ACST 51: The Regenerator


Jesus, the Messiah, cooperated with the Father’s plan by giving of himself, sacrificing his life on the cross as our atoning sacrifice. Christ gave himself when enabled us to have new life. He also gave us his Holy Spirit to complete the work of salvation that he made possible. The Holy Spirit gives us guidance, supernatural gifts and power for ministry, and produces the fruit of righteousness in our lives.[1] He is the Regenerator. He applies the atonement to our lives, and produces the change that the cross made possible.

Jesus Explained Regeneration

While conversing with a Jewish religious teacher, Jesus explained what regeneration is. Nicodemus, who should have understood these things, did not have a clue.

“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you,

unless one is born of water and the Spirit,

he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That

which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that

which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not

marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born

again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes,

and you hear its sound, but you do not know

where it comes from or where it goes. So it is

with everyone who is born of the Spirit.””[2]

People do not give birth to themselves. That was the nature of the rebirth process that Nicodemus could not understand. He asked “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”[3] As a religious professional, Nicodemus was used to being given a command, and working out how he was going to actively obey that command. He was a “hands on” religious practitioner. He did not ask “what?” or “why?” or even “who?.” He asked “how?” because he was comfortable with a religion that required him to do something.

But when Jesus said that regeneration was like a new birth, he implied that the one being born is passive in the process. No one gives birth to himself. The Holy Spirit is the active participant in the process, and the believer is the passive recipient. In natural birth, two parents come together, have sexual relations, and a child is conceived as a result. The child has no say in the process of his conception. He is conceived of flesh, planned by flesh, nurtured during gestation by flesh, and when his birthday arrives – there he is: a bouncing baby flesh.

Jesus taught Nicodemus that spiritual rebirth works the same way. It is God’s Holy Spirit within the life of a believer that produces spiritual life. An unregenerate person is a degenerate. He produces only works of the flesh. They may be noble works of the flesh, or religious works of the flesh, or popular works of the flesh, but they are not God. They do not produce godliness, because God’s Holy Spirit is not there.

In true regeneration, the Holy Spirit applies the sovereign election of the Father, and the atoning sacrifice of the Son to the life of every true believer. The works that are produced are God’s works. The life within is God’s life. He blows around like a strong wind within the human lives of believers and leaves evidence of his existence among them.


The process by which the Holy Spirit does this is sometimes called sanctification. It is tempting to define sanctification as the results of the Holy Spirit blowing around – in other words, the damage caused by the storm, the evidence of God’s existence that believers produce. After all, the New Testament does encourage believers to see our bodies as a temple, and set it apart for God’s use by “cleans(ing) ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”[4]

But the results of cooperating with the Holy Spirit within and cleaning up our lives for his use – however noble they are – are not what the Bible calls sanctification. Theologians usually divide the doctrine of sanctification into three tenses:

1. positional sanctification, or the change in our status or standing before God.

2. progressive sanctification, or the change in our present experience because of the Holy Spirit within.

3. perfect sanctification, or our ultimate future condition when we are glorified at Christ’s return.

When seen in that light, the vast majority of the Bible’s treatment of the

subject concentrates on the first tense, on what is called positional sanctification. Consider these texts as examples:

“And now I commend you to God and to the word

of his grace, which is able to build you up and to

give you the inheritance among all those who are



“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those

sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints

together with all those who in every place call

upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both

their Lord and ours:”[6]


“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who

became to us wisdom from God, and

righteousness and sanctification, and redemption”[7]


“we have been sanctified through the offering

of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”[8]


“Therefore, to sanctify the people by his own

blood, Jesus also suffered outside the camp.”[9]


There is a process of sanctification. The New Testament refers to believers as “those who are being sanctified”. The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, turning us into the people we are going to become. He’s changing us. He is manifesting himself in us and through us.

Ultimate sanctification (or glorification) is our destiny. When Jesus appears, raising us from the dead, or transforming us so that we will never taste death, we will be like him.[10] A transformation will have occurred. We look forward to the day when “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet .. the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”[11]

So, why does the Bible mostly present sanctification as a done deal? To understand this, readers have to stop thinking of sanctification as something that happens to us, and see it as something that happens from God. The Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier and the Regenerator. Our problem is that (like Nicodemus) we see things too much from our perspective. But the new birth could not be best explained from the perspective of those who experience it – the ones begotten. It had to be explained from the perspective of the one who begat – the one who caused the birth to happen.

The apostle Paul understood this quite well. Here is how he described sanctification to the Romans:

“For those whom (God) foreknew he also predestined

to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that

he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And

those whom he predestined he also called, and those

whom he called he also justified, and those whom he

justified he also glorified.”[12]

While he does not use the word “sanctified” in this text, he does use the word “glorified” – and put it in the past tense. But glorification is the future hope of the saints. We do not yet conform fully to the image of Christ, but we have been predestined to do it. It is our future destiny, not present reality.

But Paul spoke of God as having already glorified us. He skipped the process of sanctification and mentioned the event of glorification at the return of Christ and implied that both divine actions have already been accomplished. Did Paul slip in his grammar? No, he said what he meant to say. Paul understood something about God. He is not the God who was, and he is not the God who will be. God is always and eternally the “I AM.”[13] He is within time and outside of time at the same time. He has already accomplished all that he ever will accomplish.

Sanctification was accomplished the very moment the Father chose us to be his own. Sanctification was accomplished the moment the blood of Jesus Christ was shed on the cross. Sanctification was accomplished the very moment the Holy Spirit moved into our lives, and separated us unto God, reserving our lives for his purposes forever. We may not feel sanctified. We usually do not think of ourselves as having already been made holy. But from God’s perspective, it is a done deal.

The Holy Spirit is inside us, indwelling, transforming and regenerating us. He is changing our lives so that we reflect our destiny as glorified saints. He assists in the battle against Satan and sin, and guides us in the process of making decisions that reflect our new status before God. We do not always accept his guidance. We often stubbornly choose to do things our own way. But the God of all time is patient. He sees us not as we are now, but as we will be. So, it does not bother him to put up with our present, unfinished brand of foolishness.

Of course, if we do rebel against the divine Resident within, there is a price to pay. We often suffer simply because we refuse to walk in the Spirit. Our flesh wrestles with our spirit, who wants to cooperate with His Spirit. When we refuse to walk according to God’s wisdom, he will graciously allow us to stumble from our own foolishness. It is all part of the process.

The evidence that the process is indeed occurring includes three things which will be addressed in the next three chapters:

1. conversion: an immediate and ongoing change in our minds.

2. testimony: our attempts to communicate our faith to others.

3. life of faith: actions and attitudes that demonstrate that change has occurred.

[1] see chapters 37-42.

[2] John 3:5-8 ESV.

[3] John 3:4 ESV.

[4] 2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV.

[5] Acts 20:32 ESV.

[6] 1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV.

[7] 1 Corinthians 1:30 NASB.

[8] Hebrews 10:10 ESV.

[9] Hebrews 13:12 NET.

[10] 1 John 3:2.

[11] 1 Corinthians 15:52 ESV.

[12] Romans 8:29-30 ESV.

[13] Exodus 3:14-15.

defining conditionalism

Some recent online discussions have centered around what is meant by the term “conditional immortality” or its synonym “conditionalism.” These are essentially anthropological terms. They describe the nature of humanity as the Bible represents it. They affirm that human beings have the potential to become immortal, but that immortality is not innate: it is not something we are born with.

Conditionalism in Genesis

The early chapters of Genesis prove to be very helpful as a guide to understanding human nature. They show that human beings are creatures, like the animals, but that human beings were intended to be more than that. They were created in God’s image and likeness, which implies a special authority from God and responsibility to him. God tested this responsibility in the Garden of Eden by planting two special trees in Eden: the tree of life (which, if eaten would have granted Adam and Eve immediate immortality), and the tree of knowing good and evil.

Of these two trees, only the latter was prohibited. The first humans were allowed to eat of all the other trees, including the tree of life. If our ancestors had simply made the correct decision, they would have remained alive forever, along with all their descendants.

Instead, they were deceived to believe that it was the other tree that actually held promise. Satan had told them “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). That statement was the truth, but it implied a lie: that the tree offered immunity from death. Instead “being like God” merely meant having experienced both good and evil. God had known both the good of his original creation and the evil of Satan’s rebellion. Taking of the tree of knowing good and evil would cause humans to experience evil personally – thus wreck the purity of Eden, and human intimacy with their creator.

God’s response to that sin led to a further consequence: human mortality. The persons of the Triune One speak among themselves and say …

“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever-” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:22-24)

Before the fall, human beings had the potential to become immortal. They had the potential to become something more than what they were. As a consequence of the rebellion in Eden, this opportunity was taken away.

God wanted human beings to be immortal. He still does. He wants to establish a relationship with us that will bring glory and joy to both parties forever. Yet God cannot endure unrighteousness forever. Until a solution can be found that will undo the Eden rebellion, God cannot grant immortality to human beings. He was thus forced by his own nature to banish us from paradise.

So, although intended for immortality, human beings are now reduced to the same nature as the animals God has placed us over. The ancient scientist Solomon recognized this:

“I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” (Ecclesiastes 3:18-20).

This is the bad news the Bible gives us, which serves as the backdrop for the good news of eternal life available through Christ.

Conditional Immortality

Conditionalists proclaim Christ, and his second coming as the time when God is going to grant immortality to the saved and undo the Edenic curse. But we have also championed the truth of this bad news: that all humanity is mortal and subject to real death. We feel that it is dishonoring God’s word to say that humans are both mortal and immortal at the same time.[1] We also feel that it is inconsistent evangelism to claim that Jesus offers eternal life and then teach people that they already have eternal life.

So, instead of teaching people that immortality is innate (that is, that all human beings are born with it), we teach that it is conditional. God offers eternal life to those who put their faith in Christ: those are the conditions. One of the first post-apostolic writers to express conditionalism was Theophilus of Antioch:

“God did not create humanity as either mortal or immortal, but, …with the capacity for them both. If humanity inclined towards those things which relate to immortality by keeping the commandments of God, then it would receive immortality as a reward from God… On the other hand, if humanity should incline towards those things which relate to death by disobeying God, then humanity would be the cause of its own death.” [2]

When a certain man came to Jesus once, asking “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”[3] – Jesus did not challenge his theological inference that eternal life is something that must be obtained. If immortality were innate, then Jesus should have stopped the man and pointed that out. Instead, Jesus agreed with the man that he needed eternal life, and then challenged the man to follow him – that he might get what he was asking for.[4]

The Gospel is all about how God offers us what we do not have on the basis of his grace, through the atoning death of Christ. Christ’s death has met the conditions. Following Christ is the solution to the curse of Eden. A conditionalist is someone who does not trust in her own innate ability to live forever, but trusts in Christ’s completed work on the cross, and looks forward to the day when Christ will make her immortal.

Conferred Immortality

Conditionalists also take death seriously, and that leads to our special appreciation of the gift of immortality. We understand the awful consequences that are the result of sin entering God’s creation, and that makes us appreciate Christ all the more. When we read Romans 6:23, it makes perfect sense as it is: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But if a person believes that immortality is not conferred as a gift, but is an innate possession, they have to supply some interpretation for Romans 6:23 to fit their view. It then reads “For the wages of sin is death (but only death of the body, because the real person is the soul and it cannot die), but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (except that eternal life is actually a right we have by birth, so Christ does not give it).”

William Newton Clarke complained that conditionalists “argue from the silence of scripture regarding the natural immortality of man, and from the uniform association of ‘eternal life’ with Christ.”[5] He was exactly right – although it is hardly reason for complaint. Scripture is silent on the natural immortality of humans because it rejects the notion. Eternal life is either conferred upon the faithful or it is innate by reason of creation. There is no logic that allows for both, or any scripture that proves both.

Future Immortality

Conditionalists have never argued against the concept of human immortality. We simply insist that that great gift will be given to humans at the appropriate time. It has not been the possession of all humans from birth. Instead, it will be given to some humans at the return of Christ. Speaking of that return, Paul says that it will happen “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52-53 NIV).

That glorious day will be the beginning of “the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”[6] The fact that raising the dead is first on Christ’s list when he returns should be an encouragement to us. It should enable us to face the death of our loved ones (or even our own eventual death) with courage, knowing that although death is real, it is only temporary.

Life Only In Christ

The doctrine of human mortality is Christocentric, not anthropocentric.[7] It reveals Christ as the giver of life, not just the one who can “get you to heaven.” John states the options bluntly: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”[8] The Bible is about Jesus Christ. The Old Testament pointed forward to him, the New Testament points back to him. Human mortality is the need which only Christ could meet. Paul says that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”[9]

Over against this clear teaching from the Bible on human mortality is the persistent mistaken notion that humans are born with immortal souls or spirits that consciously survive the death of their bodies. This view sees the references to death in the scripture as usually referring to this physical death, and therefore irrelevant on the subject of the soul’s survival. The view thus confirms both mortality and immortality at the same time. Any scriptural evidence in favor of human mortality can immediately be dismissed as not pertinent, since it (in the innate immortality view) always refers to the material aspect of human existence, and not the spiritual.

Scriptures that Clash with the Innate Immortality Tradition

The innate immortality tradition reflects Greek dualism. It is a worldview that is read into scripture, rather than being a part of it. It has become embedded in Christianity the way many other non-biblical traditions have. By taking a closer look at doctrines taught in scripture, the clashes between those doctrines and the innate immortality tradition become more evident.

1 Timothy 6:16

In chapter 15 we noted that scripture teaches that God “alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16). The innate immortality view denies this, although its proponents do exercise a great deal of verbal gymnastics to try to affirm it.[10] At issue, then, is not simply the doctrine of human nature, but the doctrine of God’s nature as well. To claim immortality for sinful humanity is to deny it as an exclusive attribute of God. But when the first humans sinned, God said that they “must not be allowed to … live forever.”[11] Their sin had not only affected their relationship with God (resulting in banishment from his presence in Eden), but it changed them. They had been immortable (capable of becoming immortal by eating of the tree of life). Now they were simply mortal.

Some argue that the term “immortality,” when it refers to God, has a different meaning than when it refers to all other beings. They argue that “the meaning of ‘immortality’ in the Bible largely depends on its context.”[12] They see this as adequate justification for ignoring the contradiction found in the traditional doctrine of the immortal soul, and affirming both the exclusive immortality of God and the universal immortality of humanity as dependent upon him. Conditionalists see this as double-speak. While it is true that all words depend on their context for meaning, there is nowhere in the context of 1 Timothy 6:16 that redefines the term or assumes a distinction between how it is used by Paul there, compared to how he or other biblical authors use it elsewhere.

Genesis 2:17

This is precisely what God (with tears in his eyes) warned Adam and Eve would happen if they disobey his Edenic prohibition. He said “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[13] That phrase “you shall surely die” is a combination of two forms of the same verb. The word mot is the infinitive absolute of the verb “to die” and refers to the state of mortality that was humanity’s fate after the rebellion in Eden. From the moment they ate of the tree, humanity became a dying race. The second word is the imperfect tense of the same verb. The word tamut refers to the eventual and inevitable death that would come to each member of the race as a result of the fall. Together these two forms of a verb reflect a Hebrew idiom that accentuates the certainty of an action. Thus the translations render the phrase “you will surely die.” The innate immortality doctrine turns this into an empty threat since it claims that the real essence of a human person never dies.

Romans 5:12

Paul tells us that “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.”[14] Sin and death have been a matched set in human experience ever since that initial sin in Eden. It is not merely the body which sins, but the whole person. That is why we need a Savior, not just someone who can raise us from the dead. Christ is both. He can restore our inner beings as well as raise our bodies. Both have been affected by sin; the wages of that sin is death to both, and the gift of God is eternal life for both.[15]

John 3:16

The Bible speaks of a coming day of judgment when all those who are not redeemed by Christ’s blood will totally perish in the fires of Gehenna hell.[16] When the Bible speaks of believers being saved, it usually refers to this event. In other words, to perish is not simply to die. To perish is to utterly die. It refers to the ultimate, permanent death in Gehenna, not to the temporary death at the end of this life. So when Jesus told Nicodemus that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” he was speaking of the two ultimate fates of mankind. To perish is to be ultimately destroyed. To have eternal life is to escape that destruction. Many texts point out the same distinction.[17] The innate immortality doctrine blurs that distinction because it insists that no human being ultimately perishes. Thus all human beings ultimately have eternal life.

The innate immortality view distorts a crucial and essential doctrine of the Christian faith: the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross. According to the Bible, Christ’s death was to protect us from ultimate destruction, not to get our souls to heaven when our bodies die.

1 Corinthians 15:22-23

The Bible is also explicit on the issue of just when believers will gain the gift of immortality. It did not happen at our birth, and it will not happen at our death. Believers will be made alive at the return of Christ. Paul says “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” Paul compares two events in history. The first event was the fall of humanity in the garden of Eden. As a result of that event, human nature became a fatal condition. The second event is the return of Christ to this earth.

The analogy Paul uses to describe the resurrection is a crop harvest. Each resurrection is a stage in the harvest. Since Christ is the Firstfruits, he was resurrected first. This took place three days after his death. The second stage of the harvest includes “those who belong to Christ” when he comes. This is the believers’ resurrection. Paul does not speak of Christ restoring souls with their risen bodies. Instead he speaks of the whole person being “made alive.” This is when the promise of eternal life will be fulfilled for us.

The doctrine of innate immortality also subverts this plain teaching of scripture. According to that view, no human being ever dies, so none will ever need to be made alive. The concept of the resurrection takes a back seat to the more immediate idea of conscious survival of death. It makes the return of Christ less crucial, and rather anticlimactic.


The consequences of original sin in the Garden of Eden include the mortality of all human beings, which makes homo sapiens no different from the animals in terms of mortality and eventual death. This dark reality is the backdrop upon which the

brilliant light of eternal life offered by Christ emerges in scripture. In contrast, the tradition of innate immortality dilutes the teachings of scripture. Believing that one is already immortal by nature can make one less appreciative of the nature of God, the influence of sin, the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross, and the reason for his second coming.

Confusion in defining the term

Often in theological discourse, the same terms are used for different concepts, and sadly, this is the case for conditional immortality as well. John Stott, for example, defended the view described above, but did not call it conditional immortality. He defined conditional immortality as the view that “nobody survives death except those to whom God gives life.”[18] While that is technically accurate, it does not represent the teaching of conditionalism. In conditional immortality as described above, everyone will be resurrected and face judgment. No one will survive death apart from that resurrection.

Wayne Grudem asserts that “some versions of conditional immortality deny conscious punishment altogether, even for a brief time.”[19] The doctrine of conditional immortality as described in this article assumes both conscious punishment of the lost, and ultimate destruction of the lost.

The whole question of the final fate of the lost is not subsumed under the term conditionalism. The issue with conditionalism is whether there is anything immortal in human nature to suffer punishment for eternity. Conditionalists answer, no. We teach that death is real. The first death is real in that life ceases until the resurrection. The second death is real in that life ceases, and there is no longer any hope of resurrection.

While the second death will be preceded by a period of torment, it is the death which follows which is permanent. It is not the process of punishing which is perpetual (as if the word aionios was an adverb), but the event of punishment which is permanent (since aionios is an adjective). The Bible describes the fate of the lost as eternal punishment, not perpetual punishing.[20]

Millard Erickson uses the term “conditional immortality” to describe the state of Adam (and Eve) before the fall. Adam “was not inherently able to live forever; but he need not have died.”[21] Thus, he adds another use of the term which does not quite fit our definition. Erickson defines death as “the termination of human existence in the bodily or materialized state.”[22] He is free, then, to speak of Adam’s death as becoming certain at the fall, their “potential mortality” becoming actual.[23] Yet he still keeps the door open to Platonic dualism by drawing a sharp distinction between physical death and spiritual death. The second death is spiritual death made permanent. He does not explain why there must be a physical resurrection for that to happen.

Should we jettison the term?

Seeing that there is confusion on how the term is used, is this a case for jettisoning the term “conditional immortality” for a more precise one? Probably not. In most cases, those who disagree with us at least grant us audience so that we can explain exactly what we mean, in order to lessen any confusion. It is in the act of clarifying terms and defining meaning that we confront the text of Scripture, and that is precisely what theological debate was intended to accomplish. If, in the end, my opponent in religious dialog confronts the texts of scripture and yet still disagrees with my interpretation of them, we can still walk arm in arm as brothers.

If, for the sake of argument, we entertained the idea that the term “conditional immortality” is no longer useful as a theological instrument, what would take its place? Some prefer the term annihilationism. The church tradition that this author comes from has not chosen to adopt that term. Although we feel it accurately describes the fate of the lost, we are not comfortable with its emphasis. Conditional immortality reflects the “good news” side of the Biblical message. It speaks of the gift of eternal life which is available to all who meet the conditions of faith in Christ and repentance from sin.

It also points to the fact that Christ has met the conditions that make eternal life possible for his church. It is “our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light.”[24] Thus, the term is Christocentric. The ultimate question regarding one’s eternal destiny is not whether one has a “soul” but whether one has a Savior. It is not what you have done your eternal spirit but whether you have obeyed the Holy Spirit. As John put it, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”[25] Ultimately, eternal life is not going to depend on having a part of you that survives death. Eternal life is going to depend upon your relationship with God through Jesus Christ, his Son. There are eternal haves, and eternal have-nots. That difference is what conditionalism is all about.

[1] William West explores this contradiction in Resurrection And Immortality (Xulon Press, 2006), 77.

[2] Theophilus of Antioch ad Autolycum (shortly after 180 AD) quoted in Alister E. McGrath, ed. The Christian Theology Reader (Malden Mass: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 646.

[3] Matthew 19:16.

[4] Matthew 19:21.

[5] William Newton Clarke, An Outline of Christian Theology (BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2009), 452.

[6] Acts 3:21 NKJV.

[7] Viewing mortality as an anthropocentric issue places too much emphasis on humans as created rather than humans as redeemed. Conditionalists argue that viewing mortality as an anthropocentric issue distracts believers from seeing the connection between human need for resurrection life and the solution for that problem offered in the atonement.

[8] 1 John 5:12.

[9] 2 Timothy 1:9-10.

[10] Page 104.

[11] Genesis 3:22 NIV.

[12] Christopher W. Morgan, Robert A. Peterson, Hell Under Fire (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 206. These authors discredit the conditionalist argument for exclusive immortality of God because they are seeking to defend the traditional concept of hell as the perpetual torture of immortal human souls.

[13] Genesis 2:17.

[14] Romans 5:12 NLT.

[15] Romans 6:23.

[16] Malachi 4:1; Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5.

[17] See also John 4:14; 5:21; 10:28; 17:2.

[18] David L. Edwards with a Response from John Stott, Evangelical Essentials (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1988), 316.

[19] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1150 (footnote 12).

[20] Matthew 25:46.

[21] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1985), 613.

[22] Erickson, 613.

[23] Erickson, 614.

[24] 2 Timothy 1:10 ESV.

[25] 1 John 5:12 ESV.

Did you say “sleep”?


Popping off, croaking, buying the farm, pushing up daisies, biting the big one, kicking the bucket, assuming room temperature, … these are some of the more colorful euphemisms for death. Not a one of them is found in the Bible.

Instead, the Bible consistently uses a metaphor for death that is viewed as neither socially or theologically appropriate among evangelicals. It calls death a sleep. But if a believer slips and refers to the dead as sleeping, judging from the reaction among traditionalists, you would think that he had shot God.

A long standing tradition within evangelical Christianity asserts that death is a move to a new level of consciousness, that those awaiting Christ’s return for reward or punishment do so in a state that looks very much like they are already being rewarded or punished. Consequently, anyone who dares to imply that the intermediate state is one of unconscious sleep runs the risk of being branded a heretic or cult member.

Nevertheless, it would do us all well to return to biblical terminology and perhaps jettison some of these traditions that keep us from using it. The biblical authors knew what they were talking about. The Holy Spirit inspired them to write words which expressed the way things really are. It is not their fault that the popular church has chosen to see and say things differently.

But in this current atmosphere where the biblical word “sleep” sparks such a response from otherwise biblically grounded saints, if conditionalists want to revive the term as a metaphor for death, they had better be prepared. Conditionalists need to know just where in the Bible the term is used for death, and what “sleep” means in the contexts of those passages.

Adam’s sleep a picture of Christ’s death

“So the LORD God caused a deep sleep

to fall upon the man, and while he slept

took one of his ribs and closed up its

place with flesh. And the rib that the

LORD God had taken from the man he

made into a woman and brought her to

the man. Then the man said, “This at

last is bone of my bones and flesh of

my flesh; she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man””

(Genesis 2:21-23 ESV).

The first place in the Bible where sleep is used as a metaphor for death apparently occurs before death existed. While in the garden paradise of Eden, Adam is anesthetized by God and surgery is performed, the result of which is Eve. Thus the Bible says that man comes from woman, and woman also comes from man.[1]

One curious thing about this incident is that it seems to have a parallel in the gospel message. Just as Eve came into existence because of the sleep of Adam, so the Church of Christ comes into existence because of his death. Because Christ slept in the tomb, his bride came into being.

If there is anything to this assumption, notice what it is telling readers about the nature of death itself. Adam’s sleep was a state of unconsciousness. He was “put under” so that he would not experience the changes taking place in his body. The purpose of this unconscious state was not to heighten his awareness, but to suppress it. One might conclude, then, that the purpose of the intermediate state is the same.

Job describes death as lying down and sleeping, not being awaken

“But a man dies and is laid low; man

breathes his last, and where is he?

As waters fail from a lake and a river

wastes away and dries up, so a man

lies down and rises not again; till the

heavens are no more he will not awake

or be roused out of his sleep. Oh that

you would hide me in Sheol, that you

would conceal me until your wrath be

past, that you would appoint me a set

time, and remember me! If a man dies,

shall he live again? All the days of my

service I would wait, till my renewal

should come” (Job 14:10-14 ESV).

In chapter 14 of Job’s story, he laments that human beings are not like trees. A tree may be cut down, but given the right conditions, it may sprout back again from the apparently dead stump. But, Job complains, human beings are not like that. When a man’s life comes to an end, he lies down and sleeps, not to wake up again.

Job is not arguing against the concept of the resurrection. Even in this chapter, he pleads with God to hide him in Sheol (death) until his wrath is past, and then remember him, causing him to live again (13-14). One cannot ask for a more clear statement of the hope of resurrection. Later, Job asserts that he has a Redeemer who lives, and that he (Job) will see God in a resurrected body, long after his present body has been consumed.[2]

So, since Job is not arguing against the notion of a resurrection, why does he insist that death is a sleep that one does not wake up from? He is contrasting the fate of humans with that of trees. Trees have something within their nature that allows them to bounce back from apparent death. God has not put such a nature within us. If we want to live again, we will need a resurrecting God. Sleep is an appropriate metaphor for death because if you see people sleeping, you expect them to wake up. Think about that the next time you walk through a cemetery. These “sleeping places” are monuments to the fact that we all depend upon God for our future life.[3]

David calls death a sleep

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me

forever? How long will you hide your face

from me? How long must I take counsel in

my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the

day? How long shall my enemy be exalted

over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD

my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the

sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have

prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice

because I am shaken. But I have trusted in

your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in

your salvation. I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt bountifully with me”

( Psalm 13:1-6 ESV).

David’s lament in Psalm 13 is the complaint of a soldier who keeps losing battles, and wonders how long he can continue to hold out. The shame of the losses is coupled with the embarrassment of the taunts he hears from his enemies. They are exalted over him. They rejoice because he is shaken. Nevertheless, David is forced to trust in God’s steadfast love, and hope in his salvation. He has no one else.

David’s question to his LORD in Psalm 13 is “will you forget me forever?” If the LORD does forget his servant, he will “sleep the sleep of death” and his enemy will have prevailed over him. Death would be the ultimate failure. It would mean that God had lost a soldier, and the enemy had gained a decisive victory, and a reason to boast.

How could David have said such a thing if he believed that death was “going to his reward” or “going home to be with the LORD” or “getting promoted to heaven”? The Holy Spirit speaks of death here, not as a victory but as a defeat. Granted, it is only a temporary defeat. In Psalm 16, David predicted that the Messiah would die, but that he would not be abandoned to Sheol. He would triumph over death.

Peter, preaching at Pentecost in Acts 2, reminded his listeners of that triumph. Death is real, but Christ has overcome it. But David himself did not overcome it. He sleeps, and awaits a resurrection. In Peter’s words, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.”[4] The old warrior did indeed sleep the sleep of death, but not before the LORD heard his cry and delivered him from his enemies.

Jeremiah speaks of Babylon’s perpetual sleep

“Babylon shall become a heap of ruins,

the haunt of jackals, a horror and a hissing,

without inhabitant. “They shall roar

together like lions; they shall growl like

lions’ cubs. While they are inflamed I will

prepare them a feast and make them

drunk, that they may become merry,

then sleep a perpetual sleep and not

wake, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah


“for a destroyer has come upon her,

upon Babylon; her warriors are taken;

their bows are broken in pieces, for

the LORD is a God of recompense; he

will surely repay. I will make drunk

her officials and her wise men, her

governors, her commanders, and her

warriors; they shall sleep a perpetual

sleep and not wake, declares the King,

whose name is the LORD of hosts”

(Jeremiah 51:56-57).

In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, the enemies of God’s people were the oppressive Babylonians. Jeremiah predicted that the great empire of Nebuchadnezzar would get drunk and fall to sleep, never to wake up again. He was prophesying the empire’s destruction,[5] in which it will fall,[6] come to an end,[7] perish,[8] and become a heap of ruins without inhabitant,[9] “a land of drought and a desert, a land in which no one dwells, and through which no son of man passes.”[10]

Jeremiah described the death of a people. It makes sense that he would use that metaphor that his ancestors did to describe that fall into a state of nothingness: sleep. It would not make sense if Jeremiah actually believed that death was a passing from one state of consciousness into another. He could have threatened an even more violent state of conscious torment in hell for God’s enemies, but he does not.

Babylon will rise no more, but someday, each individual Babylonian will stand before God and be judged for his personal sins. That day is not what Jeremiah is predicting. The end of Babylon’s judgment is death: a state of perpetual sleep. Judgment day for the individual Babylonians will come later.

In the New Testament book of Revelation, John picks up on this same imagery to describe another Babylon, doomed to destruction. He warns God’s people to come out of her …

“lest you take part in her sins, lest

you share in her plagues; for her sins

are heaped high as heaven, and God

has remembered her iniquities”

(Revelation 18:4-5 ESV).

“her plagues will come in a single day,

death and mourning and famine, and

she will be burned up with fire; for

mighty is the Lord God who has judged

her” (Revelation 18:8 ESV).

John describes the ultimate judgment day, which Babylon’s perpetual sleep only serves to predict. He is describing ultimate punishment, ultimate destruction. Jeremiah had spoken of the first death, John warns of the second.

Daniel describes resurrection from sleep in the dust

“And many of those who sleep in the dust

of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting

life, and some to shame and everlasting

contempt. And those who are wise shall shine

like the brightness of the sky above; and those

who turn many to righteousness, like the stars

forever and ever” (Daniel 12:2-3).

It is not clear what Daniel is predicting in chapter 12, but it is clear that he uses resurrection language to describe it. He speaks of those who are sleeping in the dust, awakening to everlasting life. Others who awake will not see life, but suffer shame and everlasting contempt. Jesus used the same language to describe the resurrection. He said “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”[11]

So, to both Daniel and Jesus, the anthropology and cosmology are the same: death is a sleep. The resurrection awakens all from that sleep. Judgment and eternal destiny occur at the resurrection, at the awakening. Judgment does not occur during the intermediate state, but afterward.

There are some who claim that all this talk about death as a sleep is simply Old Testament language of appearance, and that the New Testament corrects that misunderstanding by showing that the intermediate state is a conscious one. But the New Testaments speaks even more clearly than the Old in describing death as a sleep.

Jesus describes a dead girl as merely sleeping

“When they arrived at the house, Jesus

wouldn’t let anyone go in with him except

Peter, John, James, and the little girl’s

father and mother. The house was filled

with people weeping and wailing, but he

said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead;

she’s only asleep.” But the crowd laughed

at him because they all knew she had died.

Then Jesus took her by the hand and said

in a loud voice, “My child, get up!” And at

that moment her life returned, and she

immediately stood up! Then Jesus told them

to give her something to eat” (Luke 8:51-55


This story, which appears in all three synoptic Gospels, shows Jesus’ attitude toward the dead. He knows the pain that death causes, and will have opportunity to demonstrate his own grief at the death of his friend Lazarus.[12] Yet he also knows that death is only a temporary phenomenon. In that since, it is not really a death, but a mere sleep.

Make no mistake. This girl was really dead, and the scripture makes it clear that she was. Yet Jesus was there. He is the resurrection and the life. He knew that this day would not end in mourning, but a miracle. He chased all the mourners away, and woke up a little girl from her nap.

Now, if this little girl were with the angels in heaven, or even in Abraham’s bosom, and Jesus knew that, it would not have been such a nice thing for him to return her to this world of woe. But the language that Luke (and Matthew and Mark) uses matches that which the Old Testament writers had used of death. It describes this girl’s state as one of sleep, not wakefulness. Luke presented her as one who needed to be woken.

Luke’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31) contradicts the view that the Old Testament presents, and that which Jesus himself ascribes to. In that parable, Jesus speaks of the dead being conscious in the death –state, and aware of what is going on in the land of the living. Advocates of a conscious intermediate state have simply chosen to accept this view of death, instead of the one proposed in Luke 8.

Conditionalists refuse to accept the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as definitive teaching on the intermediate statement for several reasons, some of which can be seen in the contrast between these texts:

  1. Luke 8 reflects a literal event in the life of Jesus and a real human being, a small girl. Luke 16 reflects a story that Jesus told, which probably did not originate with him. He used one of the Pharisees’ stories, and ended it with a twist that they did not expect.
  2. The focus of Luke 8 was a real death and a real resurrection. The focus of Luke 16 was the selfishness of the Pharisees and their refusal to follow the law by having compassion on the needy. In which passage would it be more natural for Jesus to convey didactic teaching about the intermediate state?
  3. The witnesses of the event described in Luke 8 were Jesus himself, the young girl and his parents, and some of his disciples. The hearers of the story in Luke 16 were the Pharisees, who “were lovers of money” and “ridiculed him” because he taught that “you cannot serve God and money.”[13] In which context would it have been more appropriate for Jesus to share insight about the mystery of the intermediate state?
  4. The literary context of each passage is also important to consider. Luke 8 appears in a conjunction with a group of passages which emphasize who Jesus is. His authority and power are expressed in the chapters immediately preceding and following the story in chapter 8. In that context, it makes sense to show Jesus as having power to raise the dead. Luke 16 is within a group of chapters emphasizing the opposition and antagonism of those (like the Pharisees) who wanted to see Jesus done away with. In that context, what Luke wants to show is the reason why these people hated Jesus, and why his journey to Jerusalem would lead to the cross. A literal description of the intermediate state would not add to Luke’s purpose for Luke 16.
  5. In the final analysis, it must be admitted that these two texts do represent two alternative views of the intermediate state. In the one, people are asleep, and must be awakened by resurrection. In the other, people are awake, and are experiencing some sort of afterlife. In Luke 8, there is no reference to judgment. In Luke 16, all those who have died are already being judged.
  6. One cannot combine these two views of the intermediate state without distorting one into insignificance. Conditionalists accept the teaching of Luke 8 as normative, and choose to see the description in Luke 16 as representing what the Pharisees believed — not what Jesus believed — about the intermediate state.

Matthew described saints who were raised from sleep

“And behold, the curtain of the temple

was torn in two, from top to bottom. And

the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

The tombs also were opened. And many

bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep

were raised, and coming out of the tombs

after his resurrection they went into the

holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew

27:51-53 ESV).

Adding to the confusion of the events taking place on the night in which our Savior died, a number of God’s saints who had died before he did were raised to life at the moment he died. These presented themselves to the wonderment of those who had seen them die, be buried, and mourned their passing. These resurrections were demonstrations both of the power of God to raise the dead, and of the significance of the death of Christ.

Yet there are no descriptions of what these saints had experienced while being dead. They were not noted as having experienced any afterlife, but for having been raised to life again. In fact, Matthew describes them as “saints who had fallen asleep.” It was not merely their bodies who had fallen asleep, but the saints themselves. This is seen in the Greek construction of the sentence, where the word “bodies” is neuter nominative plural, and the words “the saints” and the participle translated “who had fallen asleep” are masculine genitive plural.

The anthropology/cosmology of Matthew agrees with that of Luke 8. These people had been dead, and are described as having fallen asleep. The miracle of Christ’s death on the cross caused these dead saints to revive.

Jesus says that Lazarus has fallen asleep, and the disciples misunderstand Jesus description of his death as sleep

“After saying these things, he said to

them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen

asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The

disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has

fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now

Jesus had spoken of his death, but

they thought that he meant taking

rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them

plainly, “Lazarus has died”” (John

11:11-14 ESV).

Jesus comes face to face with the reality of death when his friend Lazarus dies as recorded in John 11. It is in this context that we read the shortest verse in the New Testament – “Jesus wept.”[14] Death is real, and it is a real tragedy. Yet Jesus describes Lazarus’ death with that same metaphor that appears throughout the text of scripture. He said that Lazarus had fallen asleep.

His disciples did not get it. They thought that he was describing the beginning of Lazarus’ recovery. They assumed that if he were (literally) sleeping, then the worst of his illness was over, and he would soon be getting better. So Jesus had to spell it out for them and explain that his friend was already dead.

Now that we can read all of John chapter 11, we understand what Jesus was doing. He was explaining to his disciples that death is not the end, because he (the Resurrection and the Life) will not allow it to be. But make no mistake about it – if there were no Jesus, death would be the end. We can call death sleep only because there is a Jesus who intends to raise the dead. Calling death sleep is a statement of faith in Christ.

Refusing to call death sleep is also a statement of faith. It reflects a faith in death itself. It joins Plato and other pagan philosophers in affirming that God created the human soul indestructible, and therefore it must remain alive after the death of the body. So the real person never sleeps but remains conscious during the intermediate state, and indeed for all eternity. Conditionalists urge our brothers and sisters to put their faith in Christ, the Resurrection and the Life.

Stephen falls asleep (dies) after being stoned

“And as they were stoning Stephen,

he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive

my spirit.” And falling to his knees

he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord,

do not hold this sin against them.”

And when he had said this, he fell

asleep” (Acts 7:59-60 ESV).

A few years ago in the Philippines, my best friend died. One of his memorial services was preached by a pastor of a denomination which teaches a conscious intermediate state. This pastor explained (using Acts 7:59) that my friend was not really dead because God had received his spirit, which flew to heaven the moment he died. The pastor explained that some people teach soul sleep, but that this text teaches against it.

Sitting in the service that day, I held my tongue. Funerals are not the place for theological debate. But later, I brought up the passage again to my students at the Bible college. I showed them that the pastor had failed to look at the context. The next verse says “And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Luke’s description of Stephen’s death does not argue against death as sleep, but is evidence for it.

Paul teaches that most will sleep, some will be changed without it

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall

not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,

at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will

sound, and the dead will be raised

imperishable, and we shall be changed”

(1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV).

Paul contributes to the doctrine of the intermediate state by affirming what readers have seen elsewhere in the Bible. Death is a sleep from which believers will be awaken. This awakening will take place “at the last trumpet.” But he also teaches that there are two exceptions to the general rule that all will sleep in death:

  1. Some will not experience the sleep of death because they will be alive when Jesus returns. They will not sleep in death because they will be immediately changed: made immortal without ever having experienced the sleep of death. Oh, what a glorious thing it would be to be part of that group. Come, Lord Jesus!
  2. The other exception is Jesus himself. He slept in death, but he has already been raised from the dead. Paul calls him “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”[15] He is the only one who has presently been raised immortal. His resurrection is the guarantee that we also will be raised to life some day. So, even if we miss the opportunity to be a part of that special group who will be changed into immortal beings without ever tasting death, we still have reason to celebrate. Christ’s resurrection gives us hope.

Long after the revelation of the gospel, Paul continued to speak of those who had died as having fallen asleep.[16] He was not ashamed to use that metaphor to describe what takes place at death. We should not be ashamed to do so either. To “fall asleep” or to “go to sleep”, or merely “to sleep” is an accurate, biblical statement describing the reality of death. On the other hand, to “go to heaven” or to “go home” or to “go to one’s reward” are statements which are neither biblical nor accurate.

The Christian hope is not going somewhere at death, but a Savior, who is coming to wake us up from death. That is why to “fall asleep” is a statement of faith for the believing Christian. It says that we have put our trust in a Savior who cares for us, and will not let our defeat by the enemy death be the last word.

Jefferson Vann

[1] 1 Corinthians 11;8-12.

[2] Job 19:25-27.

[3] The word cemetery comes from the Greek koimhterion, which is related to the word koimhsij, used in the New Testament for both death and natural sleep.

[4] Acts 2:29 ESV.

[5] Jeremiah 51:1, 3, 20, 48, 53-54.

[6] Jeremiah 51:8.

[7] Jeremiah 51:13.

[8] Jeremiah 51:18.

[9] Jeremiah 51:37.

[10] Jeremiah 51:43 ESV.

[11] John 5:28-29.

[12] see John 11.

[13] Luke 16:13-14.

[14] John 11:35.

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23.

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14, 15.

Luke 14–when grace and commitment clash

This Chapter consists of five sections which Luke has placed together for a purpose. Before we try to figure out what that purpose was, we need to look carefully at each section.

The five sections can be categorized by where they take place. The first three sections take place in the home of a ruler of the Pharisees. That is important because it establishes the audience. It was religious professionals and experts in the interpretation of the Mosaic law.

Section 1


Jesus and his disciples are at the home of a rich, prominent man. There was an illusion of spiritual importance in the place. The disciples were probably caught up in it, but Jesus was not. He could see through the illusion.

Somehow a sick man appears in their midst. The group is watching Jesus to see what he is going to do. There is nothing in the text to suggest that Jesus healed this man because of his faith. The text does not say that this man deserved the healing. The law did not command healing on the Sabbath, or on any other day. Jesus went beyond the law and ministered grace.

Everyone there that day understood the principle that Jesus operated under. His question showed that. It implied that every one of them without exception would choose to rescue their own ox or their own son, regardless of what day he fell into the pit. The problem was not really a law versus grace issue. The problem was that this sick man was not deemed worth rescuing because he was an outsider. Jesus was visibly angry with them for this attitude.

Section 2


Jesus had noticed that when these people gathered together, they each tried to sit in a prominent place. Their gatherings were not opportunities for fellowship as much as opportunities for self promotion. Jesus suggested that they should have been seeking the lowest position. He pointed out that if they did this, a side benefit would be that they might be asked to take a more prominent position. But if they insisted on getting the best spots, they would likely be asked to vacate them.

Section 3


In the third section, Jesus turns his attention to their host. He had been guilty of jockeying for position as well. He had chosen people of prominence and invited them to his banquet. The only exception had been the sick man.

Jesus’ mention of the banquet had caused one of the listeners to pronounce a religious blessing upon the saved. One of the symbols of salvation the Bible reveals is the great banquet at the end of the age, also known as the marriage supper of the Lamb.

If you had called for a vote among the guests at that banquet, everyone there would have affirmed that they expected to be among the elect. They looked forward to fellowship with God for eternity -later on. Jesus told a story about people who were invited to a great banquet, but could not fit it into their busy schedules when the invitation first came.

Section 4


The venue appears to change to a more general one in section 4, but the overall topic has not changed. Jesus talks about the commitment expected of those who accept his invitation. They cannot be like those who originally received the invitations to the great banquet. They have to be willing to put everything else in their lives aside and concentrate on his kingdom exclusively.

To illustrate this, Jesus talks about building a tower and going to battle. In both of these projects, the one who intends to accomplish the task has to evaluate his resources to see whether he has what it takes to finish the task.

Section 5


The last two verses of this chapter appear to have been tacked on to it. Jesus talks about salt being worthless if it looses its saltiness. In many commentaries of this text, readers are referred to the sermon on the mount, as if Luke mistakenly put these verses in the wrong place. No, Luke did not make a mistake, and neither did the Holy Spirit. But to understand why Jesus said these words in this context, we will have to step back and look at the whole chapter again.

Colliding agendas

It is possible to look at Luke 14 as a theology proper: a chapter that reveals who God is. Jesus’ choice to heal the sick man was an illustration of pure unmitigated grace. He was presented as a creature in need, and his creator chose to meet that need.

God is the loving father who graciously rescued his stupid son who has fallen into a well and cannot get himself out.

God is the loving host, who sees his friend at a lowly position and invites him to a higher place.

God is the master of the banquet, who commands his servants to scour the city for every last riffraff, so that his banquet hall is filled.

I deliberately pointed this out because we tend to read past this message of grace and make this chapter all about personal commitment. Here Jesus commands his follows to hate their friends and relatives, and even their own lives. Believers must renounce all, and take up their crosses and follow him to their deaths. Last year when I wrote a devotions text based on this chapter, my conclusion was that we all have only enough resources for one project, so that project better be God’s kingdom.

I have to admit that I have always preached this chapter with the aim of encouraging people to be more committed — more faithful.

But I’m worried about that. Those two possible agendas (grace and commitment) seem to clash in this chapter. I’m not ready to conclude that either Jesus or Luke was schizophrenic. There has to a pin that connects these two different rail cars.

I think I’m beginning to understand what that pin is. The clue that got me started is in those final two verses of the chapter where Jesus warns us not to lose our saltiness.

Being salty in Jesus’ messages means leading people to God by proclaiming his gospel of grace. It is the true spiritual prominence we get when the gospel takes hold in our lives. Losing one’s saltiness, then, would be moving away from that message of grace.

When we only emphasize the commitment of Luke 14, we forget what that commitment is for. Jesus calls his followers to renounce all and follow him because their all is not enough.

We all start to build our tower and then realize that we are going to be a few stories too short. Isn’t that the problem they had at Babel? There was  no way they were going to reach the stratosphere on their own.

We all plan to go to war and then realize that we are going to lose badly. We start out life as an ox in a well. It does not matter how strong or dedicated we are. We are not going anywhere without rescue. It does not matter how many resources we have. In fact, the more resources we have apart from Christ, the less likely we will surrender to his rescue.

Jesus was not teaching the Pharisees that they should be more humble. He was using these interactions with the socially prominent to teach his disciples that his kingdom works a different way. In Christ’s kingdom, the only resource we need is the Holy Spirit. Luke emphasizes this throughout his Gospel and throughout the book of Acts.

This truth can set us free. When we are challenged to take on more than we can handle, we need not concern ourselves with that fact. Taking on more than one can handle is the norm in Christian service. It is one way of demonstrating that our faith is in Christ, not in ourselves.

— LORD, forgive us for relying so much on our own abilities and experiences. Forgive us for not trusting your Holy Spirit. We come back to the cross where we first met you. There we see that you renounced all for us. We choose to renounce our all to serve you.

This message was preached by Jeff in Japan at the Fukuoka Agape House worship service, Sunday morning, July 29, 2012.