To frame my thoughts on the full ramifications of Yeshua’s sacrifice, I need to start by rambling philosophical on the nature of “spirit.” If we don’t understand what a “spirit” is or what we mean when we talk about a “spiritual realm,” how can we understand what the Bible means when it uses spiritual terminology.
Unfortunately, many of us moderns have a tendency to separate the “spirit” from our concept of “mind.” In fact, many have an idea that experiencing the spiritual realm necessitates disengaging the rational, critical mind. This is encouraged by some religious leaders, who offer a “spiritual” experience though the use of rhetoric, music and imagery. Actually, they’re not exactly lying in what they are offering, because emotion is spiritual. However, the conscious rational mind is also spiritual, not something that needs to be disengaged or left at the door for a true spiritual experience.
The above is a fairly typical construction of the Bible’s teaching on our spirit-soul-body connection. In the above view, the spirit gives us meaning and purpose, while the soul contains the rational faculties. However, the NT speaks of the spirit being the seat of the emotions (John 11:33, 13:21; Acts 17:16; Rom. 12:11) and rational mind (1Co. 2:11; Eph. 4:23; 1Ti. 1:7). One’s spirit may operate beyond the rational faculties (1Co. 14:14-15; Rev. 1:10), but it is not always beneficial to do so. (Actually, it occurs to me as I write this that the “spirit” has a lot in common with what we would call the subconscious. I should probably do some more study on that.)
Spiritual Warfare / Ideological Warfare
This firm link between the rational mind and one’s spirit is why the New Testament talks about the need for rational arguments to “destroy strongholds” in the spiritual realm:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2Co. 10:3-6)
This passage parallels the famous spiritual warfare passage of Ephesians 6:12-18, which begins, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In 2 Corinthians, the word “arguments” (“imaginations” in the KJV) is logismous, and literally means “computation” or “assessment.” It also appears in Romans 2:15, where it refers to the result of the Torah written in the hearts of believing Gentiles, as a result of which “their conflicting thoughts (logismun) accuse or even excuse them.” It refers to a rational assessment–one that may be either correct or not, depending on whether the person’s information is correct or not.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary on this verse explains:
Greek sages sometimes described their battle against false ideas as a war, in terms similar to those Paul uses here (e.g., Seneca, Epistle to Lucilius 109.8-9; 117.7, 25; Diogenes, Epistles 10; Diogenes Laertius 6.1.13; Philo, Abel 130; Conf. 129-33). Like those sages, Paul claims to be doing battle with false ideas. . . “Arguments” (NIV, NRSV, GNT) or “speculations” (NASB) is a technical term for rhetorical or philosophical reasonings; the prisoners of war in this extended metaphor are human thoughts. (p. 515)
We see Paul employing every weapon at his disposal in this spiritual/intellectual war throughout the book of Acts, whether he is presenting Yeshua as the promised Messiah to a synagogue audience by going through the Tanakh (OT) in Pisidian Antioch or debating with the philosophers of Athens by citing their own sages and poets in the Aeropagus. Paul, taking full advantage of his classical education, always uses the best rhetorical techniques of his day, and always meets his audience where they are (1Co. 9:20-23).
This means that spiritual warfare is not an entirely mystical affair, nor restricted to praying against and casting out demons in the name of Yeshua the Messiah. Spiritual warfare is worldview warfare. It is idea warfare, meme warfare, and yes, a war for the emotional heart of both individuals and society.
Unfortunately, the late 20th and early 21st century has seen an abandonment of the battlefield of the rational mind by many Christians. Faith has been redefined from it’s Biblical meaning of “trust and loyalty” (see also here) to, as Mark Twain put it long ago, “Believing in things that just ain’t so.” Christians and Messianics have become under-represented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields–particularly in the pure sciences–not simply because of external forces pushing us out, but because we have largely abandoned those fields. As a result, there are few who are prepared and qualified to demonstrate that modern Big Bang cosmology actually demolishes a materialistic and naturalistic worldview and points us in the direction of the Eternal Creator described in our sacred Scriptures.
While appeals to the emotional heart certainly have their place in presenting the Gospel–after all, reason may point us in a direction, but most people need an emotional reason to commit to a path–the Gospel and respect for the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures will continue to erode unless we disciples of Yeshua take to the field of the intellectual. Until we do that, we are not waging proper spiritual warfare.
The Meme of the Cross
Okay, great, but what on earth does this have to do with my previous post? Simply this: We tend to think of the spiritual as nebulous and arcane and “spirit” as some mystical energy. Therefore, when we think about the purpose of the Sacrifice, we think in terms of removing some mystical “sin energy” and replacing it with “Holy Spirit power.” I’m not disputing that there is some truth to this. I certainly have my own experiences with spiritual forces that were not just feelings, thoughts, or ideas. However, I think we’re missing an important facet of God’s plan by limiting ourselves to those ideas.
In my previous post, I pointed out that Yeshua was handing out God’s radical forgiveness of sinners long before he went to the cross. Why then did he need to die? The traditional answers are that he needed to serve as a substitution for us in order to appease God’s wrath and/or that it was necessary in order to redeem us (literally, to “buy” us back or pay off a crushing debt). However, the “mechanics” of those transactions leave me feeling that we’re missing some pieces of the puzzle. In the next couple of posts, I’d like to offer my own piece in an attempt to add to a picture that all of Yeshua’s disciples have been trying to reconstruct for thousands of years: Namely, the power of the picture of the crucifixion to extend God’s forgiveness to all mankind.