The turnaround

During the 40 years that the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness because of their unbelief, “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22). There was never a moment that the people of Israel didn’t know where they were supposed to be when they were in the wandering in desert, but after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, things changed dramatically. God expected his chosen people to start walking by faith and not by sight. The fall of Jericho was followed by an unsuccessful attempt to destroy Ai with just a few thousands men. Joshua tells us, “And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:4-5). The people of Israel were overwhelmed with fear when they realized that their success in fighting against the inhabitants of Canaan was not guaranteed. Even Joshua was ready to give up and thought all was lost because of the Israelites defeat (Joshua 7:8-9). In order to set the record straight, God told Joshua that the problem was due to the camp being defiled by things that were devoted to destruction. Joshua 7:10-13 states:

The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”

God’s statement, “I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:12) was not a threat, but was meant to help the Israelites turn their situation around. Proverbs 21:2 tells us, “Every way of a man in right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” When the LORD weighs the heart, he reveals its contents. According to Psalm 139, God knows everything about us. It states:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:1-12)

The darkness that is referred to here is associated with disorder and is distinguished and separated from light. “In subsequent uses, whether used in physical or a symbolic sense, it describes confusion and uncertainty (Job 12:25; 37:19), evil done in secret” (H2822) and “to the darkness sometimes surrounding persons that requires them to trust in God” (H2825). The people of Israel were operating in spiritual darkness when they attacked the city of Ai, but weren’t aware of it until they were overcome and forced to flee and thirty-six men were killed (Joshua 7:4-5).

God exposed Achan’s sin and required the people of Israel to destroy the things that were devoted to destruction (Joshua 7:10-12). When Joshua confronted Achan, he said to him, “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me” (Joshua 7:19). Achan’s confession revealed that he had broken one of the Ten Commandments and had tried to conceal his sin by hiding the things he had taken from Jericho under the dirt inside his tent (Joshua 7:21). There is no indication that Achan felt any remorse for what he had done or that he was willing to repent of his sin. Therefore, Achan, his family, and all his property were destroyed along with all the things that he had taken from Jericho (Joshua 7:25). Afterward, the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king” (Joshua 8:1-2). The phrase that God used, arise, go up had to do with the people of Israel being back in fellowship with God and their spiritual power being restored. There was an immediate turnaround in the Israelites circumstances once they did what God told them to and dealt with Achan’s sin.

Psalm 33 focuses on the steadfast love of the LORD and shows us how this characteristic of God causes us to experience turnarounds in our lives because it draws us closer to him when we are in trouble. The Psalmist begins by focusing our attention on God’s faithfulness. He states:

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness. (Psalm 33:1-4)

According to the psalmist, everything God does is done in faithfulness. The Hebrew word that is translated faithfulness, ʾemunah (em-oo-nawˊ) means “to remain in one place” and “appears to function as a technical term meaning ‘a fixed position.’” “On the other hand, the word can represent the abstract idea of ‘truth’…The essential meaning of emunah is ’established’ or ‘lasting,’ ‘continuing,’ ‘certain’” (H530).

God’s dependability and reliability are important qualities when it comes to trust. In order for us to trust or believe in God, there has to be a sense of permanence in his character and actions (H539). The song of Moses refers to Israel’s future Messiah as The Rock and says about him, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Hebrew word tsur (tsoor) “means rocky wall or cliff (Exodus 17:6; 33:21-22). It frequently means rocky hill or mountains (Isaiah 2:10, 19)…The rock (or mountain) serves as a figure of security (Psalm 61:2), firmness (Job 14:18), and something that endures (Job 19:24)…The word means boulder in the sense of a rock large enough to serve as an altar (Judges 6:21). Rock frequently pictures God’s support and defense of his people (Deuteronomy 32:15)” (H6697). Jesus was identified not only as “the spiritual Rock” that followed the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4), but also as “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” because of Israel’s unbelief (Romans 9:33).

Jesus demonstrated his ability to turn the most impossible situation around when he died on the cross and then, was resurrected three days later. By paying the penalty for every sin that had been or ever would be committed, Jesus opened the door for God to erase the errors that cause believers to fall short with regards to accomplishing God’s will for their lives. Psalm 33:5 indicates that God “loves righteousness and justice” and “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.” In order for the earth to be full of the steadfast love of the LORD, there would have to be a limitless amount of it to go around. Essentially, what the psalmist was saying was that God doesn’t withhold his steadfast love from certain people. It flows freely to anyone that wants or needs it. The Hebrew word cheçed (khehˊ-sed) appears three times in Psalm 33 and each time it is translated steadfast love. “The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship…Checed implies personal involvement, and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law. Marital love is often related to cheçed. Marriage certainly is a legal matter, and there are legal sanctions for infractions. Yet the relationship, if sound, far transcends mere legalities. The prophet Hosea applies the analogy to Yahweh’s cheçed to Israel within the covenant (e.g. 2:21). Hence, ‘devotion’ is sometimes the single English word best capable of capturing the nuances of the original. Hebrew writers often underscore the element of steadfastness (or strength) by pairing cheçed with ʾemet (H571 – “truth, reliability”) and ʾemunah (H530 – “faithfulness”)…The Bible prominently uses the term cheçed to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within, and in response to the covenant” (H2617).

The reciprocity that is involved in cheçed makes it clear to us that God does not show his lovingkindness to people that want nothing to do with him and yet, we know that God has made a way for everyone’s sins to be forgiven. The psalmist tells us:

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds. (Psalm 33:13-15)

The Hebrew word that is translated observes, biyn (bene) refers to God’s ability to “to separate mentally (or distinguish)” and “basically means to understand” (H995). God is not only aware of what is going on here, but also understands the implications of everything people do. The Book of Hebrews explains that Jesus’ human nature was the same as our own and it enabled him to be tempted just like us. It states, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). God’s grace and mercy are dispensed from heaven without being earned or deserved. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and his kindness toward us is what causes us to be saved and be given a new life. 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. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

In the same way that Christians are created for good works that God prepares beforehand for them to walk in them, so also the nation of Israel was created by God to accomplish a specific objective. Deuteronomy 9:4-5 explains that the Israelites were brought in to possess the Promised Land because of the wickedness of the nations that were living there. It states:

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

“The land of Canaan became the Promised Land the Lord gave to His people based on his oath. He brought them into the land as He had promised by oath to their fathers (Exodus 13:5; Deuteronomy 1:8, 35; 6:10; Joshua 1:6; Judges 2:1; Jeremiah 11:5)” (H7650). Psalm 33:16-17 reiterates this point by explaining why Israel’s military strength was useless to them when they attacked Ai at first (Joshua 7:2-5). It states:

The king is not saved by his great army;
    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
    and by its great might it cannot rescue.

The psalmist used the words saved, delivered, salvation, and rescue to remind us that there is a spiritual dimension to warfare that takes precedence over the physical aspects in determining the outcome of a battle. Paul concluded his letter to the Ephesians with a discussion of spiritual warfare. Paul indicated that we must be strong in the Lord and fight in the strength of his might. The Greek word that is translated be strong, endunamoō (en-doo-nam-oˊ-o) is derived from the words en (en) which denotes a (fixed) position (in place, time, or state)” (G1722) and dunamoo (doo-nam-oˊ-o) which means “to make strong” (G1412). Dunamoo is derived from the word dunamis (dooˊ-nam-is) which specifies “miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself)…Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person or thing” (G1411).

Psalm 33:18-19 states:

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

God’s ultimate objective for every person is to deliver their soul from death. The soul is our inner being with its thoughts and emotions. When the Hebrew word that is translated soul, nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) “is applied to a person, it doesn’t refer to a specific part of a human being. The Scriptures view a person as a composite whole, fully relating to God and not divided in any way (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23)” (H5315). That’s why the salvation that God provides for us applies not only to our body, but also to our soul, and our spirit (Matthew 10:28).

Psalm 33 concludes with the reassurance that God’s steadfast love can sustain us in our time of need. Verses 20-22 state:

Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

The psalmist connected waiting with the soul, suggesting that it is a spiritual activity or you might say a spiritual exercise. The Israelites were impatient and often failed to ask God for help when they needed it. Psalm 106 recounts their journey through the wilderness and notes that they soon forgot God’s work of deliverance and “they did not wait for his counsel” (Psalm 106:13).

The Israelites’ defeat at Ai was perceived to be God’s fault because he had removed his protection (Joshua 7:8-9), but it was Achan’s sin that the people of Israel needed to deal with. God told them, “They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:12). After “they burned them with fire and stoned them with stones…the LORD said to Joshua, Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting me with you, and arise go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city and his land” (Joshua 8:1). During the battle, the army of Ai “left the city open and pursued Israel” (Joshua 8:17). Joshua 8:18-20 tells us:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. And the men in the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it. And they hurried to set the city on fire. So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers.

When Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city, there was a change in their circumstances and the Israelites began to overtake Ai in the battle. Joshua’s act of faith caused a shift in the spiritual dimension of Israel’s warfare to take place. The Hebrew word that is translated turned back in Joshua 8:20, haphak (haw-fakˊ) has to do with transformational change. “In its simplest meaning, haphak expresses the turning from one side to another” and is translated converted in Isaiah 60:5. “The meaning of ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ is vividly illustrated in the story of Saul’s encounter with the Spirit of God. Samuel promised that Saul ‘shalt be turned into another man’ (1 Samuel 10:6), and when the Spirit came on him, ‘God gave him another heart’ (1 Samuel 10:9). Likewise, the turnaround in the Israelites’ battle with Ai was a result of the Spirit of God getting involved because of Joshua’s act of faith.

God’s supernatural ability

It’s not unusual for everything that God does to be considered a miracle because he is a supernatural being. On the other hand, humans have a limited amount of strength and ability that they can rely on and therefore do not typically do extraordinary things on a regular basis. The 40 years that the Israelites spent in the desert after they were delivered from slavery in Egypt demonstrated that it is possible for people to live miraculous lives by relying on God’s power to accomplish things that they cannot do themselves. Most of the miracles that happened in the desert were a result of God working through Moses to perform supernaturally feats (Exodus 15:25; 17:6, 11), but the construction of the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was kept was a collective effort that showed God’s supernatural ability could be distributed among the people in such a way that everyone could play a part in getting the job done. Moses started by asking everyone to “take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twisted linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece” (Exodus 35 5-9). Basically, everything that was needed to construct the tabernacle and its contents had to come from the Israelite’s personal belongings. Moses asked everyone who had a generous heart to give up their possessions so that their material wealth could be used to benefit the LORD’s work.

A generous heart is not something that comes naturally to human beings. For the most part, the Israelites were selfish with their possession just like most people are today, but Exodus 35:20-29 tells us:

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.

The freewill offering to the Lord was characterized by spontaneity. “This term can denote that state of being which allows a person to offer a gift or a favour to someone else without any thought of return or payback. The favour is not given out of any obligation owed by the giver; rather, it is the result of an overflow from an abundance within the heart” (H5071).

In addition to the materials that were needed for the tabernacle to be constructed, there was a need for laborers as well. Moses asked the people to give up their time and talent too. He said, “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded” (Exodus 35:10). Exodus 36:2-7 states:

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.

Moses indicated that the Lord had put skill into the minds of every craftsman, “everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work” (Exodus 36:2). The Hebrew word that is translated stirred up, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). This seems to suggest that the people whose hearts were being stirred up were believers that wanted to participate in the process of salvation that God was enacting.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was focused on his ministry of spreading the gospel which God had entrusted to him by way of supernatural revelation (Ephesians 3:3). Paul said, “Therefore having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose hart. But we have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-4). Paul emphasized the fact that God’s word was able to affect the minds of believers because it was the truth. The Biblical definition of truth is something that is real, it conforms to the nature and reality of things, therefore it is credible and not to be rejected (G227). An open statement is an expression of truth that makes something visible or observable to you that might otherwise go unnoticed (G5321). Paul’s mission of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles was necessary because it was a mystery that they were “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6). Paul said that he had “commended himself to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he was leaving it up to God to convict and convince the people that he was preaching to that his gospel message was indeed the truth.

The conscience enables people to see things from God’s perspective. It is a “faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong and prompts one to choose the former and avoid the latter” (G4893). Paul said that his gospel message was veiled to those who were perishing because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul referred to Satan as the god of this world because everyone that has not accepted Jesus as their Savior is under his dominion. Paul told the Ephesians that “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might…that you might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 5:10-11) and identified the word of God as a sword that can be used offensively to defeat Satan’s army (Ephesians 5:17). The Greek word that is translated strong, endunamoo (en-doo-nam-o’) means “to empower” and is used metaphorically of the mind being strengthened by God (G1743). Endunamoo is derived from the Greek words en and dunamoo. Dunamoo comes from the Greek word dunamis (doo’-nam-is) which refers specifically to God’s ability to do miracles (G1411).

God’s supernatural ability is transferred to believers, at least in part, through our minds and in particular through our understanding of his word. Paul told the believers in Corinth that he had not tampered with God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he hadn’t mingled the truths of God’s word with false doctrines (G1389). Paul had kept his opinions to himself and only conveyed to the Corinthians what God’s Spirit had prompted him to. Paul said, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6). Paul used the metaphor of light shining out of darkness to show that God’s word is not constrained by the limitations of our human comprehension. Paul went on to say, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). The surpassing power that Paul was referring to was dunamis. “Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person or thing” (G1411). Paul thought of his gospel message as a treasure that had been placed in jars of clay in order to show that its effectiveness was linked to God’s supernatural ability rather than Paul’s preaching.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked a lot about the foolishness of preaching the gospel. He said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul used the word dunamis to describe the power that God uses to save people. The word of the cross is basically the gospel message which states that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Paul indicated that this message was considered to be folly or an absurdity (G3472) to those that were destined for destruction (G622). Paul explained that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Spiritual discernment is the ability to understand that which is non-physical by nature (G4153). Paul went on to say, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Paul’s statement corresponds to Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. 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” (John 15:1-2). Then Jesus stated:

“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. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

Jesus bracketed his teaching about the power that is available to believers through God’s word with a commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This seems to suggest that we are expected to refrain from using God’s word as a tool to hurt others, but rather as an instrument of encouragement and support. Paul eluded to this in his explanation of why he was suffering even though he was doing God’s will. Paul said:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

Paul hinted at that fact that God’s supernatural ability was at work in his life when he said that even though he was afflicted in every way, he was not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). The contrasting language that Paul used made it clear that his ability to preach the gospel had not been diminished by the trouble he had gone through. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he was still strong in his faith and was determined to accomplish the mission that was entrusted to him. Paul’s statement that death was at work in him (2 Corinthians 4:12) was meant to convey the idea that there was a cost associated with undertaking the responsibilities for the sins of others. Paul encouraged the Corinthians by stating:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The outer self and the inner self that Paul was referring to were the physical and spiritual aspects of mankind. The Greek word that is translated self, anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) is generally used to designate a human being without reference to sex or nationality and in distinction from God and animals. In this phrase, “the inner man means the regenerate person’s spiritual nature personified, the inner self of the believer…as the sphere of the renewing power of the Holy Spirit” (G444). Paul’s prayer for spiritual strength included a petition for power through the Holy Spirit. He said:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Being filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) has to do with the process of sanctification which leads to our oneness with Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Paul indicated that this process is driven by the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16). Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper and said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). Thus, the role of the Holy Spirit is to help us remember God’s word and to teach us spiritual lessons.

Paul’s prayer concluded with an acknowledgement of God’s supernatural ability. Paul stated, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Paul used the superlative “far more abundantly” to express the infinite degree to which God is able to do what we ask of him. The point Paul was trying to make was that we can’t deplete God’s resources. His supernatural ability is beyond what humans can even think or imagine him doing. Paul made it clear that believers can access God’s supernatural ability through the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work within us. What Paul likely meant by the statement “according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20) was that dunamis, miraculous power and/or ability, is not available to believers on an as needed basis, but it can be stored up or put to use at any time. An example of this is the parable of the talents which Jesus told his disciples not long before he was crucified. In this parable, the servant that received five talents was commended for using them to gain five more talents by putting them to work (Matthew 25:21). The servant that received one talent was rebuked because he didn’t even bother to invest his talent so that his master could gain something from the resources that had been entrusted to him (Matthew 25:26-27). Afterward, the talent was taken away from him and given to the servant that had ten talents (Matthew 25:28). Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29)

Living in the spirit

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

Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The Holy Spirit, who is often associated with the spiritual nature of God (Ephesians 6:17), is a distinct person that is “spoken of in connection with God the Father, as having intimate union or oneness with him” (G4151). The Holy Spirit is described “as coming to and acting upon Christians, illuminating and empowering them, and remaining with them, imparting to them spiritual knowledge, aid, consolation, sanctification, and making intercession with and for them (Ephesians 3:16; 6:18)…The technical expression ‘to be baptized in [or with] the Holy Spirit’ refers to the spiritual baptism into the body of Christ for all those who were truly saved (Matthew 3:11).” Jesus described the Holy Spirit as “another Helper” that would be with us forever (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit’s first appearance on earth is recorded in Acts 2:1-4 where it says, “When the day of Pentecost arrived they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter indicated that suffering was associated with living in the spirit and said, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). Peter’s recommendation of filling our minds with the kinds of thoughts that Jesus did in order to combat our spiritual enemy, the devil was similar to Paul’s prescription for spiritual success. Paul stated:

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

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

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