Tag Archive: spirituality


Last time, we looked at how sin results not as a reaction from an outer cause, but from within. During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught five steps to help us identify and confront this inner sin.

His first example derived from the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). He said, even if we don’t act on our anger, it not only distorts our perception, prohibiting logical thought and loving-kindness, but we still harm someone, ourselves, by doing something just as damaging: We brood on it.

Whatever we spend our time on, whether thinking or doing, that thought or feeling determines who we are. Though we try to hold back our anger, the pressure builds, and the darkness corrodes our will, until we can no longer contain it. At that point, we have no choice but to spare ourselves further pain. So we make someone else our scapegoat, projecting onto them the responsibility of our sin.

By practicing mindfulness (the first step), and identifying our anger when it arises, we can learn to stop our brooding before it gets out of hand. Because sin comes from within, it is our responsibility, and not a reaction, or effect, but a cause.

We cause sin. We create it. That means we can stop it.

We prevent this harm to ourselves and others by being faithful.

Step 2: Faithfulness

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: / But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”-Matthew 5:27-28.

The Bible can be very tricky to read and interpret. First of all, each of us sees in the text what our experience allows us to see. If you want to find something in Holy Scripture, no matter what it is, you’ll find it. We must always remember that.

Secondly, keeping in mind what I just wrote, I see the Bible as being literal sometimes, metaphorical and parabolic at other times, and often both. Take witchcraft and idolatry, for example.

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”-Exodus 22:18.

In Salem, Massachusetts, from 1692 until 1693, Puritans used this verse as their justification to hang 14 women and 5 men. But what is a witch? They had to invent a definition, and tests, because the Bible doesn’t say, at least in a literal context.

Idolatry was so reprehensible and common to the Hebrews, and a gateway to greater sins, that the first two of the ten commandments focused on it.

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me. / Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing….”-Exodus 20:3-4.

While we see examples of idolatry in the Bible, like the golden calf, and read about how the Jews worshiped other gods at times, there is more to this than only the literal understanding.

“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices.”-Exodus 34:15.

So not being faithful to God is like prostitution. Old Testament text refers repeatedly to people who “go a whoring after other gods” (Exodus 34:15-16; Lev. 17:7, 20:5-6; Num. 15:39; Deut. 31:16, etc. 20 times in all).

“For rebellion [against God] is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubborness is as idolatry….”-1 Samuel 15:23.

Metaphorically, witchcraft is not being faithful to God. Idolatry is being too stubborn, stuck in our selfish ways, to remain faithful to our one true love, or Lord. Therefore, adultery, which means not being faithful, also puts someone else before the one with whom you share a covenant.

“…with their idols have they committed adultery….”-Ezekiel 23:37.

So when we speak here of adultery, and coveting with lust in our hearts, we are not just talking about breaking the vows with our spouse, and being unfaithful to them; we are also committing idolatry, worshiping a false image that we created with our own hands. In other words, we’re also being unfaithful to God. And, by God, I mean everyone and everything.

But, mostly, what I understand “adultery” to mean here is that, when we lust after something false, something we created in our own minds, then we are being unfaithful to ourselves.

Before we look into how we can be faithful, remember, from last time, that we can’t control a surge of momentary, transitory emotion. To lose your temper, or feel lust when you happen to see an attractive person, lacks the brooding necessary to take those harmful feelings to heart.

“I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”-Jeremiah 17:10.

Keep in mind, this applies to what we take to heart, and what we do. If we lose our temper, and act in anger against someone, as Cain killed Abel, then God curses us, and marks us as unfaithful. First comes the feeling, which is out of our control, and then comes the action, which can make or break our entire life.

We need an in-between step, so we can stop after the feeling, before the doing, and be mindful when we feel what could be used as justification to harm someone.

“Put away your sword, Jesus told him. Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”-Matthew 26:52.

When we are born again, we practice mindfulness, and learn to recognize when our emotions surge; then we can stop ourselves before we act against another person. This awareness also helps us to be thoughtful of our lust or anger, so we don’t take it to heart, and brood upon it: thereby harming ourselves.

Whatever we spend our time thinking, feeling, and doing becomes who we are. These are the seeds we sow, leaving us no choice but to reap and harvest only from what we planted, in ourselves and in others.

“And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. / Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.”-Luke 12:39-40.

Since we’re unable to prepare for what we don’t know, whether it’s the time, place, or circumstances of our trial, then we need something that will work for us, and prevent sin, in a general, all-purpose way. That something is faithfulness.

To understand how to be faithful to ourselves, we must realize that the path to our understanding is unique for each of us. My old math teacher told me something that stuck with me: There are many ways to the right answer, but there is only one right answer.

I can help, in a general way, but you have to fit this to the specifics of your own life, and see in this lesson what works for you.

“LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.”-Psalm 39:4.

If we’re honest about our frailty, then our humility points the way, for each of us, to the single answer we all seek: Who am I; who are we; and what do I need to feel safe and loved, in an existence that can break my neck, if I trip and fall?

The Bible states plainly who we are, and it is to this simple ideal that we must remain true.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”-Genesis 2:15.

Even when Adam and Eve were unfaithful, committing adultery against God, their purpose in life did not change.

“So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.”-Genesis 3:23.

Since we were all “taken” from our mothers and fathers, who were informed by their experiences, and everyone and everything they knew, including their parents, and everyone and everything they knew, and so on, all across the world, and even out into space, from which we have “taken” all the elements of carbon and oxygen, from stars that exploded, which spread their remnants, their seeds, across the cosmos, then our purpose is to take care of whatever parts of the universe, be they person, place, or thing, in which we find ourselves.

“God” is another word for the entirety of everyone and everything: the world, the universe, and then some. So we love and are faithful to God, when we care for one another. Further, we are true to ourselves, and fulfil our purpose, when we work for the good of all.

“I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.”-John 17:4.

If we don’t fulfil our purpose, doing the work allotted to us, then we become lost and confused. We wander around the garden, not knowing how to use the shovel and hoe: the implements and talents we possess.

Adam and Eve were unfaithful for the same reason we are today.

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”-Genesis 3:5.

Being loved by God, and caring for everything in return, was not enough for them. They committed adultery because they wanted what was, in their minds, a greater purpose: to be God, themselves.

It is beyond us to be what we are not. More than that, it is unhealthy (mentally and physically) to believe we are what we are not: That’s what “sin” really is, not some moral thing to do for the sake of morality, but a psychological pitfall that damages us, even if we just think about it, but especially when we act on it.

Part of the reason sin harms us is that we are not being faithful to ourselves, and fulfilling our purpose, which is to take care of the garden, and everyone and everything in it, to love one another. We commit this adultery because we don’t see ourselves as part of God, but as the central figure, the reason for everything, holding dominion over each other, and the world.

“And God blessed [Adam and Eve], and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”-Genesis 1:28.

We try to subdue others, as they set out to conquer us, with none of us thinking it odd that the other acts like they’re the most important thing in the world.

We are all equally important, and incomplete without each other. You know what I don’t know; I can do something that you’re unable to accomplish. Therefore, we are not masters over each other, with one speck of dust being superior or inferior to another.

“…a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.”-Ecclesiastes 3:19.

Rather, we are faithful to ourselves, each other, and God, when we achieve and practice our simple purpose:

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.”-John 15:9.

I know this seems like a small thing, for such a great being as I am, or you are. Why be gardeners, when we can be God? But we have yet to accomplish this minuscule feat that’s so far beneath us.

“If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”-John 3:12.

We can’t be God. Deluding ourselves only harms us, drives us insane with lust and anger.

Since we haven’t succeeded in the earthly purpose of simply caring for each other, how can we possibly assume that we are the heavenly, all-important God? We are faithful to ourselves, when we know ourselves, and remain true to who we are.

In the Old Testament, on through to Jesus’ time, the Jews saw adultery as being punishable by death.

“And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife…the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”-Leviticus 20:10.

And so we die, inside, psychologically, in our hearts, when we aren’t faithful to who we are. When the Jews asked Jesus to help them stone an adulteress, he said the same thing to her that he still says to us, and what we need to say to each other, and to ourselves.

“…Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”-John 8:11.

We have been caught in adultery. We lust after a life, and a goal, that we can’t possibly achieve. In doing so, we ignore our true purpose, something which we should love; and we see ourselves, not as we are, or as we should be, but as we are unable to be. Likewise, we see others as they are not, but as we wish for them to be, so that we can wallow in our self-deluded lust for power: a stubborn denial of love, compassion, and mercy.

The Bible’s goal is to show us the simple, human weaknesses, which we deny and tend to overlook.

“For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”-Matthew 13:15.

By avoiding these truths, we refuse to love, and are unfaithful to ourselves. We take these lies to heart, neither acknowledging or denying that we have rebelled against our purpose, and held stubbornly to the vain “golden calf” that we created. We’ve heard all that Jesus had to say, and, though we might claim to believe, and call him Lord (our one true love), we commit adultery against him, because we are too weak to do as he taught, and live as he lived.

But to actually realize what we’ve been doing, and admit our frailty, humbling ourselves, so that our true love knows that we are sorry, that we’ll try harder, then we must begin to see, hear, and understand the truth.

“…If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; / And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”-John 8:31-32.

This is what it means to be born again: starting a new life, with a pure, repentant heart, accepting and caring for everyone, and everything. This faith in ourselves is greater than our selfish desires, as it encompasses, and impacts everyone around us, who influence everyone around them, and so on, coming back to us, and strengthening us, instead of harming and undermining us, upon its return. You reap what you sow.

To be unfaithful to this sacred trust, between us and all of life, starts a chain reaction; our adultery topples every domino on Earth, and creates a guilt worse than the brooding. While taking to heart our angry and lustful feelings damages us, even if we’re unaware of it consciously, when we brood on our harmful actions against others, the pressure far exceeds what we can bear.

The only way to have a healthy relationship, whether it’s between us and God, us and our spouse, or with friends or ourselves, is to deal with how we feel. There is no running away from ourselves.

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”-Psalm 19:14.

God calls us to love all that exists. No matter if it’s clean or dirty, good or bad, it is still of our Lord. If we are to feel loved, and safe, then we must also help others feel that way too. So we love our spouses, and friends, as they are, warts and all. We have faith that they can improve, faith that we can improve. But we must remember to act on this faith, expressing the love others need to act on their faith. This mindfulness ends the need to cheat on our true love, because the beauty of the purified heart never fades.

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[If you missed Part One, you can find it here. If you want the complete version of this essay, you can find it here.]

“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.”—John 3:5.

We must be born again to “see” the kingdom, and born of water and of [or by] the Spirit to “enter” heaven.

At night, we see a light, far off, as Nicodemus did before approaching Jesus.

“I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. / And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”—John 12:46, 47.

When we see the light, then we must decide whether or not we’ll approach it, and then if we will enter into it, or abide in darkness. These are three very important choices, any one of which could change our lives forever.

Just so, in the last quote, there are three points that are open to interpretation. First, what does it mean to believe in Jesus?

Your answer will determine your journey. I cannot (and do not) answer for you. I choose my path, and answer for me.

Before answering, read the quote again. Note what Jesus said about belief in the first verse, and what he said about it in the second. The second elaborates on the first, clarifying its meaning.

This is a fundamental Jewish practice, in writing the Bible, called “parallelism.” We see it in the Psalms.

“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”—Psalms 46:7.

The second part amplifies and explains the first. What does it mean to say the Lord is with us? It means God is our refuge.

We also see it in the Lord’s Prayer.

“….Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.”—Luke 11:12.

What does thy kingdom come mean? It means God’s will shall be followed in earthly life, as it is in heaven.

So what does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means that, even for people who don’t believe in the literal interpretation (that he was God’s actual offspring, that he historically died on the cross for our sins, etc.), and yet they follow his teachings, they will not be judged and condemned by God.

“For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”—John 3:17.

Therefore, even atheists can be born again, and maintain their skepticism, as long as they love as Jesus taught. This is how we see the light, and decide to approach it. We are born again when we believe in what Jesus called his “new commandment.”

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”—John 13:34.

There are other examples too. Jesus ate with sinners, much to the dismay of the Pharisees.

“And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”—Luke 15:2.

He told parables about how the chosen ones (the Jews) rejected him, and his parabolic wedding feasts. And, to have a full wedding party, he sent his servants to gather people off the streets.

“And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. // Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.”—Matthew 22:3, 9.

Jesus stated the purpose of Christianity, the reason for his ministry, by quoting Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”—Luke 4:18.

The purpose of Christianity is not to get dressed up, and go to the temple. Jesus cleansed the temple.

“And [he] said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”—Matthew 21:13.

The true house of God, like the kingdom, is within us.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”—Matthew 18:20.

I cannot stress this enough. The Bible shorthand for “believing in Jesus” is “loving one another.” No one is saved by believing what they don’t (and can’t) know to be true. We are saved by love.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”—John 13:35.

We must have the mindfulness of faith, moment-by-moment: faith in ourselves, in each other, and faith in the whole picture, the ebb and flow of all things: the will of God. This is what Jesus meant by losing our lives to save our lives. We must surrender our self-important definitions, so that we see ourselves (and each other) as God sees us. That is how we see the light, and start a new life, as the children of one great purpose: love, which is God.

Once we’ve seen the distant light, and approach its warmth and comfort, then we must make the third (and most important) decision: to enter into that new life, to be “born of water and of the Spirit.”

Water has always been a symbol of cleansing.

“And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.”—Genesis 6:17.

When everyone became corrupt, except for Noah and his family, and humanity thought only evil all the time, God flooded the world. We can see this as an allegory, a symbol, foreshadowing what Jesus and his gospel would accomplish.

We think of God as destroying the world. How cruel he must be! But the world is still here; it was not destroyed. Humanity is still here; it was not destroyed.

“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”—Genesis 6:5.

We have to check our tendency to take the Bible literally. Remember, God is love; humanity, then, in this passage, is a symbol for wickedness, evil, sin. Therefore, the story of Noah’s ark tells us that love destroys sin, if we allow God (love) into our lives.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.

“The Spirit” (with a capital S) should not be confused with “spirit” (and its lower-case S). The capital-S Spirit denotes a proper noun, an entity: the Holy Spirit, what (or to whom) John’s gospel refers as “the Comforter.”

A full analysis can be found in the table of contents. But here is a summary.

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter…. / …the Spirit of truth…. //…which is the Holy Ghost…. //…he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak….”—John 14:16, 17, 26; 16:13.

Jesus said that when he died, he would not leave us comfortless; but he would send people who, like him, would not seek to glorify themselves. Rather, their purpose would be to glorify God by reminding us of what Jesus said: his teachings minus the dogma that developed over the centuries, clouding his message of love.

We’re talking about the true Christian missionaries, whose doctrine is not their own, but God’s.

“I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. / If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.”—John 5:30, 31.

This is the final step in being born again: to not only be cleansed by love, but for you, yourself, to cleanse others with love; to not only be comforted, but to comfort others with a will that doesn’t seek personal gain. To enter the kingdom of heaven, to be born again of water and the Spirit, we must see and treat each other with everlasting love: unconditional, unending love.

The Bible shorthand for this is “everlasting life.”

“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life….”—John 6:40.

Remember, Jesus is life.

“…I am the resurrection and the life….”—John 11:25.

And:

“…I am the way, the truth, and the life….”—John 14:6.

And, as if to further complicate things, while also illuminating his entire ministry, Jesus said:

“I and my Father are one.”—John 10:30.

Since Jesus is life, and God is love, and since Jesus and God are one, then Jesus is love. Thus, the shorthand for “everlasting life” is “everlasting love.”

So let us look again at this time-honored quote, which Jesus said to Nicodemus, to explain what “born again” means.

“For God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.

God flooded the world not because he was cruel and vengeful, but because he loved the world. He didn’t destroy the world or humanity. Rather, he washed the world clean of sin.

That’s what born again means. When we love, we cleanse ourselves of sin.

But sin, too, resurfaced, because we are weak and tend towards fear and anger, for which we attempt to compensate by sinning, hiding in darkness.

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”—John 8:44.

God sent his love, which is the true love, to this world, because we live in darkness, following lust instead of the truth. We look at each other as someone to cheat, or lie to, murder, or slander, rather than as someone with whom we can share everlasting love.

Life is love; death, the absence of love: more Bible shorthand.

Without following Jesus’ teachings (i.e., believing in him), we die inside, living lonely, holow lives: filled with deceit, conceit, delusion, and illusion. This is who we are. We sin to hide our weakness in shadow, in a show of strength, which has no truth in it. Truth lives in the light.

And we must enter the light, by being reborn of water and of the Spirit, to rid ourselves of the lies and lusts.

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:24.

Since God is a Spirit with a capital-S, then, when we are born again, through the Spirit, we are reborn through love, and being truthful with ourselves.

The truth is that we are born of flesh, as Jesus told Nicodemus.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”—John 3:6.

Love is selfless; lust is selfish. Therefore, flesh is selfish, and spirit, through the Spirit, is selfless.

This how we know if we are loving or lusting. Ask yourself, is this all for me? Be mindful, truthful with your answer.

The light shows the way; mindfulness shows the truth; and love gives us life.

“…and the truth shall make you free.”—John 8:32.

I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve thought it too, as did Jesus’ followers.

“Many therefore of his disciples, when they heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”—John 6:60.

Don’t worry. Any magician’s trick seems impossible, until you learn how it’s done. And this is no trick. It is the truth of life, the key to living without fear, anger, or despair.

What we can’t see in the dark becomes easily discernible, when we stop hiding from the shame of our selfishness, our willful ignorance.

“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.”—John 15:22.

This shame is as old as Adam and Eve.

“And [Adam] said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”—Genesis 3:10.

But there’s no need to be afraid, the judgment and condemnation we feel does not come from God, but from ourselves.

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”—John 3:17.

We judge ourselves by our reaction to the light, and the new commandment, that we love one another. When we show mercy, compassion, and empathy, we are saved. But when we hate, practice exclusiveness, and judge others, then we condemn ourselves to the hell that is the absence of God.

While Jesus’ lessons on love might seem confusing, and hard to hear, we don’t necessarily need to know how they work; we just need to have faith that they do work.

As Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whiter it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”—John 3:8.

Talk about hard to hear! What does that mean?

It means that we don’t have to know the intricate details of how something works, to use it. In our technological age, this holds true even more than it did in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

I don’t know how a car engine works, but I drive daily; I don’t know how a refrigerator works, or a coffee maker, a light bulb, cell phone, computer, and so on. Still, I use those things all the time. If I want, I can learn how they function. My curiosity isn’t required, but faith is: faith in the maker, the designer, then engineer.

At the end of the day, none of us can really know God’s will.

“….no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son….”—Matthew 11:27.

Imagine an infinite refrigerator, an unknowable coffee maker, an engineer who is designer, Father, the sound of the wheels turning, smell of its fuel, the very life and heat of its work, as it creates life and light.

Best I can tell you, for sure, is that God is love. And if you love your enemies, as well as your friends, then you will be doing God’s will.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; / That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven….”—Matthew 5:44, 45.

You don’t have to know the wind’s origin, or destination. You don’t have to believe in what I call God, or what anyone else calls God. You don’t have to know how the engine works, to drive the car: just so long as you drive it.

[Continued in Part Three.]

[The complete version of this essay can be found here.]

If someone asked you what it takes to be born again, what would you say? Is the concept limited to Christianity? What if the person asking is an atheist?

This happened to me. And, frankly, I didn’t know what to say, or what “born again” means, exactly, what it requires.

In my first batch of gospel essays, what I called Book One, I dealt with my ignorance on love, forgiveness, mercy, and compassion; what do these things mean, exactly? They are such simple terms, that I had long forgotten their meaning.

Just so, “born again” is a concept that I had stopped thinking about. My understanding of it fell out of my train of thought, and I had to go back to the source.

Book Two is about that journey. As usual, the answer is simple, but the reason why the answer works is complicated.

The answer is this: Humble yourself before the overwhelming might of the world, accept your insufficient, unarmed weakness, cleanse and purify your thoughts and actions with selflessness, and develop a system of symbols to remind you of goodness, for when badness brings panic and despair; surrender your anger, fear, and doubt; stop fighting battles you cannot win, wars that destroy not only your peace of mind, and sense of well-being, but everyone else who gets caught up in your war; in short, merge your will, surrender it to its rightful place, so that it joins with the will of all things: the will of God.

Simple, right?

But how does that work? Does the person need to believe in Jesus, that God took on human form, and died for our sins? And what does that mean, to believe in Jesus?

To discover how the answer works, we must return to the well, and drink the water of everlasting life.

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”—John 4:14.

The story begins at night, in the darkness of ignorance. The man approaching the light, which is the light of the world, goes by the name of Nicodemus. But his name is your name too, and mine.

All of us hide in darkness.

“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved [or discovered].”—John 3:20.

But the shadows swallow us; the darkness of sin devours our selfishness, our greed, until we become so damaged, so traumatized, that our own will becomes worthless: insufficient to justify our hatred of the light.

When our will is no longer enough to sustain us, we must swallow our pride, as Nicodemus did. We have to bolster our will in order to overcome the world. The only way to do that is to attain the will of all things.

The will of God.

“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.”—John 3:1, 2.

Nicodemus swallowed a lot of pride to go to Jesus. He was a Pharisee, which translates as “Separated One.” They believed the first five books of the Bible were the perfect word of God. They extrapolated a lengthy series of laws from this Pentateuch (in Greek, or Torah in Hebrew), because they also believed it contained reasons and answers for every possible situation.

The Pharisees separated themselves from normal, everyday life so that they could follow what they believed were God’s perfect laws. As strict as they were pious, they had no room for anything, or anyone, outside the law. That was one of the reasons why they hated Jesus, and his new doctrine, so much so that they conspired to kill him.

“Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”—Matthew 12:14.

Nicodemus was also a ruler of the Jews: a member of the Sanhedrin. Consisting of 70 members, this brotherhood presided over, and enforced God’s laws on, the Jews. One of their mandates was to investigate, and deal with, any false prophets. Since Jesus did not strictly follow their extrapolated laws, he was, by their definition, a false prophet.

And, finally, Nicodemus was wealthy.

“And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes [to anoint Jesus’ body after his crucifixion], about an hundred pound weight.”—John 19:39.

That would cost a lot of money, more that the average person could afford. If you’ll recall the Rich Young Ruler, it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, that for someone to spend that much money on a wandering, possibly false prophet.

Nicodemus surrendered his will, his way of life, because it was not enough to sustain him. He needed something more.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”—Matthew 16:25.

This is a good time to pause for a moment, and consider what I like to call “Bible shorthand.” When Jesus spoke of “life,” he meant “what we love.” Our lives consist of what we love. And, as I’ve often quoted in these essays, God is love.

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”—1 John 4:8.

So we must surrender our will, what we think we love (thereby losing our lives) in order to gain the strength that comes from the will of all things: the love of God.

To win the fight, we must surrender.

Jesus’ miracles impressed Nicodemus. Let us consider those for a moment.

He gave sight to the blind, enabled people who couldn’t walk to walk once more, purified the blood of a woman with a life-long blood disease, raised people from the dead, transformed water into wine, and multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into enough to feed 5,000. He filled Peter’s nets with fish, when, before, the nets were coming up empty.

Do you see a pattern here?

Nicodemus saw it.

“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.”—John 3:3.

At last we come to the only explicit mentioning of the term “born again” in the gospels. It is implied in everything that Jesus says and does, from his miracles, to his referring to the necessity that we be like children to enter heaven.

“…Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”—Matthew 18:3.

But only John’s gospel names this fundamental essence of Christianity. Of course, other New Testament books discuss it.

“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”—1 Peter 1:23.

Nicodemus should’ve been familiar with the idea of the old becoming new. Abram became Abraham when he left his old life and agreed to follow God. Most every story in the Bible involves a rebirth, such as the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, or Noah building the ark.

Plus, one wouldn’t have to read too much into those stories, to see the emphasis on new beginnings.

All the Old Testament prophets wrote of being born anew, such as Ezekiel.

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”—Ezekiel 36:26.

But Nicodemus didn’t seem to understand.

“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?”—John 3:4.

First, I want to say a quick word about the kingdom of heaven, then we’ll get back to Nicodemus’ very literal interpretation.

Another of my favorite Bible quotes, that you’ll find in almost every one of my essays is this:

“… behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”—Luke 17:21.

Whether or not Heaven is actually a literal place, where we go after we die, Jesus said we will see the kingdom after being born again. So, unless we can’t be reborn until we actually die, then heaven is (at least) a state of mind, a perception attained by being born again.

“All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.”—Matthew 13:34.

Despite Jesus’ parabolic teaching method, or because of it, many people (then and now) insist on literal interpretations.

“The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”—John 6:52.

And….

“…How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.”—John 10:24.

And….

“…Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. / Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?”—John 2:19, 20.

And on, and on. We look for exact, specific knowledge in the Bible, as if spirituality were science. If we expect a fish to behave like a squirrel, then, in our ignorance and conceit, we’ll be severely disappointed when the fish doesn’t climb trees.

“The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”—Proverbs 16:4.

It is not for us to decide why things are, or what they should be. Concern yourself with yourself, and accept the natural state of all things: The combined will of which is the will of God.

[Continued in Part Two.]

After being baptized by John, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. / And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.”—Matthew 4:1-2.

Of the Spirit is an important phrase. He didn’t eat for 40 days. Fasting for spiritual purposes can result in a vision, a trip to the spirit world—which exists alongside the more obvious physical one, and, like dreams, can be metaphorical, literal, or both.

The devil might not be a proper name, since it isn’t capitalized. This could mean that Satan was never really there, only part of Jesus’ vision. What tempted Jesus, then, might not have been another person, but himself.

First Temptation
“And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. / But he answered and said, it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”—Matthew 4:3-4.

If thou be the Son of God….

The devil used this implication twice during his three temptations. He didn’t say since, but if. Did Jesus doubt himself; doubt that he was the Son of God?

Before I begin a new project (like these essays, for example), I have to overcome my doubts. The Israelites had to endure 40 years in the wilderness. We all have to stand strong enough to survive the desert, but weak enough to accept our vulnerability, and not tempt fate.

It is perfectly natural to doubt yourself; it’s not a bad thing. That’s one of the differences between the absolute nature of faith in the Old Testament, and the more flexible, realistic understanding of it provided by Jesus. Doubt allows us to change.

If the Son of God can suffer doubt, then we are far from immune to its influence.

If we can accept our weaknesses, then we can overcome them.

Command that these stones be made bread.

Besides the implied temptation to doubt his own identity, Jesus was further tempted to end his fast. The wording is a trap. Jesus is the Son of God; that answers the first part of the implication (an if/then statement). Logically, he should then turn the stones to bread. He was fully capable, after all.

“And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.”—Matthew 14:19.

If he could create enough bread to feed 5,000 people, then he could’ve easily fed himself.

This brings up an interesting point. Jesus eventually does everything the devil tempted him to do. But it’s when he does it, and why, that’s important. Feeding himself would’ve broken his connection to God, ending the vision. But when he fed the five thousand, it was for their sake. He used his abilities for the good of others, not himself.

“But he answered and said, it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”—Matthew 4:4.

Jesus answered all of the devil’s temptations by quoting scripture, Deuteronomy, to be precise.

“And he humbleth thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”—Deuteronomy 8:3.

Only and alone are important qualifiers to consider. Of course we need bread. Our bodies require nourishment. But there is spiritual food, and then there is the physical kind. The devil—whether he was Jesus’ internal doubt, or an external, corporeal being—wanted Jesus to forsake the spiritual, to insure physical comfort.

That’s how we begin to lose our spirituality: Real life consumes all our thoughts, and time, until we are so full on bread that there’s no room for love.

Second Temptation
“Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, / And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. / Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”—Matthew 4:5-7.

Cast thyself down.

This is an extraordinary line. Is Jesus suicidal? Keep in mind, the devil is still in lower case, implying that he is not a separate, actual person, but the manifestation of Jesus’ darkest thoughts. Suicide is the ultimate expression of doubting yourself. But maybe that’s taking the metaphor too literally, so to speak.

Maybe Jesus looked at the stones and wondered how he’d react if they were loaves of bread. And maybe he felt like he was dying of hunger. Temptation can be subtle: brief flashes of emotion and doubt.

Again, the devil tries to trap Jesus with an if/then statement, one that is heavily loaded, since Satan, himself, was cast down. But the devil throws a curve by quoting scripture.

“Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall be no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. / For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. / They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”—Psalm 91:9-12.

Since Jesus is the Son of God, if he tried to kill himself, then the angels would prevent it; that’s the devil’s point. Let us not forget that Jesus did sacrifice himself; he went willingly to the cross.

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”—John 10:11.

Like using his power to create bread out of thin air, what’s important here is why and when. Sacrificing himself for the good of others is a far cry from frivolously jumping off a great height, just to prove what Jesus already knew.

There is worthwhile doubt, and then there is frivolous doubt.

He answered this temptation by quoting Deuteronomy again:

“Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; / (For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth. / Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.”—Deuteronomy 6:14-16.

The Israelites “tempted” God by doubting Him. While this could be interpreted as tempting God’s wrath (which they certainly did), I also see this as putting God to the test—and by “God,” keep in mind, I mean love.

Would you test your spouse’s love by cheating on them?

Third Temptation
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; / And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. / Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. / Then the devil leaveth him, and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.”—Matthew 4:8-11.

The devil changed his tactics here. He showed his cards, his real thoughts. And since his name is still in lower-case, it’s worth considering that these were Jesus’ thoughts.

If thou wilt fall down and worship me.

Did Jesus consider, even for a brief flash, that he could use his power to be king of the world, without going to the cross, without dying—an immortal despot? Power corrupts. And remember that Eve was tempted by this in the garden.

“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”—Genesis 3:5.

Again, if Jesus can be tempted by these things, even momentarily, then we must accept that we are vulnerable too. If we can’t acknowledge our desire to exercise power over our lives, and that this compulsion is used, by definition, to the detriment of others, then we’ll never know love.

In other words, the temptation is for Jesus to love only himself, like the Prodigal Son.

To deny the temptation, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy once again.

“Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.”—Deuteronomy 6:13.

The Bible also suggested this as a reference, and I like it a lot more:

“Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.”—Joshua 24:14.

I like that phrase: on the other side of the flood. It reminds me of the Parable of the New Cloth, from my first essay—which is the thesis for all the others. In short: we need new understanding for new situations. The old understanding worked, on the other side of the flood.

The greatest temptation comes from within. It is subtle, beginning with feeding yourself, taking care of yourself. We have to look out for number one, to an extent. This is the obvious, truthful part of the devil’s if/then statements. Of course Jesus is the Son of God; of course we have to eat. The temptation is to take that to the extreme, to be so selfish that one would kill themselves, denying the world of their love; or that one would rule the world, making it so that everything was about them.

Peer pressure can’t hold a candle to self-pressure. We must accept our weaknesses, not deny their existence; but we can’t give in to them either. The only way to have the strength to survive your devil, your time in the wilderness, is to love your neighbor in the way that you would love yourself. When that happens, the devil inside becomes the Jesus inside, and a new covenant is born—between you and the love in your heart.