The way of life

Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount with a statement that has come to be known as the golden rule. He said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). What Jesus meant by this is the Law and the Prophets was that the golden rule summed up everything that was written in the Old Testament of the Bible. It was the bottom line so to speak of what you need to know in order to live the kind of life that God wants you to. Jesus went on to say, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). The words destruction and life have to do with what happens to us after we die. Jesus indicated that there are two ways that we can enter into eternity, the narrow gate which leads to life or what we think of as eternal life, life in the absolute sense (G2222); and the wide gate which leads to destruction or what we think of as hell, a place where we suffer the eternal consequences of our sin (G684). Jesus said, “The way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). The Greek word that is translated easy, euruchoros (yoo-rooˊ-kho-ros) means “spacious” (G2149). One of the reasons why it is easy for a person to go to hell is because there are no boundaries or you might say limitations to keep you out (G5561). Jesus contrasted the way to destruction with the way of life by stating, “The way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). The Greek word that is translated hard, thlibo (thleeˊ-bo) means “to crowd” and “has reference to sufferings due to the pressure of circumstances, or the antagonism of persons” (G2346).

Jesus indicated that there are few who “find” the way of life (Matthew 7:14). This suggests that many people are looking for the way that leads to life, but not all of them are finding it. Jesus told his followers:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

In order to find the way that leads to life, you have to first be seeking it. Seeking God begins with an awareness or an acknowledgment that you don’t know what to do. As a result of that awareness, you either seek a relationship with God if you don’t already know him or if you do have a relationship with Christ; you seek to know God’s will for your particular situation, the goal being to ascertain the meaning of your circumstances and to see things from God’s perspective.

Jesus later explained to his disciples that an exchange needed to occur in order for them to experience life in the absolute sense. Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). In this instance the life that Jesus was referring to was not life in the absolute sense, eternal life; but the soul, “the inner self” or “’what one is to oneself’ as opposed to ‘what one appears to be to one’s observers’” (H5315). It says in Genesis 2:7 that God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and he “became a living soul” (KJV). The soul and the spirit of man are sometimes confused with each other. The soul is associated with breath, “the breath of life, that vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing” (G5590). The soul can be thought of “as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death.” In that sense, when Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39), he wasn’t talking about death, Jesus was talking about our inner self being changed so that it conforms to God’s way of doing things.

The Israelites that were delivered from slavery in Egypt had the benefit of God telling them directly what he wanted them to do or not do in order to live their lives the way he wanted them to. The Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:7-21) were a comprehensive list of the essential behaviors that God was looking for, but Moses broke the entire law down even further into a single commandment that contained the key to Israelites’ spiritual success. Moses said, “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). Loving God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might has to do with focusing our attention on what is going on in the spiritual realm instead of the physical realm. The rituals that the Israelites went through on a regular basis were intended to continuously remind them of God’s presence and his involvement in their lives. In particular, the seven annual feasts that the Israelites were expected to observe shaped their culture and provided a framework for the people of Israel to worship God. These celebrations became a way of life for the Israelites, but not necessarily for the reasons that God intended them.

The sabbatical year, which occurred at the end of every seven years, was designated as a year of release. Moses said, “And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor; his brother, because the LORD’s release has been proclaimed” (Deuteronomy 15:2). The cancellation of debt was intended to eliminate poverty, but from a spiritual perspective the observance of the sabbatical year was meant to remind the Israelites of the moral debt that God had forgiven for them. The Hebrew word that is translated release, shᵉmittah (shem-it-tawˊ) means “remission” (H8059). During the Last Supper, Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus took a cup and when he had given thanks, he gave it to his disciples and said, drink of it all of you, ”For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28 KJV). The Greek word aphesis (afˊ-es-is) “denotes a release from bondage, imprisonment, liberation from captivity and remission of debt…It also means forgiveness or pardon, of sins (letting them go as if they had never been committed), remission of the penalty” (G859). The Mosaic Law was intended to represent the ideal state of mankind’s union with God, but many of its required rituals were misunderstood. The book of Hebrews explains how the process of redemption works and makes it clear that Christ’s sacrifice releases us from the consequences of our sins once and for all. It states:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctifyfor the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify ourconscience from dead works to serve the living God…And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christhad 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. (Hebrews 9:11-10:14)

The writer of Hebrews used the phrase “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14) to describe the result of having our sins forgiven. The Greek word that is translated conscience, suneidesis (soon-iˊ-day-sis) means “co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness…that faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong and prompts one to choose the formal and avoid the latter” (G4893). When we have a clear conscience, we are able to enter into the presence of God and worship him. Therefore, the purification of our conscience, or rather the remission of sin, is one of the things that helps us to find the way of life that Jesus talked about in his Sermon on the Mount.

The annual observance of the Passover feast was intended to remind the Israelites of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:3), but it also had a spiritual significance as well in that it represented Christ’s death on the cross. Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples coincided with a celebration of the Passover feast. Matthew 26:17-19 states, “Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?’ He said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples”’ And the disciples did as Jesus directed them, and they prepared the Passover.” It was not accidental that Jesus’ death was associated with Passover. The spiritual meaning of what Jesus was doing was beyond the human comprehension of his disciples, but the Apostle Paul later explained that the Lord’s Supper was intended to provide a means of confessing our sins on a regular basis so that our consciences would remain clear after the initial experience of being born again. Paul said, “Anyone who eats the bread or drinks from the cup, if his spirit is not right with the Lord, will be guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord. This is why a man should look into his own heart and life before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. Anyone who eats the bread and drinks from the cup, if his spirit is not right with the Lord, will be guilty as he eats and drinks. He does not understand the meaning of the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29, NLV).

Jesus revealed the meaning of his body to his disciples shortly before his death. Jesus told them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The Greek word that is translated bears, phero (ferˊ-o) signifies being impelled by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own wills, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342). There was a great deal of emphasis in the Apostle Paul’s ministry on bearing fruit. Paul used the word fruit in almost all of his letters in reference to the results of preaching the gospel. The feast of weeks (Deuteronomy 16:9-12) was originally called The Feast of Harvest (Exodus 23:16) and in the New Testament times became known as Pentecost (note on Exodus 23:14-17). The connection between The Feast of Harvest and the day of Pentecost, which is recorded in Acts 2:1-4, seems to be the filling that took place as a result of each of these two events. Acts 2:1-4 states:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Greek word that is translated arrived, sumpleroo (soom-play-roˊ-o) denotes a complete filling that results from a union of individual parts (G4845). It says in Acts 2:1 that “they were all together in one place.” The “they” that is referred to here is all believers. “The Holy Spirit filled every believer on the day of Pentecost, not just a select few” (note on Acts 2:1-4). From a spiritual perspective, the Feast of Harvest resembled the day of Pentecost because it focused on the firstfruits of people’s labor (Exodus 23:16). It’s important that we realize there is expected to be a tangible result when we walk with the Lord. Jesus told his followers, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The Greek word perissos (per-is-sosˊ) refers to abundance in terms of both quantity and quality (G4053). You might think of life being abundant from a quantity perspective when it consists of many years, but perissos has to do with excess or going beyond what is needed. From that standpoint, it seems likely that Jesus’ intention behind giving us an abundant life was so that we could have more than enough time to experience all that life has to offer us within the boundaries of living a godly life.

King Solomon, who is thought to be not only the wisest man to ever live, but also the richest, wrote about his experience of pursuing everything that life had to offer him from a secular perspective. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 states:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Solomon’s declaration that all was vanity and a striving after the wind after he had indulged himself in every kind of pleasure that was imaginable demonstrated that the way of life and the way of destruction are not necessarily mutually exclusive when it comes to our daily activities. The difference between these two ways if life seems to be dependent on the motive behind your actions.

Solomon stated in Proverbs 6:20-23, “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” Solomon associated the way of life with the reproofs of discipline and indicated that the commandment and the teaching of scripture would illuminate a believer’s pathway forward. According to Solomon, spiritual life involves discipline (Proverbs 6:23). The Hebrew word that is translated discipline, muwçar (moo-sawrˊ) means “chastisement” as well as “restraint.” Muwçar is usually connected with God’s discipline of his chosen people, but it seems to be applicable to everyone in Job 5:17 where it says, “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty”

Jesus told his disciples, “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 described himself as the light of the world or you might say the illuminator of everything we experience in life and said that those who follow him will have the light of life. In other words, when you follow Jesus you will have the ability to see what life is really all about, you will understand life from a spiritual perspective. The reason why that is important is because your soul was designed for eternal life. It is not dissolved when you die like your body is (G5590). Paul talked about the perishable body putting on the imperishable and the believer’s final victory over death in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the moral puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).

Transformation

Paul talked about the death of believers’ physical bodies in the context of moving to a new home. He said, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV). Paul continued his discussion of the believers’ transformation by explaining to the Corinthians how the transformation process takes place. Paul described life after death as being clothed with immortality and said, “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:2-3). Paul’s idea that we will put on our eternal bodies like a new set of clothes may have come from his understanding of spiritual transformation. The Greek word Paul used that is translated clothed, enduo comes from the two words en which has to do with a fixed position (G1722) and dumi which means “to sink into” and is used of the “setting” of the sun. In Paul’s time, “the sun, moon and stars were conceived as sinking into the sea when they set” (G1416). Paul might have been thinking about the fact that when the sun sets, we can’t see it, but it still physically exists and will return at an appointed time.

Paul made it clear that our heavenly bodies are not the same as our earthly bodies. He said, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul’s comparison of old things and new things was probably meant to explain the change in material structure that would be necessary for a human body to go from a temporal to an eternal existence. Paul went on to say, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NKJV). The Greek word translated reconciliation, katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’) means to exchange (G2643). What I believe Paul was talking about here was the exchange of our old bodies for one like Christ’s. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the church collectively as the body of Christ and indicated we are all members or particular parts of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:12). When believers get to heaven, it appears that all the parts get put together so that a single unit exists instead of the individual pieces our human bodies now represent.

One of the keys to understanding the transformation that takes place when a believer’s body and spirit are separated from each other at death is the process God uses to reconcile us to himself. The Greek word translated reconciling and reconciled in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 is katallasso which means “to change mutually” (G2644). What Paul was saying was that the sum total of the propitiation of everyone’s sins to Christ’s account of righteousness will result in a balanced account. In other words, there will be no discrepancies when we all get put together, somewhat like a completed puzzle that has no missing pieces. On the day we received salvation, Paul said we were given the Holy Spirit as an earnest or down payment on the heavenly bodies we receive when we die (2 Corinthians 5:5). At the time of our death, a transaction takes place that Paul described as being absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). What I believe happens is that we leave our physical bodies behind and take on a new appearance that reflects our place in the body of Christ; one that is completely suited to the work we have been designed for in God’s eternal kingdom and one that fits perfectly with the spiritual schema that was developed during our lifetime on earth.