Ever since I became a searching Christian, I have heard it preached and taught that we are all pilgrims, as John Bunyan says, in this earthly life. I’ve known Jesus’ words from John 15:19 and accepted them:
“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
But until today, the constructs which I have made from that verse have been largely of my own making and lacked real Bible support. It didn’t mean they were wrong – just that the foundations were shallow and I could not defend my thoughts and views on the matter. So what is it that makes a Christian suddenly different from all others when they accept Christ – or is that the wrong understanding?
Going back to the origins of man, right back to the making of Adam, we read in Genesis 2:7 that:
“… Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
In other words, we can pile up a bunch of elements, atoms and molecules together as God did – a “dust” of the ground – but we do not get mankind. We only get mankind when God breathes His ruah breath of life, His Spirit, into us. Without God’s breath in us, we have no spirit in us, and are just a pile of dust.
Now this idea and understanding is supported elsewhere in the Bible, though it is completely contrary to our present western mindset and secular teachings.
However, Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 adds support to this truth and explains it further, saying:
“… or ever the silver cord is not loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern; then the dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.“
The writer of Ecclesiastes says that from dust we came, and to dust we shall return at the end of our worldly lives, but our spirit will return to God, from whence it came in the first place. This is confirmation, if it were needed, that mankind is only a pilgrim in this world and that we are in truth, first and foremost, spirit creatures. We were spiritual creatures before conception and we return to be spiritual creatures after death.
As I type this, I now feel heavily burdened by the Holy Spirit to bring to voice His and God’s abhorrence of abortions. Depriving life to that which God has ordained life, will bring the wrath and retribution of God. It is only a matter or time.
In Ephesians 1:3-4 we also have a New Testament confirmation that God knew us from the beginning, from the very foundations of the world,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ; according as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love….”
Jeremiah 1:5 again says much the same,
“Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I consecrated you, and I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Yes, even before we were borne, God consecrated us, even ordaining us for His own good uses; even from the time of our conception in our mother’s womb.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 explains this to us saying:
“He has made everything beautiful in His time; also He has set eternity in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God makes from the beginning to the end.”
The minds of mankind are different to all the other minds of the world, for they were born of a spirit which is eternal. We may be standing on the earth, but we have, if not one foot in eternity, we have our spirit in eternity, and longing to link back to the Father, with whom once it was at home.
The Greek mindset, that to which all western civilisation is now subjected, is in total opposition to the Biblical understanding of a spirit which dwells within us. The logical Greek view completely separated those things which were determined as spiritual, from those things which were determined as physical. To the Greeks, co-existence of physical and spiritual in one object was just impossible. The physical was seen as being human and earthly – all that we can see, feel and touch. The spiritual, on the other hand, was divine and heavenly and quite simply beyond our ability to see or touch. It was impossible, the Greek held, for the spiritual and the physical to come together, least of all, within mankind.
Yet this is the very teaching and understanding of the Bible. How did the early Christians deal with this apparent dislocation of mindset? Quite simply, they did not, for the roots of the first century Church were mainly Jews who did not have a Greek mindset. To them, God as all, and was in all, for theirs was a theocratic form of government and society which God required His chosen people to adopt.
As a result of being separated from an true and good understanding of our original spiritual roots, even devout Christians today seem to have trouble coming to terms with the spiritual side of their nature. The Churches certainly do, and may still bar expressions of our spiritual nature in public. Even speaking in tongues, they say, is for personal reflection, not public display, if accepted at all.
Interestingly, we read in Ephesians 5:18-19 Paul writes to his Church in Ephasis,
“… do not be drunk with wine, in which is excess, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord…”
How contrary is this to most modern Churches, including even may Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches? Here Paul is asking the Church of Emphasis to allow the Spirit, to flow freely. The word used for “Spirit” here in the original Greek is “πνεῦμα” or “pneuma” which means breath and though normally translated to infer the Holy Spirit, however, it can in this particular circumstance infer the spirit which God gave mankind before the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As Paul tells us to “be filled” with the Spirit, the original Greek “πληρόω” or “plēroō” infers being filled to become complete and be made full. In other words, Paul is saying that we are not complete, if we are not full and filled with the Spirit of God.
If there is as in Genesis 2:7 says, an indwelling in each person of a God given spirit, what happens when a person becomes a Christian? Quite simply the Holy Spirit, the breath of God in the personage of the Third Person of the Triune God, comes and dwells in that person and links their spirit back to God.
Over half my life has been spent in countries where Christianity is a minority religion and where most converts to Christianity are adults and do so from other religions. In these conversions, as I have witnessed, there is a palpable and noticeable easing of tensions when the Holy Spirit enter them and their spirit becomes united with home, as it were.
In the many older European and North American churches we can see a preponderance of elderly Christian who seem to migrate to the Churches at the onset of white hair, as if they know that they need to prepare to rejoin with their maker and prepare their spirit, for its return. In a sense, in Matthew 10:28 Jesus gives warning of this situation saying:
“… do not fear those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. But rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
The circumstances of our lives as pilgrims on earth seems to bear out the Biblical advice and situation. From dust we came and to dust we return; but our spirit will return to its maker, the Lord God almighty, who breathed life into our spirit so long, long ago.
I don’t know about you, but I find it reassuring that we have such a loving and caring God, who has had plans for us, for each one of us, since the foundations of the world. It stirs me to try and be a good steward of this earth and try to leave it in a better condition than when I came to know it. It gives me comfort to know that I am a pilgrim here and that my place is really and truly with God as an eternal being, in His Holy presence. It gives me reassurance to know that if I listen to His Spirit which indwells me, it will lead me home.