For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
This verse, above, used to scare me. I didn’t like what it seemed to imply – that I would be judged, exposed, and found wanting by God’s word. I’m not sure why I thought it was possible to hide anything from God, but I wanted to keep up the charade that I was basically a good and decent person who occasionally missed the mark. The last thing I wanted was for the Holy Spirit to go rooting around in my soul. I shuddered at the thought of what the Spirit might dig up.
I’ve since changed my mind about this verse from the letter to the Hebrews and I’m done with the charade about only occasionally missing the mark. I freely admit now I’m a sinner – and that it was necessary for Christ to die for my sins. No amount of decency and goodness on my part can hide that fact. There are still habits of sin lodged deep in my heart and I am unable to dislodge them, no matter how hard I try. I want and need the Holy Spirit to root them out. I’ve surrendered to Jesus and I don’t want to do things my way anymore because I’ve discovered my way eventually leads nowhere. (More about the change in my life in my series, Losing Control, which will begin soon.)
This is why I find the verse, above, from the letter to the Hebrews thoroughly hopeful now. It speaks to me of what I long for – to become the new creation the Holy Spirit wants to make of me, using the word of God as an instrument of healing. I’m not afraid of what might be found. The truth won’t kill me; it’s the lies – and the fear that accompanies them – that will. I’m eager to get on with the new and abundant life Jesus promises (John 10:10).
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Translating this verse from the original Greek into English helped me to appreciate why it is good news. The Greek word, ζων, which we translate as living means causing to live, vivifying, quickening. (p.918, The Complete Word Study New Testament; Spiros Zodhiates, ed.) The word in Greek for active, ενεργης, has to do with energy. It connotes activity and power, doing and working.
Furthermore, when I consulted my Greek dictionary I discovered that “in Classical Greek the word ενεργης seems to have been used almost exclusively as a medical term referring to medical treatment and the influence of medicine.” (Ibid, p. 912) This leads me to conclude from the first phrase of this verse that God’s word to us in Scripture has restorative power and medicinal-like properties.
In the last phrase, it judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart, the Greek word κριτικος, translated in the New International Version as judging means, able to discern, skilled in judging. If we think of this in medical terms, as in the first phrase, then κριτικος is a good thing. If we are not well, we want our doctor to be able to discern what is wrong with us. Scripture has this quality of being able to discern what is really going on with our heart and soul. It can cut, like a scalpel (or double-edged sword) all the way through the layers of denial and fear in which we wrap ourselves. (Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow…)
Down through the centuries Christians have experienced how Scripture re-frames thoughts and redirects habits, bringing balm to spiritual and emotional wounds. Reading, studying, memorizing, contemplating, and using Scripture in prayer can help bring about a cure for our psyche and soul. Martin Luther found freedom from guilt and shame, which beset him for many years, while studying the apostle Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans. In Scripture we discover the truth about ourselves and about God – truth that can set us free from the entanglements of sin and pretense.
This is how I would paraphrase the verse from Hebrews: The word of God gives and restores life and has medicinal properties. It is sharper than a scalpel and pierces through our defenses down to our soul and spirit, joints and marrow – and not only is it able to discern what’s really going on with our heart and mind, it is able to regenerate them.
This is something to welcome and not fear – and it begins when we make Scripture a part of our daily diet.
Next week: How Scripture can renew and transform our mind and heart. (Romans 12:2)