“For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.”
"Trust in the Lord
all your heart and
lean not on
your own understanding;
your ways submit to him,
make your paths straight.”
"Never will I leave you;
will I forsake you.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 is a familiar passage to many: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths." Verse 5 is a complementary pair of commands. We are told, positively, to trust the Lord and, negatively, not to trust our own understanding. Those two things are mutually exclusive. In other words, if we trust in the Lord, we cannot also depend upon our own ability to understand everything God is doing.
First Corinthians 13:12 says, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." We only see part of the picture God is painting. If we are to truly trust Him, we have to let go of our pride, our programs, and our plans. Even the best-laid human plans cannot begin to approach the magnificent sagacity of God’s plan. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
Most of us have a desperate desire to understand, but in so many areas we must acknowledge that we cannot understand. We must approve of God’s ways, even when we can’t comprehend them. Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us why we often don’t understand what God is doing: "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" God sees the whole picture, while we only see our tiny corner of it. To trust in the Lord with all our heart means we can’t place our own right to understand above His right to direct our lives the way He sees fit. When we insist on God always making sense to our finite minds, we are setting ourselves up for spiritual trouble.
Our limited understanding can easily lead us astray. Proverbs 16:25 says, "There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death." When we choose to direct our lives according to what seems right to us, we often reap disaster (Judges 21:25). Every culture has tried to get God to approve of its definition of right and wrong, but God never changes and His standards never change (Numbers 23:19; James 1:17; Romans 11:29). Every person must make a decision whether to live his or her life according to personal preference or according to the unchanging Word of God. We often will not understand how God is causing "all things to work together for good" (Romans 8:28), but when we trust Him with all our hearts, we know that He is. He will never fail us (Psalm 119:142; Philippians 2:13).
"Therefore I tell you,
do not worry about your life,
will eat or drink; or about your body,
what you will wear.
Is not life more than food,
and the body more than clothes?
birds of the air;
they do not
sow or reap or
away in barns, and
Are YOU not much
valuable than they?
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Isaiah 40:29–31 “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Jeremiah 29:11 “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Philippians 4:6–7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Mark 11:24 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:19 “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
Sometimes the promises in the Bible are taken out of context, and people end up thinking the Bible says something it doesn’t really say. For instance, does the Bible teach that we can have everything we want in prayer? No, John 14:13–14 must be kept in context. Does God promise every individual alive a “hope and a future”? No, Jeremiah 29:11 must be kept in context.
Some of God’s promises in the Bible have great scope and impact. The first promise that God gave Adam and Eve was very great indeed: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16–17). This promise Satan flatly denied, and in unbelief Adam and Eve ate from the fruit, and sin and death entered the world. All of us, being descended from Adam and Eve ratify their decision to disobey God, and so that promise applies to us as well (Romans 5:12). This is probably the most terrible promise in the Bible, and it is the greatest in scope—it applies to literally everyone.
However, God did not leave humanity under condemnation with no way out. He entered the human race as a man (Jesus Christ), lived a perfect life, and died, taking the death we deserved. He then rose again. When a person is united with Christ in faith, another promise applies. This promise is repeated over and over in places such as Romans 8:1–4: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
By any measure, the promise of salvation by grace through faith is the greatest promise in the Bible. Once a person becomes a child of God by faith, then the other promises find their proper context. Many of the promises that are often pulled out of context really only apply to the child of God. The person who is not in Christ is still under the deadly promise of punishment, and that is the promise that such a person should hear and understand. It is misleading for a Christian to apply the promises of God to one who is not in Christ.
The two greatest promises are summed up in Romans 6:23:
“For the wages of sin is
but the gift of God
is eternal life
Christ Jesus our Lord.”
A beloved person is one who is dearly loved. In the Old Testament, the word beloved is used repeatedly in the Song of Solomon as the newlyweds express their deep affection for each other (Song of Solomon 5:9; 6:1, 3). In this instance, beloved implies romantic feelings. Nehemiah 13:26 also uses the word beloved to describe King Solomon as “beloved by his God” (ESV). In fact, at Solomon’s birth, “because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah” (2 Samuel 12:25). Jedidiah means “loved by the Lord.”
For reasons known only to Him, God sets special affection on some people and uses them in greater ways than He uses others. Israel is often called “beloved of God” (e.g., Deuteronomy 33:12; Jeremiah 11:15). God chose this people group as His beloved in order to set them apart for His divine plan to save the world through Jesus (Deuteronomy 7:6–8; Genesis 12:3).
The word beloved is also used repeatedly throughout the New Testament. A notable use of the word is at the baptism of Jesus. In this scene, all three Persons of the Trinity are revealed. God the Father speaks to the Son from heaven: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Then the “Holy Spirit descended like a dove and rested on Him” (Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). God again calls Jesus “beloved” at the Mount of Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). We can learn a little about the loving relationship shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by God’s use of the word beloved. Jesus echoes that truth in John 10:17 when He says, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.”
Many New Testament writers used the word beloved to address the recipients of their letters (e.g., Philippians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 2:11). Most of the time, the Greek word translated “beloved” is agapētoi, related to the word agape. In the inspired letters, beloved means “friends dearly loved by God.” In the New Testament, the use of the word beloved implies more than human affection. It suggests an esteem for others that comes from recognizing their worth as children of God. Those addressed were more than friends; they were brothers and sisters in Christ and therefore highly valued.
Since Jesus is the One whom God loves, Beloved is also used as a title for Christ. Paul speaks of how believers are the beneficiaries of God’s “glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6, ESV). The Father loves the Son, and He loves and blesses us for the Son’s sake.
All those adopted into God’s family through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ are beloved by the Father (John 1:12; Romans 8:15). It is an amazing, lavish love: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). Because God has shed His love on us, we are free to apply the words of Song of Solomon 6:3 to our relationship with Christ: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
Hebrews 11, we learn about faith from the Bible’s Old Testament heroes. One crucial detail stands out in their lives: they placed their whole confidence in God, entrusting themselves into His hands. The actions and accomplishments of these men and women proved that faith pleases God, and He rewards those who seek Him: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
The author of the book of Hebrews points out two critical convictions of believers. First, “anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists.” Those who desire to draw near to God must have a deep-rooted belief that He is real. Such belief is not mere intellectual knowledge but a wholehearted devotion to His presence and participation in every part of one’s life. Without a genuine conviction that God exists, it is impossible to have an intimate relationship with Him. Second, the Lord’s followers must believe “that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” This aspect of faith trusts in the character of God as a good, loving, generous, gracious, and merciful Father (James 1:17; Psalm 84:11; Lamentations 3:22–23). These two certainties are the groundwork of saving faith—a faith that pleases God.
Without faith, it is impossible to please God, because faith is the avenue by which we come to God and trust Him for our salvation. In His infinite goodness, God provides the very thing we need to draw near to Him: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). God gives us the faith required to please Him.
Hebrews 11:1 gives a definition, or at least a good description, of the faith that pleases God: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” “Confidence” is the translation of a Greek word that means “foundation.” Faith is the foundation that undergirds our hope. It is not a blind grasping in the dark, but an absolute conviction that comes from experiencing God’s love and the faithfulness of His Word. The term translated “assurance” is also translated as “evidence” or “proof.” With our natural eyes, we cannot see the realities of God’s kingdom, but by faith we receive the evidence or proof that they exist.
We’ve established that without faith it is impossible to come to God. It is also impossible to live for God—to follow and serve Him daily and persevere until the end—without faith. The entire Christian life is lived out by faith: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:17; see also Habakkuk 2:4; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38). The apostle Paul affirmed, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Scripture refers explicitly to Enoch’s faith as pleasing to God: “It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—‘he disappeared, because God took him.’ For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5, NLT; cf. Genesis 5:24). How did Enoch please God? Through living by faith. Enoch walked by faith in God. He obeyed the Word that had been revealed up to that point and lived in the light of its truth. Walking by faith means consistently living according to God’s Word (John 14:15). Without faith, it is impossible to believe God’s Word and obey it.
Scripture says that it is impossible to please God through works of the flesh: “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8, ESV). We can’t earn God’s approval through good works. Only based on what Jesus Christ has done for us can we become holy and able to live a life pleasing to God (1 Corinthians 1:30). Christ’s life in us produces the righteousness that pleases God (2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 2:13; 3:9).
Without faith, it is impossible to please God; in fact, we cannot even begin to approach the Lord and experience a personal relationship with Him without it. Faith is the atmosphere in which the believer’s life is lived. We are called “believers” because we are continually putting our faith, trust, and confidence in God. By faith the Christian life begins, and by faith it perseveres until the end.
The champions of the Old Testament like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Joseph, Rahab, Gideon, and David all lived by faith. As they looked toward their future hope, they relied on God to fulfill His promises (Hebrews 11:13–16). And they obeyed God’s Word even when they did not understand it. This kind of walking by faith—accepting as truth the things we cannot yet touch, feel, or see, and then acting on them in obedience—is the prescription for living a life that pleases God. We may not see ourselves right now as God does—holy and made righteous by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But when we accept the evidence in God’s Word (Romans 10:17) and reach out in response to experience fellowship with Him, then we begin to live by faith, and that pleases God.
John the Baptist’s statement that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV) is simple but remarkable, and it is one of the most imitable statements ever made. In the narrative we find that disciples of John expressed concern to him that many were following Jesus and being baptized by Him (John 3:26). Because John’s ministry was as a forerunner to the Messiah, John’s ministry had begun much earlier, and many were following John. So it was concerning to some that Jesus was preaching the same message and baptizing and that some were bypassing John altogether and going straight to Jesus.
John responded by reminding his followers that one has nothing unless it has been granted from heaven (John 3:27), implying that Jesus had obtained His following rightly and that it was a heavenly blessing. John also was implying that, if his own ministry was granted from heaven, its conclusion could also likewise be determined by God’s plan. In making these statements, John showed tremendous humility and understanding of God’s design. He also reminded his disciples that he had never claimed to be the Christ but that he was simply announcing the arrival of the Christ (John 3:28). John added that his being in such proximity to the Christ gave him great joy (John 3:29), so he was not disturbed in the least by the growth of Jesus’ following. It was by design, and John was rejoicing about that.
In this context, John made his definitive statement that “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, NKJV), or, as the NIV has it, “He must become greater; I must become less.” With this statement John acknowledges that it was by design that Jesus should become more prominent and that John’s own ministry should begin to decrease. Malachi 3:1 had prophesied a forerunner to the Messiah, and John was that forerunner, according to Jesus (Matthew 11:10). It is natural that the forerunner—the one who goes before—or the messenger of the Messiah would step out of the way once Jesus began to fulfill His own ministry. That is exactly what John was doing, and he gently helped his own disciples understand that.
So often, it is easy for us to want to hold onto our own positions or roles. We expend a great deal of effort trying to protect those roles and keep them for ourselves. John shows us by his example that there is a much better way. John shows us how to graciously step aside to allow others to fulfill their roles. Even more importantly, when John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” he is modeling for us how to exalt God and humble ourselves before God. This is obviously an important characteristic in God’s sight. God opposes the proud but gives grace to those who are humble (James 4:6). When we get out of the way and let God accomplish what He intends, then much is accomplished. On the other hand, when we step in and try to help God along, we may find ourselves actually working against what God desires to do. Recall how, after Jesus prophesied how He would die (Matthew 16:21), Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him, denying that Jesus would die as He prophesied (Matthew 16:22). Peter then heard the dreaded words, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23), because Peter was pursuing his own interests rather than God’s interests.
Unlike Peter in that situation, John understood that Jesus must increase and that John must decrease. Because John had the proper esteem for Christ, he could humble himself and step out of the way. This is an incredible lesson and example of humility for us.
One of the most often quoted and deeply treasured New Testament Bible verses is Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, NLT).
Sometimes when life gets messy, when we struggle through hardship or suffering, we can start to feel spiritually adrift. We continue to deal with temptations, evil, calamities, pressures, and fears in this fallen world. For this reason, we must reinforce who we are and understand what’s happening to us. In Romans 8:18–30, the apostle Paul encourages believers to hold onto hope and the promises of God in these times. Remember that God is operating ceaselessly in the lives of those who love Him, sovereignly working out His redemptive plan. The Christian life is not a random, unintentional, haphazard existence. As God’s children, believers are beckoned to a new life of realizing His good purposes for them.
The word translated here as “called” specifies a summoning in the original Greek. It identifies someone whose involvement or presence has been officially requested, especially a summoning to which refusal is not an option, as in a subpoena. Many Bible passages speak of the believer’s calling: “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9; see also 1 Corinthians 7:17; Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 4:1, 4). Paul explains to Timothy that God “has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2 Timothy 1:9).
Even before He created the world, “God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:4–5, NLT). God has called us into a relationship with Jesus Christ for the purpose of being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). God’s purpose in calling us is twofold: for our good and His glory (2 Thessalonians 2:13–14; 1 Peter 2:9).
The noun purpose in Romans 8:28 means “intention; an anticipated outcome that is intended or that guides planned actions.” In the Christian life, God’s purpose is the guiding force, the most critical reality. Sometimes God’s purpose includes suffering and frustration (Romans 8:17). Nevertheless, Paul assures that “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).
We can rest assured that God is sovereign. He is acting in every circumstance of life. His will and purpose control everything in His eternal plan (Ephesians 1:11; 3:11). Those who love God and are called according to His purpose can know that not one thing in this life escapes Him. When we belong to Jesus, nothing can happen to us outside God’s plan for our good.
God is continuously working in the hearts and lives of people who love Him and are called according to His purpose. The Lord is causing everything to fit together for our good and His glory. Standing on this solid truth reframes our difficulties. We can face them with confidence, trusting that every challenge is part of God’s ultimate plan to transform our old nature into what He has purposed for us to be: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18; see also Ephesians 4:22–24; Colossians 3:9–10).
The apostle Paul described true worship perfectly in Romans 12:1-2: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable, or well pleasing and perfect.”
This passage contains all the elements of true worship. First, there is the motivation to worship: “the mercies of God.” God’s mercies are everything He has given us that we don’t deserve: eternal love, eternal grace, the Holy Spirit, everlasting peace, eternal joy, saving faith, comfort, strength, wisdom, hope, patience, kindness, honor, glory, righteousness, security, eternal life, forgiveness, reconciliation, justification, sanctification, freedom, intercession and much more. The knowledge and understanding of these incredible gifts motivate us to pour forth praise and thanksgiving—in other words, worship!
Also in the passage is a description of the manner of our worship: “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice.” Presenting our bodies means giving to God all of ourselves. The reference to our bodies here means all our human faculties, all of our humanness—our hearts, minds, hands, thoughts, attitudes—are to be presented to God. In other words, we are to give up control of these things and turn them over to Him, just as a literal sacrifice was given totally to God on the altar. But how? Again, the passage is clear: “by the renewing of your mind.” We renew our minds daily by cleansing them of the world’s “wisdom” and replacing it with true wisdom that comes from God. We worship Him with our renewed and cleansed minds, not with our emotions. Emotions are wonderful things, but unless they are shaped by a mind saturated in Truth, they can be destructive, out-of-control forces. Where the mind goes, the will follows, and so do the emotions. First Corinthians 2:16 tells us we have “the mind of Christ,” not the emotions of Christ.
There is only one way to renew our minds, and that is by the Word of God. It is the truth, the knowledge of the Word of God, which is to say the knowledge of the mercies of God, and we’re back where we began. To know the truth, to believe the truth, to hold convictions about the truth, and to love the truth will naturally result in true spiritual worship. It is conviction followed by affection, affection that is a response to truth, not to any external stimuli, including music. Music as such has nothing to do with worship. Music can’t produce worship, although it certainly can produce emotion. Music is not the origin of worship, but it can be the expression of it. Do not look to music to induce your worship; look to music as simply an expression of that which is induced by a heart that is rapt by the mercies of God, obedient to His commands.
True worship is God-centered worship. People tend to get caught up in where they should worship, what music they should sing in worship, and how their worship looks to other people. Focusing on these things misses the point. Jesus tells us that true worshipers will worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). This means we worship from the heart and the way God has designed. Worship can include praying, reading God’s Word with an open heart, singing, participating in communion, and serving others. It is not limited to one act, but is done properly when the heart and attitude of the person are in the right place.
It’s also important to know that worship is reserved only for God. Only He is worthy and not any of His servants (Revelation 19:10). We are not to worship saints, prophets, statues, angels, any false gods, or Mary, the mother of Jesus. We also should not be worshiping for the expectation of something in return, such as a miraculous healing. Worship is done for God—because He deserves it—and for His pleasure alone. Worship can be public praise to God (Psalm 22:22; 35:18) in a congregational setting, where we can proclaim through prayer and praise our adoration and thankfulness to Him and what He has done for us. True worship is felt inwardly and then is expressed through our actions. "Worshiping" out of obligation is displeasing to God and is completely in vain. He can see through all the hypocrisy, and He hates it. He demonstrates this in Amos 5:21-24 as He talks about coming judgment. Another example is the story of Cain and Abel, the first sons of Adam and Eve. They both brought gift offerings to the Lord, but God was only pleased with Abel’s. Cain brought the gift out of obligation; Abel brought his finest lambs from his flock. He brought out of faith and admiration for God.
True worship is not confined to what we do in church or open praise (although these things are both good, and we are told in the Bible to do them). True worship is the acknowledgment of God and all His power and glory in everything we do. The highest form of praise and worship is obedience to Him and His Word. To do this, we must know God; we cannot be ignorant of Him (Acts 17:23). Worship is to glorify and exalt God—to show our loyalty and admiration to our Father.
The idea of worshiping the Lord “in spirit and truth” comes from Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4:6-30. In the conversation, the woman was discussing places of worship with Jesus, saying that the Jews worshiped at Jerusalem, while the Samaritans worshiped at Mount Gerizim. Jesus had just revealed that He knew about her many husbands, as well as the fact that the current man she lived with was not her husband. This made her uncomfortable, so she attempted to divert His attention from her personal life to matters of religion. Jesus refused to be distracted from His lesson on true worship and got to the heart of the matter: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him” (John 4:23).
The overall lesson about worshiping the Lord in spirit and truth is that worship of God is not to be confined to a single geographical location or necessarily regulated by the temporary provisions of Old Testament law. With the coming of Christ, the separation between Jew and Gentile was no longer relevant, nor was the centrality of the temple in worship. With the coming of Christ, all of God’s children gained equal access to God through Him. Worship became a matter of the heart, not external actions, and directed by truth rather than ceremony.
In Deuteronomy 6:4, Moses sets down for the Israelites how they are to love their God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Our worship of God is directed by our love for Him; as we love, so we worship. Because the idea of “might” in Hebrew indicates totality, Jesus expanded this expression to “mind” and “strength” (Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). To worship God in spirit and truth necessarily involves loving Him with heart, soul, mind and strength.
True worship must be “in spirit,” that is, engaging the whole heart. Unless there’s a real passion for God, there is no worship in spirit. At the same time, worship must be “in truth,” that is, properly informed. Unless we have knowledge of the God we worship, there is no worship in truth. Both are necessary for God-honoring worship. Spirit without truth leads to a shallow, overly emotional experience that could be compared to a high. As soon as the emotion is over, when the fervor cools, the worship ends. Truth without spirit can result in a dry, passionless encounter that can easily lead to a form of joyless legalism. The best combination of both aspects of worship results in a joyous appreciation of God informed by Scripture. The more we know about God, the more we appreciate Him. The more we appreciate, the deeper our worship. The deeper our worship, the more God is glorified.
This melding of spirit and truth in worship is summed up well by Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century American pastor and theologian. He said, “I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections [emotions] of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth.” Edwards recognized that truth and only truth can properly influence the emotions in a way that brings honor to God. The truth of God, being of infinite value, is worthy of infinite passion.
The prophet Joel delivers a warning to the people of Judah, but his message transcends his time to speak to people of all time—past, current, and future. He tells of God’s looming judgment of sin and urges people everywhere to repent and return to God. Joel foresees the day when God’s Spirit becomes available to every believer: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. . . . And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:28–32).
The apostle Peter quotes this entire passage from Joel in Acts 2:14–21 to illustrate the manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:2–4).
Peter sees this post-resurrection outpouring of the Spirit as part of the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. With its breathtaking signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth, the complete prophecy will not be fulfilled until the last days. But God’s Spirit was poured out on Pentecost in a fresh way and remains available to all who call on the name of the Lord.
Calling on the name of the Lord expresses familiarity and connection, as in knowing God by name. The phrase signifies identification as a member of God’s family. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord claims Yahweh as one’s own God. This concept goes back to the beginning of time when “people began to call on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26; see also Genesis 12:8). God has always sought a people, including representatives from all nations, to devote themselves to Him.
The apostle Paul cites Joel to back his claim that the message of salvation in Jesus Christ is for all people: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Romans 10:12–13). Jews and Gentiles and people from every nation receive God’s promise of salvation on the same basis—through faith in Jesus Christ. No one is excluded. Everyone has an opportunity to call on the name of the Lord and be delivered from sin, forgiven, and saved (Acts 10:43).
Paul emphasizes calling on the name of the Lord out loud but also in one’s heart: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Calling on the name of the Lord involves admitting our own powerlessness and need for God, believing in His power to save us, and desperately crying out to God from the heart for His salvation (Isaiah 43:11; Acts 4:12; Hebrews 12:14; Romans 3:10–18, 23). Those who call on the name of the Lord put their “hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). God’s children cry out from a sense of inadequacy, dependence, and the genuine conviction that only He can be relied on to save.
Whoever trusts in Jesus Christ by believing in Him shall be saved (Acts 16:31). There’s nothing complicated about the plan of salvation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16–17).
The Bible plainly teaches that we don’t have to do any work to be saved (Ephesians 2:8–9). Calling on the name of the Lord is not an act that saves us. God’s grace saves us through faith. We can’t earn salvation by any means. The grace of God is the source of our salvation, and we receive that grace through faith. We call on God as an expression of faith (Romans 5:1). And, as new creatures in Christ, we will call on the name of our Lord and Savior as long as we live (Psalm 116:2).
Sometimes Christians develop spiritual amnesia. Forgetting where they came from, they cease to show compassion to unbelieving family members, neighbors, and fellow citizens. For this reason, the apostle Paul urges believers to remember their lives before knowing Christ: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:3–6, ESV).
It’s easy to get puffed up with pride and act self-righteously toward the lost when we forget our own shipwrecked condition before salvation. It was the goodness and kindness of God that reached down into our messed-up, sin-filled lives and rescued us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (Romans 5:8; Romans 2:1). Our good works did not save us (Ephesians 2:8). It was God’s mercy “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” generously poured out on us “through Jesus Christ our Savior,” explains Paul.
The “washing of regeneration” refers to being born again. The Greek word for “washing” in Titus 3:5 describes the act of cleansing something all over thoroughly. Regeneration means taking an already existing thing and making it new again or starting over. In literal terms, it means “birth again.” This renewal work of the Holy Spirit is described as “cleansing” and “purifying” in Ezekiel 36:25–27: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
Speaking about the washing of regeneration, Jesus said, “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5, NLT). “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life,” continued Jesus (John 3:6, NLT).
Before we surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ, we were dead in our transgressions and sins, obeying the devil, following the ways of the world, and living only to satisfy our sinful desires (Ephesians 2:1–3). By nature, we were dead, and by nature we deserved to die. Nothing we could have done or said would change us. We were hopeless without God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). This explains why Jesus told Nicodemus, “‘You must be born again” (John 3:7).
At salvation, the corrupt human nature undergoes a radical and miraculous transformation by the Holy Spirit. We cease to be spiritually dead and are made alive in Christ. Water baptism is a beautiful picture of the washing of regeneration: “For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins” (Colossians 2:12–13, NLT; see also Hebrews 10:22; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21).
The “washing of regeneration” is a metaphor for complete spiritual cleansing and removal of our sins. When we call on the name of the Lord, our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16; cf. Psalm 51:1–2). When a sinner trusts in Jesus Christ, he or she is justified or declared righteous by God through the sacrificial death of His Son. Christ’s work is justification. Simultaneously, through the power of God’s indwelling Spirit, the washing of regeneration purifies us from all sin. At once, we are made righteous, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus Christ by God’s Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11). “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT).
Salvation and the radical, transformative washing of regeneration are all God’s doing; therefore, believers have no room for spiritual pride. We must remain humble and compassionate toward unbelievers, remembering to demonstrate the same kindness and love God showed us.
It is always important to study Bible verses in context, and it is especially true with 2 Peter 3:9, which reads, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (KJV). The second half of the verse, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” is frequently used to argue against the doctrine of election.
The context of 2 Peter 3:9 is a description of scoffers who doubt that Jesus is going to return to judge the world with fire (2 Peter 3:3–7). The scoffers mock, “Where is this coming?” (verse 4). In verses 5–6, Peter reminds his readers that God previously destroyed the world with the flood in Noah’s time. In verse 7, Peter informs his readers that the present heavens and earth will be destroyed with fire. Peter then responds to a question he knew was on his readers’ minds, namely, “what is taking God so long?” In verse 8, Peter tells his readers that God is above and beyond the concept of time. It may seem like we have been waiting a long time, but, to God, it has been a blink of an eye. Then, in verse 9, Peter explains why God has waited so long (in our view of time). It is God’s mercy that delays His judgment. God is waiting to give more people the opportunity to repent. Then, in the verses following verse 9, Peter encourages his readers to live holy lives in anticipation of the fact that Jesus will one day return.
In context, 2 Peter 3:9 says that God is delaying His coming in judgment in order to give people further opportunities to repent. Some of the confusion regarding the meaning of 2 Peter 3:9 is the wording of the KJV translation: “not willing that any should perish.” Not willing makes it sound as if God does not allow any to perish. However, in 17th-century English, willing carried more of an idea of desire than of volition. The modern English translations of 2 Peter 3:9 render the same phrase “not wanting” (NIV and CSB), “not wishing” (ESV and NASB), and “does not want” (NLT).
In no sense does 2 Peter 3:9 contradict the idea that God elects certain people to salvation. First, in context, election is not at all what the verse is talking about. Second, to interpret “not willing that any should perish” as “does not allow any to perish” results in the false doctrine of universalism. But God can “not desire” anyone to perish and still only elect some to salvation. There is nothing incongruous about that. God did not desire for sin to enter the world through the fall of Adam and Eve, yet He allowed it. In fact, it was part of His sovereign plan. God did not desire His only begotten Son to be betrayed, brutally tortured, and murdered, yet He allowed it. This, too, was part of God’s sovereign plan.
In the same way, God does not desire anyone to perish. He desires all to come to repentance. At the same time, God recognizes that not everyone will come to repentance. It is undeniable that many will perish (Matthew 7:13–14). Rather than being a contradiction to 2 Peter 3:9, God’s electing and drawing of some to salvation is evidence that He truly does not desire people to perish. Were it not for election and the effectual calling of God, everyone would perish (John 6:44; Romans 8:29–30).
Many passages of Scripture communicate that Jesus Christ lives within those who trust Him for salvation (2 Corinthians 13:5). While this is an astonishing truth, it isn’t easy to grasp. Not only is Jesus Christ alive today, but through God’s Holy Spirit—called the “Spirit of Christ” in Romans 8:9—He lives and dwells within every child of God. The life of Christ in us is our hope of eternal glory. The apostle Paul called the indwelling of Christ a great mystery: “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Paul often spoke of Christ taking up residence in the hearts of those who accept Him as Lord and Savior. When he prayed for the believers in Ephesus, Paul longed for their faith to deepen so that Christ would be at home in their hearts: “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong” (Ephesians 3:16–17, NLT).
When a person believes in Jesus, he or she is united to Christ, first in His death and then in the newness of His resurrection life. The apostle Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Paul explained to the church in Rome, “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was” (Romans 6:4–5, NLT).
Our old selves—full of rebellion, sin, and unbelief—died with Christ, who paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. Through our union with Christ in His death, we are made alive by God’s Spirit to walk in the newness of life because we have been made right with God (Romans 8:10). Our lives become a vehicle to display the life of Christ: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:6–10; see also Galatians 1:15–16).
In our ordinary human condition of weakness, we are but jars of clay holding a priceless treasure—the life of Christ in us. The challenges we face, the persecution, trials, hardship, and suffering we endure, serve to pour out the all-surpassing power of God and reveal the life of Jesus Christ to those around us. We can rest assured that we will not be overcome in all these afflictions because we have the treasure of Jesus Christ living in us.
In 2 Corinthians 2:15, Paul likened the lives of those who share the gospel to “a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God” (NLT) and “the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (NIV). With Christ in us, as we spread the good news of salvation in Jesus, we diffuse His fragrance to a lost and dying world.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul states, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.” After we receive Jesus as Lord, He becomes our master. In the booklet My Heart Christ’s Home (InterVarsity Press, 1954), author Robert Munger imaginatively describes the Christian life as a house. When Jesus enters, He goes from room to room. In the library of our minds, Christ sorts through the garbage, cleaning out the worthless trash. In the kitchen, he deals with our unhealthy appetites and sinful desires. At the dining room table, He serves us the bread of life to satisfy our hungry souls and pours living water for us to drink and never be thirsty again. Through dark hallways and closets, Jesus uncovers all the places where sin hides. He works His way through every nook and cranny until His love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace have filled every space. This allegory presents a beautiful picture of what it means to have Christ in us.
A primary purpose of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians was to combat the work of false teachers who were invading the church and undermining the simple truth of the gospel. In his opening prayer, Paul states that God the Father “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13, ESV).
The verb rendered as “transferred” in the English Standard Version of Colossians 1:13 is alternatively rendered “translated” (KJV) or “brought us into” (NIV). In the original Greek, the term literally means “to move something from one place or sphere to another.” When God rescues Christians “from the kingdom of darkness” through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross, He packs them up and moves them, spiritually speaking, into “the Kingdom of his dear Son” (Colossians 1:13, NLT).
Paul likens salvation to acquiring a brand-new address in a shiny new domain. This imagery of deliverance evokes the Lord’s dramatic rescue of His people out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 6:6; 12:27; Deuteronomy 13:5). God brought the Israelites out of the dark land of Egypt and transferred or “translated” them, eventually, into the Promised Land. Today, He moves believers into the kingdom where His Son reigns as King over every power of darkness (see Acts 26:17–18; Ephesians 6:12).
Paul’s imagery also recollects the prophet Isaiah’s hope-filled vision of the Messiah: “There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:1–2; see also Isaiah 42:6–7; 58:10; Isaiah 60:1–3). At the moment of salvation, God plucks us out of Satan’s dark domain and transplants us into the brilliant light of Jesus Christ’s kingdom.
Believers are transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son means our citizenship changes when Jesus becomes our Savior. Before being rescued, we walk in disobedience and sin, obeying our commander, the devil (see Ephesians 2:1–3). After salvation, our passport gets stamped “citizen of heaven,” and our King is now “the Lord Jesus Christ” (see Philippians 3:20). We are “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Ephesians 2:19). The apostle Peter declares, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Much of Christ’s teaching focused on His kingdom (Matthew 4:17; 5:1–12; Luke 12:32; Matthew 13:10–52). Believers must be “transferred” into the kingdom of heaven because we can’t move there of our own volition. The Bible says we are powerless to save ourselves (Romans 5:6–8; Ephesians 1:7). The heavy lifting can only be accomplished by God, who “saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life” (Titus 3:4–7, NLT; see also Ephesians 1:7; 2:4–9, 13).
Believers are transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son “by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11, NLT; see also Romans 3:21–24). In Christ, God gives us the golden ticket that transfers us from death to life (John 5:24); from alienation to acceptance (Colossians 1:22); from separation to nearness (2 Corinthians 5:18–20); from despair to hope (1 Peter 1:3); from darkness to light (1 John 2:8); from slavery to freedom (Romans 6:16–23; 8:2; John 8:32); from enemies to friends (Romans 5:11); and from strangers to compatriots (Hebrews 11:13–16).
In 2 Corinthians 5:8, the apostle Paul writes, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (KJV). The expression absent from the body refers to physical death. When this life ends, believers will be immediately ushered into the glorious presence of the Lord. Then we will see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). And, at that moment, we will be “present with the Lord.”
To fully appreciate the significance of 2 Corinthians 5:8, it is important for us to review the immediate context. In 2 Corinthians 5:1–7, Paul contrasts the temporary nature of our earthly bodies with the eternal nature of our heavenly bodies. Once our earthly bodies are destroyed, “we have . . . an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (verse 1). Most translations of 2 Corinthians 5:8 emphasize the aspect of having an “eternal house,” saying that, at death we will be “at home with the Lord” (ESV, NIV, NLT, NASB, CSB, etc.).
In our earthly state, we earnestly desire “to be clothed . . . with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2), which will not leave us “naked” or without a dwelling place (verse 3). Our heavenly bodies will not be subject to decay or death (mortality). Instead, we will receive new bodies that are imperishable and immortal (verse 4; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:54). We know that God has prepared a heavenly home for us (John 14:2) because He “has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 5:5; cf. Romans 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14). Currently, the presence of God is a matter of faith (Hebrews 11:1) because we are “at home in the body” and “away from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6). So, right now, “we live by faith, not by sight” (verse 7). It is in this context that Paul writes, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (verse 8, KJV).
Physically, we cannot be in two places at the same time. If we are present in this world, we are absent from the ranks of heaven. But, for us believers in Christ, when we are absent from this world, we will be present with the Lord. We will have arrived at our true home. In the words of James M. Black, “When all of life is over and our work on earth is done, / And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there” (1893).
Paul longed for the day when his sin-corrupted body would be replaced with a glorified one. For this reason, he viewed trials and tribulations as “light and momentary troubles” that could not be compared to “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17; cf. Romans 8:18). This hope for an incorruptible body and eternal dwelling place gives us confidence in the face of suffering, as we know that our salvation is eternally secure (John 10:28–29).
Because Paul was confident of his eternal destiny, he was not afraid to die (1 Corinthians 15:54–55). In fact, he welcomed death because he knew that he would be present with the Lord. In Philippians 1:21–24 he expresses a similar thought: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” This does not mean that Paul had a death wish. On the contrary, he was expressing confidence that death is not final, especially for Christians. Death is simply a transition into a glorious heavenly body. Therefore, we should not fear anything or anyone (Isaiah 25:8; Matthew 10:28).
Second Corinthians 5:8 reminds believers that our ultimate home is not in this world, but in heaven. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Hence, we are called to be in the world but not of the world (Romans 12:2). As heavenly citizens, our allegiance is to God, not the world: “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21). When Christ returns, our earthly bodies will be exchanged for bodies fit for heaven.
The hope of eternal life is the bedrock of Christianity. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we know that death is not the end. And if we believe in Him for salvation from our sins, then we will live with Him in heaven (Romans 6:1). We will be present with the Lord and also reunited with loved ones who have passed away before us. This hope is not based on wishful thinking or blind faith but on the promises of God revealed in Scripture.