Deliverance

God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was accomplished by means of signs and wonders that were intended to establish the LORD’s supremacy over human kings and kingdoms. God told Moses, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5). One of the primary uses of the Hebrew word yadaʿ (yaw-dahˊ), which is translated know in this verse, “means to know relationally and experientially: it refers to knowing or not knowing persons” (H3045). God’s desire to make himself known to the Egyptians was based on his pronouncement of judgment on them (Exodus 7:4) and his determination that Pharaoh would harden his heart against him (Exodus 7:3). “The natural inclination of man is to oppose God (Romans 3:9-23), and God sometimes allows men to follow the evil desires of their own hearts and experience the subsequent consequences (Romans 1:24-32). God allowed Pharaoh, in his pride and sinfulness, to do as he desired” (note on Exodus 7:3) because it served the purpose of his will, which was to save the Israelites from their bondage (Exodus 6:5).

After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 14:29), Moses declared, “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30-31). Moses indicated that the LORD saved Israel from the hand of the Egyptians. The Hebrew word that is translated saved is yashaʿ (yaw-shahˊ). “The underlying idea of this verb is bringing to a place of safety or broad pasture as opposed to narrow strait, symbolic of distress and danger.” Yashaʿ refers to “the salvation that only comes from God (Isaiah 33:32; Zephaniah 3:17)” (H3467). As a result of being saved, the people of Israel feared the LORD and believed in the LORD, which meant that they recognized God’s power and position and rendered him proper respect (H3372), as well as, experiencing a personal relationship to him (H539). Hebrews 11:29 tells us that the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea as on dry land by faith. The Greek word that is translated faith, pistis (pisˊ-tis) is “spoken by analogy of the faith of the patriarchs and pious men from the Old Testament who looked forward in faith and hope to the blessing of the gospel” (G4102). “It is related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ.”

The Song of Moses expressed the Israelites’ attitude toward God after he delivered them from slavery in Egypt. It states:

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a man of war;
    the Lord is his name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
    and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
    they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,
    your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
    you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
    the floods stood up in a heap;
    the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
    I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
    I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
    they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
    the earth swallowed them.

You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
    you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
The peoples have heard; they tremble;
    pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
    trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
    all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
    because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
    till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
    the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode,
    the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
The Lord will reign forever and ever.” (Exodus 15:1-18)

In Exodus 15:2, it says, “The LORD is my strength and my song and he has become my salvation.” This verse implies that something had happened that changed the Israelites’ status from unsaved to saved. The Hebrew word that is translated salvation, yᵉshuwʿah (yesh-ooˊ-aw) means “something saved, i.e. (abstractly) deliverance.” The name Jesus is a Greek form of yeshu’ah and it might be said that when the Israelites experienced salvation, they experienced what Jesus’ death on the cross intended to make possible for them; but at that point, it was not understood as a salvation from sin, since the word denoted broadly anything from which “deliverance” must be sought (H3444).

Jesus used the Greek word soteria (so-tay-reeˊ-ah) when he told a man named Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). “Soteria denotes ‘deliverance, preservation, salvation.’ ‘Salvation’ is used in the New Testament of material and temporal deliverance from danger and apprehension,” as well as, “of the spiritual and eternal deliverance granted immediately by God to those who accept his conditions of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, in whom alone it is to be obtained, Acts 4:12” (G4991). Soteria is derived from the word soter (so-tareˊ) which means “a deliverer, i.e. God or Christ” (G4990). Jesus went on to tell Zacchaeus, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus used the word sozo (sodeˊ-zo) to describe the act of being saved and made it clear to Zacchaeus that it was his mission to save people who were identified as the lost. The Greek word that is translated lost, apollumi (ap-olˊ-loo-mee) “signifies ‘to destroy utterly’; in the middle voice, ‘to perish.’ The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (G622). Apollumi is used in Matthew 10:28, where it says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy (apollumi) both soul and body in hell.”

Jesus used the parable of the lost sheep to illustrate his point that it is not God’s will for believers to experience apollumi. Jesus said:

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish (apollumi).” (Matthew 18:10-14, NKJV)

Jesus associated being lost with going astray. The Greek word that is translated goes astray and straying, planao (plan-ahˊ-o) is derived from the word plane (planˊ-ay). “Literally, plane means a wandering whereby those who are led astray roam hither and thither and is always used of mental straying, wrong opinion, error in morals or religion, 2 Thessalonians 2:11, ‘delusion.’ It is akin to planao, ‘a wandering, a forsaking of the right path’” (G4106). James used planao and plane in the concluding paragraph of his letter that was addressed to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion. James said:

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20).

The phrase brings back has to do with a reversal in thinking or you might say, unlearning something that is incorrect. When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). It says in Matthew 18:2-3, “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” In order to become like children, Jesus may have been expecting his disciples to unlearn some of the traditions of the elders that the prophet Isaiah referred to as the commandments of men (Matthew 15:1-6). Isaiah’s prophecy dealt with the upside down religion that had permeated Israel’s culture before they were sent into exile. Isaiah 29:13-16 states:

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

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

The Hebrew word that is translated turn things upside down is similar to the Greek word that is translated brings back in James 5:20, both are associated with the process of conversion and suggest that there are two sides, or if you will, states of salvation. A person may be saved and sanctified, that is an active adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God is taking place (G342); or one may be saved and unsanctified, meaning that the sinner has been removed from the kingdom of darkness, but is not living according to the truth of God’s word (James 5:19-20).

The Israelites’ experience after they entered the Promised Land is an example of what it looks like to be saved, but not living according to the truth of God’s word. It says in Joshua 2:11-13, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger. They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and Ashtaroth.” “Canaanite deities, such as the Baals and the Ashtoreths, remained a problem for Judah until the Babylonian exile…It took seventy years in captivity to finally cure the Israelites of their idolatrous ways” (note on Judges 2:13). The LORD warned the people of Israel about disobedience before they entered the Promised Land and told them that curses would come upon them and overtake them (Deuteronomy 28:15). Moses said, “The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:20). Judges 2:15 tells us, “Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.”

The terrible distress that the Israelites felt was indicative of them being out of the will of God, but it didn’t mean that the LORD had abandoned them. On the contrary, God was using their circumstances to develop their faith. Judges 2:16-19 states:

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.

The Israelites’ salvation wasn’t dependent on their behavior, but their behavior did determine the measure to which they experienced the positive effects of being saved. When it says that the judges saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them, it means that the Israelites experienced a military victory that bolstered their faith and gave them the confidence they needed to put their trust in God. The problem was that the judges were only providing temporary fixes because when that person died, the Israelites turned back to their idolatry (Judges 2:19).

Judges 3:1-2 tells us that the foreign nations that were left in the Promised Land were left, “to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.” Warfare played an important part in the development of the Israelites faith because their dependence upon God for victory was evident to them. James opened his letter to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion with the statement, “Count it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). The key words James used: trials, testing, faith, steadfastness, and complete; all reflect aspects of the process of sanctification that believers must go through in order to be delivered from their practices or their stubborn ways, what we might refer to today as business as usual. James went on to say:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 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 encouraged believers to receive with meekness “the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). James’ reference to the implanted word was likely related to Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:5-8). Jesus likened the word of God to seed that is sown in a person’s heart. Jesus said, “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:12-15). Jesus indicated that the word of God must take root in our hearts and not be choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life in order to bear fruit. The Greek word that is translated hold fast, katecho (kat-ekhˊ-o) “stresses holding fast in order to hinder the course or progress of something or someone” (2722). In the instance of the Israelites, they were expected to hold fast to the commandments of the LORD in order to hinder the course or progress of the nations around them that were practicing idolatry. Instead of doing that, the people of Israel “abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:13).

It says in Judges 3:9, “But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them.” The Hebrew word that is translated cried out, zaʿaq (zaw-akˊ) means “to shriek (from anguish or danger). Zaʿaq is perhaps most frequently used to indicate the ‘crying out’ for aid in time of emergency, especially ‘crying out’ for divine aid. God often heard this ‘cry’ for help in the times of the judges, as Israel found itself in trouble because of its backsliding (Judges 3:9, 15; 6:7; 10:10)” (H2199). The deliverance that the LORD gave the Israelites was based on their anguished cries for help. It was similar during Jesus’ ministry in that many of the people that Jesus healed cried out to him for help (Matthew 15:23; 20:30; Mark 10:47; Luke 18:39). On one occasion, when Jesus came to his disciples walking on the sea, Matthew’s gospel tells us, “Jesus spoke to them, saying, ’Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:27-31). The fact that Peter cried out, “Lord, save me” indicates that he still viewed salvation as temporal deliverance from danger, but in his first letter, Peter used the same Greek word, sozo to refer to “the present experiences of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin (1 Peter 3:21)” and “the future deliverance of believers at the second coming of Christ for His saints, being deliverance from the wrath of God to be executed upon the ungodly at the close of this age and from eternal doom” (1 Peter 4:18-19). It is clear from Peter’s statement that he considered Jesus to be the source of his deliverance, the person who could save him. Later, when Jesus asked his disciples, “who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “’You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’” (Matthew 16:15-17).

God’s word

When he was asked the question, “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36), Jesus summarized the Mosaic Law by stating, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). The key ingredient in both of these commandments is love. 1 John 4:16 tells us that “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Love is a part of God’s essential nature and can be known only from the actions it prompts. “God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son (1 John 4:9, 10)…Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:5; 5:3; 2 John 6). Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God. Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren , or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered” (G26). Christian love is depicted in the book of Ruth by Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17), Boaz’s generosity and kindness toward Ruth who was a foreigner from the land of Moab (Ruth 1:22; 2:8-9, 20), and Ruth’s selection of Boaz as her kinsman-redeemer (Ruth 3:10).

Abraham’s covenant with God was based on him having a personal relationship with the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated kindness in Ruth 2:20, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) “means ‘loving-kindness; steadfast love; grace; mercy; faithfulness; goodness; devotion.’ The term is one of the most important 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 to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But cheçed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement the promises. Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law” (H2617). Chesed appears in Deuteronomy 7:7-12 where Moses explained God’s choice of the people of Israel and his expectations for them. It states:

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.”

Moses indicated that the people of Israel had to not only understand the rules that God had given them, but also to keep and do them (Deuteronomy 7:12). The three verbs: listen, keep, and do; suggest a progressive type of obedience that results in one’s behavior being completely conformed to the rules that have been established.

The Apostle Paul talked about believers being conformed to the image of Christ in his letter to the Romans. Paul said of God, “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” (Romans 8:29). Paul went on to talk about spiritual worship and said, “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 12:2). The Greek words that Paul used in Romans 8:29 and 12:2 are both translated conformed, but have different meanings. Summorphos (soom-mor-fosˊ) and suschematizo (soos-khay-mat-idˊ-zo) are both derived from the root word sun (soon) which denotes “union; with or together” (G4862). Each of these words shows us that being conformed is a joint effort, but the important thing to note is that our human tendency is to be conformed to the world, rather than to the image of God’s Son. Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2 emphasis mine). The Greek word that is translated transformed, metamorphoo (met-am-or-foˊ-o) is “spoken literally of Christ’s transfiguration on the mount (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2)” and is “spoken figuratively of our being transformed in mind and heart (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18)” (G3339). Paul indicated the way that believers are transformed is “by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2, emphasis mine). “Anakainosis means ‘a renewal’ and is used in Romans 12:2 ‘the renewing (of your mind),’ i.e. the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer.” A synonym of anakainosis is palingenesis (G3824). “Palingenesis stresses the new birth; whereas anakainosis stresses the process of sanctification” (G342). “Anakainosis (G342) is the result of paliggenesia. The paliggenesia is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is the 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. Anakainosis, by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

Sanctification is mentioned throughout the book of Exodus in connection with worshipping God. When something was sanctified or consecrated, it was considered to be holy (H6942). A sacred anointing oil was used to “anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all its utensils, and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand” (Exodus 30:26-28) And Moses said, “You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy” (Exodus 30:29). The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to be made holy, be sanctified” (G37). In his high priestly prayer, shortly before his death, Jesus asked his Father to keep his followers from the evil one through the process of sanctification. Jesus prayed:

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:14-17)

Jesus asked that God would sanctify us in truth and said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated word is logos (logˊ-os), which refers to “something said (including the thought)…also reasoning (the mental faculty or motive)…the reasoning faculty as that power of the soul which is the basis of speech” (G3056). John described Jesus as the Word or the Logos. John said, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). When he was tempted by Satan, Jesus quoted Old Testament scripture in order to defeat his opponent. In response to the tempter’s suggestion that he turn stones into bread, Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The Greek word that is translated word in this instance is rhema (hrayˊ-mah). “The significance of rhema, (as distinct from logos) is exemplified in the injunction to take ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,’ Ephesians 6:17; here the reference is not to the whole Bible as such, but to the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need, a prerequisite being the regular storing of the mind with Scripture” (G4487).

Psalm 119:11 states, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The Hebrew word that is translated stored up, tsaphan (tsaw-fanˊ) means “to hide (by covering over); by implication to hoard or reserve” (H6845). The idea that the psalmist was trying to convey was creating a surplus of truth that he could draw on in the future. One of the illustrations that Jesus used to describe the process of taking in and processing God’s word was seed that is sown on different kinds of soil. Jesus told the parable of the sower to a great crowd that was gathering as he and his disciples traveled from town to town. Afterward, Jesus explained the meaning of the parable to his disciples in private. Jesus said:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:4-15)

Jesus indicated the way that God’s word is stored up or to hold it fast is by having an honest and good heart. The Greek word kalos (kal-osˊ), which is translated honest, speaks of that which is good because it “is well adapted to its circumstances or ends” (G2570). In other words, it is suitable for its use. With respect to a person’s heart, honest means that your heart is used to speaking the truth.

The book of Deuteronomy teaches us that the condition of a person’s heart is partly dependent on the bad things that it is exposed to and partly dependent on how much effort one makes to keep their heart in good condition. Moses told the people of Israel:

“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. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Moses’ instructions included multiple ways for the people of Israel to keep themselves immersed in God’s word. The key seemed to be for the people to integrate their study of God’s word into their normal daily activities.

Psalm 119:1 states, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!” The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) means “a road” and is used figuratively as “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). From the standpoint of a road, a person’s way being blameless could mean that he has already or will eventually reach his desired destination. With regard to the course of your life, blameless might mean that you are saved and going to heaven when you die. Walking in the law is a way of saying that you have put God’s commandments into practice. When Jesus was asked by a rich young man what good deed he must do to have eternal life, Jesus responded:

“Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:17-26)

On the surface, the rich young ruler’s lifestyle seemed to be perfect, but Jesus’ command to sell his possessions and give to the poor revealed that there was selfishness in the young man’s heart. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that God’s word isn’t able to transform a person’s heart by itself. God has to be involved in the process.

Psalm 119:9-16 shows us that God’s involvement is the process of sanctification is typically behind the scenes and will likely go unnoticed unless we understand the way he operates. The psalmist asks:

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
    teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
    all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:9-16)

The psalmist requests of God, “Let me not wander from your commandments” (Psalm 119:10) and “teach me your statutes” (Psalm 119:12). The Hebrew word that is translated wander, shagah (shaw-gawˊ) means “to stray” (H7686). Jesus often portrayed sinners as lost sheep that had gone astray and indicated that they needed a shepherd to bring them back home (Matthew 18:12). Jesus taught his disciples that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11) and told them, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all of his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).

The picture that Jesus gave his disciples of sheep following a shepherd was meant to show them that God didn’t intend for them to find their own way through life or to try and figure things out on their own. Jesus said of the shepherd, “The sheep hear his voice” (John 10:3). This was most likely a reference to the rhema, “the individual scripture which the Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need” (G4487). Paul connected rhema with faith and said, “But what does it say? ‘The word (rhema) is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word [rhema] of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For in the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word (rhema) of Christ” (Romans 10:8-10, 17). Paul emphasized the importance of confessing with your mouth what you believe in your heart. The Greek word that is translated confess, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) is a compound of the words homou (hom-ooˊ) which means “at the same place or time” (G3674) and logos (logˊ-os) “something said” or “a word” (G3056). The derived meaning of homologeo is “to speak or say the same with another, e.g. to say the same things, i.e. to assent, accord, to agree with” (G3670). Paul indicated that agreeing with God’s word is what saves us. It’s not enough for us to just believe that the Bible is true, we must talk to others about what we believe in order for the process of sanctification to work.

Confession of our faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

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

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

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

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

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

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

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

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

A harvest of righteousness

The biblical concept of righteousness can be confusing if think of it in terms of actions or duties. The Greek word dikaiosune (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay) has to do specifically with Christian justification and can be thought of as “being just as one should be” (G1343). In other words, Christians that have been justified are just the way they were intended to be when God created them. From an internal perspective, justification means that our hearts are right with God, hence we are considered to be righteous with regard to our relationship to God. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Righteousness was imputed or counted to Abraham because he believed what God told him. The Apostle Paul explained Abraham’s justification by faith in his letter to the Romans. Paul said:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:1-8)

Paul made it clear that the only way we can be justified in God’s sight is by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul stated, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26)

Justification by faith is expected to produce a change in the believer’s lifestyle. In his first epistle, the Apostle John talked about God’s seed abiding in all who have been born again. John said, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:9-10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) means “something that is sown” (G4690) and is derived from the word speiro (spi’-ro) which means to scatter (G4687). Jesus’ parable of the sower and parable of the weeds illustrated how the believer’s heart is either influenced by the Holy Spirit to practice righteousness or by the devil to practice sin. Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower indicated that we must understand God’s word in order to benefit from it. Jesus said:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

Paul associated righteousness with the fruit of the Holy Spirit and said, “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Paul identified the fruits of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Sprit” (Galatians 5:22-23, 25). Keeping in step with the Spirit essentially means that we are conforming our behavior to be consistent with God’s word. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians included a reminder of their pledge to take part in the relief of the saints. Paul was concerned that the Corinthians’ reputation of excelling in spiritual matters might be hurt by their reluctance to participate in this act of grace (2 Corinthians 8:1-7). Therefore, Paul admonished them saying:

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)

Paul identified the Corinthians’ contribution as a willing gift. The Greek word that is translated willing gift, eulogia (yoo-log-ee’-ah) means “fine speaking” and is used of God and Christ in connection with the invocation of blessings, a benediction (G2129). Paul emphasized the importance of the execution of the Corinthians’ act of grace by linking their pledge to give to the relief of the saints to the invocation of a blessing. The point Paul was likely trying to make was that every word that comes out of the mouth of a believer is considered to be a testimony on behalf of Christ. Paul indicated that he would be humiliated if the Corinthians didn’t do what they said they were going to because they would be making him out to be a liar (2 Corinthians 9:4).

Paul seemed to be linking the Corinthians’ giving with Jesus’ parable of the sower when he used the analogy of sowing and reaping to convey the significance of the size of their gift. Paul said, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Paul eluded to a connection between teaching the word of God and receiving financial support in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)

According to Leviticus chapters 6-7, many of the animal sacrifices that were made to the LORD under the Mosaic Law were able to be eaten by the priests. The guilt offering in particular was considered to be compensation to the LORD for an offense that an individual had committed (Leviticus 6:6). Leviticus 7:5-6 states, “The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering. Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy.”

God specifically commanded the people of Israel to give a portion of their peace offerings to Aaron the priest and to his sons because they were serving him. The LORD told Moses, “Whoever among the sons of Aaron offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat shall have the right thigh for a portion. For the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed I have taken from the people of Israel, out of the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons, as a perpetual due from the people of Israel. This is the portion of Aaron and of his sons from the Lord’s food offerings, from the day they were presented to serve as priests of the Lord. The Lord commanded this to be given them by the people of Israel, from the day he anointed them. It is a perpetual due throughout their generations” (Leviticus 7:33-36). The portion that was given to Aaron and his sons was a consecratory gift that signified justification on the part of the gift and the giver.

Paul explained in his second letter to the Corinthians that giving would result in God’s grace overflowing in a believer’s life. Paul said, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; righteousness endures forever” (2 Corinthians 9:7-9). The phrase righteousness endures forever refers to an eternal state of justification, which is “the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344). Paul indicated that when God’s grace abounds to us, we have all sufficiency in all things at all times. In other words, we are completely content with our circumstances. Whether Paul was talking about an eternal state of bliss or a life that is available to believers as soon as they accept Christ isn’t completely clear, but it seems that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they were able to effect their circumstances by giving generously.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to rely on God’s provision for their gift. Paul said, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) is used figuratively in 1 John 3:9 “of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in Christians that keeps them from practicing sin” (G4690). From that standpoint, Paul’s reference to “the harvest of your righteousness” may have had to do with the fruits of the Spirit. The Greek word that is translated harvest, gennema (ghen’-nay-mah) means offspring (G1081) and is derived from the word gennao (ghen-nah’-o) which speaks “of one who by means of preaching the gospel becomes the human instrument in the impartation of spiritual life” (G1080). Paul seemed to be saying that the Corinthians financial support of the saints in Jerusalem had the same impact and reward of preaching the gospel to them. It could be that the act of grace that Paul associated with the relief of the saints (2 Corinthians 8:6-7) was a type of ministry that complimented the preaching of the gospel in that it depicted the love of God in a tangible way that was unmistakably supernatural and gave the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in the hearts of the people that were receiving the gift and to bring them to Christ.

Paul’s explanation of the harvest of righteousness that he hoped the Corinthians would experience seemed to center around the grace of God being activated in the lives of believers. The Sermon on the Mount had a similar objective and in it Jesus mentioned giving to the needy in the context of receiving spiritual rewards. Jesus said:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

The phrase Jesus used, practicing your righteousness, had to do with bringing forth fruit (G4160) and is related to a statement Paul made in his letter to the Ephesians about God’s effort to transform the lives of believers. Paul talked about the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and his kindness toward us in bringing us to Christ (Ephesians 2:5-7) and then he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Greek word poiema (poy’-ay-mah), which is translated workmanship in Ephesians 2:10, refers to a thing that is made, a product (G4161). One of the reasons God saves people is so that he can use them to bless others. We can’t take credit for the good things we do because they are actually a result of God working in and through us to accomplish certain tasks that he had already planned ahead of time to do regardless of our involvement. Jesus’ ministry is filled with examples of the kinds of things that God wants to do and how our submission to his will can make a difference in the world. Jesus indicated that our giving should be done in secret so that our Father “who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4). What Jesus meant by that was that our spiritual growth is a private matter, but God is aware of everything that goes on in the spiritual realm and is keeping track of our spiritual progress. The New King James Version of Matthew 6:4 states “your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” One way of interpreting this statement would be that God will make himself apparent in our lives or that the reward we get will be visible to others. With regard to a harvest of righteousness, this might mean that we will receive a greater portion of the Holy Spirit which would be evident to others through the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The important thing to remember is that we are a spiritual work in progress and God is behind every act of grace that we are prompted to do.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be generous because it would result in more fruit for the entire body of Christ. Paul stated:

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:11-15)

Paul specifically mentioned the Corinthians submission to the will of God in order to point out that they were following the example of Christ and were in turn being good examples to others. Paul also made note of the fact that the recipients of their gift would be longing and praying for the Corinthians as a result of their generosity and would be able to recognize that the surpassing grace of God was upon them (2 Corinthians 9:14).

The surpassing grace that Paul referred to (2 Corinthians 9:14) may have been what Peter was talking about when he encouraged believers to be good stewards of God’s grace. Peter said, “Since therefore Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1). Peter went on to say that believers should not be judged in the flesh the way people are, but “live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6). To live in the spirit means that we have recovered the physical life from the power of death. The Greek word zao (dzah’-o) means to live “in the sense of to exist, in an absolute sense and without end, now and hereafter: to live forever” (G2198). Jesus told his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).