Observations on life; particularly spiritual

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What’s the Holy Spirit like?

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11 Biblical images of the Holy Spirit

state-of-origin-6 400pxIt’s Australia’s State of Origin match for rugby league football today. Can the Blues (New South Wales, also called the cockroaches) win or will it be the Maroons (Queensland, also called the canetoads)? It will be a tough game. Defence is vital. The big men will run at the smaller ones. And there will be big collisions and hits. Life can be a struggle like that. How can we get though? Satan can attack us like an opposition footballer. In this post we will see how God helps Christians in daily life.

In particular, we will look at what the Holy Spirit is like from the images given in the Bible.

The big picture

The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. God the Holy Spirit is invisible because He is spirit and not part of the physical world. So, He doesn’t have a body like us.

Spirits, such as angels and demons, are invisible beings. When the Greek adjective hagios, which is translated “holy” (Strongs #40), is used with the word “spirit” it refers to a spirit that is divine, which is the Holy Spirit. The core meaning for “holy” is “different”. In the New Testament it often means set apart by God or set apart for God. It’s also used to describe things or people associated with God and the attribute of purity and sinlessness.

God the Father sent Jesus to earth to be our Savior by sacrificing His life. He came as a baby (which is called the incarnation) who grew up to be a man. After this, Jesus returned to heaven and God sent the Holy Spirit to earth to live in all those who repent of their sin and trust in Christ’s sacrifice. The Holy Spirit was sent to earth on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2; 1 Pt. 1:12). Since then He lives in believers from the time of their conversion (Rom. 8:9; Eph. 1:13-14). And He will be with them forever (Jn.14:16). Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Mt. 28:20NIV). But Jesus is in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father. Instead He’s with us spiritually by the Holy Spirit. One of the names of the Holy Spirit is “Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9; 1 Pt. 1:11). This is different to Old Testament times, when the Holy Spirit came on people for a while and then left them (1 Sam. 16:14; Ps. 51:11).

The Holy Spirit’s mission is to testify about Jesus (Jn. 15:26). He guided those who wrote the New Testament (Jn. 16:13). He also convicts people of sin (Jn. 16:8-11). He empowers Christians to live by the Spirit and “not gratify the desires of the sinful flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Then the Holy Spirit can produce His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22–23). The Holy Spirit also supports good (1 Cor. 12:3) and restrains evil (Gen. 6:3; 2 Th.2:5-8).

We will see that the Bible uses figures of speech to describe the Holy Spirit. That’s one way of describing someone who is invisible.

Metaphors as images of the Holy Spirit

The best way to know what the Holy Spirit is like is to look at what the Bible says about Him because it’s a message from God. In particular, we’re looking at images of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors which are powerful images that show what the Holy Spirit does.

Lawyer

The Holy Spirit is like a lawyer. A lawyer (or advocate or intercessor) helps defend people who are accused of breaking a law. They give evidence that stands up in court.

Jesus asked the Father to give His disciples “another advocate to help you and be with you forever” (Jn. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). An advocate supports a position or viewpoint and this is what the Holy Spirit did for the preaching of the disciples. Paul said, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26-27). He intercedes for us with God the Father by praying for us. So the Holy Spirit is on our side.

Jesus is also like a lawyer (or advocate or intercessor) – He represents Christians to God the Father (1 Jn. 2:1). He is the “other advocate” (Jn. 14:16). When we sin, Jesus pleads with God the Father for a pardon. He pleads our case on the basis of His death, by which forgiveness of sins was made possible. He is our mediator with God the Father (1 Tim. 2:5). He’s at God’s right hand, interceding for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). So Jesus is also on our side.

So we have the best defence team, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They can also defend us against accusations by Satan. Paul says, “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Rom. 8:31). The answer is, no-one.

If the Holy Spirit is like our lawyer, then we have the best possible helper. This image reminds us of how the Holy Spirit helps us get through the trials and troubles of life and supports our witnessing.

Dove

The Holy Spirit is also like a dove. A dove is a symbol of peace, love and innocence. When Jesus was baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove” (Mt. 3:16; Mk. 1:10; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:32).

After the flood, Noah sent out a dove that returned with an olive leaf (Gen. 8:11), which symbolized peace with God. The dove announced deliverance from the flood, and at Christ’s baptism, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove announced deliverance from sins.

Because of their courtship, their joint care of young, and the tender loving care between the parents, doves were symbols of romantic love in the ancient Near East. For example, “my dove” was used as a term of endearment between lovers (Song. 2:14; 5:2; 6:9).

When Jesus sent His disciples to preach to the Jews, He told them to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16).

If the Holy Spirit is like a dove, then He is associated with peace, love and innocence. This image reminds us of the love, peace and goodness in the fruit of the Spirit which the Holy Spirit produces in the life of the believer (Gal. 5:22-23).

Next, the Holy Spirit is like certain inanimate objects.

Inanimate objects

Wind

The Holy Spirit is like wind, which is the movement of air from a region of high pressure to one of lower pressure. The wind moves and is invisible but we can see its effect on clouds, flags and leaves. And we can feel wind, particularly when it’s very hot or very cold.

Jesus told Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” spiritually (Jn. 3:3). He is saying that just as the first (physical) birth is necessary for physical life, so a second (spiritual) birth is necessary for spiritual life. Christ’s kingdom can only be entered by those whose lives have been changed. Since His reign will be a righteous one, His subjects must be righteous also. He couldn’t reign over people who were going on in their sins. This spiritual birth is produced by the Holy Spirit when a person believes in the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:6, 8). When a person is born again through the Spirit, they receive a new nature, and so are fit for the kingdom of God. Then Jesus gave an illustration, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8). The Greek noun for “Spirit” is the same as for “wind” (Strongs #4151). The word can mean spirit, Spirit, wind or breath, depending on the context. The same applies to the Hebrew word for these nouns in the Old Testament (Strongs #7307). Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit and spiritual birth are like the wind. He’s using the physical to illustrate the spiritual. We can’t control or fully understand the invisible origin and movement of the wind or the Holy Spirit. Both the wind and spiritual birth are unpredictable. We don’t know just when and where it will take place.

On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to live in the disciples, “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven” (Acts 2:2). So there was an audible sign of this event.

If the Holy Spirit is like wind, then although He’s invisible, He’s life-giving (we need air) and powerful. This image reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s role in giving us spiritual life.

Running water

The Holy Spirit is also like running water, which like air is a dynamic fluid that’s essential for physical life. In ancient times settlements were near wells and waterways. Water also washes, purifies and refreshes (Ps.51:7).

When Jesus preached to the Jews during the Festival of Tabernacles He said, ‘“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them”. By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified’ (Jn. 7:37-39). He is quoting from Isaiah where there is a gospel invitation to those who are thirsty (who sense their need) to “come to the waters” (Isa. 55:1). If they do this and live godly lives, they are promised “The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden; like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isa. 58:11). John explains that the “rivers of living water” was a metaphor for the Holy Spirit “whom those who believed in Him were later to receive” at Pentecost. A river channels water. This water can be used to irrigate crops, which bring a harvest. So if you are spiritually thirsty, accept Jesus as your Savior and the Holy Spirit will immediately come and empower your life and produce the fruit of the Spirit.

This happened on the last day of the Festival. So they had been celebrating for 7 days before Jesus said “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink”. Obviously, their religious observance hadn’t met their spiritual needs. So He invited them to come to Him for spiritual satisfaction by trusting Him as Savior. The same principle applies today. If you have a spiritual need because the gods of this world don’t satisfy or because you are aware of our sinfulness, then learn about what Jesus has done for us.

If the Holy Spirit is like a running water, then He is life-giving (we need water) and He satisfies our spiritual needs. This image reminds us that the impact of the Holy Spirit leads to spiritual growth and the fruit of the Spirit.

Olive oil

The Holy Spirit is also like olive oil, which was used in Old Testament times to anoint prophets, priests and kings for ministry to their offices (Ex. 29:7; 30:30; 1 Sam. 16:13; 2 Sam. 5:3; 1 Ki. 19:16; Isa. 61:1). In this case anointing with olive oil symbolized the coming of the Holy Spirit. The words “Messiah” and “Christ” mean “anointed one”. Also, it was courtesy, honoring and respectful to anoint the head of a guest with oil (Ps. 23:5; Lk. 7:46). And in those days the oil lamp was their only source of light at night (Mt. 25:3-4).

Jesus quoted from Isaiah when He said “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Isa. 61:1; Lk. 4:18). The phrase “He has anointed me” refers back to Jesus’ baptism (Lk. 3:21-22). So He was anointed with the Holy Spirit, not with oil.

Peter told Cornelius that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38). Paul wrote, “God has anointed us” and then mentions the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21). So Christians are also anointed with the Holy Spirit.

In the context of discerning truth from the error of false teachers, John wrote “you have an anointing from the Holy One (Jesus), and all of you know the truth” (1 Jn. 2:20). The anointing refers to the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit helps believers to discern between truth and error. The Holy Spirit exposes false teachers when we test them against Scripture (1 Jn. 2:26-27). In His warning against false teachers, John says that because we received the Holy Spirit, we don’t need any spiritual teaching apart from what is found in the Bible. The Holy Spirit will help us understand what we need to know about salvation and Christian living.

If the Holy Spirit is like olive oil, then He empowers us for ministry and service. This image reminds us that the Holy Spirit will help us understand the Bible and apply it to our daily lives.

Fire

The Holy Spirit is also like fire. In ancient times, fires satisfied many human needs by producing heat and light. It was also used to purify precious metals (Mal. 3:2-3) and was a symbol for God. God is like “a consuming fire” (Dt. 4:24; Heb. 12:29) towards those who reject Him for idolatry. He made the covenant with Abraham as a burning torch (Gen. 15:17), spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Ex. 3:2), and guided the Israelites at night with a column of fire (Ex. 13:21; Num. 9:15-16).

On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to live in the disciples, “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 …” (Acts 2:3-4). So there was a visual sign of this event. It doesn’t say they were tongues of fire, but that’s what they seemed to be. The tongues may refer to the miraculous gift of speaking in other languages. The fire may refer to the Holy Spirit as the source of this gift and may also describe the bold enthusiastic preaching that followed (Acts 4:31).

Paul said “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Th. 5:19). He was warning against hindering the work of the Holy Spirit in the local church. The Greek word translated “quench” (Strongs #4570) occurs 8 times in the New Testament. In 6 of these it means extinguishing a flame or fire. Another one is metaphorically extinguishing “flaming arrows” (Eph. 6:16). Therefore, it’s reasonable to infer that this verse is also a metaphor where the Holy Spirit is taken to be like a fire.

If the Holy Spirit is like a fire, then He is divine and can enable us to be filled with His Spirit. This image reminds us that the Holy Spirit enables the local church to function harmoniously using the gifts of the Spirit.

Seal

The Holy Spirit is also like a seal, which is evidence of ownership and security. In ancient times official documents were sealed with hot wax and an imprint was made on the wax with the official seal of the person sending the document (Neh. 9:38 – 10:1; Est. 8:8). Last year I obtained an apostille for my son so a document would be accepted in France. The certificate is attached to the document being verified and they are then embossed with an official government seal so it is evident if any of the pages have been removed.

Paul said, “He (God) anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1:21-22). And, “When you believed, you were marked in Him (Christ) with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13). The Spirit indwelling the believer is the mark that they belong to God and are eternally secure. The only visible evidence of this is a spirit-filled life. We are now God’s property. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). In this sense, it’s a sacred place because it’s inhabited by a sacred person.

Paul said, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). We are sealed until the Rapture when our salvation is complete and our bodies are resurrected and changed. Here our ownership and security is said to be a reason why we should not sin.

If the Holy Spirit is like a seal, then we are owned by God and spiritually safe and protected. This image encourages us to care for our bodies and gives us reasons not to sin.

Deposit and first-fruits

The Holy Spirit is also like a deposit and first-fruits. A deposit is the first payment for something, with the balance being payable later. Because all of creation belongs to God, the Israelites were commanded to offer the first and best of their animals and produce to God (Lev. 23:9-14). These first-fruits were considered a promise of the coming harvest.

Paul says that God “put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5) and the Holy Spirit is “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Eph. 1:14). So this deposit is like the first instalment of a sum of money that has been inherited and it comes with a guarantee that the balance will be paid later. As we receive the Holy Spirit, we will also receive the full inheritance of God. This inheritance includes our bodies being transformed to be like Christ at the Rapture and reigning with Him at the second coming (Rom. 8:17; Phil 3:21).

Paul says that believers “have the first-fruits of the Spirit” as they wait eagerly for the redemption of their bodies (Rom. 8:23). Just as the first handful of grain is a pledge of the entire harvest to follow, so the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of the full salvation that is yet to come, including the redemption of our bodies. Our spirits and souls have already been redeemed, and our bodies will be redeemed at the Rapture (1 Th. 4:13-18). By the way, Jesus is also a first-fruit of the coming resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20).

If the Holy Spirit is like a deposit and first-fruits, then our inheritance is guaranteed and protected. This image gives us assurance and confidence in the inheritance that God has promised for His people.

Power supply

The Holy Spirit is also like a power supply. A power supply like power stations and batteries enables work to be done. Our phones and tablets are useless unless their batteries are charged. And there has been a power crisis in Tasmania since the power cable from Victoria was cut in December 2015.

Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high” because when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, they would receive power to witness throughout their known world (Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8). The apostles preached the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. And Christians today have spiritual power which enables them to obey the great commission (Mt. 28:19-20). This power comes from the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:16, 20).

If the Holy Spirit is like a power supply, then Christians have more power to live for God than we realize. This image encourages us to be ready to share our Christian faith.

Next, the Holy Spirit is likened to an attribute.

Attribute

Voice

The Holy Spirit is also like a voice which instructs and warns. His words to the prophets and apostles are preserved for us in the Bible. I imagine it was a bit like the voice of a GPS that instructs as we drive.

Isaiah told Judah that when they repented “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isa. 30:21). And they will obey the instruction. Jesus told His disciples “when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come” (Jn. 16:13). And they wrote this truth in the New Testament. For example, in Hebrews 3:7-11 the Holy Spirit gave a warning from Psalm 95 and gives the application in verses 12-15. This shows that God speaks in Scripture, even to generations subsequent to its time of writing (Hebrews was written about 770 years after Isaiah). And the apostles were told “When they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt. 10:19-20). So the Holy Spirit would give them the words to say in situations such as sudden arrest when there is no time to prepare what to say.

If the Holy Spirit is like a voice, then He can guide us today through the Bible. This image reminds us that God can use the Holy Spirit to speak to us through our conscience.

The Holy Spirit is also like a teacher, seven spirits, and seven lamps (Jn. 14:26; Rev. 1:4-6; 4:5).

Summary

Spirit collage 400pxWe have looked at several images (metaphors) of the Holy Spirit from the Bible.
They show that He:
Defends and helps like a lawyer.
Brings love and peace like a dove.
Is powerful like wind.
Satisfies like running water.
Empowers like olive oil and a power supply.
Sustains the church like a fire.
Protects us like a seal.
Guarantees our inheritance like a deposit and first-fruits.
And, guides like a voice.

So the Holy Spirit operates behind the scenes and not in the limelight. He helps, empowers, sustains, and guides. And He implements all of God’s plans. The Spirit is mentioned throughout the Bible: He’s there in the background making it all happen.

In response:
Is our spirituality based on the Holy Spirit and what He’s revealed to us in the Bible?
Are we aware of the Holy Spirit’s help and support?
Are we experiencing love and peace?
Do we realize His power?
Are we spiritually satisfied?
Are we empowered for ministry and service?
Is our church life sustainable?
As we assured of our spiritual protection?
Are we assured of our inheritance?
And, are we following what we learn from Scripture?

It’s amazing! God created everything in the beginning. Later He (Jesus) died for us, so we can have spiritual life. Now He (the Holy Spirit) lives in in us and helps us. He is the “power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).

We have looked at two words today, “holy” and “Spirit”. May we be more holy and more spiritual by living in the power of God’s Holy Spirit as He gives us spiritual life and enables us to live the Christian life.

Written, June 2016

Also see: What’s God like?
What’s Jesus like?


What’s Jesus like?

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20 Biblical images of Jesus

According to a survey, 40% of people in England don’t believe that Jesus was a real person. Instead they think He is a mythical figure. Some think that the characters in the Bible are metaphors for something deeper. That the Bible is a symbolic story. That the gospels are historical fiction. On the other hand, some think that Jesus was a historical figure, but His resurrection was a metaphor rather than a real event.

What do the historical records show? According to the New Testament scholar Darrell Bock (2015), “Christ’s story is just as well attested as Caesar’s. You can accept or deny claims made about Jesus in the Gospels, but you can’t pretend they were never made …
If we believe what the best sources say about Julius Caesar, then we should believe what the best sources say about Jesus Christ”.

Today we will look at what Jesus is like from the images given in the Bible. This will help us to follow Him. Paul said, “I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor.11:1NIV). And Peter said, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pt. 2:21). Jesus told His followers “follow me” and “learn from me” (Mt. 11:29; 16:24).

The big picture

The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. Today we are looking at Jesus, who is God the Son.

As a spirit, God doesn’t have a body like us. He’s invisible. But when Jesus came to earth, He took a human body. So God was visible when Jesus lived on earth. Paul wrote, “The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He’s “the exact representation of His (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So Jesus is the best image of God. However, He lived before cameras were invented, so the only images we have of Him are words in the Bible.

Metaphors as images of Jesus

The best way to know what Jesus is like is to look at what the Bible says about Him because it’s a message from God. In the New Testament, there’s lots of information about what Jesus said and did.

But today we’re looking at images of Jesus in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors which are powerful images which help to show who Jesus is and what our relationship with Jesus can be like.

First; Jesus is likened to certain people.

People

Son

When Jesus is described as being a “Son” it doesn’t mean a biological son, Instead, it’s a figure of speech. For example, Judas Iscariot was called the “son of destruction” (Jn. 17:12ESV). This means he was characterised by destruction. James and John were called “sons of thunder”, which meant they were like thunder (Mk. 3:17). Likewise, Jesus was called “Son of Man” and “Son of God”. So it means that Jesus was like a man and like God. In fact, He was both a man and God. He was fully human and fully divine.

The most common title that Jesus used for Himself was “Son of Man” (Mk. 8:31; 14:62). It’s used 78 times in the gospels. It had two meanings in the Old Testament. In Daniel’s vision the son of man was the heavenly Messiah who will rule over the whole earth in a kingdom that will never end (Dan. 7:13-14). This was a subtle way of saying that He was the Jewish Messiah (Mt. 26:64). But “son of man” also meant a human being (Ps. 8:4; 144:3; 146:3). God called the prophet Ezekiel “son of man” 93 times. So the title “Son of Man” indicates that Jesus is both the Messiah and a human being. In Jesus, the invisible God is revealed (Col. 1:15).

The other title “Son of God” (Lk. 1:35; Jn. 5:25; 10:36; 11:4), meant that Jesus was God in human form and that’s why the religious leaders had Him killed (Jn. 1:14; 10:33-36; 19:7). Sometimes this is abbreviated to “the Son” (Mt. 11:27).

Jesus is also called “Son of David” (Mt. 21:9; Lk. 18:38). This title is equivalent to “Messiah”. He fulfilled the Davidic covenant and with respect to His humanity, He was a descendant of king David (2 Sam. 7:11-16, Ps. 89: 4, 36-37). Jesus was the only one who was qualified to be the Jewish Messiah. And because His lives forever, His kingdom will last forever,

If Jesus is Son of Man and Son of God, then He is both human and divine. Because he was human, He could die. And because He was God, He was sinless. So He’s the only one who could take the punishment for our sin.

Lord

Jesus is like a lord or master. A lord or master had power and authority over servants, slaves, or property.

The Greek noun kurios (Strongs #2962) translated “Lord” means master or owner. One who has power, authority and control. The master rules the servant and the servant respects and submits to the master. In the Bible, the title is given to God as the ruler of the universe.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from Joel “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21), which the Jews would have understood as a reference to God the Father. But then he said that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). So, He’s giving Jesus the same title as that given to God the Father in the Old Testament. It means that Jesus is the ruler of everything in the universe. He is supreme over all creation (Col. 1:15). And we know this is true because He is both the Creator and the Redeemer (Col. 1:16, 20). Besides this, Jesus is head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23).

Paul said, “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” (Rom. 10:9). And Jesus is “Lord of all”; both of the Jews and the Gentiles (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:12). In future, everyone will “acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11). And John said that Jesus is “Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).

This metaphor caused tension in the Roman Empire. It was declaring that there was only one God, not many. Jesus was above all their other gods. Also, it was deemed to be unpatriotic because the Emperor was treated as being divine. But Jesus was above the Emperor.

If Jesus is like our master, then it’s like we’re under His rule. This image reminds us of the need to submit to Him and obey Him.

Bridegroom

Jesus is also like a bridegroom and husband. A bridegroom loves and cares for his bride. They belong together.

The church is the bride of Christ. Christians belong to Christ, like a bride belongs to her husband (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-32).

Christ showed His love for the church in three ways (Eph. 5:25-27). By:
– Redemption – “He gave Himself up for her, to make her holy”. He gave up His life on the cross to make us positionally holy before God.
– Sanctification – He’s “cleansing her by the washing with water through the word”. As we hear and obey the words of Scripture, we are being made holy practically.
– Glorification – He will “present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless”. In the future the church will be perfectly holy.

This metaphor continues after the rapture when there is rejoicing “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7-9). Jesus is like the bridegroom and the church is like the bride. And their union is like a wedding and a wedding supper.

If Jesus is like our bridegroom, then we are like His bride. We belong together. This image reminds us of His love for us.

King

Jesus is like a king. In ancient times, a king ruled a city or nation. A king has authority over all others. They have ultimate authority.

Nathaniel, the crowds, and the religious leaders called Jesus “king of Israel” (Jn. 1:49; 12:13; Mt. 27:42). This title is equivalent to “Messiah” (Mk. 15:32). The Magi came to visit “the King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2). And the notice on His cross said that He was “The King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:19-21).

This metaphor is absent in the Scriptures that describe the period between Christ’s death and his second coming. Instead, the main title used by the early church was for Jesus was “Lord”. But Jesus comes as the “King of kings” in His second coming (Rev. 17:14; 19:16). And after this as a great “King” he will judge the Gentile nations (Mt. 25:31-46).

If Jesus is like a king, then the time will come when He will defeat all opposing powers to bring justice and peace and rule over all creation.

Judge

Jesus is also like a judge. A judge assesses the guilt of the accused and determines the penalty if they are guilty.

When John had a vision of Jesus as a judge, he was told “I hold the keys to death and Hades” (Rev. 1:12-18). This means that He controls both the body and the soul. And Jesus can raise the dead. Then Jesus judges the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2:1 – 3:22).

After the rapture, believers will be rewarded according to their service at “the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 2:6; 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 15:58; 2 Cor. 5:10). The rewards are expressed in the second coming and the millennial kingdom (Lk. 19:17-19; Mt. 17:27; Rev. 3:21).

In His second coming (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), Jesus judges those left after the rapture and after this He will judge the Gentile nations (Mt. 25:31-46).

Peter said that God appointed Jesus “as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). This is consistent with God the Father “entrusting all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22). This means that Jesus will be the judge at the Great White Throne where each unbeliever will be judged “according to what they had done” (Rev. 21:11-15). That’s when people’s secrets will be judged (Rom. 2:16).

If Jesus is like a judge, then we are like the accused. Because Jesus paid our penalty, this image reminds us of God’s love for us.

Shepherd

Jesus is like a shepherd. A shepherd cares for sheep by protecting, guiding and sustaining them.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). He laid down His life for both Jews and Gentiles (Jn. 10:15-16). The relationship between Jesus and His sheep is like that between Jesus and God the Father. In contrast, the religious leaders were like hired hands who abandon the sheep when there is trouble (Jn. 10:12-14). They are selfish and don’t care about the sheep.

The Bible says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Our sinfulness is likened to sheep going astray. But Jesus, like a Great Shepherd, gave His life for our protection (Heb. 13:20; 1 Pt. 2:25). When He returns at the rapture it will be as the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt. 5:4).

If Jesus is like a shepherd, then we are like the sheep. This image reminds us of His loving care.

High priest

Jesus is also ike a high priest. A high priest went into the Most Holy Place of the Jewish temple once a year to atone for the sins of the people of Israel.

Jesus was a great high Priest, who was tempted like us, but didn’t sin (Heb. 4:14-15). As a High Priest, when He died Jesus made atonement for the sins of the people (Heb. 2:17). Jesus was a mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 9:15).

He was a high priest of the order of Melchizedek. Unlike other Jewish high priests he wasn’t a descendant of Aaron or from the tribe of Levi (Heb. 5:6-10; 7:1-28). “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood”. His sacrifice was “once for all” and “He always lives to intercede” for us. And His new covenant is better than the old one (Heb. 8:1-13).

If Jesus is like a high priest, then we are like sinners separated from God. Because Jesus was both the sacrifice and the High Priest, this image reminds us that because of Jesus was can approach God the Father.

Servant

Jesus is like a servant. A servant serves others. It’s a humble position.

There are four servant songs about the Messiah in the book of Isaiah (Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13 – 53:12). The last one about the suffering righteous servant is often quoted in the New Testament in regard to Christ’s suffering. Its central verse is, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Christ’s death brought spiritual healing;  forgiveness and salvation; to those who trust in Him. That’s His greatest work as a servant.

Paul says that Jesus took the very nature of a servant (Phil. 2:7). Jesus told His disciples, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:44-45). He gave up the enjoyment of His rights to live a life of obedience to God the Father.

If Jesus is like God’s servant (Acts 3:26), then we can benefit from His work of salvation. If He’s our example, then serving God and others is more important than serving ourselves.

Second; Jesus is likened to some animals.

Animals

Lion

Jesus is also like a lion. A lion was a symbol of sovereignty, strength and courage.

In Revelation, Jesus is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). This title comes from Jacob’s final message to his son Judah (Gen. 49:8-10). He said, “The sceptre (of royalty) will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Gen. 49:10). This was initially fulfilled by David, but as it was also stated by Ezekiel, it refers to Jesus, their Messiah (Ezek. 21:27).

In this verse, Jesus is also called the “Root of David” (Rev. 5:5). This is a reference to the millennial rule of the Messiah that includes Gentiles (Isa. 11:1-10; Rom. 15:12).

If Jesus is like a lion and a great ruler, then everyone should submit to Him (Phil .2:10-11). This image reminds us of His coming reign as Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).

Lamb

Jesus is like a lamb. A lamb is a young sheep.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).

The Israelites killed a lamb in the first Passover and annually since then (Ex. 12:21). Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7).

Lambs were also sacrificed in the fellowship offering, the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the guilt offering. (Lev. 3:7; 4:32; 9:3; 14:12). When they walked up Mount Moriah, Isaac asked his father, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7-8). Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”. Isaiah wrote about the servant who was “led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7; Acts 8:32). Peter said He was sinless; “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pt. 1:19).

In the book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb” 28 times. In John’s vision of heaven, he “saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6) who was being praised, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain (Rev. 5:12).

If Jesus is like a lamb, then His death was a sacrifice for our sin. This image reminds us of the need to accept His sacrifice as the only way to be reconciled with God.

Third; Jesus is likened to some inanimate objects. Now physical things are used to teach spiritual truths.

Inanimate objects

Bread

Jesus is also like bread. Bread is food that helps to sustain us physically.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (Jn. 6:35). And, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51). To “eat this bread” means to believe in Him and receive eternal life (Jn. 6:47). Those who accept Him in this way satisfy their spiritual hunger forever.

If Jesus is like bread, then His death provides spiritual life to those who believe in Him. This image reminds us that without accepting Jesus, we are spiritually dead.

Light

Jesus is like a light, which is the opposite of darkness. We need light to see and to know the way to go at night.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). And, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (Jn. 12:46). To follow Jesus means to believe in Him by repenting of our sin, trusting that His death paid the penalty we owe, and committing our life to Him.

Conversion involves moving from darkness into His wonderful light (1 Pt. 2:9). So darkness symbolises evil, sin and separation from God.

If Jesus is like a light, then He is the solution to the evil and sin in the world. This image reminds that without accepting Jesus, we are in spiritual darkness.

Gate

Jesus is like a gate. A farm gate keeps animals safe from danger and predators.

Jesus said that He was “the gate for the sheep” into the sheep pen (Jn.10:1-10). The sheep would be safe if they went through the gate to the protection of the sheep pen. In contrast, the religious leaders were like thieves and robbers who climb into the sheep pen by some other way so they can steal, kill and destroy the sheep.

If Jesus is like a gate to the sheep pen, then we are like sheep. If we rely on His provision for us, then we will be safe. This image reminds us of the security of Jesus’ salvation.

Vine

Jesus is also like a vine. A grape vine has branches and fruit.

On the night He was arrested Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). If we keep in fellowship with the Lord by prayer, reading and obeying His word, and fellowshipping with His people, we can be fruitful. This fruit is associated with peace, love and joy (Jn. 14:27; 15:9-11). It’s Christ’s character, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). It’s evident as answered prayer, being aware of God’s love for us, and the joy of being used by God (Jn. 15:7, 9-11).

If Jesus is like a vine, then we are like its branches. This image reminds us of the need to stay connected with Him.

Cornerstone

Jesus is like a stone. In those days, buildings were constructed with stones.

When Peter describes the Christian’s privileges in the church he uses the illustration of a stone building (1 Pt. 2:4-8). He uses the metaphor of “the living Stone” to describe Jesus. He was rejected by people, but chosen by God. Because of His resurrection, Jesus is alive forevermore. And He gives spiritual life to those who believe in Him, who are called “living stones”. They are being built into a “spiritual house” like the Old Testament temple where God dwelt and was worshipped. Jesus is like the most important stone in the building, the foundational cornerstone (1 Cor. 3:10-11). The cornerstone was the first stone to be set in the foundation and all the other stones were placed in position with reference to it. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. He’s precious to believers, but rejected by unbelievers. Peter takes the stone imagery from the Old Testament and applies it to Jesus (Ps, 118:22; Isa. 8:14-15; 28:16). Before this time, Jesus quoted this verse in the parable of the wicked tenants and Peter in an address to the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mt. 21:42; Acts 4:11).

If Jesus is like a cornerstone, then we are like stones orientated with respect to the cornerstone. This image reminds us that our faith is based on Jesus and what He and the apostles taught.

Morning Star

Jesus is also like a star. A star shines in the night sky.

Jesus is called the “bright morning star”, which appears in the night sky before dawn (2 Pt 1:19; Rev. 22:16). The dawning of the day symbolizes the end of the present church age (Rom. 13:12). And the morning star symbolizes Christ coming for the church. While we wait for the rapture, the Scripture is a like a light shining in a dark place.

Just as the morning star is followed by the sunrise, the rapture is followed by the second coming and reign of Christ, which is likened to the sunrise of the “Sun of Righteousness” (Mal. 4:2; Lk.1:78-79). Once again, Jesus will be like light coming to a dark world.

If Jesus is like the morning star, we can look forward to His coming for us. This image reminds us that better days are ahead for us.

Fourth; Jesus is likened to certain attributes.

Attributes

Beginning and the end

Jesus is like the beginning and the end, which is symbolized by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13). As Creator of the universe, He was there when it began. He rules over history and has authority to reward the faithful and punish the wicked, “according to what they have done” (Rev. 22:11). And the Lamb is in the eternal new heaven and the new earth after the end of time (Rev. 21:1-22:5).

If Jesus is like the beginning and the end, then He is always present. This image reminds us that Jesus is eternal.

Savior

Jesus is also like a savior. A savior saves someone, like a lifeguard (or lifesaver) rescues people in danger of drowning.

The angel told the shepherds that Jesus was a Savior (Lk. 2:11). And the Samaritans said He was “the Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42). Savior is used so much in the Bible that it is often used as a title of Jesus Christ.

A similar metaphor is that Jesus is like a redeemer who liberates and releases from a bad situation by paying a ransom.  Jesus redeems believers from their sinful situation at the cost of His death (Gal. 4:5; 1 Pt. 1:18-19). The result is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous in God’s sight (Rom. 3:24; Col. 1:14).

If Jesus is like a savior, then people are like those rescued. This image reminds us that Jesus came to rescue us from the judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Have you been rescued in this way yet?

Word

Jesus is like words. Words communicate a message.

Jesus is called “the Word” (Jn. 1:1). As He is eternal, He had no beginning. He enjoyed a personal relationship with God the Father and was fully God. The Word came to live on earth as a human being (Jn. 1:14). That’s amazing, God living as one of His creations!

Jesus is also called the “Word of God” (Rev. 19:13). Words express thoughts. We communicate our thoughts in words. Jesus expressed the thoughts of God. In this instance He executes judgment on the wicked.

So, Jesus was God’s communication or message to humanity. He showed us what God is like. For example, by His death, He showed us how much God loved us.

If Jesus is like words, then He tells us what God is like. This image reminds us of the uniqueness of Jesus.

Pathway

Finally, Jesus is like a pathway. A pathway is a route to follow to a destination.

When Jesus told the disciples about heaven, Thomas asked about the way to get there. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). He is the only way, the exclusive way, to God and heaven (Acts 4:12). The early church was called “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23;22:4; 24:14, 22).

He is also the truth, everything He said is true. John said He was full of truth (Jn. 1:14). He is also the life, the source of physical and spiritual life. Eternal life comes from knowing Jesus Christ (Jn. 17:3). He is also “the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25-26). He has the power of resurrection and of life.

If Jesus is like a pathway, then there is no other route to God or heaven. This image reminds us to be on the right pathway.

Jesus also like a lawyer, a pioneer, and a last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49; Heb. 2:10; 12:2; 1 Jn. 2:1).

Summary

We have seen that the Bible uses many images to show what Jesus is like. Different images highlight different aspects of His life and character. For example, He:
Is both human and divine, as Son of Man and Son of God
Jesus summary dark 400pxRules like a master and a lion
Loves like a bridegroom
Reigns like a king
Sentences like a judge
Cares like a shepherd
Mediates like a high priest
Serves like a servant
Sacrifices like a lamb
Sustains like bread and fruit of the vine
Overcomes darkness like a light
Secures like a gate
Is a foundation like a cornerstone
Is coming soon like the morning star
Saves like a lifeguard (lifesaver)
Is a message that tells us what God is like
Shows us the way to God and heaven like a pathway
And, is always there.

So, that’s the example for us to follow (1 Cor. 11:1). In response, do we:
Live like He is the unique Son of God?
Follow His divine instructions in the Bible?
Feel secure in His love?
Have a close relationship with Him?
Anticipate His coming and His reign?
Realize that Jesus paid our penalty?
Care for one another?
Approach God the Father through Jesus?
Serve Him and others?
Feel thankful for His sacrifice?
Stay connected to the Lord?
Shine like a light in a dark world?
Feel safe in salvation through Christ?
Tell others about salvation through Christ?
Realize Christ’s presence with God on our behalf?

So, let’s “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Pet. 3:18).

Reference:
Bock D.(2015) “Sources for Jesus and Caesar compared”

Written, April 2016

Also see: What’s God like?
What’s the Holy Spirit like?

 


Illustrate Your Messages

For preachers and teachers

God communicates to us in many ways. In a general sense, “His eternal power and divine nature” are clearly evident in the universe He created (Rom. 1:19-20 NIV). In a more specific sense, however, He uses the spoken and written word (2 Th. 2:15).

He spoke to those in the Old Testament through the prophets (Heb. 1:1-2). The Gospels and Acts document many spoken messages, while the remaining books of the New Testament are written messages.

God’s clearest revelation to and communication with mankind was through Jesus Christ some 2,000 years ago. Jesus came as the visible image of the invisible God.

A picture worth a thousand words

The Bible is full of pictorial and metaphorical language; it teems with illustrations. As human beings find it difficult to handle complex, abstract concepts, God often presents them in Scripture in symbols and pictures. Visual images and symbolism are powerful means of communication. This is well known in advertising and other media.

Metaphors and similes help us understand one thing in terms of something else that we are already familiar with. For example, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray” (Isa. 53:6) is a simile, and “You are the salt of the earth” is a metaphor (Mt. 5:13). A simile uses the words “like” and “as” to make the comparison, while a metaphor does not.

Visual images enhance the impact and the recall of a spoken message. When a message is communicated orally and visually it is being delivered through two channels to the listener. This is one of the reasons God has given us sight and hearing (Prov. 20:12; Mt. 13:15-16).

It has been said that “illustrations transform the abstract into the concrete, the ancient into the modern, the unfamiliar into the familiar, the general into the particular, the vague into the precise, the unreal into the real and the invisible into the visible.” It is significant that baptism and the Lord’s supper are visualizations of great spiritual truths.

Pictures painted by Jesus

Jesus had a spoken ministry, and the record of this in the Gospels, written decades later, contains many visual images and figures of speech such as similes and metaphors.

Jesus used everyday situations and illustrations to convey spiritual truths. He referred to His followers as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” and used moths, rust and thieves to teach about heaven; birds and lilies to show the futility of worrying about food and clothes; sawdust and a plank to address hypocrisy; parents to illustrate God; and gates and roads to illustrate the choices we have in life (Mt.  5:13-7:14).

He also used sheep, wolves and fruit to teach about false prophets; the impact of storms on houses constructed by wise and foolish builders to contrast the reactions to His teaching; foxes and birds to show His homelessness; and clothes and wineskins to explain why His disciples did not fast. Jesus felt compassion for people, seeing them as sheep without a shepherd, and urged His followers to be involved in the harvest of people. His followers are to be like sheep, snakes and doves (Mt. 7:15-10:16).

Helping someone, likened to giving a cup of cold water, will be rewarded. The support that Christ offers us is likened to a yoke. And He used the illustrations of a kingdom and a household to counter opposition (Mt. 10:42-12:24-29).

Jesus always used parables when speaking to the crowds (Mt. 13:34).  Examples of these include: a farmer planting seed, weeds growing up among the wheat, the growth of a mustard seed, the work of yeast, the finding of a hidden treasure, the buying of the pearl of great price, the casting of a fishing net, lost sheep, workers in a vineyard, tenants of a vineyard, invitations to a wedding banquet, the fig tree, the manager of a household, being ready for a wedding banquet, the talents of money, separating sheep from goats, the rich fool, the lost coin, the lost son, the shrewd manager, the persistent widow, and the Pharisee and the tax collector (Mt. 13:1-25:46; Lk. 12:13-18:14).

Christ also used a camel and a needle’s eye to describe the impact of wealth; a coin to teach about paying taxes; a gnat and camel, a cup and dish and whitewashed tombs to describe the hypocrisy of the religious leaders whom he called snakes. He described His care for people like that of a hen for its chicks (Mt. 19:23-23:37).

Christ said the religious leaders could understand the weather, but not “the signs of the times” and likened them to yeast (Mt. 16:1-12). Also, He likened the kingdom of God to a farmer’s crop (Mk. 4:26-29).

His followers were sent out like lambs among wolves. Care for our neighbor was illustrated by the Samaritan who helped the man who was robbed and beaten. Christ used a fig tree to explain the need to repent; called the king a fox; used building a tower and going to war to illustrate the cost of being a disciple; and a mustard seed and a mulberry tree to illustrate faith (Lk. 10:3-17:6). Testing by Satan was likened to sifting wheat (Lk. 22:31).

Jesus also tells us that He is like: bread which gives us eternal life (Jn. 6:35); a good shepherd who is willing to die for His sheep/followers (Jn. 10:11); and a vine which supports and supplies its followers who are like branches (Jn. 15:1-17). It is obvious that these are all everyday images that the people of that time would have been very familiar with.

A drama is a vignette of life

Drama provides additional reality and visual images through its dialogue and action. It may involve a situation or succession of events. Some prophets used drama to convey divine messages. Isaiah dramatically went around unclothed and barefoot for three years to warn Egypt and Ethiopia of their coming captivity by Assyria (Isa. 20:2-3). Ezekiel acted out the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (Ezek. 4:1-8; 5). To dramatize just how unfaithful the Jews were to God, Hosea was instructed to marry a wife he knew would be unfaithful (Hos. 1-5). In this case the consequences, punishment and restoration associated with physical adultery were used to emphasize the Jews’ spiritual adultery. In the New Testament, Agabus tied up his hands and feet with Paul’s belt to show how Paul would be tied up in Jerusalem (Acts 21:11).

Christ used a child to teach about the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 18:1-6), and drawing water from a well to teach about the “living water” of eternal life that is available to all who believe in Him (Jn. 4: 4-15). He also washed His disciples’ feet as a dramatic example of how they should humbly serve one another (Jn. 13:1-17). He gave bread and wine to His disciples to symbolize His sacrificial death (Lk:22:19-20).

Dialogues make good drama

Any passage of Scripture that involves dialogue can be dramatized to increase the listeners understanding of the concept being presented. For example, the fate of people after death, described graphically in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31), involves three characters: a narrator, the rich man and Abraham.

Other examples which could be presented as a drama are:
The Fall (Gen. 3:1-23), involving a narrator, God, Adam, Eve and the serpent.
The Temptation of Christ (Mt. 4:1-11), involving a narrator, Satan and Jesus.
The Rich Fool (Lk. 12:13-21), involving a narrator, the rich fool, God and Jesus.
The Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32), involving a narrator, the son and the father.
The Death of Lazarus (Jn. 11:1-44), involving a narrator, Martha, Mary and Jesus.
The Resurrection (Jn. 20:1-29), involving a narrator, Mary, angels, Jesus and Thomas.

A voice off stage may be used rather than an actor for God in order to distinguish that aspect of the deity from Christ.

Speaking today

Visual images such as illustrations and drama should be considered whenever one is giving a spoken message with a spiritual application, as they support and help to convey a message. This is particularly important if the hearers are illiterate, as would have been the case when Christ spoke to the common people of His day.

Visual images can be sourced from the Bible, current events and history, personal experience, nature, science, and the arts. They can be expressed in various ways such as: using a figure of speech that conveys a dramatic visual image, retelling biblical stories and parables in contemporary language, or creating your own fresh modern parables. Of course, physical objects, various kinds of pictures and images and even drawings on a black board can also be used as visual aids.

It is important to know your audience and to begin with topics that will hold their interest. For example, Paul spoke to the Jews from the Old Testament (Acts 13:14-43; 17:1-4), but when he addressed the Greeks at Athens he used illustrations from their objects of worship and their poets to reach them (Acts 17:22-28). As the latter had no knowledge of Scripture he introduced God as the creator while exposing their false gods.

Since we Christians are God’s voice on earth (2 Cor. 5:20), why not use our God-given creativity to include appropriate pictures and actions the next time we speak for Him?

Published, April 1999

See other articles in this series:
Target your messages
Prepare your messages


Participating In The Divine Nature

Using the resource that God gives us

There are two natures present within believers – the sinful and the divine. The sinful nature is inherited by everyone and powered by Satan (Rom. 5:12; Jas. 3:15). In some Bible translations it is also referred to as “earthly,” “the flesh,” “the world” or the “old man.” Sin is evident every day of our lives, causing many of the struggles in the Christian life.

The divine nature is a consequence of the Holy Spirit indwelling believers, giving them a new attitude and godly behavior (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23-24). This becomes evident when one is controlled by the Holy Spirit and obedient to God (Rom. 6:16; 8:6-9). The divine nature is sometimes referred to as “godly,” “heavenly,” “spiritual” or the “new man.” The divine nature is beneficial now and for the future (1 Tim. 4:8).

Purpose Of The Divine Nature
Second Peter 1:3-11 tells why Christians should express the divine nature in their daily lives. Its development is essential for a useful life and it is God’s provision to counteract the sinful nature. He has given us “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3 NIV), so we have the resources to live a life that pleases Him.

Through God’s power and promises we should “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4). His promises include His living among His people, in the person of the Holy Spirit, and treating us with parental care, as His children (2 Cor. 6:16-18). So, the power to express the divine nature is divine, not human (Jn. 15:5). The Greek word translated “participate” is “koinonos”, which means “partakers,” “sharers” or “having something in common,” and is described elsewhere as partners and companions. This implies that God shares His nature with us, and our active involvement (“make every effort” in 2 Pet. 1:5) is conveyed in the New International Version by expressing this as the verb “participate.”

An important reason for participating in the divine nature is that it helps us combat the sinful nature (2 Pet. 1:4). If we follow the Spirit’s guidance, we “will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:16). Also, replacing activities of the sinful nature with those of the divine nature helps stop giving Satan a foothold in our lives and reduces our double-mindedness (Eph. 4:22-27; Jas. 4:8). The more we participate in the divine nature the less time we’ll have for the sinful nature.

Therefore, we are exhorted “to make every effort to add to your faith goodness … knowledge … self-control … perseverance … godliness … brotherly kindness and … love” (2 Pet. 1:5-7). The Greek word for how to do this is “spoude,” meaning “eager, earnest, zealous, diligent.” We should “make every effort” to express these characteristics of the divine nature.

This is followed by a promise of effective and productive lives if these qualities are increasingly present (2 Pet. 1:8), as in our growth towards Christlikeness (Eph. 4:13-15). Failure to develop these virtues leaves us spiritually blind and forgetful (2 Pet. 1:9).

Also, there is this promise: “If you do these things you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom” (2 Pet. 1:10). The Greek word for fall is “ptaio,” meaning “to stumble.” It is used metaphorically in this verse meaning to stumble into sin. Similarly, Christ has been described as “Him who is able to keep you from falling” (Jude 24). But of course, James said, “we all stumble in many ways,” so this means that the more we are occupied with the divine nature, the less likely we are to fall into sinful behavior (Jas. 3:2).

Images Of The Divine Nature
Fortunately for a generation that thinks visually, the Bible teems with illustrations. Scriptural examples of the divine nature in believers can increase our understanding of this gift from God.

The fruit of the Spirit is well known: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Paul urges believers to clothe themselves with: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. “And over all these virtues put on love” (Col. 3:12-14). Furthermore, we are exhorted to flee sinful behavior and pursue: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness, and peace (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Finally, the wisdom that comes from heaven is: pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (Jas. 3:17). This results in a “harvest of righteousness” (v. 18).

The symbols used in these examples provide a further impression of the divine nature. It increases, grows, sustains, protects, is a worthwhile goal, and is true wisdom. What attractive and desirable images!

Attributes Of The Divine Nature
The main features of the divine nature, summarized from the Bible, are listed at the end of this article. These are the characteristics of God and Christianity. They are seen in creation (Rom. 1:20), in Christ (Jn. 14:9-11) and should be evident in believers before a watching world. Christ told His followers to love one another so that others would know who were His disciples (Jn. 13:34-45). Fruitful lives are also evident in His disciples (Jn. 15:8). Similarly, the divine nature should distinguish believers today, as God communicates through them (2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Jn. 3:7-10).

Enough Evidence To Convict Us Of Being Christian?
Christianity changes people, transforming their attitudes, desires and values. For example, the dramatic changes to Peter and John were explained by the fact that they “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). By participating in the divine nature, believers are changed by the Holy Spirit to become more like Christ: “transformed into His likeness” (2 Cor. 3:17-18). Then there is our final transformation: “When He appears, we shall be like Him” (Phil. 3:21; 1 Jn. 3:2).

After advising Christians to be occupied with things that are: true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, Paul urges them to put into practice what they have learned (Phil. 4:8-9). Who controls our lives is largely up to us. We can make choices on how we live our lives more often than we think. This is why we should “make every effort” to let the Spirit replace our sinful values, attitudes and desires with godly ones.

So, let’s get involved in the divine nature, making the most of every opportunity to be God’s fellow-workers, recognizing the divine nature in others and encouraging other Christians in it as well (2 Cor. 6:1; Eph. 5:16).

The Divine Nature Is:


Active
Bold
Compassionate
Considerate
Consistent
Contented
Dedicated
Encouraging
Enthusiastic
Evangelistic
Faithful
Forgiving
Generous
Gentle
Good
Gracious
Helpful
Holy
Honest
Hospitable
Humble
Impartial
Joyful
Liberty
Longsuffering
Loving
Obedient
Opposed to sin
Patient
Peaceful
Persevering
Praising
Prayerful
Reconciling
Repentant
Respectful
Reverent
Self-controlled
Submissive
Thankful
Unifying
Visionary
Wise
Wonderful

Published: September 2003