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, NASB).
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 (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 Christ.
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 (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.
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