At the conclusion of the ancient Jewish ceremony of
formal betrothal, after a ring or some other token of value had been
given to the bride, those gathered to witness and celebrate the
occasion would shout together: “Sanctified!” All that remained to seal
the marriage was a cup of wine, the blessings and the bridal chamber.
In those days the wedding ceremony came at a later date.
However, the ceremony of formal betrothal set the couple
apart to one another in such a binding contract that only a certificate
of divorce could part them. They were sanctified: set apart by consent
and by a holy contract signed by two witnesses. After betrothal,
unfaithfulness was regarded as adultery.
The sequence of a believer’s spiritual growth is similar
to this ancient betrothal process. When we are born again of God we
begin our spiritual lives as babies. In human years we may be 50 or 100
years old; but we begin life in the Spirit as newborns.
Then, just as we grow physically, we must grow
spiritually. Christians accept their betrothal to our Lord Jesus at the
time of their new birth, but it is infant betrothal. When we mature as
disciples of the Lord, Christ begins to draw us into a ratification of
that infant commitment. He acknowledges that we are ready to be more
fully sanctified and come into union with Him: “Then I passed by you
and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love” (Ezek. 16:8,
Being deeply united with Christ is not an experience for
spiritual babies. When we first come to Christ we are saved but
fleshly—very fleshly. We must go through the spiritual “boot camp” that
we call “life” to convince us that Christ alone—in us and through us—is
the only answer to everything on Earth (see Eph. 1:23).
All believers experience infant betrothal, but only a few
will press on to experience the unity that is possible with our Lord
during this lifetime. It is not that we do not want deeper oneness with
But many of us cannot grasp the intensity of the
commitment required to reach such a goal. And we are unable to
recognize the signposts that indicate whether we are simply marking
time in our spiritual walk or are making progress in allowing the Lord
to become our all.
Loving God With All Our Strength
The major signpost for all true believers is the first
great commandment. The extent to which we obey it is the extent to
which we approach oneness with Christ.
Jesus quoted this commandment when questioned by the
scribes: “‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall
love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and
with all your mind, and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:29-30, NKJV).
Here we have the Word Himself confirming the written
Word. He is quoting from the Shema (the Hebrew word for “hear”), the
daily prayer said by every Jew, that is taken from Deuteronomy 6:4-5.
The commandment not only affirms the unity within the Godhead (“The
Lord our God is one Lord”) but also tells us how we may enter into that
oneness—by loving God with our whole beings.
Every part of us must be involved in this endeavor—heart,
soul, mind—as well as every bit of our strength. The word “strength”
refers to a degree of exertion, a measurement of application. Therefore
“strength” includes the body.
However, it is not our own strength on which we must
rely. The Greek word for “strength” in Mark 12:29-30 is “ischus,” which
means the “strength of God.” The same word is used in 1 Peter 4:11:
“Whoever serves let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so
that in all things God may be glorified.” (NASB).
It is not possible for God to be glorified “in all
things” unless the strength in us is from Him: spiritual, mental,
emotional, volitional and physical. The Bible clearly affirms that all
good strength is from the Lord (see Ps. 28:7; James 1:17).
As Christ is increasingly formed in us, we are to utilize
the strength of His resurrected life that He gives to His people
through His Spirit within them. “He who raised Christ Jesus from the
dead will also give [resurrection] life to your mortal bodies through
His [Jesus’] Spirit who indwells you” (Rom. 8:11).
One of the early church heresies held that the body could
be excluded from the requirement to live a holy life. Those who
believed this heresy felt that because the body already was corrupted
by the law of sin within it (and therefore would need to be replaced
eventually), sin did not affect the true inner person, who was
spiritual. However, Paul addressed this heresy in Romans 3:8: “Some
claim that we say—‘Let us do evil that good may result’[.] Their
condemnation is deserved” (NIV).
We may smile at this, but in our own day, do we not
indulge in the same heresy? How many of us are abusing our bodies,
separating our physical person from our inner, spiritual man? Since our
bodies are no longer ours, we have no right to use them as we please.
We would not borrow a neighbor’s car and then drive it to
ruin. Well, our bodies are borrowed by us now. They belong to our
Husband, Christ, who bought them on the cross out of Satan’s slave
It is through these bodies that we express the Gift who
is within us. Of course we can choose how the gift of His strength is
to be used. But for the committed disciple, the motive should be that
of serving God by honoring the Lord Jesus in all things, just as Paul
proclaimed: “Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body,
whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20, NASB; see also Col. 3:23-24).