Note: I began writing this article 34 years ago. At the time the Lord impressed upon me such a weight of concern for His people (my local church) that I sat down and re-read Watchman Nee again very carefully. I had read Nee when I was converted in solitary confinement in Stafford Prison some 18 months previously. The difficulty I had with his books was not their trustworthiness, but rather the necessity to be so clear about the burden I had and how Nee's writings gave that concern a formality. After several weeks of writing I put this article aside because I realised that whilst I understood the meaning, I did not know the experience of the meaning in my personal life. I finished writing the article several months after first posting here on SermonIndex.
Were we to be asked if we are saved, no doubt we would say we are, and this would be the truth if we have received Christ, “because to as many as receive Him, to them he gives the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12). Yet if what we understand and mean by salvation, is the forgiveness of our sins, regeneration, and no more than this, we would not have fully understood what salvation means.
In seeking to understand salvation, it would help if we did not regard salvation as though it were many things, such as being saved from sins, from judgement, from hell, and being born again &c. In thinking in this way. salvation may be misunderstood by many, and subsequently neglected.
In Luke 2:30 we read how Simeon prophesied saying, ‘for my eyes have seen your salvation’ whilst he bore Christ up in his arms, and hence we understand that the Lord Jesus is our salvation because He is our Saviour. Can the salvation of God be divided? All that Jesus undertook on our behalf; as an obedient Son unto death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and a seating down at the right hand of the Father, a glorified saviour; as well his soon coming return – even all this is our salvation. I believe that these divisions of salvation, have shaped our thinking, and prevent us from seeing and knowing salvation in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was made the perfect author of our salvation through His sufferings (Hebrews 2:9-10).
As a matter of expressed reality an attitude of seeking after more of Christ for personal blessing, demonstrates that we hold that we did not receive the fullness of Christ when we first believed. It is not surprising then that many, perceiving salvation as a personal gain, miss that Christ is our salvation. Similarly, it is not difficult to understand why we so often lose sight of the character of Christ, in that whilst we are often self centred, He gave Himself for others. If we love Christ and understand by faith that He is the entire reason why we are able to believe in the Father and by faith enter into His presence to both know Him and to worship Him because He is true God, we must necessarily know that our sins are forgiven in Him. If not, then we are not His servants and we have not yet received Christ. We must also believe that the Father in heaven desires us to be like His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, because the Father has loved all men and not simply ourselves. The Father wants us to be Christ like, and if we truly love Christ, who gave His life for our sake, then we must also lay down our lives for the sake of all men. This must mean one another as the body of Christ, until Christ is fully formed within us, and it must mean winning others to that same hope.
For a right attitude we read in Philippians chapter two,
“Do nothing from selfish or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the benefit of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”
In this passage from Philippians we are twice encouraged to deny ourselves. “Do nothing from selfish or empty conceit”, and “do not merely look out for your own personal interests.” Likewise, we read that Christ humbled Himself twice, because ‘though He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped’, and ‘being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.’ The Lord’s attitude, therefore, was one of humility, and we are to ‘have this same attitude in ourselves.’
In the light of this truth, we must ask ourselves what the result will be if we do not have this same attitude that was in Christ! Paul tells us that it will lead to emptiness (v.31), and Jesus says in Luke 12:21 that it will result in a poverty towards God. We need not wonder why our lives are so devoid of the fullness and joy of salvation, and why we lack the assurance of a heavenly reward; we need only ask ourselves are we living for ourselves or for the kingdom and God’s righteousness?
Immediate personal salvation is eternally settled when we believe in Jesus, whereas rewards are to be revealed in the Kingdom. Whether we will reign with Christ in His Kingdom as priests and kings unto God is a matter which is determined by works, not by saving faith. No doubt if a man believes in Christ Jesus he is saved for eternity, and yet many who do believe may not reign with the Lord in His glory when the Kingdom comes. This distinction cannot be a trivial one as though the millennium kingdom were itself a small matter.
For many saints, the forgiveness of sins and regeneration are the full extent and operation of salvation in their lives, and all that they believe salvation means today. If this were the extent of salvation in Christ Jesus, how could we be entirely saved? It would be a salvation that settles our eternal position before God, yet leaves open and uncertain the question of our entrance and part into the Kingdom of His beloved Son. More practically, it would be a salvation that saves us from the consequences of sin, yet does nothing to deliver us from the power of sin. It would be a salvation that saves us from everlasting damnation, but does nothing to deliver us from the corruption of the world; how should we understand such a salvation?
New Birth – Doctrine
“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8
“απεκριθη ιησους αμην αμην λεγω σοι εαν μη τις γεννηθη εξ υδατος και πνευματος ου δυναται εισελθειν εις την βασιλειαν των ουρανων το γεγεννημενον εκ της σαρκος σαρξ εστιν και το γεγεννημενον εκ του πνευματος πνευμα εστιν μη θαυμασης οτι ειπον σοι δει υμας γεννηθηναι ανωθεν το πνευμα οπου θελει πνει και την φωνην αυτου ακουεις αλλ ουκ οιδας ποθεν ερχεται και που υπαγει ουτως εστιν πας ο γεγεννημενος εκ του πνευματος” John 3:5-8 Novum Testamentum Graece.
Salvation is first and foremost a matter of a life relationship with God. Jesus has told us plainly; ‘That which is of the flesh, is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit’ (John 3:5). Having once been born of the flesh according to the will of the flesh, we express the life of the flesh. Likewise as having been once born again of the Spirit, according to the will of God, so we also possess eternal life. It is this fact alone that keeps us from eternal judgement and separation from God. We might say that new birth is simply a matter of being born of the will of God, even as our natural birth is a fact of being born according to the will of our parents.
Meaning – Theological
The five keywords that we are seeking to understand are:
water – born – flesh – spirit – Spirit
The Greek says for water in John chapter 3: 5-8, υδατος, which comes from the root hudor (ὕδωρ). It is used in a number of ways, but it is always literally representative of the elemental substance, water. The English word hydro comes from the Greek root. Contextually it may be used to denote the fact that whilst still in the womb we were sustained by water. In a similar sense, the physical heart is surrounded by amniotic fluid, so we see that when the Lord was pierced, blood and water (John 19:34) flowed through the wound, speaking that His amniotic sack had been pierced in order to pierce His heart for our sakes. It is also used in the context of the Lord’s baptism with water, by John. It is the same elemental water which was used when we were baptised with water after we believed.
There are five references to being born in this passage from John chapter 3: 5-8. The 1st (v5) γεννηθη, comes from the root gennao (γεννάω), and means is born. The 2nd (v6 i) γεγεννημενον, is what is born. The 3rd (v6 ii) is also γεγεννημενον. The 4th (v7) is γεννηθηναι, and means to be born. Finally, the 5th (v8) is γεγεννημενος, translated, who is born. Clearly, all of these usages are derived from the root with morphological variants, which being semantically implicit in English usage, are not necessarily carried in the English translation. The root, however, is gennao (γεννάω) and means to beget. In this passage, the semantic domain is carried in the term, genesis, and alludes to the beginning of something as well as something after the likeness of its beginning. This does, of course, apply to individuals, but its contextual and semantic emphasis means that we could say, all humanity is of the flesh of Adam, but to enter the kingdom of God a man also needs to be born of the Spirit of God.
There are two references to the word flesh in verse six. The first usage (v6 i) is σαρκος, which comes from the root word sarx (σάρξ). The second usage (v6 ii) is the root σάρξ itself. Although the word sarx (σάρξ) is used to denote the physical body, it is also used morphologically (v6 i) to denote the likeness of flesh. This is the first usage here and semantically carries not only an implication of the substance or physiology of the body (v6 ii) but the very nature of a man (v6 i). So that a literal translation of this verse would be “that which is of fleshy Adam is flesh after Adam’s flesh”.
Just as the word flesh is used flesh begotten of flesh, so the word spirit is used in this same way. There are four references to the word Spirit/spirit. The first is πνευματος, and comes from the word pneuma (πνευμ̂α). This first reference (v6 i) speaks of the Holy Spirit. The second usage is πνευμα, which in English would simply read spirit (v6 ii). In a prepositional form, this would be written: to be spirit. The Greek says, πνευματος πνευμα εστιν and would literally be translated Spirit, spirit to be. To make rational sense of this one would have to give the literal transliteration as follows: το γεγεννημενον εκ της σαρκος σαρξ εστιν και το γεγεννημενον εκ του πνευματος πνευμα εστιν (v6) “what is born of the flesh, flesh is, and what is born of the Spirit, spirit is” (v6 i & ii). The third (v6 iii) reference, to spirit, is πνευματος. This is the same as (v6 i) in meaning and speaks of the Holy Spirit. The fourth usage is also πνευματος (v8), and that too speaks of the Holy Spirit.
In examining John 3:5-8 in this way, one thing becomes immediately apparent. Nowhere in this passage is the Greek word psuche used (soul). What is being alluded to has to do with the condition of all mankind needing to be saved. At a personal level, it speaks of an individual needing to have their spirit made alive by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore when the Apostle Paul wrote, “And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”, he is expressing an irrefutable fact of salvation, extending beyond that which Jesus Himself spoke to Nicodemus. This is not to say that Paul contradicted the Lord Jesus, it simply means that Jesus specifically highlighted the need for all men to be born again in spirit. Hence, the Greek says, το γεγεννημενον εκ της σαρκος σαρξ εστιν και το γεγεννημενον εκ του πνευματος πνευμα εστιν (v6) “what is born of the flesh, flesh is, and what is born of the Spirit, spirit is.” Flesh and spirit are separated in meaning by the Lord. Therefore when we are speaking about the newness of life, we must hold that distinction in mind.
Jesus separated spiritual regeneration, from the personal experience of salvation, by the need for the believer to take up their own cross and follow Him. In speaking to Nicodemus in terms of needing to be born again, Jesus is speaking to the condition of humanity, as well as Nicodemus himself. Though personal regeneration would need to become a personal experience in one’s own life, essentially, new birth does not lay down the full meaning of personal salvation. We could say that being born again is the spiritual minimum for a man or else represents the beginning of salvation.
What Is Salvation?
“Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come. Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; And listen to Israel your father.” Gen 49:1. This is the beginning in the Scripture that salvation by God is made direct reference to in His own name. The start is from verse (18).
The Hebrew says לִֽישׁוּעָתְךָ֖ קִוִּ֥יתִי יְהוָֽה׃ Gen 49:18
(v18) I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.
The word ישׁוּעָתְ is used in speaking of God’s deliverance.
yeshu’sh (יְשׁוּעָה) or יְשׁוּעָה (yâshuwʿah) from yasha (יָשַׁע,)
This same deliverance of God is used in other passages of Scripture, but here in this verse, this is the first time the word is used. It is the same in meaning as God is my deliverer. The Hebrew word ישׁוּעָתְ, employed in Exodus 17:9 (וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֤ה אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֙עַ֙ בְּחַר־לָ֣נוּ) is translated, Joshua. The Greek name Iesous (Ιησου̂ς) [Jesus] is a transliteration of the Hebrew name, Joshua, meaning, Jehovah is salvation. Literally, Saviour.
As it is written, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21).
When Jacob spoke to his sons, he was just moments away from death. In his last words, Jacob talked about the Saviour. His hope is evidenced “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord”. What is singularly profound about Jacob’s words, is that he identifies in his faithful prophetic speech that salvation is the name of the Lord Himself. The Lord is salvation. This is precisely in keeping with the words of Simeon, who whilst under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, said ‘for my eyes have seen your salvation’ as he lifted Jesus in his arms (Luke 2:25-30).
In seeking to speak of, and to understand the meaning of salvation, we can only begin and end with speaking about Jesus Himself. If we did no more than to seek to comprehend the Lord Jesus, we would have comprehended everything that could be comprehended about the meaning of salvation. Yet to many believers salvation is not the Lord Himself, but many things, such as being born again, or else a being saved from sins. Whilst these things are true, they do not reveal the whole meaning of salvation because these two things though wonderful, do not speak fully of Christ Jesus, His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, a siting down at the right hand of the Father, and His coming again to establish His everlasting Kingdom as judge of the living and the dead. All of this speaks of salvation because all speaks of Christ. Therefore let us comprehend once and for all time that salvation is Christ and not many things.
The Scope of Salvation
Given that it is men who are saved, and that being saved means to be saved from sin as well as delivered from the power of sin, it is not only legitimate to seek to understand what constitutes a man, but it is necessary if we are to come to a comprehensive and biblical understanding of salvation itself. In Genesis we read, “And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) καὶ ἔπλασεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον χοῦν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐνεφύσησεν εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ πνοὴν ζωῆς, καὶ ἐγένετο ὁ ἄνθρωπος εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν. (Genesis 2:7). LXX (Septuagint) וַיִּיצֶר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ ֣אֲדָמָ֔הוַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃ (Genesis 2:7).
The Apostle Paul, prayed for the Church at Thessalonica:
“And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
“αυτος δε ο θεος της ειρηνης αγιασαι υμας ολοτελεις και ολοκληρον υμων το πνευμα και η ψυχη και το σωμα αμεμπτως εν τη παρουσια του κυριου ημων ιησου χριστου τηρηθειη πιστος ο καλων υμας ος και ποιησει”. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
Spirit, Soul and Body
Pneuma (πνοὴν) the spirit, refers to breath. This word from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 derives from the root word pnoe (πνοή), and signifies the breath of life. This same word is used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) and is the word πνοὴν in Genesis 2:7. (Above).
Psuche (ψυχή), the soul, or life, is translated heart in Ephesians (6:6). It is the same Greek word used in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 for the soul. It denotes the seat of the personality as well as the power of volition (choosing). It is the individual.
Soma (σωμα) is the physical body. The Greek word for body in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 is different to the word dust in Genesis 2:7. This is because Genesis is dealing with the original material from which the body was formed. Whereas Thessalonians is a conception of the body as a living biological entity after God breathed into the form of man, the breath of life. Genesis 2:7 is a narrative of how the body came into existence as a biological entity, as well as an explanation of the original material used. Whereas, 1 Thessalonians 5:23 is a concern for the living.
The Salvation of the Soul
Many believers rightly emphasise that God is justified in giving eternal life based on Christ’s sacrifice. Though we ourselves are sinners deserving of God’s judgement, nevertheless God is justified in giving us the free gift of eternal life by faith in Christ. That has been historically grounded in sayings, such as Sola Fide (By Faith Alone), as well as Sola Gratia (By Grace Alone). These sayings, are based on Sola Scriptura (Scriptures Alone). Therefore our confidence in the righteous salvation of God in Christ Jesus is justified by the Scriptures.
The difficulty with these sayings is not their simple meaning, but rather, their application to one’s own life. It is precisely at this point that many believers simply divorce themselves from any further understanding of salvation. If all is of God, and nothing is of man, then why ought any to labour towards that which is unmerited and freely given? If the entirety of the Scripture rested on these reformed doctrines, then there would be no need to write anything.
As it is, the Scripture sets before us a very clear reality of Salvation that exceeds these doctrines. That presentation requires us to choose to take up our cross and follow Christ, as a basis for future judgement and reward.
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? or what shall a man give in exchange for his life? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then shall he render unto every man according to his deeds” (Matthew 16:24-27).
In this teaching of the Lord, the thing that is being spoken of is the gaining or else the forfeiting of life. We know this because the teaching specifically tells us that, “whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.” What we need to ask ourselves, is what life is lost? And what life is found?
If we take the view that this passage is identifying a need to be born again, then we are saying that Jesus has taught us that we must yield up newness of life, in order to gain newness of life. Clearly, that is an irrational and meaningless thing to say. When we come to the Lord, we are dead in sin. How can we be other than in a condition of needing to be born again? The only thing that we can yield up when we first come to the Lord is our confession and praise. We also know that it is the “spirit that is born of the Spirit.” And we know that the Apostle Paul prayed for the Thessalonians that God would sanctify them, whole and blameless, spirit, soul and body, until the day of the Lord.
Taking A Different Route
“There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:6-13).
In this passage from John, being saved is expressed as, “the right to become the children of God,” and it is the same in meaning as that which we all agree with when we speak of being born again. The word right in this passage is exousia (ἐξουσία). The English word, excused, from excūsare (Latin: Meaning to be removed from an accusation) carries a similar meaning. We could say, “I needed to be excused in order to believe.”
It could also in the context of the passage itself, be expressed as, “I needed a reason to believe.” Or it could be said, “I needed the power to believe.” Or else it could be, “I needed light to believe”. Finally, it could be said, “I needed faith to believe.” In literal translation, the word exousia (ἐξουσία) means being given the right, ability and power to become something else. This something else is, to become “children of God”. Becoming the children of God is by faith. And this means, “born of God.” Lastly, the qualifying condition to receive this power is to receive Christ Himself. There is no doubt therefore, that becoming the children of God means to be born from on high, or else to be born again of the Spirit of God. There is also no doubt that the thing that makes this possible is receiving Jesus. Receiving Jesus results in being given power, and that power is faith to believe in Jesus name, resulting in being born of God. In all of this no one could reasonably deny that we are “justified by faith” and “saved by grace.” So by the Scriptures alone we can establish that the ground for salvation is receiving Christ Himself. And if we receive Christ, we must also receive all that which proceeds from Him.
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” Matthew 16:24-27
“τοτε ο ιησους ειπεν τοις μαθηταις αυτου ει τις θελει οπισω μου ελθειν απαρνησασθω εαυτον και αρατω τον σταυρον αυτου και ακολουθειτω μοι ος γαρ εαν θελη την ψυχην αυτου σωσαι απολεσει αυτην ος δ αν απολεση την ψυχην αυτου ενεκεν εμου ευρησει αυτην τι γαρ ωφεληθησεται ανθρωπος εαν τον κοσμον ολον κερδηση την δε ψυχην αυτου ζημιωθη η τι δωσει ανθρωπος ανταλλαγμα της ψυχης αυτου μελλει γαρ ο υιος του ανθρωπου ερχεσθαι εν τη δοξη του πατρος αυτου μετα των αγγελων αυτου και τοτε αποδωσει εκαστω κατα την πραξιν αυτου” (Matthew 16:24-27). Novum Testamentum Graece.
The word life in verse 25 is the Greek ψυχην, transliterated psychén, and translated life. The word soul in verse 26 are the Greek words ψυχην and ψυχης, as in, “κερδηση την δε ψυχην αυτου ζημιωθη η τι δωσει ανθρωπος ανταλλαγμα της ψυχης αυτου μελλει.” (Transliterated psychén and psychés respectively.) They are both translated soul.
In genesis 2:7 we read, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.” If we refer to the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) we can say, the word πνει (to blow) is from the same root as the word pnoe (πνοή) of which the word πνοὴν used in Genesis 2:7, is translated blew. As the English translation is breath of life, and makes reference to “and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7), so in John 3:8 the word wind, which “blows where it will” is the Greek πνευμα, denoting spiritual life, or the giving of spiritual life. When Jesus tells men that they must lose their lives in order to find their lives, He is speaking of the soul, and not the spirit. The word save in verse 25 is σωσαι from the root word sozo (σώζω). This word literally means to preserve one’s soul.
One variant of the root word means healing or wholeness. Now if we think on the one central doctrine that has pervaded the churches in the last thirty years, we will find that it is wealth, health and prosperity teachings. So to be plain about this, one would have to say that these teachings are the doctrines of devils. Jesus taught His disciples that they needed to lose their lives, for His sake, in order to be found in life when He comes.
The word lose in verse 25 is απολεση and comes from the root apollumi (ἀπόλλυμι). The term is a simple, expressive form that speaks of the soul’s suffering when it sets itself to serving Christ fully because obedience is predicated on a willingness to deny oneself. It also alludes to the fact that the soul takes its comfort from the body itself, being in such an ordinary condition of imprisonment to the lusts of the flesh, and therefore to go the same way that Christ chose to go, is to go the way of personal suffering for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. In short, it means, deny yourself and choose the way of the cross as Christ did.
The word find in verse 25 is εὑρίσκω and is transliterated heuriskó. In the simplest sense, finding something can either mean, to come upon a thing, by looking for it and in context means, “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.” Or it may mean to indulge in something desired. In this instance, of the Lord’s words, find, carries both of these meanings. On the one hand, it means coming upon the pearl of great price, as a coming upon the kingdom. This is both now, inwardly, and in the future, when Christ returns. On the other hand, finding yourself now means fulfilling your own desires and refusing the cross.
Men and women cannot be more benefitted in life than to be born again unto a living hope, and sure faith. This benefit is chiefly unto eternal life and is a spiritual possession The soul however, is the thing that benefits chiefly through false teachings that express a supposed purpose of God in personal gratification as a basis for serving Christ, by whatsoever means; and it is clear that to take such a view of God’s will, is to take a wholly contrary opinion to Christ. As Christ cannot contradict the Father, then we can say that those who press such teachings are turning men from following Christ, unto their own selves.
It needs to be said that we do not have the natural ability in ourselves, either to believe into Jesus or to follow after Him and go the way of the cross. Even if we catch sight of how precious these things are, we really do not want to be found having fabricated our walk in the Lord. The heart is wicked and more deceitful than we are able to know or comprehend (Jeremiah 17:9).
Our only hope lies in yielding ourselves in obedience to Christ Himself and allowing Him to work in us according to His perfect will and good pleasure. In this, we will become rich participants with Christ beyond our present comprehension, and in that, we will find ample satisfaction for our souls when we find ourselves with Christ in His kingdom where He is King of kings, and we have finally become the manifest sons of the living God. To be manifest means to be found in the manifest scroll of the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is to know the full measure of your obedience and service to Christ Who died for us that we may live. If we do not comprehend that apart from what Christ has done to bring us eternal life, a free gift of the Father through His Son, we will be found to have lived for ourselves and in that we will be found to have served ourselves and refused the full meaning of the cross.
We clearly need to be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven when Christ returns. We know from Revelation that this kingdom of the nations, of our God and Saviour, will be for a thousand years. That’s an awfully long time to wait until you finally get to comprehend if your name is written in the Book of Life if you find yourself rejected and in distress of your soul when Christ returns.
There are two types of gain in the Matthew passage. They are gaining the whole world or gaining the kingdom. Choose now. Your own present prosperity, comfort, pleasure and satisfaction of the soul; an easy life of self-interest. Or else choose the way of the cross, deny yourself and gain the kingdom. If you are offended by this then ask yourself a very simple question. Why is Christ given the Kingdom? If you can fathom that in sight of knowing that the entire universe is His possession you will be going someway to understanding why a self serving life is going to be a worthless confidence in the day of His Kingdom come.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’ glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Matthew 16:24-27
In looking at this passage of Matthew 16:24-27 we see that the Lord does not regard the believer’s cross as a compulsion on believers. Instead it is expressed as a matter of individual choosing. We know this because the Lord uses the word wishes in coming after Him (v.24). To come after the Lord is not a matter of compulsion, but a matter of choosing. Whereas repentance from sin is a commandment of God. Acts 17:30.
When we talk about choice, we must be careful not to confuse ability with authority. The fact that a man has the ability (lit…power) to choose a particular course of action does not mean that it is lawful for a man to choose so. For example, whether to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil or not. Adam had no authority to disobey God. He was commanded not to eat of the fruit (Gen 2:17), and therefore had no choice. What we mean when we say that Adam had a choice, is that Adam had the ability to choose, not the authority to choose a particular action. However, the Lord’s use of the word wishes in respect of one ‘coming after Him’ (v24) and one ‘saving his life’ (v25) denote real choices and not ability otherwise if mere ability, then one would always choose oneself.
The Greek says, thelo (θέλω), for wishes and means to will or to desire something. This primarily speaks about a reasonable desire to do something that is right. In context it speaks about a proper response to the gospel itself, and qualifies or proves what follows on from saving faith. The godly desire to follow Christ, whilst sound in itself is conditional on denying oneself. This is not boulomai (βούλομαι), a determined will to follow Christ. Nor is it zeloo (ζηλόω), to have zeal to follow Christ. Neither is it, speudo (σπεύδω), to earnestly desire to follow Christ. Nor yet, aiteo (αἰτέω), to ask to follow Christ. It is a simple injunction of the Lord to take account of the true cost of discipleship and the only basis for obedience.
“He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honour him.” (John 12:25-26),
Hating one’s life is the necessary attitude for following the Lord Himself. To hate one’s life means to disregard oneself, which is to deny oneself. Hating one’s life in John 12:25-26 corresponds in meaning to losing one’s life in Matthew 16:24-27. Losing one’s life in the Kingdom becomes the consequence of finding one’s life today. It is evident that the Lord is not referring to the losing or finding of eternal life. Some brethren say that the word life in all these verses directly points to eternal life. However, had Jesus intended that we understand life to mean eternal life in Matthew 16:25 then this verse would be saying, “For whoever wishes to save his [spirit] will lose it; but whoever loses his [spirit] for My sake will find it.” This makes no sense at all. When we see that the word life in all of these passages of Scripture refers to the soul itself, and not to spiritual life, we understand that such Scriptures as these tell us about present or future suffering of the soul.
If we were to see this wrongly presented in Greek, then it would look like this: ος γαρ εαν θελη την πνευ̂μα (spirit) αυτου σωσαι απολεσει αυτην ος δ αν απολεση την ψυχην αυτου ενεκεν εμου ευρησει αυτην whereas the Greek says, ος γαρ εαν θελη την ψυχην (the soul) αυτου σωσαι απολεσει αυτην ος δ αν απολεση την ψυχην αυτου ενεκεν εμου ευρησει αυτην.
Jesus has shown us by His own example that a person cannot take up his cross unless he first chooses to deny himself. The soul will not lightly suffer, yet a loving son delights in obedience (John 14:15). Therefore Jesus says, “Father if thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42). The cross means obedience (Philippians 2:8), in a willingness to suffer in the flesh (1 Peter 4:1). It means, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” The cross is the place where Christ laid down His life for the sin of the world. Therefore it is a place of death and an end to life.”If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, follow Me”.
We cannot live for ourselves and live for God. We cannot serve two masters. We will love the one and hate the other, or cling to the one and despise the other (Luke 16:13). We cannot store treasure in heaven and on earth. “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” (John 12:25). The Greek says, ο φιλων την ψυχην (soul) αυτου απολλυει αυτην και ο μισων την ψυχην αυτου εν τω κοσμω τουτω εις ζωην αιωνιον (life eternal) φυλαξει αυτην. It is only when the Lord returns that eternal life becomes visible. Therefore it is at this time that the obedient soul enters into the joy of the Lord. This is the first resurrection and the time when all the Lord’s servants are judged. The first outworking of that judgement is the issue of the kingdom itself.
The gift of eternal life is freely given to those who put their faith in Jesus and receive Him as their Saviour. Eternal life can never be merited. If we are able to believe by faith that eternal life is a gift given by God without repentance on His part, then the question we must ask ourselves is not shall we perish, but are we worthy of the Lord of Glory? No man who ever lived can be considered worthy of the Lord in respect of being worthy of the Lord’s death. Nevertheless worth is an important issue.
For example, there is the worth of the saints, (Romans 16:2) as well as a saint being counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name (Acts 5:41). Paul entreats the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1), and to the Thessalonians Paul says, “to this end we pray that God may count you worthy of your calling.” Paul identifies the persecution of the Thessalonian saints as a “plain indication of God’s righteous judgement so that they might be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God”, (2 Thess 1:4,11). And in Revelation 3:4 the Lord Jesus says of the overcomer in the church at Sardis that they will walk with Him in white because they are worthy.
We see in these few verses a clear call for God’s people to deny themselves so that they may be counted worthy of the Lord at His coming (Matthew10;37-38). We also see that to be counted worthy of the Kingdom or to walk with Christ in white in the Kingdom, refers to a believer’s walk here and now and not simply to the fact of believing in the Lord Himself. Suffering for the sake of the Kingdom to the Thessalonian saints was obedience. For the Ephesian saints, to walk in a manner worthy of their calling was a command to love one another.
One may well ask how loving one another can be reckoned as worthy. The answer is truly heart breaking. There is no more a harmful man than the one who says ‘brother’ and then sets about to devour you. There is no more a hypocrite than the one who says, be blessed and then curses you. Such is the work of many who take the name of the Lord. By the hands of the brethren are the brethren more injured than by the hands of evil unbelieving men. In that circumstance to love your brother is indeed a worthy attitude because it requires a willingness to suffer for the sake of the Lord. Which pastor does not know its meaning?
Lost and Found In Suffering
It is abundantly evident from the Scripture that to be found worthy of the Lord, or His coming Kingdom, is ordinarily more than obedience in the doing of that which we ought to do. If a servant obeys his master in all things commanded of him, then he cannot reckon that as deserving a reward. “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’” (Luke 17:10).
Being counted worthy of the Lord or His Kingdom is not even a matter of doing what men have commanded us to do. It is not a matter of walking one mile, but of walking the extra mile also. It is not a matter of being struck on the right cheek, but of turning the other. It is not a matter of giving our shirt, but giving our coat as well. We are not at all surprised when men make us walk one mile, but to choose to walk the second mile is to glorify Christ. We are not even surprised when men strike us on the cheek because they hated Christ also; yet to turn the other cheek is to show them that Christ forgives. When a man has the authority to demand our shirt then we are to give him our coat as well to demonstrate that we will not vainly resist evil. Paul casts light on what it means to be counted worthy of the Lord or His Kingdom in his second letter to the Thessalonians (1:4-5). “We ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgement so that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering” (See also Philippians 1:29).
The Thessalonians were suffering persecutions and trials of their faith for the sake of the Kingdom, and Paul understood this to be a plain indication of God’s righteous judgement so that the Thessalonians might be considered worthy of the Kingdom for which they were suffering.
The natural mind cannot understand suffering because it does not understand God’s righteous judgement, in order that men made righteous by the blood of Christ may also be found worthy of the Kingdom of God. Yet Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in Heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets before you” Matthew 5:10-12
Who then is worthy of the Lord? It is the one who having armed himself with a mind to suffer, denies himself, takes his cross and follows the Lord. It is the one who suffers persecutions and insults for the sake of righteousness.
To follow the Lord means to become a servant, and to go the way of the cross means to obey God in all things. “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honour him.” (John 12:26) “There is one who scatters yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, but it results only in want” (Proverbs 11:24).
To save one’s soul today means that one will lose it in the future. Whereas to lose ones life in this age is to save it in the age to come. The soul is the mind, the will and the emotions. It is the life of the man. Therefore to save one’s soul today means to please one’s mind; or do one’s own will, or gratify one’s emotions in this age. It means to live to please oneself. Losing one’s soul in this age means to deny oneself. It is for the age of the Kingdom come that we are looking, and during the Kingdom age that those who have denied themselves and taken their cross according to God’s will for the sake of the Kingdom, who will receive a reward. This means that their souls will be satisfied in the Kingdom because they will reign with Christ. But those who have lived to please themselves and have thereby preserved their souls in this age will be ashamed during the time of the Kingdom (Revelations 16:15). Though such a one has eternal life he may even be excluded from the Kingdom (age) (Matthew 7:21 and 25:1-13), because that one may not be found to be worthy of the Lord of Glory at His coming (John 2:28).
“For this reason”, Paul said, “I endure all things for the sake for those who are chosen, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him: If we deny him, He also will deny us. Remind them of these things” (2 Timothy 2:11-14).
As far as the sons of Adam are concerned salvation begins with new birth, and will be complete when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead when He will recompense every man according to his deeds (Matt 16:27, Rev 22:12 and Proverbs 11:1). We understand that there is nothing pertaining to salvation that is without significance for the future Kingdom of God which Christ will establish on earth at His return. Being born again of water and the spirit, is fundamental, in that one cannot enter the Kingdom unless one is born again.
There is also the matter of the redemption of the body, which expressly concerns the coming Kingdom for those who are counted worthy of being included in the first resurrection. It is also clear that a third area of salvation exists, which is expressed in the Scriptures as, “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it unto eternal life” (John 12:25), and relates to the Kingdom of God during the millennial reign of Christ. Salvation relates to the whole man, spirit, soul and body (1 The 5:23). Therefore we see these three areas in which salvation is being worked out in the believer.
The first and the third; that of being born again, and the resurrection of the body, are particular acts of God, whereas the second, the saving of the soul, involves the cooperative activity of the believer. Being born again is an act of God because “the wind blows where it wishes” (John 3:8 & Genesis 2:7), and resurrection from the dead is an act of God, because Jesus Himself will raise up those whom the Father has given Him on the last day (John 6:40). God has also done a work concerning sanctification, through the life and death of Christ, and relates to the saving of the soul. Christ Himself is both our righteousness, sanctification and redemption before God. 1 Corinthians 1:28. Whereas, The Lord says, “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.” Revelation 16:15
It is written, “Remember Lot’s wife. “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Matthew 17:32-33 Lot’s wife lost her life because she tried to keep it by looking back. Therefore Lot’s wife stands as an example to those who seek to save their lives, by looking back. Keeping one’s life in this passage of Scripture is the same in meaning as saving one’s life in Matthew 16:24-27. We would do well to have a clear understanding of what it meant for Lot’s wife to have lost her life, despite having been saved out of the city, because it serves as a picture of a believer losing his soul in the Kingdom despite having been saved out of the world.
Lot’s wife was saved out of the city, yet she was carried away in the punishment of the city (v.15). Despite this, however, Lot’s wife was not turned to ashes as were those who were inside the city, but a pillar instead. What this signifies for the church today is that despite having been saved from the destruction that is coming upon the world, some saints might still lose their lives because in choosing to save their lives they have gained the world. To become a pillar of salt demonstrates that Lot’s wife had the Lord’s favour yet she was unable to benefit from having been rescued from the city.
Today we speak of being chosen – and so we are chosen. Though it seems that we cannot take our eyes off the world, out from which we have been saved. The love of the world is enmity with God. Our love of the world cannot be reconciled with the Father in heaven. Therefore if we endlessly persist in looking back with affection, in the end we will suffer loss, as Lot’s wife suffered loss. Losing one’s life in this sense does not mean to perish as those who remained in the city perished, but it does mean to suffer real loss. It is one thing to lose one’s life and another to perish.
We may say that from the time that Jesus commissioned the first disciples to preach the Kingdom of Heaven, for a person to be saved out of the world, yet not to separate from the world, will result in loss. Such loss may even mean exclusion from the Kingdom age. Let him who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says to the church. Unless we deny ourselves and forsake the world and all that is in it, and choose the cross, we, like Lot’s wife, having been saved out of the city, will nevertheless lose our lives at the coming Kingdom, and will walk around naked and ashamed (Revelation 16:15). Lot’s wife had been saved out of the city v17, but she had already been swept away in the punishment (Lit…Iniquity.) of the city v.15. Thus she lost her life. This is like being saved, yet as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:15). The Lord Jesus has said, “Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) From this we can see the very practical and selfish nature that gaining one’s life consists of in this age, and the very practical and personal loss that such a present attitude will mean in the Kingdom.
A Personal Account
Long before I had any contact with other born again believers, the Scriptures were my only guide.There were no conscious thoughts to terms like faith, grace, born again, lose, find, hate, &c – let alone Sola Scritura. I simply responded to the will and purposes of God.
This is not to say that grace was hidden or that faith to believe in Christ Jesus was less real. Neither were the Scriptures less alive. Nor did I lack a desire to follow Christ, and even saw the need to count the cost. My entire focus was knowing God Himself. All of these doctrines were living truth in the Father’ presence and did not need to be paraded for inspection. They were simply true. It is only when we come across false teachers that our faith is disturbed and we are defrauded of our inheritance in Christ.
We often imagine that it is false doctrine that represents the source of our woes and concerns. We so easily miss that true doctrines also serve to cause divisions and enmity between brethren. Doctrine, testimony and sound teaching are all essential instruments in the church. These things however cannot produce life nor can they equip us to walk in the spirit. Believers can be most divisive. When we are minded to sound doctrine, we are also inclined to contentions. The very nature of doctrine is divisive when we are in the flesh. If another cannot agree, then we are divided. And there is no going round it, even if we politely agree to disagree. We hold to those doctrines that we believe are essential, and if another departs from them, does not agree with them or else contradicts them, we are inwardly set, so as to be separate from them, regardless of outward appearances.
After more than three decades of seeing contentions of doctrines, teachings and testimonies, I realise that these divisions are irreconcilable to the natural mind. Only the cross can separate their meaning and produce obedience. Yet if any man is minded to instruct believers in doctrines and teachings, no matter how dead they are, he will become a leader of men and will find a following of countless numbers, who through flattery, encouragement, insistence, and proud tradition, will cease to follow Christ, and will become content with following a man. In the end, he can think for them, be their conscience, walk straight and set a good example, and men and women will take his case as a testimony to their own faith. But should he instruct them to set aside the vanity of traditions, to cease from following a man, and to seek Christ for themselves, they will turn aside from him and tear down the house.
It will be found in the end that the justification for their rejection of him, was sound doctrine, fine teachings and uplifting testimony. If our confidence rests on doctrines, teachings and fine testimonies, and do not know the meaning of the believer’s cross then we are vain babblers. If we do not know Christ daily in the inner man, and by faith, seated at the right hand of the Father in the majesty of the heavens, then as those who believe in His name, by faith, we have received that which is sufficient for life, but we will know nothing of the fullness of life. To know every sound doctrine may well be evidence of our faith in Christ, but how can we say that we are saved if we do not know Christ, by whom salvation comes? Christ is our salvation because He is the Saviour of all men through the cross. Do we imagine that having received so great a faith as to know the Father through the shed blood of His Son, that we will escape from being held accountable when we yet love the world and by that means hate one another? When will we take our eyes off of ourselves, though we cannot take our eyes off God and that because of His Son? When will we be so persuaded that we can obey God and do so having counted the cost of obedience, as Christ counted the cost of obedience, and in that undoubted revelation of the great Majesty of the Father and the utter wonder of Christ raised from the dead at His right hand, finally come to understand that we have also been called into that same mystery of obedience and thus by obedience into the eternal purposes of the Father?
If we are childish before God and remove ourselves from self interest, and cling to the skirts of the Father, then we will see Christ as He is, and that we are in Him, seated at the right hand of God. In that mind we will know how to ask for mercy and begin to bear our own cross of obedience. Thereafter it will be a simple matter of exercising our own will to choose to go the way of the cross as Christ did. May the Lord grant us this revelation. Amen