Local Church Parameters
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
But exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13)
Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. (Acts 20:7)
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. . . . and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart. (Acts 2:42, 47b)
Greet Priscilla and Aquila; my fellow workers in Christ Jesus . . . Likewise greet the church that is in their house. (Romans 16:3, 5a)
The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. (1 Corinthians 16:19)
Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house. (Colossians 4:15)
To the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house. (Philemon 1:2)
The Greek word translated “church” is ekklesia, a compound feminine noun composed of the Greek preposition ek (out of, from, of) and a derivative of the Greek word kaleo (to call), essentially conveyed the meaning of a “popular meeting” or “assembly.” In the New Testament it never referred to a physical place (e.g., a place of worship), as is often its use today; rather, it always referred to an assembly (congregation) of persons.
The term in the New Testament is used 115 times in 112 verses and overwhelmingly refers to a local group (Gk. “assembly”) of believers; although, it is also used occasionally to refer to the universal Church, all believers in Jesus Christ (e.g., Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 10:32; 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Ephesians 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23-25, 27, 29, 32, Philippians 3:6; Colossians 1:18, 24; 1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 12:23), which is the “Body of Christ” (Colossians 1:24; Ephesians 5:29, 30, 32) into which all believers upon their decision of faith in Christ are instantly baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12, 13; Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27). It is used even more rarely as an assembly of other than strictly believers (e.g., Acts 19:32, 39, and 41).
In addition to a local congregation of believers being designated by the word “church,” a variety of other designations referring to them are used in the book of Acts (e.g. “the brethren” [Acts 11:29; 15:3ff], “the disciples” [Acts 6:1, 7; 11:26], “followers of the Way” [Acts 24:14], “saints” [Acts 9:32] and “Christians” [Acts 11:26]) as well as in other books of the New Testament.
Yet today, when one speaks of a local church, the reference is normally to a building or buildings where people gather to follow religious practices. The central place of worship is often called a temple, tabernacle, or sanctuary. Where this practice started is unknown. It certainly doesn’t appear that this was part of the vernacular of the first local churches during the early years of Christianity, as is evidenced in the New Testament historical recordings and its theology. There is some basis for calling the church (an assembly of believers) the “House of God,” depending upon one’s interpretation of 1 Timothy 3:15.
The apostle Paul was quite specific in designating each believer as the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21, 22). And the writer of the book of Hebrews, along with Peter, speaks of believers becoming a “spiritual house” of God if they “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:6; 1 Peter 2:5). Therefore, should a Christian be asked directions to the “sanctuary,” he would be doctrinally sound in pointing to himself.
Although this study may not be all-inclusive regarding the subject, it will cover the composition of the leadership and the responsibilities of those leaders as depicted in the New Testament. And although the author wishes to be positive, it is his conviction that the high majority of today’s local churches do not reflect the composition and purpose of the early churches as seen in the New Testament.
To a very large extent the local church as is reflected in the New Testament has disappeared. They have been replaced by congregations of varying size (small to mega), which emphasize traditions, personal experiences, and emotional gratification; rather than the truth revealed in God’s Word. Their focus is on form and façade, not substance and depth. Within them much is given to platitudes of banality and social sermons designed to make attendees “feel good.”
Although the “milk” of God’s Word is often repeated in hopes of reaching the lost and adding to their roles, little to no “meat” of God’s Word is covered, which alone can bring the immature in Christ to spiritual maturity. And only truly mature believers, whose Spirit-filled lives attract the lost, are capable of going beyond the local church’s doors to witness for their Lord and bring lost souls to Christ, which is the only way “soul-winning” (to use a common evangelical term) can be effective.
In short, it is not the responsibility of the local church to bring the lost to Christ through its formalized “worship service” (although this is good); rather, it is the responsibility of individuals that compose the church to perform this activity outside the church’s local assembly area (building) and in the secular world. The commission to evangelize the world is personal, not corporate; furthermore, it specifically includes the requirement to disciple, which is a term meaning to bring to spiritual maturity through doctrinal instruction.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19, 20)
Today’s local church is a place where one may hear a sermon, but with little hope of receiving serious instruction in Bible doctrine. Sunday schools, where doctrine theoretically is addressed, are often brief periods dedicated to the regurgitation of “quarterly” denominational lessons. And “worship services” are given over to agendas other than doctrinal instruction. There is more thought toward elaborate building complexes than scheduling time for serious doctrinal instruction.
From an eschatological viewpoint this condition cannot be expected to get better. But this should be of no surprise to the serious Bible student. Scripture foretells that as the end of this dispensation draws near, the conditions within the Church will only become worse. Addressing this deteriorating condition Arlen L. Chitwood made the following comments:
Are conditions going to improve? Are Christians going to one day wake up? Not during the present dispensation! The dispensation will, according to Scripture, end in total apostasy; and that's exactly the direction in which the Church continues, after a rapid fashion, to move today. The Church continues to move in a direction that is carrying it completely away from "the faith" which it held universally during the first century.
Christ's statement, "till the whole was leavened" (Matthew 13:33), and His companion statement that at the time of His return He would not find "the faith on the earth" (Luke 18:8), must be taken at face value. Christ, in His omniscience, knowing the future as well as the past and present, stated exactly what would occur within the Church during the dispensation.
After two millenniums, at the end of the dispensation, the leavening process would be so complete that, correspondingly, the message surrounding "the faith" would no longer be heard in the churches. And the Church as a whole would be, as the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:14-21, "...wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."
(From Egypt to Canaan, Chapter 4, The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 1992)
Yet, it is the hope of this writer that this study will assist all those who genuinely desire to follow Bible doctrine in establishing local churches that truly mirror the New Testament. It is also hoped that any minister who takes the time to review this study will also seriously consider the scriptural passages and arguments herein.
This study will address three aspects of the New Testament local church: (1) The Character of the First Local Churches, (2) The Composition of the Local Church, and (3) The Purpose of the Local Church. And as an adjunct to the last point, this study will present a discussion on the difference between the “milk” and the “meat” of God’s Word as they pertain to spiritual growth.
The Character of the First Local Churches
The first local churches were actually only small enclaves of believers who met, often secretly (due to the extreme persecutions), in homes or in areas where they would have some privacy. There were no fancy buildings or elaborate structures designated as “church.” It was only after some time, most likely after Constantine I (Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus “the Great”) who, as the Roman Emperor from 324 to 337 A.D. and who legally sanctioned Christianity within the empire, that buildings were established and dedicated for the gathering of believers in Christ.
“To this simple conception of the church men have added their traditions — not unlike those imposed by Israel’s rulers upon the Mosaic system (cf. Matthew 15:2-3, 6; Mark 7:3, 5, 8-9, 13). However simple the church idea may have been at the first, it has now been expanded to include vast super-organizations and, as in the case of Rome and the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, there is an avowed intention to mold civil government.” (Systematic Theology, Volume 4, Lewis Sperry Chafer, D.D., Litt.D., Th.D., late President and Professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary)
The Bible basically does not speak of “church buildings” or formalized organizations. All references are to groups of believers. And each group was designated as a “church” (Lit. “assembly”). Such local churches provided what many “churches” of today do not provide for believers, both immature and mature. There was no elaborate ceremony to follow that was closely timed, which ended on a set schedule, or which included an additional “social” or “political” agenda.
Rather, their gatherings were informal, and the emphasis was on personal sharing of testimonies and in-depth instruction of Bible doctrine. Such an environment was conducive to inquiry and mutual research in the Scriptures. They functioned more like small local Bible study groups of today. It is in this type of setting that believers can effectively experience learning and spiritual growth. In fact it is within small home-based Bible classes that Chuck Missler, a profound international Bible scholar and author, lays claim to much of his acquisition of Bible doctrine during his years as a Christian.
And once such small, informal, and highly-personal assemblies are exchanged for the formalized congregations that dominate today’s Christendom landscape, the effective teaching and learning of Bible doctrine drastically suffers. Within such environs believers are quickly categorized as “members” or “non-members,” and they become more “faces” and “numbers” rather than “persons” and “friends.”
Additionally, in far too many churches of today the climate is ripe for the introduction and promulgation of “legalism,” a condition that plagued Christians even in the apostolic era, which fosters the destructive distinction of pride and the penchant to judge others.
It really doesn’t have to be this way. But to reintroduce “personal attention” and “concentrated doctrinal instruction” back into today’s local church, several “orthodox” procedures need to be abandoned. To do so may invite criticism from certain sectors, and for sure it involves great effort; but the end result can be a spiritual vitality rarely known or understood in today’s “popular” churches.
The Composition of the Local Church
The New Testament establishes the following composition:
The verb form of the Greek word (diakoneo) for “deacon,” which is diakonein means “to serve.” It connotes a very personal service closely related to a service of love, exemplified in Christ’s second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
In Acts 6:1-6, which most scholars agree is the first recorded appearance of the diaconate in the early Church, and where the Greek terms diakonia (“ministry” or “service”) and diakonein (“to wait on or serve tables”) are used, they are used in a non-technical sense, i.e., they refer to workers and not to office bearers. And as to gender, this rests upon ones interpretation of the use of the Greek word diaknos (which may be either masculine or feminine; in this case “deaconess”) as it refers to Phebe in Romans 16:1.
With reference to one who holds a specific office in the local church, the word diakonos (“deacon”) occurs in only two passages in the New Testament (Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8, 12). In the first reference is simply a greeting to them, where their qualifications are given in the second.
Nowhere in the New Testament are deacons seen as persons of authority in the conduct of church affairs, as is the case in so many local churches today. Rather, they were individuals who served the needs of others in order that the bishop/elders could devote themselves strictly to prayer and the teaching of the Word (Acts 6:2, 4; 1 Timothy 3:2; 7:17).
Sadly, deacons do little true service (“to wait on or serve tables”) in today’s churches but are usually now considered part of the “church’s hierarchy” and are given priority in the making of decisions regarding most if not all matters concerning it. Such participation in church-related decision is a right that this author believes should be provided equally to all members of the congregation and not just to a “few.” The only priority that is allotted to a deacon is the “right to serve others,” a most notable activity if properly and faithfully performed that will be accorded great honor at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The Greek word for “bishop/overseer” (episkopos) in the New Testament occurs five times: once of Christ (1 Peter 2:25) and in four other places, indicating a “superintendent” of a local church (Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7). The secular meaning for the Greek term episkopos indicated an “office,” and when used of a person indicated “protective care” as a function of the one so classified.
It is clear that a “bishop” and an “elder” (Gk: presbuteros) were terms representing the same office/person in the local church. The apostle Paul summoned the “elders (presuteros) of Ephesus to Miletus in Acts 20:17 and then addressed them as “bishops/overseers” (episkopos) in Acts 20:28. He also used both terms (presbuteros and episkopos) to refer to the same office in Titus 1:5, 7. And the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 5:1, 2 appealed to the “elders” (presbuteros) to fulfill the office of “bishops/overseers” (episkopos).
The qualifications of the bishop/elder are found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. In addition to the personal moral and social qualifications requisite to the person appointed/ordained to fill this office, the one primary ministry qualification deemed absolutely indispensable in regards to his relationship to those he would oversee was the ability to labor in, understand, and teach sound Bible doctrine.
The Purpose of the Local Church
There is only one purpose unique to the position of bishop/elder relevant to the local church that is prominent in the Word of God. And it is the contention of this author that this is the primary purpose for saints to assemble together, i.e., the establishment or existence of a “local church.” As previously stated, this one primary ministry qualification deemed absolutely indispensable in regards to the relationship of the bishop/elder (pastor) to those he would oversee was his ability to labor in, understand, and teach sound Bible doctrine.
“. . . we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. . . .then the Word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly . . . .” (Acts 6:4, 7a)
“For I have not shunned to declare to you the Whole Counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd [“feed” KJV] the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. . . . So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:27,28,32)
“A bishop then must be . . . able to teach.” (1 Timothy 3:2)
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the Word and doctrine.” (1 Timothy 5:17)
“Holding fast the faithful Word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. . . . whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.” (Titus 1:9, 11)
“Shepherd [“feed” KJV] the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly.” (1 Peter 5:2)
In this sense, the elder or bishop served as one of “Christ’s gifts,” specifically “pastor-teachers” (not “pastors and teachers”— the copulative “and” unites the two into one meaning), to the local church in order “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine . . . .”(Ephesians 4:11-14).
Yet in Christendom today one must search long and far to find a pastor of a local church who fulfills the biblical role (the only primary role God would have him fill) of pastor-teacher. Instead one finds multitudes of pastors who believe their role is to deliver “sermons” that are designed to encourage and hearten Christian community. Their multi-point messages are designed to promote a “feel-good” (emotional) response and to influence attendees to join their multi-activity assembly, often for the underlying purpose of self-aggrandizement.
The “milk” of God’s Word is standard fair in such churches; “meat” (and “strong meat”) is never served. Instead of encouraging the biblical formula for witnessing to the lost, such pastors take on this responsibility within the confines of the church by devoting much of the time to evangelical efforts from the pulpit and thereby essentially relieving their flock from conducting soul-winning efforts outside the church. Doctrinal instruction is relegated to “Sunday School” classes, which normally amounts to 30 to 40 minutes a week, and is generally structured around a denominational issuance of more “milk.” And then there are the sundry social activities that are legion in today’s local churches and which never end. All this has the net result of avoiding the in-depth teaching of Bible doctrine, which should profusely flow from both the pulpit and most other church-sponsored activities.
Due to this dearth in teaching Bible doctrine in most churches within Christendom today, most Christians never leave the “baby, mild-fed” state of spirituality and therefore they lead carnal lives, i.e., they walk according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit, which does not please God.
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food [‘meat’]; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food [‘meat’]. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the Word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food [‘meat’] belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. . . . that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:1, 4-8)
It is unfortunate that to fill the spiritual-growth void that many sincere Christians experience as a result of their milk-diet since their spiritual birth, they resort to highly emotionally charged, supposedly “evangelical,” activities within and without local churches, which play on “experience,” “feelings,” and “miraculous signs” rather than the sound doctrine of God’s Word. Even though emotionalism and feelings may be experienced in such environs, they have no relation to spirituality. Spiritual growth is linked solely to faith in God’s Word as the newborn Christian goes beyond the milk to the meat of doctrine.
In short, local churches and pastors that lead them do believers a grave injustice by not adhering to their primary responsibility of fully teaching God’s Word (Bible doctrine). Spiritual maturity can only be achieved through continuous consumption of the meat of the Word. And although a truly biblical doctrine-based local church may not be as popular as the “emotion-fed” activities and “social-based” mega-churches of today, one may be assured that this is completely in-line with the Savior’s revelation regarding the Church during the “last days” of this dispensation.
If spiritual worth is based on size and numbers, then much of what Christ taught as to the acceptance of His followers would appear to be false and the religions of the world (Christianity is not a religion; it is a union or relationship with a Person) must then be correct.
Adjunct — Milk vs. Meat
Much has been said in this study about the “milk” and the “meat” of God’s Word in relation to spiritual growth (“soul salvation”), and the role of the teaching of the “meat” as the primary responsibility or primary purpose of the local church and its pastor.
Although there are several astute authors who cover these topics, this writer has experienced no one with a better command of Scripture in terms of the unity of Scripture (Old and New Testaments) and with a better understanding of the relationship of “types” of the Old Testament with “antitypes” of the New Testament in presenting these topics as Arlen L. Chitwood, whose website is www.lampbroadcast.org.
Because this author believes no one can present it better, the remainder of this study will be composed of portions of Mr. Chitwood’s book, Salvation of the Soul, The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 2003.
The Implanted Word (Chapter Three)
Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:18, 21)
“Redemption” is the central issue throughout all Scripture, but redemption includes far more than the salvation that we presently possess. Redemption begins with unredeemed man who, because of sin, is both alienated from God and dwelling on an earth that is under a curse; and redemption terminates with redeemed man dwelling as a joint-heir with his Messiah, ruling over an earth removed from the curse.
In this respect, God’s revealed purpose for man’s redemption is to ultimately place him in the position for which he was originally created: “Let them have dominion…” And when this has been accomplished, restored man will occupy a regal position over a restored earth, removed from the curse (cf. Genesis 1:26, 28; Acts 3:21; Colossians 1:20).
Anything short of this revealed goal is short of God’s purpose for His redemptive work surrounding man.
The Hebrew word translated “dominion” in Genesis 1:26, 28 is radhah, which means “to rule.” This is the same word translated “rule” in Psalm 110:2, referring to Christ ruling the earth in the coming age as the great King-Priest “after the order of Melchizedek.” Christ, however, is not to rule alone. He will have many “companions” (Hebrews 1:9; 3:14) ruling as joint-heirs with Him, and God’s purpose for His past and present redemptive work surrounding man is to ultimately bring him into this regal position — a culmination of God’s redemptive work, to be realized at a future date.
The text in James 1:18, 21 encompasses the complete scope of redemption — past, present, and future. The word translated “brought us forth” [“begat us” in other translations] in verse eighteen is a medical term in the Greek text that refers to the actual birth itself. The individuals in this passage (the writer included himself) had been begotten from above, realizing the salvation of their spirits. And through the birth from above, these individuals had been placed in a position (possessing spiritual life) where they could ultimately be brought into a realization of the salvation of their souls through following that which is outlined in verse twenty-one.
In the preceding respect, the issue surrounding redemption in relation to alienated, unredeemed man has to do with the salvation of his spirit; and the issue surrounding redemption in relation to redeemed man, who possesses a right relationship with God, has to do with the salvation of his soul.
Thus, relative to the salvation of both the spirit and the soul, man has been saved (salvation of the spirit) in order to bring him into a position where he can be saved (salvation of the soul). The former has to do with eternal verities and the latter with millennial verities. Through the salvation of man’s spirit, he comes into possession of eternal life; but only through the salvation of his soul does he come into possession of the inheritance awaiting the faithful, to be realized during the Messianic Era.
Therefore, Putting Away … Receive …
In James 1:21, there is really only one command in the wording of the Greek text. The verse should literally read,
“Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.”
Following the salvation of one’s spirit, an individual (Christian) is commanded to “receive the implanted Word,” for this Word alone is able to effect the salvation of his soul.
However, a Christian is to receive this Word only after he has set aside the things which would hinder the reception of this Word. The words “filthiness” and “wickedness,” though appearing to refer basically to the same thing in the English text, set forth two entirely different thoughts in the Greek text.
The word translated “filthiness” comes from a root word that, relative to the human ear — the channel through which “the implanted Word” is received — could have to do with earwax. In a metaphorical manner of viewing the matter, the thought set forth through the use of this word has to do with the possibility that these Christians’ ears, so to speak, were filthy. There were possibly obstructions — having to do with a dulled spiritual perception — that prevented the Word of God from flowing through the auditory canals in a proper manner; and, if so, they were to remove these obstructions.
Then, after these Christians had removed any obstructions that could prevent them from hearing the Word of God properly, they were to put away all “wickedness” in their lives. This is simply a general term that carries the thought of “anything opposed to purity.” These Christians were to put away any impurity in their lives that could hinder the reception of the Word of God. And receiving the implanted Word in this fashion would then allow them to “grow thereby unto salvation” (1 Peter 2:2, ASV), i.e., through spiritual growth they would ultimately realize the salvation of their souls.
The word “implanted” has to do simply with that which is placed on the inside. This Word is to be firmly fixed within a person’s mind, within his thinking process. The channel, as we have seen, is the ear. According to Romans 10:17, “…faith comes by [‘out of’] hearing, and hearing by [‘through’] the Word of God.” The Word is to flow through unobstructed auditory canals into a saved human spirit, for a revealed purpose.
Once the Word has been received in this manner, the indwelling Holy Spirit can then perform a work in the individual. As all hindrances (all impurities) are set aside and the spiritual man is allowed to exert full control, the Holy Spirit, using “the implanted Word,” can then effect spiritual growth. And, as this process continues over time, spiritual growth of this nature will lead from immaturity to maturity.
The teaching in James 1:21, or for that matter the book of James as a whole, must be understood in the light of the subject matter at hand — the salvation of the soul. In order to properly understand the Word of God at this point, one must not only have an understanding of the salvation that he presently possesses, but he must also have an equally good understanding and comprehension of the salvation that he is about to possess.
Teachings surrounding the salvation of the soul are, in reality, the central subject matter in all of the epistles — both the Pauline and general epistles, from Romans through Jude. Each epistle is different, containing its own peculiarities; and each has been written to provide a different facet of revealed truth, with all of the epistles together forming a complete body of revealed information and instructions for Christians relative to present and future aspects of salvation.
In this respect, apart from an understanding of the salvation of the soul, it is not possible to properly understand the central message of the epistles. An understanding of the salvation of the soul, which is introduced in the Old Testament and continued in the gospels and the book of Acts, is the key that will open the epistles to one’s understanding.
Thus, the importance of understanding that which Scripture reveals about the salvation of the soul cannot be overemphasized. And this importance can be shown by the goal, which the writer of Hebrews dealt with near the beginning of his epistle, referring to this salvation as “so great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3; cf. Hebrews 1:14; 2:5; 6:13-19; 10:35-39; 1 Peter 1:9). It is the greatest thing God could ever design for redeemed man, for it includes joint-heirship with His Son over all things during the coming age.
Growing unto Salvation
“Putting away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, and hypocrisy, and envies, and all evil speaking,
As newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk that is without guile, that you may grow thereby unto salvation” (1 Peter 2:1, 2, ASV).
The ASV has been quoted rather than the KJV because it includes the translation of two important and explanatory Greek words in verse two (ref. also NASB, NIV, Weymouth). These two words, eis soterian, appear at the end of the verse and actually sum up and conclude the thought of the entire verse, for within these two words lie the revealed reason for growth unto maturity.
Eis soterian should be properly translated either “unto salvation” or “with respect to salvation” (ref. NASB). Then the question naturally arises, “What aspect of salvation is in view?” It can only be the salvation of the soul, for not only is this the subject matter dealt with in 1 Peter (cf. 1:9, 10) but Christians do not grow “unto” or “with respect to” the salvation that they presently possess.
The salvation of the spirit was effected in past time completely apart from any accomplishment, effort, etc., of man. Nothing can ever be added to or taken from this salvation, for it is based entirely on the finished work of Christ at Calvary. And this finished work can never be changed or altered in any fashion.
All Christians remain on an equal plain within the scope of this salvation. A newborn babe in Christ, a carnally immature Christian, and a spiritually mature Christian all occupy identical positions insofar as the salvation of the spirit is concerned. Christian growth is brought to pass on the basis of the salvation of the spirit, but there is no such thing as growing “unto” or “with respect to” this salvation.
The command in 1 Peter 2:2, although applicable only to newborn babes, parallels and has to do with the same central thought as the command in James 1:21: “…long for the spiritual milk that is without guile, that you may grow thereby unto salvation,” and “…receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.” Both begin at the same point (a reception of the Word of God into man’s saved human spirit), progress in the same manner (spiritual growth), and end at the same point (salvation).
The commands to receive the Word of God in both James 1:21 and 1 Peter 2:2 are preceded by parallel statements:
“Wherefore lay apart [lit. ‘Wherefore laying aside’] all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness…” (James 1:21a).
“Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speaking…” (1 Peter 2:1).
Nothing must be allowed to interfere with the reception of the Word of God as Christians mature day by day. This is the reason Christians are exhorted over and over in the New Testament to separate themselves from the things of the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Sin in one’s life will impede the reception of the Word of God; and sin harbored in one’s life will impede the reception of this Word to the extent that the individual may fail to grow “unto salvation.”
The problem of sin in the Christian’s life today, in view of the coming salvation of the soul, is the reason Christ is presently exercising a high priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.
Christians reside in a body of death with the ever-present sin nature; and, in this condition, they reside in a world under the control and dominion of Satan and his angels. Residing in the present world system after this fashion, Christians come under constant attack from the archenemy of their souls; and failure in the pilgrim walk, producing defilement in their lives, can and does occur.
Because of present conditions and circumstances, Christ, as High Priest, is performing a work in the heavenly sanctuary. He is performing a present, continuous cleansing for Christians, accomplished solely on the basis of His shed blood on the mercy seat (Hebrews 9:11, 12). And forgiveness and cleansing from “all unrighteousness” occur as Christians “confess” their sins (1 John 1:5, 6, 9; 2:1, 2).
The reason for Christ’s present ministry has to do with the salvation of the soul, as the reason for His past ministry had to do with the salvation of the spirit. God’s complete purpose for man cannot be realized apart from the salvation of both, i.e., the salvation of man as a complete being (which, in that coming day, will include his body as well).
Milk … Meat … Strong Meat
In the terminology of Scripture itself, milk is for babies, and meat is for those who have experienced sufficient growth to leave the milk and partake of solid food. Both milk and meat (solid food) are indispensable elements as one progressively grows from an immature infant into a mature adult, and nourishment to produce proper growth in both the physical and spiritual realms must come from the correct source.
1. In the Physical Realm
The analogy concerning a newborn Christian’s spiritual needs for the “milk which is without guile” is drawn from the physical needs and desires of a newborn baby. Almost immediately following birth the baby instinctively begins seeking nourishment from his mother. His needs are very basic: food, warmth, and security.
These are all satisfied at his mother’s breasts, as he longs for his mother’s milk. This milk is pure, easily digested, and contains all the necessary components for the early growth of the entire body, especially the brain and nervous system. The mother’s milk is a living organism that cannot be duplicated. Man’s best efforts to reproduce this milk are described by the terms “most like,” or “near to.”
A child in his early physical growth does not continue on milk indefinitely. The child’s growth always moves toward a day when he is able to leave the milk and continue on solid food. The solid food that the child first begins taking is a type that is more easily masticated and digested. But as the child grows, the teeth become more firmly entrenched, the digestive system matures, and the day arrives when the child becomes physically mature enough to handle any type of solid food.
2. In the Spiritual Realm
God revealed Himself to Abraham as “El Shaddai [‘Almighty God’]” (Genesis 17:1). El is the singular form of the plural Hebrew word for “God” (Elohim), and Shaddai is a derivative of the word shad, which means “breast.” In this respect, God literally revealed Himself to Abraham as the “All-Powerful, Breasted God,” i.e., the All-Powerful God Who nourishes, gives strength, and satisfies. This appears to be the primary thought behind the words El Shaddai when used with God’s Own people in view.
God’s revealed Word to man, derived from the “All-Powerful, Breasted One,” is the means through which God nourishes, strengthens, and satisfies His people throughout their pilgrim walk. The newborn Christian, because of his new nature, is to instinctively long for the “spiritual milk which is without guile”; and the more mature a Christian becomes, the more he, in like manner, is to instinctively move on into the “meat” and “strong meat” of the Word.
This Word is “quick [‘alive’], and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12) and contains everything necessary for Christian growth unto maturity. The weaning process in Christian growth pertains only to the “milk,” not the source. It is not possible for any Christian to receive nourishment apart from the “All-Powerful, Breasted God.”
Proper Christian growth begins with “milk,” progresses to “meat,” and then moves on to “strong meat.” In Hebrews chapter five, the writer of this book severely rebuked certain Christians for their inability to handle anything but “milk.” They had been saved for a sufficient length of time that they should not only have progressed from milk to meat, and then to strong meat, but they should also have progressed to the point where they could teach the Word to other Christians.
However, because of a lazy, careless manner of conducting their spiritual lives over time, these Christians had not experienced proper growth in their understanding of the Word. They were still on the milk of the Word and had not progressed in their Christian growth beyond the point of themselves needing to be taught.
The subject matter at hand in relation to “strong meat” in Hebrews chapter five is the Melchizedek priesthood. The writer of this book had “many things” he would like to have said concerning this priesthood; but these things had to do with a realm of biblical doctrine beyond that which these Christians, because of their immaturity, were able to comprehend.
The things associated with the Melchizedek priesthood had to do with strong meat, and these Christians were still on milk. They were unable to partake of meat, much less strong meat drawn from teachings surrounding the Melchizedek priesthood.
(Note that both “milk” and “meat” have an association with that which is living in both the physical and spiritual realms. Man may attempt to duplicate both; but, in reality, he can duplicate neither. Life of this nature — physical or spiritual — comes only through breath, which comes from God.
This whole overall thought will explain what is meant in John chapter six by partaking of Christ as the Bread of life, or eating His flesh and drinking His blood [vv. 33-35, 48-58]. There is the living Word, and there is the written Word [which is living as well]. The two are inseparably related; and an individual partakes of the former through an intake, assimilation, and digestion of the latter.
Everything is alive. It is a partaking of the living Word through a partaking of the written Word [which, again, is living as well]. It is a progression from living milk, to living meat, to living strong meat. Only through this means can spiritual growth for the man now possessing spiritual life occur.)
The Christians in Hebrews chapter five were said to be “dull of hearing” (v. 11). The thought from the wording of the text is that they didn’t necessarily begin this way as newborn babes. This is something that had resulted from the careless manner in which they had governed their spiritual lives.
Before they had grown to the point where they could leave the milk of the Word, they had become sluggish in hearing the Word of God. They, as brought out in James 1:21, had possibly allowed wax to build up in their ears. Their spiritual perception had been dulled, preventing them from hearing properly.
The Word of God was not being allowed to travel in a proper and natural manner through the auditory canal into their saved human spirits. There was no proper exercise of faith because there was no proper exercise of hearing the Word of God (cf. Romans 10:17; Hebrews 11:6). And, apart from the reception of this Word, there could, consequently, be no growth toward maturity.
The only way to rectify an existing situation of this nature is clearly outlined in James 1:21 and 1 Peter 2:1, 2. It requires removing any obstructions from the auditory canals, laying aside everything opposed to purity, and receiving “with meekness [in a favorable manner] the implanted Word…”
The word translated “dull” in Hebrews 5:11 is from the same word in the Greek text translated “become sluggish” in Hebrews 6:12:
“That you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
The Christians referred to in chapter six where exhorted to not be like the ones previously referred to in chapter five; and the given purpose had to do with faith, patient endurance, and a future inheritance (vv. 13ff).
The word “patience” is the translation of a Greek word that has to do with patiently enduring over a long period of time. In this case, the entire Christian life is in view. These Christians were to receive the Word of God in a continuing manner throughout their entire pilgrim walk.
The reception of this Word would, in turn, produce a walk by faith and progressively result in Christian maturity. And, while patiently enduring trials and tests during the pilgrim walk after this fashion, they were to look ahead to the inheritance that would be realized at the end of their faith, in connection with and at the time of the salvation of their souls (cf. Hebrews 6:14-19; 1 Peter 1:4-9).
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [the Neshamah] of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7).
The roots of all biblical doctrine have been established in the book of Genesis. This is the book of beginnings; and all Scripture beyond this point must, after some fashion, reach back and draw from this book.
In the account of the creation of man, insight is given into certain truths concerning “life” derived from God. These truths will, in turn, provide light on the subject matter at hand — the reception of the Word of God (which is alive, and powerful [Hebrews 4:12]) in relation to the salvation of the soul/life.
The creation of Adam from the dust of the ground, and the removal of a rib from Adam’s side, occurred on the sixth day of the restoration account in Genesis chapter one. But the methods that God used to bring about both Adam’s creation and the formation of Eve from a portion of Adam’s body were not revealed in the recorded account until following the seventh day in chapter two.
Most of the second chapter is taken up with certain specifics concerning that which had previously occurred on the sixth day in the preceding chapter, and this account is rich beyond degree in biblical study. The second chapter of Genesis (just as in the first chapter) is the point where the origin of numerous biblical doctrines can be traced, and these doctrines cannot be properly understood apart from this chapter.
The means that God used in both man’s creation and the subsequent impartation of life into His new creation are given in Genesis 2:7. There first existed a lifeless form that had previously been fashioned from the dust of the ground. Creation itself did not produce life in this form. Rather, God imparted life to man following his creation. This life was produced by means of the breath of God, and it is here that “life” in relation to man is first mentioned in Scripture.
The Hebrew word translated “breath” in Genesis 2:7 is Neshamah. The Neshamah of God produced “life.” The word “God” in this verse is a translation of the plural noun, Elohim, indicating that not only the Father, but also the Son and the Holy Spirit were instrumental in producing this life.
Thus, man’s life in the beginning was derived from the triune God through what is called the Neshamah. And Genesis 2:7 provides insights into things far beyond the simple fact that God created man and then imparted life into man. This verse provides insights into things surrounding man’s salvation today — both the salvation of the spirit and the salvation of the soul.
First, the impartation of life to unredeemed man, who is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, 5), must follow the pattern (type) established in Genesis. He, as Adam prior to the Neshamah of God, is lifeless; and his life must be derived through the same means as Adam’s life.
Second, once this life has been imparted, it must be continued and sustained; and, as will become evident, Scripture teaches that life is not only imparted through the Neshamah of God, but life is also continued and sustained through the Neshamah of God as well.
A first-mention principle has been established in Genesis 2:7, and life that man derives from God must always be in complete keeping with that set forth in this verse. God alone initially “imparts” and subsequently “continues” and “sustains” life; and this entire sequence, having to do with God’s revealed work as it pertains to life, is always accomplished, in its entirety, through the Neshamah of God.
1. Impartation of Life to the Unsaved (Salvation of the Spirit)
Unregenerate man today comes into a right relationship with God solely through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit on the basis of Christ’s finished work at Calvary. The Spirit breathes life into the one having no life, and through this work of the Spirit man passes “from death unto life” (John 5:24).
(The word “Spirit” in the Greek text is Pneuma, a word that also means “breath.” It is used in the latter sense in the N.T. to show life being produced through a “breathing in,” or death being wrought through a “breathing out.” In Luke 8:55, life was restored to a young girl by her “spirit [breath]” returning; and in Luke 23:46, Christ terminated His life on the Cross by giving “up the spirit [lit. from the wording of the Greek text, He ‘breathed out’].”)
Thus, the Holy Spirit is the One Who generates life in lifeless man (on the basis of Christ’s finished work at Calvary), and the expression used in both the Hebrew and Greek texts relative to the Spirit generating life in this manner is a “breathing in.” God, through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, “breathes life into” unregenerate man, which results in man passing “from death unto life.”
Or, in James 2:26, the same principle is seen relative to the physical body, as previously seen in Genesis 2:7: “…the body without the spirit [‘breath’] is dead.”
Since type and antitype must agree in exact detail, the impartation of life to Adam in Genesis chapter two must, of necessity, have occurred in the same fashion that the impartation of life to unredeemed man occurs today. Lifeless man during the present time derives life from God through the work of the Holy Spirit, and lifeless Adam in the Genesis account could only have derived life from God in this same manner.
Teachings drawn from the original type in relation to man’s redemption necessitate this same conclusion. The original type is found in the first chapter of Genesis (vv. 2b-5), with Genesis 2:7 being a subsequent type, providing additional details. And the latter verse, providing the first mention of “life” in relation to man, must be in complete agreement with and understood in the light of revelation in the former verses, in the original type.
The portion of the original type under consideration at this point is Genesis 1:2b, 3:
“…darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”
These verses outline the beginning of the restoration of a creation that was brought into a ruined state through an act of Satan (the earth, the province over which Satan ruled [and still rules today], becoming a chaos because of his aspirations to be “like the most High” [Isaiah 14:12-14]).
Then these verses, in turn, set forth in type the beginning of the restoration of a creation that was brought into a subsequent state of ruin through another act of Satan (causing man to fall [becoming a ruin, a chaos] through deceiving the woman into believing that she could be “as God” [Genesis 3:5, 22]).
The established pattern (type) relative to the restoration of a ruined creation is set in the first chapter of Genesis. Once God establishes a pattern of this nature, no change can ever occur. The restoration of any subsequent ruined creation must occur in exact accord with the established pattern. Thus, God’s work in the restoration of fallen man today — a subsequent ruined creation — must follow the established pattern, in exact detail.
The Spirit of God moved in the first chapter of Genesis, effecting a beginning of the earth’s restoration. And the first thing recorded immediately following the Spirit’s movement was the placement of light alongside the previously existing darkness, with a division established between the light and the darkness.
The Spirit of God, in like manner, moves today, effecting a beginning of man’s restoration (the salvation of his spirit). And the first thing that God does for man is to place light alongside the previously existing darkness — place a new nature alongside the old nature, a new man alongside the old man — with a division established between the two (cf. Hebrews 4:12).
But in the Genesis account, complete restoration was not accomplished through God’s work on the first day. Rather, the earth, through this divine work accomplished on the first day, was brought into a state where a continued work could be accomplished. And, over time, this continued work would complete the earth’s restoration.
And restoration for ruined man occurs exactly the same way. Complete restoration is not accomplished through the birth from above. Rather, the person, through the birth from above, is brought into a state where a continued work can be accomplished. And, over time, this continued work will complete man’s restoration.
Note the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6; 5:17 in this respect:
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ…
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature [‘new creation’]…”
These verses in 2 Corinthians chapters four and five can only be a direct allusion to the account of the restoration of the ruined creation in Genesis chapter one — light shining out of darkness, associated with a new creation being brought into existence in both instances, with the former foreshadowing the latter. And Genesis 2:7, a subsequent type concerning unregenerate man (life produced in that which is lifeless), is an account portraying exactly the same truth from a different perspective, providing additional details.
The Spirit of God wrought order out of chaos in Genesis chapter one; the Spirit of God — the Neshamah — produced life in Genesis chapter two; and the Spirit of God brings order out of chaos, produces life in unregenerate man today, exactly the same way.
The Spirit of God today moves upon the ruined creation, upon ruined man (chap. 1). That is, He breathes life into the one having no life (chap. 2). Only then does “light” shine out of what was only darkness before that time (allowing for a continued divine work), with everything being done in complete accordance with the revealed Word of God — “And God said…” (cf. Genesis 1:2b ff; 2 Corinthians 4:6).
Then, to complete the type, note the septenary structure of this opening section of Genesis, establishing, at the very beginning, a septenary structure upon which the whole of subsequent Scripture rests. The six days of work used to restore the earth in Genesis point to the six days (6,000 years [cf. 2 Peter 1:15-18; 3:1-8]) of work that God is presently using to restore man; and the Sabbath rest following the six days in the Genesis account points to the Sabbath rest, the 1,000-year Messianic Era, which will follow the present six days, the present 6,000 years of work (cf. Exodus 31:12-17; Hebrews 4:1-9).
2. Impartation of Life to the Saved (Salvation of the Soul)
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
So that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, NIV).
Once life has been generated, life must then be continued and sustained. Life is generated through “breathing in” (initial work of the Spirit), retained through “the breath remaining” (a subsequent work of the Spirit), and sustained through a “continued breathing in.” Sustenance for life, “a continued breathing in,” is what is involved in 2 Timothy 3:16. This verse, studied in the light of Genesis 2:7, is the key that will 1) unlock the door concerning the Neshamah of God in relation to saved man (past or present), 2) demonstrate the power of the Word of God, and 3) reveal the reason Christians are commanded to “receive the implanted Word.”
The word “God-breathed” in 2 Timothy 3:16 is a translation of the compound Greek word Theopneustos, which is simply the word for “God” (Theos) and the word for “breath,” or “Spirit” (Pneuma) added. Thus, the translation “God-breathed” is not only a very literal translation, but, in the light of Genesis 2:7, it can only be the best of all possible translations.
The “Word of God,” through comparing Genesis 2:7 and 2 Timothy 3:16, is identified with the Neshamah of God — the breath of God. The Word of God was given through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), and is the element — the living organism — that the indwelling Holy Spirit uses to sustain the life that He Himself originally imparted and presently continues.
Thus, in a full Scriptural respect, the Neshamah of God can only refer to both the Spirit and the Word. “Life” emanates from both (2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 4:12; James 2:26), and they are inseparably linked through one common denominator — Breath.
The Word of God, because of its very origin and nature, is the only thing that the Holy Spirit, Who gave the Word, can use to effect man’s spiritual growth toward maturity. The Neshamah of God (the Holy Spirit) Who imparted life uses the Neshamah of God (the implanted Word) to feed, nourish, and properly develop this life.
The Word of God alone is able to make one “wise unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). That is to say, the Word of God alone can be used by the Holy Spirit to bring about the Christian’s walk by faith (cf. Romans 10:17), ultimately resulting in the salvation of his soul.
The Breath of God (Chapter Four)
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath [‘Neshamah’] of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
All Scripture is God-breathed [‘Theopneustos’] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV).
(Background material for “The Breath of God” can be found in Chapter 3.)
Man’s “life” following his creation in the beginning was produced by “the breath [‘the Neshamah’] of God” (Genesis 2:7). This establishes a first-mention principle in Scripture concerning “life” in relation to man, and this principle remains unchanged throughout all subsequent Scripture. Man’s life throughout time and eternity, as in the Genesis account, must emanate from God; and this life cannot be generated, continued, or sustained apart from the Neshamah of God.
In scriptural terminology, the Neshamah is identified with both the “Holy Spirit” of God and the “Word” of God. Life, which comes from God alone, is always produced through “breathing in.” Remaining within basic teachings drawn from the types in Genesis 1:2-5; 2:7, God, through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, “breathes life into” unredeemed, lifeless man today. Once imparted, with the man possessing spiritual life (having been redeemed), this life is then continued and sustained through the same principle — the breath of God remaining with man (past dispensation) or remaining in man (present dispensation), and the breath of God continuing to be breathed into man.
Through the abiding presence of the breath of God (which, during this present dispensation, is through the Spirit indwelling the one in whom He had previously breathed life), the believer remains secure in his positional standing before God; and through a continued impartation of the breath of God (the Word of God flowing into man’s saved human spirit, with the indwelling Holy Spirit leading the individual “into all truth”), the believer receives living nourishment for spiritual growth unto maturity.
“Scripture,” unlike any other writing, is alive:
“For the Word of God is quick [‘alive’], and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12a).
“Life” can be attributed to Scripture only on the basis of the fact that the “oracles of God” emanated from the Giver and Sustainer of life. Scripture is “God-breathed.” It is the Neshamah, the “breath” of God.
This is what sets Scripture apart from all other writings. That which God has to say in His Word is alive, not subject to error, and will endure forever. But that which man has to say is, on the other hand, lifeless, subject to error, and will endure only for time.
Thus, the Holy Spirit today initially imparts life to man who is “dead in trespasses and sins,” continues this life through His abiding presence, and sustains this life via the living Word of God flowing into man’s saved human spirit. The indwelling Holy Spirit takes the Word of God received into man’s saved human spirit, and, through man’s spiritual perception, changes the Water to Wine (cf. John 2:1-11). A continued process of this nature — revealing the things of the Spirit to the man of spirit through man’s spiritual perception — progressively results in growth unto maturity.
The great difference between redeemed man and unredeemed man is possession or non-possession of spiritual life derived from the “breath” of God.
Unregenerate man, who is spiritually dead, is alienated from everything associated with the “breath” of God in this respect, for that which has no life is completely incompatible with that which has life. Thus, the living Word of God is not for him; it is alien to his fallen nature, the only nature that he possesses.
Regenerate man, on the other hand, possesses spiritual life that was “breathed in.” He possesses a new, non-alienated nature; and, on this basis, there can now be a continuance of life “breathed in.” Thus, the living Word of God, because it is the very life-giving “breath” of God, is for redeemed man alone.
Redeemed individuals are divided into two classes in Scripture — “spiritual,” and “carnal” (1 Corinthians 3:1, 2). Both possess spiritual life that was “breathed in,” both are capable of spiritual discernment, and both are in a position to allow God to continue “breathing in” life.
The carnal Christian though rejects the leadership of the Spirit. He follows the fleshly man rather than the spiritual man; and, although his eternal salvation remains secure through the “breath” of God remaining in him (based on Christ’s finished work at Calvary), he experiences no growth. He does not allow God to continue “breathing in” life.
But the spiritual Christian governs his life in an entirely different manner. He follows the leadership of the Spirit; He allows God to continue “breathing in” life; and, through his spiritual discernment, as led by the Holy Spirit, he is able to begin grasping the great spiritual truths of the Word of God, progressively growing from immaturity to maturity.
A continued inflow of the breath of God into man’s saved human spirit in this manner, following his salvation, will result in what Scripture calls “the filling of the Spirit” and “be transformed” (“the metamorphosis”). These are actually two different experiences in the lives of Christians that occur in a progressive, concurrent manner. These experiences, however, are so closely related that one cannot occur without the other, and neither can occur apart from the Word of God and the Spirit’s work in the life of a believer in relation to this Word.
The remainder of this chapter will be taken up with “the breath” of God producing a Spirit-filled Christian and, at the same time, working the metamorphosis in his life.
Filled with the Spirit
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is an experience that occurs after one has been born from above. At the time of the new birth, an individual is immersed (baptized) in the Holy Spirit, and, through this immersion, becomes part of the “one body,” the “one new man,” in Christ (cf. Matthew 3:11; Acts 1:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13 [“with” and “by” should be translated “in”]; Ephesians 2:15). The Holy Spirit, from this point forward, indwells the believer, forming a “temple of God” — an earthly tabernacle in which Deity dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; 6:19, 20).
But the Spirit filling the tabernacle is an experience in the life of a Christian that occurs subsequent to the Spirit indwelling the tabernacle. Christians, ones in whom the Spirit dwells, are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18); and the biblical manner in which this is accomplished is clearly revealed to be in connection with life continuing to be “breathed into” man following the initial “inbreathing” that generated life at the beginning. Scripture reveals an inseparable relationship between being filled with the Spirit (the Neshamah) and dwelling deeply in the Word of God (the Neshamah). This is clearly taught by comparing “scripture with scripture” in Ephesians and Colossians — companion epistles, which parallel one another in a number of places.
One such parallel can be seen in the section in Ephesians where Christians are commanded to be filled with the Spirit and in the section in Colossians where Christians are commanded to let the Word of Christ dwell in them richly in all wisdom.
In Ephesians, Christians are told:
“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,
speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-20).
In Colossians, Christians are told:
“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:16, 17).
Note the contextual parallel between the commands, “Be filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians and “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” in Colossians. Both have to do with the same thing. One is substituted for the other in its respective, parallel counterpart. And the clear inference from this parallel, in conjunction with related scripture, leads to only one conclusion: A Christian who is filled with the Spirit is one who has allowed the Word of Christ to dwell in him richly in all wisdom.
The indwelling of the Spirit is wrought at the time God initially “breathes life into” an individual, and the filling of the Spirit is wrought through God subsequently continuing to “breathe life into” that individual. The “God-breathed” scriptures flowing into man’s saved human spirit — a continued impartation of life into man — progressively produces, through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 16:13), a Spirit-filled Christian.
Relative to the filling of the Spirit, note further the relationship to one another of husbands and wives, children and parents, and servants and masters in the verses immediately following these two sections in Ephesians and Colossians.
Wives show that they are filled with the Spirit through their submission to their husbands, “as to the Lord” (cf. Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18).
Husbands show that they are filled with the Spirit through their love for their wives, “even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it” (cf. Ephesians 5:25-33; Colossians 3:19).
Children show that they are filled with the Spirit through their obedience to their parents, “in the Lord” (cf. Ephesians 6:1, 2; Colossians 3:20).
Fathers show that they are filled with the Spirit through not provoking their children to anger, but bringing “them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (cf. Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21).
Servants show that they are filled with the Spirit through being obedient to their masters according to the flesh, “with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ” (cf. Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25).
And masters show that they are filled with the Spirit through treating their servants just and equal, “knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him” (cf. Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1).
God desires that all Christians be filled with the Spirit, and the manner God uses to bring this to pass is clearly revealed in His Word. There must be a continued “breathing in” of life into the one who has initially been given life through the “breath” of God, and this cannot be accomplished apart from the “God-breathed” Oracles. In view of this, it is no wonder that the living Word of God — the Neshamah — remains under constant attack by Satan, his emissaries, and those who do his bidding.
The Word of God is either what it claims to be or there can be no continued “inbreathing” of life into redeemed man. And, apart from this continued “inbreathing” of life, redeemed man can not grow spiritually, for only that compatible with spiritual life can provide nourishment for this life, resulting in growth. Apart from the God-breathed Word, every Christian, throughout his entire pilgrim walk, would remain in a carnally immature state rather than grow in a spiritual manner unto maturity. Such a Christian would be indwelt by the Spirit, but, apart from the living Word, he could not be filled with the Spirit. He would remain carnal, immature, and powerless. Nor could he ultimately realize the salvation of his soul, for there would be no continued inbreathing of life to bring this to pass.
Consequently, apart from this continued “inbreathing” of life, God could not ultimately bring “many sons” unto glory to occupy the numerous positions of power and authority as joint-heirs with Christ in the coming kingdom. The “many sons” whom God will bring “to glory” are those who will be adopted — placed as firstborn sons — at the end of the present age. And occupying positions of this nature as sons — occupying positions as firstborn sons, with “sonship” implying rulership — will be entered into only by those Christians who realize the salvation of their souls.
(Adoption in connection with the salvation of the soul is dealt with in a more extensive manner at the end of this chapter. Refer to the parenthetical data at the end.)
The Metamorphosis — Present
“And do not be conformed to this world [‘age’], 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).
In this verse there is a negative command followed by a positive command: “Do not be conformed … but be transformed…”
1. Be Not Conformed
The Greek word translated “conformed” is sunschematizo. This is a compound word with the preposition sun (“with”) prefixed to the verb form of the word schema (“outline,” “diagram”). The English word “scheme” is an Anglicized form of the Greek word schema. The word has to do with a schematic outline, and the thought inherent in this compound Greek word along with its negative command is to not outline or diagram your life in accordance with the present age.
During the present age there is a world kingdom in which the Gentile nations rule the earth under the control and dominion of Satan, the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Fallen man is ruling the earth, which is under a curse, directly under the one who has disqualified himself to rule (Satan, along with his angels — ruling from a heavenly sphere over the earth through the Gentile nations [cf. Ezekiel 28:14; Daniel 10:13-20; Luke 4:5, 6; Ephesians 6:11, 12]).
Everywhere one looks there’s something wrong with the structure of the present kingdom: The Gentile nations are out of place, Israel is out of place, Satan and his angels are out of place, and Christ and His co-heirs (those destined to occupy regal positions with Him in the kingdom) are out of place. These conditions have continued unchanged, in part, for the past 6,000 years (since the fall of Adam, which resulted in the entire creation coming under the curse produced by sin); and they have continued unchanged in their entirety for the past 2,600 years (since the beginning of the “Times of the Gentiles,” with Israel being scattered among the nations). And no change will occur until Christ returns and takes the kingdom.
The rightful place for Satan and his angels is in the abyss and ultimately in the lake of fire; the rightful place for Christ and His co-heirs is ruling (from the heavens over the earth) in the stead of Satan and his angels; the rightful place for Israel is dwelling in the land covenanted to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, within a theocracy, at the head of the nations; and the rightful place for the Gentile nations is dwelling in their respective lands, out from under the dominion and rule of Satan, in a position subservient to and blessed through Israel.
When Christ returns and takes the kingdom, He and His glorified followers, rather than Satan and his angels, will rule from the heavens over the earth. Satan and his angels (cast out of the heavens slightly over three and one-half years prior to this time) will be chained and imprisoned in the abyss (awaiting consignment to the lake of fire 1,000 years later), the curse will be lifted, and Israel will be placed in her own land at the head of the nations. And all the Gentile nations entering the kingdom will then occupy subservient positions to Israel and be under the dominion of Christ and those who rule as joint-heirs with Him.
Presently, “the whole world lies in wickedness [lit. ‘in the evil one’]” (1 John 5:19b). The positional standing of the believer is “in Christ,” and the position occupied by the world is “in the evil one.” These positions are diametrically opposed, one to the other. Scripture clearly commands the believer, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world…” (1 John 2:15a). Why? Because the world lies “in the evil one.”
The entire present system is under Satan’s control and sway; and, whether the world realizes it or not, the programs, aims, ambitions, and aspirations of the incumbent ruler are being carried out within the present system. All of this will one day reach an apex under the reign of the “man of sin,” during the coming Tribulation. And, from that apex, it will come to a sudden and climactic end. Then, in conjunction with this end, Satan and his angels will, by force, be removed from their present position — that of ruling the earth through the Gentile nations.
Thus, it does not become Christians to involve themselves in the affairs of this present world system, during the present age. By so doing, they are, in effect, defiling their high calling “in Christ” through stepping down into an arena occupied by those “in the evil one.”
Christ, rejected by the world, is in a place removed from the world. And Christians are to share this rejection by and separation from the world with Christ. It is not possible for Christians to involve themselves in the affairs of this present world system, during the present age, and, at the same time, share Christ’s rejection by and separation from the world.
(The preceding is dealt with at length in the books of 1 & 2 Samuel, in the typology surrounding Saul and David. Refer to the author’s book, JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST [revised edition], Chapter 12, “Crowned Rulers,” for a discussion of this type in the light of the antitype.)
2. Be Transformed
Following the command in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this age,” the Christian is commanded to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The Greek word translated “transformed” is metamorphoo. This is the word from which the English word “metamorphosis” is derived. This word refers to an inward change brought about completely apart from the power of the individual himself. The individual Christian is powerless to bring about this metamorphosis.
In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, Satan is said to be “transformed into an angel of light” and his ministers “transformed as the ministers of righteousness.” In the Greek text the word “transformed” is not the same in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 as it is in Romans 12:2. The word used in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 is metaschematizo, referring to an outward change; and, textually (v. 13), this change is brought about through an individual’s own power.
Satan, thus, seeks to counterfeit the work of the Spirit by substituting an outward change in place of the inward change. And the nature and source of this pseudo change often go unrecognized.
Christians who seek to bring about the change of Romans 12:2 themselves will always effect a metaschema (outward change) rather than a metamorphosis (inward change). At the time of the birth from above the Spirit of God began a work in the Christian that He will continue “until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). No effort on the part of Christians can help the Spirit of God effect this change.
Man’s way finds man actively involved, seeking spirituality through either quitting certain things or doing certain things, subsequently producing a metaschema. But God’s way finds man passive, and God performs a work in the individual, ultimately producing the metamorphosis.
The endless list of “do’s” and “donot’s,” taboos formed by Christian groups; invariably have to do with a metaschema, not a metamorphosis. Any effort on the part of Christians to help the Spirit of God bring about the transformation of Romans 12:2 will always result in pseudo-spirituality. God’s way is an inward change wrought through the power of the Spirit, not an outward change wrought through the power of the individual.
3. The Renewing of Your Mind
Note according to the text how this inward change, the metamorphosis, takes place: “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The word “renewing” is a translation of the Greek word anakainosis; and the action of the preceding verb (“transformed”) directs attention to a continuous renewing process, one which is to keep on taking place. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 we are told that “the inward man is renewed [lit. ‘is being renewed’] day by day.” This renewing process is to keep on taking place day in and day out for the entire duration of the pilgrim walk here on earth.
Then, Colossians 3:10 reveals how the renewing of the mind is accomplished:
“And have put on the new man, which is renewed [lit. ‘is being renewed’] in knowledge after the image of Him that created Him.”
Note the word “knowledge” in this verse. The regular Greek word for “knowledge” is gnosis, but the word used in Colossians 3:10 is epignosis. This is the word gnosis (knowledge) with the prefix epi (upon). Epignosis, thus, means “knowledge upon knowledge,” i.e., “a mature knowledge.” The word translated “renewed” is a past participle of anakainoo (the same word used in Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 4:16) and could be better translated, “being renewed.” The only way a Christian can acquire this mature knowledge, which allows the Spirit of God to work the metamorphosis in his life, is through receiving the living Word of God into his saved human spirit.
Christians must allow God to continue “breathing in” life. The living, God-breathed Word must be allowed to flow into man’s saved human spirit or there can be no metamorphosis. The renewing of the inward man “day by day,” through receiving “the implanted Word,” producing the metamorphosis in one’s life, is the manner in which the salvation of the soul is presently being effected.
As previously seen, receiving “the implanted Word” in James 1:21 and 1 Peter 2:2 is preceded by “laying aside” everything opposed to purity (ref. chapter 3). It is the same with the metamorphosis in Romans 12:2. The words, “do not be conformed to this age [lit. ‘stop being conformed to this age’],” appear prior to the words, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Those “in Christ” are commanded to remove themselves from that which lies “in the evil one” prior to receiving “the implanted Word,” which will effect the metamorphosis in their lives.
Thus, Romans 12:2; James 1:21; and 1 Peter 2:2 all teach the same thing relative to laying aside everything opposed to purity prior to receiving “the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.”
The Metamorphosis — Future
“Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;
and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’
While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’” (Matthew 16:28-17:5).
The change presently taking place in the lives of Christians is inward. But within the culmination of the work of the Spirit in that future day of Jesus Christ, the change will include the outward also. The metamorphosis actually cannot be completed apart from this culmination, outward change. The Spirit of God “Who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
The day will come when we will put off “the body of this death” (Romans 7:24). That will be the day when He will “fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of His glory” (Philippians 3:21a, ASV). The work of the Spirit in this part of the metamorphosis is set forth in Matthew chapter seventeen.
That which occurred on the Mount, when Jesus was transfigured, is a fore-view of things that are yet to occur. The same Greek word translated “transformed” in Romans 12:2 (metamorphoo) is translated “transfigured” in Matthew 17:2. As Peter, James, and John appeared with Jesus on the Mount, Jesus was transfigured before them; and Moses and Elijah appeared and stood in His presence.
In Matthew 16:28, Christ had revealed that certain disciples would not die until they had seen “the Son of man coming in His kingdom.” Then, in Matthew 17:1-5, after six days, on the seventh day, certain disciples (Peter, James, and John) saw “the Son of man coming in His kingdom.”
Peter, as he wrote years later concerning this experience, said:
“…we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty [‘His greatest regal magnificence’ — a superlative in the Greek text]” (2 Peter 1:16).
Peter then went on to state that the time this eyewitness account occurred was “when we were with him in the holy mount” (v. 18). Biblical revelation leaves no room to question or wonder exactly what is being foreshadowed by the events on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 17:1-5.
The “six days” (Matthew 17:1) foreshadow the entire time comprising Man’s Day. “Six” is man’s number. These six days extend from the creation of Adam to the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom. Each one of these days is 1,000 years in length (2 Peter 3:1-8). This 6,000-year period comprises Man’s Day, and at the end of Man’s Day the Lord’s Day will begin.
The seventh 1,000-year period dating from the creation of Adam comprises the Lord’s Day. “Seven” is God’s number. It will be “after six days” — after 6,000 years, at the end of Man’s Day — that the Son of man will be seen “coming in His kingdom,” beginning the Lord’s Day on the earth.
The “high mountain” (Matthew 17:1) foreshadows the coming kingdom. A “mountain” in Scripture, when used in this sense, refers to a kingdom (cf. Psalm 2:6; Ezekiel 28:14; Daniel 2:35). And, in this section of Scripture, the coming kingdom of our Lord is not referred to by just any mountain, but by a “high mountain.”
Jesus appeared in a transfigured body. Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, also in transfigured bodies. Moses had died, and had been raised from the dead. Elijah had never died, but had been removed from the earth alive. Peter, James, and John, out from the nation of Israel, appeared in natural bodies and were elevated above all those at the foot of the mount. And “a bright cloud,” the Glory of God (cf. Luke 9:31, 32), overshadowed them all.
In the coming kingdom, Jesus will appear in this same transfigured body. Just as Moses (who was raised from the dead) and Elijah (who was removed from the earth without dying) appeared with Christ in transfigured bodies, so will Christians in that future day appear with Christ in transfigured bodies like unto the body of Christ.
When the Lord Himself descends from heaven to take His Church out of the world, “…the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we that are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air…” (1 Thessalonians 4:16b, 17a).
Christians associated with Christ in the kingdom will possess bodies like unto the body of Christ (a spiritual body — a body of flesh and bone, with the life-giving, animating principle being the Spirit of God). These Christians will be comprised of resurrected believers (typified by Moses) and believers who have never died (typified by Elijah). And these Christians will rule from the heavens over the earth as co-heirs with Christ.
Then, the nation of Israel (typified by Peter, James, and John) will be here on earth. And the individuals comprising this nation will be present in natural bodies (soulical bodies — bodies of flesh, blood, and bone, with the life-giving, animating principle being the blood [cf. Leviticus 17:11]). As Peter, James, and John were elevated above all those at the foot of the mount, the nation of Israel will be elevated above all other nations. And the Glory of God, the “bright cloud” that overshadowed those on the mount (cf. Matthew 17:5; Luke 9:32), will be restored to Israel (cf. Isaiah 2:1-4; 6:1-10; Joel 2:27-32).
One day when the Lord returns for His Church, the Holy Spirit will complete the metamorphosis. Christians will be delivered from “the body of this death” and will receive bodies that will possess an entirely different life-giving, animating principle than the bodies that Christians possess today. The Neshamah of God — the Holy Spirit Himself — will provide this life in the completion of the metamorphosis (1 Corinthians 15:40-45).
All Christians will be changed in the outward manifestation of the metamorphosis, for the resurrection and rapture, with the accompanying change of the body, are not contingent upon the inward change during the present time. The outward change is conditioned upon one’s positional standing (“in Christ”) alone.
But Christians experiencing the outward change apart from the prior inward change will realize the loss of their souls/lives. They will enter into the presence of the Lord with redeemed spirits, changed bodies, but forfeited lives. Consequently, they will occupy no position among the many sons who will be brought unto glory.
(At the end of the present dispensation, Christians will be resurrected, or removed from the earth without dying, in the same type body in which Christ was raised from the dead. Christ was raised in a spiritual body, not a natural [soulical] body [cf. 1 Corinthians 15:42-44]. He was raised in a body of flesh and bones, with the life-giving, animating principle of the body being the Spirit of God rather than the blood [which He had previously “poured out” (Isaiah 53:12)].
Christ though was not raised in a glorified body. He was raised in a type of body that possessed capabilities outside the scope possessed by a natural [soulical] body [e.g., He could appear at a certain place and disappear from that place, moving to another place, at will (Luke 24:31, 36)]. But there was no Glory connected with His resurrection body until “a cloud” received Him out of the disciples’ sight at the end of His forty-day post-resurrection ministry, when He was “received up into glory” [Acts 1:9; 1 Timothy 3:16].
This can be easily seen, for example, through noting the differences in two of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances. He appeared to the two disciples on the Emmaus road later on the same day that He was raised from the dead [appearing apart from His Glory (Luke 24:13-31)], and He appeared a few years later to Paul on the Damascus road [in connection with His Glory (Acts 9:1-5; 26:12-15)]. At Christ’s former appearance, it is apparent that there was nothing visibly different about His overall appearance that distinguished Him from any other man. However, at His latter appearance, there was a major difference in this respect. There was a brightness surrounding His appearance that was above that of the noon-day sun [Acts 26:13; cf. Revelation 1:16].
When Christians are removed from the earth at the end of the present dispensation, they will receive bodies like unto Christ’s body at the time of His resurrection — a spiritual body of flesh and bones, apart from the Glory. The “redemption” of the body will then occur at a later time, in connection with “the adoption” [Romans 8:23], not in connection with the removal of Christians from the earth at the end of the present dispensation.
The adoption of Christians can occur only following events surrounding the judgment seat of Christ, for the adoption has to do with the placement of sons in a firstborn status — something that cannot be done preceding a separation of Christians [the overcomers from the non-overcomers], based on decisions and determinations rendered at the judgment seat. Christians having been shown faithful at the judgment seat, realizing the salvation of their souls/lives, will be adopted as firstborn sons. But such will not be, for it cannot be, the case for unfaithful Christians, those having forfeited their souls/lives.
According to Romans 8:18-23, adoption as firstborn sons is in connection with rulership [in the human realm, only firstborn sons can rule in this manner within the theocracy]. And the unfaithful, though possessing spiritual bodies of flesh and bones, will be in no position to rule and cannot be adopted into a firstborn status. They can only appear as the ones seen in Hebrews 12:8 — as individuals who had previously rejected God’s child-training [vv. 5-7] and cannot now be His sons [the sons seen in Romans 8:19, adopted into a firstborn status in v. 23].
[The word “chastisement” (KJV) in Hebrews 12:5-8 is from the noun and verb forms (paideia, paideuo) of a Greek word that means “child-training.” Then, the word translated “bastard” (KJV) in v. 8 is nothos in the Greek text. The word, contextually refers to those who reject God’s child-training and cannot be His sons.
“Sonship,” with a view to rulership, is in view. And only those capable of spiritual perception, only those “born from above,” would be in a position to reject God’s child-training. Thus, the unsaved cannot be in view; nor is eternal salvation even the subject at hand.]
Only following the adoption can the Glory be connected with the body, with man brought back into a full realization of that which Adam forfeited at the time of the fall [at the end of six days, at the end of 6,000 years]. Man, following the adoption and the corresponding restoration of the Glory will once again be enswathed in a covering of Glory and in a position to be further clothed in regal garments [refer to the text in parenthesis on page 6 in Chapter 1 of this book for additional information in this realm].
Thus, the redemption of the body in Romans 8:23 can have nothing to do with the change in the body that will occur when Christians are removed from the earth at the end of the dispensation. As shown by the context, the redemption of the body in this verse can only be a reference to that future time when “the glory…shall be revealed in us,” in Christians; it can only be a reference to that future time when “the sons of God,” a new order of Sons — Christ with His co-heirs [overcoming Christians, adopted and properly arrayed] — will be manifested for all to behold [vv. 18, 19].)
The local church is of paramount importance to Christians of any degree of spiritual maturity, but only as it and its pastor places the highest priority on the teaching of Bible doctrine from the pulpit and within most of the church’s activities. When this is not the fact, and a suitable local church emphasizing this responsibility cannot be found, it is suggested that church members initiate individual home Bible study groups to fulfill this need.