Justified by grace

Paul tackled one of the most difficult topics for Christians to understand in the final section of his short letter to Titus: justification by grace. Paul wrote:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Looking at his statement from a mathematical perspective, Paul was saying that: regeneration + renewal = justification. Regeneration or (spiritual) rebirth “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. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth” (G3824). Renewal, “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.” Paul indicated that the outcome of this life-long process was “being justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7). The Greek word that is translated justified, dikaioo (dik-ah-yoˊ-o) means “to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent” (G1344).

Paul talked at length about justification in his letter to the Romans. He stated in Romans 2:6-13:

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Paul’s declaration that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4) was intended to focus his readers attention on the mercy of God which made salvation possible for all who have sinned. Repentance “involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341). Therefore, God’s kindness was an important factor in what causes a person to want to repent. Paul went on to explain that we are justified by grace, but the redemption that is in Christ Jesus has to be received by faith in order for God to be able to render a verdict of innocent in each individual’s case. Paul said:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Paul noted that there is no distinction between Jews and Greeks because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and then, stated that we are “justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:24). What Paul meant by a gift was that God’s grace was given to believers without a cause (G1432). The Greek word doron (doˊ-ron) means “a present; specifically a sacrifice” (G1435).

Paul’s discussion of justification included the motive behind it: God’s love. Paul said, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since therefore we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:6-9). Paul reasoned that because Christ died for us while we were still sinners, his propitiation for our sins would be sufficient to save us from the wrath of God. The wrath of God is a reference to the judgment that awaits those who have not put their trust in Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation gives us a preview of God’s judgment and reveals when it will take place. The beginning of God’s judgment is recorded in Revelation 6:1-17. Verses 12-17 state, “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars in the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by the gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and powerful, and everyone slave and free, hid themselves in the caves among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Paul made it clear that God did not save us “because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5). Mercy “is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it—efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery” (G1656). Paul’s statement that we are “justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7) tells us that grace is necessary for justification to occur. The Greek word that is translated grace in Titus 3:7, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers specifically to “the divine influence upon the heart” (G5485). In the Hebrew language, “The heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820).

When Saul was anointed King of Israel, 1 Samuel 10:9 tells us that “God gave him another heart.” God didn’t physically replace the organ in Saul’s chest. The Hebrew word haphak (haw-fakˊ), which is translated gave, was being used to convey “transformation” or “change” (H2015). As a result of him receiving a new heart, Saul was “turned into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6). Saul was not the same person on the inside as he was before, but we aren’t told exactly how he was different. The only thing we know for sure is that afterward, the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul, “and he prophesied” (1 Samuel 10:10). Prophecy is speaking or singing by inspiration. The function of the true prophet in the Old Testament was to speak God’s message to the people “under the influence of the divine spirit (1 Kings 22:8; Jeremiah 29:27; Ezekiel 37:10)” (H5012). In Saul’s case, the gift of prophecy was intended to be an outward sign of his anointing and only lasted a short while. After Saul returned home, it says in 1 Samuel 10:14-16, “Saul’s uncle said to him and to his servant, ‘Where did you go?’ And he said, ‘To seek the donkeys. And when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.’ And Saul’s uncle said, ‘Please tell me what Samuel said to you.’ And Saul said to his uncle, ‘He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.’ But about the matter of the kingdom, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell him anything.” When it was time for him to be proclaimed king before the people, Saul could not be found. 1 Samuel 10:22 states, “So they inquired again of the LORD, ‘Is there a man still to come?’ and the LORD said, ‘Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.’”

Saul’s unusual behavior after he was anointed King of Israel suggests that he was reluctant to become Israel’s king. “Saul showed himself to be a man who had no regard for God’s will. Though Samuel had already affirmed that the kingdom would pass from him to another (1 Samuel 13:13, 14), Saul did not repent. He continued to disobey according to his own whims, especially in regard to the battle with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:1-3, 9). When Samuel discovered that Saul had kept the sheep alive following the Amalekites victory, claiming that he wanted to sacrifice them to the Lord (1 Samuel 15:21), the prophet declared, ‘To obey is better than sacrifice’ (note on 1 Samuel 15:1-9). Saul admitted to Samuel that he “feared the people and obeyed their voice” rather than doing what God told him to (1 Samuel 15:24). The Hebrew concept of obedience was closely linked to hearing the voice of God. In his final message to the people of Israel, Moses focused heavily on hearing and obeying the voice of the LORD. Moses asked the Israelites, “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire” (Deuteronomy 4:33-36).

The Hebrew word that is translated heard in Deuteronomy 4:36, shama (shaw-mahˊ) means “to hear intelligently…Hearing can be both intellectual and spiritual…In the case of hearing and hearkening to a higher authority, shama can mean to obey (Genesis 22:18)” (H8085). Shama is translated obeyed in 1 Samuel 15:24. When Saul said that he feared the people and obeyed their voice, he meant that he regarded their will to be more important than God’s. Saul said to Samuel, “’Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the LORD.’ And Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.’ As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (1 Samuel 15:25-28). The neighbor that Samuel was referring to was David, the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Earlier, Samuel referred to David as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). The primary difference between David and Saul was that David wanted to do God’s will.

1 Samuel 16:1-7 indicates that God was looking for a man with a certain kind of disposition to rule over Israel. It says in 1 Samuel 16:1, “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” God said that he had rejected Saul and provided for himself a king. “God will not force man to do His will, so He sometimes must ‘reject’ him…Although God had chosen Saul to be king, Saul’s response caused a change in God’s plan for Saul…As a creature of free choice, man may ‘reject’ God…Purity of heart and attitude are more important to God than perfection and beauty of ritual” (H3988). When Samuel saw Jesse’s son Eliab, he thought he was the one that God intended to make king, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7). God is able to see the motives, feelings, affections, and desires of our hearts. As well as, “the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of every man” (H3820), not only of those that God accepts, but also of those that he rejects. God knew that Eliab, who was likely Jesse’s oldest son and the one who would naturally have been assigned a position of leadership, was not the kind of person that could take Saul’s place. Instead, God selected David, Jesse’s youngest son who was responsible for “keeping the sheep” (1 Samuel 16:11).

David and Saul began their reigns as King of Israel with the same advantage, they were both anointed by Samuel. “The Old Testament most commonly uses mashach to indicate ‘anointing’ in the sense of a special setting apart for an office or function” (H4886). “If the verb is used in association with a religious ceremony, it connotes the sanctification of things or people for divine service…The most common usage of this verb is the ritual of divine installation of individuals into positions of leadership by pouring oil on their heads. Most frequently, people were anointed for kingship: Saul (1 Samuel 10:1); David (1 Samuel 16:13; and Solomon (1 Kings 1:34).” In both instances, after they were anointed, it is also noted that “the Spirit of God rushed upon” Saul and David, but in David’s case it says in 1 Samuel 16:13, “the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward” (emphasis mine). The Hebrew word that is translated rushed, tsaleach (tsaw-layˊ-akh) means “to push forward…This word generally expresses the idea of a successful venture, as contrasted with failure. The source of such success is God: ‘…as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper’ (2 Chronicles 26:5)” (H6743). This might seem to suggest that David never sinned or did anything to displease the LORD after he was anointed King of Israel, but we know that David didn’t live a perfect life. The Spirit of the LORD was there to keep David on track with his responsibilities as the King of Israel and to make him successful in accomplishing God’s will for the nation of Israel.

David’s personal relationship with the LORD was what set him apart from Saul, as well as, all the other Kings of Israel that followed him. The Apostle Paul’s formula for successful Christian living: regeneration + renewal = justified by grace: shows us that regeneration in and of itself does not produce the effect of justification. Renewal, the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he lives and the restoration of the divine image, requires the person to be a fellow worker with God in the process of sanctification (G3824/G342). Jesus told his followers that a tree is known by its fruit in order to express to them the importance of the Holy Spirit’s work in their heart. Jesus said:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37)

In this instance, the word justified refers to acquittal from guilt (G1344). When Jesus said that we will be justified by our words or condemned by them, he meant that our own words will be used as evidence for or against us in the final judgment of mankind. Jesus went on to explain that repentance is necessary for the heart of a person to be changed (Matthew 12:39-42). In his parable of the sower, Jesus indicated that fruit is produced by the cultivation or development of God’s word and then, explained to his disciples, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23).

Jesus’ discussion with a lawyer who wanted to test his understanding of the scriptures resulted in the Lord using the Parable of the Good Samaritan to teach the lawyer that it is impossible for us to be justified without God’s divine influence upon our heart. After the lawyer cited the law that stated we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, Luke tells us:

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37)

Jesus said that the Samaritan had compassion on the man who was robbed and left half dead. Jesus continually showed compassion to the people that came to him for help. It is likely that Jesus used this characteristic to describe the Samaritan’s actions so that the lawyer would realize that the Samaritan was not acting of his own accord, but was responding to the divine influence upon his heart.

Godly character

Near the end of his ministry, Paul wrote a letter to a one of his traveling companions named Titus. “Titus was most likely a Gentile from Macedonia (Galatians 2:3) who was led to Christ by Paul (Titus 1:4). Titus was with Paul in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1) when some dogmatic, Jewish brethren insisted that Titus should be circumcised. Paul would not allow it (Galatians 2:3-5) because this would have suggested that all non-Jewish Christians were second-class citizens in the church. Titus remained as Paul’s traveling companion and may have been with Paul when he wrote the letter to the Galatians. After Paul’s release from his first imprisonment in Rome, Titus traveled with Paul to do mission work in the East. They landed at Crete and evangelized several towns (Titus 1:5). However, since Paul was unable to stay, he left Titus in Crete to complete the organization of congregations in that region. Titus met with considerable opposition and insubordination in the church, especially from the Jews (Titus 1:10). It is quite possible that Titus had written to Paul to report this problem and ask for spiritual advice. Paul responded with this short letter encouraging him to complete the process of organization, to ordain elders, to exercise his own authority firmly, and to teach sound doctrine while avoiding unnecessary strife…The letter was probably delivered by Zenas and Apollos (Titus 3:12). It is believed, however, that Paul penned this sometime between his first and second imprisonments in Rome (ca. AD 64) when he was in the city of Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). This was about the same time that the book of 1 Timothy was written. The instructive tone of this epistle to Titus is similar to that of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Both Titus and Timothy endured much criticism from false teachers during their ministries. Paul exhorts Titus to continue to preach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and to use wise judgment concerning the appointing of leaders in the church (Titus 1:5-9)” (Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Titus).

The transition of leadership in the church from Jesus’ apostles and original followers to Gentile believers that were some of their early converts was difficult because of the cultural differences between the Jews and Gentiles. The issue of godly character was discussed in depth by Jesus, but not in the context of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit because he didn’t come into the world until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven (Acts 2:1-4). Paul’s greeting included a doctrinal statement that was intended to lay the foundation for his message to Titus. Paul began by stating:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior. (Titus 1:1-3)

Paul indicated that he had been made an apostle “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1) and then, linked his role to the development of godliness. Paul used the phrase which accords with godliness to emphasize the fact that godliness is dependent upon an individual’s knowledge of the truth. The Greek word that is translated godliness, eusebeia (yoo-sebˊ-i-ah) “is from eu, ‘well,’ and sebomai, ‘to be devout,’ denotes that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him” (G2150). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul directly linked godliness with the manifestation of God through Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, and implied that godliness was embodied in, and communicated through, the truths of the faith of Christ (1 Timothy 3:16).

A critical point that Paul made about God’s character was his inability to say something that wasn’t true. With regard to our hope of eternal life, Paul said, “God, who never lies” promised it to us before the ages began (Titus 1:2). The Greek word psuedomai (psyooˊ-dom-ahee), from which the word lie (pseudos) is derived, means “to utter an untruth or attempt to deceive by falsehood” (G5574). The prefix pseudo “is used to mark something that superficially appears to be (or behaves like) one thing, but is something else” (Wikipedia). Jesus associated lying with the devil and told the Jews who had believed in him:

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works of your father.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:39-47)

Jesus contrasted the devil’s behavior with God’s and said, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). In the same way that God never lies (Titus 1:2), Jesus indicated that the devil never says anything that is true because of his character (John 8:44).

In his letter to Titus, Paul stated, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:12-14). Paul acknowledged that it was the Cretans’ natural tendency to act contrary to their Christian heritage and may have been trying to encourage Titus that it wasn’t his fault that his congregation was lacking in spiritual character. Paul may have wanted Titus to view these believers as being under satanic influences. Paul said that Titus should “rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:13). The words Paul used have the connotation of cutting the Cretans off abruptly. In other words, Paul wanted Titus to be rude, if necessary, to convince the Cretans that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Paul wanted the Cretans to be sound in their faith, meaning that they could recognize for themselves when they were being drawn away from the truth.

The Israelites often stumbled in their attempt to do what God wanted them to. When the people of Israel demanded a king, the prophet Samuel was resistant to giving in to them because he knew they were rejecting God’s authority. God told Samuel to do what the people wanted him to (1 Samuel 8:7). “God knew that the Israelites would someday desire a king. He had previously given guidelines that were to be followed by the people and by the kings that would reign over them (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7). Among the guidelines that God established was the stipulation that the king write for himself in a book a copy of the law. God said, “it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). God intended that his commandments would be the constitution that his people lived by, but “they wanted a visible deliverer in whom they could place their trust (cf. Judges 8:22). They wanted to walk by sight not by faith. In so doing, they sought to escape the moral demands of the law by doing away with the theocracy under which they had been living” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7). In order to prevent his people from abandoning him completely, God gave the man that was selected to be Israel’s king another heart and changed him into another person (1 Samuel 10 6, 9). 1 Samuel 10:9-13 tells us:

When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah,behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place.

The Hebrew word that is translated gave in the phrase God gave him another heart, haphak (haw-vakˊ) has to do with transformation. “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). The Spirit’s interaction with Saul was not the same as when a believer is converted and the Holy Spirit enters into that person’s heart, what is referred to as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Saul was changed by the Spirit coming upon him which caused him to be transformed into another man (1 Samuel 10:6).

The New Testament speaks of transformation in the context of both internal and external change. Paul’s instruction to the Romans was, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Being conformed to the world means that externally you look and act like everyone else (G4964). Transformation, on the other hand, has to do with a continuous process of inward change that is expressed in the character and conduct of the individual (G3339). Paul indicated that believers are transformed by the renewal of their minds. The Greek word that is translated renewal, anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) refers to “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; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). God’s stipulation that the king of Israel have a personal copy of the law was so that he could meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2) and adjust his thinking to it in order to develop godly character.

“From a human perspective, Saul fully satisfied the desires of the people. He was a man of great stature from the most military-minded tribe of all Israel and was considered capable of leading the people in battle against their enemies. Saul was also a man whose own spiritual life mirrored that of the majority of the Israelites; it was not long until he disobeyed the Lord (1 Samuel 13:8-14). During his farewell address, Samuel made the people aware of the fact that they had sinned by asking for a human king. Samuel said, “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the LORD, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king.’ So Samuel called upon the LORD, and he LORD sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. And all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king” (1 Samuel 12:16-18). The people confirmed their rejection of God’s authority when they asked Samuel to pray to the LORD your God. Samuel assured the Israelites that in spite of their rejection, God would not forsake his people, “for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:22).

Samuel’s final remarks to the people of Israel made it clear that God was not going to give up on his chosen people. Samuel said that “it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:22, emphasis mine), implying that the LORD could work things out with or without the cooperation of the Israelites. The Hebrew word ʿasah (aw-sawˊ) means “to create, do, make…This verb is also applied to all aspects of divine acts and actions. In the general sense of His actions toward His people Israel, the word first occurs in Genesis 12:2, where God promises ‘to make’ Abram a great nation” (H6213). God’s intention of making the people of Israel a people for himself was related to his covenant with Abraham and his plan of salvation for the world. The LORD’s anointing of Saul “to be the prince of his heritage” (1 Samuel 10:1) was the first step toward Jesus becoming the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was initially recognized and worshipped as “the king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), but throughout his ministry he talked about the kingdom of heaven and he told his twelve disciples that “in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

The distinction between God’s effort and ours when it comes to developing godly character and the result of us acquiring it are considered in the book of Acts in connection with the healing of a lame beggar. Peter and John were going up to the temple when a man asked to receive alms from them. Acts 3:4-8 states:

And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

The lame beggar didn’t ask or expect Peter to heal him. Peter merely commanded the man to rise up and walk. Afterward, Peter asked the people that had witnessed this miracle, “why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” (Acts 3:12). The Greek word that is translated piety in this verse, eusebeia is translated godliness in Titus 1:1. Peter concluded that it was power and godliness that had made the lame man walk, but wanted everyone watching to understand that he was not the source of it.

Godliness is a spontaneous feeling of the heart that causes us to do things that are godly or for God (G2150). Paul explained in his first letter to Timothy that godliness had to be exercised in order for it to be helpful or advantageous to us. Paul said:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

Paul suggested that toiling and striving for godliness was a worthwhile effort “because we have our hope set on the living God” (1 Timothy 4:10). The point that I believe Paul was trying to make was that godly character is based on a real person, Jesus Christ, and therefore, we know what the end result looks like. Our hope is based on reality, not a fantasy.

When God gave King Saul another heart and turned him into another man, Saul was immediately converted, but he didn’t have any context for the influence of the Holy Spirit because Jesus, the source of his transformation, hadn’t yet been born. You might say that Saul was left to his own devices when it came to developing godly character because he had no concept of what God was really like. It’s possible that God intended for Saul to be an example of an ungodly Christian. In other words, Saul represented the kind of person that has experienced spiritual rebirth, but has no interest in doing things for God. Saul’s focus was on the material world rather than the kingdom of heaven. In his letter to Titus, Paul identified the qualifications for elders. Paul said, ‘For an overseer, as God’s steward must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:7-8). “The word ‘self-controlled’ is the Greek adjective sophron (4998). It means ‘to voluntarily place limitations on one’s own freedom’” (note on Titus 2:2, 5). Paul used the word sophron three times in the section of his letter that addressed qualifications for elders and the teaching of sound doctrine. Paul’s emphasis of self-control suggests that it was an important quality of godly character. Sophron is derived from the words sozo (sodeˊ-zo) which speaks “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982) and phren (frane) which means “to rein in or curb.” In a figurative sense, phren is “the supposed seat of all mental and emotional activity. In the New Testament, by metonymy, meaning the mind, intellect, disposition, feelings” (G5424). One way of looking at self-control is that your mind operates like someone who has been saved. A person who exercises self-control demonstrates that he or she has actually been delivered from the power of sin and death and in the process develops godly character.

Confession of our faith

Jesus used the parable of the sower to illustrate the process of spiritual birth, growth, and development. Jesus said:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” (Luke 8:5-8)

Jesus later explained the parable of the sower to his disciples. He told them:

“The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:11-15)

Jesus’ illustration and explanation showed that spiritual birth does not happen automatically when a person hears the word of God. A person must believe in order to be saved, but there is more to the process than just that. Jesus indicated that the word of God must take root in a person’s life and then, bear fruit so that their faith is evident to everyone around them. Jesus took his illustration one step further when he told his disciples:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:23-26)

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead in general terms (1 Corinthians 15:1-34), and then, Paul went on to explain how the transformation of physical life into spiritual life actually takes place. Paul said:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:35-49)

Paul reiterated Jesus’ point that “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15:36). Paul’s explanation made it clear that there are two types of bodies (1 Corinthians 15:44) and therefore it can be assumed, two types of death that need to take place in order for the transformation of our physical life into an eternal spiritual life to be complete.

Jesus told Martha shortly before he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Jesus wanted Martha to understand that spiritual life and spiritual death are more important than physical life and death when it comes to eternal existence. Jesus indicated that everyone who has experienced a spiritual birth will never experience a natural death (John 11:26). The Greek word that is translated die in John 11:26, apothnesko (ap-oth-naceˊ-ko) “is used of the separation of the soul from the body, i.e. the natural ‘death’ of human beings (e.g., Matthew 9:24; Romans 7:2); by reason of descent from Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22)…all who are descended from Adam not only ‘die’ physically, owing to sin, see above, but are naturally in a state of separation from God, 2 Corinthians 5:14. From this believers are freed both now and eternally, John 6:50; 11:26, through the death of Christ, Romans 5:8” (G599).

In the same way that a person who has experienced a spiritual birth will never experience a natural death, so a person that has experienced a spiritual death will not experience a natural life, but a supernatural type of existence similar to God’s. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). The Greek word that is translated live, zao (dzahˊ-o) means “spiritual life” and refers to “the present state of departed saints” and in particular to “the way of access to God through the Lord Jesus Christ” (G2198). With regard to physical life, zao means “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” and is sometimes translated quick in reference to God’s word. “Quick implies the ability to respond immediately to God’s word and living stresses the ongoing nature of His word; it is just as effective today as tomorrow.” John emphasized that Jesus and God’s word are one and the same. John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).

When Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), he was talking about the effect of God’s word on the soul of a man. Unlike physical death, spiritual death is an ongoing process that starts when a person accepts Jesus as his or her Savior and continues until a physical death or the rapture, allassō (al-lasˊ-so) takes place (G236). Paul said:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:50-57)

With regard to spiritual death, “Believers have spiritually ‘died’ to the Law as a means of life, Galatians 2:19; Colossians 2:20; to sin, Romans 6:2, and in general to all spiritual association with the world and with that which pertained to their unregenerate state, Colossians 3:3, because of their identification with the ‘death’ of Christ, Romans 6:8” (G599). Paul said, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:19-21).

Paul used the Greek word zao when said that it was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in him and that the life Paul lived in the flesh he lived by faith. Our spiritual life and spiritual death are closely connected to our faith in Jesus Christ. One of the things that seems to be particularly important in the establishment and development of our faith is obedience to God’s word. When Jesus performed miracles, he often instructed the person who wanted to get well to do something so that his obedience became a part of the healing process. Jesus instructed the man who was born blind to, “’Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing” (John 9:7). On another occasion, Jesus told a man that had been an invalid for 38 years, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). In the same way that faith in action can produce miraculous results, a denial of God’s word or unbelief disconnects us from Jesus, the source of our spiritual life and power (John 8:21).

In order to put a stop to Jesus’ ministry, the Jews “agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). The Greek word that is translated confess, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) literally means “to speak the same thing,” but the specific connotation in John 9:22 is “to declare openly by way of speaking out freely, such confession being the effect of deep conviction of facts” (G3670). In other words, the Jews didn’t necessarily care if people believed that Jesus was the Christ, they just wanted to stop people from saying that they believed Jesus was the Christ. Their issue was with believers making a public profession of faith. Jesus told his followers, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men. I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). The denial that Jesus was talking about was the contradiction of a previous oath, to disavow oneself of a former commitment. John’s record of Peter’s denial of Christ states, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not” (John 18:25).

A Jewish oath was “a sacred promise attesting to what one has done or will do” and was also used “to pledge loyalty to God” (H7621). Matthew’s gospel indicates that Peter denied Jesus with an oath, stating, “I do not know the man” (Matthew 26:72). According to the Mosaic Law, if a man swore with an oath, to bind himself by a pledge, it was impossible for the man to unbind himself, meaning that he couldn’t be forgiven if he didn’t do what he promised to (Numbers 30:2). After Jesus was resurrected, he discovered that Peter had returned to his former occupation as a fisherman (John 21:7). Peter may have thought that his denial of Christ had disqualified him from the ministry, but Jesus loving restored him and repeated his original command, saying to Peter, “Follow me” (John 21:19). Similar to the Greek word homologeo, which means “to speak the same thing” (G3670), the Greek word that is translated follow, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊo) means “to be in the same way with” (G190). Jesus’ command to Peter to follow me was essentially a command to restore fellowship with him. Jesus wanted Peter to get back to doing what he was supposed to be doing, preaching the gospel (John 21:15).

The Jews unbelief was primary attributed to their spiritual blindness. Jesus said that the ruler of this world, Satan needed to be cast out in order for the Jews fellowship with God to be completely restored (John 12:31-32). John wrote:

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.” (John 12:36-40)

John said that the Jews “could not believe” (John 12:39). In other words, it was impossible for the Jews to put their trust in Jesus, but then, he went on to say, “Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43). John indicated that the problem was not that the Jews couldn’t believe, but that their leaders had set a bad example for them by refusing to make a public confession of their belief in Jesus because they didn’t want to be put out of the synagogue.

The dilemma for the Jews seemed to be that they were caught in the middle of two ways of thinking about how they could obtain eternal life. The Jews thought “they were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41), but Jesus taught them that they needed to experience a spiritual birth (John 3:5) in order to obtain eternal life (John 3:13-15). Jesus said the only way anyone could know for sure that he had received salvation was by the evidence of his works. John 3:19-21 states:

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

James elaborated on Jesus’ statement in his letter to the Jewish believers. James stated:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

The Greek word that James used that is translated dead, nekros (nekˊ-ros) “is used of the death of the body, cf. James 2:26, its most frequent sense, the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men” (G3498). The point James was trying to make was that the evidence of spiritual life is spiritual activity. If there is no spiritual activity going on, then a person cannot truly have been born again.

Jesus continually reminded the Jews that everything he was doing was being done in obedience to his Father. Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment – what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49-50). Jesus explained that his words were an ongoing confession because he was always speaking “the same thing” (G3670) that his Father told him to. As followers of Christ, we do the same thing Jesus did when we say what the Holy Spirit prompts us to. The writer of Hebrews encouraged believers to confess their faith on a regular basis so that the assurance of their salvation would give them confidence to not grow weary or fainthearted in their struggle against sin (Hebrews 10:23; 12:3-4). In that sense, confession of our faith is like an exercise that strengthens our spiritual muscles. The more we do it, the more agility and endurance we develop in our walk with the Lord.

You must be born again

Jesus’ conversation with a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus revealed important information about how to get to heaven. Nicodemus approached Jesus with the intent of discovering the secret to his success. John’s gospel tells us, “This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’” (John 3:2). Nicodemus knew there was a spiritual component to Jesus’ ministry that couldn’t be overlooked, but he didn’t realize that Jesus was more than just a teacher and that he had the ability to do things that were beyond the scope of normal human comprehension. Nicodemus’ recognition that Jesus had come from God was a step in the right direction, but Nicodemus missed the mark when he admitted “No one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). God was not with Jesus, Jesus was God in human flesh. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated see, eido (iˊ-do) has to do with experience and suggests that Jesus wanted Nicodemus to connect the kingdom of God with something beyond the perception of his physical senses. The phrase that Jesus used, born again isn’t related to a person’s physical birth, but has the connotation of spiritual regeneration.

You might say that Jesus’ comment about being born again went right over Nicodemus’ head because he responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). Jesus likely used the term born, or gennaō (ghen-nahˊ-o) in the Greek, because birth signified a definite event that occurred at a specific point in time. We all know that being born is something that is necessary for us to be alive and can relate to birth as a significant event in everyone’s life. If you have been born, you are clearly aware of it. The part that was probably confusing to Nicodemus was the part about being born again. The Greek word that is translated again in John 3:3, anothen (anˊ-o then) means “from above” (G509). Anothen is derived from the word ano (anˊ-o) which means “upward or on the top” (G507). In Acts 2:9 ano is used to signify being “in a higher place” and also refers to heavenly things in the sense that they are above or more important than other things. Nicodemus may have misunderstood Jesus’ use of the term anothen in the phrase born again because he knew that all life originates with God, but Jesus wasn’t talking about a second physical birth. Jesus was talking about an actual event, a second birth that superseded the first one because it was of a spiritual rather than a physical nature.

John said about Jesus, “He who comes from above is above all” (John 3:31). In this statement, John used the same Greek word anothen, which is translated again in John 3:3, to convey Jesus’ superiority over everything else. When we are born again, our spiritual life begins to take precedence over our physical life and we are able to live on a higher plane, the spiritual plane which is associated with heaven. Matthew referred to the kingdom of heaven on numerous occasions and his gospel contains many parables that Jesus used to describe what this realm is like. After telling his followers the parable of the sower, Jesus’ disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10). Jesus answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 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 13:11-13).

Jesus connected being able to understand what he was saying to being born again and said that you cannot see or hear things associated with heaven unless you have access to that realm. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8). Jesus equated being born again with entering the kingdom of God. The Greek word that is translated enter, eiserchomai (ice-erˊ-khom-ahee) is derived from the words eis (ice) which signifies the primary idea of motion into any place or thing (G1519) and erchomai (erˊ-khom-ahee) which represents movement in a particular direction (G2064). Essentially, what Jesus was saying was that there was a passage way that one had to travel through in order to reach the kingdom of God. Somewhat like the birth canal that must be passed through when a child is born, there is a particular way for a person to get into the kingdom of heaven and Jesus equated that with being “born of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:5).

Jesus noted the Holy Spirit’s prominent role in the process of spiritual birth when he said that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). It seems that Jesus’ indication that both water and the Spirit were involved in spiritual birth means that both are required for it to happen. In the same way that it takes both an egg and a sperm to make a child, the Holy Spirit and water or perhaps water baptism make it possible for spiritual regeneration to take place. It could be that Jesus’ comment about entering the kingdom of God was not about spiritual birth, but about spiritual life. As we all know, conception takes place inside the mother’s womb, but the child’s birth doesn’t happen until later. Birth makes is possible for a new stage of the child’s development to begin. It’s possible that being born again happens in two stages. First the conception, when the Holy Spirit comes in and regenerates a person and then, the birth, when a person is baptized and makes a public profession of faith.

Jesus associated the human spirit with the wind and said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). A unique characteristic of the wind that differentiates it from other natural forces is that you can’t see it, but you know that it’s present because of its effect on the things that it comes in contact with. The Greek word pneuma (pnyooˊ-mah) is translated as both wind and Spirit in John 3:8. Pneuma is “the vital spirit of life, the principle of life residing in man. The breath breathed by God into man and again returning to God, the spiritual entity in man (Matthew 27:50; Luke 8:55; 23:46; John 19:30; Acts 7:59; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Revelation 13:15)” (G4151). Pneuma is derived from the word pneo (pnehˊ-o) which means “to breathe hard, i.e. breeze” (G4154). This might make it seem as if the spiritual aspect of man is uncontrollable, but it could be that God causes us to be born again so that like the wind he can get us moving and so that his power will have a channel to flow through.

Psalm 135 focuses on the greatness of God and his ability to accomplish things. Psalm 135:5-7 states:

For I know that the Lord is great,
    and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
    in heaven and on earth,
    in the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
    who makes lightnings for the rain
    and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

The Hebrew word that is translated wind in Psalm 135:7, rûwach (rooˊ-akh) is similar to the Greek word pneuma. Ruwach also describes the breath of a human being or the natural wind that blows. “The human spirit is sometimes depicted as the seat of emotion, the mind, and the will. The human spirit and the Spirit of God are closely linked with moral character and moral attributes” (H7307) It says in Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 that God will give his His people a new spirit so they will follow His decrees and laws.

Psalm 135:7 emphasizes God’s control of the natural forces. The psalmist said that God “makes the clouds rise…makes lightnings for the rain…and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.” It could be that when we are born again, we become more like that natural forces that are under God’s control. Jesus eluded to this in his final words to Peter who had previously denied his relationship with Jesus three times (John 18:17, 25-27). Jesus told Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18).

Following Jesus comment that “the wind blows where it wishes…but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8), Nicodemus openly acknowledged his lack of spiritual perception by asking, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). Rather than explaining things to Nicodemus, Jesus took the conversation in whole new direction. He stated:

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but youdo not receive our testimony.If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.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 3:11-15)

Jesus referred to an experience that the Israelites had while they were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. The incident is recorded in Numbers 21:6-9. It states:

Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronzeserpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

Moses’ account of what happened included three important steps that the Israelites had to take in order to avoid death after being bitten by the fiery serpents. The first step they took was to admit that they had sinned (Numbers 21:7). The Hebrew word that is translated sinned, chata (khaw-tawˊ) is a verb meaning to miss the mark…It indicates failure to do what is expected; the one who fails to find God in this life destroys himself (Proverbs 8:36)” (H2398). Second, the Israelites asked Moses to intercede with God on their behalf (Numbers 21:7). It says in Numbers 21:7, “So Moses prayed for the people.” The last thing that the Israelites had to do was to look at the bronze serpent (Numbers 21:9). The Israelites didn’t just glance at the bronze serpent and live, they had to consider its ability to save them and make a conscious decision to rely on it as a cure for their sin.

Jesus said, “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). Jesus emphasized the requirement of belief in order to have eternal life. Believing in something or someone means that you have faith in him with the idea of hope and certain expectation (G4100). One of the keys to having faith is trust. When you believe in someone, you trust that he will do what he says he’s going to, that he won’t disappoint you. The Greek word that is translated believes in John 3:15, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) is derived from the word pistis (pisˊ-tis). Pistis 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). Pistis means “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation.” The Greek word pistis comes from the word peitho (piˊ-tho) which means “to convince…meaning to let oneself be persuaded…to assent to, obey, follow” (G3982).

The argument that Jesus presented to Nicodemus was that God loved the world and wanted to save it. Jesus said:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)

Jesus’ explanation of why God sent him into the world to save it made it clear that condemnation was the thing that needed to be avoided. Condemnation is the result of sin and will be the outcome of everyone’s lives that does not put their trust in Jesus Christ.

Jesus went on to say, “And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21). Jesus used the contrast of light and darkness to show Nicodemus that the Pharisees criticism of his ministry was motivated by guilt. Jesus said, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20). Jesus was likely prompting Nicodemus to search his own soul and see if there was anything that needed to be forgiven. It seems that Nicodemus left without making a decision one way or the other to follow Christ because their conversation ended abruptly after Jesus’ comment about those who do wicked things hating the light.

John the Baptist echoed Jesus’ sentiment when he said, “He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all…Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:31-36). The Greek word that John used that is translated does not obey is apeitheo (ap-i-thehˊ-o) which means “to disbelieve (willfully and perversely)” (G544). Apeitheo speaks of a conscious decision being made to not believe what one knows to be true. It’s not clear in John 3 if Nicodemus accepted or rejected Jesus’ message the night that he spoke to him or went away and gave it some more thought before making his final decision. John recorded in his gospel that Nicodemus later defended Jesus when the Pharisees spoke against his ministry (John 7:49-52) and was present when Joseph of Arimathea prepared Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:38-40).

God is holy

Psalm 99, which is titled The LORD Our God is Holy, begins with a tribute to God’s exalted position in the world. Psalm 99:1-5 states:

The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!
    He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name!
    Holy is he!
The King in his might loves justice.
    You have established equity;
you have executed justice
    and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
    worship at his footstool!
    Holy is he!

The Hebrew word that is translated holy, qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) “is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, and set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9). Therefore, in the Old Testament, God is accorded the title ‘The Holy One of Israel’ (2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 78:41; Isaiah 17:7; Jeremiah 50:29). As such, God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918).

God indicated that the way that people were to become holy was through consecration. He said to the Israelites, “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45). On another occasion, God made it clear that all the people of Israel were to be holy (Leviticus 19:2) and later added that he is the one that sanctifies us (Leviticus 20:8). God said, “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:24).

In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul explained the process that God established before the foundation of the world to make his chosen people holy. 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. (Ephesians 1:3-10)

Paul continued his explanation using the analogy of a husband and wife’s relationship to each other to illustrate how sanctification works. Paul said:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:22-27)

The process of sanctification is focused on the unification of Christ with his church. Paul said that we need to submit ourselves to Christ, so that his word can make us holy. The Greek word that is translated sanctify in Ephesians 5:26, hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to make holy” and when “spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will” (G37). Hagiazo is derived from the word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) which is translated as both holy and saints throughout Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:1, 4, 13, 15, 18; 2:19, 21; 3:5, 8, 18; 4:12, 30; 5:3, 27; 6:18). When the word saints is used in the New Testament, it is referring to someone that has been purified and sanctified by the influences of the Holy Spirit. “This is assumed of all who profess the Christian name” (G40).

The term saints is also used in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) which is usually translated holy is translated saints in Deuteronomy 33:3 in the King James Version of the Bible. Qadowsh is also translated as saints or holy ones in Psalm 16:3, 34:9 and 89:5, as well as in several books of prophecy (Daniel 8:13, Hosea 11:12, Zechariah 14:5) and in the book of Job (5:1; 15:15). Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming Day of the LORD seems to link together both the Old and New Testament saints and the unification of Christ with his church. Zechariah proclaimed:

Behold, the day of the Lord is coming,
And your spoil will be divided in your midst.
For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem;
The city shall be taken,
The houses rifled,
And the women ravished.
Half of the city shall go into captivity,
But the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city.

Then the Lord will go forth
And fight against those nations,
As He fights in the day of battle.
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,
Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the north
And half of it toward the south.

Then you shall flee through My mountain valley,
For the mountain valley shall reach to Azal.
Yes, you shall flee
As you fled from the earthquake
In the days of Uzziah king of Judah.

Thus the Lord my God will come,
And all the saints with You.

It shall come to pass in that day
That there will be no light;
The lights will diminish.
It shall be one day
Which is known to the Lord—
Neither day nor night.
But at evening time it shall happen
That it will be light.

And in that day it shall be
That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem,
Half of them toward the eastern sea
And half of them toward the western sea;
In both summer and winter it shall occur.
And the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
In that day it shall be—
“The Lord is one,” And His name one. (Zechariah 14:1-9, NKJV)

Zechariah’s vision indicated that the LORD would come to the earth “And all the saints” with him (Zechariah 14:5). This is what is referred to in the Bible as the second coming of Christ, the appointed time when he will return to the earth and will reign over the entire world. The period of time in between Christ’s first and second coming is sometimes referred to as the Church Age, a period of time when the Gentiles will gain equality with the Jews and will enter God’s kingdom on the same basis, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Paul talked about the Jews and Gentiles becoming one in Christ in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the same household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-22).

Paul used the Greek word hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) to refer to both “the saints” and the “holy” temple that was being built together into a dwelling place for God (Ephesians 2:19, 21). The Greek word that is translated are being built together, sunoikodomeo (soon-oy-kod-om-ehˊ-o) means “to construct, i.e. (passive) to compose (in company with other Christians, figurative)” (G4925). Sunoikodomeo is derived from the words sun (soon) which denotes a union “i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition etc.” (G4862) and oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-ehˊ-o). Figuratively, oikodomeo means “to build up, establish, confirm. Spoken of the Christian Church and its members who are thus compared to a building, a temple of God, erected upon the one and only foundation, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Colossians 3:9, 10) and ever built up progressively and unceasingly more and more from the foundation” (G3618).

The Greek word oikodomeo is sometimes translated as edify and is related to the word oikodome (oy-kod-om-ayˊ) which means “architecture that is (concretely) a structure” (G3619). Oikodome is usually translated as edifying or edification and was used by Paul to describe the process that the Church is going through in order to reach maturity and unification with Christ. Paul talked about this process in his letter to the Ephesians under the topic of unity in the Body of Christ. 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, 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)

Edification may be a type of joint sanctification in which each member of the Body of Christ that is continually being added contributes to the collective state of the whole. Hebrews 12:12-14 indicates that holiness is the final state of the Church and a necessary condition for the Lord’s return. It states, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” The Greek word that is translated holiness, hagiasmos (hag-ee-as-mosˊ) is derived from the word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) which means to make holy (G37) and refers to the resultant state of the process of sanctification (G38).

The book of Leviticus teaches us that holiness is a state that can be transferred between things and people. The opposite of holiness is to be defiled which resulted from coming in contact with something that was unholy or profane. Leviticus 21:7 and 22:1-3 indicate that a woman whose virginity had been violated entered a state of defilement (H2491) and was cut off from the LORD’s presence. Numbers 5:1-3 states that anyone that was defiled had to be put outside the camp, “that they may not defile their camp” because the LORD resided there. In the same way that something or someone could become defiled; things and people could be made holy by coming in contact with something that had been consecrated to the LORD. Exodus 29:36-37 states, “Also you shall purify the altar, when you make atonement for it, and shall anoint it to consecrate it. Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy.”

In addition to the altar, the sanctuary of the tabernacle, all the utensils that were used for sacrifices, the priests, and even the priests’ garments were considered to be holy things (Exodus 30:29; Leviticus 6:18, 27). The transfer of holiness from one object to another was connected with physical touch, but the Hebrew word that is translated touch, naga (naw-gahˊ) is sometimes used figuratively in the sense of emotional involvement and also sexual contact with another person (H5060) suggesting that the physical contact might have something to do with intimacy. Jesus often touched the people that he healed and on at least one occasion had physical contact with a man who had leprosy, a condition that defiled a person (Leviticus 13:3). Matthew tells us that when Jesus “came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord if you will, you can make me clean. And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:1-3). The Greek word that is translated touched in Matthew 8:3, haptomai (hapˊ-tom-ahee) is properly translated as “to attach oneself to” (G680). Haptomai, used figuratively, means “to have sexual intercourse” (1 Corinthians 7:1), so the sense of intimacy seems to apply to the circumstance of Jesus healing the leper.

Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room validates Jesus’ inherent holiness. Isaiah wrote:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1-3)

Isaiah referred to Jesus as the “Holy One” and said of him, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called” (Isaiah 54:5).

“God’s presence is what makes any place, anything, or anyone holy (Exodus 3:5)” (H6944). One of the distinct characteristics of the Israelites’ camp while they were traveling to the Promised Land was that the Lord was dwelling in their midst (Numbers 5:3). Numbers 7:89 states, “And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak to the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him.”

Moses’ interaction with the LORD involved a type of emotional involvement that might be considered to be intimacy or attaching oneself to another person. It says in Exodus 33:11 that God spoke “to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” and in Exodus 34:29 it states, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” The rays of light that were coming from Moses’ face bare a resemblance to the description that Matthew gave of Jesus’ transfiguration. Matthew recorded, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him” (Matthew 17:1-3).

The Greek word that is translated transfigured in Matthew 17:2, metamorphoo (met-am-or-foˊ-o) appears to be related to the process of sanctification. Metamorphoo is derived from the words meta (met-ahˊ) which denotes accompaniment (G3326) and morphoo (mor-foˊ-o) “to fashion.” “Morphoo refers, not to the external and transient, but to the inward and real; it is used in Galatians 4:19, expressing the necessity of a change in character and conduct to correspond with inward spiritual condition, so that there may be moral conformity to Christ” (G3445). Paul used the word metamorphoo in his second letter to the Corinthians in connection with the veil that Moses put over his face to cover the light that shone from it (2 Corinthians 3:12-16; Exodus 34:33-35). Paul said, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Paul expanded on his discussion of transformation in his letter to the Romans. Paul wrote:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

According to Paul, the renewal of the mind was the key to sanctification. Paul said that we are not to be “conformed to this world” but transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). The Greek word that is translated renewal, anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) stresses “the continual operation of the indwelling Spirit of God” (G342) which is commonly referred to as the Holy Spirit or hagios (hagˊ-ee-os) pnuema (pnyooˊ-mah) in the Greek.

Regeneration

Jesus described a future state of his kingdom as the new world and told his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:28). Jesus’ comment about the first being last and the last first had to do with the amount of sacrifice one made in order to follow him. Jesus explained this further in his parable about laborers in a vineyard. He said:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16)

The laborers who grumbled about receiving the same wages as those who worked only one hour were concerned about the fairness of the master paying everyone the same amount. The Greek word that is translated equal, isos (ee’-sos) has to do with perception (G2470) and suggests that the laborers who were hired first thought they were superior or you might say had worked harder than their fellow laborers. The master of the house said he hadn’t done anything wrong because the laborers that were hired first thing in the morning agreed to be paid a denarius (Matthew 20:2).

The thing that distinguished the laborers was not how much they got paid, but when they got paid their wages. The owner of the vineyard told his foreman to call the laborers and pay them their wages and instructed him to do it, “beginning with the last, up to the first” (Matthew 8). One of the key characteristics of the new world that Jesus was explaining to his disciples seemed to be the importance of activity. The Greek word that is translated idle in Matthew 20:3 and 20:6 is argos (ar-gos’) which refers to inactivity in the sense of being unemployed (G692). When they were asked why they had been standing idle all day, the laborers that were hired at the eleventh hour replied “Because no one has hired us” (Matthew 20:7).

In this instance the word hired seems to refer to God’s divine election and appointment of duties in Christ’s kingdom. The Apostle Paul identified five occupations that believers can be appointed to. He said, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…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 4:7, 11-12). Paul indicated that the work of the ministry is accomplished through grace which is a gift that is received as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The owner of the vineyard admonished the laborers who complained about receiving the same wages as those who had worked only one hour. He said, “Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:14-15).

The Greek word that is translated generosity in Matthew 20:15, agathos (ag-ath-os’) “describes that which, being ‘good’ in its character or constitution is beneficial in its effect…God is essentially, absolutely and consummately ‘good'” (G18). Titus, a gentile convert of Paul’s, wrote to believers about being ready for every good work. He said, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3-5).

The Greek word that is translated regeneration in Titus 3:5, paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah) is the same word Jesus used in reference to “the new world” in Matthew 20:28. “Regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old. This word means ‘new birth’ (palin, ‘again,’ genesis, ‘birth’), and is used of ‘spiritual regeneration'” (G3824). Titus indicated that salvation involves two things, “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Regeneration (paliggenesia) and renewal (anakainos) work hand in hand to restore the believer to a healthy spiritual state. Anakainosis (an-ak-ah’-ee-no-sis) “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 preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainos, 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 illustrated the transition from paliggenesia to anakainosis in his parable of the laborers in the vineyard by the master of the house going out and hiring laborers to work in his vineyard. The ones who were standing idle in the marketplace (Matthew 20:3) could be believers that had not yet experienced anakainosis. Their passive state signified a lack of what Titus referred to as “the renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Even though the believer is in an active state when renewal takes place, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that makes renewal possible and it is a result of God’s grace rather than human effort. That’s why the rewards, or wages according to Jesus’ parable, were not based on anyone’s merit, but God’s goodness and loving kindness toward the workers of his kingdom.

Joseph’s transformation from a slave to the governor over the land of Egypt illustrates a type of regeneration in the life of an Old Testament believer. When Pharaoh sent for Joseph and he was brought out of the pit (Genesis 41:14), it was because he had a prophetic gift that Pharaoh wanted to make use of. “Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer'” (Genesis 41:15-16). Joseph didn’t take credit for his ability to interpret dreams and later he told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). The Hebrew word that is translated sent, shalach (shaw-lakh’) “suggests the sending of someone or something as a messenger to a particular place” (H7971). After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and gave him a plan for storing up grain as a reserve to be used during the seven years of famine that were ahead, Pharaoh asked his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:38).

Joseph seemed to understand that the suffering he experienced was a part of God’s plan to establish his kingdom on earth. Joseph explained to his brothers, “For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:6-7). The Hebrew word that is translated preserve, siym (seem) “means to put or place someone somewhere” and refers to appointing or assigning a task (H7760). Jesus informed his disciples about the task that God had assigned him. He told them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:18-19).

Jesus linked his crucifixion with his resurrection in order to show that regeneration was not only about the institution of something new, but also the destruction of something that was old. “Regeneration stresses the inception of a new state of things in contrast with the old” (G3824). There is a connection between the old and the new that makes them both relevant in the context of eternal life. Jesus pointed this out when the mother of the sons of Zebedee asked “‘that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.'” (Matthew 20:21-23).

The Greek word that is translated prepared in Matthew 20:23, hetoimazo (het-oy-mad’-zo) means to make ready (G2090) and refers to fitness or laying the foundation for a particular objective to be accomplished (G2092). Jesus talked about his disciples preparation for leadership by stating, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). The Greek term that is translated slave, doulos (doo’-los) refers to “one who was in a permanent relation of servitude to another one whose will was completely subject to the will of another…The focus is on the relationship, not the service” (G1401). In that sense, Jesus was talking about having a relationship with Christ and being dedicated to doing the will of God on a continuous basis.

The Apostle Paul often referred to himself as a servant of Jesus Christ and explained in his letter to the Ephesians that believers need “to put off the 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 4:22-24). The Greek word that is translated renewed is ananeoo (an-an-neh-o’-o). “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).

When Paul said we are to put off our old self (Ephesians 4:22), he was most likely referring to changing our outward appearance so that we don’t resemble the kind of person we were before we came to know Christ e.g. drug addict, prostitute, or thief. After Joseph was brought out of the pit, he prepared for his meeting with Pharaoh by shaving himself and changing his clothes (Genesis 41:14). Joseph’s brothers didn’t even recognize him when they came to buy food in Egypt because he looked like an Egyptian. When Joseph finally revealed his identity to them, “his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence” (Genesis 45:3). Joseph told his brothers, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt'” (Genesis 45:8-9).

The Hebrew word siym (seem) which is translated made in Genesis 45:8-9 “signifies the creation of the thing (fixing its nature) and its use (its disposition)” (H7760). In that sense, Joseph was regenerated, there was an inception of a new state in contrast with the old (G3824). Jesus’ reference to “the new world” that will exist when he sits on his glorious throne (Matthew 19:28) suggests that things as well as people can undergo spiritual renovation. Paul talked about the renovation of the earth in the context of a future glory that has yet to be revealed. He said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:18-24).

In a nutshell

In his letter to Titus, Paul provided a brief summary of the purpose of God’s plan of salvation. Paul said:

God’s free gift of being saved is being given to everyone. We are taught to have nothing to do with that which is against God. We are to have nothing to do with the desires of this world. We are to be wise and to be right with God. We are to live God-like lives in this world. We are to be looking for the great hope and the coming of our great God and the One Who saves, Christ Jesus. He gave Himself for us. He did this by buying us with His blood and making us free from all sin. He gave Himself so His people could be clean and want to do good. (Titus 2:11-14, NLV)

In a nutshell, Paul stated that the purpose of God’s plan of salvation was to change people’s lives. Paul said we are to live “God-like lives” (Titus 2:12, NLV). This phrase would have no meaning if it weren’t for the example that Jesus gave us when he was alive on Earth. We can know for sure what we are supposed to do as Christians because of the life of Jesus.

Paul said that Jesus “gave Himself so His people could be clean and want to do good” (Titus 2:14, NLV). In the King James version it says that Jesus wanted to “purify unto himself a peculiar people.” The Greek word translated peculiar, periousios (per-ee-oo’-see-os) has to do with “being beyond usual, i.e. special (one’s own possession)” (G4041). What actually happens when we become Christians is we take on Jesus’ characteristics. It’s not something that we have to try to do or pray for it to happen. It is a natural result of being born again. We become children of God (God-like).

The change that happens when we accept Jesus as our savior is both instantaneous and occurs over the course of our lifetimes. Paul said, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul described this instantaneous change as reconciliation (Colossians 1:20-21) and said that it resulted in peace with God. The change that occurs over the course of our lifetimes and results in our transformation into the image of Christ is referred to by Paul as sanctification. This is what makes us want to do good things or as it says in the King James Version, “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).

To be zealous for something means that it heats you up or gets you emotionally charged. Another way of saying it would be you’re passionate about it. The unusual or special thing about Christians is that they are passionate about helping people, doing good things for others. In a nutshell, that was the purpose behind God’s plan of salvation and the reason why Jesus was willing to die on the cross.

A new mind

It could be said that the human mind is a culmination of all the experiences we have had in our lives. The Greek word phroneo (fron-eh’-o) means “to be minded in a certain way” (G 5426). Phroneo implies “moral interest or reflection, not mere unreasoning opinion.” Paul used the word phroneo when he said, “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16). Paul’s instruction to be of the same mind one toward another could only be accomplished through the transformation of one’s thinking processes. Paul was essentially saying that believers should try and understand the world from other people’s perspective. We need to walk in each others shoes so to speak.

In order to accomplish the task of thinking like others, Paul admonished believers to renew their minds, similar to the way you would renovate an old home. He stated, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV). The word Paul used that is translated mind in Romans 12:2 is nous (nooce). Nous refers to the intellect and denotes, “speaking generally, the seat of reflective consciousness, comprising the faculties of perception and understanding, and those of feeling, judging and determining” (G3563).

The Greek word translated renewing in Romans 12:2, anakainosis (an-ak-ah’-ee-no-sis means “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; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). God initiates the process of transformation in our lives by prompting us to think differently. We can cooperate with the Holy Spirit and yield ourselves to his work in our hearts or resist change and live our lives as we always have. Paul said that we should not be conformed to this world. What he meant by that was not acting like everyone else. The Greek word suschematizo (soos-khay-mat-id’-zo) “stresses outward conformity and means to shape one thing like another and describes what is transitory, changeable, and unstable” (G4964). In other words, following the latest fad.

Paul indicated that God gives each of us a measure of faith which we as believers are expected to use to develop our spiritual gifts. Paul said the gifts we receive differ according to the grace that is given to us (Romans 12:6), “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of another” (Romans 12:4-5). The Greek word translated office, praxis means practice and by extension a function (G4234). God’s kingdom is operating in the world today in a somewhat invisible fashion. Even though we don’t see everything that is going on, there is constant activity that believers are expected to participate in. It is through the renewing of our minds that we begin to detect these activities and are able to contribute to the establishment of God’s kingdom on Earth.

Transformation

Paul talked about the death of believers’ physical bodies in the context of moving to a new home. He said, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV). Paul continued his discussion of the believers’ transformation by explaining to the Corinthians how the transformation process takes place. Paul described life after death as being clothed with immortality and said, “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:2-3). Paul’s idea that we will put on our eternal bodies like a new set of clothes may have come from his understanding of spiritual transformation. The Greek word Paul used that is translated clothed, enduo comes from the two words en which has to do with a fixed position (G1722) and dumi which means “to sink into” and is used of the “setting” of the sun. In Paul’s time, “the sun, moon and stars were conceived as sinking into the sea when they set” (G1416). Paul might have been thinking about the fact that when the sun sets, we can’t see it, but it still physically exists and will return at an appointed time.

Paul made it clear that our heavenly bodies are not the same as our earthly bodies. He said, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul’s comparison of old things and new things was probably meant to explain the change in material structure that would be necessary for a human body to go from a temporal to an eternal existence. Paul went on to say, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NKJV). The Greek word translated reconciliation, katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’) means to exchange (G2643). What I believe Paul was talking about here was the exchange of our old bodies for one like Christ’s. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the church collectively as the body of Christ and indicated we are all members or particular parts of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:12). When believers get to heaven, it appears that all the parts get put together so that a single unit exists instead of the individual pieces our human bodies now represent.

One of the keys to understanding the transformation that takes place when a believer’s body and spirit are separated from each other at death is the process God uses to reconcile us to himself. The Greek word translated reconciling and reconciled in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 is katallasso which means “to change mutually” (G2644). What Paul was saying was that the sum total of the propitiation of everyone’s sins to Christ’s account of righteousness will result in a balanced account. In other words, there will be no discrepancies when we all get put together, somewhat like a completed puzzle that has no missing pieces. On the day we received salvation, Paul said we were given the Holy Spirit as an earnest or down payment on the heavenly bodies we receive when we die (2 Corinthians 5:5). At the time of our death, a transaction takes place that Paul described as being absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). What I believe happens is that we leave our physical bodies behind and take on a new appearance that reflects our place in the body of Christ; one that is completely suited to the work we have been designed for in God’s eternal kingdom and one that fits perfectly with the spiritual schema that was developed during our lifetime on earth.

Life after death

Paul’s summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 concluded with an identification of the ultimate reason for believing in Christ. He stated, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, ESV). Paul went on to say, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Life after death was a key issue in Paul’s gospel message. His primary concern was a misconception that death marked the end of physical life. The Greek word translated resurrection, anastasis means literally “to cause to stand up on one’s feet again” (G386). Paul made it clear that physical death was a temporary state of human existence that would eventually be eliminated. He said about Jesus’ triumph over death, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26, ESV).

Paul used the analogy of a seed to explain the difference between our natural and spiritual bodies and stated, “Someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? What kind of bodies will they have?’ What a foolish question! When you plant a seed, it must die before it starts new life. When you put it in the earth, you are not planting the body which it will become. You put in only a seed. It is God Who gives it a body just as He wants it to have. Each kind of seed becomes a different kind of body.” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, NLV). Paul likened the transformation that occurs when a seed is changed into a plant to what happens when our natural bodies are resurrected. Paul pointed out that our resurrected bodies will have an unending existence (1 Corinthians 15:42). and then he stated, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50, ESV)

Paul’s description of the resurrection of the dead was framed in the context of a mystery or a divine revelation that can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit (G3466). He said, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The Greek term Paul used that is translated sleep, koimao (koy-mah’-o) means “to put to sleep” and refers to the phase of sleep when you are still fully conscious (G2837). Koimao is used figuratively to represent the death of Christians because there is no loss of consciousness when our spirits are temporarily separated from our human bodies. Paul concluded his discussion of life after death by connecting the resurrection of the dead with Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s completed work of salvation (Isaiah 25:8). He stated, “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV).