Our inheritance

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians began with a list of spiritual blessings that belong to every believer in Jesus Christ. Paul said:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Paul indicated that the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance because we are sealed by His presence within us.

Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper and told his disciples, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). The Greek word that is translated Helper, parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) means “an intercessor…A comforter, bestowing spiritual aid and consolation” (G3875). The reason why Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as another Helper was because the Holy Spirit was taking Jesus’ place as the disciples’ spiritual guide. Jesus told them, “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:4-7).

Jesus’ role as the leader of Christianity changed when he left Earth and went to Heaven. Jesus’ physical presence was an essential part of the disciples’ initial decision to follow him. After Jesus was crucified, the disciples were unable to continue the work that he was doing. The thing that was missing was the vital connection the disciples had to the source of their spiritual life. Jesus told his disciples, “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 15:5). The indwelling of the Holy Spirit made it possible for Jesus’ followers to remain connected to him and the result was that they were able to bear witness to the things that had happened when Jesus was with them (John 15:27). The thing that changed was that Jesus was no longer able to physically guide his disciples to the places and people where he wanted them to work. Instead, the disciples had to follow Jesus’ commandments and rely on the Holy Spirit to give them the power they needed to complete the assignment that they had been given (John 15:10; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

The Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land concluded with God’s instruction for them to drive out the inhabitants of the land. Numbers 33:50-54 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. You shall inherit the land by lot according to your clans. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. According to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit.

The land of Israel was inherited by lot, meaning that it was the descendants of Abraham’s destiny to live there, but in order for it to happen, the Israelites had to take possession of the land by driving out its inhabitants.

The connection between our spiritual inheritance and our destiny is that, as Paul stated in his letter to the Ephesians, “God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5). The Greek word that is translated predestined, proorizo (pro-or-idˊ-zo) means “to limit in advance” (G4309). The LORD set limits to the Israelites’ inheritance by establishing boundaries that were designated before the people entered the land. It says in Numbers 34:7-9, “This shall be your northern border: from the Great Sea you shall draw a line to Mount Hor. From Mount Hor you shall draw a line to Lebo-hamath, and the limit of the border shall be Zedad. Then the border shall extend to Ziphron, and its limit shall be Hazar-enan. This shall be your northern border.” The land was distributed to the various clans by lot (Numbers 33:54). The Hebrew word “goral means ‘lot.’ Goral represents the ‘lot’ which was cast to discover the will of God in a given situation…In an extended use of the word goral represents the idea ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’…Since God is viewed as controlling all things absolutely, the result of casting the ‘lot’ is divinely controlled…Thus, providence (divine control of history) is frequently figured as one’s ‘lot’” (H1486).

The purpose of God’s will is that believers will exhibit Jesus’ characteristics in their lives. Jesus used the example of a vine and branches to illustrate this point. He said:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. 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. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8)

Even though Jesus did not explicitly state what he meant by bearing fruit, it can be assumed that he was talking about the effect of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life because his illustration of the vine and branches directly followed his promise of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-28) and then, he talked to his disciples about the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:4-15). Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7).

The Greek word that is translated advantage, sumphero (soom-ferˊ-o) means “to bear together” (G4851). The root words of sumphero are phero (ferˊ-o) which means “to bear up under or with, to endure” (G5342) and sun (soon) which denotes “union; with or together (i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition etc.)” (4862). The advantage that Jesus was talking about when he said, “it is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:7) was the advantage of having the Holy Spirit on the inside of us as opposed to having Jesus on the outside of us. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, God does all the spiritual work for us, but we still have to do the physical part. That is why the Israelites had to drive out the inhabitants and take possession of the land after they received their inheritance. The Hebrew word that is translated drive out in Numbers 33:52 and take possession in Numbers 33:53, yarash (yaw-rashˊ) means “to occupy (by driving out previous tenants, and possessing in their place…The verb sometimes means to take something over (in the case of the Promised Land) by conquest as a permanent possession” (H3423).

Paul explained in his second letter to the Corinthians that the battle we must fight to conquer sin has to do with overcoming the flesh, or you might say the part of us that is controlled by our human nature that interferes with the Holy Spirit’s influence in our lives. Paul said, “I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:2-6). The key to understanding how God expects us to overcome the world may be found in Jesus instruction to abide in his love. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I love you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10). Jesus went on to say, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated life in John 15:13, psuche (psoo-khayˊ) refers to “the soul as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death” (G5590). Therefore, when Jesus said that we are to lay down our life for our friend, he wasn’t talking about dying, but about doing our part to fulfill the destiny of others. This was illustrated in the commitment of the people of Reuben and the people of Gad to cross over the Jordan River with the rest of the tribes and fight with them until everyone had obtained their inheritance. Numbers 32:16-19 states:

Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.”

Similar to the way that all believers are identified as the body of Christ (Romans 7:4), the people of the nation of Israel were viewed as a single unit. They received a collective inheritance from God rather than individual ones. Numbers 34:1-2 states, “The LORD spoke to Moses saying, ‘Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders).’”

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul pointed out that the inheritance that God gave Abraham wasn’t intended for all of his descendants, but only for a single person, Jesus Christ. Paul said:

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:15-29)

Paul identified the inheritance that was given to Abraham as righteousness and said that when Christ came we were justified by faith. Paul concluded with the statement, “You are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).

The book of Hebrews provides further clarification as to what Abraham’s inheritance actually is. It states, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in a land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10). The city that was referred to in this verse is the new Jerusalem that is mentioned in Revelation 21:1-3. John said, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself with be with them as their God.” According to the note on Revelation 21:-22:5, “The new heaven and the new earth are not duplicates of the heaven and earth that now exist. The word ‘new’ is a translation of the Greek word kainon (2537), which means ‘qualitatively new.’ To some, this suggests that the new earth will be as the current earth was in its creation.”

Jesus used the analogy of a woman giving birth to a child to illustrate the process of regeneration that believers have to go through in order to become members of God’s family. He said:

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:21-24)

Jesus told his disciples that they could gain access to their inheritance immediately by petitioning the Father in his name. Jesus told his disciples, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). The fullness that Jesus was speaking of had to do with the filling of the Holy Spirit. Paul indicated that according to the riches of his glory, God grants us to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in our inner beings (Ephesians 3:16). When that happens, we are united with Christ in such a way that nothing prevents us from receiving God’s love (Ephesians 3:17-19, Romans 8:39).

A spiritual bath

Jesus used the ordinary, common things of everyday life to explain important spiritual principles to his followers. The night before he was crucified, Jesus took the time to wash his disciples’ feet in order to show them how salvation cleanses us from our sins. John’s gospel tells us:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:1-5)

The first thing that Jesus wanted his disciples to realize was that he was taking on a specific role when he washed their feet. By laying aside his outer garments, taking a towel and tying it around his waist, Jesus was demonstrating that he was a servant of God. The Greek word that is translated laid aside, tithemi (tithˊ-ay-mee) “as a verb, means ‘to put’ is used of ‘appointment’ to any form of service. Christ used it of His followers: ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained (tithemi) you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you’ (John 15:16). The verb is used by Paul of his service in the ministry of the gospel: ‘And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enable me, for that he counted me faithful, putting (tithemi) me into the ministry’ (1 Timothy 1:12; cf. 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11)” (G5087).

John the Baptist identified the service that Jesus was appointed to do for God. John proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John indicated that Jesus would take away the sin or you might say the sinfulness of the world. The Greek word hamartia (ham-ar-teeˊ-ah) refers to the practice of sinning or proneness to sin. From the Hebrew word chataʾ comes the meaning of moral failure and refers to “the imputation or consequences of sin, the guilt and punishment of sin as in the phrase ‘to take away [or bear] sin,’ i.e. the imputation of it (John 1:29; Romans 11:27; Hebrews 9:26; 10:11; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 3:5)” (G266). Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet illustrated the effect of his atonement for sin. When Peter resisted the process, Jesus explained the purpose of what he was doing. John tells us:

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 used the word clean figuratively in a Levitical sense to draw his disciples’ attention to the process of purification that everyone must go through in order to enter into the presence of God.

When Jesus said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (John 13:10), he was talking about regeneration which 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 likened being born again to a spiritual bath and said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (John 13:10). The reason why Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, as opposed to them doing it themselves, was so that they could see that their need for his purifying effect went beyond the initial transformation of their lives.

The Old Testament of the Bible illustrates the two step process of regeneration from a physical or natural standpoint. After the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt, they were expected to return to the land of their ancestors and take possession of it. The book of Numbers provides a brief synopsis of the Israelites’ transition into the second step of the process. Initially, the Israelites refused to submit themselves to God’s will. When twelve men were sent to spy out the land of Canaan to prepare Israel’s army for war, ten of the men returned and gave the people a bad report. They said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31) and as a result, “The whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?’” (Numbers 14:2-3). In the LORD’s judgment of the Israelites, there was a distinction between the people that had disobeyed the LORD and those that had confirmed their faith in him. Caleb in particular was singled out. The LORD said, “And none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it” (Numbers 14:23-24).

The LORD referred to Caleb as his servant. The Hebrew word ʿebed (ehˊ-bed) “was used as a mark of humility and courtesy…Of prime significance is the use of ‘my servant’ for the Messiah in Isaiah (42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-10; 52:13-53:12)…So the Lord called ‘my righteous servant’ (Isaiah 53:11; cf. 42:6) ‘[to bear] the sin of many’ (Isaiah 53:12)” (H5650). Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet was intended to demonstrate the Messiah’s service to God in taking away the sin of the world. Jesus said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (John 13:10). The Greek word that is translated completely, holos (holˊ-os) means “whole” or “all” (G3650). The Greek word holoteles (hol-ot-el-aceˊ) is a combination of the words holos and telos and means “complete to the end, i.e. absolutely perfect” (G3651). Holoteles is used by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 in regards to the sanctification of the believer being extended to every part of his being. Paul stated, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (emphasis mine).

Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet was not only intended to demonstrate the Messiah’s service to God in taking away the sin of the world, but also to show us that regeneration is an ongoing process that needs to take place on a regular basis. In the same way that we bathe ourselves physically, we need to continually bathe ourselves spiritually in order to keep from becoming spiritually offensive to God. John tells us that after Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he put on his outer garment and resumed his place at the table. And then:

He said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John 13:12-20)

Jesus told his disciples that they “ought to wash one another’s feet” and that he had given them an example “that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). The part of the process of regeneration that takes place on a daily basis is meant to be a joint effort. Not only are we fellow workers with God, we are fellow workers with each other.

Paul referred to believers’ joint effort of regeneration as edification or the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12) and said, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16). The Greek word oikodome (oy-kod-om-ayˊ) means “architecture” and “expresses the strengthening effect of teaching…(the idea conveyed is progress resulting from patient effort)” (G3619). When we are building each other up in love, we are helping other believers to understand the truth of God’s word and are making spiritual progress together rather than alone. Paul emphasized the importance of having unity in our faith and told Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

The three descriptors Paul used: a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith; depict the end result of anakainosis, therefore, it seems safe to assume that Paul was talking about mature Christians helping other Christians gain spiritual strength. Anakainosis is “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life” (G342). In the case of Judas Iscariot, the disciple that betrayed Jesus, it is evident that this transformation never occurred. Jesus told his disciples, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me’” (John 13:18). Jesus’ statement implied that like the others, Judas was hand-picked to be a disciple of Christ, but the end result was not spiritual regeneration. John tells us:

After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (John 13:21-27)

Satan’s possession of Judas’ body was possible because he was not spiritually clean (John 13:10). Judas was not born again, he had never experienced the spiritual rebirth (G3824) that the other disciples had.

One of the ways that we can view salvation is a type of spiritual protection. In his list of the believer’s spiritual blessings, Paul noted that believers are stamped as with a signet ring or private mark for the security and preservation of our spirits. Paul said, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). The key to this spiritual protection is believing in Jesus Christ. While the Israelites were in route to the Promised Land, they were accompanied by an angel and the LORD told them, “Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries” (Exodus 23:21-22). “Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the Lord has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him” (note on Exodus 23:21). It is a distinct possibility that the angel was the preincarnate Jesus Christ and so the Israelites protection was also based on belief in Christ, but the angel couldn’t pardon the Israelites sins and therefore, they had to go through a process of purification every time they committed a sin against God. When the Israelite soldiers engaged in a war with the Midianites, they disobeyed the LORD and took captive some of the women they weren’t supposed to. Afterward, Moses instructed the men to purify themselves. Numbers 31:19-24 states:

Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work of goats’ hair, and every article of wood.” Then Eleazar the priest said to the men in the army who had gone to battle: “This is the statute of the law that the Lord has commanded Moses: only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean. Nevertheless, it shall also be purified with the water for impurity. And whatever cannot stand the fire, you shall pass through the water. You must wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean. And afterward you may come into the camp.”

The Hebrew word that is translated purify and purified in this passage is chataʾ (khaw-tawˊ). “Chataʾ means sin; sin-guilt; sin purification; sin offering…The basic nuance of chataʾ is sin conceived as missing the road or mark…From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward God and men, and certain results of such wrongs…The verb may also refer to the result of wrongdoing, as in Genesis 43:9: ‘…Then let me bear the blame for ever’” (H2398). The statute of the law that Eleazar the priest referred to indicated that everything that could be passed through the fire should be purified in such a manner, but “whatever cannot stand the fire, you shall pass through the water” (Numbers 31:23). Therefore, it seems likely that the soldiers’ purification involved taking a bath.

Jesus’ comment after washing his disciples’ feet, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash except for his feet” (John 13:10) was most likely intended to clarify the difference between purification under the Mosaic Law and what happens when a person commits a sin after he is born again. “One who has been entirely cleansed need not radical renewal, but only to be cleansed from every sin into which he may fall (John 15:3; Hebrews 10:22)” (G2513). When we sin, we don’t need to recommit our lives to the Lord, but we do need to confess our sins and repent of them. Jesus told his disciples before he washed their feet, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7). The afterward that Jesus was referring to may have been Peter’s denial of the Lord. Jesus said:

Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. (John 13:33-38)

Jesus linked his new commandment to love one another to Peter’s denial when he asked him the question, “Will you lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38). The implication being that although Peter was saved, he still wasn’t completely clean or absolutely perfect as he may have thought (G3650/3651).

The good shepherd

The transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua took place shortly before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the land of Canaan. At the end of Moses’ life, Numbers 27:12-17 tells us:

The Lord said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.”

Moses’ association of the people of Israel with sheep was due at least in part to the substitutionary process of atonement that had become a part of the Israelites’ daily lives. When a burnt offering was made, it says in Leviticus 1:3-4 that the person making the offering was to “bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” The people of Israel understood that the burnt offering was being sacrificed in their place and that the sacrifice was meant to pay the penalty for the person’s sin so that the person’s sin could be cancelled or forgiven by God (H7521/H3722). The daily burnt offering consisted of “two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering” (Numbers 28:3). Therefore, large flocks of sheep were necessary to sustain the Israelites’ daily sacrifices.

Moses’ depiction of the Israelites as “sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:17) established the importance of the role of a shepherd in the spiritual lives of God’s people. The Hebrew word that is translated shepherd, raʿah (raw-awˊ) appears in Jacob’s blessing of his son Joseph as a reference to Jesus. It says in Genesis 49:23-24, “The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel).” King David also referred to God as his shepherd. Psalm 23 illustrates how God’s spiritual leadership works in the lives of believers. It states:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. (Psalm 23:1-6)

The Hebrew word raʿah also appears in the book of Jeremiah in connection with faithless Israel being called to repentance. Jeremiah 3:12-15 states:

“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
    for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.

Only acknowledge your guilt,
    that you rebelled against the Lord your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
    and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the Lord.
Return, O faithless children,
declares the Lord;
    for I am your master;
I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
    and I will bring you to Zion.

And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.’”

The Apostle Paul identified the shepherd as one of the essential roles in the body of Christ in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). The King James Version of the Bible states Ephesians 4:12 this way, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Paul identified edification as a key feature of spiritual growth and said, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the whole body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Jesus told his disciples, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32) and then, he added:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. 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 10:1-5)

Jesus used the illustration of entering and exiting the sheepfold to depict the process of salvation that God used to make him the Savior of the World and said, “he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). Jesus’ death on the cross was a critical component in God’s plan of salvation because the penalty for everyone’s sins had to be paid in order for his sacrifice to be sufficient to save us. Jesus said that anyone who “climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” because some of the Jews’ religious leaders were teaching them that they could be saved by keeping the Mosaic Law and were in essence stealing souls from God’s kingdom.

Jesus told the Jews:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:7-15)

Jesus indicated that the shepherd is the owner of the sheep (John 10:12) and said, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (John 10:14-15). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated know, ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) means to know in an absolute sense through the perception of the mind and has to do with “what one is or professes to be…with the idea of volition or goodwill: to know and approve or love, to care for” (G1097).

Jesus talked about being the door of the sheep and said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9). Jesus discussed entrance into the kingdom of heaven at length with a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) and went on to say, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The Greek word that is translated lifted up, hupsoo (hoop-soˊ-o) speaks literally “of the ‘lifting’ up of Christ in His crucifixion” (G5312). The belief that gains us entrance into the kingdom of heaven is that Christ died for our sins, not that he is just “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), but that Christ died for me personally and is the atoning sacrifice for my sin, one that satisfies the debt I owe to God completely (Leviticus 1:4; Hebrews 10:1-18).

Jesus said that all who came before him were thieves and robbers (John 10:8). This seems to suggest that all of the Old Testament and even the New Testament priests were intentionally leading the people of Israel astray. Israel’s first High Priest, Moses’ brother Aaron, was responsible for the people of Israel worshipping a golden calf (Exodus 32:2-6) and Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were killed for offering unauthorized fire before the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-2). The connection between Israel’s priests and Satan’s attempt to thwart God’s plan of salvation is particularly evident in Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Luke’s gospel tells us, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22:1-6).

Jesus said that, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Jesus’ reference to the thief in this instance might be construed to mean Satan or the devil who are considered to be the enemies of our souls (1 Peter 5:8). In his explanation of the parable of the sower, Jesus indicated that Satan is able to stop people from being saved by preventing the gospel from taking root in their hearts. Jesus told his disciples, “The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them” (Mark 4:14-15). The Greek words that are translated steal, kill, and destroy in John 10:10 have to do with the eternal state of a person’s soul. The Greek word that is translated destroy, apollumi (ap-olˊ-loo-mee) means “to destroy fully” and is “spoken of eternal death, i.e. future punishment, exclusion from the Messiah’s kingdom…This eternal death is called the second death (Revelation 20:14).” With respect to sheep, apollumi means “to be lost to the owner (Luke 21:18; John 6:12)” and is “spoken of those who wander away and are lost, e.g. the prodigal son (Luke 15:24); sheep straying in the desert (Luke 15:4, 6)” (G622).

In his first letter, Peter talked about straying sheep returning to the Shepherd. Peter said of Jesus, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25). When Jesus sent out his twelve apostles to preach the gospel, he instructed them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6), but later Jesus relented when a Canaanite woman asked him to heal her daughter. Matthew 15:24-28 states:

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep further illustrated the great lengths to which God was willing to go in order to save a lost soul. Luke’s account of this parable states:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7)

Jesus portrayed the shepherd as rejoicing because he had found his lost sheep, but clarified what had actually happened when he said that there was joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. One of the ways we know we are saved is that we experience God’s presence through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When we repent of our sins, we make it possible for our fellowship with God to be restored. The Apostle Paul explained the reconciliation that takes place when we are saved in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul 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. (Ephesians 2:11-16)

After he told the Jews that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). The Greek word that is translated abundantly, perissos (per-is-sosˊ) is derived from the word peiro in the sense of going beyond the boundaries of ordinary existence. Peiro “means ‘on the other side, across,’ is used with the definite article, signifying the regions ‘beyond,’ the opposite shore” (G4008). From that standpoint, the abundant life that Jesus was talking about may have been a type of heaven on earth, an ability to experience eternal life in the here and now.

Jesus told the Jews, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11), and then, went on to say, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). Jesus indicated that he was laying down his life for the sheep of his own accord. In other words, Jesus wasn’t being forced to sacrifice himself for the sins of the world. Jesus had the same free will that we do and was given the ability to decide for himself whether or not he would go through with the crucifixion. The reason why Jesus did it was because he knew he would be resurrected three days later. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

Jesus rebuked Peter because he was looking at things from a human perspective. The only way we can really comprehend and truly appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is by looking at things from an eternal perspective.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “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. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28)

The grace of God

The grace of God is an overarching theme of the Bible and a central element in God’s plan of salvation. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians stated plainly that God’s grace is what makes it possible for us to be saved. Paul said, “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” (Ephesians 2:4-9). The Greek word that is translated grace in Ephesians 2:8, charis (khar’-ece) refers to the unmerited favor that God shows us in saving us from sin, “the grace exhibited in the pardon of sins and admission to the divine kingdom…especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude” (G5485). Charis is derived from the word chairo (khah’ee-ro) which means “to be ‘cheer’ful, i.e. calmly happy or well-off…Particularly, to rejoice, be glad” (G5463). Paul talked about how the grace of God had caused the churches of Macedonia to give beyond their means. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul said:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)

Paul contrasted the Macedonians abundance of joy with their extreme poverty in order to make it clear that the Macedonians’ generosity wasn’t a result of their circumstances. It was actually in spite of their circumstances that the Macedonians had chosen to participate in the relief of the saints. Paul referred to the Macedonians “wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2), their sincere desire to give to others according to God’s riches rather than their own. Paul used the phrase “the favor of taking part” (2 Corinthians 8:4) to emphasize the spiritual aspect of the Macedonians giving. The two Greek words that are translated the favor of taking part, charis koinonia literally mean the gift of fellowship or you might say that the Macedonians’ were actively responding to the saints’ common financial need.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to follow the Macedonians example by participating in the act of grace that was being presented to them by Paul’s companion Titus. Paul said, “Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also” (2 Corinthians 8:6-7). Paul might have viewed the collection of money for the relief of the saints as an act of grace because he knew that the Corinthians would not be inclined of their own free will to give as generously as the Macedonians had. His plea for them to excel in this act of grace as they had in all the other areas of their relationship with Christ may have been Paul’s way of stirring up the Corinthians’ collective conscience and was perhaps intended to make the Corinthians feel uneasy about the fact that they weren’t doing their part. Paul understood that the grace of God was not something that could be initiated from a material perspective. God’s grace originates in the mind of Christ and is transmitted to believers through the Holy Spirit. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that believers are the object of God’s effort to bless mankind. Paul said, “For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The idea that we are God’s workmanship, a product that is made by him (G4161) is based on Paul’s comprehension of how transformation occurs in the heart of a believer. Paul understood that it is impossible for us to make ourselves good and therefore, good works are the result of God’s grace, his divine influence upon the heart (G5485).

Paul talked to the Ephesians about the new life that is possible when we yield ourselves to God’s divine influence. Paul told them:

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

Holiness was the primary objective of the legal system that Moses established after the Israelites were delivered from bondage in Egypt. Ongoing sacrifices had to be made in order to cleanse the people from their sin. Even if someone sinned unintentionally, atonement had to be made for the sin so that the guilt of the offense would not be held against the person or the congregation of Israel as a whole (Leviticus 4).

The key to the Israelites’ release from guilt when they committed a sin against God was the grace of God which was demonstrated through his act of forgiveness. The Greek word that is translated forgiving and forgiven in Ephesians 4:32, charizomai (khar-id’-zom-ahee) means “to bestow a favor unconditionally” (G5483). Charizomai is derived from the word charis (khar’-ece) which means graciousness. “Grace indicates favor on the part of the giver, thanks on the part of the receiver. Although charis is related to sins and is the attribute of God that they evoke, God’s eleos (1656), the free gift for the forgiveness of sins, 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 — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt; mercy removes misery” (G5485). The Old Testament concept of forgiveness is similar in that it depended on God’s grace, but atonement had to be made in order for forgiveness to be effective before Christ died on the cross. The Hebrew word calach (saw-lakh’), which means to forgive, is reserved especially to mark the pardon extended to the sinner by God. It is never used to denote that inferior kind and measure of forgiveness that is exercised by one man toward another. It is the Divine restoration of an offender into favor, whether through his own repentance or the intercession of another. Though not identical with atonement, the two are closely related. In fact, the covering of the sin and the forgiveness of the sinner can only be understood as two aspects of one truth; for both found their fulness in God’s provision of mercy through Christ (cf. Hebrews 9:22)” (H5545).

Forgiveness is mentioned most often in chapters four and five of the book of Leviticus, where it states that the priest must make atonement for a sin, and then it shall be forgiven him or them (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35, 5:10, 13, 16, 18). Jesus made a point of letting people know that he was able to forgive sins. On one occasion, Jesus was accused of blasphemy because he told a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven. Matthew’s gospel records the incident this way:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8)

Jesus associated his forgiveness of the paralytic man’s sins with the faith he saw in the people that brought the man to him to be healed. Matthew 9:2 states, “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.‘” The connection between faith and forgiveness seems to be our reliance upon God to save us from our sinful behavior. The Greek word that is translated faith in Matthew 9:2, pistis (pis’-tis) is “a technical term indicative of the means of appropriating what God in Christ has for man, resulting in the transformation of man’s character and way of life. Such can be termed gospel faith or Christian faith (Romans 3:22ff.)” (G4102).

The important thing to note about the way faith and forgiveness work together to save us from our sins is that action is required on both parts. God’s act of grace toward us would have no effect if it weren’t for our act of faith in receiving his gift of salvation. Jesus commanded the paralytic man to “take heart” (Matthew 9:2). Essentially, what Jesus wanted was for the man to activate his faith. The King James Version of the Bible uses the phrase “be of good cheer” instead of take heart to express what Jesus expected from the paralytic man. Another way of stating it would be “to have courage” (G2293). The reason why the paralytic man needed to have courage was because his guilt was getting in the way of him being able to recover from his disease. What was likely going on was that the paralytic man knew he deserved to be punished for the sins he had committed and may have associated his disability with something specific that he had done wrong in the past. It appears that the man was correct because Jesus told him his sins were forgiven (Matthew 9:2) before he commanded the paralytic man to “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6).

Leviticus 4:27-31 points out that it is possible for us to sin unintentionally and therefore, a penalty can be incurred without us knowing about it. This passage states:

“If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. And the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. And all its fat he shall remove, as the fat is removed from the peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.”

John the Baptist’s introduction of Jesus made it clear that his sacrificial death on the cross was intended to pay the penalty for every sin that ever had or would be committed. John said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The Greek word that is translated takes away, airo (ah’-ee-ro) means “to take away what is attached to anything, to remove” and speaks of the effects of Jesus’ Atonement in the believer’s life (G142). John’s declaration of Jesus taking away the sin of the world was connected with the original punishment for sin that was enacted in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Paul indicated in his letter to the Romans that Jesus brought justification and the free gift of righteousness to all when he died for the sins of the world. Paul explained:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Paul went on to talk about the gifts of grace and pointed out that God’s grace should result in generous giving. Paul said:

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. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

The principle behind generosity is that there should be unity in the body of Christ. We should think of the needs of others as we do our own needs and give as we would want others to give to us if we were the ones in need of assistance. Paul told the Corinthians, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:8-9).

Paul told the Corinthians that he expected them to finish what they had started. Apparently, the Corinthians had pledged to give a certain amount toward the relief of the saints, but hadn’t followed through on it. Paul said, “And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness” (2 Corinthians 8:10-14). The fairness that Paul was talking about had to do with equality in their conditions rather than their status as citizens or positions in society. Paul stated plainly that he didn’t want to make things easier for the Christians in Jerusalem at the expense of believers in Corinth. Paul indicated that the Corinthians gift would be considered acceptable if is what according to what they had, not according to what they didn’t have.

One of the final requests that Jesus made of his Father when he was dying on the cross was that God would forgive the sin that was being committed against his only Son. Jesus petitioned, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The conclusion that Jesus’ crucifixion was an unintentional sin may seem a little far fetched, but our Lord understood that the collective heart of mankind was hardened by centuries of rebellion against God and the people’s lack of faith was due in part to the misrepresentation of God’s character by the Jewish priests. The Greek word that is translated know, eido (i’-do) refers to perfect knowledge (G1492) or you might say knowing someone completely. Jesus’ conclusion that the people didn’t know what they were doing was based in part on the fact that the Holy Spirit had not yet come into the world and made Jesus’ work on the cross evident to everyone. From that standpoint, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was still somewhat of a mystery. It wasn’t until the people had the influence of the Holy Spirit that they were able to see things clearly, repent of their sins, and seek God’s forgiveness (Acts 2:32-41).

An impossible situation

Genesis 37:3-4 states that Jacob “loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” Joseph’s brothers conspired against him to kill him and when he came looking for them in Dothan, they stripped him of his robe, and threw him into a pit (Genesis 37:18-24). “Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh…And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt” (Genesis 37:26-28). Joseph’s brothers took his “robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, ‘This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.’ And he identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without a doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:31-33).

Joseph’s brothers seemed to have committed the perfect crime until a famine spread over all the land and they were forced to go to Egypt to get food so that their families wouldn’t starve to death. “Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers” (Genesis 42:6-7). The Hebrew word that is translated strangers, nakar (naw-kar’) means to scrutinize with suspicion as if disowning (H5234). Joseph was pretending as if he had no connection with his brothers (H5234) and seemed to be intent on punishing his brothers for the harm they had done to him (Genesis 42:15-17), but the problem was that he felt compassion for his brothers and when they admitted their guilt, Joseph “turned away from them and wept” (Genesis 42:24).

Jesus used the example of divorce to address the hard heartedness of his people. It was common in the first century to “divorce for reasons other than unfaithfulness, such as incompatibility or unhappiness. The person who was put away was innocent but often acquired the false stigma of being guilty of moral misconduct” (note on Matthew 19:3-9). When he was asked if it was lawful to divorce one’s wife for any reason, Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-5). The Greek word that is translated joined together, suzeugnumi (sood-zyoog’-noo-mee) is derived from the Greek words sun (soon) and zeugos (dzyoo’-gos) which means “a couple, i.e. a team (of oxen yoked together)” (G2201). Zeugos can refer to a pair of anything and suggests that Jesus was talking about a man and woman being joined together in the context of spiritual unity.

The Apostle Paul identified spiritual unity as a key aspect of the body of Christ and said we are all to “come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, KJV). The phrase “unity of the faith” refers to the fact that there is only one way for a person to be saved, by believing in Jesus Christ. Paul went on to say, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Paul indicated that the body of Christ builds itself up or strengthens itself through love. The Greek word that is translated builds itself up, oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) is derived from the words oikos (oy’-kos) which means a family (G3624) and doma (do’-mah) which denotes a housetop or the roof of a building. One way of thinking of oikodome is a group of people that are related to each other who are all living under the same roof.

The Greek word sun (soon) describes a central characteristic of the kingdom of heaven. Sun denotes union “by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition, etc.” (G4862). Sun is most often translated as “with” indicating that joining together is primarily about spending time with someone. Judah’s argument for not killing Joseph was “he is our brother, our own flesh” (Genesis 37:27). What he likely meant by that was that Joseph had grown up in the same household with them and was a member of their family. Judah probably thought that should entitle Joseph to special consideration. And yet, when his ten brothers arrived in Egypt hoping to obtain some food to sustain their families, Joseph treated them like they were strangers (Genesis 42:7).

Joseph’s primary objective in treating his brothers roughly seemed to be to get them to bring their youngest brother Benjamin to Egypt, but his father Jacob refused to be separated from his beloved son. Genesis 43:1-9 states:

Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.

Judah’s pledge to keep Benjamin safe placed him in an impossible situation because Joseph was determined to not only be reunited with his younger brother, but to keep Benjamin in Egypt so that they would no longer have to be separated from each other (Genesis 44:2-5).

Jesus warned the Jewish leaders, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6) and told them, “Because of the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:8-9). The phrase hardness of heart refers to a condition of being destitute or lacking spiritual perception (G4641). When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, they didn’t fully comprehend the ramifications of their action and couldn’t see how it was going to affect everyone in Jacob’s family throughout the course of their lives. The only thing they were probably thinking about when the sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites was getting rid of the person that was stealing their father’s affection from them.

Jesus made it clear that divorce doesn’t break the spiritual connection between a husband and wife. He said, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). The point that Jesus was making was that adultery didn’t have anything to do with being legally married to someone, but about two people that were joined together by association, process or resemblance being separated from each other. Jesus explained that divorce for any reason other than sexual immorality caused the divorced person to be deprived of his spiritual integrity. Jesus likened it to being castrated and said, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:11-12).

Jesus’ teaching about divorce showed that the spouse that had not been unfaithful, but was divorced because of incompatibility or unhappiness was being forced to abstain from sexual activity for the rest of his or her life. The reason why Jesus said, “Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:12) was because the idea of being celibate for the rest of one’s life was unthinkable; it was thought to be an impossible task. Jesus’ disciples responded, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10). In other words, they would rather never get married than have to give up sex in order to remain faithful to one wife. Jesus confronted his disciples resistance to adapting to God’s standards by demonstrating to them that childlike faith was all that was necessary for entrance into God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). The Greek word that is translated belongs, esti (es-tee’) implies that the benefits of heaven can be obtained while we are living on earth.

Paul indicated that hard heartedness was a hindrance to unity and said that we must not act like unbelievers who “are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:17-18). Joseph’s stalemate with his brothers centered around the fact that no one was willing, or perhaps able to admit that Joseph had not been torn to pieces by a wild animal like his father Jacob imagined, but had actually been sold into slavery and taken to Egypt. Joseph himself played along with his brothers’ charade by pretending to not know them and by keeping his feelings hidden from them.

Joseph may have hoped that his brothers would eventually catch on and figure out that he was the governor of Egypt, but there was no indication that anyone even had a clue when he seated his eleven brothers at his banquet table according to their birth order “and the men looked at one another in amazement” (Genesis 43:33). The final showdown came when Joseph planted his silver cup in his brother Benjamin’s sack and then, sent his steward to recover it (Genesis 44:4-5). When his brothers realized they were going to have to return home without Benjamin, “then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city” (Genesis 44:13). The interesting thing about Joseph’s final confrontation with his brothers was that they all became committed to sticking together. Speaking for the group, Judah said, “God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found” (Genesis 44:16).

Joseph didn’t want all of his brothers stay with him in Egypt. He told Judah, “Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father” (Genesis 44:17). Judah’s dilemma was that he couldn’t go home without Benjamin. He had told his father Jacob, “I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever” (Genesis 43:9). Essentially, what Judah did was to exchange his life for his brother’s and to a certain extent you might say that Judah became his brother’s savior. When he said, “let me bear the blame forever,” Judah was talking about a moral failure toward both God and man that would result in his eternal punishment in hell.

Jesus used the example of a rich young man that was unwilling to part with his possessions to illustrate his point that a person is incapable of saving himself, much less another person. The man asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life” (Matthew 19:16). When Jesus said, “keep the commandments,” the young man responded, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:17, 20). Jesus told the man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Afterward, Jesus told his disciples, “‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?'” (Matthew 19:23-25).

Jesus’ disciples made the mistake of thinking salvation was a human rather than a divine act. Jesus told them, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). The Greek word that is translated possible, dunatos (doo-nat-os’) refers to being powerful in the sense having the ability and resources to do something (G1415). Paul described salvation as a gift from God and said, “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 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” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep illustrated God’s determination to save people that have been overtaken by sin. He said, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of that one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12). Rather than physically tracking down sinners, God’s method of recovering his lost sheep is to bring them to a place of repentance. That seemed to be the case with Joseph’s brothers when Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants” (Genesis 44:16). The Hebrew word Judah used that is translated guilt, ‘avown (aw-vone’) portrays sin as “a perversion of life (a twisting out of the right way), a perversion of truth (a twisting into error), or a perversion of intent (a bending of rectitude into willful disobedience)” (H5771).

Judah clearly understood that selling his brother Joseph into slavery was a sin and he deserved to be punished (Genesis 42:21), but instead of accepting the situation as impossible, Judah attempted to change the governor’s mind about making Benjamin his servant. Judah thought his plea for mercy was being made to a stranger, but because Joseph was the governor of Egypt, Judah’s future was dependent on his brother’s compassion. Paul instructed members of the body of Christ to, “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 4:31-32). Therefore, it was left up to Joseph to forgive his brothers and to let his inward affection for them make it possible for Jacob’s twelve sons to be reunited as a family.