Spiritual success

The conquest of the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua began with God instructing Joshua to take the people to the other side of the Jordan River (Joshua 1:2). God told Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:5-6). It appears that God commanded Joshua to “be strong and courageous” because his spiritual success was linked to these two characteristics and they were not a natural part of Joshua’s personality. The Hebrew word that is translated strong, chazaq (khaw-zakˊ) means “to fasten upon” or “take hold of.” Chazaq appears in the book of Exodus in connection with Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people of Israel go so that they could worship God. “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought. Pharaoh was responsible for his hard heart. Four times we read: ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:19; 9:35)” (H2388). God’s command to be strong likely meant that he wanted Joshua to be strong in the sense of having the necessary hardihood to set himself against the people of Canaan. The Israelites were instructed to “save alive nothing that breathes” and to “devote them to complete destruction” (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). The Hebrew word that is translated courageous in Joshua 1:6, ʾamats (aw-matsˊ) has to do with being mentally alert (H553). Both chazaq and ʾamats are connected with being obstinate, a personality trait that is associated with stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or chosen course of action despite attempts to persuade one to do so. God reemphasized the importance of strength and courage to spiritual success when he said to Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7).

God told Joshua that he would have good success if he did everything according to the Law of Moses. The Hebrew word that is translated good success, sakal (saw-kalʾ) means “to be (causative make or act) circumspect and hence, intelligent…It’s first use in the text, in Genesis 3:6, contributes to an interesting paradox, for while the forbidden fruit was ‘to be desired to make one wise,’ it was a very unwise thing to take it! The basic meaning of sakal seems to be ‘to look at, to give attention to,’ as illustrated in this parallelism: ‘That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand…’ (Isaiah 41:20). From this develops the connotation of insight, intellectual comprehension” (H7919). God reiterated his prescription for good success when he told Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8). God said that Joshua should be careful to do according to all that was written in the Book of the Law because it would make his way prosperous. The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) is used figuratively throughout the Old Testament of the Bible to refer to “a course of life or mode of action…In one passage derek signifies the overall course and fixed path of one’s life or his ‘destiny’” (H1870). When God said that Joshua’s way would be prosperous, he meant that Joshua would have spiritual success; that Joshua would thrive spiritually (H6743).

Psalm 1 echoes God’s message to Joshua and depicts spiritual success as a tree that yields its fruit at the appropriate or appointed time (H6256). It states:

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:1-6)

The author of Psalm 1 reinforced the message that the person who wants to experience spiritual success should meditate on the law of the LORD day and night. Biblical meditation typically involves a verbalization of scripture or rather one’s emotional reaction to its message. The Hebrew word hagah (haw-gawˊ) means “to meditate, moan, growl, utter, speak” and conveys “the idea that mental exercise, planning, often is accompanied by low talking” (H1897).

Bearing fruit was a common theme in Jesus’ teaching throughout his ministry. Jesus’ parables made it clear that bearing fruit was not the norm, but that it usually required some type of special circumstance or an intervention for it to happen. In one of his conversations with his followers, Jesus connected repentance with a fig tree’s ability to bear fruit. Luke 13:1-9 states:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

The Greek word that is translated repent in Luke 13:3, metanoeo (met-an-o-ehˊ-o) means “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider…to change one’s mind or purpose” (G3340). The LORD identified the change that needed to take place in Joshua’s mind when he said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Joshua may have been dreading the moment when he was going to have lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and begin conquering the people living in the land of Canaan. The Hebrew word that is translated dismayed, chathath (khaw-thathˊ) means “to be dismayed, shattered, broken, terrified” (H2865). Joshua acted according to God’s command in spite of his natural inclination to tremble in fear and be in dread of what was going to happen (Joshua 1:10-11), but in what may have been a moment of weakness, Joshua “sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho’” (Joshua 2:1). Joshua 2:1-11 tells us what happened when the two spies encountered a woman referred to as “Rahab the prostitute” (Joshua 6-17). It states:

And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out. Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.

Rahab’s declaration that the LORD, “he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” was a profession of faith that bolstered the spies confidence and her testimony was shared with Joshua who was then able to lead the people across the Jordan River (Joshua 3:1). In exchange for her help, Rahab was told, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the LORD gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you” (Joshua 2:14).

The two words the spies used to describe their future relationship with Rahab, deal kindly and faithfully with her, were associated with the covenant God made with Abraham. Checed (khehˊ-sed) which means kindness “refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But cheçed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. Checed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law…Behind all these uses with man as the subject, however, stand the repeated references to God’s cheçed. It is one of His most central characteristics. God’s loving-kindness is offered to His people, who need redemption from sin, enemies, and troubles” (H2617). The Hebrew word that is translated faithfully in Joshua 2:14, ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth) is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ). “Aman means ‘to be firm, endure, be faithful, be true, stand fast, trust, have belief, believe…Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting or believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily in God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what he said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship with God rather than an impersonal relationship with his promises” (H539).

We know that Rahab believed in God because she is commended for her faith in Hebrews 11:31, which states, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” The Greek word that is translated disobedient, apeitheo (ap-i-thehˊ-o) means “to disbelieve (willfully and perversely)” (G544). Rahab distinguished herself from the rest of the people of Canaan because she cooperated with God’s plan and did her part to make sure that is was carried out. Being mentioned by name in Hebrews 11 meant that Rahab the prostitute was a significant contributor to the spiritual success of God’s plan of salvation. Rahab was also mentioned in James’ message about faith without works and was set alongside Abraham as an example of being justified by individual acts of faith. James said:

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. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

Rahab was likely identified as a prostitute to show that her moral depravity prior to her encounter with the Jewish spies made her an unlikely candidate to risk her life in order to help them escape. “The Hebrew term zonah (H2181) is the common word for an ‘adulterer’ or ‘prostitute’ (Leviticus 21:7; Jeremiah 5:7). The New Testament affirms that such a woman can be pardoned (Luke 7:37). Rahab was not only pardoned but raised to a position of honor. She married into an Israelite family and was an ancestor of David, thus placing her in the line of Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:5)” (Note on Joshua 2:1).

“It was not unusual for strangers and foreigners to go to Rahab’s house, and thus the spies would not appear suspicious there. Others who passed through the prostitute’s house would provide the spies with information on the situation in Jericho. God did not bless Rahab for lying but for her faith in the report that the spies gave” (note on Joshua 2:1). Joshua 2:23-24 tells us, “Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. And they said to Joshua, ‘Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands. And also all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” The two spies’ report to Joshua affirmed their belief in what Rahab had told them even though she was a prostitute and had no credibility as a woman. The reason why Rahab’s words had such a big impact on the two men who came to her for help was because she demonstrated the characteristics that the Israelites needed for spiritual success, strength and courage, when she hid the spies and lied to protect them from the king of Jericho (Joshua 2:2-3).

Proverbs 18:21 states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” The impact of Rahab’s words is evident in the way the two spies reacted to the things she said. Jesus’ spent most of his ministry telling people things that were intended to change their lives. The power of the tongue is a way of describing the influence that a person has over another person when he says something that impacts him so much that it changes his life. The reason why the power of the tongue can lead to death or life is because hearing and believing God’s word is the only way we can be revived from spiritual death, but if we harden our hearts and rebel against God’s word we will not (Hebrews 3:16-19). The Apostle Paul explained this point in his letter to the Romans. Paul began by asking the question, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17).

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.

God is love

The LORD’s relationship with the children of Israel is made clear in the book of Deuteronomy where the terms of the covenant that God made with his chosen people is spelled out in great detail. Deuteronomy 7:6-8 states:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

One of the key characteristics of the LORD’s relationship with the Israelites was that God chose them and considered them to be his treasured possession. The Hebrew word bachar (baw-kharˊ) is “a verb whose meaning is to take a keen look at, to prove, to choose. It denotes a choice, which is based on a thorough examination of the situation and not an arbitrary whim” (H977).

The Hebrew word that is translated treasured possession in Deuteronomy 7:6, sᵉgullah (seg-ool-lawˊ) is “a feminine noun meaning a personal possession, a special possession, property. This noun is used only six times, but it gives one of the most memorable depictions of the Lord’s relationship to His people and the place established for them. The primary meaning of the word theologically is its designation ‘unique possession.’ God has made Israel His own unique possession (Exodus 19:5). Israel holds a special position among the nations of the world, although all nations belong to the Lord. Israel’s position, function, character, responsibility, and calling create its uniqueness (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psalm 135:4)” (H5459).

Deuteronomy 7:8 indicates that it is because the LORD loves his chosen people that he brought them out of Egypt and redeemed them from the house of slavery. God’s love caused him to do something for the Israelites that he hadn’t done before, redeem people from the consequences of their sins. The concept of redemption is centered on the payment of a debt. Leviticus 25:47-55 explains the concept of redemption in the context of a poor man that sells himself into slavery. It states:

“If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself. He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker. If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price. If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service. He shall treat him as a worker hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee. For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

The Year of Jubilee occurred once every fifty years and began on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 25:8-9). Leviticus 25:9-10 states, “On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”

A key prophecy of the prophet Isaiah had to do with the Year of Jubilee. Isaiah 61:1-2 states, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LROD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” Jesus paraphrased this passage of scripture when he spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth where he grew up. Afterward, Luke’s gospels states, “And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:20-21). Jesus connected the proclamation of the Year of Jubilee with the preaching of the gospel in order to show that the liberty that was intended for God’s chosen people was the freedom from spiritual death. Jesus told a man named Nicodemus:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 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.”

The kind of love that motivated God to give his only Son as a sacrifice for the sins of the world is known as agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o). This word is broader in its meaning than phileo (fil-ehˊ-o), the kind of love that is expressed through sentiment or feeling (G5368). Agapao embraces “the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety.” Phileo implies an instinctive, affectionate attachment; but agapao of a sentiment based on judgment and adulation, which selects its object for a reason (G26).

The Apostle John used the word agapao in his statement, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7). John indicated that love is a part of God’s essential nature and therefore, it should be present in all those who have been born into his spiritual family. The Greek word that John used in his declaration, “God is love,” is agape (ag-ahˊ-pay). Agape is sometimes referred to as Christian love. “Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered…it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver” (G26).

John expounded on Jesus’ statement that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16) by explaining the reason for God’s sacrifice. John said, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). The Greek word that is translated propitiation, hilasmos (hil-as-mosˊ) means “atonement” and signifies “an expiation, a means whereby sin is covered and remitted…Provision is made for the whole world, so that no one is, by divine predetermination, excluded from the scope of God’s mercy; the efficacy of the ‘propitiation,’ however is made actual for those who believe” (G2434). The Day of Atonement, which is described in detail in Leviticus chapter 16, was an annual event that involved the sacrifice of animals and sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat above the ark of the testimony in order to expiate the sins of the Israelites. On this day, the priest confessed all the sins of the people and put them on the head of a goat that was sent away into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:21-22), depicting the process whereby a Savior would one day take away the guilt and punishment of all sin completely by bearing it upon himself.

John concluded, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:11-12). The Greek word that John used that is translated perfected, teleioo (tel-i-oˊ-o) means “to complete, make perfect by reaching the intended goal” (G5048). John made it clear that God’s sacrifice of his only Son was intended to produce a chain reaction that would result in love being expressed around the world. When Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), he was essentially telling them that they needed to replicate the process of propitiation everywhere so that God’s love could reach all the people it was intended for. 

God promised the Israelites that he would reward them for their obedience. God told them, “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 slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Leviticus 26:11-13). God indicated that he had broken the bars of the Israelites’ yoke and made them walk erect. This seems to be a reference to God changing their destiny. The Hebrew word that is translated erect, qowmᵉmiyuwth (ko-mem-ee-yoothˊ) is derived from the word quwm (koom). “Sometimes quwm is used in an intensive mood to signify empowering or strengthening…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). An example of this is found in Genesis 28:11 where it says that Jacob “came to a certain place.”  After Jacob placed his head on a stone and fell asleep, it says in Genesis 28:12-13:

And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and your offspring.”

Jacob’s encounter with God was a part of his plan to fulfill his promise to Abraham. Jacob was unaware of God’s presence in the land of Canaan until he came to a certain place. The place where Jacob spent the night was not only a geographic location, but a spiritual condition that made him open to God’s intervention in his life. Even though Jacob wanted God to take care of him, he was reluctant to make a commitment to the LORD at that point in time (Genesis 28:20-22).

During his ministry on earth, most of the people that Jesus encountered were unaware that he was God’s only son that had come to save the world, but the numerous miracles that he performed eventually made it clear to everyone that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. In spite of this, Jesus was crucified and was even abandoned by his own disciples. John explained that Jesus’ ministry was being opposed by Satan’s demonic forces. John said:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4)

John used the term antichrist to describe the spiritual opponent that was trying to keep people from being saved. The Greek word antichristos (an-teeˊ-khris-tos) refers to “an imposter for the Messiah. Antichristos can mean either ‘against Christ’ or ‘instead of Christ,’ or perhaps, combining the two, ‘one who assuming the guise of Christ, opposes Christ and takes His place” (G500). John encouraged believers by stating, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

John addressed the issue of having assurance of salvation when he made it clear that anyone that has confessed Jesus as his or her Savior has been saved. John said, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:13-16). The Greek word that John used that is translated confesses, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) was also used in 1 John 1:9 where it says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (emphasis mine). The base word of homologeo, homou (hom-ooˊ) means “at the same place or time” (G3674). In one sense, when we confess our sins, you might say that we are having a personal encounter with God. It is as if we are talking to Him directly and God acknowledges our communication by regenerating us from within.

John’s repetition of the statement, “God is love” (1 John 4:16) was probably meant to emphasize the fact that knowing God is all about being loved by him. John said, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:17-18). John described God’s love as perfect love. What that means is that God’s love is able to do exactly what it is intended to. God’s love is able to save us from our sins and to keep us from being condemned on the day when Jesus judges everyone based on his book of life (Revelation 20:12). The result of God’s love is that fear is cast out or you might say ejected from our bodies like an unwelcome guest. We have nothing to worry about because Jesus has once and for all reconciled us to God for all of eternity (Revelation 5:9-10).