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).

Spiritual unity

Jesus spent the last night of his life celebrating Passover with the twelve apostles that had been a part of his three year ministry on earth and who were expected to carry on his ministry after his death. During what is now referred to as the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus focused his apostles’ attention on the essential elements of spiritual life. Jesus began with a reminder that his followers would spend eternity with him in a place that he was going to prepare for them (John 14:1-3) and then, went on to say that a Helper would come and remain with them forever (John 14:16). Jesus said of the Helper, “You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). Jesus’ statement that the Holy Spirit would dwell with his apostles and be in them was an indicator that they were going to be united with God in a way that was not possible before. Speaking of the day when his disciples would receive the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). The Greek word that is translated in, en (en) denotes a fixed position. “Christ is in the believer and vice versa, in consequence of faith in Him (John 6:56; 14:20; 15:4, 5; 17:23, 26; Romans 8:9; Galatians 2:20).” En also refers to “the believer’s union with God (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 John 2:24; 3:6, 24; 4:13, 15, 16)” and “of the mutual union of God and Christ (John 10:38; 14:10, 11, 20),” as well as, “of the Holy Spirit in Christians (John 14:17; Romans 8:9, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19)” (G1722).

Jesus’ explanation of how spiritual unity works included the example of a vine and branches. Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). The phrase “bears much fruit” refers to the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly (G2590) that causes believers to act not according to their own wills, “but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342). Jesus used the term fruit in numerous illustrations of both good and bad types of spiritual activity. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

The Apostle Paul talked about the fruit of the Spirit in the context of walking and keeping in step with the Spirit and contrasted it with the works of the flesh. Paul stated:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-26)

The Greek word Paul used that is translated keep in step, stoicheo (stoy-khehˊ-o) means “to march, in (military) rank” and is used “in an exhortation to keep step with one another in submission of heart to the Holy Spirit, and therefore of keeping step with Christ, the great means of unity and harmony in the church” (G4748).

Jesus expressed his concern that his apostles would abandon him and become disconnected from each another. After he told them that he was leaving the world and going to his Father, the apostles claimed to be solid in their faith, but Jesus warned them, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33). The Greek word that is translated tribulation, thlipsis (thlipˊ-sis) means “pressure…anything which burdens the spirit” (G2347). Jesus indicated that the pressure of their circumstances would cause the apostles to be scattered, to leave him alone (John 16:32). Therefore, Jesus prayed that God would keep them and that they would be one, even as Jesus and his Father are one (John 17:11).

Jesus’ high priestly prayer began with an acknowledgement that it was time for him to complete his mission. Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:1-3). Knowing God is an essential part of being united with Him. Jesus equated knowing God with eternal life. The Greek word that is translated know, ginosko (ghin-oce’-ko) in a beginning sense means to come to know, to gain or receive a knowledge of someone. In a completed sense, ginosko means to know and approve or love, to care for someone (G1097). The reason why Jesus equated eternal life with knowing God may have been because God is the source of eternal life and therefore having a connection with him is critical for life to be perpetuated. In the Greek language, life eternal “is equivalent to entrance into the kingdom of God” (G166).

In his prayer to his Father, Jesus openly declared:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:9-11)

Jesus’ request that his Father keep the disciples had to do with him keeping an eye on them. Because he was leaving the world and would no longer be physically present with them, Jesus wanted his disciples to be protected from the negative influence that the world had on their relationship with him and the evil forces that would try to distance them from each other. Jesus asked that “they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). The one that Jesus was speaking of was an emphatic one, meaning “one and the same” (G1520). The Apostle Paul talked about the oneness of believers in Christ in the context of being a body with many members. Paul said:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:1-5)

The Greek word that Paul used that is translated body in Romans 12:4-5 is soma (so’-mah) which refers to the body “as a sound whole” as well as “an organized whole made up of parts and members” (G4983). Paul indicated that each member had a function or “practice” (G4234) in the sense of something that is performed “repeatedly or habitually” (G4238). Paul said, “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5). The idea that Paul was trying to convey was that believers should not think of themselves as being independent of each other, but as a single entity that is dependent upon each and every part that functions within it.

Jesus’ request that his followers would be one (John 17:11) was not about them being brought together, but the need for God to keep them from breaking apart. The same problem existed when the children of Israel took possession of the Promised Land. The Israelites inherited the land by lot according to their clans (Numbers 33:54) and were expected to occupy the same land continuously throughout their generations. Special provisions were made for the Levites who were not given any land of their own to possess (Numbers 35:2-3) and for men that didn’t have any sons to pass their inheritance to (Numbers 36:2), but ultimately, the families had to stay intact in order for them to remain in the place that they had been assigned to live. Numbers 36:6-9 states:

This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father. The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.’” (Numbers 36:6-9)

The Israelites’ inheritance locked them into a particular geographic location within the nation’s boundaries. As long as the family members followed the rules of marriage and didn’t transfer possession of their land to an outsider, the Israelite community remained intact, but over the years, ownership changed (1 Kings 21:3-16) and possession of the land was eventually lost all together (2 Kings 25:1-12). When the exiles returned to the land after being held captive in Babylon for 70 years, only a remnant of the tribes of Israel came back and they occupied a very small portion of the land that was originally given to the Israelites (Ezra 2, Nehemiah 3).

Jesus told his Father that he had kept all of them that had been given to him while he was in the world and said, “I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12). Jesus’ reference to none of his disciples being lost except the son of destruction was related to his message about the vine and branches. Jesus said, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6). The critical point that Jesus was focusing his apostles’ attention on was the state of abiding or not abiding in him. Abiding in Christ means that we are remaining in a particular state or condition. The state that believers must maintain is holiness. Jesus talked about this in a conversation with Peter when he was washing his disciples feet. John 13:6-11 states:

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

“Jesus did not say, ‘you have no share in me’ (en [1722] emoi), which would indicate Peter lacked salvation, but ‘you have no share with me‘ (met’ [3326] emou), meaning Peter would have no communion and fellowship with him. Christians need constant cleansing and renewal if they are to remain in fellowship with God” (note on John 13:8). Regeneration has two distinct parts; paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-eeˊ-ah) “(spiritual) rebirth” and anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) “renovation.” “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 that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparations 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 is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

Jesus used the Greek word katharos (kath’-ar-os), which is translated clean, to signify that someone has been saved. The Apostle Paul identified the ongoing process that Christian’s go through of being cleansed from their sins as sanctification. The Greek word hagiasmos (hag-ee-as-mos’), which is properly translated as purification “refers not only to the activity of the Holy Spirit in setting man apart unto salvation and transferring him into the ranks of the redeemed, but also to enabling him to be holy even as God is holy (2 Thessalonians 2:13)” (G38). Jesus prayed to his Father, “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 17:15-19). Jesus asked that God would sanctify his followers in the truth. What Jesus meant by truth was the divine truth, “what is true in itself, purity from all error or falsehood…In the New Testament especially, divine truth or the faith and practice of the true religion is called ‘truth’ either as being true in itself and derived from the true God, or as declaring the existence and will of the one true God, in opposition to the worship of false idols” (G225). Thus, when we read and study the Bible, the process of sanctification is taking place.

Jesus extended the scope of his prayer to include all the people that would eventually come to believe in him as a result of his gospel message being spread throughout the world. Jesus prayed:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23)

Jesus asked that “they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” and “that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:21, 23). Jesus associated becoming perfectly one with being loved by God the Father. The Greek words that are translated become perfectly one have to do with the end result or final outcome of sanctification. What the process of sanctification is actually doing is making all believers into one person, what Paul referred to as the body of Christ (Romans 12:5) of which Jesus is the head (Colossians 1:18).

The King James Version of the Bible translates the phrase become perfectly one as “may be made perfect in one” (John 17:23). The Greek word that is translated made perfect, teleioo (tel-i-o’-o) which means “To complete, make perfect by reaching the intended goal…particularly with the meaning to bring to a full end, completion” was used by Jesus in John 17:4 where he said “I have finished the work” and by Paul in his letter to the Philippians to convey the result of completing his ministry. Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14). The goal that I believe Paul was referring to in this verse was spiritual unity, the body of Christ becoming perfectly one as a result of everyone being saved and sanctified according to God’s predetermined plan (Ephesians 1:4-5).

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.

Life after death

Outside of the twelve apostles that were Jesus’ constant companions during his three year ministry on earth, there are only a few people mentioned in the Bible that were close to him. One family in particular is mentioned in John’s gospel as being among Jesus’ closest friends. John tells us, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:1-3). The love that Jesus had for Lazarus came from his heart and had to do with a personal attachment that had been formed between the two men. The Greek word that is translated love, phileo (ful-ehˊ-o) represents “tender affection” (G5368). John went on to say, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’” (John 11:5-8). The Greek word that John used in this instance that is translated love is agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o). The distinction between the two kinds of love that Jesus had for Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus are more evident in Jesus’ conversation with Peter after he had denied the Lord (John 21:15-17). The context itself indicates that agapao, which is used in the first two questions that Jesus asked Peter, suggests the ‘love’ that values and esteems (cf. Revelation 12:11). It is an unselfish ‘love,’ ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers and the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration” (G5368). It was a deliberate assent of Jesus’ will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety rather than a desire to preserve Lazarus’ life that caused Jesus to respond to Mary and Martha’s request for him go to Judea in spite of the risk that it imposed to his own life. Jesus told his disciples, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

Jesus explained Lazarus’ situation to his disciples in John 11:11-16. It states:

After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus compared Lazarus’ death to falling asleep in order to make it clear to his disciples that Lazarus had not gone beyond a point of no return. The Greek word that is translated death in John 11:13, thanatos (thanˊ-at-os) “has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God” (G2288).

The thing that Jesus wanted his disciples to believe was that physical death does not separate us from God. The Apostle Paul said of God’s everlasting love, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38). Jesus told his disciples that he was glad that he was not there when Lazarus died, “so that you may believe” (John 11:15). The Greek word that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” When we are convicted of things not seen, we are either shown to be wrong, convinced of our error or given proof that we are right (G1650). Faith enables us to have an accurate perception of what is going on in the spiritual realm.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, John tells us:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “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. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:21-27)

Martha’s attention was focused on the fact that her brother’s physical life had been cut short and she expressed her disappointment that Jesus hadn’t done something about it. Jesus redirected Martha’s attention to the eternal state of her brother’s soul. Jesus told Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23), meaning that Lazarus was born again and therefore, would experience a restoration of his physical life at some point in the future (G450). Martha acknowledged this when she said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24), but Jesus wanted Martha to realize that Lazarus was still living, even though he wasn’t physically present with them.

Luke’s gospel contains a story that Jesus told to illustrate life after death. It states:

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (16:19-31)

The place that Jesus described, Hades was known as the place of punishment, the abode or world of the dead. “According to the notions of the Hebrews, hades was a vast subterranean receptacle where the souls of the dead existed in a separate state until the resurrection of their bodies. The region of the blessed during this interval, the inferior paradise, they supposed to be in the upper part of this receptacle; while beneath was the abyss or Gehenna” (G86). When Jesus was dying on the cross, he told the criminal hanging next to him who asked to be remembered when he came into his kingdom, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). After he was resurrected, Jesus ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51) and shortly before his death, Jesus assured his disciples that they would eventually join him there. Jesus said, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

In Jesus’ story, the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them about the torment they were going to experience in Hades. “Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:30-31). In this statement, Jesus made it clear that hearing, or you might say paying attention to what God says, is a prerequisite of faith. Paul told the Romans, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The Greek word that is translated convinced, peitho (piˊ-tho) “in the active voice, signifies ‘to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over, to persuade’ bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations…It also means ‘to persuade, to win over,’ in the passive and middle voices, ‘to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey’” (G3982). Believing in God and trusting in God are not exactly the same things. When Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), he used the Greek word pisteuo. “Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies obedience that is produced by the latter, cf. Hebrews 3:18-19, where the disobedience of the Israelites is said to be the evidence of their unbelief. Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God. Of course it is persuasion of the truth that results in faith (we believe because we are persuaded that the thing is true, a thing does not become true because it is believed), but peitho, in New Testament suggests an actual and outward result of the inward persuasion and consequent faith” (G3982).

Jesus told Martha, “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” and then, he asked her, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Martha believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but she hadn’t yet gone so far as to put her trust in him. Jesus dealt with this issue when he instructed Martha to have the stone taken away from her brother’s tomb. John 11:38-44 states:

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus used the Greek word pisteuo when he told Martha that if she believed, she would see the glory of God (John 11:40) indicating that Martha may not have actually been saved prior to her brother’s death. Martha knew in her head that Jesus was the Messiah (John 11:27), but might not yet have been persuaded to the point that she had actually put her trust in him for salvation.

John tells us that before Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the grave, “he lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me’” (John 11:41-42). What was going on between Jesus and his Father was a visible display of their cooperative effort to persuade the people standing around that Jesus was in fact “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) and because of that, even though Lazarus was physically dead, he was spiritually still alive. It seems that Jesus’ ability to raise Lazarus from the dead was somehow being hindered by the unbelief of the people standing around. It’s possible that belief and unbelief are somewhat like opposing forces that compete against each other to determine the outcome of a situation. When Jesus told a man that wanted him to cast a demonic spirit out of his son, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23), the man responded, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). The Greek word that is translated help, boetheo (bo-ay-thehˊ-o) means “to aid or relieve” (G997). The boy’s father had faith (I believe), but his unbelief was counteracting it and needed to be dealt with in order for Jesus to heal his son.

One of the biggest hindrances to the Jews accepting Jesus as their Savior was that they didn’t understand how things worked in the spiritual realm and therefore, couldn’t comprehend how a person could be “born again” (John 3:3-4). Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-8). Jesus indicated that the sound of the wind is evidence of its presence. Even though it’s invisible, wind exists and can be detected by its sound. When God the Father testified to Jesus’ identity, he did so with his voice. 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.’” Likewise, at Jesus’ transfiguration, Matthew indicated “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Matthew 17:5).

Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd and told the Jews, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:3-5). Jesus’ emphasis of the sheep knowing the shepherd by his voice suggests that spiritual connections are formed through vocal interaction. Jesus often used the statement, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:43) to draw attention to the spiritual truths in his lessons and distinguished believers from unbelieves by stating, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47). The Greek word that is translated words, rhema (hrayˊ-mah) refers particularly to “a word as uttered by a living voice; a saying, speech, or discourse” (G4487).

After Jesus instructed Martha to take the stone away from Lazarus’ tomb, John tells us:

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42).

Jesus wanted everyone to know that God could see and hear what was going on at Lazarus’ tomb. By looking up to heaven and praying out loud to his Father, Jesus shifted the focus of everyone’s attention to what was going on in the spiritual realm. John went on to say:

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)

Lazarus’ response to Jesus’ command demonstrated that he was able to hear what he said to him. It seems likely that Jesus intentionally used a voice command to bring Lazarus back from the dead to show everyone that even though he had died, Lazarus was still spiritually connected to Jesus. Before they left for Bethany, Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). Jesus was speaking in a figurative sense when he said he was going to wake Lazarus up, but when Jesus cried out to him with a loud voice (John 11:43) Lazarus was not actually dead; his soul was just temporarily separated from his body.

A spiritual journey

The nation of Israel began with a single act of obedience that set in motion a mass relocation of millions of people that were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; who was given the name Israel after he prevailed against God in an all-night wrestling match (Genesis 32:24-30). Like their ancestor Abraham whom God commanded to leave his country (Genesis 12:1), the Israelites were told to leave their homes in Egypt and travel to a land that they had never seen before. Exodus 12:37-38 states, “And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude went with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds.” The Hebrew word that is translated journeyed, nasa (naw-sehˊ) means “to pull up, especially the tent-pins, i.e. start on a journey” (H5265). One year after the Israelites left Egypt, “the tabernacle was erected” (Exodus 40:17) and Exodus 40:34-38 tells us:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

The Hebrew word that is translated journeys in Exodus 40:38, maççaʿ (mas-sahˊ) is derived from the word nasa and means “a departure (from striking the tents), i.e. march (not necessarily a single day’s travel); by implication a station (or point of departure)” (H4550).

In Exodus 40:38, it says that “the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (emphasis mine). The Hebrew word that is translated sight, ʿayin (ahˊ-yin) has to do with perception and more specifically with the processing of information through the physical senses. In Exodus 40:38, ʿayin refers to the physical perception of God’s will for the people of Israel. In the Hebrew language, “eyes” were used “figuratively of mental and spiritual abilities, acts and states” (H5869). It is likely that the sight that Moses was referring to was connected to both the physical and spiritual realms. The cloud and the fire were physical manifestations of a spiritual entity, namely the preincarnate Jesus Christ (notes on Exodus 3:2 and 13:21, KJSB).

Jesus associated his body with the temple that was located in Jerusalem during his ministry on earth. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus cleansed the temple and afterward the Jews asked him for a sign of his authority to do such a thing. John recorded:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The metaphor of the temple being Jesus’ body was meant to illustrate how the indwelling of the Holy Spirit would replicate in the lives of believers the Israelites journey through the wilderness. The Apostle Paul touched on this in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul asked, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Paul went on to explain in his letter to the Hebrews that the correlation between the tent of meeting that the Israelites used to worship God and the believer’s body was that they both foreshadowed the perfect union with God that Jesus made possible through his death, burial, and resurrection. Hebrews 8:1-7 states:

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

Paul’s reference to the true tent that the Lord set up, not man (Hebrews 8:2) had to do with the eternal nature of believers’ resurrected bodies. Paul indicated that Jesus’ New Covenant was enacted on better promises (Hebrews 8:6), meaning that the power behind the promises was capable of doing more than before i.e. conquering the physical and spiritual death that affects the lives of human beings once and for all.

Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith, made a statement in his final speech before he was stoned to death that might be overlooked if you weren’t aware of the details of the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land. Stephen said, “Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, just as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen” (Acts 7:44). The tent of witness is mentioned in Revelation 15:5-8 where it says that John looked, “and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever, and the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the sanctuary until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.” According to Stephen’s testimony, the tent of witness in the wilderness was made according to the pattern of the tent of witness in heaven that was connected with the final judgment of the world. The Greek word that is translated witness, maturion (mar-tooˊ-ree-on) is being used in this instance as a designation of the Mosaic tabernacle being evidence of the existence of the tabernacle in heaven (G3142). In other words, we know that the tent of witness in heaven exists because the Mosiac tabernacle was a replica of it.

In the same way that the tent of witness in the wilderness was evidence that a tent of witness exists in heaven, so was Jesus’ physical presence on earth evidence that God exists and that he is currently residing in heaven. Jesus told his followers that he would go back to heaven after his death and would prepare a place there for them so that they could live with him there. Jesus said:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:1-11)

Jesus’ explanation that whoever had seen him had seen the Father was based on the fact that he and his Father were one person and could not be distinguished from each other from a physical perspective. The difference between Jesus and his Father was that they existed in two separate locations and were therefore distinct individuals that were identified as the Father and the Son. One way of understanding the trinity of God is to look at it in the same way that we do substances like water that change or you might say adapt to their environment. When you heat water to a certain temperature, it becomes vapor. When you cool water down to a certain temperature, it becomes ice. In the spiritual realm, God exists in a spiritual form. In the physical realm, God exists in a physical form. The physical form of God is the person we know as Jesus Christ. No other physical form of God exists, but there is a spiritual form of God this is not the same as Jesus because the spiritual form of God does not have human characteristics.

In order for us to connect with God, to have a relationship with him, we must enter into the spiritual realm. In his conversation with a man named Nicodemus, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:3). Jesus also told a Samaritan woman, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshippers of God will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).

Everything that the Israelites did after they left Egypt was designed to bring them closer to God. The tabernacle in particular was intended to give the Israelites a materialistic view of God’s plan of redemption and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). In other words, there wouldn’t have been a Savior of the World if the Jews hadn’t become God’s chosen people and produced the physical heir to God’s kingdom on earth. The primary connection the Jews had with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was the annual Passover celebration that was instituted the night they fled from Egypt (Exodus 12:50). The second Passover celebration occurred just before the Israelites left the wilderness of Sinai. Numbers 9:1-3 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Let the people of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its rules you shall keep it.”

The Israelites were commanded to “keep the Passover at its appointed time” and “according to all its statutes and all its rules” (Numbers 2-3). The Hebrew words that are translated appointed time and according to all its statutes have to do with the synchronization of physical and spiritual activities and indicate that the Israelites were focusing on God and their relationship with Him (H4150). Numbers 10:11-13 tells us:

In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. They set out for the first time at the command of the Lord by Moses.

The phrase set out by stages (Numbers 10:12) contains two Hebrew words that specify a journey was about to begin and the phrase they set out for the first time indicates that this was a new experience for the Israelites. What was different about this setting out as opposed to the Israelites’ departure from Egypt (Exodus 12:37) was that the tabernacle of the testimony was with them (Numbers 10:11).

Paul connected the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, which were identified as God’s testimony (H5715), with the doctrines of Jesus (G3142). Paul encouraged his spiritual son Timothy not to be ashamed of his testimony about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Paul said:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:8-12)

Paul talked about the testimony being “manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:10). The Greek word that is translated manifested, phaneroo (fan-er-oˊ-o) means “to render apparent…as opposed to what is concealed and invisible…Phaneroo is thought to describe an external manifestation, to the senses hence open to all, single or isolated” (G5319). Epiphaneia (ep-if-anˊ-i-ah), which is translated appearing, refers to “the advent of Christ” (G2015).

Paul told Timothy to “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14). It is important to note that at the time that Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, Paul’s spiritual journey on earth was coming to a conclusion. The book of 2 Timothy was written by Paul from a prison in Rome. “Some suggest that Paul was writing a more personal letter to Timothy because of the fact that he was expecting to die soon” (Introduction to The Second Letter of Paul to Timothy). Later in his letter, Paul wrote, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

Paul’s instruction to “guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14) had to do with a spiritual gift that Paul wanted Timothy to “fan into flame” (2 Timothy 1:6). It seems that Paul thought of Timothy’s spiritual gift as being similar to the appearance of fire that guided the Israelites through the wilderness. It says in Numbers 9:15-18:

Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey; and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents. At the command of the Lord the children of Israel would journey, and at the command of the Lord they would camp; as long as the cloud stayed above the tabernacle they remained encamped. (NKJV)

The Greek word that is translated fan into flame in 2 Timothy 1:6, anazopureo (an-ad-zo-poor-ehˊ-o) “as a verb, denotes ‘to kindle afresh’ or ‘keep in full flame’… (2 Timothy 1:6, where ‘the gift of God’ is regarded as a fire capable of dying out through neglect)” (G329). The message that Paul was trying to get across to Timothy was that you have to keep the Holy Spirit active in your life in order to successfully complete your spiritual journey.

Overcoming the world

John concluded his first epistle with a bold statement about the victory that every believer can expect to have as a child of God. John said:

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:2-5)

John equated overcoming the world with keeping God’s commandments and indicated that our faith in Jesus is what makes this victory possible for us. John’s concept of overcoming the world was most likely linked to the Jewish belief that eternal life could be attained through moral perfection (Matthew 19:16). The Greek word that John used that is translated world, kosmos (kos’-mos) “is first a harmonious arrangement or order, then by extension, adornment or decoration, and came to denote the world or universe, as that which is divinely arranged” (G2889). The reason why John thought it was necessary for Christians to overcome the world was because the present condition of human affairs is alienation from and opposition to God. If we go the way of the world, we will end up separated from God for all of eternity.

God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them the opportunity to go in and possess the land that he had promised to give their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but along with that opportunity came the obligation for the children of Israel to serve God and keep his commandments. God assured the Israelites that he would bless them for their obedience and said:

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (Leviticus 26:3-13)

God’s expectation that the children of Israel would walk in his statutes and observe his commandments was based on his deliverance of his chosen people from slavery. God told them, “I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Leviticus 26:13). God used the euphemism of breaking the bars of your yoke to signify that the Egyptian Pharaoh was no longer the Israelite’s master. The children of Israel were free to do as they pleased. God’s declaration that he had made the Israelites walk erect meant that his sovereign will had been carried out according to his plan of redemption that was set in motion before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-4). All the Israelites had to do was choose which way they wanted to go.

In order to convince the Israelites that it would be best for them to pursue a path of righteousness, God informed his chosen people of the consequences of their disobedience. God said:

“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.”

“Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.”

“And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.”

“But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.” (Leviticus 26:14-32)

God’s stern warning was likely intended to inspire the awe and reverence that his chosen people seemed to lack. The grumbling and complaining that was a constant part of Moses’ assignment to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt was a reflection of the Israelites’ negative attitude about leaving behind their lifestyle of spiritual bondage.

The book of Leviticus concludes with an important lesson about the value of a soul. Leviticus 27:1-8 states:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.

The Hebrew word that is translated valuation in this passage, erek (eh’-rek) is derived from the word arak (aw-rak’) which means “to set in a row, i.e. arrange, put in order…’To arrange in order’ makes it possible ‘to compare’ one thing with another” (H6186). In many ways, that is what happens when we get involved in activities in the world. We compare ourselves with other people and we often think we are better than they are.

Jesus talked about the value of our soul in the context of compromising our commitment to him in order to gain an advantage in the world. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus used the same word interchangeably for life and soul indicating that the part of a person that is saved or becomes born again is the soul. Salvation is comparable to the redemption of persons that was discussed in Leviticus 27 except that salvation is a permanent state of redemption that can only be attained through a spiritual transaction with God. When Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for the sins of all of mankind, he completed the necessary transaction on our behalf. Thus, we can experience the benefits or gain from this transaction without doing anything ourselves. Jesus asked the question, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). In other words, if we work to get ahead in the world and neglect the salvation of our souls, we won’t experience any real benefit.

John concluded, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). John’s statement had to do with personal conquest. The point I believe John was trying to make was that at the end of our lives there is only one thing that really matters and that’s the salvation of our souls. In order to be saved, we need to be born again (John 3:3) and John made it clear that the only way we can do that is by faith. The Apostle Paul talked about this in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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 2:1-10)

Paul indicated that we are saved by grace through faith, therefore, grace and faith work together to accomplish the task of saving a soul. You might say that grace is God’s part and faith is our part, but Paul went on to say that “this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). I believe this was the point Jesus was getting at when he asked the question, “what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). A person that is in unsaved state, is spiritually bankrupt and has no means of redeeming himself. It is only through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross that we can be reconciled to God and have eternal life.

John seemed to be addressing a concern that some believers had when he said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:13-15). Like the Israelites who grumbled and complained about everything that didn’t seem to be right with them, some of the 1st Century Christians may have expected a life of ease after they committed their lives to Christ. John emphasized the fact that God hears our prayers, but also pointed out that it is only when we ask for something according to God’s will that we know we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 John 5:15). One of the evidences that we have overcome the world is that our will and God’s will are aligned with each other.

John’s message about overcoming the world was continued in the book of Revelation. Each of the seven churches that the Lord instructed John to write to was encouraged to overcome a difficult circumstance in order to obtain a reward. The letter to the church at Ephesus stated, “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7, NKJV) and the church in Smyrna was told, “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11, NKJV). The Lord told the church in Pergamos, “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17, NKJV). Each of these spiritual rewards was connected with the kingdom of heaven that Jesus talked about throughout his ministry on earth and seem to form a comprehension picture of what believers will experience after the resurrection of the dead. The final piece of the puzzle was given to the church at Laodicea. The Lord told them, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21, NKJV). In this instance, sitting down on a throne denotes the assumption of power and rule over a specific dominion. When Jesus sat down with his Father on His throne, his conquest over the world became a reality in that he was able to exercise his authority over it (Ephesians 1:20-23). Jesus indicated that we who have overcome the world will do the same after we are resurrected from the dead.

The remission of sins

An important requirement of the LORD’s relationship with the people of Israel was that they had to be consecrated or to be made holy in order to have contact with him. The consecration of the priests involved the sacrifice of specific animals, putting on holy garments, being anointed with special oil and with the blood of the ram of ordination on the tip of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot. At the conclusion of this process, Exodus 29:31 states, “You shall take the ram of the ordination and boil its flesh in a holy place. And Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram and the bread that is in the basket in the entrance of the tent of meeting. They shall eat those things with which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration, but an outsider shall not eat of them, because they are holy.” The atonement that was made was of supreme theological importance in the Old Testament as it was central to an Old Testament understanding of the remission of sin. At its most basic level, the word kaphar (kaw-far’) “conveys the notion of covering but not in the sense of merely concealing. Rather, it suggests the imposing of something to change its appearance or nature…The word also communicates God’s covering of sin. Persons made reconciliation with God for their sins by imposing something that would appease the offended party…By this imposition, sin was purged (Psalm 79:9, Isaiah 6:7) and forgiven (Psalm 78:38). The offences were removed, leaving the sinners clothed in righteousness (cf. Zechariah 3:3, 4)” (H3722). Once a year, the process of consecration had to be repeated so that all of the Israelites’ accumulated sins could be atoned for. The Day of Atonement occurred on a specific date and became an axis on which the entire Mosaic Law seemed to revolve. Leviticus 16 describes the events that took place on the Day of Atonement. A critical element of the process was the scapegoat being sent away into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people.

“Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel…And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:6-10, 20-22)

The confession of sins that took place when Aaron placed both of his hands on the head of the live goat was meant to transfer the guilt from the sinners to live animal so that it could be removed from their consciousness. Leviticus 16:29-30 states, “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.” Afflicting yourself means that you do a type of soul searching that forces you to see yourself as you really are, a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness.

John the Baptist’s ministry bridged the gap between the Mosaic Law and the gospel of Jesus Christ by linking together the concepts of atonement and regeneration through his messages about the remission of sins. Mark 1:4 states, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (KJV). The Greek word that is translated baptism, baptisma (bap’-tis-mah) means something immersed, but metaphorically it can mean “baptism into calamity, i.e. afflictions with which one is oppressed or overwhelmed” (G908). This word may have been used by John to bring to mind thoughts of being drowned by the weight of sin or consumed by the waters of guilt. Mark went on to say, “And all the country of Judea and Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). People were openly identifying themselves as sinners when they went to John to be baptized, but the key to the remission of their sins was repentance. The Greek word that is translated repentance, metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) means “a change of mind…implying pious sorrow for unbelief and sin and a turning from them unto God and the gospel of Christ” (G3341).

Luke’s gospel contains a prophecy from John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah that clarifies John’s role and the purpose of remission of sins. It states:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79, NKJV)

According to Zechariah’s prophecy, remission of sins was intended to give God’s people knowledge of salvation. In other words, salvation was experienced through the remission of sins. It made salvation real to them so that they could understand how it worked in a more practical way. Zechariah’s prophecy depicted Jesus’ ministry as a source of spiritual light. The term Dayspring which is used in reference to Jesus Christ is derived from the Greek words ana (an-ah’) denoting upward movement (G303) and telos (tel’-os) “a noun meaning an end, a term, a termination, completion. Particularly only in respect to time” (G5056). One way of interpreting Dayspring could be the last sunrise and it seems likely that this term was associated with the prophetic time period known as the last days in which Christ is expected to reign on Earth. Zechariah said that the Dayspring would “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). The Greek word epiphaino (ep-ee-fah’-ee-no) which is translated give light, when it is used metaphorically means “to be conscious, to be known and manifest” (G2014). The Greek word that is translated darkness, skotos (skot’-os) is spoken of “a dark place where darkness reigns” and is spoken figuratively “of moral darkness, the absence of spiritual light and truth, including the idea of sinfulness and consequent calamity” (G4655). From that standpoint, the darkness could represent the human heart and the light that shines upon it the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The first epistle of John begins with his personal testimony about the eternal life that was made real to him through Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. John said:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)

The Greek word that John used that is translated touched, has to do with verification by physical contact (G5584). John wanted his readers to understand that he had experienced physical contact with God through Jesus’ human body. John referred to Jesus as the word of life in order to convey a tangible aspect of eternal life which was Jesus’ ability to walk around on earth and to have conversations with human beings after he was resurrected.

John conveyed an important point about the remission of sins by utilizing the metaphor of light and darkness that was introduced through Zechariah’s prophecy. John said:

This is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

John associated the remission of sins with walking in the light. It seems likely that John was referring to the regular confession of sin when he talked about walking in the light as God is in the light, but it’s possible that he was referring to the repeated practice of memorizing scripture. John contrasted walking in the light with walking in darkness. The Greek word that is translated darkness in John 1:6, skotos (skot’-os) is used figuratively to refer to “persons in a state of moral darkness, wicked men under the influence of Satan” (G4655). From that standpoint, walking in the light could mean being under the influence of the Holy Spirt. In whatever way you look at it, John was making it clear that the blood of Jesus does not cleanse us from sin unless we do something to initiate the process.

John indicated that practicing the truth was necessary for fellowship with God. The Greek word poieo (poy-eh’-o) is used figuratively “of a state or condition, or of things intangible and incorporeal, and generally of such things as are produced by an inward act of the mind or will” (G4160). Therefore, practicing the truth has to do with a conscious decision that we make to do what Jesus commanded us to. When he instituted the New Covenant, Jesus gave his disciples specific instructions about how they were to deal with sin from that point forward. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29, NKJV)

Jesus indicated that his blood was being shed for the remission of sins and Paul pointed out in his first letter to the Corinthians that it is the remembrance of Jesus’ sacrificial act that we are to practice on a regular basis (1 Corinthians 11:25). Paul added, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). One of the meanings of the Greek word kataggello (kat-ang-gel’-lo), which is translated proclaim in 1 Corinthians 11:26, is “to implant in the mind by repetition” (G2603).

The point of Jesus’ blood being shed for the remission of sins was that it contained the essence of his divine nature in a form that was connected to the animating force of human life. Leviticus 17:10-11 explains the function of blood in the atonement for sins. It states:

“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”

The King James Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word nephesh (neh’-fesh) as both life and soul, whereas the English Standard Version uses the words person, life, and souls interchangeably. Nephesh is properly translated as “a breathing creature, i.e. animal or (abstract) vitality…When this word is applied to a person, it doesn’t refer to a specific part of a human being. The scriptures view a person as a composite whole, fully relating to God and not divided in any way (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23)” (H5315).

John concluded his discussion about walking in the light with an admonition to confess our sins so that the cleansing or atoning power of Jesus’ blood can be applied to them. John said:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Jesus’ ability to cleanse us from all unrighteousness is based on his blood being sufficient to propitiate or reconcile us to God completely because it satisfies God’s requirements for atonement perfectly. Paul explained Jesus’ once and for all transaction of redemption in his letter to the Romans. Paul said:

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)

God’s divine forbearance is witnessed to by the Holy Spirit because of his ability to convict us of our sins (Hebrews 10:15-18). Remission of our sins results in us having a clear conscience.

John noted that there was a condition to the remission of our sins. John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, emphasis mine). To confess our sins means that our lives “say the same things” that Jesus did. In essence, you could say that remission of sins is an indicator of a life that has been aligned with God’s word. God is able cleanse us from all unrighteousness because Jesus took our guilt upon himself when he died on the cross. In a similar way to the goat that was sent away in the wilderness on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:21-22), our sins are removed from our consciousness as if they had never been committed and we are able to start fresh in our walk with the Lord.

Fellowship

The Apostle Paul talked about his ministry of reconciliation and told the Corinthians that, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” meaning that God was not counting people’s trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19), but had made Jesus, the only person who ever lived a sinless life, to be the perfect sacrifice for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that God had already done everything that was necessary for them to be pardoned from their sins and concluded by stating, “Working together with him then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). Paul indicated that he was co-operating with Jesus to accomplish the task of reconciling the world to God by preaching the gospel. The gospel and its result of salvation was the instrument that God chose to use to reconcile the world to himself. Because salvation is received by grace and is based on God’s free gift for the forgiveness of sins (G1656), Paul encouraged the Corinthians to act immediately and not let the opportunity they were being given pass them by. Paul referred to Isaiah 49:8, a verse of scripture that indicates the day of salvation is a specific period of time in which God’s grace is available. Paul stated:

For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you,
    and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Paul’s emphasis on now being the favorable time and now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2) meant that there was no time to waste, immediate action was required. Paul’s final plea was directed at the Corinthians hardened hearts. He stated:

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)

A heart that is wide open is one that is able to be molded and shaped as when an artist is working with clay or wax (G4111). Paul’s use of the Greek word platuno (plat-oo’-no) may have been intended to draw attention to the fact that God was reaching out to the Corinthians in a distinct effort to bridge the gap between himself and the non-Jewish people groups. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that we are all one in Christ. He said:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22)

One of the main points that Paul made in his letter to the Ephesians was that access to God was being granted to everyone that chose to put their faith in Christ. Paul stated, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:8-12).

“The plan of the mystery” (Ephesians 3:9) that Paul referred to was a mechanism by which God could unite all believers into a sound whole. The Greek word that is translated plan, koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah) literally means participation, but is also translated as fellowship, communion, and to communicate, thus it is used of the common experiences of Christian men and women and of the participation in the knowledge of the Son of God (G2842). In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ and said, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). In other words, Paul was saying that God is able to overcome our unbelief and convince us of the trustworthiness of his Son’s death on the cross in order to pay the penalty for our sins. Paul used the word koinonia or participation to connect communion, a celebration of the Last Supper, to the enactment of God’s New Covenant through Jesus’ death on the cross. Paul said, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16, emphasis mine).

Partaking in communion essentially identifies you as a follower of Christ. The Greek word meta (met-ah’) which denotes accompaniment (G3326) is similar to the word sun (soon) which denotes “union; with or together (but much closer than 3326)” (G4862). Koinonia is derived from the Greek word sun and originated from “the idea of coming in contact with everything, not separated in the least” (G2839). The root word koinos (koy-nos’) “as an adjective, means ‘common,’ and is translated ‘unclean.'” The concept of fellowship seems to contradict what was originally established through the Mosaic Law. The primary objective of the Mosaic Law was to prevent people and things from becoming unclean and the priests that ministered in God’s tabernacle went to great lengths to separate themselves from things that were considered to be common (Exodus 19:22). Consecration, “the act of setting apart, being holy (i.e. withdrawing someone or something from profane or ordinary use)” (H6942) was a part of the initial process of setting up the tabernacle of God. Exodus Chapter 29 provides details about the consecration of priests and indicates that consecration and atonement for sin were closely related with regards to fellowship with God (Exodus 29:35-37).

After all the materials that were needed to construct the tabernacle were collected (Exodus 38:24-31), designated craftsmen began to work on the necessary articles of clothing and furniture that had to be created according to the instructions that Moses received from God on Mount Sinai. Among these articles were garments that had to be worn by Aaron and his sons when they entered the tabernacle. Exodus 39:1 states, “From the blue and purple and scarlet yarns they made finely woven garments, for ministering in the Holy Place. They made the holy garments for Aaron, as the LORD commanded Moses.” The Hebrew word that is translated Holy Place, qodesh (ko’-desh) is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dash’) which means to be clean (H6942). An important characteristic of God that differentiates him from other deities is his holiness. The song of Moses that is recorded in Exodus 15 refers to God’s holiness as being an indicator of his majesty or greatness. Exodus 15:11-13 states:

“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 holy garments that Moses wore were most likely symbolic of the righteousness of Christ that Paul talked about in the context of believers being renewed in the spirit of their minds. Paul instructed the Ephesians to no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds (Ephesians 4:17) and said, “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 4:19-24).

Paul associated the believer’s righteousness and holiness with a new self that is created after the likeness of God (Ephesians 4:24). Paul used the Greek term that is translated self, anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) metaphorically of the internal man, meaning the mind, soul, the rational man “the hidden person of the heart” (G444). Two of the holy garments that Moses wore provide us with an example of how the new man may be connected to God and other believers and is thus enabled to act with them in a unified manner. The ephod, which was worn under the breastpiece, had two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it could “be joined together” (Exodus 28:7) Two stones with the names of the sons of Israel engraved on them were set on the shoulder pieces of the ephod “as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 28;12). The breastpiece had twisted chains like cords, of pure gold. The two ends of the cords were attached to the settings of the stones of remembrance and attached in the front to the shoulder pieces of the ephod (Exodus 28:22-24). The unification of the ephod, stones of remembrance and breastpiece seem to suggest that the believer’s new self, the Holy Spirit and Jesus act like a seamless garment that encapsulates the believer’s heart and protects it from exposure to anything that might make it unclean.

The tabernacle of God was also called “the tent of meeting” (Exodus 40:1). God said, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). The tent of meeting was an appointed place for God to communicate with Moses. An important aspect of fellowship is social intercourse and the partnership that exists between believers is based on companionship (G2844). Exodus 33:11 states, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” The fact that God spoke to Moses face to face implies there was a relationship, but at that time, Jesus had not yet made a way for man to be intimate with God (Hebrews 9:12). Also, there is no mention of Moses going through a process of consecration, so it would seem that the relationship Moses had with God was what made it possible for them to bridge the holiness gap and have fellowship with one another. Hebrews 11:24-27 talks about Moses’ faith and suggests that he may have been communicating with Jesus when he talked to God face to face. It states, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.”

Paul warned the Corinthians about having fellowship with unbelievers and asked them several rhetorical questions to make the point that it was absurd for them to try and connect with unbelievers in the same way that they did believers in Christ. Paul said, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). Paul’s statement that “we are the temple of the living God” was meant to emphasize the point that God lives inside of believers through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. It is impossible for us to separate ourselves from God. Paul stated in his letter to the Romans:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Paul indicated that love is the essential ingredient that makes unbroken fellowship with God possible. The Greek word that is translated separate, chorizo (kho-rid’-zo) means to place room between (G5593) and is related to the word chasma (khas’-mah) which Jesus used to describe the permanent separation of believers and unbelievers in the afterlife. He said, “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26).

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to enlarge their hearts so that God’s love could reach them before it was too late. He said, “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they could only receive God’s free gift of salvation by making room for him in their hearts. Paul talked about being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14) because he knew that the Corinthians were trying to live with one foot in the world and one foot in the spiritual realm. They were compromising their faith by worshipping false gods like Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15). Paul touched on something in his second letter to the Corinthians that was explained more in depth in John’s first epistle. Paul asked, “What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14) in order to point out that fellowship assumes there is an exclusion of contradictory activities. John also stated:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

The connection between fellowship and the blood of Jesus cleansing us from all sin may have to do with the body of Christ, which signifies his church, being defined as “a sound whole” (G4983). Because Jesus was crucified on the cross, his body became a sacred thing that was dedicated to God in its entirety. Each of us, as members of Christ’s body, receive the benefit and the effects of that sacrifice. Jesus illustrated this point in his celebration of the Last Supper with his disciples (Matthew 26:26-29). Paul mentioned the disciples’ Last Supper in his first letter to the Corinthians and referred to it as the communion of the blood and the communion of the body (1 Corinthians 10:16). The Greek word that Paul used that is translated communion is koinonia, the same word that is translated fellowship in 2 Corinthians 6:14. A key to understanding how communion/fellowship works may be found in Colossians 2:13-15 which states:

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.

Paul indicated that believers are made alive together with Christ (Colossians 2:13). The Greek word suzetesis (sood-zay-teh’-o) means “to reanimate conjointly” (G4806). In other words, the body of Christ will be resurrected as a united whole due to our participation in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through water baptism (Colossians 2:12). The ultimate goal of fellowship is to get believers from earth to heaven so that we can be with Jesus throughout eternity (John 14:1-3). Paul assured the Corinthians that if they shared in his sufferings, they would also share in his comfort (2 Corinthians 1:7) and said that they should not rely on themselves, “but on the God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

God’s Family

“The apostle Peter was the most prominent disciple during the ministry of Jesus and had a tremendous impact on the early church” (Introduction to the First Letter of Peter). Peter’s first letter, which was written around 60 A.D., was meant to be an encouragement to the Jewish believers who were enduring intense persecution and to prepare all of his readers “for the difficult times ahead of them.” Peter began his letter with an important point about the purpose of salvation. Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Peter said that God causes us to be born again. Peter’s used the term “born again” as a way of describing what happens when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. Jesus said that we must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3) and told a man named Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).

Jesus explained that being born of the Spirit was an invisible process that resulted in membership in God’s kingdom. It is like our physical birth from the standpoint of coming into existence, but takes place in a much more mysterious, unexplainable way. Essentially, what happens when we are born again is that we become God’s children, we become members of his household and receive an inheritance that is equivalent to Jesus’. The Apostle Paul described this same process as adoption and said that in love God “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4-5). The difference between Peter’s description of salvation as being born again and Paul’s viewpoint of the spiritual transaction that takes place when believers enter God’s family most likely had to do with the audience that each of these men was writing to. Paul addressed his letter to the Ephesians “to the saints who are in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1). Saints was a general term that applied to all believers and usually referred to the collective body of Christ (G40). Peter’s letter was addressed to a subset of that group which he referred to as “those who are the elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). Elect exiles were the remnant of Jews that were scattered around the world after Jesus died on the cross. It makes sense that Peter would write to this particular group of people because he was directly responsible for continuing Jesus’ ministry after his death and resurrection. Jesus specifically stated that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:25) and his last instruction to Peter was “feed my sheep” (John 21:17).

Even though Paul never used the term born again, it can be assumed that all believers become members of God’s family through a spiritual birth when they accept Jesus as their Savior. Paul stated in his letter to the Ephesians:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:11-19)

The Greek word that is translated household in Ephesians 2:19, oikeios (oy-ki’-os) means a relative (G3609) and it can be assumed that if we are told to address God as our Father (Matthew 6:9), that we are his children.

The reason why the children of Israel and subsequently the remnant that became known as the Jews (Nehemiah 1:2) were considered to be God’s family was because Jesus’ physical birth was associated with the descendants of Abraham (Matthew 1:1), but God didn’t refer to the children of Israel as his children, he referred to them as his people. When he appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush, the LORD told him, “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 them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8). The Hebrew word that is translated people, ‘am (am) means “a people (as a congregated unit)” and is used figuratively to refer to “a flock” (H5971). Jesus often referred to the Jews as the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:25) so that they would realize that God was still dealing with them as the descendants of Abraham which God promised to give the land “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18) as an eternal possession. God indicated that a sign he would fulfill this promise was that he would deliver the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. He told Abraham, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14).

Exodus 12:40-41 notes that “the time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.” After everyone crossed over the Red Sea, Exodus 14:30-31 states, “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.” The Israelites’ salvation from the hand of the Egyptians and belief in the LORD were considered to be indicators of them having a relationship with God, but even though they had a relationship with God, they didn’t think of themselves as being God’s children. That’s why when Jesus referred to himself as the Son of God, the Jews picked up stones to stone him (John 10:31-38). Jesus explained that one of the signs of his relationship to God was his miraculous ability. He said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37-38).

A miracle that Jesus performed while he was on earth was feeding multitudes of people with small amounts of food (Matthew 14:16-21). Jesus’ supernatural provision of food was meant to bolster his disciples faith and to teach them a lesson about the way that God takes care of his family (Matthew 16:8-12). When the Israelites complained to Moses about their lack of food after they entered the desert, “the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day” (Exodus 16:4). The Israelites named the bread from heaven manna. “It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). Jesus told the Jews, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:32-33, 41). Jesus went on to say, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 48-51).

Jesus’ distinction between the bread from heaven that the Israelites ate in the wilderness and the living bread that gives eternal life was most likely meant to emphasize that receiving spiritual nourishment was not the same as being born again. God provided for the physical needs of his chosen people because their relationship to him was a material one. Peter’s letter to the elect exiles of the Dispersion pointed out that the Jews obtained their imperishable inheritance through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and that it was being kept for them in heaven ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5). Peter said, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12). In other words, the Old Testament prophets understood that there was a spiritual aspect to salvation that hadn’t yet been made available to God’s chosen people and even the angels were forbidden to talk about it until after Jesus was born.

The salvation that Jesus died to give us changed the way humans relate to God because the birth that takes place when we are born again has to do with our spirits being regenerated or made alive. Peter indicated that the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls (1 Pater 1:9). The Greek word that is translated souls, psuche (psoo-khay’) refers to that vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing (Acts 20:10). “One’s understanding of this word’s relationship to related terms is contingent upon his position regarding biblical anthropology. Dichotomists view man as consisting of two parts (or substances), material and immaterial, with spirit and soul denoting the immaterial and bearing only a functional and not a metaphysical difference. Trichotomists also view man as consisting of two parts (or substances), but with the spirit and soul representing in some contexts a real subdivision of the immaterial. This latter view is here adopted” (G5590). It is the spirit that enables man to communicate with God. Jesus used the word psuche to not only refer to natural life, “but also to life as continued beyond the grave.” It is only in the Christian sense that a soul can be saved. The soul is delivered “from sin and its spiritual consequences and admission to eternal life with blessedness in the kingdom of Christ” (G4991).

Peter emphasized the need for believers to act like children of God if they call him their Father. He said:

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:13-19)

Peter’s mention of being ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers (1 Peter 1:18) was most likely intended to bring to mind the Passover celebration that the Jews celebrated on an annual basis. The Greek words that are translated futile ways, mataios (mat’-ah-yos) anastrophe (an-as-trof-ay’) suggest that Peter was focusing on the meaningless rituals that the Jews had not only bought into, but also their expectation that God would save the Jews simply because they were descendants of Abraham (Matthew 3:9).

Peter talked about the living and abiding word of God being the imperishable seed that causes us to be born again. He said, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:22-25).

The apostles Peter and Paul seemed to agree that obedience was the earmark of a true child of God. Obedience to the truth means that we don’t just take in God’s word, but let it affect the immaterial parts of our being. Peter said that our souls are purified by our obedience to the truth (1 Peter 1:22). Purification had to do with the ceremonial cleansing that took place in God’s temple, but Peter was probably thinking of it as a ritual that involved the taking in of God’s word on a regular basis. Paul talked about this in the context of a process called sanctification in which the believer’s mind is renewed. Paul said that unbelievers are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them” (Ephesians 4:18) and went on to say, “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 4:20-24).

Paul indicated that the way believers become like God is by renewal “in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:24). “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 the fulfillment of the will of God” (G3650). Peter took this one step further by stating, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22-23). Peter indicated that our aim shouldn’t be to just change our minds about God, but to demonstrate the same kind of love that Jesus expressed while he was living on earth. Brotherly love is characterized by kindness and is associated with being friendly or what you might think of as being a good neighbor. The Greek word philos (fee’-los) is properly translated as dear and is supposed to express fondness in the context of a family relationship (G80/G5384). Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Forgiveness

Jesus warned his disciples of a future day of judgment and said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). The Greek word that is translated give account, logos (log’-os) refers to something said including the thought, “also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extension a computation” (G3056). What this seems to suggest is that everything we say is somehow being recorded and when we stand before God to be judged he will use our own statements to determine our innocence or guilt in the things we have done during our lifetimes.

Jesus indicated that people who are bound in sin are loosed by the preaching of the gospel (Matthew 16:16-19) and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27). The Greek word that is translated save, sozo (sode’-zo) speaks “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982). The point Jesus was making was that it is impossible for someone to save himself. Our sins must be forgiven or we will be separated from God for eternity.

Jesus taught his followers to ask God for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12) and promised them, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Peter asked Jesus, “how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus’ response was meant to indicate that there is no limit to the amount of forgiveness that we can give or receive because God’s grace is sufficient to cover all sins. Jesus used the parable of the unforgiving servant to illustrate his point. He said:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Jesus explained that forgiveness was not based on the amount of debt one owed, but the creditor’s willingness to show compassion to another human being. Jesus said that we must forgive our brother from the heart. In other words, we need to be a compassionate person in order to express compassion to others.

Joseph’s encounter with his brothers when they came to Egypt to buy food during the famine showed that he was initially hard hearted toward them and treated them cruelly (Genesis 42:7-17), but his attitude changed when he saw their remorse. Genesis 21-22 states:

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has some upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.”

Reuben and the others realized they were guilty of a sin against their brother and they believed God was holding them accountable for it, but they didn’t know that Joseph was the Egyptian governor they were talking to and that he understood everything they were saying because he was using an interpreter to speak to them (Genesis 42:23). After hearing their confession of guilt, it says in Genesis 42:24 that Joseph “turned away from them and wept.”

Joseph’s lamentation for his brothers demonstrated that he felt compassion for them. Instead of making them all stay in prison until their brother Benjamin was brought to Egypt, Joseph only took one of the brothers. “And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey” (Genesis 42:25). Joseph’s change of heart was a result of him seeing and hearing the misery of his brothers’ guilt. In his parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus said, “out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). The Greek word that is translated pity, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) means to feel sympathy (G4697). “Splagchnon are the bowels which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of tender affections” (G4698).

The Greek word that is translated mercy in Matthew 18:33, eleeo (el-eh-eh’-o) “means to feel sympathy with the misery of another, especially such sympathy as manifests itself in act (G1653). Eleeo is derived from the word eleos (el’-eh-os). “Eleos is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it…It is used of men; for since God is merciful to them, He would have them show mercy to one another” (G1656). After the servant who owed ten thousand talents refused to forgive his fellow servant, Jesus said, “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailors, until he should pay all his debt” (Matthew 18:32-34).

Jesus talked about forgiveness in the context of salvation. The Greek word eleos “is used of God, who is rich in mercy, Ephesians 2:4, and who has provided salvation for all men” (G1656). The act of salvation is sometimes described as being converted. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The Greek word that is translated turn, strepho (stref’-o) means to turn quite around or reverse (G4762) and is similar to the Hebrew word shuwb (shoob). The basic meaning of the verb shuwb is movement back to the point of departure. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725).

The Hebrew word shuwb is used in Genesis 42:24 where it says of Joseph, “Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them.” It seems likely that when Joseph turned away from his brothers and wept he was converted; his heart was changed and he was able to forgive his brothers. After that, Joseph showed his brothers mercy by letting them go back home, returning the money they paid for their grain, and giving them provisions for their journey (Genesis 42:25-26). Joseph’s merciful actions prompted his brothers to fear that God’s involvement in their situation would lead to their undoing. When one of the brothers saw that his money was in the mouth of his sack, “He said to his brothers, ‘My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!’ At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?'”

Joseph’s brothers were fearful because they knew they were not being treated the way they should have been. The unusual circumstances of their attempt to buy food in Egypt caused these men’s hearts to fail them. In other words, Joseph’s brothers were caught off guard or you might say tripped up by what was happening to them. Joseph’s course treatment and then his reversal by sending them back home with their money hidden in their bags was not only confusing, but also detrimental to his brothers’ spiritual well-being because they were unaware of what was going on and didn’t know why the Egyptian governor (Joseph) was treating them the way he did.

Jesus warned his disciples about causing others to sin. He said, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). One of the definitions of the Greek word that is translated sin in this verse is “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey” (G4624). Joseph’s brothers and their families were suffering because of the famine in the land of Canaan and needed food to sustain their lives. Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers and his demand that they bring their brother Benjamin to Egypt to prove they weren’t lying to him made it more difficult for them to return to Egypt when their food ran out a second time (Genesis 42:38).

Jesus’ reference to little ones who believe in him in Matthew 18:6 was meant to point out that any person who has faith in God is considered to be just as important and valuable to God as Jesus is. Even though Jesus used the example of a child when he talked about little ones who believe in him (Matthew 18:2, 5), it’s possible he was talking about new or immature believers. He said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10-11) and then he went on to say:

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18_12-14)

Jesus instructed his disciples to not go among the Gentiles, “but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6) and told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Therefore, it seems likely that the little ones Jesus was talking about when he warned his disciples not to cause them to sin were the Jews that were supposed to inherit God’s kingdom.

In his parable of the lost sheep, Jesus asked, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them had gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12). The Greek word that is translated gone astray, planao (plan-ah’-o) has to do with deception and is used in Revelation 12:9 with a definite article “as a title of the Devil” (G4105). One of the reasons believers go astray is because the devil deceives them and makes them believe a lie (Ephesians 4:14). Paul instructed the Ephesians, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:25-32).

Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers may have been warranted, but it wasn’t helpful and caused a situation that was already difficult to become even worse. Joseph could have revealed his identity to his brothers when he first saw them and let them know that he was put in his position to take care of their physical needs, but instead Joseph took advantage of his brother’s guilty consciences and tortured them into thinking they were unworthy of God’s mercy. Jesus told his disciples, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). Gaining your brother meant that you had won him to Christ or that he had been saved (G2770). Jesus went on to say, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

Spiritual bondage seems to be associated with a lack of forgiveness, except that the person that suffers is not the one who has committed the sin, but the one who was sinned against. Like the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable, Joseph was unwilling to forgive his brothers after God delivered him from prison and placed him a powerful position in Egypt. Instead of forgiving them, Joseph used the position God gave him to torment his brothers and to capitalize on their guilty consciences. Even though he didn’t change his behavior immediately, Joseph did begin to show signs of tenderheartedness when he “turned away from them and wept” (Genesis 42:24) after he overheard his brothers admitting, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother” (Genesis 42:21).