John 10:10 says, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have [it] more abundantly.” With these words, Christ proclaimed His purpose for coming to this earth—to give us life.
The word life is translated from the Greek word zoe, which, in a theological sense, is eternal life. It is the kind of life that Adam and Eve were given before the fall. They were created with zoe, but they lost it when they sinned. Their physical life was extended, but they were no longer conditionally immortal. Jesus came to restore the condition of immortality. That is in contrast with what the thief said, which is also mentioned in this verse; he came to steal and to kill and to take away that life.
Jesus said that He not only wants us to have that life but He wants us to have it more abundantly. Our physical life is a great blessing, but He wants to restore us to the original life that has been stolen by the thief.
This life of Christ is what He spoke about in Matthew 4:4, when He said that “man should not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” “Bread alone” is needed for the physical life, but the Word of God is essential for that zoe, that immortal life, that eternal life. It is for the spiritual, intellectual life.
In John 14:6, we read: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” This must be one of the most basic short verses in the entire Bible! It tells us how to get to God, how to get life, which is only through Jesus, because Jesus is the way. Jesus is the path back to the Father. That path has been lost through the separation brought on by sin. Christ is the reality of the promise that we can have that life, as He offers to unite His divine life with our human life. When those two are put together, we end up with zoe; that is the life that He wants to restore.
Man does not have any life in himself. Ellen White wrote: “Separated from God, existence may be ours for a little time, but we do not possess life.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 61. So we have existence, but we do not have life, according to the Spirit of Prophecy. An example of how this could happen is given in 1 Timothy 5:6: “But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” This verse is talking about people who are physically alive but spiritually dead.
As previously stated, when Adam and Eve were created, God gave them this zoe life. As long as they remained perfect and connected to God, Who is the Source of life, their lives continued on in conditional eternal life. As long as there was a union between them and God, this zoe life continued, but as soon as they sinned, this union—this life- giving relationship—was broken. Life immediately began to withdraw from them. They were banished from God’s presence. By what were they banished? They were banished by sin. They were banished by their choice of being independent of God.
The serpent came along and told Adam and Eve that he had a better way, and they bought into it. So, they were separated from God by their own independence. They were still alive—alive to sinning, but they were dead to spiritual things. They were physically alive but spiritually dead. All of man’s functions, from that point on, began to operate on a natural, carnal level. Except for Christ, every man since then has experienced this broken union with God, the Source of life. Nowhere is man’s life, in its natural state, seen to be in a right state of dependence upon God.
Physically Alive–Spiritually Dead
Let us look at Ephesians 2:1–6: “And you [hath he quickened], who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus.” (Note that in some versions of the Bible quickened is interpreted as “made alive” and conversation is interpreted as “living in the pleasure of or indulging in the passions of our flesh.”) Obviously, the people Paul referred to in this passage were physically alive, but he said they were dead.
It seems that men still believe Satan’s original lie that somehow we can have life apart from God. It is called self-sufficiency, and every day that we walk out the doors of our homes and go out into the world without having hooked up to God, without having spent time with Him through His Word and prayer, we prove that we still believe that lie. We think that somehow we can have life without being connected to the Source of life.
Now, we may walk out the door and stay “moral.” God’s definition of “moral” is a lot deeper than the world’s. As for the worldly meaning, we may walk out the door and stay “moral,” but we are not spiritual. We cannot be spiritual unless we connect to the Source of spiritual life. Culture, worldly education, and even the exercise of the will may enable us to put up good fronts—at least for a time.
Mrs. White wrote: “Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within, a new life from above, before men can be changed from sin to holiness. That power is Christ. His grace alone can quicken the lifeless faculties of the soul, and attract it to God, to holiness.” Steps to Christ, 18.
Even though culture and worldly education and the use of the will may enable us to put up good fronts and fool some people, we will not fool God. Without actually having this connection with God, we will not be able to see any further than the kingdom of man. We will not be able to understand or perceive God’s kingdom. We will still just be natural or carnal humans—possibly reasonable, good, moral humans, but if we cultivate the natural man, what do we get? We just get more of the natural man.
If we have a whole garden full of weeds and all we do is take care of those weeds, we are going to end up with weeds. We may have some good, healthy weeds, and we may have more weeds than when we started, but they are still just weeds. If we cultivate the natural man, that is all we are going to end up with—the natural man, plus self-exaltation and pride, because of the cultivation that we have given to that natural man.
You may recall that these natural traits got Lucifer booted out of heaven, and if we are going to go to heaven and take his place, we are going to have to get rid of those kinds of character traits. There is no place for the natural man in the kingdom of God. The Bible speaks of two Adams, and from them two kinds of life emerged: the natural, which is standard equipment, and the spiritual, which would be like after-market equipment. The first Adam lost life by alienation from God through sin. The second Adam, Christ, came to redeem us from that separation. The Spirit of Prophecy says, “The first Adam fell; the second Adam held fast to God and His Word under the most trying circumstances.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 1129. The first Adam, in other words, let go of that hold on God. The second Adam held fast. “His faith in His Father’s goodness, mercy, and love did not waver for one moment.” Ibid.
Consider the following statement very carefully. “Sin not only shuts us away from God, but destroys in the human soul both the desire and the capacity for knowing Him.” Education, 28, 29. That is a somber thought. We know that sin separates us from God, but do we realize that it also destroys our desires and capacities for knowing Him? The only way back to God is through His Son. John 17:3 tells us, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” The only way to eternal life is through the Son, but the statement above says that sin destroys both the desire and the capacity for knowing Him. Now that is a serious problem!
Sin will separate us from God, from zoe life. We have to go back to God through Christ to get zoe life, yet we cannot know Him, as we need to know Him, because of sin. Because of sin, we do not have the desire. How glad we should be that God came looking for us, and we do not have to go looking for Him! Romans 3:11 says, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” None of us go seeking for God; we respond to God seeking for us.
Recognize the Need
Do we realize that we need something that we do not possess? Apparently Nicodemus realized his need. John 3:1–6 tells his story: “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Nicodemus was a highly educated man, a member of the Sanhedrin, but apparently, with all his learning and position, he realized that something was missing. He may not have known exactly what it was, and in his pride, he may not even have known what he was looking for, but something drove him to come to Jesus.
He came to Jesus by night; he came to be taught. In his position, Nicodemus could have sent one of his servants or one of his students, but he came personally. Why did he do that? Let me answer that question with an illustration, a parable.
Recently, I took my wife, Paula, to a restaurant for dinner. On the bottom of the restaurant’s menu was a short statement that said we could get any item on that menu as pre-chewed food for only several dollars more than the same item cost unchewed.
I asked the waiter, “What in the world is pre-chewed food?”
He explained, “We have a couple of guys in the back that will chew up your selection for you. All you have to do is spoon it into your mouth and swallow it.”
That sounds revolting, but are we trying to live off of pre-chewed food in the spiritual capacity? Do we come to Jesus personally, as Nicodemus did, and examine Jesus’ Word? Or are we trying to live off of the pre-chewed food that we get from the pulpit? The discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus goes right to the heart of man’s problem to bring about a spiritual change from death to life. A new birth—a spiritual regeneration and re-creation—has to take place.
Nicodemus perhaps knew something radical had to happen, but he was not sure what it was or how to get it. Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like something radical has to happen in your life, but you do not know what it is, where to get it, or how it happens? We all go through that from time to time. Sometimes I wonder if it is ever going to happen, but by faith, I know that God is faithful.
What do we as sinners most need to receive from Christ? Christ explained that to Nicodemus.
First, we have to understand that we are born of the flesh. We are tied to sin by our nature. If we walk in our own desires, we are under the power of nature—the one with which we are born.
Second, the fleshly nature can only produce after its kind. As stated previously, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” We know things only produce after their kind. We do not get catfish from alley cats—unless something supernatural happens, unless someone does some genetic engineering. We know that it is not normal to have things cross species. The flesh stays flesh, and the spirit stays spirit, and unless something supernatural happens, we are going to stay flesh. “That which is born of flesh is flesh.”
Third, the spiritual life in man can only be created by the spiritual power of God through the Holy Spirit. We have to be reborn from above, which indicates that it is a supernatural life. Elaborating on John 3:3, Mrs. White explains: “The Saviour said, ‘Except a man be born from above,’ unless he shall receive a new heart, new desires, purposes, and motives, leading to a new life, ‘he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ ” Steps to Christ, 18. I was referring to this earlier, when I stated that we cannot perceive the kingdom of God. The word see, in John 3:3, is actually talking about seeing with perception—not just seeing with our eyes, but perceiving with understanding the kingdom of God.
Little Boost or New Birth
“To arouse those spiritually dead, to create new tastes, new motives, requires as great an outlay of power as to raise one from physical death.” Review and Herald, March 12, 1901. Have you tried raising anyone from the dead? It takes quite a bit of power! It obviously takes supernatural power. It is very important to understand that the new birth is not the fallen nature renovated; it is a whole new life from heaven.
Recently, I heard a preacher on the radio say, “We do not need a boost from beneath; we need a birth from above.” A lot of times we think that we just need a boost to get us into the kingdom of God, but we need a whole new birth and a whole new life, if we are going to be in the kingdom.
Many do not understand that it is not a one shot deal, either. A number of people are able to tell you the date, usually back in the past, when they were “born again.” When we meet someone who says that, we need to ask him or her if they were born again this very morning. This experience must be a daily conversion. Yesterday’s victories are good, but they are not good enough for today. Each new day brings new temptations. New victories, new life from above has to happen each day. We must, like Paul, die daily and be spiritually reconnected daily to the new life. (1 Corinthians 15:31.) This comes only through the Source of life.
Cost of Connecting
That connection will cost you something, though. There is an interesting statement in the December 13, 1887, Review and Herald: “The power of evil is so identified with human nature that no man can overcome except by union with Christ. Through this union we receive moral and spiritual power. If we have the Spirit of Christ, we shall bring forth the fruit of righteousness.” Stopping right there, we could undo that equation the other way. If we do not have the fruit of righteousness, what does that tell us? It tells us that we do not have the Spirit of Christ.
Mrs. White continues, “A union with Christ by living faith is enduring; every other union must perish. Christ first chose us, paying an infinite price for our redemption; and the true believer chooses Christ as first and last, and best in everything. But this union costs us something.” Ibid. How much does it cost? “It is a relationship of utter dependence, to be entered into by a proud being.” Ibid. So, it will cost us getting rid of our pride, and a proud being does not like that.
“All who form this union must feel their need of the atoning blood of Christ. They must have a change of heart. They must submit their own will to the will of God. There will be a struggle with outward and internal obstacles. There must be a painful work of detachment, as well as a work of attachment.” Ibid. Oh, yes, the union will cost us!
Not a Self-improvement Program
When Christ gives us this life, He does not just give it to us to possess on our own. He does not make us unconditionally immortal. This life is ours only as long as we remain connected with the Source of life. Even throughout eternity, I do not believe that God just hands us immortality. We are immortal throughout eternity, because we choose never to commit sin, which separated us from zoe life in the first place. We know sin will never rise again the second time, so no one will ever choose to disconnect, but as long as we stay connected, we have zoe life, and that can begin now. (See Nahum 1:9; The Faith I Live By, 71.) We do not have to wait until Christ returns. As a matter of fact, if we wait until then, we will not have it then either. We have to start now.
God does not just hand us zoe life and say, “Now go develop yourself.” It is not a self-improvement program, a self-centered program; they fail every time. We are told, “The idea that it is necessary only to develop the good that exists in man by nature, is a fatal deception.” Steps to Christ, 18, 19. If we want to die eternally, all we have to do is stay on that program.
The world offers all kinds of self-improvement programs. They are based on ego motivation, and they do work to a certain extent. Some people do experience success with them. Many have learned to put up a good front to receive the praises of men. It seems that one of the biggest problems God has is to get man to see the bankruptcy of all purely human systems—all the human systems that the world offers—and to see the need of the entirely new, completely surrendered life to Christ. God has a difficult time getting us to see that we have that need. The last thing man wants to give up is trust in himself.
If you have ever read one of those little books that gives different facts about the Bible, you know that Psalm 118:8 is the very central verse of the whole Bible. If you were to start counting from the front then start counting from the back of the Bible, when you would get right to the middle, you would find this is the very central verse. It says something very interesting, because it is talking about the very central issue in the great controversy. It says, “[It is] better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” or men. We are not to trust in ourselves or in anyone else. I cannot believe that it is a coincidence that this text is the central verse in the Bible.
To give up on self and to depend totally on God is so hard for us to experience, let alone believe that we need to do so. It took Paul being struck blind to be able to do it. And Peter had to deny his Lord before he could do it. I wonder what will it take before we do it.
Life, even spiritual life, is dependent upon God’s continued action. There must be a constant union between God and us in order for life to continue. That is the purpose for which Christ came, not only to make that union possible, but to demonstrate and show us what it looks like when it is maintained. The union begins when we respond to God’s drawing into His invitation to a new birth. It is active as long as we are connected to Him. (See John 15:1–8.)
Electrically, things work real well, as long as they are plugged in, but if they are unplugged, they are worthless. This planet chose to “unplug” itself from the Source of life. The miracle of moment by moment regeneration reverses that problem that was caused by sin. The new birth, which once again unites us with God and this life of zoe, is the result.
When Christ was here in the flesh, He maintained the union with the Father, and He prayed that we would experience that union as well. “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” John 17:22, 23. If we do not have that connection to Christ, we are not Christians, no matter what our profession is.
To be continued . . .
Steve Currey is a Bible worker for Steps to Life. He may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 316-788-5559.