CARS WITHOUT ENGINES – Albert Theron
Heb. 8:11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
Col. 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Gal 4:19 My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!
Even though there is definite continuity between the old and the new covenant they are also radically different in many ways. If we fail to seriously consider the unique characteristics of this New Covenant and its implications for church life we may tragically end up with a souped up version of the old and something way beneath what God has in mind for us. Under the old covenant believers were in a sense like cars without engines. The Spirit came upon certain individuals and worked through especially kings, prophets and priests in order to make God’s will known to His people and to govern them accordingly. There were many external ordinances, traditions, feasts, rules, and regulations to keep these ‘engineless cars’ moving in the right direction. God’s Spirit influenced the hearts of believers from without and especially through the priesthood and their external system of religion. That covenant failed dismally. But we have a better covenant! God now lives within every believer and it is absolutely crucial for every believer to be made aware of it (Gal. 2:20)! ‘And I will put my Spirit within you, and make you eager to obey My laws and teachings’ (Ezek. 36:27).
The most important function of New Testament leadership by far is the unlocking of the life and power of Christ within the believer. According to the New Testament this is done primarily in three ways. Firstly, by preaching and teaching the Word of God in such a way that believers will see and understand the reality of Christ in them as their true identity, life, wisdom and power (1 Cor. 1:28-31, 4:1). Secondly, by praying and interceding for believers that they would receive a revelation of this reality (Col. 1:25-29; 4:12). Acts 6 verse 4 clearly delineates the primary functions of New Testament leadership in terms of these first two points. “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And thirdly, by teaching them by both word and example that the life of Christ within them can only be manifested and realised via the death-resurrection route (2 Cor. 4:7, 12:10). It is in denying and laying down our independent and self-centered life, that we find our life in union with Christ. The godly example of leaders is absolutely crucial in this regard. Yet, the example without the teaching and personal revelation in the heart of every believer will never take us over the finishing line as a victorious church. If I only give believers a godly example and ask them to ‘follow me as I follow Christ’, without revealing the secret to that victorious life I am setting believers an impossible task. This can only lead to frustration and ultimately burnout.
In the light of these facts we need to ask ourselves some hard questions? May we ignore God’s revealed way of discipling believers and devise our own ways to do this? May we, for example, just bypass the need for every believer to see for himself the realities of the New Covenant in the Word of God? Is there any substitute for this? Is it possible to get believers to maturity and effectively mobilise them for sustained servanthood in the church without their personal grasp of the Word of Christ and a personal revelation of their new identity in union with Christ? If we cannot respond with an unequivocal no to these questions, then we are no longer evangelical leaders, but Roman Catholic priests. Then we may just as well adopt their whole system, for they have perfected it and have much more ‘success’ than Protestants with that methodology of external motivation via systems of en masse behaviour modification. How do you compete with a unified “church” of 1.2 billion members? If we ignore or neglect the essence of the New Covenant and employ other ways and methods to try and bring believers to maturity in their personal walk and other avenues to bring them to unity and their destiny as a body of believers, we are in effect busy using up tons of energy to push engineless cars. The outcome of this approach is predictable. We will eventually run out of steam and momentum and out of new ideas to get these ‘cars’ moving in the right direction. We will run out of capable and energetic leaders who are willing to push ‘engineless cars’ up hills year in and year out, because we do not fire up the engine within people. We will end up like hundreds of churches and church growth movements over the last few decades in the West; tired and stagnant.
Leadership in the church of Jesus Christ is meant to represent Him, never to replace Him. Every believer must be led to increasingly take personal responsibility for an intimate relationship with Jesus. The New Covenant may never be veiled by a kind of ‘priesthood’ that again makes any leader or team of leaders a mediator between God and man. There is only ‘…one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 2:5). Leaders are not the external engine of the church trying to push it to its destiny. Jesus is the internal engine of the church and every single believer; and leaders should preach, teach, live and unveil this reality with an unswerving confidence in the radical nature of the New Covenant. Jesus, the great Leader, Prophet, Priest, and King now lives within every believer! “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:22-24).”
PRAYER: “Dear heavenly Father, please grant us a fresh revelation of the power of the Gospel and restore our confidence in this precious Gospel so that we may turn from our confidence in so many other ways and methodologies and turn back to the tried and tested apostolic approach.”
THE CONTRAST – Henry Drummond
PAUL begins [1 Corinthians 13] by contrasting Love with other things that men in those days thought much of. I shall not attempt to go over those things in detail. Their inferiority is already obvious.
He contrasts it with eloquence. And what a noble gift it is, the power of playing upon the souls and wills of men, and rousing them to lofty purposes and holy deeds. Paul says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” And we all know why. We have all felt the brazenness of words without emotion, the hollowness, the unaccountable unpersuasiveness, of eloquence behind which lies no Love.
He contrasts it with prophecy. He contrasts it with mysteries. He contrasts it with faith. He contrasts it with charity. Why is Love greater than faith? Because the end is greater than the means. And why is it greater than charity? Because the whole is greater than the part. Love is greater than faith, because the end is greater than the means. What is the use of having faith? It is to connect the soul with God. And what is the object of connecting man with God? That he may become like God. But God is Love. Hence Faith, the means, is in order to Love, the end. Love, therefore, obviously is greater than faith. It is greater than charity, again, because the whole is greater than a part. Charity is only a little bit of Love, one of the innumerable avenues of Love, and there may even be, and there is, a great deal of charity without Love. It is a very easy thing to toss a copper to a beggar on the street; it is generally an easier thing than not to do it. Yet Love is just as often in the withholding. We purchase relief from the sympathetic feelings roused by the spectacle of misery, at the copper’s cost. It is too cheap–too cheap for us, and often too dear for the beggar. If we really loved him we would either do more for him, or less.
Then Paul contrasts it with sacrifice and martyrdom. And I beg the little band of would-be missionaries and I have the honour to call some of you by this name for the first time–to remember that though you give your bodies to be burned, and have not Love, it profits nothing–nothing! You can take nothing greater to the heathen world than the impress and reflection of the Love of God upon your own character. That is the universal language. It will take you years to speak in Chinese, or in the dialects of India. From the day you land, that language of Love, understood by all, will be pouring forth its unconscious eloquence. It is the man who is the missionary, it is not his words. His character is his message. In the heart of Africa, among the great Lakes, I have come across black men and women who remembered the only white man they ever saw before–David Livingstone; and as you cross his footsteps in that dark continent, men’s faces light up as they speak of the kind Doctor who passed there years ago. They could not understand him; but they felt the Love that beat in his heart. Take into your new sphere of labour, where you also mean to lay down your life, that simple charm, and your lifework must succeed. You can take nothing greater, you need take nothing less. It is-not worth while going if you take anything less. You may take every accomplishment; you may be braced for every sacrifice; but if you give your body to be burned, and have not Love, it will profit you and the cause of Christ nothing.
THE SERVICE-CENTERED BELIEVER – Miles Stanford
Most of us have been warned at one time or another about “the barrenness of a busy life.” Well-intentioned as t he admonition may be, busyness does not necessarily produce a barren life. Rather, barrenness of life produces busyness! The majority of active members in our sound churches today are primarily doers; their chief concern is to work for the Lord. But, service being the emphasis of their life, they are for the most part motivated by self. We must all learn, sooner or later, that the result of every form of self-effort is nothing but a barren waste, a spiritual Death Valley. Our growth is bound to falter and dry up when service is predominant in the life, especially in the formative years. Conversely, when growth in Christ is given first place, service will never suffer. Furthermore, our life-work will be accomplished in His time and way—and that without physical, mental, or spiritual breakdown. The tragedy of the church is that the service-centered believer has little or no concern for spiritual growth, other than enough development and training for what he and others consider to be fruitful service. Naturally altruistic, he is appalled at the thought of placing growth ahead of outreach. The activist rarely seems to become aware of the sin of self, of the necessity of the cross in his life’ or of God’s purpose for him to be conformed to the image of Christ. There are many believers who feel that the chief problem in our congregations is the existence of an overwhelming number of pew parasites. But, on the other hand, the vast army of busy-bee workers in our midst constitutes a comparable problem. Both doing nothing, and doing over-much, are a hindrance to God’s purpose. His will for the Christian is expressed in the word being, which in turn will result in effective doing. The reason for this reversal of God’s order is plain to see. The emphasis of the average sound ministry is on salvation and service. Get saved, and get busy! This makes the new birth everything, and service its by-product. With this approach, the individual has practically reached his goal at the very outset. He is saved, and joins the church, then settles down to await his eternal reward. He attends sporadically but must constantly be “attended to.” On the other hand are those who do all the work, consequently having little time or hunger to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). Our Father’s ultimate purpose in saving us is that we might be conformed to the image of His Son, not simply to keep us out of hell and get us into heaven. We have been born into Christ that He may be our life, not just our Savior. “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:28, 29). When we realize that we have been born into the Lord Jesus so that His life “might be made manifest in our mortal flesh,” our heart-hunger is brought into harmony with that of the Spirit for us: “changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Our burden for ourselves and others will be the same as the Holy Spirit placed upon Paul’s heart: “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). The emphasis of our life will be growth in Christ; the result of that growth will be fruitful and abiding service for His glory.
CHRISTIANITY IS NOT A RELIGION – James Fowler
In all of the world’s religions, you can take away the founder and still have the religion. You can take Buddha out of Buddhism and still have the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path. You can take Mohammed out of Islam, and still have the Five Pillars of Action and the Six Articles of Belief. And yes, tragically, you can take Christ out of that misnomer of “Christian religion,” and still have the doctrines and the programs and the organizational machinery that masquerade as the “church.” Liberal theologians within the “Christian religion” have indicated that it does not matter whether there was ever an “historical Jesus,” as long as the “religion” benefits a person psychologically and ethically. On that premise of subjective religious impact being the existential essence of the “Christian religion,” they go about “demythologizing” the New Testament scriptures to reduce them to psychological and ethical tenets. The hypothetical question might be asked, “If God could and would die tonight, what would happen to the ‘Christian religion’ tomorrow?” The answer is “Nothing!” The “Christian religion” would keep right on functioning, because Jesus Christ, as God, is not the essence and the dynamic of what they are doing anyway! If God were to die tonight, it would be “business as usual” for religion tomorrow. It does not require God in Christ for the “Christian religion” to function; just man and money! Genuine Christianity, on the other hand, requires the presence and function of the life and person of the living Lord Jesus. Christianity is Christ! Jesus Christ is not just the historical founder of a “Christian religion;” rather He is the vital spiritual essence of Christianity which is His dynamic ontological function within receptive humanity. Another hypothetical question might be asked. “If you could take Christ out of Christianity, what would be left?” Again it is possible to answer, “Nothing!” Or it is possible that we might explain that the resultant spiritual vacuum is what we know as the “Christian religion.” It has been suggested that if you take Christ out of Christianity, all you have left is the self-oriented, self-perpetuating religion of “-I-anity.” South African author, Albert Nolan, explains that “Jesus cannot be fully identified with that great religious phenomenon of the Western world known as Christianity (Christian religion). He was much more than the founder of one of the world’s great religions. He stands about Christianity (Christian religion) as the judge of all it has done in His name.” The “Christian religion” is a misnomer. Christianity is not religion! It is so radically different from all religion that it cannot properly be compared with the “world religions.” All attempts to do so have preemptively reduced Christianity into its bastardized counterfeit of “Christian religion.”
COOLER THAN THOU – Andrew Strom
In the name of ‘relevance’ we are rushing around desperately trying to make our music “cool” and our leadership style “cool” and our gospel “cool” and our youth events “cool”, etc, etc,- all in an effort to attract the world on it’s own terms. None of this is of God at all. It relies almost entirely on the ‘arm of the flesh’. It is really nothing less than worldliness and compromise in a new and very subtle (yet deadly) form. Instead of “holier than thou”, it seems like we are now expected to be “cooler than thou”. Our whole effort is aimed at proving to the world that Christianity is just as cool, just as much shallow fun, just as much of a party, as the world has to offer. And so, to prove all this, we have to entertain and entertain and entertain. We feel we have to become just like the world, in order to impress the world on its own terms. Thus, we now need to be seen in fashionable (or better- still, ‘hip’ or alternative) clothes. And our youth events become an excuse for a “party”. And our presentations become entertaining multi-media extravaganzas. All in an effort to equal or “out-cool” the world….Speaking of the huge Christian Greenbelt Festival held regularly in England, musician John Allen stated: “It seems undeniable that most of the audience is there simply to enjoy the music, not to think hard about anything; and there is a real danger of the emergence of the ‘Greenbelt Christian’, the semi-converted, shallowly committed teenager whose Christianity means little more than that he enjoys festival-going.” What a tremendously significant statement! And the tragic fact is, that such ‘Greenbelt Christians’ are now found in their multiplied thousands right around the globe. For it is not just the large festivals that have succumbed to this spirit of entertainment. We now find this ‘entertain-them-at- all-costs’ approach everywhere, from local church youth groups right up to large regional gatherings. This spirit has pervaded everything, particularly those areas in the church that are connected with young people. In fact, it has become increasingly rare to find gatherings of Christian youth now in which these attitudes do not prevail. What we are actually doing by trying to make our Christianity more worldly, is placing it at a great disadvantage. We are stripping it of the things that historically have made the Christian faith so appealing and powerful. I am also convinced that more than anything else, today’s jaded youth will respond to a CHALLENGE. In fact, I am convinced that the greater the challenge, the more interest and the greater level of discipleship there will be. What today’s “amused-to-death” young people need desperately is a cause worth fighting and dying for – a cause that calls them to deny themselves and to live a life of radical obedience to God. Jesus Christ is that cause. And if we don’t provide such a challenge to today’s jaded generation, then don’t be surprised if some much darker cause arises to steal their allegiance. In many ways, today’s youth, raised for much of their lives in a spiritual and moral vacuum, are truly ripe for the picking. And the devil knows this very well. If we are not willing to provide the youth with a cause worth dying for, then he surely will. There has always been a ‘social’ aspect to the Western church that has attracted a certain ‘club’ membership. But this is different. This is an epidemic, and it is being encouraged right from the very top down. Many pastors and youth leaders have concluded that it is best to give the young people what they seem to want, just so they can get the numbers in the door. And the problem is growing worse, not better. Unless something drastic is done, all I can personally see on the horizon is years and years of such continual shallowness that we end up with churches full of people who desire little else but ‘ear-tickling’, entertainment and crowd-pleasing (rather than God-pleasing) “worship”.
ONE WITH HIM – Chip Brogden
“As the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” 1 Cor. 12:12
The Bible says that there is an invisible but very powerful union that exists between Jesus and all His disciples; they are one Body. It is a spiritual union. This spiritual union forms the basis of our relationship and fellowship with Christ.
Jesus says, “I am the True Vine… Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 15:1, 4). Jesus compares this union to a vine that has many branches. Each branch lives in union with the vine. The same life flowing in the vine is also flowing in the branches. Jesus says He is the True Vine, and we are His branches. This is spiritual union. As branches, we can only grow and produce spiritual fruit so long as we continue to live, dwell in, abide, and be part of the Vine. So then, union with God is not the reward for spirituality; it is the basis of spirituality.
THE SUBSTITUTION OF THE PROGRAM FOR THE PRESENCE – A.W. Tozer
The book of Acts is a record of evangelism and missionary activity, but the Presence is always there, and never for a moment do those early Christians forget it. Never do the disciples use gimmicks to attract crowds. They count on the power of the Spirit to see them through all the way. They gear their activities to Christ and are content to win or lose along with Him. The notion that they should set up a “programmed” affair and use Jesus as a kind of sponsor never so much as entered their heads. To them Christ was everything. To them He was the object around which all revolved; He was as He still is, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending. Christ was everything in the minds of those first believers, and that mighty fact dictated not only their conduct but their inner attitudes as well. Their mood, their demeanor, their expectations sprang out of their childlike conviction that Jesus was in the midst of them as Lord of creation, Head of the Church and High Priest of their profession. Now, I freely admit that it is impossible to hold a Christian revival service without an agenda. If order is to be maintained, an order of service must exist somewhere. If two songs are to be sung, someone must know which one is to be sung first, and whether this knowledge is only in someone’s head or has been reduced to paper, there is indeed a “program,” however we may dislike to call it that. The point we make here is that in our times the program has been substituted for the Presence. The program rather than the Lord of glory is the center of attraction. So the most popular gospel church in any city is likely to be the one that offers the most interesting program; that is, the church that can present the most and best features for the enjoyment of the public. These features are programmed so as to keep everything moving and everybody expectant. The evil of it lies in its effect upon Christians and churches everywhere. Even persons who may honestly desire to serve God after the pattern shown us in the mount are deceived by the substitution of the program for the Presence, with the result that they never really become mature Christians. Their appetites are debauched and their sense of spiritual values dwarfed at the very beginning of their religious lives. Many of them go on year after year totally unaware that the program they go to see and hear each Sunday is not a Christian thing at all but a pagan concept superimposed upon the church by zealous but misled persons. We’ll do our churches a lot of good if we each one seek to cultivate the blessed Presence in our services. If we make Christ the supreme and constant object of devotion the program will take its place as a gentle aid to order in the public worship of God. If we fail to do this the program will finally obscure the Light entirely. And no church can afford that.
SUBMIT TO THE MIND OF CHRIST – Austin Sparks
We have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
Our natural mind is a great obstacle in the race which we are running, cropping up all the time with its complexes, its arguments, its interests and its methods. When the Corinthians were brought into the Church they left behind their obvious sins, but they carried over into their new realm the old, natural ways of thinking and reasoning which belonged to the world and not to the Spirit of God. But the apostle remonstrated with them: “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), so urging them to allow the Cross to be planted between the natural mind and the spiritual. We shall only come to the fullness of Christ as we leave behind the mind of the natural man and move on more and more in the progress of the mind of Christ. On everything; every judgment, every conclusion, every analysis, every appraisal; we must ask the Lord: “Is that Your mind, Lord, or is it mine?” We may sometimes feel that we have the strongest ground for taking up a certain attitude or coming to a certain conclusion; we may feel that we have all the evidence and so are convinced; and yet we may be wrong.
The man who wrote the letter to the Corinthians knew from deep and bitter experience that this was the case. “I verily thought… that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth,” he said (Acts 26:9). There was no man who had stronger convictions as to the rightness of his course than Saul of Tarsus. The great revolution which took place in him when he came to Christ was that he had to say: “I have been all wrong in my fundamental way of thinking.” After that confession he made good headway in the race because he was always ready to subject his thinking to the jurisdiction of his crucified Lord. This is the way of spiritual progress. We shall not get very far while we hold to our own opinions and our own conclusions, even though we may have the support of others; we have to learn to conquer our natural mind by submission to the mind of Christ. This is most important if we are concerned about spiritual progress. And spiritual progress is the increase of Christ – there is no other.
TWO KINDS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS – Philip Mauro
It is a fearful, fearful thing, after that God, against Whom we have all grossly offended, has met our desperate case by putting His own Son in the place of the guilty, “that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9); after God has done this, it is a fearful thing, I say, for any to spurn that grace, and to refuse to accept the Son of God as Savior and Lord. “For He has made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). I am most anxious that you should apprehend the teaching of God’s Word on this point, concerning which so many are in ignorance. I was in like ignorance for many years. I supposed that if we “did the best we could,” and “tried to lead a good life,” it would be all well with us; and that, somehow, our wrongdoings would be overlooked. But just consider the matter for a moment. Suppose that a man not only tried to live a good life, but succeeded, from the ordinary point of view, in doing so. Do you not see that this leaves him with the same corrupted nature, which, even should he suppress its tendencies, still remains unchanged. We cannot bring this old nature into the Kingdom of God. We mustget a new and incorruptible nature. As our Lord has stated it: “You must be born again” (John 3:7). There are only two kinds of righteousness. One is the righteousness that a man attains by his own efforts, and which, in God’s sight, is “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6); and the other is the “righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ.” This righteousness is “unto all, and upon all them that believe” (Romans 3:22). If we seek to establish our own righteousness by keeping the law, we shall fail and come short; and, moreover, in trying to do this, we despise the grace of God and make the death of Christ a vain thing. “If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21). The condition of humanity, as God sees and declares it, is a condition of death in sins, and of hopeless unrighteousness. Man cannot quicken himself, or procure for himself a new nature; but God has met his needs, providing eternal life and a sinless nature for all who believe the testimony “ which He has testified concerning His Son.”
THE LETTER KILLS, THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE – Austin Sparks
Now let us be very clear as to what that means; that is not a contrast between the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. It cannot be that. The “letter”, the letter there is the Word of God, but it is not set in contrast to the Holy Spirit as necessarily bringing death while the Spirit brings Life. I want you to be very clear in your mind about that. You see, when you use that phrase: “the letter kills”, don’t think for a moment that that means that the Word of God brings death! You have got to get it in its setting, and understand what it is the apostle is saying here. It is between legalism in relation to the letter or the Word of God, and Life which comes by the Holy Spirit’s action upon the Word of God. This is what the apostle is saying here, as he has said much more fully in other parts of his writings. He is saying: “Look here, because of a state in persons, ‘their heart was hardened’, because of a state in persons, the Word only comes to them as a legal statement of ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt not’.” It is something imposed upon them; it becomes a heavy and dead weight upon them; it just is a matter of oppression: “Now you must do this, and you must do that, you must do the other thing and you may not do these things”. And so it may be the Word of God, but because of a state in those concerned, it becomes simply legalistic, and therefore it becomes bondage. It is the same Word, it’s the same Word, it is all the Word of God, but it is the effect that it has upon us, and that depends entirely upon our state.
In his first letter to the Corinthians the apostle had a lot to say at the beginning, which bears I think, very much upon this matter. You remember how in that part which is marked by our chapter 2, he is speaking about “the wisdom of this world”. The wisdom of this world. Now, he is talking to Christians, “the wisdom of this world” and the utter inability to understand the things of the Spirit of God by reason of natural wisdom. Yes, you may have all the wisdom of the philosophers, all the wisdom of the great Greek world and empire, and yet you are utterly incapacitated where the things of the Spirit of God are concerned. It is no use! It is no use approaching the things of God, the Word of God, with the most complete intellectual outfit naturally, whether you are born with it, or whether you’re trained to it. You may bring the fullest, ripest scholarship, the best education, the finest brain to the Word of God, and… there’s no Life. It doesn’t produce Life; it is all dead. You handle the Word of God in that way and it does not communicate Life to anybody. It is very wonderful, of course, it may be very interesting, almost fascinating, but afterwards… has it ministered Life? And has it resulted in this transformation into the same image? No! And I am going further.
We may have the most thoroughgoing knowledge of the Bible, so that we are able to analyse every book of the Bible, and have it there in our head clearly, and tell anybody at any moment what is in this book, and this chapter and that. We may have the whole thing, and yet it may still be in the natural mind, and neither change us nor the people to whom we give it. And worse than that, worse than that, it may entirely incapacitate us for understanding spiritual things. We may be altogether in another realm from what is real spiritual understanding. It is necessary, dear friends, for you to recognise this, that it is not a matter of Bible knowledge, though that is so important. It is not a matter of brain and intellect and scholarship, it is not at all a matter of our attainments in that realm, however valuable such things may be, given the other. But it is a matter of “God having shined into our hearts to give the knowledge” [2 Cor. 4v6].
THAT I MAY KNOW HIM – Miles Stanford
The, reason the Father saved you is that you may come to know Him, and that necessitates intimate, personal fellowship with Him via the Word of God. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3). And it is by knowing the Lord Jesus that you come to know the Father. “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you do know Him, and have seen Him” (John 14:7). “And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ. And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:3, 4). In order to teach you how all-essential that fellowship is, He allows you to drift to the point of saying, “I am growing, but I miss His presence with me; I am growing but I am lonely and depressed; I am growing, but I am frightened; I am growing, but I am no longer able to cope with the problems within and without that would seem at times to virtually overwhelm me.” He came down here for your birth; now He would draw you to Himself for your growth. Mr. [J.B.] Stoney ever points upward:
The love of the Lord Jesus culminates in this, that we should be with Him where He is. He died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him (1 Thess. 5:10).
I find that the one who is set on usefulness (Martha) does not advance like the one set on personal love for and fellowship with Him (Mary). The Lord give us to be more personally attached to Himself where He is; then we shall be useful according to His good pleasure down here.
The heart that is captivated by an object could never be at rest until it was with the one who had won it; for satisfaction you must be where He is. Love really does not think of anyone but its Object until it is quite sure of its position with Him; and then when at rest about itself it studies the mind and heart of the Object.
Ever depend upon the Spirit of Christ for all!
The work of the Holy Spirit is known by His abasing men, and glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:31). When He works in us, Christ is not a mere helper, or a puppet in my hands, but my All in all, occupying my thoughts, filling my heart, and unconsciously influencing and developing my life.
GOD’S ULTIMATE INTENTION – Chip Brogden
“Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.” Acts 28:30-31
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers must point people to Christ. Otherwise they are not fulfilling the purpose for which God placed them in the Body to begin with. Apostolic ministry is not an end unto itself, but is a means to an end. Prophetic ministry is not an end unto itself, but is a means to an end. Evangelistic ministry is not an end unto itself, but is a means to an end. Pastoral and teaching ministries are not ends unto themselves, but are a means to an end.
What is the end? What is the purpose? What does it all lead to? It leads to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). The fullness of Christ, the full-knowledge of Him – this is God’s Goal and His Ultimate Intention.
WE NEED THE REALITY OF THE ETERNAL – Austin Sparks
I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:12 ESV)
Those of us who have tasted of this world’s springs have recognized the kinship between what is there and what is in religion so far as that soul-nature is concerned. It is only a matter of difference of realm, not of nature. What the music and drama of the world produce in one way – the soul-stirring, rousing, craving: the pathos, tears, contempt, hatred, anger, melancholy, pleasure, etc. – are all the same, only under different auspices and in a different setting, and the fact is that it passes and we are really no further on. A little better music, a change of preacher, a less familiar place, a few more thrills, will perhaps stimulate our souls, but where are we, after all? How Satan must laugh behind his mask! Oh, for reality, the reality of the eternal! Oh, that men might see that, while a highly cultured soul with a keen sense of the beautiful and sublime is immeasurably preferable to a sordid one so far as this world is concerned, it is not necessarily a criterion that such has a personal living knowledge of God – of God as a Person – and has really been born anew!
When we pray for “Revival” let us be careful as to what we are after and as to what means we use to promote it, or carry it on…. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that the secret of everything in his life and service was the fact that he received his gospel “by revelation.” We may even know the Bible most perfectly as a book, and yet be spiritually dead and ineffective. When the Scriptures say so much about the knowledge of God and of the truth as the basis of eternal life, resulting in being set free, doing exploits, etc., they also affirm that man cannot by searching find out God, and they make it abundantly clear that it is knowledge in the spirit, not in the natural mind. Thus, a rich knowledge of the Scriptures, an accurate technical grasp of Christian doctrine, a doing of Christian work by all the resources of men’s natural wisdom or ability, a clever manipulation and interesting presentation of Bible content and themes, may get not one whit beyond the natural life of men, and still remain within the realm of spiritual death. Men cannot be argued, reasoned, fascinated, interested, “emotioned,” willed, enthused, impassioned, into the kingdom of the heavens; they can only be born; and that is by spiritual quickening.
TEARLESS SACRIFICES – Arthur Katz
… and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, “Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.” And he said, “Do it the second time.” And they did it the second time. And he said, “Do it the third time.” And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. (1 Kings 18:32b-35)
Our sacrifices have been altogether too dry. There shall be no heavenly fire without a sacrifice in which the flesh is cut up, laid out, and saturated, twelve barrels full, with the repentant tears of God’s people. Basilea Schlink says in one of her books that the cancer of modern Christianity is our lovelessness. Oh, I know we have lots of back slaps, bear hugs, embraces and handshakes of all kinds, but the kind of love which is sacrificial at its core is not much in evidence. We need to ask God’s forgiveness for our glib phrases about saving the world, and for our delight in those activities which we called “witnessing,” which are too often compensatory devices for carnal living. It is one thing to kneel and piously say the right things and say that we have concern for a lost world, but it is quite something else to break and weep and respond to deep calling unto deep in a profound bond with out Creator. James tells us that it is the effectual fervent prayer of righteous men and women that avails much (James 5:16b). It is this kind of burden-bearing that shall overcome at the restored altar. Shortly after my return to California from Jerusalem where I had just found the Lord, I gave my first testimony at a little church in my community. A little roly-poly woman came up to me after the service. “Brother Katz,” she said (it was strange to hear a woman say “Brother Katz”), “you don’t know me, but my daughter was a student of yours in high school. She knew that you were an atheist and a radical, and she would come home in the afternoons weeping over you. Since the first time that happened, she and I have been praying for you.” Something exploded in my heart, and my words to her must have sounded like a needle that was stuck on a record: “So you’re the one, so you’re the one, so you’re the one whose prayers have entered me into the Kingdom of God.” God had not responded to mere sentiment or to drummed-up emotions; He had heard the fervent cry that was born in His own heart come through righteous instruments who had become one spirit with Him. Fire fell upon the tear-drenched altar and an unsuspecting atheist fell down before the God of his fathers crying, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”
THE ALL-CONSUMING DREAM OF GOD – Frank Viola
The year was 1992. My life as a Christian changed forever. All the sermons I heard since I was a child faded dead away. They were profoundly eclipsed by a higher vision. By God’s grace, I caught a wondrous glimpse into what Paul called “the eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11). For the first time in my Christian life, I discovered that I was involved in something much larger and more glorious than I ever dreamed. The Christian life was no longer merely about winning souls; helping the poor; learning theology; studying doctrine; mastering the Bible; deciphering eschatology; praying more; attending church services; praising and worshipping; doing spiritual warfare; exercising spiritual gifts; hearing God’s voice; imitating Jesus; and engaging in good works. Nor was it about the other endless activities that I had been taught were the center of God’s will. I discovered that all of the above had an end in view that went far beyond giving people a celestial fire-insurance policy, bringing in the last great harvest, or changing the world for Christ. Being a Christian had taken on a completely new meaning. That meaning had to do with something bound up inside the beating heart of God. The Christian life was no longer about me and what I could or should do. Neither was it primarily about others. The needs of human beings became secondary. A page had turned. Suddenly everything became about Him and His ultimate purpose. It all became about God’s ageless desire—a desire that is “from him and through him and to him” (Rom. 11:36). I stepped into a new world where I began to look through the eyes of God and see things from His vantage point rather than from my own. I discovered something of what it means to see the unseen. This high-altitude view hit me so hard that it wiped everything else off the table. I began to see with eyes not physical, and I discovered that the intangibles are where reality lies. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:18 NASB) Did I have it all figured out? Certainly not. Do I now have all the answers? Far from it. But a door had opened that put me on a new journey that I continue to travel this good day. Before this “epiphany” I had read the Bible dozens of times. I had heard countless sermons and read scores of books and commentaries. Yet despite all of it, I realized that I had genuinely missed the main point. I was blissfully ignorant of the central, all-consuming dream of God that tied everything together. As a result of this realization, I pushed the reset button on my Christian life. I pressed the DELETE key and watched all my religious activities vanish into the electricity. I hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and rebooted my spiritual CPU. What was so revolutionary? What exactly did I see? I had discovered the driving passion of God. And that passion gave birth to a divinely crafted purpose—a timeless purpose that had little to do with my individualistic efforts at being a good Christian or “going to heaven.” I gradually discovered that the ageless purpose of God stretches from eternity to here, then from here to eternity. It is a purpose so brilliant that the mere glimpse of it can cause the human spirit to be blinded by incomparable glory. A sighting of that purpose has the power to deliver us from all the things that do not matter; things that do not give life; things that divide and fracture the body of Christ into pieces. The sighting of God’s all-governing purpose possesses the power to set us free from the “me-centered” gospel that’s so commonly dished out today. In addition, I discovered that this purpose runs throughout the entire Bible like an unbroken thread, weaving all of its teachings together into one heart-stirring narrative. That initial glimpse of the Lord’s ageless purpose has become an ever-expanding revelation within me. It has given my very existence on this earth new meaning and direction. To put it another way, in beholding God’s central purpose, I found my own purpose. In touching His ultimate passion, I found my own passion. This eternal purpose burns in me to this very day. But here is the tragedy. Few Christians speak about God’s eternal purpose today. Amid the innumerable chorus of Christian books that swell the shelves of bookstores every year, relatively few seek to unveil the ageless purpose of our God.
THE FRIDGE, NOT JUST THE LIBRARY – Albert Theron
Because we are now in Christ, we have full and free access to’ the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’; and all of this as a shared enjoyment with all the saints (2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 3:18-19). We need to see clearly that this is not something we attain to, it is a now reality. You do not attain to being the son of a father or the brother of a sister, you are born into it. Practically this means that we should have a mindset of being in real and vital unity with God and one another. And so God continually invites us to come and enjoy the riches of the Trinity together with the saints. What follows might fall a little bit strange on some ears because of years of traditional indoctrination in a specific approach to the Bible that we have all inherited in different degrees from our various backgrounds. Our primary, not only, approach to the Scriptures should be the fridge and not the library or the study. When we think fridge we think enjoyment, and this is how it should be with our approach to the Bible. When I say the word fridge it might bring to your mind juicy steaks, delectable cheeses and succulent spare ribs. As believers we share what we have in our fridges with one another. We should, however, have the same mindset when we think of the Bible. We should think about the riches of Christ that we share together in the sixty-six books of the Bible. “Let Christ’s word with all its wisdom and richness live in you.” (Col. 3:16a GW translation). Our enjoyment of Christ together should be firstly in the Word according to the Old and New Testament, and not only in singing together, flowing in the gifts, and hanging out together; precious as these are. “And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock…” (Deut. 14:23). God considered this ‘eating and drinking’ as the heart of worship before Him. He is most pleased with us when we enjoy His Son as our ultimate satisfaction in life. The good land of the Old Testament was a type of Christ and the working and harvest of the land represented the enjoyment of the riches of Christ. The Israelites had to come before the Lord and feast together on the top ten percent of their harvest. Do we realise what this signifies for the church? When we get together for fellowship as a church or in our communities and families, we should bring the top ten percent of what we harvested in our personal devotional times with Jesus and enjoy it before the Lord our God. How rich and enjoyable the church will be if we begin to practice this!
ONLY BELIEVE – Austin Sparks
Whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst. (John 6:35 ESV)
“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:14). “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Here is the great I AM saying what He is. And then you notice how frequently He links with that a ‘shall’. The ‘shalls’ of the ‘I am’s’ in John’s Gospel are tremendously impressive – not always using the exact word, but in the context you will find the same conclusion. But here are some of the ‘shalls’. “I am the bread of life… he that eats this bread shall live for ever” (John 6:58). “I am the light of the world; he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12). The link between what He is and ourselves is this, “he that believes on Me.” What I AM shall become true of him. “He that believes on Me shall never die” (John 11:26), “…shall not hunger” (John 6:35), shall never wander like sheep without a shepherd, he shall have a governing, controlling reality like a shepherd in his life. “Shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” What I AM shall become true. “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth on Me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever lives and believes on Me shall never die.” What I AM is made good when you believe.
Now it is not what we are. I am dead; He is alive. I can never be other than dead, but He as the Life can become Life in me in my death, if only I believe. I am hungry, spiritually starved; He is Bread, and I need never hunger; although I shall always hunger in myself, yet He will become the Bread to supply me. Think of it! I need never hunger, I am down there in the country, isolated, getting no fellowship, no food; I am away in some place where there is no spiritual bread, and He says, “He that eats Me shall never hunger.” Is that dependent upon where I am, what my situation and circumstances are as to available spiritual meat? No, it is Himself, not a place; it is Himself, not circumstances. But how can it be? – “He that believes.”
VARIOUS STATEMENTS ON RELIGIOUS ACTIVISM – A.W. Tozer
We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar. The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.
Be concerned not with what you have accomplished but over what you might have accomplished if you had followed the Lord completely.
In this world men are judged by their ability to do.
… there is a lot of religious activity among us. Interchurch basketball tournaments, religious splash parties followed by devotions, weekend camping trips with a Bible quiz around the fire, Sunday school picnics, building fund drives and ministerial breakfasts are with us in unbelievable numbers, and they are carried on with typical American gusto. It is when we enter the sacred precincts of the heart’s personal religion that we suddenly lose all enthusiasm.
We of the nervous West are victims of the philosophy of activism tragically misunderstood. Getting and spending, going and returning, organizing and promoting, buying and selling, working and playing—this alone constitutes living. If we are not making plans or working to carry out plans already made we feel that we are failures, that we are sterile, unfruitful eunuchs, parasites on the body of society. The gospel of work, as someone has called it, has crowded out the gospel of Christ in many Christian churches.
In an effort to get the work of the Lord done we often lose contact with the Lord of the work and quite literally wear our people out as well. I have heard more than one pastor boast that his church was a “live” one, pointing to the printed calendar as proof—something on every night and several meetings during the day. Of course this proves nothing except that the pastor and the church are being guided by a bad spiritual philosophy. A great many of these time-consuming activities are useless and others plain ridiculous. “But,” say the eager beavers who run the religious squirrel cages, “they provide fellowship and they hold our people together.”
… many, perhaps most, of the activities engaged in by the average church do not contribute in any way to the accomplishing of the true work of Christ on earth.
Work that is only religious work and religious activity can be done by ungifted men and women and it can be done within the framework of the Christian church. But it will wind up with the judgment upon it that it is only a product of a human mind.
DO WHAT GOD BLESSES – Chip Brogden
“Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. They…filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.” John 6:11,13
The issue is never what we have or what we are doing, but rather, do we have the Lord’s blessing?
With the Lord’s Blessing we have Infinite Supply. Practically speaking, it means instead of trying to convince the Lord to bless what I want to do or what I think needs to be done, I should find out first what the Lord wants to BLESS and do THAT instead. Remember, “He Himself knew what He would do.” (John 6:6). Thus, we pray, “Not my will, but Your Will be done; not my kingdom, but Your Kingdom come.” And then we enjoy the Lord’s Blessing on our work.
GOD ENLIGHTENING US ABOUT OUR SPIRITUAL RESOURCES – Bob Hoekstra
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ… the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling. (Eph. 1:3, Eph. 1:18)
We have seen that all the grace resources God has for us to live by here on earth are already ours “in Christ.” Now, our need is to have these comprehensive spiritual treasures revealed to us by the Lord Himself: “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling.” In order to draw upon these heavenly provisions, we need the Lord to enlighten our understanding concerning what is ours in Christ Jesus. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit” (1Cor. 2:9-10). As the Holy Spirit uses the word of God to reveal these matters to us, our faith develops so we might access them by faith. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
The scriptures teach us to pray for such spiritual enlightenment. “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (Psa. 119:18). In the word of God, we are told of the wonderful things that God has for His people. If we prayerfully seek the Lord concerning His insight into these blessings, the Lord will enlighten us. His willingness to respond is evident in His word. “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jer. 33:3).
The Lord delights to give heavenly spiritual insight to the humble of heart, not to those who trust in their own wisdom and prudence. “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes'” (Luke 10:21). This picture of a little one humbly trusting in the Heavenly Father to reveal His ways fits perfectly God’s pattern for living by grace: humility and faith. What God has given us in Christ are His grace resources. It takes grace at work for us to even see what is ours in Him. God gives grace to the humble (Jam. 4:6), and faith accesses grace (Rom. 5:2).
A WORLDWIDE SHAKING – Austin Sparks
Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations. (Haggai 2:6,7)
It seems a terrible thing, even to think, but as we have touched so very much of what is called ‘Christianity’ we are bound to believe that, because vast numbers who call themselves Christian are in an utterly false position, and the system itself has become so largely an earthly, traditional, formal, and unspiritual thing, this worldwide shaking is quite necessary and will be eventually justified. If we were writing a treatise, we could show that what is called ‘Christianity’ is really the greatest enemy of Christ.
It will be seen that it is not a matter of substituting another and better system for an old and poor or bad one. Some people seem to think that it is all, or largely, a matter of the order, technique, and form, and if we returned to the “New Testament” form or order of churches, all would be well. The fact is that, while certain things characterized the New Testament churches, the New Testament does not give us a complete pattern according to which churches are to be set up or formed! There is no blue-print for churches in the New Testament, and to try to form New Testament churches is only to create another system which may be as legal, sectarian and dead as others. Churches, like the Church, are organisms which spring out of Life, which Life itself springs out of the Cross of Christ wrought into the very being of believers. Unless believers are crucified people, there can be no true expression of the Church.
OUR REST IS GOD’S REST – John MacArthur
One other point should be made here. The rest promised to those who believe is My rest, that is, God’s rest. God’s own rest from His work of creation, and the rest that He gives us in Christ, are not the rest brought on by weariness or the rest of inactivity, but are the rest of finished work. His works were finished from the foundation of the world. God has finished His work. God has done it all, and for anyone who wants to enter into His finished work and to share in His rest, it is available by faith.
When God had finished the creation, He said (briefly paraphrasing Gen. 2), “It’s done. I’ve made a wonderful world for man and woman. I’ve given them everything earthly they need, including each other, for a complete and beautiful and satisfying life. Even more importantly, they have perfect, unbroken, unmarred fellowship with Me. I can now rest; and they can rest in Me.”
For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works.” (Heb. 4:4)
Sabbath rest was instituted as a symbol of the true rest to come in Christ. That is why the Sabbath could be violated by Jesus, and completely set aside in the New Testament. When the true Rest Land came, the symbol was useless. “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17).
A FULL SPIRITUAL SCHOLARSHIP – Bill Freeman
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ.” Ephesians 1:3
Being exposed in God’s light is always a signal to us to once again draw our supply from Him. The Christian life is a life that has already been lived for us. And now this life that has already been lived is continuously being supplied to us. The Greek word epichoregia in the New Testament depicts the Christian life as a supplied life. For example, Philippians 1:19 says, “For I know that this will turn out for my salvation through your prayer and the bountiful supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” In the ancient Greek world choregia was used to describe the person who was responsible for a chorus of singers or dancers. In brief, this person was responsible for supplying all the needs of all the members of the chorus. He was “the supplier.” The Greek word meant that he was both a leader and a provider of all the needs of the chorus. Whether it was clothing, food, or money, he supplied everything; and he supplied it lavishly and abundantly, without rationing or restriction.
Today this New Testament word for “supply” can be likened to students who are at a university on full scholarships. They are very relaxed. They are free from anxiety about their needs. They do not have to work their way through school; they just receive all the benefits of their scholarships. All their practical needs are cared for. Their tuition is cared for. Their research needs are cared for. Everything is fully supplied. This is the thought behind the word epichoregia. When the apostle Paul applied this word to the Christian life, he was conveying that everything in the Christian life is provided for. The normal Christian life is like being on a full spiritual scholarship with everything provided for us. Paul surely had this in mind when he declared in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ.”
THE GOSPEL’S PREMIER ENEMY – Tullian Tchividjian
The Bible makes it clear that the gospel’s premier enemy is the one we often call “legalism.” I like to call it performancism. Still another way of viewing it, especially in its most common manifestation in Christians, is moralism. Strictly speaking, those three terms—legalism, performancism, and moralism—aren’t precisely identical in what they refer to. But there’s so much overlap and interconnection between them that we’ll basically look at them here as one thing. And what really is that one thing? Well, it shows up when we fail to believe the gospel. It shows up when behavioral obligations are divorced from gospel declarations, when imperatives are disconnected from gospel indicatives. Legalism happens when what we need to do, not what Jesus has already done, becomes the end game. Our performancism leads to pride when we succeed and to despair when we fail. But ultimately it leads to slavery either way, because it becomes all about us and what we must do to establish our own identity instead of resting in Jesus and what he accomplished to establish it for us. In all its forms, this wrong focus is anti-gospel and therefore enslaving. It is typically displayed in someone who’s trying to keep his or her preferred list of religious rules. At root, what this person tries to accomplish is really no different from what the secular person attempts by deliberately breaking those same rules. Both see what they do as the means to obtain what they’re so desperately hungering for deep within. Both look to self to satisfy what only God can satisfy. For both, it all depends on them, not on Christ. As A. W. Pink once wrote, “The great mistake made by people is hoping to discover in themselves that which is to be found in Christ alone.” Both are running away from Jesus, not toward him. Both are ignoring Jesus, not submitting to him. Both are self-rescue projects—both are endeavoring to save, sanctify, and satisfy themselves on their own terms and by their own power. Some pursue this by trying to break free of constraints, while others do it by multiplying constraints of their own choosing. And because of the versatile craftiness of the human heart, a good many people try their own unique and intricate blending of both these approaches. Accepting the reality of this basic tendency in us all can be very difficult, especially for those of us who’ve been in church a long time. We know it’s wrong to worship immorality, like everybody out in the world seems to be doing; we find it harder to see that it’s just as wrong to worship morality, like everybody in the church seems to be doing. In our bones, we know that God hates unrighteous “bad” works; we’re not nearly so convinced that he hates self-righteous “good” works just as much, if not more. In fact, the most dangerous thing that can happen to you is that you become proud of your obedience.
OFFICIAL VERSUS ORGANIC AUTHORITY – Frank Viola
While God has established official authority to operate in the natural order, He hasn’t instituted this kind of authority in the church. Granted, God gives believers authority (exousia) to exercise certain rights. Among them is the authority (exousia) to become the children of God (John 1:12); to own property (Acts 5:4); to decide to marry or live celibate (1 Cor. 7:37); to decide what to eat or drink (1 Cor. 8:9); to heal sickness and drive out devils (Matt. 10:1; Mark 3:15; 6:7; Luke 9:1; 10:19); to edify the church (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10); to receive special blessings associated with certain ministries (1 Cor. 9:4–18; 2 Thess. 3:8–9); to govern nations and to eat of the Tree of Life in the future kingdom (Rev. 2:26; 22:14). Yet astonishingly, the Bible never teaches that God has given believers authority (exousia) over other believers. Recall our Lord’s words in Matthew 20:25–26 and Luke 22:25–26 where He condemned exousia-type authority among His followers. This fact alone should give us pause for serious reflection. Therefore, it’s a leap in logic and an overextrapolation of reason to suggest that church leaders wield the same kind of authority as dignitaries. Again, the New Testament never links exousia with church leaders. Nor does it ever suggest that some Christians have exousia over other Christians. To be sure, the Old Testament portrays prophets, priests, kings, and judges as official authorities. This is because these “offices” stood as shadows of the authoritative ministries of Jesus Christ Himself. Christ is the real Prophet, the real Priest, the real King, and the real Judge. But never do we find any church leader described or depicted as an official authority in the New Testament. This includes local overseers as well as apostolic workers. To be blunt, the notion that Christians have authority over other Christians is an example of forced exegesis. As such, it’s biblically indefensible. When church leaders wield the same type of authority that governmental officials do, they become usurpers. Admittedly, authority does function in the church. But the authority that works in the ekklesia is drastically different from the authority that works in the natural order. This only makes sense because the church is not a human organization, but a spiritual organism. The authority that operates in the church is not official authority. It’s organic authority. What is organic authority? It’s authority that’s rooted in spiritual life. Organic authority is communicated authority. That is, when a person communicates God’s life through word or deed he or she has the support and backing of the Lord Himself. By virtue of the fact that they have the life of the Spirit, all Christians are capable of communicating organic authority. This is why the New Testament enjoins us to subject ourselves one to another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). But those who are more seasoned in spiritual life tend to express God’s will more consistently than the carnal and the immature (Heb. 5:14). Organic authority finds its source in Christ’s immediate direction rather than in a static office. Organic authority is not intrinsic to a person or a position. It doesn’t reside in humans or in an office they may hold (as is the case with official authority).
RECEIVING THE BLESSING OF THE CROSS – David Wilkerson
God delights in using failures-men and women who think they can do almost nothing right. A woman wrote to me recently saying, “My marriage is failing. I seem to do everything wrong in raising my children. I feel like I’m not worth anything to anybody. I’ve not been a very good wife, mother or Christian. I’ve got to be the world’s worst failure.”
She is just the kind of person the Lord is looking for – people who know that if anything good happens through them, it must be because of God. All the hotshot Christians who go about bowling people over with their great abilities never impress God. God looked down on a scheming, base, weakling of a man called Jacob and said, “Fear not, you worm Jacob . . . I will help you…behold, I will make you a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth . . . you shall rejoice in the Lord” (Isaiah 41:14-16).
Men often use God to achieve fortune, fame, honor and respect. Talent, personality and cleverness are used to advance God’s kingdom, but He is not impressed. His strength is perfected in our weakness, our inability to obey His commandments in our own strength.
God calls us to a life of holiness and separation. He tells us we can be free from the bondage of sin. His Word comes to us with some impossible challenges: “Resist the devil. Walk in the Spirit. Come out from among them. Love your enemies. Leave behind all your fears. Put down your lustful desires. Let no sin have dominion over you.”
When you think honestly about how little you can do on your own to fulfill these challenges, you realize how very weak you are. Your heart begins to cry, “Lord, how can we do such great, holy things?” That is when our Lord takes over! He comes with such a comforting
message: “Lay down your weapons. Quit trying to be so self- sufficient and strong. I am your weapon and your strength. Let Me do what you never can do. I will give you My righteousness, My holiness, My rest, My strength. You cannot save yourself or please Me in any way other than by receiving the blessings of the cross by faith. Let Me be in charge of your growth in holiness.”
THE RENT VEIL – Ray Stedman
Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38 NKJV)
Perhaps one of the priests told Mark about the veil. But for sheer drama there is nothing like this in all of recorded history. This cry in the darkness of the cross, the dismissing of the spirit of Jesus, and the rending of the veil in the temple—Mark brings them all together in order that we might understand what these events mean. As Jesus’ cry rang out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? there must have been many in the crowd who recognized that it was the opening words of Psalm 22. If you want to get the background and atmosphere of the cross, read that psalm through. There is no adequate explanation for the question that Jesus asked except that which Scripture itself gives, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Then there comes the loud cry of dismissal and the rending of the veil. Why did the veil split in two? It was God’s dramatic way of saying for all time and for all people that the way into His heart is wide open. God is not planning revenge. All those who gathered around the cross in hatred and malice against Jesus—every one of them is welcome to come back. That is what the rent veil means. The penalty has been paid for the hateful, the cruel, the ignorant, the selfish, the empty-headed thrill seekers. The way is wide open, and God is waiting to restore the hopeless, the helpless, and the fearful.
When I was just a young Christian, in my early twenties, I read a message by D. L. Moody that I have never forgotten. It was the great evangelist’s imaginative description of what happened after Jesus rose from the dead. Moody says He gathered His disciples in Jerusalem and said to them, Men, I want you to go and find the priests who mocked me, who hurled in my teeth the taunt, ‘He saved others, himself he could not save.’ Explain to them that if I had saved myself; they would have been doomed men. But tell them there is a way wide open. The book of Acts says that as Peter and the other disciples preached in Jerusalem a large number of priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).
Moody said that Jesus said to the disciples, Go find the soldiers who cast lots for my garments, for my seamless robe, and tell them that there is a far greater treasure awaiting them if they will come to me. They shall have not a seamless robe, but a spotless heart. All their guilt can be washed away; all their callous cruelty can be forgiven if they come. Find the centurion who thrust his spear into my side and tell him there is a closer way to my heart if he will come, just as a sinner needing forgiveness.
In this beautiful scene of the rending of the veil at the moment of the death of Jesus, God is saying that the way to Him is open to us, despite the wrong attitudes we so frequently have had toward Him.
“Father, may I lay hold of that great word, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. I know of no greater wonder in all the universe than this.”
THE CHURCH IS NOT A COMPANY – Bob Mumford
Excerpted from Dr. Frankenstein and World Systems
When a system degenerates to theplace where it can only acquire, possess, or control, the system becomes unavoidably utilitarian: it uses people as cannon fodder. We can be used by the world, and the church can also use us. There is essentially little or no difference except one does so by using Bible verses.
Johnny Cash sang a western song about a mining company that says: “I owe my soul to the company store.” The lyrics were basically, work a week, borrow from the company store, and go deepter in debt. The “company store” is a clear expression of how we allow systems to rule our lives. The system now owned him. Freedom was gone; the cycle was in place. The company was invested with authority and everyone was in awe and fear. The company had power – useful, practical, punishment to all who complained – those who resisted did suffer. Finally the company had dominion – it exercised its lordship in the place of the Lord Jesus and His kingdom, creating the injustice of which the Bible speaks.
What is frightening to me is that I have known, been part of, and led Christian churches which functioned exactly like this company store. This is why we are taught to pray daily, effectively, and fervently that “thy kingdom come Thy will be done, on earth!…(Matthew 6:10). Tradition itself can become a ruling force. It is a system that says, “We have a certain way of doing things that cannot be disturbed.” Tradition tends to cultivate a false sense of importance, belonging, and identity…The apostle Peter struggled with tradition. He saw the kingdom and was commissioned to leadership by Christ. However, when the Judaizers arrived from Jerusalem, Peter caved in to their pressure of tradition. Even though Peter’s faith knew better, the thing had arrived from Jerusalem, the pressure of which influenced and changed his conduct, causing Peter to refuse to be associated with Jesus and then with the Gentiles (see Galatians 2:12). Think of it! If it can happen to Peter who walked with Jesus, it can certainly happen to us.
Many of us have responded to tradition in a similar manner. It is a kind of pressure, a ruling force, the power and strength of which is enormous. Only the person who has a clear sense of the kingdom, one who has security, identity, and belonging in Christ can resist the sheer strength of the ruling force when it exerts its influence upon us. This allows us to understand the necessity of placing our love and affection on the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only our love for Him that is strong enough to resist the pressures to conform (see Romans 12:2).
THE CENTRALITY OF THE CROSS – Martyn Lloyd-Jones
For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.
2 Corinthians 5:14
Everything proceeds from the cross. A Christian is a man who glories in the cross. If the cross is not central to you, you are not a Christian. You may say that you admire Jesus and His teaching, but that does not make you a Christian.
The apostle tells us that the cross governs his view of himself and that he has a new view of himself as a result of the cross. This is one of the most glorious aspects of the doctrine of the cross. It gives a man an entirely different view of himself.
Now, how does that happen? If you read 2 Corinthians 5, you will find that he there expands this aspect in a particularly clear manner. He has two great things to say: “Wherefore,” he says in verse 16, “henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.” That is one. But here is another in verses 14-15: “For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”
What he is saying in that chapter is all summarized in verse 17 when he puts this astonishing statement before us: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” And among the “all things” that have become new is man’s view of himself. This is one of the most glorious deliverances a man can ever know, to be free and delivered from himself.
THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD – Arthur W. Pink
Unfaithfulness is one of the most outstanding sins of these evil days. In the business world, a man’s word is, with exceedingly rare exceptions, no longer his bond. In the social world, marital infidelity abounds on every hand, the sacred bonds of wedlock being broken with as little regard as the discarding of an old garment. In the ecclesiastical realm thousands who have solemnly covenanted to preach the truth make no scruple to attack and deny it. Nor can reader or writer claim complete immunity from this fearful sin. In how many ways have we been unfaithful to Christ, and to the light and privileges which God has entrusted to us! How refreshing, then, how unspeakably blessed, to lift our eyes above this scene of ruin, and behold One who is faithful–faithful in all things, faithful at all times.
“Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God” (Deut 7:9). This quality is essential to His being; without it He would not be God. For God to be unfaithful would be to act contrary to His nature, which is impossible: “If we believe not, yet He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13). Faithfulness is one of the glorious perfections of His being. He is as it were clothed with it: “O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you??” (Psa 89:8). So too when God became incarnate it was said, “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” (Isa 11:5).
What a word is that in Psalm 36:5, “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” Far above all finite comprehension is the unchanging faithfulness of God. Everything about God is great, vast, incomparable. He never forgets, never fails, never falters, never forfeits His word. To every declaration of promise or prophecy the Lord has exactly adhered, every engagement of covenant or threatening He will make good, for “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Num 23:19). Therefore does the believer exclaim, “His compassions fail not, they are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam 3:22,23).
Scripture abounds in illustrations of God’s faithfulness. More than four thousand years ago He said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Gen 8:22). Every year that comes furnishes a fresh witness to God’s fulfillment of this promise. In Genesis 15 we find that Jehovah declared unto Abraham, “Your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them … But in the fourth generation they shall come here again” (vv.13-16). Centuries ran their weary course. Abraham’s descendants groaned amid the brick-kilns of Egypt. Had God forgotten His promise? No, indeed. Read Exodus 12:41, “And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.” Through Isaiah the Lord declared, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (7:14). Again centuries passed, but “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Gal 4:4).
God is true. His Word of promise is sure. In all His relations with His people God is faithful. He may be safely relied upon. No one ever yet really trusted Him in vain. We find this precious truth expressed almost everywhere in the Scriptures, for His people need to know that faithfulness is an essential part of the divine character. This is the basis of our confidence in Him. But it is one thing to accept the faithfulness of God as a divine truth, it is quite another to act upon it. God has given us many “exceeding great and precious promises,” but are we really counting on His fulfillment of them? Are we actually expecting Him to do for us all that He has said? Are we resting with implicit assurance on these words, “He is faithful that promised” (Heb 10:23)?
BECOMING A CHRISTIAN – James Fowler
‘We are not referring to “getting religious,” or “joining a church,” or “believing and reciting correct creedal doctrines.” The issue we address is “becoming a Christian.” What must one do to become a Christian? In one sense, there is nothing anyone can DO to become a Christian. Everything necessary to become and be a Christian has been done by Jesus Christ, which is why He exclaimed “It is finished!” (John 19:30). It is only by the grace-activity of God in Jesus Christ that the opportunity of becoming and being a Christian is afforded to mankind. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). There is no human performance or effort that can effect the spiritual reality of becoming a Christian. Becoming a Christian is not a matter of external physical attachment to a social organization called a “church.” Nor is becoming a Christian effected by mental assent to historical or theological tenets of belief. Behavior modification and ritualistic repetition are not the essence of becoming a Christian. Becoming a Christian is a spiritual reality that transpires in the spiritual core of our being. Our “spirit and soul and body is to be preserved complete” (I Thess. 5:23) in Jesus Christ. The most basic need of man is not physical rejuvenation, or psychological adjustment, or social improvement, but spiritual exchange and regeneration. Because all of mankind begin their physical lives spiritually “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1,5), the primary need of man is to be made alive spiritually. The figurative expression that the Bible uses to illustrate spiritual enlivening is the concept of being “born again” (I Peter 1:3,23) or being “born from above” (John 3:3,7). When Jesus told Nicodemus, the religious ruler of the Jews, that he needed to be “born again, from above” (John 3:1-7), he reverted to the literalism of physical obstetrics. As a “natural man,” though extremely religious, he failed to understand spiritual things (I Cor. 2:14). Man’s primary need is not more knowledge and education, nor is it self-realization and self-improvement. The need of man is to be re-lifed with the very life of God in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God gives life (II Cor. 3:6) to our spirit, causing our spirit to be alive (Rom. 8:10) with “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). One who thus becomes a Christian “passes out of spiritual death into spiritual life” (I John 3:14). The spiritual life that the Christian receives is the divine life of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (I John 5:12). This “eternal life that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:23) is the spiritual life that Jesus came to bring (John 10:10) to restore man to God’s intent for humanity. Eternal life is not a commodity or state of existence that we receive after we die physically, but is the life of Jesus Christ in the Christian presently with an eternal continuum of perpetuity. Spiritual re-lifing, or regeneration, occurs in the spirit of man. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). “The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). A spiritual union is effected whereby “one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (I Cor. 6:17). The singular reality that constitutes becoming a Christian is the presence of the Spirit of Christ in the spirit of an individual who receives Him by faith. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9), i.e. he is not a Christian! This indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in the spirit of an individual is the life and presence of the Person and Being of the risen Lord Jesus. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to evaluate whether they were really Christians, by asking, “Do you recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5). The spiritual mystery of the gospel is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27); the basis on which Paul declares, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” (Gal. 2:20). When a person is “in Christ” and Christ is “in them,” they become a “new creature” (II Cor. 5:17), a “new man” (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), raised to “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4) by the presence of Christ’s life in their spirit. They have a new spiritual identity as a “child of God” (Jn. 1:12; I Jn. 3:1,2,10), “sons of God” (Gal. 3:26), Christ-ones or Christians.