Beyond Healing

11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed.

When I restore the fortunes of my people,

1 when I would heal Israel,

    the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed,
    and the evil deeds of Samaria,
for they deal falsely;
    the thief breaks in,
    and the bandits raid outside.
But they do not consider
    that I remember all their evil.
Now their deeds surround them;
    they are before my face.
By their evil they make the king glad,
    and the princes by their treachery.
They are all adulterers;
    they are like a heated oven
whose baker ceases to stir the fire,
    from the kneading of the dough
    until it is leavened.
On the day of our king, the princes
    became sick with the heat of wine;
    he stretched out his hand with mockers.
For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue;
    all night their anger smolders;
    in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven,
    and they devour their rulers.
All their kings have fallen,
    and none of them calls upon me. Hosea 6:11-7:7 ESV

Not all of God’s condemnation was reserved for the ten northern tribes of Israel. He also had more than enough reasons to appoint a “harvest” for the southern kingdom of Judah. In essence, God is warning both nations that they will one day reap what they have sown. Their iniquity will produce a bounty of God’s righteous judgment, and they will end up eating the fruit of their labors. Their years of feasting on faithlessness will be followed by a time of spiritual drought and famine. They will experience leanness of soul.

But even as God reveals His pending judgment, He offers His assurances of future blessing. He speaks of restoring the fortunes of people. That is the desire of His heart, and He will end up doing so for the southern kingdom of Judah. While He will eventually punish them for their sins, sending them into captivity in Babylon, He will also restore them to the land. Because He has plans for them that include the sending of His Son as a descendant of David, born of the tribe of Judah. For that to happen, the tribe of Judah will have to be in existence and living in the land of promise. God will redeem and restore Judah from their exile in Babylon, but not because they deserve it. He will do so because His plan of redemption requires that the Messiah be born of the tribe of Judah and of the seed of David. God would eventually restore the fortunes of rebellious Judah so that He could reconcile sinful mankind to Himself through the Lion of Judah, the Messiah of Israel.

But even as God hints at the hope of restoration for Judah, He confesses that He is unable to offer the same outcome for Israel. While He longs to heal them, He can’t look past the egregious nature of their sin. Everywhere He turns, He is confronted by their wickedness and immorality. From the largest tribe of Ephraim to the capital city of Samaria, the entire nation is filled with iniquity and infected by sin. Their rejection of God had resulted in moral decay and social injustices of all kinds. They were dishonest, uncaring, deceitful, cruel, and completely driven by self-centered motives. In fact, they seem to illustrate the very kind of people Paul warned Timothy about.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

And the worst part about Israel’s sinful behavior was that they failed to recognize that could see everything they were doing.

Its people don’t realize
    that I am watching them.
Their sinful deeds are all around them,
    and I see them all. – Hosea 7:2 NLT

They had lived without God for so long that they were no longer aware of His presence or feared His punishment. He was completely out of sight, out of mind. But He was watching. And He was appalled at and incensed by their behavior. But, unlike God, the king of Israel derived a perverse sense of joy in it all.

The people entertain the king with their wickedness,
    and the princes laugh at their lies. – Hosea 7:3 NLT

Those who should have been concerned by the growing wickedness in the land were actually pleased with it. When there is chaos among the people, it provides the government with justification for increasing its power and asserting its authority. A peaceful and well-behaved populace does not require the heavy hand of government. But civil unrest and a breakdown in the moral fabric of society create the perfect environment for the growth of dictatorial rule. Anarchy tends to breed tyranny.

God describes a society that is completely out of control. From the prince in the palace to the peasant in the street, everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. It was a moral free-for-all, with no one adhering to any sort of standard for justice and righteousness. The signs of ungodliness were everywhere. But that shouldn’t be surprising. When they abandoned God, they also left behind His law. There was nothing to regulate and guide their behavior. They were each operating according to their own moral compass and the outcome was not a pretty picture.

The nation of Israel was marked by literal and spiritual adultery. The upper echelons of society were known for their drunken parties and immoral behavior. God describes their sinful actions like a baker’s oven that is maintained at a constant high temperature, with its fire never going out. Their sinful lifestyle could be “cooked up” at any time, day or night.

Their hearts are like an oven
    blazing with intrigue.
Their plot smolders through the night,
    and in the morning it breaks out like a raging fire. – Hosea 7:6 NLT

They never gave their sin a rest. And a lifestyle of unrepentant sin has a habit of escalating in intensity. It becomes like a fire raging out of control. With no godly means of regulating its sin-prone behavior, mankind is destined to endure a steady downward spiral of moral and spiritual decay. It is exactly what happened after Adam and Eve sinned. Their decision to disobey God led to an immediate collapse in the social fabric of society. One of their sons ending up killing his brother. And before long, the descendants of the first couple had polluted the earth with their wicked and ungodly behavior. So much so, that God decided to destroy all that He had made.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the LORD said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” – Genesis 6:5-7 NLT

And the state of affairs in Israel was no better. The extent of human wickedness in Israel was beyond belief. Everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. And God points out that their spiritual decline had reached such a low point that the nation had become self-destructive. They were literally annihilating themselves.

Burning like an oven,
    they consume their leaders.
They kill their kings one after another,
    and no one cries to me for help. – Hosea 7:7 NLT

And that last line says it all. In the midst of all the chaos, confusion, societal decay, and moral decadence, no one was bothering to seek God’s help. There was no godly remnant within the society calling out to God in repentance and begging for His intervention. The cancer of sin had spread so deeply that it had left no one free from its influence. The spiritual health of the nation had been completely compromised. They were beyond healing and in need of complete purging.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Difficult Assignment

1 The word of the Lord that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.  When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” Hosea 1:1-2 ESV

We know from the opening lines of this book that Hosea was a prophet whose God-ordained ministry spanned the reigns of four different kings of Judah. During that same period of time, Jeroboam II ruled as the king of the ten northern tribes, known as the nation of Israel. King Uzziah’s reign began in 792 B.C. and King Hezekiah’s reign ended in 686 B.C.. That’s a period of 106 years. According to 2 Kings 14, Jeroboam II reigned 41 years over Israel. Many scholars believe that Hosea’s prophetic ministry lasted some 45 years and extended beyond the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.. So, he was well-acquainted with each of these men.

Hosea was a contemporary of Jonah and Amos and, like them, he was called by God to prophesy to the northern kingdom. The 8th-Century B.C. was a time of prosperity and relative peace for both the northern and southern kingdoms. Both nations experienced tremendous growth and were able to expand their territorial boundaries. But, for the most part, both kingdoms were guilty of apostasy and idolatry during those years. Yet, we’re told that hree of the kings of Judah (Uzziah, Jotham, and Hezekiah) “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:3, 34; 18:3 ESV). Only Ahaz proved to be a wicked king who “walked in the way of the kings of Israel” (2 Kings 16:3 ESV). In other words, he promoted the worship of false gods and encouraged the people to turn their backs on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But even the efforts of the three “good” kings did little to curtail the downward spiritual spiral taking place in Judah.

But Hosea was not called to prophesy to the southern kingdom. His ministry would be to the ten northern tribes, who were known for their persistent and unrelenting rebellion against God. In the northern kingdom, there was a long line of godless kings who followed Jeroboam II. These included Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, and Pekah. And while these five men are not mentioned in the opening verses of Hosea’s book, it is likely that Hosea’s prophetic ministry took place during the reigns of a few of them. So, why are they left out? It’s most likely due to the fact that their reigns were relatively short-lived and were marked by blatant apostasy. It is said of each of them, that they “did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (2 Kings 15:4 ESV). They willingly continued the wicked and idolatrous ways of their predecessor.

We know very little about this man named Hosea. All we’re told is that he was “the son of Beeri” (Hosea 1:1 ESV). We have no idea where he was from or how old he was. But the text makes one thing perfectly clear:  This relatively unknown prophet received a rather bizarre assignment from God.

“Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.”  – Hosea 1:2 NLT

Let that sink in for a minute. The holy and righteous God of the universe is commanding His prophet to marry “a wife of whoredom” (Hosea 1:2 ESV). The Hebrew word is זנונים (zᵊnûnîm), which can be translated as “adultery, fornication, or prostitution.” Everything about this command should raise red flags. Why would a holy God command His spokesman to do such a thing? There are those who believe that God was not telling Hosea to commit a sin by marrying a known prostitute, Instead, they believe God was simply using His omniscience to foretell what would happen after Hosea had married his wife. But there is nothing in the text that supports such a conclusion. It seems rather clear that God told His hand-picked prophet to “take” (lāqaḥ) a prostitute to be his wife. And that word conveys the idea of taking in marriage. It can also mean “to buy” or “to acquire.” This was a case of a good wife gone bad. God was commanding Hosea to take for himself a wife who had a reputation for unfaithfulness.

What makes this command even more disconcerting was that this woman was well-known within the community. So, his marriage to her would have raised eyebrows and loosened tongues. Poor Hosea would have been the talk of the town. But God had a very good reason for giving His prophet to this very awkward and humbling command. It was intended to provide a powerful and visual lesson to the disobedient people of Israel. They too were guilty of adultery, but theirs was of a spiritual nature. And, like the prostitute Hosea would marry, Israel had a well-known and unflattering reputation for unfaithfulness.

And the one who knew their reputation best was the one who had chosen them in the first place. In fact, long before the people of Israel were a nation, God had chosen a man named Abram, who lived in the land of the Chaldeans, beyond the Euphrates River.

“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors, including Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River, and they worshiped other gods.” – Joshua 24:2 NLT

Abram was not a God-worshiper. He was a pagan idolater, but God chose Him and promised to make of him a great nation.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.” – Genesis 12:1-2 NLT

And God chose to fulfill that promise by allowing Abram’s descendants to seek relief from a famine in the land of Canaan by moving to Egypt. They would end up staying in Egypt for more than 400 years and, during that time, they would grow to number in the millions. But they would also end up the slaves of the Egyptians. And during their tenure their, they would end up worshiping the gods of their masters. Joshua makes that point clear when he calls on the people of Israel to serve and fear the Lord.

“So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone…” – Joshua 24:14 NLT

Even after God had rescued them from their captivity in Egypt and was leading them to the land of Canaan, they proved to be idolatrous and unfaithful. They reverted to their old, idolatrous ways.

The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” – Exodus 32:7-8 NLT

So, when God commanded Hosea to “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom” (Hosea 1:2 ESV), it was intended to demonstrate exactly what He had done with the people of Israel. He had chosen them when they were idol worshipers. And even after He had introduced Himself to Abram, the descendants of Abram proved to be less-than-faithful to their new God. During their four centuries in Egypt, they forgot all about Him. And even as He led them to the land of promise, they attempted to replace Him with a god of their own choosing. The apostasy of Israel under the reign of Jeroboam II was nothing new. They had a well-deserved reputation as spiritual adulterers, selling themselves to the highest bidder and offering their affections to any god that came along.

But what makes God’s command to difficult to get our brains around is that He ordered Hosea to raise a family with this adulterous and unfaithful woman.

“Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution.” – Hosea 1:2 NLT

Yet, once again, God was simply providing a visual illustration of the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel. They too had born children “conceived in prostitution.” Each of the kings of Israel had been the byproduct of their own ungodly parents and the inheritors of the godless kingdom bequeathed to them by their royal predecessor. Poor Hosea was being asked by God to use his own life and marriage as a real-life parable that would put the sins of Israel on display for all to see.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Influence of the Godly

1 In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places.

Jehoash said to the priests, “All the money of the holy things that is brought into the house of the Lord, the money for which each man is assessed—the money from the assessment of persons—and the money that a man’s heart prompts him to bring into the house of the Lord, let the priests take, each from his donor, and let them repair the house wherever any need of repairs is discovered.” But by the twenty-third year of King Jehoash, the priests had made no repairs on the house. Therefore King Jehoash summoned Jehoiada the priest and the other priests and said to them, “Why are you not repairing the house? Now therefore take no more money from your donors, but hand it over for the repair of the house.” So the priests agreed that they should take no more money from the people, and that they should not repair the house.

Then Jehoiada the priest took a chest and bored a hole in the lid of it and set it beside the altar on the right side as one entered the house of the Lord. And the priests who guarded the threshold put in it all the money that was brought into the house of the Lord. 10 And whenever they saw that there was much money in the chest, the king’s secretary and the high priest came up and they bagged and counted the money that was found in the house of the Lord. 11 Then they would give the money that was weighed out into the hands of the workmen who had the oversight of the house of the Lord. And they paid it out to the carpenters and the builders who worked on the house of the Lord, 12 and to the masons and the stonecutters, as well as to buy timber and quarried stone for making repairs on the house of the Lord, and for any outlay for the repairs of the house. 13 But there were not made for the house of the Lord basins of silver, snuffers, bowls, trumpets, or any vessels of gold, or of silver, from the money that was brought into the house of the Lord, 14 for that was given to the workmen who were repairing the house of the Lord with it. 15 And they did not ask for an accounting from the men into whose hand they delivered the money to pay out to the workmen, for they dealt honestly. 16 The money from the guilt offerings and the money from the sin offerings was not brought into the house of the Lord; it belonged to the priests. 2 Kings 12:1-16 ESV

Joash, referred to as Jehoash in this chapter, became the next king of Judah at the age of seven. This young child found himself bearing the heavy burden of leadership over God’s people. But for the first six years of his life, he had lived in the temple of God, where Jehoiada the priest served as his father figure and spiritual mentor. This faithful servant of God continued to guide the young king during the early years of his reign, and his influence had a powerful impact. The innocent young boy who ascended the throne at seven would rule for four decades, and the author summarizes his reign with the words, “Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him” (2 Kings 12:2 ESV).

After reading the sordid history of the kings of Israel, this statement comes as a much-needed breath of fresh air. All was not lost. There was still a remnant of the faithful living in the land of Judah, and Jehoiada the priest reveals how God uses His servants to protect and preserve His people. In the midst of all the paganism and idolatry that infected the nation, this one man had remained at his priestly post, serving his God and ministering to the spiritual needs of his people. And when the time had come to protect the God-appointed heir to the throne of David, Jehoiada had willingly put his reputation and his life on the line.

The story of Jehoiada is a timely reminder not to underestimate the influence of one individual who chooses to remain faithful to God in the face of overwhelming odds. His determination and perseverance made a world of difference. Like Elijah and Elisha, Jehoiada was thrust into an isolated and lonely role that required him to stand against the forces of evil in his day. By making the fateful decision to hide the young heir to the throne, Jehoiada risked bringing down the wrath of Queen Athaliah. It could have cost him his life. But for six long years, he willingly took the risk and was used by God to preserve the hope of Israel: An heir to sit on the throne of David.

But sadly, the day came when Jehoiada’s influence over the king abruptly ended. The faithful priest died.

But Jehoiada grew old and full of days, and died. He was 130 years old at his death. And they buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, and toward God and his house. – 2 Chronicles 24:15-16 ESV

This one man had made a tremendous impact on the king, the house of God, and the people of Israel. And his death left a gaping spiritual void in King Jehoash’s life. With his mentor gone, the king himself listening to the advice of those whose intentions were less-than-honorable and far from godly.

Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them. And they abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. – 2 Chronicles 24:17-18 ESV

With faithful Jehoiada out of the way, the ungodly princes of Israel took advantage of the situation to promote their anti-Yahweh agenda and lead the nation back into idolatry. And King Jehoash heeded their counsel.

The next 13 verses of chapter 12 appear to chronicle what happened in Israel as long as Jehoiada remained alive. King Jehoash had ordered repairs to be made to the temple of God. He had a vested interest in the welfare of this building because it had served as his home and sanctuary for the first six years of his life. But in the 23rd year of his reign, he discovered that no repairs had been made. The people were required to make an annual contribution to the temple treasury and Jehoash had ordered that part of those funds should be used to make repairs to the temple. But for some unstated reason, the priests had failed to disperse the funds to the workmen. So, no repairs had been made.

To remedy the problem, the king and Jehoiada set up a different system that allowed the transfer of the funds directly to the workmen responsible for the repairs. The priests were removed from the process altogether. Jehoiada set up a large wooden chest at the entrance to the temple. The people would place their offering in the box and the money would be periodically collected and distributed to the workmen.

Then they gave the money to the construction supervisors, who used it to pay the people working on the Lord’s Temple—the carpenters, the builders, the masons, and the stonecutters. They also used the money to buy the timber and the finished stone needed for repairing the Lord’s Temple, and they paid any other expenses related to the Temple’s restoration. – 2 Kings 12:11-12 NLT

With this new system in place, the repairs to the house of God were made without any graft or corruption taking place. The honesty and integrity of the workmen eliminated any need for a reconciling of the funds.

No accounting of this money was required from the construction supervisors, because they were honest and trustworthy men. – 2 Kings 12:15 ESV

This simple statement speaks volumes. The spiritual influence of Jehoiada could be seen in the way the people conducted their lives. The king wasn’t the only one who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. There was a contagious spirit of honesty and integrity that permeated the culture. And as long as Jehoiada remained alive and had the ear of the king, the nation seemed to thrive. But it seems that Jehoiada died not long after the repairs to the temple were completed. And, as we have seen, his departure made an immediate impact on the nation.

They decided to abandon the Temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and they worshiped Asherah poles and idols instead! Because of this sin, divine anger fell on Judah and Jerusalem. Yet the Lord sent prophets to bring them back to him. The prophets warned them, but still the people would not listen. – 2 Chronicles 24:18-19 NLT

In Jehoiada’s absence, God sent His prophets to call the people to repentance. But they would not listen. So, eventually, God sent Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, with a final warning of judgment.

“This is what God says: Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands and keep yourselves from prospering? You have abandoned the Lord, and now he has abandoned you!” – 2 Chronicles 24:20 NLT

And King Jehoash, angered by the words of Zechariah, chose to kill the messenger.

Then the leaders plotted to kill Zechariah, and King Joash ordered that they stone him to death in the courtyard of the Lord’s Temple. That was how King Joash repaid Jehoiada for his loyalty—by killing his son. Zechariah’s last words as he died were, “May the Lord see what they are doing and avenge my death!” – 2 Chronicles 24:21-22 NLT

Don’t miss the significance of this statement. King Jehoash, who had been raised by Jehoiada in the temple of God, had the son of Jehoiada stoned to death in the temple courtyard. In doing so, he desecrated his former home and the house of Yahweh he had painstakingly repaired. The very one whom God had preserved so that he might sit on David’s throne proved to be as wicked as the woman he replaced. Without the godly influence of Jehoiada in his life, King Jehoash was exposed as an empty suit, a man with a crown on his head but without a heart for God.

The death of Jehoiada drives home the truth found in Proverbs 29:2:

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Our Wholly Holy God

4 Who will not fear, O Lord,
    and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
– Revelation 15:4 ESV

11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? Exodus 15:11 ESV

13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
    and cannot look at wrong… – Habakuk 1:13 ESV

God is holy. In fact, the seraphim who surround God’s throne describe Him as holy, holy, holy. The prophet Isaiah was given a glimpse of that heavenly scene and he provides us with a vivid description of what he saw.

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 ESV

The apostle John was also given an opportunity to peek behind the heavenly curtain and see the throne room of God. And his description is very similar to that of Isaiah.

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!” – Revelation 4:8 ESV

These heavenly creatures weren’t content using one “holy” to describe God. They made sure to use the word three times and to do so without ceasing, day and night. This three-fold repetition is called a trihagion, and it was a common literary and linguistic tool used by the Hebrews to provide emphasis and force to a statement. It was like saying, “God is super holy.” Or “He is holier than holy.”

But what does it mean to say that God is holy? We’re familiar with the word, but do we fully understand the significance of what it says about God? In some ways, the word holy has become overly familiar to us. And yet, biblically, holiness is considered one of the primary and self-defining attributes of God. Tony Evans defines God’s holiness as “His intrinsic and transcendent purity; His standard of righteousness to which the whole universe must conform” (Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On).

The Hebrew word that is used most often to describe God’s holy nature is qodesh. It means “set-apartness” or “separateness.” God is unique and without equal. But it’s not just that God is one-of-a-kind. As Tony Evans points out, God’s holiness is tied to His purity. So, it’s not enough to say that God is different. What makes Him different is that He is holy – thoroughly righteous, without sin, and intrinsically pure in every way. He is The Holy One. As A. W. Pink puts it, “He is so because the sum of all moral excellency is found in Him. He is absolute Purity, unsullied even by the shadow of sin” (A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God).

But there is more to God’s holiness than His moral perfection. When the seraphim shout “holy, holy, holy” they are declaring far more than just His sinlessness. And they are not simply stating His separateness. There is no doubt that God stands alone, having no equal and being incapable of duplication or emulation. Man may have been created in God’s image, but that doesn’t make man a god. God remains set-apart and distinctly different from all that He has made. Which means He is transcendent.

When we speak of the transcendence of God, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness. The word is used to describe God’s relationship to the world. He is higher than the world. He has absolute power over the world. The world has no power over Him. Transcendence describes God in His consuming majesty, His exalted loftiness. It points to the infinite distance that separates Him from every creature. He is an infinite cut above everything else. – R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God

To consider and treat God as holy is to revere Him for who He is. It is to acknowledge His infinite greatness and incomparable otherness. “God’s holiness unlocks the door to understanding and making sense out of everything else about Him. This attribute infiltrates all the other attributes” (Tony Evans, Theology You Can Count On).

To treat God as holy is to recognize and revere His otherness – His set-apartness. It is to lift up and celebrate His extraordinariness. But if, in our attitudes and actions towards Him, we give the impression that He is ordinary in any way, we profane His character and defame His holy name.

When God consecrated Aaron and his sons to serve as priests before Him, He commanded them “to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:10 ESV). Later on, God would give a similar command to the Levitical priests: “They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23 ESV). They were to teach the people about what God meant by holiness or set-apartness. The tabernacle was to be considered holy. The sabbath was to treated as holy. They were to be a holy nation. God had set them apart for His service. They belonged to Him. And their lives were to reflect their unique status as His chosen people.

But back to God and His holiness. Unlike the tabernacle or the sabbath, God has not been set apart by someone else. He simply is set apart. He didn’t have to be consecrated, He always has been. God stands completely apart from the rest of the created order. Whether we are talking about angels or atoms, planets or people, there is nothing and no one who compares with God.

That is why it is why considering God as common or ordinary is one of the greatest sins a human can commit. Even worse yet is the audacity to treat God as non-existent. The great King David described the idiocy of discounting the existence of God.

Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one! – Psalm 14:1-3 NLT

How stupid can you be? And yet, we all have moments in our lives when we act as if God does not exist. We fail to acknowledge Him. We refuse to turn to Him. Rather than go to Him for strength, help, and hope, we ignore Him, relying on our own power, or placing our trust in someone or something else. God becomes a second- or third-tier option on our list of saviors, just another common and pedestrian source of potential rescue.

During the period of the judges, God got fed up with Israel’s propensity to treat Him as ordinary rather than extraordinary. They had treated Him with disdain, acting as if He was no more set-apart and holy as all the gods of the Canaanites. So, when they found themselves in trouble and called out to Him, He decided to refuse their cries for help.

“Yet you have abandoned me and served other gods. So I will not rescue you anymore. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen! Let them rescue you in your hour of distress!” – Judges 10;13-14 NLT

If they weren’t willing to treat God as extraordinary and holy, they could seek help from one of their many false gods. Yahweh was not willing to play second fiddle to some pagan deity. And He wasn’t going to allow His people to treat Him as some ordinary, run-of-the-mill God. He was God Almighty, the Holy One.

When Isaiah was given the privilege of seeing the throne room of heaven and catching a glimpse of the seraphim pronouncing the holiness of God, he was awestruck and filled with fear. He was seeing the unimaginable and incomprehensible.  He describes the impact this vision had on him.

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” – Isaiah 6:4-5 ESV

Witnessing the holiness of God was too much for him. In the presence of the all-powerful, perfectly pure God of the universe, Isaiah was immediately struck with his own sin and insignificance. He was nothing when compared to God, the Holy One. In the presence of unblemished purity, Isaiah recognized his own sinful state and his unworthiness to stand before the throne of God. But, amazingly, the Holy God did a wholly unexpected thing.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6:5-7 ESV

The holy and wholly righteous God of the universe graciously atoned for Isaiah ’s sins, setting him apart for His own use. And when God asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”, Isaiah responded, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8 ESV). And the Holy One simply said, “Go!”

Understanding God’s holiness is essential to our own usefulness. Until we fall on our knees before Him in awe of His holiness and in recognition of our own sinfulness, we will never be awed by His amazing grace. That the set-apart One would set us apart for His use should leave us stunned and yet stammering the words of Isaiah, “Here I am! Send me.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Reluctant Followers

18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” – Matthew 8:18-22 ESV

Jesus delivered His sermon on the mount before a large crowd. And Matthew records that when “he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him” (Matthew 8:1 ESV). Everywhere Jesus went, He tended to draw large crowds because of His words and miracles. They were amazed by the wisdom of His words and the obvious supernatural power behind the healings He performed. He had laid His hands on a man suffering from leprosy and left him thoroughly cleansed and whole. He had performed a long-distance healing, restoring a Centurion’s servant to perfect health. And with the touch of His hand, He had removed the fever from Peter’s mother-in-law.

Whether they fully understood who Jesus was, the crowds who followed Him were enamored by Him. And they found themselves wanting to spend more time with Him. So, Matthew provides a few cases involving those who felt the urge to hitch their wagon to Jesus’ train.

As His reputation spread, Jesus was occasionally forced to seek refuge from the constant press of the growing crowds. In this case, Jesus ordered His disciples to make preparations to sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But before they could get the boat ready, “a scribe came up and said to him, Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go‘“ (Matthew 8:19 ESV).

This man, an expert in the religious laws of Israel, was expressing his intent to go with Jesus to the other side of the sea. He was enthusiastic and energetic in his response, indicating that he was ready and willing to follow Jesus anywhere. His reference to Jesus as a “teacher” was simply an acknowledgment that he viewed Jesus as a rabbi worthy of respect and honor.  He thought he could learn a lot from this very gifted man who had shared so many enlightening and insightful truths in His sermon the hillside.

But Jesus, having sensed what was in the man’s heart, responded, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20 ESV). In a sense, Jesus was warning this man that he had no idea what he was getting himself into. Following Jesus was not going to be a walk in the park. It most certainly would not be a series of sermon-on-the-mount moments where everyone sat at the feet of Jesus filling their heads with divine insights or enjoyed watching a steady diet of mind-boggling miracles.

Jesus was not saying that following Him would require a life of abject poverty, but that it would involve cost and a degree of commitment this man was unwilling to make. It would not be easy. This man had obviously missed the point that Jesus had made in His sermon.

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. – Matthew 7:13-14 NLT

Matthew does not provide us with the man’s response. But it seems safe to assume that the scribe did not end up a passenger in the boat that sailed to the other side of the sea. He most likely decided to walk away. And as Jesus’ ministry continued, that would become the normative pattern among the vast majority of those who followed Jesus. They would prove to be fair-weather followers. In fact, John records the following words of Jesus to His disciples, spoken as He watched the size of the crowds diminish.

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” – John 6:66-67 NLT

Jesus wanted His disciples to know that following Him was not going to be without cost. At another point in His ministry, He delivered a blunt message to the masses who had become His “groupies,” following Him everywhere He went.

A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.  And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost.” – Luke 14:25-28 NLT

And it’s interesting to note that a second “disciple,” who had heard what Jesus had said to the scribe, responded with a request for a delay. He was ready and willing to follow Jesus but just not able. He had some unfinished family affairs to take care of and, therefore, a legitimate excuse.

“Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” – Matthew 8:21 ESV

But Jesus wasn’t buying what this man was selling. There is a lot of debate among biblical commentators whether this man’s father was already dead or if the man was simply using the future death of his father as an excuse to delay his full commitment to discipleship. Matthew provides us with no insight into the matter. But Jesus responded, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22 ESV).

This response by Jesus may come across as flippant or callous to us, but it seems that Jesus is trying to establish a hierarchy of priorities for this man’s life. This disciple expressed a desire to follow Jesus, but there were other things that took precedence in his life. Jesus would later describe these kinds of things as “the worries of life.”

“The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.” – Matthew 13:22 NLT

To the first man, Jesus described true discipleship as costly and requiring a commitment. In this man’s case, it was a matter of priorities. He was letting temporal, earthly concerns get in the way of eternal pursuits.  Once again, we have a case of a disciple failing to have heard or comprehended what Jesus had taught in His recent sermon.

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?” – Matthew 6:25 NLT

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33 NLT

Jesus was in no way diminishing the care that one should have for their father or mother. But in the grand scheme of things, burying the dead was to take a backseat to the good news of life in Christ. The commitment to following Jesus would prove costly. And normal family relationships should pale when compared to the eternal bond between a disciple and his Savior.

Committing to being a disciple of Jesus was going to require far more than a willingness to be taught and a desire to witness the miraculous. It would demand sacrifice and a level of selflessness that would prove to be uncomfortable and inconvenient. But the list of the rewards that come to those who faithfully follow Christ will be long and long-lasting.

“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.” – Matthew 19:29 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Immodesty, Dishonesty, and Perversity

11 “When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, 12 then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.

13 “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. 15 A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 16 For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.

17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.– Deuteronomy 25:11-19 ESV

As has been the case throughout this section of Deuteronomy, verses 11-19 of chapter 25 contain additional regulations that appear to have no rhyme or reason to them. Not only do they seem to lack any common thread of logic, at least one of them deals with what would appear to be a highly unlikely scenario and a heavy-handed form of punishment (excuse the pun).

Moses brings up the case of a dispute between two men. In Hebrew, the phrase describes “a man and his brother.” So, it is unclear as to whether this involves two sons of the same mother or two Israelites. But in either case, the scenario Moses paints involves a conflict between two men that has resulted in the throwing of punches. In other words, the dispute has gone from verbal to physical. Now, this would not have been a rare occurrence in Israel. Men will be men, and anger has a way of getting out of hand. But Moses introduces another actor to the drama whose actions complicate the scene and require the divine regulation that follows. The point of the passage is not the bare-knuckles brawl between the two men, but the indelicate behavior of one of their wives. Moses describes her involvement this way: “the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts” (Deuteronomy 25:11 ESV).

Now, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out what is going on here. And many of the modern translations of the Scriptures provide much more specific wording to get the point across: “genitals” (NASB, NRSV, TEV); “sex organs” (NCV); “testicles” (NLT). Suffice it to say, the woman’s efforts to aid her husband involve what would have to be considered as immodest and indecent behavior. While we might want to say that the heat of the moment provides ample justification for her actions, Moses obviously disagrees. He provides no excuse for the woman’s behavior, demanding instead that her hand be cut off as punishment for her actions.

It would appear that the fight involves a non-life-threatening confrontation. One man is beating another. There are no swords drawn. Death is not imminent or even intended. But the woman, in an attempt to come to the aid of her husband, commits an act of indecency that could actually result in permanent physical harm to her husband’s adversary. By grabbing the man’s genitals, she would likely incapacitate him, giving her husband the upper hand in the fight, but she also risks doing irreparable damage to the man’s reproductive capacities. And this seems to be the point of the passage and the reason behind the severe punishment demanded by Moses.

Her response would not only be considered indecent and improper, but it would also be deemed an excessive form of retribution. It is interesting to consider the lex talionis or laws concerning retaliation.  They are found throughout the Pentateuch:

…if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. – Exodus 21:23-25 ESV

If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. – Leviticus 24:19-20 ESV

Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. – Deuteronomy 19:21 ESV

It would appear that Moses is citing a case where the woman’s actions did not result in permanent damage to the man’s genitals. If it had, according to the lex talionis, the law of retribution, her husband would have to suffer a similar fate. But since the wife was the one guilty of committing the crime, she would be the one to suffer the punishment. And, in this case, Moses prescribes the punishment as the cutting off of her hand. There is no tit-for-tat retribution involved. Which seems to suggest that her actions had no long-term or permanent impact. But she would suffer the consequences of her actions nonetheless. She had intended to do harm and her actions could have had serious repurcusions that left a man incapable of having children. This was a serious crime in God’s eyes, and it came with serious consequences.

And, as he seems prone to do, Moses suddenly shifts his attention to less dramatic matters, focusing his attention on dishonesty. He mentions the use of different measures. This is a reference to the scales used in buying and selling. Since Israel was predominantly an agrarian society, when produce was sold, it was placed on one side of the scale and the form of payment was placed on the other. A bag of wheat equaled a certain amount of coin. So, if you had two different forms of measurement, it essentially meant you had false scales and an intent to cheat the one with whom you were conducting business. The prophet, Micah, records the words of God concerning those who would do such a thing.

Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales
    and with a bag of deceitful weights? – Micah 6:8 ESV

And the book of Proverbs provides further insight into God’s perspective on dishonesty in business.

The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.
 – Proverbs 11:1 NLT

And God had provided the Israelites with His laws concerning the matter.

“Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight, or volume. Your scales and weights must be accurate. Your containers for measuring dry materials or liquids must be accurate. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” – Leviticus 19:35-36 NLT

Accuracy and honesty are important to God. He is a just and righteous God who expects His people to treat one another with love and respect. To cheat someone is nothing less than an outward display of hate for them. It is to rob them of what they are rightfully due. And, in cheating someone, you are setting yourself up as god, establishing your own rules and establishing your will as greater than God’s. But Moses makes it painfully clear that “all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 25:16 ESV).

Finally, Moses brings up God’s commands concerning Israel’s relationship with the Amalakites. In the book of Exodus, there is a story describing Israel’s first encounter with these people. They appeared on the scene at a place called Rephidim, launching an unprovoked attack on the Israelites. While Joshua did battle with the Amalakites, Moses stood on a nearby hill, holding up the staff of God as a symbol of God’s presence and power. As long as he held the staff aloft, the Israelites prevailed. But as the battle raged on, his arms grew weary and Aaron and Hur were required to assist him in keeping the staff aloft. Eventually, the forces of Israel prevailed and God made a pronouncement concerning the Amalakites.

“Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” – Exodus 17:14-16 ESV

Now, Moses is reminding the Israelites that they were to fulfill God’s will concerning the Amalakites. There were to be no compromises or concessions made. God had decreed that the Amalakites were to be blotted out and He fully expected His people to carry out His wishes.

Hundreds of years later, when Saul had been appointed the first king of Israel, God reiterated His will that the Amalakites be wiped out.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” – 1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV

But Saul failed to obey God’s command.

But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. – 1 Samuel 15:9 ESV

And as a result of Saul’s disobedience, God rejected him as king. This man had chosen to partially obey, making compromises and concessions that were unacceptable to God. And Samuel, the prophet of God, delivered the following indictment against Saul.

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has also rejected you from being king.” – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV

Saul had chosen to act perversely. According to dictionary.com, someone who acts perversly is “willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired.” He did not do what God had told him to do. But God considers obedience far better than sacrifice. As Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Godliness Done God’s Way

15 “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, 16 then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, 17 but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.

18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.– Deuteronomy 21:15-21 ESV

Talk about extremes. These two short paragraphs contain some of the most antithetical statements regarding the raisings of sons you could ever hope to find. On the one hand, Moses provides God’s will concerning the proper designation of the firstborn son and the dispersal of the family inheritance. Then, without batting an eye, he shifts his focus to God’s divine disciplinary plan for a rebellious son.

One son receives a gracious gift he didn’t earn or rightfully deserve, just because he happened to be the first son born into his family. Yet, the other son earns himself a death sentence because of his unrepentant stubbornness and rebellion.

What a stark and disturbing contrast these two scenarios portray. But what an important reminder they provide of God’s unmerited grace and sovereign authority over the lives of men. Everything about the lives of the Israelites was to be dictated and determined by the will of God. As we have seen repeatedly, God left nothing to chance. Every phase of daily life fell under the auspices of God’s divine will. And in this passage, we see that God put a high priority on the relationship between parents and their children.

God considered the family unit as foundational to the overall health of the Israelite community. Marriage and child-bearing were essential contributors to the corporate well-being of the nation. Which is why God had provided the people of Israel with very detailed directions concerning marriage and family life. In these verses, Moses relays to the people of Israel God’s will concerning father’s and their sons. And he could not have chosen two more diametrically disparate scenarios to discuss.

But these two examples have more in common than we might imagine. Both involve a father and his son. God had ordained the father as the head of the household and had placed on him the responsibility of providing for the spiritual and physical well-being of his family.  God’s commands concerning faithfulness and obedience to His law were directed primarily at the head of the household. He held the father responsible for disseminating the law to his family and discipling them in it.

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” – Deuteronomy 6:4-6 NLT

And the father answered directly to God. He had to do things according to God’s will and was not free to parent according to some arbitrary set of self-imposed standards. So, when it came to the dispersal of the family’s inheritance, which was primarily tied to the land, God had a vital interest. After all, the land had been His gift to the people of Israel, and He had strong feelings about how it was to be managed.

While God never sanctioned polygamy among His people, it did take place. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of the Hebrew faith, had numerous wives and concubines. But God had made it clear to Abraham that Isaac, the son born to him through Sarah, was to be his heir. And when the time came, Abraham left his inheritance to Isaac.

Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country. – Genesis 25:5-6 ESV

Abraham did not have the right to award the inheritance to any son he chose. And this is what Moses states in the opening verses of this section of Deuteronomy. A father who happened to have multiple wives, could not decide to award the firstborn son of his favorite wife with the inheritance. That was not his decision to make. God had deemed the firstborn child of the first wife as the rightful heir. God had never intended for them to take on multiple wives, and just because they did does not mean they were now free to choose which firstborn they wanted to reward.

Man’s disobedience to God’s will always complicates things. A man with multiple wives and a growing household of children most likely thought of himself as being blessed by God. But his decision to conduct his life in direct opposition to God’s revealed will would end up producing strife, not peace. Every occasion in the Old Testament where we see one of God’s servants choosing to marry more than one woman, we get a glimpse into family dysfunctionality and discord. David’s multiple wives and the children they bore to him ended up wreaking havoc on his home and his kingdom. Stories of rape, incest, and fratricide fill the narrative of David’s life. All because he chose to let his passions control him.

But God has rules. The inheritance was not something to dole out based on favoritism or emotion. Just as Abraham had done nothing to deserve God’s promise of the inheritance, so the firstborn son was to be an undeserving recipient of God’s gracious gift. That was God’s plan and it was to be followed. The firstborn son did not have to be his father’s favorite. In fact, he didn’t have to do anything to earn the double portion, except to be the first to be born, a decision over which he had no control. His birth was the sovereign work of God Almighty.

But then, all of the sudden, Moses shifts gears. He goes from talking about a man who has complicated his life by having two wives to discussing a man who has a stubbon and rebellious son. Based on the description of this son and the God-ordained remedy for his behavior, this does not appear to be a simple case of childish disobedience. What we have here is a hardcore example of what the Bible describes as the stubborn fool.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is none who does good. – Psalm 14:1 ESV

Whoever brings a fool into the world does so to his grief,
and the father of a fool has no joy.
– Proverbs 17:21 ESV

For fools speak foolishness
    and make evil plans.
They practice ungodliness
    and spread false teachings about the Lord.
They deprive the hungry of food
    and give no water to the thirsty. – Isaiah 32:6 NLT

In each of these verses, the Hebrew word translated as “fool” is nabal and it is most commonly used to describe the most dangerous type of fool. This individual rejects God and His ways. He is overly self-confident and close-minded. He is his own god, freely gratifying his own sin nature. It is his goal to draw as many others as possible into following his wicked ways. And, according to the Scriptures, only God can reprove a stubborn fool.

The son described in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 is incorrigible and beyond hope of redemption. He is ungodly and unwilling to repent of his ways. While his father and mother have tried to discipline him, he has consistently refused their efforts and stubbornly continued down his chosen path of rebellion against God. And, ultimately, that is what this is all about. His rebellion is against God, not his parents. And the punishment for his crime is divinely ordained: Death.

Notice that the punishment of the rebellious son was to be a public affair because the behavior of this individual had become a blight on the entire community. His personal choices had global implications. And God commanded that the evil be purged from their midst. Toleration of this kind of behavior was unacceptable. The cancer had to be removed. And while we may find this solution distasteful and harsh, it reveals just how seriously God viewed the presence of sin among His people.

This passage is not dealing with a disobedient 9-year-old. This most likely involves an adult child who has established a well-known track record of immoral and ungodly behavior that has left its mark on the community. And the parents, while probably reluctant to do so, were obligated to bring their rebellious son before the community so that divine discipline could be enacted.

What is interesting to consider is the unlikely, but possible scenario in which the rebellious son and the firstborn were one and the same. Ultimately, God was in control of all things. While the father was not free to award the inheritance to whichever son he chose, the son was not free to live however he wanted to. There were divine expectations on everyone. Life in God’s family was not to be a free-for-all, with everyone doing as they pleased. There were codes of conduct and God-ordained rules for every aspect of life, so that God’s people would reflect God’s glory to the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Resurrection and Glorification

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:1-11 ESV

The Bible makes it clear that those who are in Christ have been sanctified by God. It is a positional reality. Through their union with Christ, Christ-followers enjoy a new status as God’s chosen people. They become His adopted children and joint-heirs with Christ, with all the rights and privileges that come with sonship, including our eventual glorification.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. – Romans 8:17 NLT

To be heirs of God’s glory means that we will one day inherit the same glory that Jesus did, experiencing the same resurrection and glorification of our bodies. That is Paul’s point in Romans 6.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. – Romans 6:5 NLT

It is this promise of future resurrection that allows us to suffer through the difficulties of this life. In fact, Paul indicates that suffering should be expected in this life, because Jesus Himself suffered during His earthly ministry. And Paul would have us remember that “if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:17-18 NLT).

As Christians, we have been sanctified or set apart by God for His use. We belong to Him and He views us as His children, and one day we will receive our full inheritance, including an eternity of unbroken fellowship with Him. God has set us apart for more. He has our future glorification in store for us. And while we must suffer in this life, it is only a temporary experience, and it will be followed by our promised glorification.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT

Paul reminded Titus, “we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:13 NLT). But why do we look forward with hope for that day? Because “when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory” (Colossians 3:4 NLT). And what does it mean to share in the glory of Christ? Paul puts it this way:

He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:21 NLT

That is the goal. That is to be our objective and the prize on which we set our sights as we live in this world. Jesus did not offer us our best life now, but a better life to come. Because of the fall, this world is under a curse. Our physical bodies are moaning and groaning from the reality of death’s influence over them. We age. We get sick. We suffer pain and the constant threat of disease. Because these bodies are temporary and, despite our best efforts, were not intended to last forever.  The apostle Paul, who was no stranger to suffering and pain, described our physical bodies as tents, temporary dwelling places that are destined to wear out. But he lived with the confident hope of his future glorification, when he would receive a brand new “house” prepared for him by God.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

Yet, while we have the promise of our future glorification awaiting us, we still have to live in these impermanent and imperfect tents in the meantime. And not only are they prone to pain, decay, and suffering; they’re highly susceptible to sin. Even the apostle Paul lamented the reality of sin’s constant influence in his life.

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. – Romans 7:18-20 NLT

And this constant battle with sin’s unceasing attacks on his body caused him to cry out “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:24 NLT). But Paul knew the answer to his own question. It was Jesus. And the freedom for which Paul longed had already been made available to him.

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. – Romans 7:25 NLT

Our earthly bodies make it virtually impossible for us to live as we desire to live. But Paul is not throwing up his hands in frustration and giving up hope in ever being able to live righteously this side of heaven. He is attempting to get his readers to understand the reality of our hope in Christ. This life is not all there is. Our sanctification by God was not intended for our present comfort and immediate glorification. We don’t receive all the blessings of God in this life. There is more to come. And Paul would have us focus our attention on two aspects of Jesus’ life that we share with him.

The first is His death.

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. – Romans 6:6-7 NLT

We share in Christ’s death. Our old sinful self was crucificed with Him. And Paul reminds us of the second half of that remarkable reality. “And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8 NLT). We are united with Him in His death and in His resurrection. The first part sets us free from sin’s dominion and domination over us. Sin no longer enslaves and controls us. The threat of death no longer looms over us. But if there is no resurrection, this promise fades like the morning mist in the presence of the sun.

That’s why Paul so strongly defended the reality of the resurrection, telling the believers in Corinth that, to doubt the resurrection was to deny any hope we have future glorification.

…if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. – 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 NLT

Any hope we have of living for Christ in this life is based on the promise of the resurrection. That is why Paul told the Romans:

We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. – Romans 6:9-10 NLT

Jesus suffered and died. But He rose again and lives in His glorified state. His death broke sin’s stranglehold over us. But His resurrection provides proof that His sacrificial death was acceptable to God and that our future glorification is certain. Because He rose, so will we. And Paul would have us focus on the unwavering nature of this promise – even now. Confidence in our future glorification should influence the way we live our lives on this earth.

So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:11 NLT

We have been sanctified. We belong to God because we have been united to Christ in His death and resurrection. We died with Him, so we will one day be glorified like Him. And sin can do nothing to change that glorious reality.

So, Paul provides us with some encouraging words, based on the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. We can say no to sin. We can refuse to let our earthly bodies determine our identity. We belong to God because we have been sanctified by God. And even this earthly, fallen bodies can be used for His glory because we have His Spirit within us.

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:12-13 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

We Will Be Like Him

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 ESV

Christlikeness. That is or should be, the quest of each and every follower of Christ. The very phrase, “follower of Christ” suggests a form of imitation or emulation of the one being followed. In his first letter, the apostle Peter encourages his audience to endure suffering well, following the example of Jesus.

But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. – 1 Peter 2:20-22 NLT

The Greek word for “example” is hypogrammos, and according to The Outline of Biblical Usage, it refers to “a writing copy, including all the letters of the alphabet, given to beginners as an aid in learning to draw them.” Jesus’ life of humility, servanthood, suffering, and sacrifice was intended to provide us with a model for living the Christian life this side of the resurrection. As Peter says, we are to follow in his steps, emulating His example of righteousness in the face of suffering.

The apostle Paul took this call to emulate Jesus a step further. He was so confident in his efforts to follow the example provided by Jesus that he could tell the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV). Paul had no problem telling the Corinthians believers to follow his example because he knew he was following in the steps of Jesus Himself. This is not a case of Paul bragging about his spirituality or setting himself up as some icon of religious virtue. He was simply stating that his life was worthy of emulation only because he was following the example left to him by Jesus.

The apostle John provides yet another call to live a life marked by Christlikeness.

But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. – 1 John 2:5-6 NLT

John provides an inseparable link between the worship of God and a life lived like that of Jesus. In fact, in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus when He boldly claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). And Jesus went on to say to the Jewish religious leaders, “If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is” (John 14:7 NLT). He was claiming that these highly respected scribes and Pharisees, who were revered for their outward displays of religious zeal, were actually ignorant of God. They didn’t know God because they refused to recognize Jesus as His Son.

Unlike Jesus, these men were full of pride and convinced of their own inherent righteousness. They refused to see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. But Paul paints a dramatically different picture of Jesus, presenting Him as the humble servant who willingly obeyed His Father, even to the point of death.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

But Paul goes on to describe what happened after Jesus died on the cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names. – Philippians 2:9 NLT

Jesus died and was buried in a borrowed tomb, but He rose again. He was resurrected from the dead, given a glorified body, and restored to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven. And this is a big part of the example that Jesus left us to follow. He lived His earthly life with His eyes set on the heavenly prize.  He never forgot what God had in store for Him. It was what motivated His actions. Yes, He died because He loved us. But as the author of Hebrews makes clear, Jesus also knew that His death was not the end. He also knew that His death would be insufficient if it was not followed by His resurrection and glorification. And we are to live our lives with the same confidence in our future glorification.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

Don’t miss the weight of this passage. The author states that it was because of the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the pain, shame, and suffering of the cross. He knew that His death would not be the end. He was fully confident in His resurrection and glorification.

Over in the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul makes an interesting statement that I believe is often misunderstood and misapplied. He writes rather cryptically: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 2:12 ESV).

We tend to read this passage and all our attention focuses on the words, “press on.” This is an action statement and we hear Paul calling us to do something, to pursue after something. In the very next verse, Paul describes himself as “straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13 ESV). But what is it that lies ahead? What is Paul pressing on toward and straining after?

We fail to consider what Paul means when he talks about “this” and “it.” And we run the risk of misunderstanding what Paul means by “what lies ahead.” So, to grasp the significance of Paul’s words, we have to back up to the preceding verses where he states, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11 ESV).

What’s the “it” that Paul is pressing on toward? What is the thing that lies ahead to which Paul is straining forward? It is the resurrection of the dead. And Paul makes that perfectly clear in verse 14.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:14 ESV

Paul is looking forward to the return of Christ. He even says so just a few verses later.

…we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body. – Philippians 3:14 ESV

But don’t miss why Paul is awaiting the return of Christ. It is so he will experience the transformation of his lowly body into its new and glorious version. Paul expands on this remarkable event in his first letter to the Corinthians. And he describes it to them in order to encourage them.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 NLT

And Paul’s point is not just that we get new bodies, but that we get fully redeemed, glorified bodies just like that of Jesus. And that means those bodies will be without sin. Which is why he joyfully shouts, “thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57 ESV). And with the promise of future glorification in mind, he tells the Corinthians, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV).

The knowledge of their future glorification was to make an impact on their everyday lives. They were to live with the ultimate goal in mind, pressing on, straining forward to what lies ahead. And, in his second letter, Paul provides them with further encouragement to keep on keeping on.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT

Even in this life, we can experience the transformation of these “lowly bodies” into the likeness of Christ. But our full transformation will not take place until He returns. That is why John reminds us, “we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 ESV). The day is coming when we will be like Him – in all His glory. We will share His glorified nature, completely free from all sin, sorrow, pain, and suffering. And just hours before His death, Jesus prayed to the Father, sharing His desire that all those who would follow Him in this life, would eventually join Him in the life to come.

“Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!” – John 17:24 NLT

It is the eager expectation of this future reality that should influence our present outlook and behavior.

And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3 ESV

One day, we will be just like Him. So, why wouldn’t we want to live with that end in mind? If that is God’s preferred future for us, why wouldn’t we make it our life’s focus and objective?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The New Has Come

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 ESV

4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4 ESV

22 …put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV

Paul emphatically claims that those who are in Christ are new creations. Their old way of life, what Paul refers to as the life “according to the flesh” is gone, having been crucified with Christ on the cross. And, according to Paul, this former life of the flesh was marked by a focus on self, but the new life, made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection, is to be focused on His glory.

But what does all this really mean? What’s the practical reality of all this talk of new creations, new life, and the new self? Because as good as it sounds, the fact is, every Christian still wrestles daily with the very real presence of their old self. Paul even commands us to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life” (Ephesians 4:22 ESV). Yet, he told the Corinthian believers that “the old has passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). Which is it? Is the old self gone or do I have to put it off? If my old self died with Christ on the cross, why does it seem so very much alive and active in my life?

We tend to read passages like this with a black-and-white, either-or mindset. We hear Paul saying we are new creations and we expect to be able to live like it. When he tells us that the old is gone, we take him at his word and then wonder why it doesn’t seem to be true in our own lives. Which leads us to either question the reliability of Paul’s words or the veracity of our own salvation.

But there’s an important distinction that Paul makes in his letter to the Corinthians. In verse 16 he states, “we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT). The Net Bible translates that verse this way: “from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view.”

Much of what Paul is saying in these verses has to do with our perspective, the way we view things. As Christians, we are to view life through a different lens than we did before. We have a new, Spirit-enabled way of looking at life, because we have had our spiritual eyes opened to the truth. Prior to coming to faith in Christ, each of us suffered from spiritual blindness, and were incapable of seeing things from a spiritual perspective. Back in chapter four, Paul described the sad state of those outside of Christ.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

Not only are they unable to see the glorious light of the Good News, they can’t see the reality of their own spiritual darkness. They are stuck on a physical plane where all their attention becomes focused on what they can see with their physical eyes. They are relegated to judging life and one another by external criteria alone. But when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the life of the believer, it’s as if he or she receives the spiritual equivalent of Lasik surgery. Paul describes this spiritual eye surgery this way:

…people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. – 1 Corinthians 2:14 NLT

The Spirit of God allows us to see life the way God does, and God sees us as new creations, because we have been born again. This is the gist of the conversation that took place between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee. Jesus dropped the somewhat cryptic bombshell on Nicodemus: “unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NLT). And when Nicodemus expressed his confusion over Jesus’s words, Jesus responded, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:6-7 NLT).

Being born again is another way of expressing the new life to which Paul refers. With the new birth comes a new nature that allows a Christ-follower to see life with eyes wide open. No more blindness. No spiritual cataracts blurring our vision and giving us a distorted view of ourselves and the world around us. The Spirit of God gives us new eyes and a capacity to see things the way God does. That is why Paul says, “from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view.” We aren’t deceived or distracted by the outer manifestations of religious behavior or self-manufactured displays of righteousness – in ourselves or others. We aren’t impressed by the superficial signs of religious achievement that are really nothing more than dirty rags in the eyes of God. Instead, we see ourselves as God does: As new creatures. Like Paul, we are able to say, “The old has passed away—look, what is new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NET).

That doesn’t mean our old nature is dead and gone. But it does mean that it no longer holds sway over us. We are no longer slaves to our old way of living. And we are no longer blind to worthless nature of that old nature. It has no value. It brings nothing good to the table. And Paul is stressing that by focusing on our new nature – who we are in Christ – we’re able to treat our old nature with the disdain it deserves.

We’re able to recognize and believe that walking in newness of life is not only possible, but unavoidable. But we have to constantly remind ourselves that we are new creatures. We have new natures. We have a new power within us that makes a new way of living possible for us. Paul encourages us to remember that our new self has been “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness{ (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). That is the essence of our new nature. 

You are not a slightly new-and-improved version of the old you. Becoming a believer wasn’t a case of God whitewashing over your old sinful nature. No, He put that old nature to death on the cross. And Paul describes that unbelievable reality in very powerful terms.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatains 2:20 NLT

A big part of understanding what Paul is saying comes with a change in our perspective. We have been trained to think of ourselves as works in process. We are always viewing ourselves as unfinished and incomplete. Most of us have grown up on a steady diet of achievement-based messaging. We’re never good enough, smart enough, thin enough, athletic enough, rich enough, popular enough, or even spiritual enough. So, we do more. We study harder. We exercise more often. We eat less. We attend more Bible studies.

But Paul would have us think before we act. He would encourage us to see ourselves as God sees us. We are new creations. As Paul told the believers in Ephesus:

…we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

This is not about us doing everything in our power to become what God desires for us to be. It is about us accepting the reality of who He has already made us in Christ. He has already created us anew. We are already new creations. We are not flawed creatures trying to improve ourselves so God will accept us. We are children of God, fully acceptable to God because of what Jesus Christ had done for us. He “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV).

His death made our new life possible. We live new lives, not so we can be accepted by God, but because we have been accepted by God. As Paul put it, the life we live, we live by faith in the Son of God. Living according to our new nature begins with believing that we really do have new natures. It is resting in the knowledge that newness of life is not some kind of unachievable goal to be pursued, but a status to be embraced and believed.

That is why Paul so strongly emphasizes our relationship with Christ. It is not about us and all that we have to do. It is about Him and all that He has done on our behalf.

…just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. – Romans 6:4 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson