In the previous post I referenced some key Bible verses that, when we understand the Greek behind them, are able to unlock for us the next level of faith. Let’s revisit those verses and insert the proper Greek word. I believe this will make them come alive for you in a new and exciting way.
In Matthew 4:4 Jesus said, “Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by rhema.” In context this is particularly stunning. If you recall, Jesus spoke this to satan after His first temptation in the wilderness. Satan had come to Him after a 40-day fast and tempted Him to turn rocks into bread and eat them. Now let me ask you, what would have been the sin in that? Where is it written, “Thou shalt not turn rocks into bread and eat them?” It’s not! Only a few times in the Bible do we see beyond the veil into the spirit world. No doubt satan dangled temptations in front of Christ over and over again – like when He was walking on water, the enemy must have been screaming, “you’re gonna sink!” – but it’s simply not recorded for us. If this story were like the others, and we only saw the “natural” side of it, we’d simply think it was another miracle if Jesus had finished fasting, turned rocks into bread, ate them, and moved on. Nobody would look at that and say, “See! He wasn’t God after all! He sinned!” – because there was nothing in and of itself “wrong” in the thing He was being tempted to do.
Indeed, our whole human checklist for decision-making was satisfied: Jesus had the power, the right, the freedom – and no doubt the desire and physical need – to do that very thing. So why didn’t He do it? Herein lies the vital importance of rhema. Jesus said, in effect, “Satan, I acknowledge that I need bread, but what’s more important to me is that I follow the step-by-step instructions of God, and He hasn’t told me to do this yet.” Jesus would have rather starved to death than do anything outside of God’s specific, step-by-step, rhema-given instructions for His life! He didn’t live on bread alone, and not on graphe (the written word – because on that basis alone, the thing tempted would have been just fine!), but on rhema.
Here’s another key verse: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” If you have dedicated of your life to evangelism according to our traditional methods this may hurt you in the gut, like it did me, because here’s the truth: The “word” in this verse is rhema. Faith comes by hearing rhema from God. Like in the story of young Samuel, a person can be dedicated to God, live in the temple, observe all the proper religious activities, have a trusting knowledge of graphe, and still not have true faith as God defines it. If we do not, like Jesus, recognize and follow God’s personal, present voice in our lives, we simply are not in His flock.
I admit this is a hard truth. It was painful for me to accept, because of all the years I tried to serve God without this understanding.
Most denominations don’t teach this, but it is the truth, and as such I know that when you accept it, it will give you new life, freedom and power. We can give away cases of Bibles, quote Scripture till we’re blue in the face – and the people we are working to reach can believe every word of it – and yet without a real, meaningful, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ – a relationship with rhema at its heart – then it is all a waste of time and energy. This is precisely what Jesus meant when He said, “Many will say to me …, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” He just wants to have a real relationship with us – built on intimate communication – that’s all. Nothing else we can do matters. Nothing else can lead to victory.
Before I present one last key rhema verse, I want to make something perfectly clear: I value, honor and revere the Bible more than life itself. I’m old fashioned in that I never let anything sit on top of my Bible – it’s always the top of the stack. I believe it is the infallible, inspired graphe of God, and I base my entire life and worldview upon it. But fact is, the written Word, while fully true, is just a portion of what God desires to communicate to us, and mere intellectual acceptance of the Bible as truth does not save us. Without a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ, based on personal rhema from Him, everything else is worthless.
Of course, God often gives rhema to me through graphe, but rhema is much more than that. He speaks in all the ways He promises: guiding my steps, making sense of things, giving me words to say, and – dare I say it – even telling me what to write.
When you realize the believers in the Book of Acts didn’t have what we call the Bible – the few scrolls they had were hard to access, especially for the Gentiles – and instead, only had rhema, you begin to realize how important it is. Look at what God was able to do through them! They weren’t skeptical of God’s power – they lived in it! If I were in a situation where I had to choose between rhema and graphe, I’d choose rhema, 100 percent of the time. Thankfully we don’t have to choose. But sadly, out of tradition and ignorance, most Christians do choose – they choose graphe alone (“sola scriptura”) and the results are … well, the results are what we have today.
Ok, back to the key rhema Bible verses. And this one is a doozie. In his letter to the believers of Ephesus, who were called by the Lord and shepherded by Paul to maintain and expand upon the transformational work that had been won in their community, the great warrior apostle wrote:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Did you notice – in all of the items Paul lists, there is but one weapon? One tool we are given with which to tear down every stronghold, demolish every argument that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and utterly defeat satan and his kingdom of darkness? What is this one, all-powerful weapon? It is not the written Word.
The sword of the Spirit is rhema.
This has been translated as “word” and interpreted as “Scripture” for too long! You can’t beat the devil by quoting the Bible to him – he knows that Book better than any man ever will, and he believes every word of it, because he was there when it all happened! What satan doesn’t have access to, which we as followers of Jesus Christ do, is the rhema of God – His fresh, relevant, personal word, through which He guides our paths, orders our steps, tells us what to do and when to do it, when to pray and what to pray for, puts the proper words in our mouth, and prompts us at all times in all things to do His will. And when we are in His will, His power flows through us to defeat anything the enemy can throw at us. When we are in His will, the very gates of hell can’t stand in our way!
The rhema of God proves Christianity as the one true faith. Only a Living God can utter a living Word, and no other faith offers this. Practiced without rhema, however, Christianity is just a religion, no better than any other. Without rhema, our faith is merely a collection of holy writings, a prescribed way of living, a system of worship, a community of like-minded people, belief in a distant and silent deity, an avenue for “prayer,” a reason to hope, a basis of ethics and morals, an opportunity for full-time ministers to make a living, and the promise of “heaven” when we die if we play things by the book – just like virtually every other religion on earth. Without rhema, Christianity is empty, ritualistic, legalistic, and ultimately pointless. Without rhema, our religion truly is, as Karl Marx famously wrote, “The opiate of the masses” – a mysterious, superstitious code that keeps the deluded population under control.
Jesus didn’t come to start another religion. He came, ultimately, to reconcile us to a real relationship with our Father. All the other things He accomplished – destroying the works of the devil, reclaiming that which was lost in the garden, setting the coming of the Kingdom in motion – all spring from this one thing: We now, through Him, have open access to a personal relationship with the Living God, and all the benefits that come with it.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Note – This is an excerpt from my book UPRISING: Time for Christians to Stop Waiting and Start Winning.
WARNING: This is blog post contains a Greek lesson.
Now don’t get scared. I’m not some boring academic type, and this isn’t some intellectual, ivory tower lecture. Instead, if this information is new to you (as I’ve found it is for most Christians), I think it will be one of the most explosive, exciting, faith-expanding things you’ll ever learn.
This is one of those truths that hit me like a ton of bricks when I learned it, and it’s taken my relationship with the Lord to a level I never knew was possible in this day and age. It can do the same for you.
I am shocked and disappointed that I had to learn it on my own, outside the “four walls” of the “church,” after decades of sitting in pews, dutifully doting on the teachings of my pastor and denomination.
Rest easy – it’s not a mystery, it’s not a new pop theology, it’s not an odd mountaintop revelation from some mystic, and I’m not asking you to “just trust me” – it’s simply Greek, and it’s been there in the Bible all along, lost in translation.
The word I’m going to dig into here is just that: The English word for “word.” Bible translators slap this four-letter word on top of several Greek words with vast differences in meaning. Much more than simple nuance is lost. Rather, a vital, foundational principle of the Christian faith has for generations been virtually erased from the Bible by this translational shortcut.
For years I’ve asked Christians what they think of when they read or hear the phrase “the Word of God.” Every single person I’ve asked has the same answer: The Bible. That’s all there is to it: The Word of God is the Bible, and the Bible is the Word of God. Period, end of subject.
So when they hear, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” they picture a Bible floating in space. When they hear, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” or “Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” their minds insert “Bible” and come up with this: We live by the Bible, have faith by hearing the Bible, and fight the devil with the Bible.
I must ask you to pause for a moment before you read on. Please ask God to open your heart to His truth. It’s hard for me even to type this, because I know most readers who (as I do) revere the Bible more than life itself may initially take this statement as shocking blasphemy, but the fact is this: Inserting the word “Bible” into these great verses is wrong, sucks meaning out of them, drains them of power, and robs us of possibly the most precious promise of God in this life.
There, I said it.
I hope you’re still with me (and still breathing normally!). And I hope that seeking God’s truth is more important to you than holding onto long-standing, traditional paradigms that simply aren’t working. If you have difficulty with anything I am presenting here, don’t take my word for it — dig into it! Get a Strong’s Concordance or other Biblical Greek dictionary and see for yourself. I’m not making this stuff up.
Ok, back to it. As I said, there are numerous Greek words, expressing widely divergent meanings, which most English-language translators simply lump under our word, “word.” These include logos, graphe (grah’-fay), and rhema (ray’-muh).
As I dig into the definitions for these, allow me to couch them in a metaphor so they make more sense. Think of God as an architect and us as His work crew. He wants us to complete a building project (His Kingdom) and is seeking to guide our steps as we do it. He has a crystal clear vision for the structure, including every detail, and He must communicate this to us so we can build it according to His specifications.
At its essence, communication is the effort to transfer a thought from one mind to another. There are lots of ways to do this – through writing, speech, pictures, demonstration and much more. When you look at all the Hebrew and Greek Bible words we translate as “word,” you begin to see that God employs all of these means to transfer to us His vision and guide our steps. Yes, the static, printed words of the Bible are a vital and incredible source of divine communication, but they are just a small fraction of what He offers “those who have ears to hear.” As long as we remain stuck in man-made tradition, and continue to view the Bible as the sum total of God’s “Word,” we will never be able to find The Way or complete our Kingdom building project.
Before the dawn of time, God had a vision for His Kingdom, His sons and daughters, and this world. This original, founding vision is best expressed in Greek by the word logos. It is “a decree, mandate or order; what is declared, a thought, declaration, aphorism, a weighty saying, a dictum, a maxim.” This word is used 316 times in the Greek New Testament. It says, “In the beginning was logos, the logos was with God, and the logos was God,” and that Jesus was logos made flesh. Before the dawn of time, there were not little scrolls or books floating around in Heaven; instead God had a vision, a plan, a Big Picture. And Jesus was not a talking Bible with arms and legs! Instead, He was the physical incarnation of God’s vision. (Is it starting to make a little more sense?)
An architect must start with a clearly defined vision. This is the source of all other forms of communication related to the building project. All other methods of attempting to transfer this vision from his mind to others’ – including scale models, drawings, etc. – are derived from this original vision. It is important to understand that nothing less than the finished building itself fully expresses the architect’s vision. Every other form of expression, while accurate, is incomplete.
Once the architect has conceived the vision in his mind, next he drafts a set of blueprints. These are printed sketches, descriptions and instructions intended to guide the steps of the builders. The Gospel writers used the word graphe for this concept. It means, “written word, scripture,” and is used 51 times in the New Testament. We get the word “graphics” from this root. The printed pages of the Bible are graphe. Interestingly, this is always translated as “scripture” in the standard King James Version – and so while this is never called “word” in the Bible, it is the one thing people think of when they talk about the “Word” of God!
Our traditions have led many of us to take the Architect’s blueprints and then just run along with the assumption that they fully and completely express His divine purpose, plan and will. But as anyone who works in construction can tell you, if you simply take blueprints and hand them out to your work crews – with no hands-on, step-by-step supervision from the architect or a general contractor – the building will never take the precise form intended by the architect. A building may come together but it will be plagued by quirks as the different subcontractors interpreted things their own ways, and the look, feel and functionality will differ from what the architect intended. As hired hands for God’s Kingdom construction, we need more than blueprints!
Let me step out of this metaphor for a moment. You deserve more than human reasoning to accept this point so let me spell it out straight from the Bible. At what we call the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples that His time on earth was coming to an end, and there was of course much more information they needed to know in order to continue His work. “I have much more to say to you,” He said. “More than you can now bear.” But He couldn’t because His time was up. He told them not to worry, however, because “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things andwill remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Right here, in Jesus’ own words, He clearly said there is much more to the Architect’s vision than He could communicate to His disciples, even after spending three years in their close company; that all the words He spoke and demonstrated to His disciples were but a fraction of the entirety of God’s logos. Then, just a few chapters later in John, the great apostle concludes his book by saying, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” And so my point here is confirmed by the words of Christ and the personal admission of one of the Bible’s primary and most prolific writers: The graphe (written word) – what most Christians assume is the entirety of God’s Word – is but a fraction of a fraction of all that God desires to communicate to us.
Of course Jesus didn’t leave us hanging. As He said, in reference to the Holy Spirit, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” Back on the metaphor, Jesus is saying here that the Architect isn’t going to leave us hanging with just a set of blueprints; instead, He will send a jobsite foreman (in the form of the Holy Spirit) to fully and completely communicate His vision to us, every step of the way.
This brings us to what I believe is the most important Greek word for “word” of them all: rhema. This word means, “that which is or has been uttered by the living voice, thing spoken; word any sound produced by the voice and having definite meaning.” It is used 67 times in the New Testament, in some very key places.
Rhema is the personal, conversational, relevant, relationship Word of God. It is God’s voice for each of us, like it was for Samuel as a youth when God called out to him in the middle of the night, saying, “Samuel! Samuel!” Interestingly, in this story it says, “In those days, the word of the LORD was rare.” There weren’t fewer scrolls in the temple than before. Instead, because of the high priest’s disobedient household and nation’s rebellious people, the personal, spoken word of God is what was rare.
This story also says the great prophet-to-be didn’t recognize that voice because “Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” By this time in his life, he had been fully inculcated into the religious structure, he obviously believed in God, and he had been exposed to the Scriptures. But he still didn’t know God, in the true sense, because he hadn’t yet been introduced to God’s rhema word. Personal communication is the basis of every real relationship. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow.” Prior to hearing and following His rhema, Samuel wasn’t in the flock. But then God’s living voice came to him and he responded – and that changed everything.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
This is the last of a three part series. In Part One, we look in as a man named Bob shoots down a fellow from a local church who has knocked on his door to “witness” to him. We see a glimpse of the frustration that folks can have with the typical Churchianity sales pitch. In Part Two, Bob opens up to a co-worker, admitting that he’s at the end of his rope, and is desparately looking for a better life. In this conclusion, Bob’s co-worker responds to his heart-felt question.
Bob, I’m glad you asked. You know, my wife and I have been praying for you a long time now. And yet, I’ve had a peace about where God’s been taking you, and I’ve never felt prompted to talk to you about this stuff till now.
Yeah … I said God. As in God and Jesus. But I’m talking about them in a way that you clearly don’t know them, because if you did, you wouldn’t be in the bad place you are right now. Brother, I’m honored you’ve asked me to help you, and I do believe I can. You’re right, by God’s grace, I have found IT, and I can show you where to find IT, too! And IT really is as good as you’ve hoped for … even better!
You’re looking for what everyone in the history of the world has ever looked for. True love and deep joy. The secret to being content in all situations. Peace that surpasses understanding. The good thing is you’ve realized you’ve been looking in all the wrong places. The better news is that it’s God’s heart’s desire for you to find them – in the here and now, not just after you’re dead and in “heaven.”
These are the underlying goals behind all human pursuits, passions and endeavors. People sing about them, write about them, and long for them from the depths of their hearts. They are the hidden promise behind every sales pitch, and the lure behind every addiction. And while many claim to hold the key, the fact is there’s only one place you can find them for real – and that is in an authentic relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ.
Bob, it’s true. The Creator of the universe — who holds the stars in his hands and knows each hair on your head – His deepest desire is to have a personal relationship with you. And when I say personal relationship, that’s exactly what I mean. He wants to listen to you and talk to you. He wants you to jump in His lap and call Him Daddy! He has high hopes and great plans for you, and He is eager to guide you down the path towards a glorious destiny, and provide everything you need along the way.
All the things you and I crave most in this life, when you delight yourself in Him, He will freely give them to you. He promises to! They are found in the middle of His path, in the center of His will. I know because I’ve found them.
All the junk and pain you’ve experienced, that’s not punishment. God’s not about that. Instead, it’s pushed you towards Him, hasn’t it? It’s like He’s lovingly planted cactus everywhere but on His path, so the further away you get, the more desperate you are to find IT. That’s not punishment, it’s love! And what’s so cool is that, no matter how far or long you’ve been off His path, it’s only one step away!
I know what you must be feeling, almost a hesitation to approach God, because of all the things you’ve done that you feel bad about. I felt the same way. The fact is, God is perfect, and you have to be, too, to be joined with Him in fellowship. But you can’t let that frighten you! You see, that’s the amazing grace of Jesus! When you enter through Him, He will guide you into the Father’s presence, and take away all the stuff you’ve ever done – or will ever do! – that could keep you away from that relationship with God. The price has been paid in full, and when you’re in Christ, God sees you as His perfect child. He holds nothing against you! The freedom you find in Christ truly is amazing.
Brother, I hope you can put your so-called “church” experience behind you, because I sure have! I don’t know why it is that folks feel they haven’t done “church” unless they sit down, face forward, sing along to some music, and listen to some “holy man” talk a while. That has absolutely nothing to do with church the way God intends it. You can do that seven days a week, and still not “do” church in God’s eyes. Or … you can never do that one time in your life and be very much a part of the body of Jesus Christ!
Now don’t get me wrong. There are many, many good people who spend their Sunday mornings in pews and pulpits. However, if someone is in that setting out of tradition or ignorance – and thinks the organization, or the ceremonies, or the buildings are in any way related to God’s idea of church – then they’re supremely misguided, and they’ll never find what they’re looking for that way. It didn’t work for you or me, and it’s not working for them either.
The saddest thing is that they may even burn out and walk away from God altogether, because they can’t separate in their minds the reality of God from all things people do in His name! That why they run the other direction when they see a Christian coming – because they’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and it didn’t fit them one lick! They need our prayers, not our scorn. The only person in this world who is harder to reach than someone caught in churchianity, is someone who’s burned out of it and gone the other direction.
I wish there was another word we could use do differentiate between real Christians and those who simply follow the “Christian” religion. Because it’s two different things entirely… But anyway, we can get into all that down the road. We need to put first things first.
Here’s the deal, Bob. The Bible says that faith is a gift, and we receive it when we listen to God speak to us personally. God also calls us to “Be still and know that I am God.” You want to find IT? Here’s what you need to do. There are no magic words or prayers to recite. That’s stilly. You don’t have to walk to the front of the “church” or fill out a response card or take a class. Just take the afternoon off. Go drive out to the country somewhere, maybe a park or just a back road. Find a quiet place, turn off your phone, and just open your heart to God. Accept the gift of grace that Jesus paid for, and approach God like you’re His long lost son coming home. Tell Him your issues. Ask Him your questions. And then be quiet and wait for Him to answer. It may not come in a form you expect, but God is not The Riddler. He wants to connect with you, personally. And you’ll know it when He does. He’s been knocking, and eagerly waiting for you to open the door. Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you – He promises to do that! Just take that first step, and let Him do the rest!
Brother, I’ll be praying for you and your family, and I’ll be here for you when you get back.There’s a lot more we’ll talk about as we go down this road together… but let’s just let today be what it is. I’m so excited for you! You will remember today for the rest of your life.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!