- 1 Baptism
- 2 Body
- 3 Circumcision
- 4 Cross
- 5 Death
- 6 Flesh
- 7 Will
Ordinary words sometimes get used in unexpected ways when you are trying to explain such concepts as soul, spirit, self etc. My goal is to try to stay as close as possible to the way in which certain relevant words are used in the Bible. That may occasionally require resorting to specific Greek or Hebrew words and their range of uses.
I think it is better to define only a few terms, and do them well, rather than to try to come up with a whole new vocabulary.
In the Bible, many terms have two useful applications. When Jesus spoke of His own flesh and blood being food and drink, He later made it clear that He was not talking literally. Yet, on other occasions flesh and blood mean exactly what a surgeon would think of today. So the first step in determining a word's particular meaning must be to see from its context if it is being used literally in a natural sense, or symbolically or metaphorically of a "spiritual" concept. So the short list of terms relevant to our daily "cross-bearing" will have both meanings, and I will try to list the Bible verses for each meaning.
For now, I will not be making distinctions between the following:
symbol or metaphor, definition or meaning, literal or natural.
Literal meaning: The act of taking a cleansing bath in pure/clean ("living" means "fresh, not stagnant, not salty") water so as to be literally clean enough to enter the Temple grounds and to offer a sacrifice.
Spiritual meanings: Prior to Pentecost, baptism by John The Baptizer or Jesus' disciples meant that a person had repented and cleansed their souls as preparation for the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Starting with Pentecost, baptism began to mean accepting Jesus' death and burial as if it were their own. Coming up from the water symbolized the beginning of a new life, just as Jesus was raised from the dead.
The literal act of baptism (by mature and responsible individuals) usually has a meaning similar to this last post-Pentecostal identification with Jesus' death. I think part of what has been missing in the Christianity I have observed in my lifetime is the sense that what Baptism symbolizes for us is meant to be an ongoing daily experience for us.
Literal meaning: A single individual human body in the natural biological sense.
Second Literal meaning: Those believers who are ressurrected to serve Jesus during His Messianic Kingdom on the earth will have a real flesh and blood body like the body of Jesus during the 40 day period that he was on the earth after His own resurrection. This is not a glorified body.
First spiritual meaning: Part of I Corinthians 15 focuses on the "glorified" spiritual body as being very different and superior to the mortal natural body. In addition to the "spiritual body" being immortal, it will have the same basic qualities as Jesus' glorified body, as described in Acts 9 and Revelation 1.
Second spiritual meaning: The phrase "body of Christ" is used to demonstrate how all believers are related to each other through Christ. This is similar, though not the same as, the modern use demonstrated by the phrase "corporate body," meaning some kind of institutional or organizational structure.
Literal meaning: The ritual of making a male child a participant in the Abrahamic Covenant. It was a literal cutting off of some flesh, but its purpose was to create the sign of being in a covenant relationship with God. At all times, the primary meaning of the literal act was spiritual. Today, for many it is purely medical. I consider the Moslem act of circumcision to be related to Ishmael, not to God's covenant with Abraham which was confirmed thorugh Issac and Jacob. Female circumcision is unbiblical.
Spiritual meaning: Both Jesus and the Prophets use the term circumcision to mean the cutting of one's "heart" as the sign of the true covenant between God and a person. It seems to mean that the person has allowed God to "cut away a part of their heart" in order to make the covenant between us and Him. You feel this when you have to let go of something that is precious to you in order to do what God asks of you.
Literal meaning: The wooden instrument of execution used by the Romans designed to create a public display of a very humiliating and tortorous death.
Spiritual meaning: The means of putting to death anything that is under a curse. This is often aimed directly at the will of a person who is in rebellion against God. For the believer, it means treating your own desires as if they were crucified. A hand nailed to a cross can't do anything bad, since it cannot move at all. It is, at the least, an attitude of strong self control.
Literal meaning: The event after which a living organism ceases to function. In the natural sense, when applied to humans, it means the brain and the heart are unable to function, and cannot be restarted. I am sure that there are many technical definitions that are more precise, but I have actually done the paperwork for several real death certificates and regardless of the cause, there seems to be a universal understanding when death is real and final. The reality of the absence of life soon convinces anyone who has any doubts.
First spiritual meaning: The separation of the living sentient being from its temporary material tent or house (literal body). Some say it is the departure of the soul, some say it is "expiration" meaning the exit of the spirit of life, and others may say it is the loss of the mind or personality or some other aspect of a person that transcends the mortal body.
Second spiritual meaning: When used in the Bible in the context of the death to self, sin, the world, or to anything else that is not holy, it becomes a statement of faith. We choose to act as if we are dead to those things which God does not approve of. This is at the core of daily "cross-bearing". I think that a lot more needs to be said about this concept, and it needs to be understood well if we are to make progress as "cross-bearing disciples." If you can point me to other published explanations related to this kind of application of the terms relating to death, I will try to compile them into a useful format.
Literal meaning: "Flesh" is often used in the Bible in the literal and natural sense to refer to our literal and personal biological body.
Spiritual meaning: Flesh is used symbolically when it summarizes all of the desires and weaknesses that we experience as biological creatures. Death of the flesh in this case does not mean anything physical, but only that we ignore some of the tendancies that our biological nature inclines us toward. This often is in the form of a list which includes such things as selfishness, lying, deceit, unforgiveness, pride, ambition and lust. Sometimes it seems that all natural desires have a capacity to hinder the work of God's spirit in our hearts. Sometimes, being DeadRight is simply saying no to something that is normally good, but is temporarily an obstacle to something much better. This can be spiritual or just a normal part of daily life. An athlete who avoids certain foods or activities in order to achieve a goal is a good example of the basic concept.
Literal meaning: The will is a transcendent reality that is part of our mind, and is impossible to clearly define. Science is still amazed at the obvious reality of the mind, even though when they study the brain, the mind cannot be located as a material object. The will seems to be generally understood as our ability to make choices that have real results. A person's will can make good decisions or bad decisions. A person's will may be strong enough to follow through on its decisions, even if doing so is very hard. A person may have good intentions and yet not have the strength of will to honor its own decisions. All of this is a part of the natural will that is common to people, and perhaps even some animals.
Spiritual meaning: Here's where I think I am really going to throw you a curve, and I would be glad for your feedback. The usual debate about the spiritual reality behind the human will focuses on whether or not it is free. And both sides of the argument claim many (and sometimes the same) Bible texts to justify their position. Many point to those texts which indicate that God's sovereignty limits or even precludes the possibility of a "free will." Others insist that salvation must be by the free and undirected choice of a human will, otherwise God is just a puppet master. I am compelled to suggest that both are "dead wrong" (LOL)! These arguments preserve a false dichotomy. They are like the two sides of the same coin. But I want to suggest a different kind of "coin"!
I believe God really wants each of us to have a "free will", but because of Adam, we don't. "Free will" does not mean a will independent from God. It means a will that is independent from sin. Who would want a will that was free from God? Because of sin, that is exactly what we appear to have, and look at the mess we have made of ourselves, our families, our world, and human history!
To be "free" a will must be strong enough to do God's will, even when it is not what we really want. The greatest historical example of "free will" was when Jesus said, "Not My will, but Yours."
The goal of daily cross-bearing is to break our own will's slavery to sin and be set free to love God more sincerely. True holiness may be unattainable until our will is strong enough to choose God's will and do it, even when we don't want to.
I hope that you will ask God to help you consider these words and help you to define them in your own way, as you study the Bible to understand how salvation is really supposed to work.