Spiritual conflict

When the people of Israel left Egypt, Exodus 12:37-38 tells us that there were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children and “a mixed multitude also went up with them.” The mixed multitude consisted of people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds” (H6154), most likely descendants of Jacob that were part Egyptian and part Israelite. After the Israelites started their journey from the Sinai Desert to the wilderness of Paran, the people began to complain (Numbers 11:1) and it says in Numbers 11:4, “Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat?” (NKJV). The mixed multitude’s influence over the people of Israel led to an extreme dissatisfaction that ultimately caused the entire congregation to reject God. Numbers 14:1-4 states:

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

The people’s conclusion that it would be better for them to go back to Egypt was based on “that which is appealing and pleasant to the senses” (H2896). The people of Israel thought that it would be easier for them to go back to being slaves in Egypt than to conquer the people living in Canaan.

God pardoned the people for their rebellion against him, but also made it clear that none of the men who had seen his glory and the signs that he did in Egypt and had not obeyed his voice would see the land that he swore to give them (Numbers 14:23). And yet, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you, and you offer to the Lord from the herd or from the flock a food offering or a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering or at your appointed feasts, to make a pleasing aroma to the Lord, then he who brings his offering shall offer to the Lord a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with a quarter of a hinof oil; and you shall offer with the burnt offering, or for the sacrifice, a quarter of a hin of wine for the drink offering for each lamb’” (Numbers 15:1-5). The reason why the LORD communicated his expectation at that particular point in time that the people were going to occupy the land of Canaan and would offer sacrifices to him was most likely to reinforce the fact that the final outcome of the Israelites’ situation was not dependent on their faithfulness to him, but God’s faithfulness to keep his promises.

One of the things that God clarified for the people before they moved on was the difference between an unintentional sin or mistake and willful rebellion against him. Numbers 15:22-27 states:

“But if you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments that the Lord has spoken to Moses, all that the Lord has commanded you by Moses, from the day that the Lord gave commandment, and onward throughout your generations, then if it was done unintentionally without the knowledge of the congregation, all the congregation shall offer one bull from the herd for a burnt offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the rule, and one male goat for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the people of Israel, and they shall be forgiven, because it was a mistake, and they have brought their offering, a food offering to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord for their mistake.

The LORD said that an unintentional sin would be forgiven because it was a mistake (Numbers 15:25). On the contrary, intentional sins would not to be forgiven. The LORD told Moses:

“But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is a native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.” (Numbers 15:30-31).

God indicated that the person that despised his word and broke his commandment would be utterly cut off. Basically, that meant that the person would be excluded from God’s covenant and his promises with regard to that specific person would become null and void. God demonstrated the principle of intentional sin when “a man gathered sticks on the Sabbath day” (Numbers 15:32). The LORD told Moses, “The man shall be put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp” (Numbers 15:35).

The people of Israel’s tendency to rebel against God was dealt with in a very severe manner, but the LORD wanted the people to understand that they couldn’t trust their own instincts. God instructed the people to put tassels on their garments to remind them of the LORD’s commandments and told them “not to follow after your own heart” (Numbers 15:39). Following after our own heart means that we explore our thoughts, feelings, and desires to discover what we would like to do or what we might happen next in a particular situation. While the heart “is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3824). The problem with following after our own heart is that the influences from the outer word and the influences from God Himself do not usually align with each other, and as a result, there will be spiritual conflict.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included instructions about how to resist the influences of the outer world. Paul said:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

Paul’s reference to putting on spiritual armor was meant to convey the importance of protecting ourselves from the schemes of the devil. The Greek word that is translated schemes, methodeia (meth-od-iˊ-ah) means “to work by method. To trace out with method and skill, to treat methodically; to use art, to deal artfully; hence method, in the sense of art, wile (Ephesians 4:14; 6:11)” (G3180). The devil considers it his craft to entice believers to do things that are contrary to God’s will. The devil often works through people that we admire in order to get us to do things that we know are wrong.

Korah’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron’s authority was intended to undermine their ability to influence the people of Israel to do what God wanted them to. Numbers 16:1-3 states:

Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

Korah argued against Moses and Aaron’s authority by stating that everyone in the congregation was holy. Although it was true that all of the Israelites had been consecrated to the LORD, they were not all free from sin. Moses responded to Korah’s accusation by pointing out that he and his followers were rebelling against God (Numbers 16:11) and said, “In the morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him” (Numbers 16:5). Moses indicated that there was only one person who was holy in the congregation and that person had been chosen by God to lead the people.

It might seem as though Moses was referring to himself when he said that the LORD would show who was his and would bring him near to him (Numbers 16:5), but Moses was likely referring to the angel of the LORD who was sent to guard the people on their way to land of Canaan (Exodus 23:20). “There is a distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ…The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him. No man can see the full glory of God and live (Exodus 33:20), but Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity was manifested in bodily form, has made God the Father known (John 1:18; Colossians 2:9)” (note on Exodus 23:20-23).

Moses and Aaron interceded for the people of Israel (Numbers 16:22) and told them to “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins” (Numbers 16:26). The Israelites were told that they needed to stop associating with Korah or his influence would lead to their destruction. Afterward, Moses said of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram:

“Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.” And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. (Numbers 16:28-33)

The Hebrew word that is translated perished in Numbers 16:33, ʾabad (aw-bad) means “to wander away, i.e. lose oneself” or “to be lost” (H6). Korah and all the people who belonged to him were lost in the sense of being unsaved. Their souls were not redeemed and therefore, they were condemned to eternal punishment.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul talked about Christ’s judgment of the living and the dead. Paul said to Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:1-4). The dead that Paul was talking about in this passage were the spiritually dead (G3498). Paul indicated that Christ would judge the living and the dead. The Greek word that is translated judge, krino (kreeˊ-no) has to do with pronouncing an opinion concerning right and wrong, in a forensic sense (G2919). The difference between a living person and a dead person in a forensic sense is quite clear therefore, you should be able to distinguish very easily what a person’s spiritual state is. The problem is that the devil is very clever in the way that he disguises himself and is able to deceive an unsuspecting or naïve believer (Matthew 24:25) and so, Paul admonished Timothy to “always be sober-minded” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated sober-minded in 2 Timothy 4:5, nepho (nayˊ-fo) signifies “to be free from the influence of intoxicants” (G3525). This seems to suggest that demonic influence can be similar to getting drunk. One way of describing this kind of effect might be the mob mentality which can easily overtake people in emotionally charged situations. In contentious sporting events, people seem to lose their minds and can get out of control very quickly. The point that Paul was trying to make was that Timothy needed to make an intentional effort to not let himself come under the influence of someone or something that would compromise his ability to serve God. Paul told Timothy that he had “fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on the Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). In this passage, Paul referred to the Lord as the righteous judge. What Paul was likely getting at was that Jesus is able to judge us as one who is an expert in human behavior because he lived a human life and can discern between human and divine characteristics. Jesus doesn’t judge people from a superior perspective, but as one who can relate to all that we have to deal with regarding the overwhelming negative influences in our lives.

Paul concluded his second letter to Timothy with some examples of the spiritual conflict that he had to deal with during the final years of his ministry. Paul said:

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me…Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! (2 Timothy 4:9-11, 14-16)

Paul indicated that he had been deserted by all of his ministry companions and that the only one that was with him at the time when he was writing his letter to Timothy was Luke. Paul’s statement, “May it not be charged against them!” (2 Timothy 4:16) may have been related to his earlier comment about the crown of righteousness that Christ would award “to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Paul didn’t want his companions to be judged too harshly because they had helped him a great deal in the early years of his ministry. The Greek word that is translated charged in 2 Timothy 4:16, logizomai (log-idˊ-zom-ahee) means “to take an inventory” and primarily signifies “’to reckon,’ whether by calculation or imputation…Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049). The remission of sins is what makes the imputation of Christ’s righteousness balance out our account and makes it possible for us to be free from our moral debt to God. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness,” so it is one’s belief in God that causes Christ’s righteousness to be imputed to his account.

Paul’s concern for his companions’ spiritual well being was similar to Moses and Aaron’s reaction to the rebellion that undermined their ability to lead the people of Israel. After everyone grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD” (Numbers 16:41), the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” (Numbers 16:45), but instead, Moses and Aaron “fell on their faces. And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath had gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.’ So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped” (Numbers 16:45-48). When Aaron stood between the dead and the living, he was acting as a spiritual guard, similar to what Paul said Timothy should do when he instructed him to be “sober-minded” (2 Timothy 4:5). In the midst of spiritual conflict, Aaron was able to intervene and restored order to the congregation. As a result, the plague was stopped and the Israelites continued their journey to the Promised Land.

Living in the spirit

The Bible identifies three distinct parts of human beings that make it possible for us to be alive: the body, the soul, and the spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). What we think of as our bodies, the physical part of our being, the Bible describes as the flesh, the material nature as distinguished from that which is spiritual and intangible. The Greek word sarx (sarx) is specifically used in reference to the mortal body in distinction from a future and spiritual existence. Sarx implies weakness, frailty, imperfection, both physical and moral and by implication represents human nature. Sarx is “used specifically of the incarnation of Christ, His incarnate human nature” (G4651). The Apostle Peter talked about Jesus suffering for righteousness sake and said, “For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). The soul (psuche, psoo-khay’) is that immaterial part of man that is held in common with animals. It is the vital principle, the animating element in men and animals and is “the seat of the senses, desires, affections, appetites, passions, the lower aspect of one’s nature” (G5590). Jesus spoke of the soul as the driving force in our lives and even equated it with life itself (Matthew 6:25). He said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Pneuma (pnyoo’-mah) is unique to man and is “the breath breathed by God into man and again returning to God, the spiritual entity in man (Matthew 27:50).” When the Bible talks about spirit, in general, it is referring to “a simple, incorporeal, immaterial being (thought of as possessing higher capabilities than man does in his present state)” (G4151).

Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The Holy Spirit, who is often associated with the spiritual nature of God (Ephesians 6:17), is a distinct person that is “spoken of in connection with God the Father, as having intimate union or oneness with him” (G4151). The Holy Spirit is described “as coming to and acting upon Christians, illuminating and empowering them, and remaining with them, imparting to them spiritual knowledge, aid, consolation, sanctification, and making intercession with and for them (Ephesians 3:16; 6:18)…The technical expression ‘to be baptized in [or with] the Holy Spirit’ refers to the spiritual baptism into the body of Christ for all those who were truly saved (Matthew 3:11).” Jesus described the Holy Spirit as “another Helper” that would be with us forever (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit’s first appearance on earth is recorded in Acts 2:1-4 where it says, “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.”

Moses’ initial encounter with God may have involved all three persons of the trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Exodus 3:1-6 states:

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

When Moses turned aside to see why the bush was not burned, he was in essence entering into the spiritual realm, or you might say turning on his spiritual senses, which then made it possible for God to communicate with him. Jesus often used the phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15) to get people’s spiritual attention and said, “this is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13). Jesus used the Greek word suniemi (soon-ee’-ay-mee), which is translated understand, figuratively to mean bringing together something in the mind, “to grasp concepts and see the proper relation between them. Hence, to comprehend, understand, perceive” (G4920). Jesus linked understanding with the heart to conversion to Christ and said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). In other words, the human spirit is predisposed toward communion with God, but our flesh lacks spiritual acuity.

The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that there is an internal conflict going on in believers between our spirit and our flesh. Paul stated:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25)

Paul described the law as being spiritual and said that he delighted in the law of God in his inner being. What Paul most likely meant by his inner being was the new nature that Jesus Christ gives to believers (G444). God promised the Israelites he would give them “a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 36:26) and foretold of a covenant that he would establish with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

The centerpiece of the first covenant that was established with the people of Israel was the Ten Commandments which God spoke to them directly from the top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17). Afterward, God said, “You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven” (Exodus 20:22). It seemed to be important that the Israelites hear the basic terms of their covenant with God directly from him. When it came time for them to confirm the covenant, “All the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do. And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:3-4). Somewhat like how the Holy Spirit remains with Christians and illuminates and empowers them, God traveled with the Israelites through the desert in the form of an angel. Exodus 23:20-21 states:

“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.”

“There is the distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ. The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the Lord has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him. No man can see the full glory of God and live (Exodus 33:20), but Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity was manifested in bodily form, has made God the Father known (John 1:18; Colossians 2:9)” (note on Exodus 23:20-23).

An interesting thing to note about the preincarnate existence of Jesus is that God told the Israelites “he will not pardon your transgressions” (Exodus 23:21, emphasis added). The Hebrew word that is translated pardon, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). In his preincarnate state, Jesus’ role seems to be comparable to what it will be like when he returns to the earth and judges all of mankind. Jesus said of this final judgment, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'” (Matthew 25:31-34). Jesus’ depiction of those who are blessed by his Father as sheep might be connected with the role he played in the Israelites journey through the wilderness. God said that he would send his angel before the people to guard them on the way (Exodus 23:20). The Hebrew word that is translated guard, shamar (shaw-mar) means to watch carefully over, to care for and “also indicates caring for sheep (1 Samuel 17:20)” (H8104). The Hebrew word derek (deh’-rek), which is translated way, “is most often used metaphorically to refer to the pathway of one’s life” (H1870). It’s likely that guarding the people on the way meant that Jesus would keep the children of Israel in the will of God by making sure that they reached the land that God promised to give them.

Moses and seventy of the elders of Israel were given the opportunity to see Jesus in his glorified state after the people of Israel confirmed their covenant with the LORD. Exodus 24:9-11 states, “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel went up and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.” One of the meanings of the word chazah (khaw-zaw’), which is translated beheld, is “‘to see’ in a prophetic vision” (H2372). The prophet Ezekiel saw a similar scene in heaven and recorded his prophetic vision this way:

And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. (Ezekiel 1:26-28)

Moses and the elders’ experience was not described as a vision and it’s possible that they were somehow transported through time when they “went up and saw the God of Israel” (Exodus 24:9). The Hebrew word chazah means “to gaze at; (mentally) to perceive” (H2372). Evidently, these men were able to spiritually perceive what was going on in heaven and shared a meal with Jesus (Exodus 24:11) just as his twelve disciples did when they confirmed the New Covenant with him during their last supper together (Matthew 26:26-29).

Peter indicated that suffering was associated with living in the spirit and said, “Since therefore Christ 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 4:1-2). Peter’s recommendation of filling our minds with the kinds of thoughts that Jesus did in order to combat our spiritual enemy, the devil was similar to Paul’s prescription for spiritual success. Paul stated:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

Putting off your old self and being renewed in the spirit of your minds has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word that is translated renewed, ananeoo (an-an-neh-o’-o) means to renovate or reform. “The renewal here mentioned is not that of the mind itself in its natural powers of memory, judgment and perception, but ‘the spirit of the mind’; which, under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, directs its bent and energies God-ward in the enjoyment of fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ, and of the fulfillment of the will of God” (G365).

Peter contrasted people who are living in the spirit with those who are spiritually dead and said that the gospel was preached to the dead so that they might “live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6), indicating that the key to living in the spirit is a relationship with Jesus Christ. When we are living in the spirit, we are shifting the focus of our attention away from the material needs of our bodies onto the immaterial world around us. Heaven is sometimes thought of as a distant place that we go to when we die, but John the Baptist declared during his ministry that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 3:2). The phrase is at hand can be understood to mean near in the sense of being close to you (G1448). A person can come near to God by embracing the Gospel (G1451). Paul told the Ephesians, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Peter encouraged believers to “above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) and went on to say, “Beloved, do not be surprised by the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Peter didn’t hide the fact that living in the spirit might lead to persecution and suffering from a human standpoint, but he also made it clear that we will rejoice and be glad that we have been good stewards of God’s grace when Christ returns to judge the world (1 Peter 4:3-11).