred to Jesus as “the word of life” (1 John 1:1) and said, “The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:2). John stated that the life was made manifest to us. John used a plural form of the Greek word ego (eg-o’) to refer to the people that the life was made manifest to. From a psychoanalysis point of view, the ego is “the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity” (Oxford Languages). It seems likely that the “us” that John was referring to in 1 John 1:2 were all of the people that believed in Jesus Christ, but he may have been thinking about everyone that Jesus interacted with during his ministry on earth. The Greek word that is translated manifest, phaneroo (fan-er-o’-o) means to “show oneself openly, to appear” (G5319). John said, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:3). John’s first epistle was written to a group of people that were all considered to be believers. The fellowship that John wanted these people to have wasn’t just the fellowship of salvation, but a fellowship that had to do with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (1 John 1:2).

One of the key aspects of God’s promise to Abraham was that his descendants would possess the land that he was giving them forever. Genesis 13:14-15 states:

The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.”

The Hebrew word that is translated forever in this passage is owlam (o-lawm’), which is properly translated as “concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; (generally) time out of mind (past or future), i.e. (practical) eternity” (H5769). Before Jacob died, he told his son Joseph about the encounter he had with God Almighty. Genesis 48:3-4 states:

And Jacob said to Joseph, “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 you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’”

Jacob believed that he would live in the Promised Land after he was resurrected from the dead. He commanded his sons to take his body back to the land of Canaan and told them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite…which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place” (Genesis 49:29-30).

After they were taken into exile in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel was given a vision of the Israelite’s resurrection from the dead. Ezekiel had his vision in a place that was called the Valley of Dry Bones. Ezekiel 37:11-14 states:

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

The resurrection from the dead was originally thought to be something that only the descendants of Abraham would participate in. Jesus clarified this misconception in his teaching about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “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 his 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’” (Matthew 25:31-34).

Jesus’ described the people that were gathered before the Son of Man as “all the nations” (Matthew 25:32) and made it clear that all people, not just the Israelites, would be involved in what the book of Revelation refers to as the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) that takes place after Satan’s defeat. Jesus’ distinction between the sheep and the goats indicated that there would be a separation of people into two groups during the final judgment based on their actions toward him and his followers. John emphasized this distinction in his gospel message. 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 he 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)

John indicated that we can either walk in darkness or walk in the light and if we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Walking in darkness is “spoken figuratively of persons in a state of moral darkness, wicked men under the influence of Satan” (G4655). The Greek word that is translated light in 1 John 1:7, phos (foce) is used figuratively of “moral and spiritual light and knowledge which enlightens the mind, soul or conscience; including the idea of moral goodness, purity and holiness, and of consequent reward and happiness” (G5457). John said, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7, emphasis mine).

In his first epistle, John went on to say, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the world” (1 John 2:1-2). Even though he distinguished between people that were walking in the light and walking in darkness, John didn’t look at the propitiation of sins from an us and them perspective. John said that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, “and not ours only but also for the sins of the world” (1 John 2:2). Propitiation is “that which appeases anger and brings reconciliation with someone who has reason to be angry with one” (G2434). Jesus reconciled everyone to God when he died on the cross for the sins of the world, but it has no effect on me personally unless I accept Jesus Christ’s death as payment for my sins and I believe that I have been reconciled to God because my sins have been forgiven by him.

John identified the key to having a relationship with God. He 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 John 1:9). Like Jesus, John distinguished between believers and unbelievers by the evidence of their actions. John said:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

John said that we ought to walk in the same way that Jesus walked. The Greek word that is translated ought, opheilo (of-i’-lo) is derived from the word ophelos (of’-el-os) which means “to heap up, i.e. accumulate or benefit” (G3786). The idea behind these words is that we have become indebted to Christ because of what he did for us on the cross and therefore, we are obligated to do what he tells us to. Jesus told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus provided further clarification about our relationship to him in his illustration of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-11), and went on to say:

“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. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 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 15:12-17)

John elaborated on Jesus’ commandment to love one another by including a reference to the true light. John said:

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:7-11, emphasis mine)

John’s distinction between walking in the light and walking in darkness was made even more clear-cut when he said “the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). What John meant by that was that Jesus’ commandment to love one another had already been put into effect and had become the deciding factor of whether or not a spiritual birth had actually taken place. John said, “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light…but whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness” (1 John 2:10-11). John also pointed out that someone that is in the darkness doesn’t know where he is going, “because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11). In other words, the unbeliever doesn’t know that he’s not saved. It’s only after we accept Jesus as our Savior that we become aware of the fact that we have been living in sin.

The Levitical Law described being in the darkness as being unclean. The Hebrew word tame (taw-may’) means to be foul, especially in a ceremonial sense. “The main idea of the action was that of contaminating or corrupting, especially in the sight of God. The Levitical Law often spoke in terms of sexual, religious, or ceremonial uncleanness. Any object or individual who was not clean could not be acceptable to the Holy God of Israel” (H2930). The things that caused a person to become unclean were described as depravity, perversion, and abominable customs that were practiced by the people that were living in the land of Canaan before the Israelites took possession of it. Leviticus 18:1-5 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

God clarified his expectations of the Israelites by stating, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) and then, he summarized his commandments with two statements that were linked to Jesus’ new commandment. God said:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD…You shall treat the stranger who sojourns among you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:18, 34).

The Hebrew word that was used to describe the way the Israelites were expected to love their neighbors was the same word that God used when he commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Genesis 22:2 states, “He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’” (emphasis mine). This seems to suggest that God wanted the Israelites to love their neighbors with the kind of deep abiding affection that would motivate them to do whatever God asked of them so that their neighbors could be blessed by God.

God indicated that he had separated the Israelites from the rest of the nations because he wanted to have a relationship with them (Leviticus 20:26). The significant distinction God made between the people of Israel and the peoples and nations around them was a reflection of the creation story in which God produced a separation between light and darkness (Genesis 1:4, [H914]). This may have been why John chose the analogy of walking in the light and walking in darkness as a mark of distinction between followers of Christ and followers of Satan. John cautioned believers to “not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15) and said, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16-17). Then, John warned his readers concerning the antichrists that would try to deceive them about Jesus’ teaching. John said:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:18-23)

John made it clear that the deciding factor between us (followers of Christ) and them (followers of Satan) is a belief that Jesus is the Christ. John indicated that we know the truth because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. John said, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true” (1 John 2:27). In other words, the communication and reception of the Holy Spirit is a permanent source of consecration for the believer. The Holy Spirit makes us aware of everything we need to know about God and is a reliable source of information because God specifically sent Him to us to remind us of Jesus’ teaching (John 14:26).