by Lawrence Jones
Throughout much of history there have been men and women recognized as filled with the Spirit of God. Pharaoh said as much, speaking of Joseph. Conversely, throughout much of history there have been souls tormented by hostile spirits. King Saul, though visited by the Spirit of God upon his coronation, later rebelled against God, grieved the Spirit, and found himself tormented by an evil spirit. It would seem that there is an aperture in the human architecture, such that through that aperture we are able to open ourselves to the transcendent dominion of God or to surrender ourselves to the chaotic will of invisible mundane powers.
The Hebrew and Greek Scriptures describe man as a spiritual being created for communion with the Spirit of God. It is my goal here to chart the paths along which this communion is made possible. It would appear that the spirits of the earth are most readily discovered and adopted in settings of lawlessness. Meanwhile, the knowledge of the Spirit of God is associated with a heart that is devoted to the order of divine law. Only the passionate few discover the love of the law and the love of the Spirit of God. Of all those who actively seek the face of God, we are inspired by those who seek him with all their heart. So Isaiah wrote,
“My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you.” Isaiah 26.9
In a Psalm, David wrote,
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Psalm 42.1
And in the ancient narrative of Job, he is quoted as saying,
“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will seee God; I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! Job 19.25-27
In the same way, the God who created us seeks communion with our spirit. As James wrote,
“He yearns jealously for the spirit he caused to live within us.” James 4.5
What does God intend here? Is his role passive? Is it his expectation, say, that we identify the presence of a static divine Spirit resident in the world and then somehow open ourselves to it as we might expose ourselves to art or music? Is the role of God more active? Does he make himself available as Spirit and shed a spiritual enhancement upon those who claim allegiance to him? Or is something far more sophisticated and far less subjective intended here?
Yeshua, in conversation with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, informed him that,
“no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born from on high.”
The response of Nicodemus was skeptical:
“How can a man be born when he is old?…Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” John 3.4
Yeshua then spoke more exactly:
“No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” John 3.5,6
To be born of water is undoubtedly a reference to birth from the womb of the mother. To be born of water might equally allude to the ritual of baptism in which the new follower of Yeshua is symbolically “buried,” only to rise from the water as a new person, marked and set aside to God. Baptism through immersion was a traditional rite marking the entry of the proselyte into Israel. The fact that John was baptising people who were already citizens of Israel reveals that the popular imagination understood that inclusion into Messianic Israel — the Israel of God — demands a certain purposefulness of the heart.
Before Yeshua began to teach, John led people in what was simply called “the baptism of repentance.” He was calling people to a change of heart in advance of the imminent arrival of their Messiah. It was only after the arrival of Yeshua to explicitly claim us for himself that baptism was “in the name of Yeshua the Messiah.” The baptism of repentance was understood to encompass the repentance of a heart rejecting its own sinfulness and hungering to turn from a life centered in self to a life centered in the knowledge of God. Baptism in the name of Yeshua Messiah was and is understood to recognize the accomplished work of Yeshua at the cross, in which he has taken upon himself the onus of our rebellion.
Baptism, for the believer, is a ritual reflective of repentance: metanoia, the turning about of the mind. Once Yeshua had come into the world, and once a person was aware of Yeshua’s work in the world, there was no reason to be limited to the baptism of repentance. One would expect to be baptized in the name of Yeshua, symbolically dying with him and then rising to newness of life.
A ritual act of baptism is a confession of the will which reaches out to the person of Yeshua in search of redemption. It is an act which lies at the threshold of being born of the Spirit. On the occasion of Pentecost, in the wake of the ascension of Yeshua to the heavenly throne, Peter told the onlookers,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2.38,39
Yeshua, talking with Nicodemus, was more explicit. He did not simply say that repentance would lead to the gift of the Spirit and everything would be okay. He said that without being born of the Spirit nothing would be okay. That is to say that any knowledge of the excellence which God intends for us is fully conditioned upon both the redemptive work of Christ at the cross and the work of the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. We may imagine that in so being “born of the Spirit,” if there is any congruence with childbirth, a certain amount of labor and pain is to be expected.
Meanwhile, the human spirit that lives only “unto itself” remains stunted and never comes to know fulfillment or maturity. Such a soul, if it finds satisfaction, will only know it by the standards of the mundane world.
Scripture asserts that to live in rejection of or ignorance of the Spirit of God is to live in relative darkness, without access to the discernment of the most important truths – truths only knowable through the mind of the Spirit.
“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” I Corinthians 2.11-12
It is the science of this union which we seek – knowledge of the path to the union of the human spirit and the Spirit of God.
In speaking of “person” I mean to signify the individual in all its capacity to be conscious of itself, of others, of God: able to feel, to think, to choose, and, above all, able to act independently in response to information which one gathers within oneself. Being made in the image of God, the quality of being independent person is something which we share with God himself. The person is the fundamental unit [or “atomic unit”] of spiritual life.
The human spirit is the dynamic core of the human person. It is rooted in the essential being of the person. To test this we may look at the Scriptural narrative of creation. The first two chapters of Genesis describe the creation of mankind in two stages. In the fundamental creation, described enigmatically in chapter one, the essential being of man and woman is created:
“And God created [bara] the man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them.” Genesis 1.27
Subsequently, the essential being of the person was married into the mortal body which God formed [yitzer] specifically for the person. At that moment the person became a living soul [nephesh].
In the opening of chapter two the work of creation is complete, and God has rested from that work. But the material reality of living things on earth – plants and animals and mankind – is not yet manifest.
“And every shrub of the field was not yet in the earth and every herb of the field had not yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth and there was not a man to till the ground.” Genesis 2.5
At this point the man and the woman had identity, but, apart from the moment of their creation, they existed outside of history. God brought them into history by forming their bodies and grafting them into the life of the world.
“But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. Then the Lord formed [yitzer] the man of dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living soul [nephesh chayah].” Genesis 2.6,7
God then put Adam into a deep sleep and took from him one side of his body and formed it into the living being who was to be the first woman. Having come from his body [“bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”] she was the partner who was to bring completion to Adam, as he to her. Their essential being had been created by God. With that essential being married into the unique body of each, they became spirited beings, spiritual beings, and, with the breath of God, that spiritual being was become a “living soul” – incorporeal spirit made physically manifest as living soul, man and woman.
In the Scriptures we first encounter spirit [ruach] in the earliest moments of creation:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit [ruach] of God was hovering over the waters.” Genesis 1.2,3
There is then a clear connection captured in language between the ruach/Spirit of God hovering over the waters of earth and the Spirit/ breath of God with which God breathes on the first man and gives him the breath of life. Job, perhaps the most ancient book in Scripture, states this connection:
“But it is the Spirit [ruach] in man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.” Job 32.8
Job’s friend Elihu is here astute enough to note that the spirit that has understanding is the spirit that looks to the Spirit of God. In the same vein, Ezekiel noted that the spirit turned away from the Spirit of God fails in understanding:
“Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit [ruach] and have seen nothing.” Ezekiel 13.3
We see that Soul is portrayed as the union of essential being and living body. Within that union the life of the spirit of the person is made possible and has existence. Spirit owns all the intelligence and capacity and sensitivity of the embodied essential being. Spirit is then the spiritual and spirited dynamic core of the living soul. By the standard of Scripture, the soul is the totality of the life of the human being. Historically, any reference to the “eternal soul” is reference to the fact that when we enter eternity in the company of our God we do so not as disembodied spirits but as souls with immortal bodies.
As the dynamic core of our being, spirit is the seat of perception, of understanding, of opinion, and of emotion. Spirit entertains hope, knows sorrow, suffers fear and anger and joy. It is alternately faithful or discouraged. It can be arrogant or contrite, willing or stubborn.
Spirit holds within itself great expectations. Spirit is highly sensitive to the frustration of these expectations. The pain of such frustration can become hard evidence that our individual existence is something greater than and prior to our own imagining. In tears and joy we feel the weight of existence, the incredible gravity of being.
If we accept that spirit is the dynamic core of the soul, and that the living soul is the totality, physical and spiritual, of the life of the human being, then we may accept that the center of that life is frequently called the heart. Recognizing that spirit denotes the dynamic core of the person, “heart” also denotes the dynamic core of the person, but with a slightly more expansive domain, encompassing both the spiritual core and the physical core. The heart, being both the physical and spiritual center of our life, may also be considered as the “home” of the spirit. Heart and spirit often seem nearly interchangeable in usage. Similarly, as the soul is the home of the spirit, the two words, soul and spirit, are at times used interchangeably. Consider these examples:
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51.10
“…a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.” Psalm 78.8
“Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit….” Ezekiel 18.31
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Luke 1.47
In the early work of Yahveh to reconcile his Spirit with the spirit of men, Yahveh spoke in terms of the “circumcision of the heart.” Yahveh saw in Abraham the character and capacity to be the patriarch of the family and people which Yahveh desired as his own “inheritance” – as the realization of his purpose for mankind. Yahveh came to Abraham and revealed to him that he was to be the father of a people “set apart” for God. In order to mark them as set apart to God, Yahveh made a covenant with Abraham under which every male would be circumcised in the flesh.
“You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” Genesis 17.11
By this covenant, circumcision was to be the material emblem of a greater reality – the expectation of Yahveh that the heirs of Abraham must undergo the circumcision of the heart – the removal of everything that is superfluous in the identity and function of the true person.
Circumcision of both body and heart remained the standard for Israel under the leadership of Moses:
“Yet Yahveh set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore,…” Deuteronomy 10.15,16
“Yahveh your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” Deuteronomy 30.6
In this last quotation a very important aspect of the circumcision of the heart emerges. We surrender to Yahveh our hearts for circumcision. He performs the circumcision. The result of that circumcision – the painful process by which he removes excess from our character – is that we are liberated to discover ourselves made alive by his love for us, which engenders our love for him.
From ancient times the word of God teaches that our work is to have the faith in his goodness which allows us to surrender ourselves to him and allow him to bring healing to the chambers of the heart.
“I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me – the breath of man that I have created. I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near, says Yahveh, And I will heal them.” Isaiah 57.16-19
The descendants of Abraham, within a few generations — Isaac, then Jacob and Jacob’s children – were driven by drought and famine into Egypt. As their families grew large and became tribes, they found themselves subjugated by the wary Egyptian powers. In alienation they became estranged from the God of Abraham. In the Exodus, Moses led them out of Egypt, and, at Mount Sinai, Yahveh made a new covenant with Israel, rooted in the ten commandments as parameters for the conduct of the nation. At the heart of the commandments lay this preamble, the shema, which begins,
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…” Deuteronomy 6.4-7
The people of Israel struggled to get beyond the most formal adherence to the terms of the covenant. Yahveh was seeking individuals bonded in their hearts to the person of their God. Only the very few succeeded in realizing this bond. Generally speaking, the hearts of Israel, like the hearts of their neighbors, revealed themselves to be devoted to themselves. Jeremiah recorded these words of Yahveh:
“Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts and on the horns of their altars…Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you. I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know…Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from Yahveh….But blessed is the man who trusts in Yahveh, whose confidence is in him…The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I Yahveh search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 17. 1,4,5,9,10
The more Israel fell away from the expectations of Yahveh, the more he allowed them to fall into the hands of the neighboring powers and discover the extent to which they had made themselves no different than other men. But Yahveh did not give up on the grand plan of his promises to Abraham. The more Israel fell the more the prophets held to the grand destiny of a people of God, and the more they spoke of the coming of a Messiah who would facilitate a true renewal of the human heart:
“I will gather you from the nations and bring you back…I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 11.17,19
“And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36.27
The outcome of history for the people of God was dependent on the possibility of the communion of the Spirit of God with the spirit of man.
So came our Messiah, not to overthrow Rome – not for now – but to make a way for the renewal of the human heart. To this end, John, heralding the arrival of Yeshua, told those who came to him for the baptism of repentance,
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Matthew 3.11
It is the Spirit of God which brings about the circumcision of the heart. Paul taught,
“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.” Romans 2.29
In his letter to Ephesus Paul clearly stated that the work of the Spirit is much more than a sprinkling, much more than a makeover or glorification. The work of the Spirit is the re-creation of the heart through the surrender of the heart to the dominion of the person of God. For the assembly of believers at Ephesus, Paul described the Spirit of God penetrating into our essential being, making known to us his own love and mercy, bringing us under the power of that love, and teaching us from the endless resource of his own wisdom:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is at work within us, to him be glory…” Ephesians 3.16-21
We see here that love lies at the architectural center of what the Spirit of Yeshua is working in the heart, the capacity to give all that we are for the sake of another. We begin to see clearly here that the much heralded advent of the Spirit is in fact the advent of the living spiritual presence of God himself within the architecture of our “heart’s house.” So Yeshua would say in Revelation:
“Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and sup with him and he with me.” Revelation 3.20
Here we see our God not standing on formalities. For instance, there is always time for the literal rite of baptism. For us, Yeshua is at this moment before the heart’s door. At this moment we, as we are, may open the door, and he will in no way turn away from us.
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” John 6.37
When Yeshua enters the heart the opportunity of profound communion begins, without regard for the imperfection of our state of understanding. He is there to lead us, stumbling, to the truth, the truth which begins in him.
In his letter to the Roman assembly Paul described the power of Yeshua as double -ended, as he spiritually enters our hearts and is bodily on the heavenly throne, interceding for us with the Father:
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will …Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Romans 8.26,27,34
The moment we choose to own Yeshua as redeemer and lord, we are free to open our heart to him and give his Spirit dominion over every chamber of the heart. Other than ignorance or stubbornness, there is nothing to prevent this. However, in the moment of first choosing to take Yeshua as lord, very few of us are really cognizant of the true cost of discipleship, and much less are we capable of projecting or seeking the new birth signified by the reign of the Spirit of God within us. For this reason, in the gospels and in the book of Acts we find the Spirit coming to believers under a variety of protocols.
Peter could say, “Repent and be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” There in the presence of the great Pentecost dispensation of Spirit, the onlookers had been given some ground of expectation and Peter led them right away to share in the experience they had witnessed.
At a later date Philip, the apostle, went into Samaria, and taught the people about Jesus. Many turned to him, many were baptized, many were healed, and in some cases evil spirits were driven out. The apostles in Jerusalem heard of this and sent Peter and John to visit with him. Philip had not yet introduced the Samaritans to an understanding of the work of the Spirit. Peter and John then introduced them to this as a separate and second teaching.
“When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Acts 8.14-17
Peter, in another time, met with a group of Gentiles at the house of Cornelius in Caesarea. Peter explained to them that God had made Yeshua a sacrifice for their sin. Faith grew in them as they considered the truth of what Peter was telling them; then the Spirit, being always sovereign, moved suddenly upon them, without regard for any prior baptism:
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God….Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Acts 10.44-48
One additional episode emphasizes the fact that many follow Yeshua and know to love him and serve him, yet, without hearing the call of Yeshua to open the heart and give him residence, they live their faith ignorant of the sustenance of the Spirit. Late in the book of Acts we learn of a Jew named Apollos, who, by his own passion, led others to the knowledge of Yeshua as Messiah and redeemer.
“Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately….He vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. Acts 18.24-26,28
Significantly, attached to this account of Apollos we find a brief account of Paul’s arrival in Ephesus. Here again we find men who are “disciples” but are still unaware that there is a call to open the heart to the enduring presence of the Spirit of God.
“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” Acts 19.1-6
Here Paul distinguished between John’s rite of repentance in expectation of the Messiah and the rite of baptism based on the finished work of Yeshua at the cross, the work which satisfies the expectations of the Father and tears down every barrier between our spirit and the Spirit of God. For the spirits of these men, that ritual of baptism marked them as belonging to God and the Spirit came to them. As frequently the case at that time, the Spirit came with dramatic signs — tongues and prophesy.
Now we must distinguish between the simple opening of the heart to the Spirit and the actual labor of being born of the Spirit. We cannot stop at the moment of collision between our own spirit and the Spirit of God and declare that we have arrived at the life which God intends for us. No matter how genuine the impulse of turning to Yeshua, no matter how dramatically real the initial collision between the Spirit of God and our own spirit, it is not the case that Yeshua simply floods us with so much love that our weaknesses are no longer significant. It may feel that way for a time. It may look that way for a time. But Yeshua needs no publicists. And he is not interested in our appearances. He is interested in our innermost character. Paul said, “what counts is a new creation.” Peter said “you must be born anew.” Paul spoke of his new “creations” as infants attending to the maturing of Christ himself within them.
“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” Galatians 4.19
A genuine encounter with the person and Spirit of Yeshua – the hearing of his knock at the door and opening the door – is the most pivotal and transformative moment of life, but what follows is not pure bliss. If our encounter with Yeshua is serious, what follows is the peacefulness of his enduring love winding across a landscape of bitter train wreck. As we turn initially to Yeshua to heal us and give us the liberty to come into the presence of God, only the rarest of persons has any idea of the extent to which our habit of personal autonomy is ingrained within us and we are little aware of the extent to which we rely on our selves, our possessions, our friends and connections, for the sake of our welfare: All these bonds will be tested [and often severed] in order that we may learn to find our every support in him alone.
John Newton, author of the hymn, Amazing Grace, wrote another great hymn which honestly confesses the tests we must endure if we truly want to give Yeshua dominion over our lives.
“I asked the Lord that I might grow/ In faith and love and ev’ry grace,/ Might more of His salvation know,/ And seek more earnestly His face.
“’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,/ And He, I trust, has answered prayer./ But it has been in such a way/ As almost drove me to despair.
“I hoped that in some favored hour/ At once He’d answer my request/ And, by His love’s constraining pow’r/ subdue my sins and give me rest.
“Instead of this, He made me feel/ The hidden evils of my heart/ And let the angry pow’rs of hell/ Assault my soul in ev’ry part.
“Yea more, with His own hand He seemed/ Intent to aggravate my woe,/ Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,/ Humbled my heart and laid me low.
“’Lord, why is this,’ I trembling cried;/ ‘Wilt Thou pursue Thy worm to death?’/ ‘Tis in this way, ‘ the Lord replied,/ ‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.’
“’These inward trials I employ/ From self and pride to set thee free/ And break thy schemes of earthly joy/ That thou may’st find thy all in Me.’”
In our time, people believe in “mind” because it is clearly substantiated by synapses and gray matter. We are much less likely to believe in heart, except in the “suspension of disbelief” inspired by poetry and romance. We do not necessarily believe that the existence of a physical heart indicates the existence of a spiritual heart. Or, should we allow the existence of the spiritual heart, we may be deeply skeptical, even fearful, of what might be found within it. Archetypal dreams abound in which the heart is a black box which the owner fears to open.
The heart unchallenged goes unnoticed. But the heart challenged is a wild place of passionate reaching for its desire or, alternately, a center of pain in the loss of hope. Passion and pain teach us that there is something far above our own imagining which beats within us, an unseen existence straining to be known, acknowledged and honored. It will not be still unless it is granted its desire, or endlessly thwarted, or silenced in death.
Too often its most profound object of desire is misinterpreted as person or possession or seductive pleasure or seat of power. But the enlightened heart above all seeks the peace and order that comes from being loved by the one who brought it into the world. That love and that order are consummated in the heart when the heart opens itself to the loving rule of him who sits in royalty on the heavenly throne, who comes to us on the breath of Spirit. It is not just poetic dressing that Christ offers as he speaks to us in metaphors of consumption. It is the desire of Yeshua to employ poetic metaphor to open our minds to the fact that our knowledge of him truly must begin in taking him spiritually deep into the chambers of the heart.
In the gospel of John, we repeatedly find evidence that in opening ourselves to the Spirit we are giving ourselves over to the care and dominion of the person of Christ himself. John records a variety of occasions in which Christ employs strong metaphor in order to conjure in the minds of his audience the radical nature of his own Spirit assuming its place in communion with our inner being. John also records the powerful speech of Yeshua to his disciples in which he tells them of his impending departure and explains how, through the Spirit, he will come to live in each of them, love them, teach them, and keep them for eternity.
Early in the book of John, when Yeshua met with the Syro-Phoenician woman at the well in Samaria, he asked her for a drink. In response to his request, she parried,
“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”
[Jewish men rarely spoke to women other than their wives, and they definitely did not talk freely with Samaritans.] Yeshua showed no reticence to talk with her. He also wanted to tease her with the prospect that he was not only a Jew but even a Jew “of some stature.”
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Yeshua was intimating to her the depth of his good will toward her. As was his habit, Yeshua also disoriented his interlocutor by taking the material object of conversation and transubstantiating it into its spiritual double. He identified the Spirit metaphorically as “living water” and literally as “the gift of God.”
Like Nicodemus, the woman took the words of Yeshua at face value.
“Sir…you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
She was clearly curious about the possible mystical meaning of living water because he had questioned her awareness of “the gift of God.” She also wanted Yeshua to know that, Samaritan or not, she came from the same line of patriarchs as every other Jew. If there is a gift of God, then she had as much right to desire it as any other.
“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
“Sir,” she said, “give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
The woman still wanted to take his words at face value, for the alternative was to take “living water” as metaphor and have to ask what it means. Now she was doing the teasing, urging him to set before her this water which wells up to eternal life.
Not to be outdone, Yeshua stalled: “Go, call your husband and come back.”
She was compelled to reply, “I have no husband.”
Yeshua then revealed to her that he knew her life completely, even though they had never met before this moment.
“You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
At this, the woman suddenly appeared to sidestep Yeshua, changing the subject to avoid embarrassment. In reality she was responding to Yeshua by going to the heart of the question. She wanted to know what matters most, the letter of the law or the spirit of the law:
“Sir…I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Now came the time for Yeshua to allude to the spiritual meaning of living water, and to reveal that something new was coming, the liberty of the Spirit of God to reach from the throne of the heavens into the hearts of men and women:
“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Then the woman asserted that she did in fact believe that between them there was a common ground for knowing the truth of spiritual worship, and that was the coming Messiah.
“I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”
The next metaphor arose as Yeshua taught a large crowd following him along the shore of the sea of Galilee. There, miraculously, he had fed five thousand people from five loaves of bread and two fish. That evening his disciples got into a boat and crossed the lake. Yeshua followed along on his own. In the morning the crowds set out in search of Yeshua. Finding him on the other side of the lake, Yeshua bluntly told them that it was not so much the miracle that interested them as the fact that they had eaten their fill of bread and their stomachs were satisfied.
Then he admonished them, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
They immediately asked, What is this work that endures to eternal life?
“The work of God is this, to believe in the one he has sent.”
The question that remained was, Of the one he has sent, what is it that we are to believe? Yeshua consistently taught that it is not a matter of belief “about” him. It is belief in him. It is something which comes to life between himself and ourself, and with the idiom of bread Yeshua would make it more clear.
The crowd wanted Yeshua to prove the authority of his claims by giving them a sign. They suggested something along the order of the manna, the “bread from heaven,” which their forefathers ate in the desert. Yeshua responded:
“I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world….I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6.32,33,35
We are to recognize that Yeshua is the Messiah, the anointed king of the Israel of God, and we are to believe that the life of Yeshua himself, the Spirit of Yeshua, is the food that heals. The proof of that belief is that we open the heart to his dominion, that he should rule the heart’s house; yield the heart to the spiritual diet which begins and ends in the life of Yeshua, the Logos of God. Metaphorical bread and water are in reality the lifeblood of the Logos, the lifeblood of Yeshua. His life is eternal and his life sustains both the health and the immortality of our souls.
“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6.39,40
There we have it literally, that the eternal life is the life which is grafted into the life of Christ within us. Eternal life is not just a matter of duration. It is a matter of quality, a matter of essence, a matter of living a life that is not wasted in activity that dishonors our selves and our God.
* * * *
Yeshua was not yet satisfied with the message he had given them. Perhaps he doubted that they had any idea of the cost of this bread, the cost which Yeshua would pay on the cross. It appeared that he yet needed to impress on them the reality that the life, the eternal living, which Yeshua intended for mankind is dependent upon the literal ingestion of his spiritual being into the heart’s house. And so he expanded the metaphor to include his physical body:
“This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world….I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
He had now returned to the message given to Nicodemus: Without being born from above we cannot know the kingdom of heaven.
“For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”
But his disciples, like Nicodemus, like the Samaritan woman, are struggling with the metaphor and inclined to take his words at face value. Yeshua had to speak to them directly and make it plain that he was speaking of his Spirit.
“Does this offend you? …The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” John 6.61,63
As the Passover sacrifice drew near, the disciples began to see that their Messiah, the one whom they loved with all their being, was on a path to separate himself from them. Inconceivable that the Messiah, anticipated for century upon century, should now, in just a few years, be about to go away. Witnessing this growing awareness in the disciples, Yeshua spoke plainly of the plan which was in place from the beginning of the world, the hidden implication of what John had proclaimed even before Yeshua’s baptism, that “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
In the course of his long discourse during the Preparation Day supper, Yeshua laid out the details of what was soon to happen. Yes, bodily he would depart – for a limited time. But his Spirit would soon return, in power and sustenance for each one of them. This bond of Spirit, linking each believer to the heavenly throne, would become the radical power that would re-engineer Israel from a geopolitical nation to a transcendent people scattered across the globe.
Yeshua reminded them of their work: to trust in him. Then he told them that when the time was right they would be physically gathered to him. But what about the interim? He promised them the presence and power of the Spirit, the Spirit being the spiritual presence of Yeshua himself:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live….All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
So does Yeshua promise the communion of the Spirit of God with our own spirit.
At the moment when Yeshua told the crowd that they must work, not for the food that spoils, but for the food that lasts into eternity, the ever literal-minded Jews asked him,
“What is the work of God?
Yeshua replied that the work of God is to believe on the one he has sent.
Contrary to what many would believe, he did not say that the work of God is to make yourself good and teach yourself to stop sinning. Why did he not say this? Because Yeshua is the first to know that in mankind “The heart is deceitful beyond measure.” This is our spiritual inheritance from the rebellion of our first parents.
Yeshua knows that the heart itself must be transformed and that he is the only one who can heal the heart. Yet even here, with the work of healing in his hands, our spirit has its own will and is ready to resist radical surgery, to resist his interventions in a domain which has so long stood at the core of our identity. The work of believing becomes the inner battle to surrender to him unexplored chambers of self-centered life.
Even Naaman struggled with his pride when he came to Elisha to be healed. Elisha was ready to mediate the will of Yahveh to heal his leprosy. With Naaman, as with ourselves, Yahveh needed him to open his heart in trust, in belief. So he told him that his leprosy would be healed if he would complete the ritual act of washing seven times in the Jordan River. But Naaman was disgusted at this lowly idea. He expected that healing from God himself would take place only under the noblest of circumstances. To Naaman, commander of the armies of the king of Aram, the Jordan was nothing but a muddy creek.
We are more than ready to see an end to things which clearly harm us, but we resist the loss of food or clothing or houses which contribute to our welfare, our security and our apparent dignity.
Worst of all, there is a trip wire strung across the entrance of every chamber of the heart, and at every opening it must be cut down. That very wire was first strung when Satan seduced our first mother. He told her that the boundaries laid down by God were of no great consequence. He told her that if she could rise above the impediment of the boundaries of God, if she could answer first to her own desires and her own will, then she would be like god: no one to stand above her, a goddess in every respect.
It was not the fruit itself that she could not resist, although Satan did encourage in her a lust for it that would blind her to reflection on her rebellion. She was seduced by the satin-robed glory of the act by which she assumed total power over her own self and became a goddess. She went “beyond good and evil.” Of course Satan wanted her to believe that in the process she would ascend to the understanding of the nature of good and evil – “as simply the construct of a self-effacing god.” The consequences of her act would teach her the true boundary between good and evil: alienation from the God who created her.
Deep within our character lie the remnants of that ancient sin, a fascination, an addiction to personal autonomy. As we draw near to those trivial indulgences which we ask God to overlook, we discover that it is not the objects of desire, big or small, to which we are addicted. It is our secret, unobstructed Liberty, our dominion over ourselves, which we fear to lose.
Those objects of desire to which we are addicted – they are merely the idols through which we worship the intoxicating state of belonging to ourselves. It is built into our souls. It is built into our lives. It is built into our culture, as captured in this sketch of the culture of Babylon, the empire of the world:
“In her heart she vaunts, ‘A queen I sit, no widow I, tears I shall never know.’” Revelation 18.7
Everywhere we are given idols of autonomy to adore, in advertising, in literature, in the examples of our parents, our peers, our teachers, and our celebrities. We are taught daily and hourly that only the most insipid persons surrender their autonomy. Only the weak, the slaves, who give up their right to themselves.
It is only the presence of the Spirit of Yeshua that can reveal to us that the life and the possessions and the activity of this little kingdom have no eternal value, and we are all about eternity. As Paul said, the outward appearance of piety is honored among men, but the circumcision of the heart is recognized only by God.
Personal autonomy is precisely what we are to surrender to Yeshua. As Oswald Chambers once said, There is nothing else we possess to surrender to Yeshua but our right to ourselves. In Psalm 50 Yahveh speaks,
“Gather to me my consecrated one, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
This is the sacrifice to which he refers, the offering up of our heart’s house to his radical and thorough dominion. It is only in this sense that the sermon on the mount is a call to strength, to his strength:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When Jesus offended the crowd by telling them they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he turned to his disciples and asked them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
In poverty of spirit Peter answered him,
“Lord, to whom whall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the holy One of God.” John 6.68,69
However much we are enabled by our own capacity for Reason and philosophy, when we are our own beacon, we die. True eternity does not lie in the “timeless things.” True eternity lies in being born of the Spirit of the person of the Logos, who is Yeshua. In surrender to his Spirit we discover Yeshua himself as our beacon of understanding, the loving person of God ruling within our hearts.
Yeshua brings to us his own heart, his Spirit. That Spirit becomes the full inspiration of our spirit. From his Spirit we learn to say “Abba, Father.” We learn from him the love of the Father. In the past we lived as orphans. We are no longer orphans. It remains for us to turn our backs on the dying calls of the spirit that savored independence and alienation. It remains for us to keep our hearts open to the voice of Yeshua, to honor the reborn spirit growing within us, to use the heart he is giving us.
 “rib” is a mistranslation. “Side” is the better translation.
 This is not the standard of classical Greek thought, Plato or Aristotle or the gnostics, for whom the body is imperfect. They would have it that an incorporeal soul is in itself perfect and that all the troubles of mankind can be blamed on the imperfection of the mortal body, the imperfection of which they blame on the limitations of the creator, whom they call the demiurge.