A life and death decision

At the end of his life, Joshua summoned all Israel and challenged the people to make a commitment to the LORD. The central point of Joshua’s argument was the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Sinai which stipulated their “total consecration to the Lord as His people (His kingdom) who live by His rule and serve His purposes” (Major Covenants of the Old Testament, KJSB, p.16). When Moses told the people of Israel all the words of the LORD and all the rules, the covenant was confirmed by them. “All the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do’” (Exodus 24:3-4). Because God had kept his promise and had given the people of Israel all the land that he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Joshua 23:9); Joshua said, “Now, therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14). Fearing and serving the LORD meant that the people worshipped God by living according to his Ten Commandments and the other laws that were recorded in Exodus 20-23. The Hebrew word that is translated serve, ʿabad (aw-badˊ) means “to work (in any sense)…When the focus of the labour is the Lord, it is a religious service to worship Him. Moreover, in these cases, the word does not have connotations of toilsome labour but instead of a joyful experience of liberation (Exodus 3:12; 4:23; 7:16; Joshua 24:15, 18)” (H5647). Joshua instructed the people to worship the LORD in sincerity and in faithfulness. Both of these words have to do with living by faith, or more specifically, living consistent with the truth of God’s word. “To walk in truth is to conduct oneself according to God’s holy standards (1 Kings 2:4; 3:6; Psalm 86:11; Isaiah 38:3)” (H571).

Joshua’s challenge eluded to the fact that the people were free to worship whatever gods they wanted to, but they could not serve God and others at the same time. Joshua instructed them to:

“Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

“This challenge was similar to that issued by Moses to the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Joshua summarized the options that were open to the Israelites: (1) They could return to serve the gods of their ancestors. The expression ‘beyond the River’ refers to the Euphrates. ‘The gods that your fathers served’ is a reference to the ones worshipped by Terah, Abraham’s father (Joshua 24:2). They may have been similar to the images in Laban’s home (Genesis 31:19, 30, 34). Apparently there were some Israelites who privately worshipped these false gods (Joshua 24:23). (2) They could serve the gods of the Amorites. Although the term ‘Amorites’ often refers to a specific people, it was also used in a generic sense for all the people living in Canaan. (3) They could follow the example of Joshua and his family in serving the Lord” (note on Joshua 24:14, 15).

Joshua realized that not everyone in Israel was committed to the LORD. Joshua presented three options to the people as a way of acknowledging their divided interests. The Hebrew word that is translated choose in Joshua 24:15, bachar (baw-kharˊ) “denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977). Bachar is used in Deuteronomy 7:6 and 7:7 to signify God’s selection of the people of Israel as his treasured possession. Deuteronomy 7:6-11 states:

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

Moses pointed out that God’s selection of the Israelites was based on his love for them and that he was a “faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him” (Deuteronomy 7:9). The Hebrew word ʾaheb (aw-habeˊ) “means ‘to love; like.’ Basically this verb is equivalent to the English ‘to love’ in the sense of having a strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or to be in the presence of the object” (H157). The expected extent of the Israelites’ love for God was expressed in what Jesus referred to as the greatest commandment, which stated, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

When Moses presented the Israelites with the choice to serve God or not, he made it a life and death decision. Moses said:

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Moses indicated that life must be chosen and equated life with “loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him.” And then, Moses told the Israelites emphatically that God is “your life and length of days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). At the end of his ministry, Jesus encouraged his disciples by telling them, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and then went on to say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”

The Apostle Peter connected followers of Christ with the covenant that God made with Israel on Mount Sinai in his letter to the exiles of the Dispersion. Echoing God’s statement to his chosen people in Exodus 19:5-6, Peter said, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Jesus also made it clear that his ministry was meant to bring to fruition what God had initiated on Mount Sinai when he gave the Israelites his Ten Commandments. Jesus told his followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

Jesus’ interpretation of the law was often challenged. When he was confronted by a rich young man about the way to get to heaven, Jesus explained that God’s standard was beyond what could be humanly attained by him. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

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

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:16-30)

Jesus’ statement, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” indicated that salvation was a divine act rather than a human one. The Greek word dunatos (doo-natˊ-os), which is translated possible, is derived from the word dunamai (dooˊ-nam-ahee). “Dunamai means to be able, to have power, whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources (Romans 15:14); or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances” (G1410). According to Jesus, no one has the power; whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources, or through a state of mind, or through favorable circumstances, to save himself, but God can save anyone that he chooses to.

The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Philippians that righteousness can only be achieved through faith in Christ. Paul told the Philippians:

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:1-11)

Paul said that as to righteousness under the law he was blameless, indicating that he had done everything that was required of him according to the law; and yet, Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). Paul understood that it was not his own righteousness that mattered, but the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:9, Genesis 15:6).

The Israelites response to Joshua’s challenge was favorable. It showed that they were willing to abandon their false gods, but Joshua didn’t believe that their decision to serve God was sincere. Joshua 24:16-23 states:

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

Joshua’s cynical attitude may have been due to his experience wandering in the wilderness with the Israelites. Joshua’s statement, “You are not able to serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:19) was true in the sense that the people of Israel did not have the spiritual strength within themselves to obey God’s commandments; but the key to the Israelites’ success was not their spiritual strength, it was their continual pursuit of a relationship with God (Joshua 22:5).

Jesus’ parable of the ten minas revealed that Israel had actually rejected God because they hated him and that the people didn’t want to be subject to Christ. Luke 19:11-27 states:

As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas,and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”

The wicked servant in Jesus’ parable characterized the Lord as a severe man that took what he had not deposited with him and reaped what he had not sown. Even though the wicked servant wasn’t faithful in his service to the Lord, he wasn’t punished, he merely lost out on his reward. Jesus’ concluding statement, “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me” (Luke 19:27) indicates that only those who have refused to serve him will be put to death when he returns. “No matter how much or how little one has, it must always be remembered that it has come from God. Each person is responsible to him for the way he uses what the Lord has given” (note on Luke 19:11-27).

Spiritual freedom

The Apostle Paul’s letter to a believer named Philemon contains important information about Paul’s attitude regarding spiritual freedom. Paul began his letter with the salutation, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:1-3). Paul wrote to Philemon while he was imprisoned in Rome, so his identification of himself as a prisoner was applicable to his circumstances, but Paul reversed the situation when he added the phrase for Jesus Christ. Even though Paul was imprisoned against his will, Paul believed that God was using his situation to further the gospel. Paul discussed this point extensively in his letter to the Philippians. Paul said:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Only let your manner of life be worthyof the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:12-30)

Paul said that he expected his imprisonment to turn out for his deliverance (Philippians 1:19). Paul was not only talking about being released from prison, but was also talking about his “deliverance from sin and its spiritual consequences and admission to eternal life with blessedness in the kingdom of Christ” (G4991). Paul went on to say that it was his eager expectation and hope that he would “not be at all ashamed” but that Christ would be honored in his body “whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21). What Paul likely meant by to die is gain was that the believers’ victory over sin and death is not fully realized until we are all in heaven. Revelation 12:10-11 states, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Paul was convinced that he would be released from prison and said, “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:25-26). Paul echoed his confidence of being released in his letter to Philemon. Paul said, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (Philemon 1:21-22). The Greek word that is translated graciously given, charizomai (khar-idˊ-zom-ahee) is spoken “of persons, to deliver up or over in answer to demands (Acts 3:14; 25:11, 16) or in answer to prayer (Acts 27:24; Philemon 1:22). Charizomai is translated granted in Acts 27:24 in reference to the lives of those who were sailing with Paul to Rome being saved from death in a storm at sea. Paul encouraged his shipmates and told them, “For this very night there stood before me an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:23-25).

Paul’s faith in God made it possible for him to experience spiritual freedom even though he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul talked about the effectiveness of sharing your faith in his letter to Philemon. Paul said:

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 1:4-7)

The Greek word that is translated effective in Philemon 1:6, energace (en-er-gaceˊ) has to do with the internal work of the Holy Spirit. In reference to sharing your faith, energace means that your faith is “active, operative” (G1756). Energace is translated active in Hebrews 4:12. It states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Paul’s letter was intended to activate Philemon’s faith in that Paul used his own situation of imprisonment in Rome to trigger a particular response from his fellow worker. The Greek word that is translated prisoner, desmios (desˊ-mee-os) means “a captive (as bound)” (G1198) and is derived from the word desmos (des-mosˊ), which is translated imprisonment in Philemon 1:10 and 1:12. Desmos refers to “a band i.e. ligament (of the body) or shackle (of a prisoner). Paul used the Greek word desmos in his second letter to Timothy. Paul said, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound in chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9). When Paul said the word of God is not bound, he used the word deo (dehˊ-o), which appears in Matthew 16:19 where Jesus told his disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Being loosed on earth speaks of persons bound in sin and wickedness, who are loosed through the preaching of the gospel and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what had happened to Philemon’s slave Onesimus. Paul wrote, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:15-16).

“Paul acted in strict accordance with the requirements of the law in dealing with Onesimus, a slave who had run away from Philemon. First, Paul gave him shelter in his own hired house. He did not betray him as a fugitive nor did he send word to Philemon to come to Rome and take Onesimus back. Furthermore, Paul instructed Onesimus in the gospel, eventually leading him to salvation in Christ (Philemon 1:10). He then sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a trusted messenger and brother in Christ, bearing a request for Philemon to grant Onesimus freedom (Philemon 1:12). Paul did not accuse Onesimus of wrongdoing by running away from Philemon. Instead Paul stated that it was by the merciful providence of God that he had departed from Philemon. Paul desired for Philemon to receive Onesimus back no longer as a servant, but as a beloved brother and partner in Christ (Philemon 1:15-17)” (Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Philemon). Paul’s strict accordance to the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15-16), gave him the assurance that he was doing God’s will when he took Onesimus in and sheltered him until he had received salvation. Paul’s plea for Onesimus was based on his obedience to God’s word. Paul wrote to Philemon, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment” (Philemon 1:8-10).

Paul’s appeal to Philemon was likely prompted by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word that is translated appeal in Philemon 1:9, parakaleo (par-ak-al-ehˊ-o) is derived from the words para (par-ahˊ) and kaleo (kal-ehˊ-o) which “is used particularly of the divine call to partake of the blessings of redemption” (G2564). Paul wanted Philemon to voluntarily grant Onesimus his freedom (Philemon 1:18). The Hebrew fugitive law stated, “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Paul was not required to send Onesimus back to Philemon, but he likely did it so that Onesimus’ testimony could benefit the spread of the gospel (Philemon 1:11). Paul told Philemon, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord” (Philemon 1:12-14).

The Hebrew fugitive law indicated that a slave who had escaped from his master was essentially a free person; he could not be imprisoned or returned to his master (Deuteronomy 23:15). This law illustrated the principle of being delivered from spiritual bondage and fits in with Jesus’ teaching about binding and loosing things on earth and in heaven (Matthew 16:19). Jesus told the Jews who believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36). The Greek word that is translated free, eleuthero (el-yoo-ther-oˊ-o) means “to make free, liberate from the power and punishment of sin, the result of redemption (John 8:32, 36; Romans 6:18, 22). Jesus indicated that “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated slave, doulos (dooˊ-los) is the same word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he referred to Onesimus as a bondservant and said that he was sending him back to Philemon “no longer as a bondservant, but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16). Paul indicated that Onesimus’ spiritual status had changed because of his faith in Christ.

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that spiritual freedom means that we are no longer slaves to sin, but have become slaves of righteousness. Paul said:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15-23)

According to Paul, even though believers are free in regard to righteousness, our spiritual freedom is constantly being attack. Paul said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Wickedness embodies that character which is opposite the character of God and may be thought of as an opposing force to righteousness (H7562). Proverbs 10:2 tells us that “treasures gained by wickedness do not profit but righteousness delivers from death.” The Hebrew word that is translated delivers, nâtsal naw-tsalˊ) is translated escaped in the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15) and also appears in Exodus 3:7-8 where the LORD speaking to Moses out of the midst of a burning bush said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver (nâtsal) them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (emphasis mine).

God’s ability to deliver believers from wickedness is based on the authority that Christ has in the spiritual realm. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians:

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:15-21)

Paul said that the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us is “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20). The Greek words that are translated working and worked are both derived from the Greek word energes, the Greek word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he talked about the sharing of Philemon’s faith becoming effective (Philemon 1:6).

Paul indicated in his letter to the Colossians that the powerful working of God is connected with the believer’s baptism, when he identifies himself with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Paul said:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:11-15)

According to Paul, believers have spiritual freedom because the record of their moral debt to God has been cancelled. When Jesus died on the cross, he disarmed the rulers and authorities that wage spiritual warfare against believers and through death destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Repentance

Before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, he gave Abraham an opportunity to intercede on behalf of these two wicked cities. “The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him'” (Genesis 18:17-19). God chose Abraham to be the channel through which his salvation would flow to all mankind. Because of his relationship with the LORD, Abraham was able to influence God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah.

God described the situation in Sodom and Gomorrah as one that had reached a point of no return. “Then the LORD said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know'” (Genesis 18:20-21). The Hebrew word translated altogether, kalah (kaw-law’) means a completion or completely (H3617). God was going to determine if Sodom and Gomorrah had become completely corrupted by visiting the cities himself. The phrase “I will know” refers to personal experience which includes observation and recognition (H3045). The LORD’s intention was to make his final decision about whether or not the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah needed to be destroyed after he observed their behavior.

When God told Abraham what he was going to do, it says in Genesis 18:22-23 that Abraham stood before the LORD and drew near to him. What this suggests is that Abraham had an intimate conversation with the LORD in order to change his mind about what he intended to do. Abraham wanted God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were enough righteous people in the cities to take the responsibilities for the sins of others by substitution or representation (H5375). In other words, Abraham wanted God to let the righteousness of a few individuals bear the burden of Sodom and Gomorrah’s habitual deviation from his moral standards. Abraham thought ten righteous people were enough for God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction (Genesis 18:32).

When the two angels that God sent to destroy Sodom arrived at the city gate, Abraham’s nephew Lot insisted they spend the night at his house (Genesis 19:3). While they were there, “The men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.’ Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg of you my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof'” (Genesis 19:4-8). Lot’s awareness of these men’s ruthless behavior and willingness to give his virgin daughters to them showed that he had no moral conviction about their sexual purity.

Psalm 11:2-3 states, “the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The psalmist used the analogy of a broken foundation to depict a corrupt political system that was taking advantage of innocent people. His question, “What can the righteous do?” suggests that Lot’s effort to stop the men of Sodom from raping his guests was a futile effort as evidenced by the angels having to rescue him from the hands of an angry mob (Genesis 19:10-11). Surprisingly, when Lot was told that Sodom was going to be destroyed, he was confused and had to be forcefully removed from the city limits in order to be saved from God’s punishment (Genesis 19:16).

Genesis 19:16 indicates that God was being merciful to Lot when he brought him out of Sodom. The Hebrew word translated merciful, chemlah (khem-law’) means that God took pity on Lot. What this suggests is that Lot was not righteous and it was only because of Abraham’s intercession on behalf of Sodom that God spared his life. When the angels instructed Lot to leave Sodom, Genesis 19:16 indicates,”he lingered.” The Hebrew word translated lingered, mahahh (maw-hah’) is derived from the word meh (meh) which conveys the exclamations of what! or why! Lot was most likely shocked by the news that Sodom was going to be destroyed, but his reaction seems to suggest that he was undecided about whether or not he wanted to give up the life he had established there.

Psalm 11:4-5 states, “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven: his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” The Hebrew word translated tests, bachan (baw-khan’) means to investigate (H974) and the word see or chazah (khaw-zaw’) in Hebrew means “to gaze at; mentally to perceive” (H2372). God already knew what was going on in Sodom before he sent his angels there to destroy it. It’s possible that the reason why the LORD went to investigate the situation (Genesis 18:21) was to determine if Lot wanted to be saved or would rather go to hell with the rest of his companions.

John the Baptist preached a simple message to get the attention of those who were in danger of eternal punishment. He told them to, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The Greek word that is translated repent, metanoeo (met-an-o-eh’-o) means “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider” (G3340). John was letting people know that their behavior had been corrupted by the culture they were living in and their minds needed to be redirected toward spiritual matters. John was described as the one who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight'” (Matthew 3:3). The way the prophet was referring to was the way of access into the direct presence of God (G3598). Making one’s paths straight refers to such things as are produced by an inward act of the mind or will with regard to godly behavior (G4160).

John’s simple message might be summarized with the statement, you’re on the wrong track or you’re going in the wrong direction. John wanted people to understand that they didn’t have to live the way they were, their lives could be different. As the angels brought Lot out of Sodom, “one said, ‘Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley” (Genesis 19:17). The Hebrew word that is translated life, nephesh (neh’-fesh) refers to the inner person or soul (H5315), indicating that Lot’s physical well-being was not the issue the angel was concerned with. Remaining in Sodom would mean that Lot had rejected God’s offer of salvation and would rather be condemned with the rest of the Sodomites than separate himself from them.

Lot managed to escape Sodom, but only by the skin of his teeth. Because of his reluctance to start over, Lot asked for a compromise. He suggested to the angels that were attempting to rescue him, “Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there – is it not a little one? – and my life will be saved!” (Genesis 19:20). Basically, what Lot wanted was to avoid God’s judgment, but to be able to pick up where he left off with the life he had when he was living in Sodom. Lot didn’t want to change his behavior, just his circumstances. Lot’s question, “is it not a little one?” might be interpreted as, this one isn’t so bad is it? Most likely, the town that Lot wanted to go to was just as wicked as Sodom was, but was operating on a much smaller scale. Instead of an organized crime syndicate, Zoar may have only had just a bunch of petty thieves.

After the LORD rained sulfur and fire out of heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah, it says in Genesis 19:30, “Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters.” The Hebrew word translated fear, yare (yaw-ray’) means to stand in awe. “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). It could be that Lot finally came to a place of repentance, realized that he was in moral danger and wanted to separate himself from the wicked behavior that was threatening his spiritual well-being. In spite of his attempt to disconnect from the world around him, Lot was still overtaken by sin. His daughters became pregnant by him while he was intoxicated (Genesis 19:32-36) and gave birth to sons that became two idolatrous nations that were enemies of Abraham’s descendants (notes on Genesis 19:37 and 19:38).

John the Baptist confronted the religious leaders that came to him to be baptized. “He exclaimed, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). John indicated that repentance was a requirement for someone to be baptized. The Greek word translated repentance, metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) focuses on the outward expression of repentance. “This change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341). In other words, John was looking for genuine acts of repentance that were evidence of having developed a relationship with God.

One of the things that was evidence of Abraham’s relationship with God was that he moved to a new location when God told him to (Genesis 12:4). God expected Abraham to sojourn or live in a land that was hostile to him. After Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Abraham went to a place called Gerar where he thought, “There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife” (Genesis 20:11). Abraham’s assumptions about Gerar caused him to hide the fact that Sarah was his wife and instead told Abimelech the king of Gerar, “She is my sister” (Genesis 20:2). Abraham’s deception led to Abimelech taking his wife away from him and Sarah’s integrity being compromised. “But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, ‘Behold you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife'” (Genesis 20:3).

Abimelech’s response to the message he received indicated that he recognized who was speaking to him and respected the person’s authority. He said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people. Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this” (Genesis 20:4-5). Abimelech’s declaration of innocence was based on his intent to marry Sarah and form a political alliance with Abraham (note on Genesis 20:2-18). “Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart and it was I who kept you from sinning against me” (Genesis 20:6).

Abimelech’s integrity had to do with his motive being right, but his innocence had to do with his actions toward Abraham. Because they were not aligned, it could be said that Abimelech was not right with God. Even though, there was nothing about his behavior that was offensive to the Lord, Abimelech didn’t have a personal relationship with the LORD and couldn’t claim any benefit for his motive being right. Abraham had to pray to God on his behalf and then, God healed Abimelech and also healed his wife and female slaves from their infertility (Genesis 20:17-18).

When the LORD said, “it was I who kept you from sinning against me” (Genesis 20:6), he was letting Abimelech know that he didn’t have the power to control his own behavior. In other words, if God hadn’t kept Abimelech from having sexual relations with Sarah, he would have done so. God said that he didn’t let Abimelech touch Sarah (Genesis 20:6), meaning that the LORD caused circumstances beyond his control to keep Abimelech from getting physically close to or personally involved with Sarah (Genesis 20:4). This was not done to protect Abimelech’s reputation, but to keep Sarah chaste (Genesis 20:16).

Abimelech’s claim of innocence indicated that he didn’t feel any guilt or remorse for taking Sarah away from Abraham. Even though his motives were honorable, Abimelech was acting contrary to God’s will and was punished for his interference in Abraham and Sarah’s lives (Genesis 20:18). In order to make things right, Abimelech had to return Sarah to her husband “so that he will pray for you, and you shall live” (Genesis 20:7). This act of repentance is what caused Abimelech’s life to be spared. Repentance, “a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341) implies obedience to the will of God. John the Baptist described this as bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8) and said, “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).

John was surprised when “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13). “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:14-15). John’s determination that it was inappropriate for him to baptize Jesus was based on his knowledge that Jesus had not committed any sin and therefore, did not need to repent and be baptized. Jesus explained to John that baptism was the way that God had decided to attribute righteousness to believers. In other words, baptism is the act whereby all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are brought into a right relationship with God (G1343).

Jesus’ statement, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15) had to do with the way Old Testament believers like Abraham got saved. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The Hebrew word that is translated counted, chashab (khaw-shab’) means to impute or to treat Abraham as if he had righteousness even though he didn’t. The righteousness that was imputed to Abraham was the righteousness of Christ and the method that was used to impute it to him was Jesus’ baptism. The method of water baptism is referred to as “justification by faith” (G1343).

All believers are justified by faith, but the benefits of salvation are different for New Testament believers. John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). What John was saying was that the best that Old Testament believers could hope for was to repent and have their relationship with God restored, but New Testament believers can receive power through the Holy Spirit that will enable them to control their behavior and be able to stop sinning, to be free from the effects of their sin nature.

Matthew 3:16-17 states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'” God’s verbal confirmation indicated that Jesus’ action had reversed the effects of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. Whereas before it was impossible for God to be pleased with any man’s behavior, Jesus’ baptism showed that on an individual basis, acts of repentance could gain one access into the direct presence of God and restore fellowship with him permanently.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believer you died for my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

The anointing

One of the characteristics of the first kings of Israel was they were anointed by a prophet before their reign began. The anointing served a dual purpose. First, it was a visible sign the man was God’s chosen representative on earth. Second, the anointing activated the spirit of God to work in and through the king to accomplish God’s will for the nation of Israel. After God promised king David that his descendants would reign over Israel for ever (2 Samuel 7:13), the anointing was passed from generation to generation through the king’s selection of a successor to the throne. Eventually, the anointing was overlooked as an important aspect of successful leadership and was disregarded as a requirement for being king.

When king Saul and king David were anointed to be king it was noted that the spirit of the LORD came upon these two men (1 Samuel 10:6; 16:13). There is no mention of this type of confirmation with any of the other kings of Israel or Judah even though the king was the earthly representative of God and was considered to be an important religious figure (4427). Speaking about Israel’s ultimate deliverance, Isaiah foretold, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness” (Isaiah 32:1). Isaiah was referring to the Messianic age when God’s kingdom would be fully established on earth.

The anointing of king Saul and king David was meant to produce the righteousness characteristic of the Messiah’s reign. The term righteousness is derived from several Hebrew words that deal with justification. The primary root word, tsadaq (tsaw – dak´) “is used of man as regarded as having obtained deliverance from condemnation, and as being thus entitled to a certain inheritance” (6663). The word Isaiah used to describe the Messiah’s reign was tsedeq (tseh´ – dek). “It is a relational word” referring to the “relationship among people and of a man to his God” (6664).

By the time Isaiah’s ministry came into effect, it was clear that the kings of Israel and Judah had failed to bring the people closer to God. In fact, within a few hundred years of king David’s reign, the people were in total rebellion against God and practiced idolatry in his temple (2 Kings 16:15). The outcome God had been working toward was completely missed. Isaiah declared regarding the Messiah’s reign, “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17-18).