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 What Did Christ Mean?


Why to “Lose Life” is to “Save Life”

John 12:24-26 (Matthew 16:24-27)


Jesus the Christ (Gk. Christos: the Anointed One, the Messiah), the Son of God (i.e., God manifested in the flesh), made a number of exceedingly significant statements during His ministry prior to being crucified on Calvary.


Six days before the Passover, “Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead” (vs. 1).  The next day upon a “young donkey” He entered Jerusalem (vs.14, Matthew 21:1-11).  Later that day, He told His disciples,


(24) Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.


(25) He who loves his life [Gk. psuche] will lose it, and he who hates his life [Gk. psuche] in this world will keep it for eternal life.


(26) If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.


What appears to the uninformed as a contradictory statement, particularly as it is expressed in verse 25, is the most important ingredient to a successful Christian life, a life that will result in the salvation of the soul, with significantly positive ramifications during the coming kingdom age, the millennial reign of Christ over and upon the earth.


The message of this passage is more conspicuously expressed in Matthew 16:24-27, as follows:


(24) Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.


(25)  For whoever desires to save his life [Gk. psuche] will lose it, but whoever loses his life [Gk. psuche] for My sake will find it.


(26) For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul [Gk. psuche]? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul [Gk. psuche]?


(27) For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”


This commentary, although totally relative to the passage in John, will be based specifically on the passage in Matthew.  But before one is able to properly grasp “the meaning” of the passage, it is necessary that one understands the following “doctrinal foundation” in addition to the “context” of the passage.


Doctrinal Foundation


The following doctrinal issues must be understood in order for one to decipher the meaning of either of the passages in John and Matthew above.


1.      Man was created as a tripartite being in the “image” of his Creator (Genesis 1:26, 27), i.e., composed of three specific elements – “spirit [Gk. pneuma], soul [Gk. psuche], and body [Gk. soma]” (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12).  This tripartite image of God was also seen in Christ as the following comments by Arlen Chitwood, from Chapter 1 of his book, Salvation of the Soul, portrays:


“Jesus is Elohim manifested in the flesh; and having been made in the “likeness” of man (but apart from man’s fallen nature), He, as man, must also be a trinity (John 1:14; Philippians 2:7).  This tripartite nature of Christ, in whom “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9), was clearly revealed at the time of His death.


At this time Jesus yielded up His spirit, which went back into the presence of His Father in heaven (Luke 23:46; cf. Ecclesiastes 12:7; Acts 7:59); His soul went into Hades, the place of the dead, housed inside the earth at that time (Acts 2:27); and His body was removed from the Cross and placed in Joseph of Arimathaea’s tomb (Matthew 27:57-61).  This threefold separation persisted until the soul and spirit re-entered the body at the time Christ was raised from the dead.”


2.      When man disobeyed his Creator in the Garden of Eden, he died in accordance with the terms his Creator had previously established (Genesis 2:16, 17), i.e., his “spirit” (spiritual connection [life-line] to his Creator) was severed, and his “soul” (corporeal connection to his body) and “body” (corporeal connection to his spatial reality) were placed in a degenerate state, continuing toward an eventual death.  At the moment of their spiritual death, Adam and Eve lost their pristine covering of “light,” similar to that which covered the Creator (Psalm 104:1, 2), and upon realizing they were “naked,” made themselves “coverings” out of “fig leaves” (Genesis 3:7).


3.      From that time onward, mankind’s expectation has always been one of spiritual death in accord with his spiritual state, that of “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).  And change to that condition is only subject to the mercy and grace of God, i.e., the forgiveness of sins by faith in Christ and His work (substitutionary spiritual death upon the cross of Calvary) resulting in the restoration of spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1-9).  This deliverance was reflected by “death and (represented by) shed blood” in the coverings of animal skins that God provided Adam & Eve subsequent to their spiritual death (Genesis 3:21) and the establishment of the Passover with the nation Israel prior to its deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 12:1ff).


4.      The Bible is a book of redemption, a process instigated in the initial chapters of the book of Genesis and fully elucidated in Christ, in His sacrifice for mankind on the cross in the New Testament.  And since God, Elohim, is a trinity, Jesus, Elohim manifested in the flesh, is likewise a trinity; and man, created in the “image” and “likeness” of Elohim, is a trinity as well; the act of redemption provided by God pertains to man as a complete beingMans complete redemption must encompass spirit, soul, and body.


5.      God’s comprehensive redemption program for mankind, i.e., “salvation,” as seen in Scripture, quite unlike what is proclaimed and taught throughout most of evangelical Christendom today, is a triune process seen as and spoken of in three tenses – past, present, and future.


a.       As seen in Ephesians 2:8, 9a past, completed act.


For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.


b.      As seen in 1 Corinthians 1:18a present, continuous work.


For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.


c.       As seen in Hebrews 1:14 – a future, inherited possession.


Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit [lit. “for the sake of the ones about to inherit”] salvation?


At this point, let all evangelical Christians be assured that once a person executes a decision of faith in Christ for his/her personal eternal-salvation, the person indeed passes from “death” to “eternal life,” a change/condition that is irrevocable by man or God. 


Having said this, all Christians should also understand that although this act of faith assures the acquisition of eternal life with God throughout the ages to come, there is an intermediate time-frame for which the “saved” individual is responsible and must address during this lifetime – the coming kingdom of 1,000 years (the millennial kingdom), which will be established by Christ over and upon this earth soon after His return for His own, referred to often as “the rapture.”


6.      The following is taken from Salvation of the Soul, by Arlen L. Chitwood:


The salvation experience that man enters into at the time of the birth from above is a work of the Spirit, based on a previous work of the Son.  It is a spiritual birth and has to do with man’s spirit alone:  “. . . that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6b). 


The salvation of the soul, on the other hand, should never be associated with the past aspect of salvation.  Scripture carefully distinguishes between the soul and the spirit, never using the words interchangeably in this respect (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). 


And Scripture also carefully distinguishes between salvation in relation to the spirit and salvation in relation to the soul.  Salvation in relation to the spirit is always dealt with in a past sense, but not so with the salvation of the soul.  Rather, the salvation of the soul is always dealt with in a future sense:


            receiving the end of your faith -- the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:9)


Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)


But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe [are faithful] to the saving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:39)


The statements and exhortations in these verses pertain to Christians alone — those whose spirits have already been saved and whose souls are in the process of being saved, with the salvation of the soul being realized only at a future time.


The salvation of the body presents very few problems for the majority of Christians.  Very few Christians contend, contrary to Scripture, that the body has either already been redeemed or is in the process of being redeemed.  Scripture places the redemption of man’s body entirely in the future (Romans 8:23).


The Christian’s body is presently in a continuous state of deterioration.  The body grows old and weakens with time; and the body is subject to sickness, disease, and eventually death.  This must ever remain the case as long as the body remains in its present state.  The “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and the unredeemed body must pay the price that sin requires.


Within this unredeemed body lie two opposing entities, each seeking dominion — a redeemed spirit, and an unredeemed soul.  The unredeemed soul is housed in an unredeemed body, and the two are mutually compatible.  But the redeemed spirit housed alongside an unredeemed soul in an unredeemed body experiences no compatibility with either of the other two at all.  Compatibility is not possible, for “what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).


This heterogeneous union is what produced the cry of the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:24,


            O wretched man that I amWho shall deliver me from this body of death?


(End of Chitwood Commentary)


7.      Finally, it should be understood that the “salvation of the soul” has ramifications only for the coming millennial (kingdom) age that will be established by Christ.  It is unlike the “salvation of the spirit” – a conversion based solely upon the work of Christ and obtained solely by a decision of faith, which is eternal in nature. 


Rather, the “salvation of the soul” will be a determination made by Christ once the Christian appears before Him at His Judgment Seat, based on his works of faithfulness during his tenure as a Christian upon earth, which is not eternal in nature.


(For a comprehensive treatment of this foundational material, please review the book, Salvation of the Soul, by Arlen L. Chitwood, which may be obtained in its entirety by clicking on its link on the home page of


The Context


With a proper understanding of God’s comprehensive redemption program for mankind, one needs to then understand the context in which the statements are embodied in Matthew 16:24-27.  The following factors comprise the most significant aspects that determine this context.


·         Christ is speaking to His “disciples” (vs. 24), “saved” individuals who are not “dead in trespasses and sins” in need of eternal (spirit) salvation.


·         Christ is speaking about properly “serving” Him, i.e., “following” Him, a practice germane only to eternally saved individuals.


·         Christ is speaking of activity that will result in an evaluation by Him upon His return, which will be subject to “rewards,” a feature disassociated with eternal (spirit) salvation.


·         Christ is speaking about the saving (vss. 25, 26) of the “life”/“soul” (Gk. psuche), not the “spirit” (Gk. pneuma).


·         Christ is speaking within the overall context of His primary mission to the people of Israel, primarily not an offering of “eternal salvation” but an offer of the “kingdom of the heavens” should the nation repent from its wayward condition.


The Meaning


The message of Matthew 16:24-27 (and other renditions of its theme within the New Testament, which will be depicted below) is probably the most critical message intended for Christians that God has provided for them, then and to this day.  Unfortunately, it is also probably the most ignored message by the majority of Christians, then and to this day.


Succinctly, the message is definitively how a Christian may obtain the salvation of his/her soul, not how one will achieve eternal (spirit) salvation, a salvation that is totally dependent upon the work (sacrifice) of Another (Jesus Christ) and which may only be obtained by faith in Christ.


In Chapter 2 of his book, Salvation of the Soul, Arlen L. Chitwood addresses the meaning of this passage of Scripture, as follows:


The text from Matthew 16:24-26, dealing with the saving or the losing of the soul, has been removed from its context by numerous individuals over the years and erroneously used relative to the message of salvation by grace as it relates to the unsaved.  These verses, however, have nothing to do with a message to the unsaved in this respect.  Truths brought out in these verses relate to the saved alone, those already in possession of eternal life.


(Note:  Removing these verses from their contextual setting and using them in relation to the unsaved does away with and destroys that which is actually taught in this section of Scripture, along with fostering confusion relative to the biblical teaching concerning the salvation of the soul.


Other passages of Scripture dealing with this same overall subject are, more often than not, accorded this same type of treatment [e.g., the warning passages in Hebrews, or the overcomer's promises in Revelation 2, 3].)


Within the text, Jesus is speaking to His disciples.  The words, “If any man” (KJV), in verse twenty-four could be better translated, “If anyone,” i.e., “If any of you [disciples].”  The word “man” is not in the Greek text but in the KJV has been supplied by the translators.  The disciples were saved individuals (all, including Judas), and the message concerning denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Christ (things not possible for the unsaved to accomplish) was directed to them.


This thought surrounding the disciples in verse twenty-four leads into verses twenty-five and twenty-six, which refer to the saving or the losing of the soul, with a view to being recompensed as stewards in the Lord’s house (reward according to works) in the coming kingdom (vv. 27ff).  The word “For” connects verse twenty-five with verse twenty-four, and the same word again connects verse twenty-six with both preceding verses.  Denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Christ in verse twenty-four is the manner in which the salvation of the soul is brought to pass (vv. 25b, 26b).  And the inverse of this would be true concerning the manner in which the loss of the soul is brought to pass (vv. 25a, 26a).


Within the context, as previously shown, Jesus is dealing with things relating to the kingdom of the heavens (v. 19).  His Messiahship (vv. 13-16, 20), the Church (vv. 17-19), the Cross (allowing the Church to be brought into existence [vv. 21-23], along with showing “death” which Christians must experience relative to the self-life, the soul [1 Corinthians 1:18; Colossians 2:12; 3:1-4]), and the salvation of the soul in relation to the coming kingdom (vv. 24-27) constitute the subject matter at hand.  One thought leads into another related thought, with the latter, the salvation of the soul in relation to the coming kingdom, being the end or the goal toward which everything moves.


Note how plainly and unmistakably the salvation of the soul (vv. 24-26) is connected with the coming kingdom (vv. 27ff) rather than with eternal life.  The word “For” (same word that begins vv. 25, 26) appears once again, connecting verse twenty-seven with the preceding verses. 


Thus, verses twenty-four through twenty-seven can only be looked upon as an indivisible unit in Scriptural interpretation, with one thought leading into another and all things moving toward a revealed goal.


(Note that Matthew 16:28-17:5 forms an additional explanation and provides commentary for v. 27, explaining that which is in view by the Son of Man coming “in the glory of his Father with his angels.”


And the thought of reward according to works is dealt with in related Scripture, seen both in connection with the kingdom [Luke 19:12ff] and the salvation of the soul [Hebrews 10:35-11:1, 23-26; James 2:5, 14-26].)


Deny Oneself


To deny oneself is to deny the fleshly impulses of the soul — the self-life.  The unredeemed soul housed in an unredeemed body is to be kept under subjection by the instrumentality of man’s redeemed spirit. 


By and through the impartation of the Word of God into man’s redeemed spirit, individuals, under the leadership of the indwelling Holy Spirit, progressively grow into spiritually mature Christians; and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians growing in such a manner are able to deny the fleshly impulses of the soul, keeping their bodies under subjection.


This subjective state of the soul in relation to the spiritual man can be graphically illustrated from Old Testament typology in the lives of Sarah and Hagar.  Hagar (the bondwoman), despised in the eyes of Sarah (the freewoman), had fled into the wilderness.  But the angel of the Lord finding her by a spring of water gave the command, “Return to your mistress [Sarah], and submit yourself under her hand” (Genesis 16:4-9).


If a Christian is to be victorious over the fleshly impulses of the soul, those impulses which are under the bondage of sin must be made submissive to that which has been removed from this bondage.  This is the clear teaching of Scripture, and there is no alternate way that this can be accomplished.


Sarah’s and Hagar’s sons (Isaac and Ishmael) are set forth in both Genesis and Galatians as typifying respectively the man of spirit (Isaac) and the man of flesh (Ishmael).  The soul (self-life) of man (in association with the flesh) must be made submissive to the spiritual man.  Hagar was blessed, but only subsequent to her submission to Sarah (Genesis 16:10); and man in his self-life will be blessed, but only subsequent to the submission of the soul to the man of spirit, empowered and controlled by the indwelling Holy Spirit.


Accordingly, blessings relating to the self-life (soul) can occur only in connection with the saving of the soul.  Thus, the great issue centers on the man of flesh and the man of spirit both striving for control of the Christian’s life (soul), with the salvation of the soul hanging in the balance and being realized only through control of the self-life by the spiritual man.


(Blessings in connection with man’s self-life though are not as one may be led to think — having the best of both worlds, for such is impossible.  Blessings in connection with the self-life are inseparably connected with dying to self.  One has to die in order to live [John 12:24, 25].  The section that follows deals with this aspect of the matter.)


Take Up One’s Cross, and Follow Christ


The “cross” was the instrument of death, and taking up one’s cross is dying to self, dying to the self-life.  Christians are told,


For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)


The man of flesh, the deeds of the body, exhibited through one’s self-life must be kept in a constant state of dying.  The old man, so to speak, is to be affixed to the cross and not be allowed to move about.  If mortification after this fashion occurs, the man will live (he will experience the salvation of his soul); however, if mortification after this fashion does not occur, the man will die (he will experience the loss of his soul).


The words “take up” and “follow” in verse twenty-four appear in two different tenses in the Greek text.  The first has to do with a one-time act, but the latter has to do with continuous action.  That is, Christians are to “take up” the cross at the beginning of their pilgrim walk, never laying it down; and, in this manner, they are to “follow” Christ continuously throughout the pilgrim walk.


(The translation of the parallel passage in Luke’s gospel, “. . . let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (9:23b), would seemingly militate against the preceding.  This though is not the case at all.


First, there is some question concerning the validity of the word “daily” in the text.  The word is not found in a number of the better manuscripts.  But, if the word is to be considered part of the text, this part of the verse should be translated and understood in a similar manner to the way Wuest has it in his Expanded Translation:  “. . . let him at once and once for all pick up and carry his cross day after day.”)


The same basic thought is set forth in Romans 12:1, where Christians are told, “. . . present your bodies a living sacrifice.”  The word “present” has to do with a one-time act to be performed at the beginning of the pilgrim walk, never to be repeated.  As the Old Testament priest placed the sacrifice upon the altar and left it there, the New Testament priest (a Christian) is called upon to do the same with his body.  The body is to be placed upon the altar by a one-time act, and the body is then to remain upon the altar in a continuous state of sacrifice, never to be removed.


“Continuous dedication” in the Christian life is the correct biblical perspective.  “Rededication” — as men often use the term — is, on the other hand, completely out of place, for such cannot exist within the biblical framework of the pilgrim walk.


A Christian cannot rededicate his life for the simple reason that he doesn’t have a life to rededicate.  He has a life that can be given over to “continuous dedication” alone (whether or not he does so), and faithfulness or unfaithfulness among Christians will have to be understood and dealt with in this biblical respect.


For Whoever . . . .


The word “whoever” in verse twenty-five refers directly back to verse twenty-four.  The thought is, “Whoever of you [disciples] . . . .”  Verses twenty-five and twenty-six further amplify that which has already been stated in verse twenty-four, and, along with verse twenty-seven, form the Lord’s own commentary on this verse.


The word translated “life” twice in verse twenty-five and twice again in verse twenty-six (ASV) is from the Greek word psuche, which means either “soul” or “life.”  A number of translations (e.g., KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV) render the word psuche “life” in verse twenty-five but “soul” in verse twenty-six.  Since “soul” and “life” are synonymous terms, translating psuche as “life” in one verse and “soul” in the next verse cannot really be considered incorrect.  But not everyone has access to the Greek text or understands that “soul” and “life” are synonymous terms; and an inconsistent translation of this nature has, over the years, served to foster confusion in the interpretation of these verses.


Any Christian who refuses to “deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow” Christ during the present day (v. 24) — synonymous with “whoever will save his life [soul]” (v. 25a) — “shall [in that coming day] lose it” (v. 25a), i.e., he will experience the loss of his soul/life.


On the other hand, any Christian who will “deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow” Christ during the present day (v. 24) — synonymous with “whoever will lose his life [soul] for my sake” (v. 25b) — “shall [in the coming day] find it” (v. 25b), i.e., he will realize the salvation of his soul/life.


The inverse of the place that the soul/life is allowed to occupy during the Christian’s present pilgrim walk will be true during the coming reign of Christ.  A Christian who saves his soul/life today (allows his self-life to gain the ascendancy, allows his soul to rule) will experience the loss of his soul/life in that coming day; and a Christian who loses his soul/life today (keeps his self-life under subjection, refuses to allow his soul to rule) will realize the salvation of his soul/life in that coming day.


Profit . . . Exchange


The words “profited” and “exchange” in verse twenty-six have to do with building or refusing to build upon an initial investment.  Christians alone are in view.  Only the saved are in possession of this initial investment and, thus, in a position to profit.


The very ultimate in man’s goals, aims, ambitions, and aspirations — gaining the entire world in the self-life — is set over against forfeiting one’s life (his self-life) for the sake of Christ.  And profit is accrued only in the latter.  There can be no profit in the former, for the initial investment cannot be used in this realm.  The initial investment can be used in the realm where the man of spirit alone is operative.  And an accrual of profit on the initial investment will result in the salvation of one’s soul, but no accrual of profit on the initial investment will result in the loss of one’s soul.


“Profit” and “exchange” are the subject of several parables on stewardship that the Lord gave during His earthly ministry, and a brief review of two of these parables, the parable of the pounds and the parable of the talents, will illustrate what is meant by these expressions in Matthew 16:26.


In the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:11-27), a certain Nobleman (the Lord), before departing into “a far country,” delivered “ten minas [KJV: pounds]” to His “ten servants” and commanded them, “Occupy till I come.”  “Ten” is the number of ordinal completion, signifying all of the Lord’s business delivered to all of His servants.  The “minas [pound]” is a monetary unit of exchange, and all of the Lord’s servants were to trade and traffic in all of the Lord’s business during His time of absence.  And they were to continue in this manner until their Lord returned.


Christ’s clear statement to His household servants before His departure was, “Do business [KJV: Occupy] till I come” (Luke 19:13b).  Those in the parable who followed their Lord’s instructions and used the initial investment realized a profit, but the servant who refused to follow his Lord’s instructions and use the initial investment realized no profit at all.


Then, upon the Lord’s return, the servants profiting from the initial investment were rewarded, but the servant who realized no profit suffered loss.


The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) presents another picture of this same truth.  A certain Man (again, the Lord) called “his own servants,” delivered to them “his goods [talents],” and then departed into “a far country.”  The “talent,” as the minas/pound, is a monetary unit of exchange, pointing to the Lord’s business.  The Lord’s servants, as in the parable of the minas/pounds, were to trade and traffic in the Lord’s business during His time of absence.


And, as in the parable of the minas/pounds, those servants who exercised faithfulness and used the talents entrusted to them realized a profit from the initial investment; but the servant who refused to exercise faithfulness and use the initial investment entrusted to him realized no profit at all.


Then, upon the Lord’s return, the servants profiting from the initial investment were rewarded, but the servant who realized no profit suffered loss.


The salvation of the soul is clearly set forth in Matthew 16:24-27 as emanating from works following the salvation of the spirit and has to do with rewards in the coming kingdom.  Salvation completely apart from works applies to the “spirit” alone, and salvation in connection with works applies to the “soul” alone.  The former must first be realized before the latter can come into view at all.


(End of Chitwood’s Commentary)


It should be reinforced that either the “gain” or “loss” of one’s soul is inextricably connected to the fact that “the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (vs. 27).  This coming of Christ will be a most serious matter for each Christian, as seen in Paul’s statement, as follows:


Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men . . . . (2 Corinthians 5:9-11a; cf. Hebrews 10:31)


It is imperative that Christians build upon the foundation of their eternal (spirit) salvation with works that will result in the salvation of their souls.


For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each ones work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each ones work, of what sort it is. If anyones work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyones work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

(1 Corinthians 3:11-15


Finally, let every Christian reader be assured that there is no more important issue to be both considered and assimilated in his/her life.  The salvation of the soul is of utmost importance, and it will be the primary emphasis for each Christian at the coming Judgment Seat of Christ.  This writer must implore every Christian to seriously consider examining this aspect of their life by further reading the books, Salvation of the Soul and Judgment Seat of Christ, both by Arlen L. Chitwood, and which may be obtained in their entirety by clicking on their links on the home page of


The Means Provided for Achieving Soul Salvation


The believer really only has two choices after the salvation (of the spirit) experience.  He may attempt to live for Christ under his own power (self-efforts and works), whose (self) “righteousnesses” are “as filthy rags” in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6) and will only produce “human good” (works), works characterized in Scripture as “wood, hay and straw” to later be consumed by God’s fiery judgment.  Or, he may live filled with the Holy Spirit and thereby produce “divine good” (works), works characterized in Scripture as “gold, silver and precious stones,” which will not be consumed by God’s fiery judgment and for which he will be superbly rewarded (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).


To live for Christ under one’s own power will be severely self-defeating when the Christian appears before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10; Revelation 22:12); and issues and determinations at that time will exclude him from being a part of the “bride of Christ,” excluding him from ruling and reigning with Christ in His millennial kingdom.  On the other hand, to be filled with the Spirit, to allow Christ to live through him, the Christian will fare well at Christ’s Judgment Seat, will become part of Christ’s bride and will rule and reign with Him during the coming millennial kingdom (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 19:7-9).


The Holy Spirit and His works were present at the Creation, were prevalent throughout the Old Testament and will be a permanent part of the Christian throughout eternity.  Even though the Holy Spirit initiated a unique ministry toward the believer (permanently baptizing, indwelling and sealing) at Pentecost, He temporarily filled individuals prior to this time (Luke 1:15). 


What is the filling with the Holy Spirit?


The words “fill” or “full” as they relate to the Holy Spirit and the believer come from the Greek word pleroo, which in essence means to be completely influenced and empowered by.  In effect it is a condition that exists when the Holy Spirit controls a believer both inwardly (his thoughts and motives) and outwardly (his actions).  A person who is filled with the Holy Spirit evidences the “fruit of the Spirit,” which is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23).


Some of the phraseology used in the New Testament that represents the concept of the fullness with the Holy Spirit follows:


  • Filled with/of the Spirit (Luke 1:15; 4:1; Acts 2:4; 6:3; 7:55; 11:24; 13:9, 52, Ephesians 5:18)
  • Led by/of the Spirit (Luke 4:1; Galatians 5:18)
  • Walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16; 5:25)
  • Moved by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:21)
  • Walk in Christ (Colossians 2:6)
  • Christ dwells [be at home or “full residence”] in your heart (Ephesians 3:17)


What is the key to the filling with the Holy Spirit?


For certain, Christians are commanded to be “filled with [‘walk in’] the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:16-25), but to properly understand this requires one to “compare Scripture with Scripture.” Comparing Ephesians 5:18-20 with its companion passage in Colossians 3:16 reveals that to be “filled with the Spirit” is comparable to (the same as) letting “the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.”


To say it in another way, the more we allow God’s Word to permeate us (i.e., the more of it we take in, the more we believe what God says about a matter, and the more of it we put into practice [James 1:22]), the more we are transformed by it (Romans 12:2), the more God’s Spirit can influence our thoughts and actions, the more we are able to “walk” in Christ (Colossians 2:6), and the more we are able to focus on Christ (the Author and Finisher [Perfecter] of our faith [Hebrews 12:2]) until Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19).  This is essentially what Christ meant when, as He was praying for His disciples, He said, “Sanctify (set apart [to holiness]) them by Your truth, Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).


Simply put, the filling with the Spirit is the degree in which the Christian absorbs God’s Word throughout his life, i.e., receives and believes it.  As he reads, studies, and believes God’s Word, the more he is transformed by the Word, resulting in Christ being formed in him.


Again, how is the Christian filled with the Spirit?  There is only one way.  Since there is a unique and definite link between Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, and the written (God-breathed) Word of God (the One reflecting the Other), the Christian is to immerse himself in the “implanted Word,” which will transform him progressively to spiritual maturity, as he obediently works out his own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), and the eventual salvation of his soul, the “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).  The comparison between the companion passages of Ephesians 5:18-20 and Colossians 3:16 confirms that a Christian is “filled [controlled] with the Spirit” when “the Word of Christ dwells in him richly.”


Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)


All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (lit. God-breathed), and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete [mature], thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17)


And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)


What impedes the filling with the Holy Spirit?


The filling with the Holy Spirit in any believer can only be impeded or hampered by sin.  When the believer, who always has the God-given ability to exercise choice, selects to sin against God, he thereby quenches (Greek: sbennumi, to extinguish; to dampen, hinder or repress) and grieves (Greek: lupo, to cause sorrow or emotional pain to) the Holy Spirit.  This in effect limits the Holy Spirit’s influence in the believer’s life.  In other words, the Holy Spirit when confronted by willful sin in the believer withdraws His ability to empower and lead the believer.


For this, there is only one remedy:


If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)


To confess sin is not penitence.  It is calling sin what it is, to own up to it, not making any excuse for it.  When a Christian who recognizes that he has sinned against God takes responsibility for it before God, then God immediately forgives it.  And regarding the sin, the believer should make every effort to never return to it.


Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking,

as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby,

if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. (1 Peter 2:1-3)


Concluding Remarks and Relative Passages of Scripture


For those Christians reading this who have been led to believe that true Christian devotion and experience is reflected in smooth-sailing, mega-churches, emotionally charged, demonstrable religious services, and constant spontaneous religious victories, this writer encourages the reading and serious consideration of the following relative passages of Scripture: Matthew 10:34-39; Mark 8:32-38; Luke 9:22-26; 14:26-33; Acts 14:22; and 2 Timothy 3:12.