The Seal of the 144,000

What is the seal of the 144,000 in the Book of Revelations?

Someone asked, “please do a blog on the seal of the 144,000 in Revelation.” I said, “sure, I’d be happy to!” But, boy… did I stick my foot in my mouth.

I didn’t realize how out of sorts I would be trying to put pen to paper. I didn’t know it would take a month of Sundays to approach a plausible understanding of those 144,000 people. One can’t just look at the Seal of the 144,000 without falling down a giant rabbit hole.

My Disclaimer

I do not assert that I have approached a final say on this subject: I continue to have questions.

What’s a Seal?

There are two seals, or two marks, in John’s Revelation.

Seal of the Beast

There is too much to unpack regarding the Seal of the Beast – better known as the “Mark of the Beast” – but let’s set some ground rules.

The Beast isn’t just a person; it’s also a kingdom and governance.

After this, I looked in the night visions; and there before me was a fourth animal, dreadful, horrible, extremely strong, and with great iron teeth. It devoured, crushed and stamped its feet on what was left. It was different from all the animals that had gone before it, and it had ten horns. “While I was considering the horns, another horn sprang up among them, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. In this horn were eyes like human eyes and a mouth speaking arrogantly.

Daniel 7:7-8

The Seal or mark is not limited to some printable or injectable device used to enable approvals of commerce. Should that be the only thing we’re expecting to observe, then we will have missed the presence of the Beast when it and he arrives.

The Mark of the Beast reflects a generally accepted paradigm, a way of thinking and behaving: just like the compliance with vaccine mandates and control of commerce during the government-enforced lockdowns. Those who were on board with those actions reflect the attitudes of those who will take the Mark of the Beast.

The Seal of God

This other Seal seems a bit more mysterious: we’re usually not familiar with it elsewhere in scripture, and it seems to be applied to a mysterious group of 144,000 people.

This is a Seal of God, and it has this effect upon its recipients: it protects them from the judgments of God –

And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, holding the seal of the living God; and he called out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth, or the sea, or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”

Revelation 7:1-2

The Purpose of Gods’ Seal

In other words, it is a seal of protection, just like the Ark sealed Noah and his family inside – protecting them from the judgment they were living through. It’s just like the lamb’s blood placed on the door posts, protecting those inside living through the night of death. So then, the Seal of God covers the 144,000 from the judgments described throughout the book of Revelation.

Who are the 144,000

So then, when reading about the 144,000 that are sealed, most people believe them to be a group of people being supernaturally selected (e.g., think along the lines of Calvinism) from the tribes of Israel for some purpose during the tribulation. This purpose is usually described as evangelism.

That was my assumption too. But then I discovered a problem: what followed after that.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” … Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Revelation 14

Actually, I had at least four issues.

Problem #1

First, 144,000 is not such a large assembly of people that we can’t fathom trying to count them. Nowadays, it’s a number far less than a couple of the largest college football stadiums. So they can’t be a group of people “that no one could number.

Problem #2

The ones coming out of the great tribulation are from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” Yet the 144,000 are specifically from the tribes of the sons of Israel.

Problem #3

In many traditions, the 144,000 are assumed to be Evangelists. But they must do so without the assistance of the Holy Spirit since He has presumably been taken out of the way – at least according to most popular doctrines (2 Thes. 2:7).

Since the people “coming out of the great tribulation” are at the throne of God, they must be those who are saved due to the evangelism of the 144,000 – right?

Problem #4

Nobody repents during the tribulation.

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and the one who sat on it had the name Death, and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, and famine, and plague, and by the wild animals of the earth.

Revelation 6:8

The star is named Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the waters because they were made bitter.

Revelation 8:11

A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire, the smoke, and the brimstone which came out of their mouths

Revelation 9:18

So then, what is the result of the judgments? Do the people repent?

Revelation 9:20-21

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

Revelation 16:9

They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.

Revelation 16:10-11

{the} People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.

Therefore, the job of the 144,000 cannot be evangelism because if it were, then we would see repentance and salvation during the tribulation. If we called them evangelists, then we might even suggest that the word of God comes back void during this period:

So will My word be which goes out of My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:11

But even if we assume that the Gospel is used for judgment …

The one who believes in Him is not judged; the one who does not believe has been judged already …”

…  a time is coming and even now has arrived, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

John 3:18-21; 5:22-25

… we still cannot excuse nor ignore that those people under the judgments described in Revelations “do not repent.” Therefore, the Gospel’s preaching is not required to enact God’s judgment during the tribulation.

Furthermore, the people who are sealed are protected against the judgment of God BEFORE those judgments are poured out – that much is clear. Therefore, those exposed to the judgments are not sealed; hence, they do not believe, seeing that they are “judged already.

This is another way of saying we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t have those being judged also finding repentance since scripture says, “they did not repent and give him glory,” and yet have them sealed later on so that they don’t suffer under other judgments of God. So the 144,000 are sealed before the judgments are released: “Do not harm the earth, or the sea, or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”

Next things …

We need to continue an investigation into the Seal. Specifically, is it spoken of elsewhere? And if so, to whom is it applied?

Looking at those things will indicate who the 144,000 represent, that perhaps they’re not a literal Ekklesia or Congregation of people but a representation of something else.

Milktoast Christianity

Do you want to know what’s wrong with America and the world at large?

I’ll tell you.

Very early in the church, from its foundation, we were taught how to “preach the gospel,” how to “save souls,” but never did we learn how to disciple nations (Matt. 28:19-20). From the beginning, His people were to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:5-6), but they were afraid and changed the contract: “Speak to us yourself, and we will listen, but do not have God speak to us, or we will die!” (Ex. 20:19).

What do you think He meant when He said, “the government will be on His shoulders” (Isa. 9:6)? Did you think Jesus was going to come down to earth and run things from day one, or did you think God wanted us to go to hell in a handbasket until the 1,000-year reign of Messiah?

No, neither.

We are the body, He is the head, and the government was designed to rest on His shoulders. But mistakes were made, and consequently – at the end of this age – we have a global society filled with milktoast Christians who are comfortable tolerating things worse than a bogus POTUS and Watergate-esque corruption.

Many of this generation’s Christians shall pass in their tribulation: we are likened to the Israelites that crossed the red sea, to those who would not enter, who would instead take orders from a preacher than enter into a real relationship with their King.

You need to decide this: will you be a complainer and a sitter, or will you be a Joshua or a Caleb in the days to come? Are you willing to choose something new?

But what is God’s answer to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not knelt down to Ba‘al.” It’s the same way in the present age: there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 

Romans 11:4-5

Seeking first the Kingdom of God – Part II

But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  

(Matthew 6:33)

What is the Kingdom of God?

the Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, shalom and joy in the Ruach HaKodesh. 

(Romans 14:17 CJB)
the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit 

(NASB)

I once heard someone say that the Kingdom of God is the Holy Spirit. That is a simplistic view; it is not entirely incorrect, neither is it entirely correct. It is better to focus on righteousness, peace, and joy, and work backward from there.

Recall that everything we do can be manufactured from any spirit we choose to align ourselves from. We can choose happiness in a legalistic spirit or joy in a religious spirit. We can find joy in evil:

Don’t let those who are wrongfully my enemies
gloat over me;
and those who hate me unprovoked —
don’t let them smirk at me. 

(Psalm 35:19)
For I said, “May they not rejoice over me,
Who, when my foot slips, would exalt themselves over me.”

(Pslam 38:16 NASB)

Thus, our fruit, the expression of Holy Spirit – the qualities of the Kingdom – must be grown from our relationship with Holy Spirit:

Beware of the false prophets! They come to you wearing sheep’s clothing, but underneath they are hungry wolves!  You will recognize them by their fruit. Can people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every healthy tree produces good fruit, but a poor tree produces bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, or a poor tree good fruit. 19 Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire!

So you will recognize them by their fruit.  (Matthew 7:15-20)

Remember: trees do not labor nor choose to produce fruit at will. Fruit is a natural by-product of WHAT they ARE. Such is the fruit of the spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self control. Nothing in the Torah stands against such things.

(Galations 5:22-23 CJB)

“… So you will recognize them by their fruit.”

What is Righteousness?

There’s no good, succinct way to explain righteousness as a concept, so I’ll refer you to this scripture and allow you to infer the implied qualities:

It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to obey all these mitzvot before Adonai our God, just as he ordered us to do.

(Dueteronomy 6:25 CJB)
and it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to follow all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us.

(NASB)

What is His Righteousness?

Jesus the Christ is God’s righteousness:

It is his doing that you are united with the Messiah Yeshua. He has become wisdom for us from God, and righteousness and holiness and redemption as well! Therefore — as the Tanakh says — “Let anyone who wants to boast, boast about Adonai."

(1 Corinthians 1:30 CJB)
When those days come, at that time,
I will cause to spring up for David
a Branch of Righteousness.
He will do what is just and right in the land.

(Jeremiah 33:15 CJB)

And the Kingdom of God is?

The Kingdom of God consists of these qualities:

  1. Seeking after Jesus and His righteousness
  2. Living by the spirit, so that the fruit of the spirit is naturally produced in your life.

How to Make Scripture Your Own

We’ve all been told to read the Bible. I would suggest that we’ve all been told to meditate on its’ words:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will achieve success. 

Joshua 1:8

But it’s a difficult thing to do when all you’ve been taught is self-condemnation – when perhaps that’s all you’ve heard from the pulpit most of your life, or perhaps when the messages you’re most familiar with are about Christmas, Easter, witnessing, tithing, or eschatology. Those topics don’t seem to mesh or coalesce well with a lot of the other things we might find ourselves reading.

If any of those things above are true for you, then consider that you might have a bad spirit about you – one that’s beating you around the measuring-up bush, one that you can’t seem to shake. I’ve been there; done that.

But, I’ll wager there’s something here you’ve never heard. So keep reading:

Matthew 18:18

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

And let the astute reader complain: “I’ve heard that plenty of times; what does it have to do with reading the Bible?

Personalization

Let’s take a step back. The first thing we need to learn is how to personalize scripture: how to make it our own, to put it into a first-person tense that speaks directly to us.

Here’s a simple example:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.

That’s the commandment. It’s one with which most of us are very familiar. So what we do next is this: move it out of what I call the “command voice” and into what I call a “personalized,” or “acquisition voice.”

I trust in the Lord with all my heart;  I do not lean on my own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5

That makes all the difference, and it’s entirely scriptural: you are what you think – which is the intention of Joshua 1:8.

For as he thinks within himself, so he is.

Proverbs 23:7

While it’s not possible to do this with any random verse, a great many of the Psalms and Proverbs do lend themselves to this type of personalization.

Self Acquisition with Binding and Loosing

First, let’s recall the power of speaking, or as some might say, the power of the tongue:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Proverbs 18:21

One who tends the fig tree will eat its fruit, and one who cares for his master will be honored.

Proverbs 27:18

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but when it twists things, it breaks the spirit.

Proverbs 15:4

The task, then, is to combine personalization with speaking the Word, and with binding and losing:

Matthew 18:18 

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

Example: Pslam 37:1

Do not get upset because of evildoers, do not be envious of wrongdoers.
Personalized

“I do not get upset because of evildoers; I am not envious of wrongdoers.”

Personalization with Binding

“I bind myself to this Word: I do not get upset because of evildoers; I am not envious of wrongdoers.”

Example: Psalm 37:7

Do not get upset because of one who is successful in his way,
Because of the person who carries out wicked schemes.
Cease from anger and abandon wrath;
Personalization

“I am not upset because with one who is successful in his way, because of the person who carries out wicked schemes. Therefore, I cease from anger and abandon wrath.”

Personalization with Losing

“I lose myself from being upset because of the one who is successful in his way, because of the person who carries out wicked schemes. I lose myself from anger and I abandon wrath.”

Summary

We’re doing four things here.

  • Meditating on His Word.
  • Making His Word our thoughts.
  • Binding ourselves to His rigthousness.
  • Loosing ourselves from unrighteousness.

It’s a form of taking up our cross. We are casting away those things that so easily beset us and taking up those things that enable us to run the race with endurance:

Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

The Government on His Shoulders

Hang tight… I’ll get there in a minute. But, let me first ask you a question:

Are you living under a spirit of tutelage and correction? Don’t misunderstand: teaching and discipline are both excellent and necessary.

But is that all you’ve got?

Living most of my life in the Protestant world of the Baptists (specifically, the SBC) and under the preaching and teaching of their pastors and leaders, one learns very quickly that there are only a few things worth one’s time:

  1. Soul Winning.
  2. Going to Church & Sunday School.
  3. Reading the Bible so one can learn stuff.
  4. Doing programs that bring people to the church.
  5. Begging God – because prayer and worship are necessary things.

After I left the SBC for greener pastures, I began to learn how to hear God for myself instead of through the mouthpiece of a preacher. I became aware of how God would highlight a passage in my spirit during that process. Many times, it was something I needed to learn and understand. Other times, I was clueless because it didn’t seem to match anything that was happening or anything I was thinking at the time.

At which point, like any Good Baptist in a similar situation, I assumed that there was indeed something I needed to learn, but I just wasn’t able to discern what it was. Because, as we all know: God works in mysterious ways.

A Different Way to Pray

But things began to change many years ago. First, I realized that there was some scripture that I needed to declare.

For example, I became burdened for those in human trafficking at one point. So I began declaring certain Psalms over those involved in that practice. Lo-n-behold, not too long afterward, sex trafficking rings began falling left and right. Not that I’m claiming sole responsibility for such a thing – I’m just one of many involved in the process.

But, I wasn’t out of the woods yet: the vast majority of the time, when there was a scripture I felt prompted to read, I ALWAYS approached it from the point of view of tutelage or correction. It was usually frustrating since the passages seemed to be repeating. I began doubting whether I heard from our Holy Father correctly or at all.

Then it occurred to me: am I under the influence of a spirit of condemnation that manifests itself as tutelage and correction? My first clue was obvious: I was falling into discouragement and feeling like I did not measure up because I never learned the lesson – having to read the same scripture repeatedly.

Test Everything

Then I remembered the other lesson that Father has gently taught me recently: “test everything.”

but examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good 

1 Thessalonians 5:21

So… I tested it, and by that examination, I confirmed what I was suspecting: I’ve been under a spirit of condemnation. The scripture I’m being directed to isn’t always something I need to learn, rather something to be declared for a given situation in the world or my life. Or perhaps it’s just something I need to use in praise or worship.

But then I was made aware of a truth we’ve all missed:

The Government on His Shoulders

... for by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is also the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 

Colossians 1:16-18
For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

How did we miss this? If Jesus is The Head, and we are the body, then some are the shoulders.

I know how we missed this. I blame myself and others like me: those who came before. Those who changed the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt: 4:23) into the Gospel of Salvation (web search) and changed “make disciples of all nations” into “make disciples of all people” (Jesus Film Project).

A New Direction

What does it look like to disciple nations? What does it look like for a Child of God to carry a Government on their shoulders?

We don’t know – it’s nothing we’ve ever been taught.

But I suspect we are destined to soon learn those fundamental truths we so quickly abandoned – or perhaps, never understood or knew they existed.

What is Faith?

Allegory of the Catholic Faith (ca.1670–1672) by Johannes Vermeer. Original from The MET Museum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

There’s a gulf between “believing” something and “knowing” something.

A 6th grader may believe in Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, or Biology, but they don’t have knowledge of any of them, they have no formal training. So if a 6th can make the jump to believing that a particular equation or fact is truthful in Calculus or Biology, it is likely because they trust that someone is sincere, not because they have acquired the knowledge to test such a thing.

Is Believing in God Faith?

If by “believing in God,” we are asserting that we believe God exists, then it depends upon your definition of faith. For there is a secular definition, and a proper definition.

The world has coopted “faith” and constructed its definition. So much so, that when discussed even by Christians, faith continues to carry its nebulous and ephemeral qualities.

If, on the other hand, by “believe in God,” we mean “put our faith in God,” then that’s only possible for us after we “believe His Word,” which is only possible after we “believe He is.” So it’s a stairstep process: one step leads to another.

An Example of Faith

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for the one who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He proves to be One who rewards those who seek Him

Hebrews 11:6

For example, my neighbor Joe says he will mow my lawn, and I believe he can: he has all the equipment and the time to do the job. But I don’t trust that he will. He has made promises in the past but has never followed through and done the job. So then, what’s the difference between belief and faith? Belief understands and knows that something is possible. But trust assesses the quality of a claim on various factors, such as experience.

Belief + Trust = Faith

Thus, faith is a combination of belief and trust. Therefore, we can say that I believe my neighbor can mow the lawn, but I do not trust him to perform the job: consequently, I have no *FAITH* in that my neighbor will mow my lawn.

Faith is a combination of belief and trust, but it is always applied to an actor. In other words, faith appreciates the qualities of confidence and trust as applied to a person, process, or thing. If any of those factors fail, then faith is not present.

If we say “I have faith,” but we fail to have a person or thing to place it, and we don’t have tangible experience in which belief and trust are based, then what we have is empty faith: we have nothing but a one-legged stool. That is what I call “empty faith” or perhaps, “empty hope.”

Hope + Business != Progress

Never speak to your Director or CEO and use the word “hope” regarding a project or deliverable. You’ll quickly learn to delete that word from your vocabulary – so, you should do that now (you’re welcome).

Hope, in the business world, means there is no basis to make a qualified judgment: there is no contract in place, there are no commitments established. Hope, in that context, suggests there is only a wishful expectation that the desired opportunity will arise. Hope, to a business, has no foundation; it is based on barren wishes and ignorant beliefs.

Scripturally speaking – and might I suggest from a Kingdom perspective – hope is opposed to something empty and without form or function. If you investigate the Kingdom definition and application of hope, you’ll find it is directly tied to the proper definition and usage of faith.

Faith and Science

... God has allotted to each a measure of faith ... 

Romans 12:3

We all have the ability to form beliefs and trust. When we combine those two things and correctly apply them, we create and use faith.

When a scientist makes an observation, the next thing that might arise is the postulation of a theory or hypothesis. In either case, what should shortly follow thereafter is a series of tests to prove or disprove the idea. In other words, scientists form a belief system regarding a matter and then test the idea in order to form trust in the belief system. We call that “proving” the hypothesis.

Whether or not the test confirms or denies the idea doesn’t matter. In either case, the test either builds or reduces trust in the belief system. The stronger the trust becomes, the more the belief system is confirmed.

Belief + Trust ⟺ Science

But let’s step back a bit. Where is the belief formed? In the mind of the scientist. Where is the trust placed? In at least three things: (1) the quality of execution of the test, and (2) the ability of the observer to (a) interpret the qualities of the belief, and (b) to correctly interpret the results of the tests.

While the qualities of a test can be questioned and changed, the scientist should ensure that the equipment and the procedure employed in the test were designed and implemented correctly. However, trusting in these qualities is simply another way of asserting that the scientist believes in the abilities of the tester and the fabricator and trusts the motives of both, that they were pure and unbiased. As an analogy, I believe that Joe wants to mow my lawn, has the ability to mow my lawn, and will mow my lawn.

Whether we want to believe it, good science is merely a well-designed system to methodically construct well-formed and placed faith. When someone asserts, while watching a rocket lift its payload to space, “that’s science,” or “they’re doing science,” nothing could be further from the truth. Merely observing a rocket or a running, internal combustion engine is not science. Asserting that the engine requires gasoline and not diesel, testing that assertion, and observing the results is science. Everything else is the result of appropriately applying engineering techniques.

While there is nary a scientist who would dare to make such an intellectual ascent, there is no doubt that science is comprised entirely of the activities to formulate well-designed belief systems supported by well-executed proofs. When those things are properly combined, a faith is formed.

The Secular Definition

The secular problem with faith is that the kingdom of unrighteousness has redefined faith to its liking. In other words, the world has constructed its definition of faith and declared that there is no other. In certain circumstances.

This is not a new phenomenon. The term fascism was once clearly associated with Marxism, but when the need arose, it was redefined and repurposed to be rooted in right-wing ideologies. Thus, when certain segments of society needed an Ad Hominen crutch, they repurposed and redefined fascism to accuse others of what they themselves were doing. A similar thing happened in the pharmaceutical industry. When opponents to certain vaccine policies appeared, the industry created the term “anti-vaccine,” defining it as a belief system devoid of truth and reasonableness. It was quickly spun into an Ad Hominem attack, which is precisely how the term is used today.

All of that to say, the proper definition of any term can be corrupted. To the world, hope is less than wishful thinking; and faith barely conjures anything more.

But faith, to the world, is different. If one is referring to a person or business as being faithful, then we all know what that means, and completely accept it as fully qualified in and of itself. Such behavior of changing the definition of a word to meet one’s objective is intellectually dishonest. It is no less than a socially acceptable expression of cognitive dissonance.

Faith is not what the world tells you it is. If we’re going to use a word to describe something, then define it from the context in which it was originally derived.

God Is My Pilot

I’m not the co-pilot … it’s not even my plane.

Are You Sure About that?

I get it: we like to think we’ve acknowledged Him as the leader, provider, and in control. We want to believe we are all yielded to Him and what not.

But the proverb falls flat when we choose another path and choose sin, or perhaps when we choose our desires rather than His best for us. In those times, is He the pilot in charge of our Plane we call Life? Is He really leading us into disobedience?

It is better for all of us when we discard childish notions and proverbs and live by His word:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your Life will be like tomorrow, for you are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

Who are these people who say, “we will live and also do this or that.”

Those are people who take ownership of their decisions and actions (they know how to direct their Plane), but they also know how to ask and receive guidance from Air Traffic Control and fly according to the rules. These people are flying their Planes in the correct manner and direction because they’ve already been down the road of learning, planning, conferring, and taking action for which they are responsible.

How many times have we asked God, “do I go to the grocery store ‘A,’ ‘B,’ or ‘C’?” Or perhaps, “do I buy gas here, or over there?” If we’re not having that kind of intimate relationship, if we don’t even know how to get a “yes” or “no” between this or that grocery store, how can we say, “God is my pilot?”

It is better to take responsibility for our Plane, acknowledging that we have our hands on the controls, rather than to abscond responsibility and point angry fingers at our Holy Father when things happen that we don’t like.

I am not a Butterfly

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

When trying to find an analogy for the new life in Messiah, preachers seem to always pick the caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis as their prime example and best proof-text of how to explain what it means to be a “new creature.”   They apparently think it’s a good analogy because it demonstrates a creature of one type becoming a creature of another type, which does seem to fit the pattern being described by Paul in this instance.

It No-Worky-For-Me

The problem, as I see it, is that I’m not a butterfly. I don’t understand what it means to be a caterpillar, to gorge myself on leaves, spin a cocoon, and hope for the best, that I might later emerge as a butterfly and flutter about a flowery field. I don’t know about you, but that’s just not in my realm of possibilities, let alone personal experience.

I suppose the main problem I have with this analogy is that it requires too much imagination. While we can clearly observe the changes that have taken place in the metamorphic process, I really have no idea what it’s like from the perspective of the caterpillar nor from the reborn butterfly. I can assume that the caterpillar likes to crawl around on trees and eat leaves, for that’s what I know of its existence. I can further assume that the butterfly likes to flutter about in the wind and light upon various types of flowers for lunch and dinner.

But, can Legalism be the end?

The butterfly and the caterpillar do different things by mode of their basic natures. We could say that the spirit of both creatures is entirely different. But for the struggling child of God, the one who doesn’t understand the nature of their battles, they will take this metamorphic example and force themselves into different behaviors. They clothe themselves with Man’s righteousness and Man’s laws: don’t taste, don’t touch, don’t handle (Colosians 2:20) or my favorite Baptist mantra: “don’t drink or smoke or chew, or go with those that do.”

And so they will begin the journey of self-righteousness and self-flagellation, from which springs the ever so prevalent attitudes that we associate with the sanctimonious.

In the end, we try to apply the new life things we learn from our pastors and Christian cultures by delving into legalism. We observe others, read the Bible, and consciously pick out the right stuff to do, tacking them onto our personalities while hoping and working to make them stick.

A Better Way

Is there a better analogy? I think there is, and I believe scripture provides the appropriate picture.

And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“At last – this is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of man.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:22-24

New Creatures in Marriage

When two people are joined in marriage, a new covenant is born within each of them.  They have together a new relationship, a new life.  Their motives change from serving self-interests to serving one another.  The old ways of sharing their heart with different people have been discarded: they now share intimacy with only one person – their spouse.  Before marriage, they lived alone, now they live together.  Before marriage, they sojourned alone, now they sojourn together.  Before marriage, they longed for someone to share their life, now they no longer search for that special companionship. 

You see, the marriage covenant transforms us into new creatures: the old things pass away a little at a time, and the new behaviors appear.

But it also does something else: it shows us that there are things that we carry with us into this new life. The attitudes and beliefs that must be discarded.  While the metamorphic example of the caterpillar is very good at demonstrating the complete and radical change which does take place at the new birth, it lacks what the picture of marriage provides.

The marriage picture =helps us understand that the core of our existence, our new life, is now a new relationship with God that we must tend, cultivate, and protect.

Without a doubt, there are sometimes things that Jesus will completely and radically deliver us from, while there are other things that He leads us through a process of dying to self. But through the process of learning who God is and who we are in Christ, we are delivered from the harmful aspects of our past selves.

And the same is true in marriage.  There are those of us who just have not integrated some of the parameters of the new relationship, but we have a mate who is more than willing to help us see our errors and failures in our understanding of the relationship.  And through grace – that being their willingness to lovingly show us our errors and our response in becoming a new person – we’re able to grow in our relationship with our spouse.

In Summary

So the next time you’re considering what it means to be a new creature, consider the marriage relationship and what exactly it means. Scripture encourages us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that {we} may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Marriage is just like that: we are no longer conformed to the ways of solitude but are continually being transformed into that which is good, acceptable, and perfect for life with a spouse.

The renewing of the mind is a process, it is a journey of relationship with God that we must choose to participate in. It is exactly like renewing our minds in marriage: there is a relationship that requires cultivation, attention, prayer, and grace.

He is the Potter; You are the clay.

He is the Potter; You are the clay. But, do you have a choice in the hands of the Potter?

Are you the clay, completely passive, turned whichever way – whether you choose that path or not? That is generally how this passage is taught: we’re the clay, He is the Potter, and what we think or want doesn’t matter.

And then we wonder why our lives are such a mess, why we’re in debt up to our necks, why our marriages are failing, and why we never have money to pay our bills. Typically, we blame our problems on someone else rather than formulating a budget or seeking after Jesus.

So let’s look at God’s perspective of your relationship to Him, where you’re the clay, and He’s the Potter.

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying,  

"Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you."  

Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. 

Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 

"Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. 

"Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.  At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it;  {but} if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.  Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it;  {but} if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it." 

So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, 

Thus says the LORD, "Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds."’

But they will say, 

"It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart." 

Jeremiah   18:1-13

Clay Always Yields – Usually

Perhaps Jeremiah observed that the clay never opposed the Potter; that is our assumption. But the text does not say that the Potter spoiled or ruined the thing being fashioned, just that it was spoiled in his hands. So when that happened, the Potter started over and made the clay into something more pleasing.

In response to this observation, God stated,

Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as the potter does?” — that is to say, can God not make you into something else?

Although the rhetorical answer is yes, this is where most people leave the rails and get confused concerning the analogy, suggesting that our life is left to a capricious fate, seeing that God, as a potter, can mold us into anything He desires –

behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel,”

… but the truth is that He’s not going to. If we want to travel that road, then must assign all of our choices to Him as well: whether they be righteous or unrighteous in nature.

You Have a Choice

There is a vast difference between non-resistant, always yielding clay and us. God revealed this truth when He said, “Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.” And Israel echoed the same truth when they said, in their refusal,

it is hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans …” — in other words, some types of clay are not suitable for the design chosen by the Potter.

Israel agreed with God that they were perfect analogs of the clay in the Potter’s hand, that they possess certain inherent qualities within their composition that tend to spoil the design. Perhaps the clay is a bit rocky or has dry spots that require extra water. Or maybe it is simply the wrong clay for the job.

However, God said He has the power to fashion them into whatever He wished, but instead, He would fashion them in response to their actions in His hand. So, in effect, the clay has a mind of its own, a free will, and God responds to our choices.

Yikes.

If that makes you bristle, then reread the following:

If that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. 

Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; 

If it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.

Those are clear and indisputable truths regarding how God responds to man’s actions. And it follows perfectly regarding how we – as actual potters – react to the right or wrong type of clay.

Consider again, “if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it,

and

if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.”

In both cases, the object of God’s work (man) chooses a path they will take. And based on how man chooses, God provides a fashion suitable for the clay in hand – He changes His mind regarding the good or the calamity He initially chose.

Useful vs. Non-useful

The point of the story is twofold. First, the only time one is molded into a useful shape by God is when one behaves like good clay and yields to His desires. In the process of God making us into the image of Christ, there is a two-way communication. God leads in one direction, and we yield and follow.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. (Psalm 32:8)
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. (Matthew 16:24)

Secondly, one is not molded into a useful shape by God when one refuses to yield to His leadership. When we refuse to yield, by following our desires instead of His, we reap the evils of what we have sown.

A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)

As bad clay will do, the pot of Proverbs 29:1 did not retain its shape as it dried.

So, the only time you’re an actual representation of the clay being made into something useful is when you yield to His will by taking up your cross and following Him.

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:31-32)

Let me ask this question: if you continue in His word, will you be a disciple of Him, will you know the truth, and will that truth make you free? Assuming the answer is yes, then what made you free? Grace made you free, God made you free, and your response to His power made you free.

On the other hand, if you do not continue in His word, are you then His disciple? Will you know the truth, and will it make you free? The answer is no: you are not His disciple; you will believe a lie, and the lie will put you into bondage.

It’s about how you choose to Respond

Therefore, you must answer this: do you really have no will in your relationship with God? Are you the result of fatalism, as generic clay in the hand of a capricious potter?

Truthfully, you do have a choice. Otherwise, God would not have said,

Oh, turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.

Look at your life, your circumstances, and your relationship with God. What do these things reflect? Are your circumstances a testimony of a refusal to participate with God or a testimony of your cooperation with God?

Please understand that I’m not advocating the health and wealth doctrine, for we are to “consider it all joy, my brethren, when {we} encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of {our} faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

But there are indicators of our choices all around us. Do you see the fruit of the Spirit or the fruit of the corruption of the flesh?

Take some time and determine if you’re following Jesus and refusing to be “conformed to this world.”

Determine if are you being “transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect?”

Allow God to make you into a useful vessel by cooperating with Him.