What Does it Mean to be One IN Christ?

 

unity-in-christFor as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:27-28, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

We are IN Him because we were baptized (Grk. baptizo – immersed or submerged) INTO Christ by the Spirit. Many have been immersed into water in a ceremony without being immersed into Him and they struggle all their lives trying to be “good” Christians. On the other hand we who have believed into Christ (the true meaning of John 3:16) are immersed in Christ! We have put on Christ just as a swimmer “puts on water” when he dives into the pool! Do you want to put on the full armor of God? It is the armor of Christ! Put on Christ and you will be wearing His armor, too. The sooner we quit seeing ourselves as separate from and outside of Him, the sooner we will walk totally by faith in Him.

In this state of being in Christ, we are no longer separated from each other by gender, nationality, religion, distance or even age. All things that were lost by Adam and Eve in their relationship with our Father and each other when they fell have been recovered by the power of Christ’s death and resurrection as we now dwell in heavenly places in Christ just as they dwelt with the Father in the Garden of Eden.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ …and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (Eph 2:4-6, ESV2011)

We might even live on a different continent and many time zones away from another dear saint that we know in Christ, but that doesn’t mean that we live separate lives if we are both in the Son. Paul wrote that in Christ’s body we are members one of another, and when one member suffers all members suffer with them. When one member rejoices, all members rejoice with them. Neither time, distance, gender, nationality nor any other earthly institution or thing can separate us when we are knit together as one in Christ. The only thing that can separate us from one another and our heavenly place with the Father is unbelief, which pulls us back down into the realm where the prince of this world reigns and can torment us.

Do we have to be good enough to be one with and in Christ before the Father? No! The Amplified version makes it even clearer.

But God–so rich is He in His mercy! Because of and in order to satisfy the great and wonderful and intense love with which He loved us, Even when we were dead (slain) by [our own] shortcomings and trespasses, He made us alive together in fellowship and in union with Christ; [He gave us the very life of Christ Himself, the same new life with which He quickened Him, for] it is by grace that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation). (Eph 2:4-5, AMP)

The largest part of our salvation is seeing that we sit together in heavenly places in Christ and that all the “normal” things that once divided us in this world are gone! We have become a new creation, heavenly beings, because we are citizens of our Father’s kingdom (Philippians 3:20) and our fellowship is with the Father and the Son. Paul wrote something that we really need to understand and walk in if we are ever to be one IN Christ,

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Cor 5:16-17, ESV2011)

When I was a Catholic, we were taught to kneel down and look at earthly things when we prayed. We looked at statues and images of Jesus hanging on the cross or Mary or the saints for our inspiration. The problem was that these were earthly images and we were trying to know Him “after the flesh.” Even today among Protestants we read the Bible and think on Him and His earthly ministry 2000 years ago. We say, “What would Jesus do?” as if we could conjure up an image of what He would have us do in every situation. Isn’t this still trying to know Him after the days of His flesh on earth? If we never get beyond that, we can be every bit as earth bound as those Catholics who look to images of Him. Why do we gaze off into the heavens (see Acts 1:9-11) when we now are already seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus at the right hand of the Father? Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is in our midst. If we have a heavenly walk with Christ who abides in us, we will know what He IS DOING, and walk that out IN Him. We are new creatures in Christ not by our works, but by His mighty grace and the power of His cross in our lives. It is only our lack of faith in His completed work that holds us earthbound in our sins (falling short of the glory of God). We seem to have more faith in our weakness as sinners and humans than we have in His power to lead us with His Spirit. We fail every time when we look to ourselves or to another member of His body in a fleshly way instead of looking off from ourselves unto Him and seeing them as He does. I once had a pastor who told the elders of the church to quit being critical of how I seemed outwardly and look at my heart for God had shown this man who I really was despite all my outward struggles I was going through. We must know one another in Him after the Spirit, not after the flesh.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2, ESV2011 – emphasis added)

Dear saints, let us be heavenly minded IN Christ and not earthly minded in ourselves for this is where we will find victorious living together in the unity of the Spirit.

(T. A. Sparks wrote an excellent chapter on what it means to be beyond all our earthy bounds as we walk in the Spirit and fellowship IN Him, ( Divine Life Unlimited by Time and Space )

God’s Wonderful Expanding and Abounding Love

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Sunset over Mica Peak – Photo taken by Michael Clark

I think that it is safe to say that real Christian maturity is measured by the amount that God is present in a life-changing way within us. Paul wrote about this growth as “the increase of God.”

“Holding fast the Head from whom all the body being supplied… increases with the increase of God.” – Col. 2:19.

If God is love as John wrote in His letter, then it stands to reason that with an increase of God’s presence within us there would be an increase of His love as well! Paul wrote about this very thing.

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1Thess 3:12-13, ESV2011)

When God and Jesus come down and abide in us we feel their love in our hearts often so greatly that it overflows outward to others, breaking down all barriers that once were in us against others. Paul felt his heart ever expanding with the love of God and from that love he wrote to the Corinthian church about their lack of love for him and one another. They had many spiritual gifts which they held over one another as if they were personal trophies and even divided from one another in a party spirit claiming to be followers of either Peter, Apollos and or Paul. He rebuked them for their carnality because it was an affront to the love of God and the gospel of Christ.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians about his love for them and their lack:

Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians [we are hiding nothing, keeping nothing back], and our heart is expanded wide (KJV- enlarged) [for you]! There is no lack of room for you in [our hearts], but you lack room in your own affections (Greek – splagchnon – bowels). By way of return then, do this for me–I speak as to children–open wide your hearts also [to us]. (2Cor 6:11-13, AMP)

As we read in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen, they lacked the greatest spiritual attribute–they lacked the love of God. For many years after I became a Christian I followed the example of other Christians around me. Just as children follow the example of their parents, I followed those in church authority who were over me. My father had an expression, “Do as I say and not as I do.” Of course I did what he did instead. He smoked and drank and as soon as I joined the navy, I smoked and drank. Like the Christian leaders I admired, I pursued spiritual gifts, wisdom, Bible knowledge, ascending above my fellow believers, worldly power and notoriety — all to the stifling of my real spiritual growth — growing in the love of God.

In the above verse Paul spoke of his expanding heart as it opened wide with the love of God for the Corinthians. I also have been feeling this enlarging Paul wrote about in my own heart. I have felt the Source of that love within me growing even stronger in the last few weeks. For the last four or five years, God has had me focus on the unity of the Father and the Son and their desire for us to be ONE in them just as they are one. With this came a deep desire to know this strong unity with my fellow believers in Christ (See John 17:21-26). But as I went through these verses and meditated on them, the Spirit took me beyond the theme of spiritual unity into the reality of the love of the Father and the Son and how they love us and desire that same love to be in us. John ended that chapter quoting Jesus:

And I have declared unto them your name, and will declare it: that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:26, KJ2000)

Often when we read this verse we get hung-up on wondering what the name of God is which He declared unto them. The Greek word for “name” here is onoma which means “authority and character.” Jesus is not speaking of God’s moniker, but the very character of the Father that He lived out before them as His perfect Son. It is the rest of the verse that has caught my attention, “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them”! This is the goal of the gospel, dear saints, that we might not only be one with the Father and the Son, but dwell in their unity together and become instruments of their great love for one another. John wrote to the saints of God:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1John 4:7-8, ESV2011)

Paul felt his heart enlarging for the Corinthian believers, but they were closed off and did not reciprocate in love to him. What a heart pain it is when those whom we love don’t love us with the same open and enlarged hearts as we have for them.

The love of God is a very powerful thing. It is the greatest positive force on earth because it can change people into sons and daughters of God and even win over our enemies. Paul spoke of this love being in his heart, but also of it being in his “bowels.” This word in the Greek splagchnon, includes our whole torso and abdomen. I started feeling love’s overflow coming from my expanding heart and going further down in my body and rising up into face as well. There was a tingling from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet! Paul wrote about this filling as Christ totally fills us up with His presence:

May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love, That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God’s devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it]; [That you may really come] to know [practically,  through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]! (Eph 3:17-19, AMP)

Being totally filled with God and His love is a wonderful, all consuming experience that touches us in ways that cannot be easily spoken of with those who have not had it. Once our hearts have been enlarged by Him, the love of God can become all consuming because God totally fills us up with His presence. Austin-Sparks wrote,

What the Lord needs is an open pure spirit towards HIMSELF, and love toward ALL saints, the Lord will bring into His greater fulness where there is a genuine love one to the other – IN HIM. The sure way of being locked up and limited is to have a closed heart to any of the Lord’s children. LOVE is the way to spiritual increase. The Ephesian letter in which there is the fullest unveiling of heavenly truth in the deepest teaching concerning the Church, the Body of Christ, there is from start to finish the golden thread of LOVE running all through, this is significant when you consider what the letter contains.

(…)

The measure of our spiritual life is no greater than our heart; the knowledge that is in the head is not the measure of spirituality, the way for your release, emancipation, increase, abundance is the way of the heart. Spirituality is not mental agreement on things stated in the Word, it is the melting [welding] of one heart to another – to all saints. The devil has locked up a number of the Lord’s children as in a padded room of their own limitations; frozen their love by something between them and other children of God. The way out is by increase of love; and we shall remain locked, up until we are there!

“Speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into HIM, who is the Head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.” – (Eph. 4:15-16, A.R.V.)  (1)

Can you see here that the expanding of His love in our hearts also makes for the expanding of the body of Christ who share this love? This is true spiritual growth. This is also the growth of the church. The early church overflowed with the love of God and thousands were touched by their mutual love and were added to their numbers. The most effective evangelism happens through a body of believers who are in love with Christ, the Father and with one another. In “the information age” words are cheap and the world is full of them, but as the love of our Father changes us and overflows from our hearts to all who are around us, THAT not mere words will change the world.

The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another. – 1 Thess. 3:12.

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, (1Thess 4:9-10, ESV2011)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/002964.html

Our Fellowship Is Like a Wheel

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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. For some time the Lord has been teaching me about the nature of true Christian fellowship. Ever since I was born of the Spirit in 1970, I have loved my time with the saints of God and have made it a priority in my life. I was rewarded openly at first because I was seeking Jesus as He abode in other believers I knew. We were all young believers with our wonderful new found love for Christ bubbling out. Our fellowship with each other and with Jesus was filled with His love.  It was like living the Book of Acts as His love freely flowed between us.

But then one day after many months, Jesus said to me, “Michael, I have someone I want you to meet.” I thought, “Who could this be?” He then said, “I want you to meet my Father.” I about freaked out. I was raised Catholic, and in my mind God was like “The Great and Mighty Oz,” greatly to be feared.  I said, “Jesus, if I were to have a relationship directly with your Father, what happens to You?”  He then said, “Don’t you understand? This is why I came and dwelt among men, that they might be restored to my Father.”

This dialogue was a turning point in my relationship with God. Shortly after that I started experiencing Him not only as a loving Father in Christ, but one who rebukes and chastens those who are His sons. Many trials and hardships were to follow. The honeymoon time with Jesus that lasted for months seemed to be over. My flesh rebelled against this new phase of my relationship with Daddy. He was now taking me from spiritual childhood into sonship, and it was not fun (see Proverbs 29:17, Acts 14:21-22, and Hebrews 12: 7-11).

After that, heartfelt fellowship with other saints, grew very thin, for the most part. I so loved those early days of such sweet times with His saints that I went on searching for it everywhere I went, but it has often been disheartening. If I found fellowship with others in the churches, it never seemed to last. Today, I can see the depths of what was prophesied in the following passage, because this is what Father was doing with me.

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from among them, and be you separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. (2Cor 6:16-18, KJ2000)

He was weaning me from my dependence on church going! Not all that goes by the name “church” is THE Church. There is a great unclean mixture and many conflicting voices out there in Christendom and God was pulling me away from the confusion unto Himself.  Brethren, I am not the only one He has done this with. This is not an exclusive thing that has happening only to me. This is God’s way with His elect. He has separated to Himself a called-out people all through the scriptures (Enoch, Abraham, Moses, the children of Israel, David, the prophets, Jesus, the disciples, Paul and finally the ekklesia of called-out ones — His Church). Many of us have been called outside the camp unto Him and it is a great reproach to those who are still inside the camps of Christendom (see Heb. 13:11-14).

More Fine Tuning

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Recently God has been fine-tuning me regarding this thing called “fellowship.” He has had First John 1:7 on my mind almost continually. John connects fellowship with walking in the Light as Jesus is in the Light.  During this time I have learned much by watching the example of a dear saint who I have come to know in the last few years. This person has put fellowship with the Father and the Son first before fellowship with other believers. This was so strange to me that I didn’t know how to take it. It almost felt like rejection, because at times that devotion to Christ seemed to come between us. He had become this dear saint’s first priority. All my Christian life I have rarely found such devotion to the Father and the Son as with this person.

One other time I came up against this kind of devotion to God and His calling when I asked a dear older saint to please pray for me. Their answer stunned me. They said, “No! I do not take on a prayer burden for anyone unless God puts it on my heart. I have to hear it from Him.” Well, that gave me a lot to think about! We so glibly say, “I will pray for you, brother,” without giving it much thought. For the mature in Christ, obedience becomes a matter of spiritual survival because the enemy can load us up with all manner of “good things” we should do!

We all seem to put something else first before God, even “good” things like our well being, careers, family, friendships, even our churches. He has been showing me that looking for fellowship with other believers first is a near miss if we are to truly come into real fellowship with one another. John shed light on how spiritual fellowship works when He wrote about the priority that God demands before it can happen.

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light… if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:3-7, ESV2011 -emphasis added)

Let me be more concise and paraphrase John. “Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and the Son… God is light, if we walk in that light as HE is in the light we have fellowship first with Him and then with those who are also walking in His light.” John’s fellowship with the Father and the Son is what gave him the Light of Life because God is Light. John wrote to the saints from this same Light.  No one wrote about the love of God like John did. His priority was His fellowship with the Father and the Son, and that made all the difference between walking after the Spirit and walking in the flesh.

When we find a brother or sister who walks in God’s Light, what a find they are! We want to be around them all the time, but therein is the danger. We soon can put another person or persons in the place that our Father wants with us. We rejoice when we hear God speaking into our hearts by one of His servants, but the message we should be hearing from a true servant of God is to seek God FIRST (read 1 Cor. Ch. 3).

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” As a dear saint pointed out to me recently, here we see the priority our love and devotion should have–first for God, then others and finally ourselves. It is so easy to get this all turned around.

We Are Like Individual Spokes in a Wheel

About two weeks ago as I contemplated and prayed about where true Christian fellowship can be found, God showed me a picture of a bicycle wheel with its many spokes, all attached to one central hub. The hub contains the axel that every other part revolves around. He showed me that we who belong to Him are like the spokes on that wheel. We are further apart from one another out by the rim of the wheel than we are when we are closer to the Hub. Jesus Christ is our Hub we must all be attached to, just as He is the Vine and we are His branches! If we are not attached to Him, we wither up and die.  If our attachment is to one another alone instead of Him, our fellowship soon falls apart! What a parable this was for me. It explains why so many of my attempts at having fellowship with other Christians, even mature Christians, has failed. We do serve a jealous God.

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The above is a telling picture of our fellowship with one another with Christ as our Hub. The rim may be the body of Christ as the caption says, but it is also the part that is closest to the world. It is attached only to the spokes and not the Hub. No, the true body of Christ is attached directly to Him and the rim is their outreach to the world. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. Our attempts to relate to worldly people and their ways can also draw us away from Christ if we make that our priority instead of our fellowship with Him. Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me.  And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:23-22 – emphasis added). Our witness to the world that Jesus is the Christ all hinges on our individual unity and fellowship with the Father and the Son, not the world. Ezekiel prophesied about the working of this unity.

Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. (Ezek 1:20-21, ESV2011)

Wow, what a picture of our fellowship with the Father and the Son, the Wheel inside the Wheel and the Spirit in and among us as we follow Him. May we forever live our lives within them and do their will.

The Problem with “Instant” Perfection

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When I was a newly born believer, I was so shocked that God did not instantly make me a perfect Christian. There was still this albatross around my neck called “the flesh,” even after experiencing the love and closeness of Christ in my life and even His healing miracles. Why didn’t He just do the “Tinker Bell” thing with His magic wand and make me an instant “super Christian’? I soon learned that the Christian life is a life chastened by trials and that God’s work of bringing forth His Son in us is a lifelong process.

Over the years I have asked Him why He chose this slow agonizing way to bring forth Christ in us. He has shown me that because of our Adamic roots, we have to learn obedience to the Father by the things that we suffer, often the consequences of doing it wrong. Even Christ chose to come in the form of a lowly servant.  We reason, “but wouldn’t God have made Him more useful for His purposes if He had come with the power of a Roman Emperor or High Priest?” No, He forsook that kind of power to show us that a man born of a woman in the lowest social position can overcome everything that is of Adam and learn obedience to the Father through suffering.

So why is it that God does not make us like the angels, perfectly obedient to Him? The answer can be found here in this description of Satan:

You are the anointed cherub that covers; and I have set you so: you were upon the holy mountain of God… You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, till iniquity was found in you… you have sinned: therefore I will cast you as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy you, O covering cherub… Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty, you have corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor: I will cast you to the ground, I will lay you before kings, that they may behold you. (Ezek 28:14-17, KJ2000)

How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, who did weaken the nations! For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the farthest sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet you shall be brought down to sheol, to the sides of the pit. (Isa 14:12-15, KJ2000)

If one of God’s perfectly created beings could be corrupted by his own beauty and wisdom, how much more we who have been born in the likeness of sinful Adam?

God has chosen to bring forth upon the earth–the very domain of Satan–a Son who was first a helpless baby and then a man who had “no form or beauty that any man should desire Him” (see Isaiah 53:2-3). He was the proto-type of many sons and daughters He would bring into full glory by overcoming trials and weakness through faith in His Son.

This life of weakness and living death, dear saints, is for one purpose—so we learn that except for the grace and mercy of God working in us, we would be our own worst devil, capable of the worst sins and pride. God has already lost a third of the angels to this delusion of worshiping their own greatness and perfection and He is making sure that we have the mind of Christ and not Lucifer in His kingdom. He is working by making us weak, humbling us so that we rightly assess our old natures, despise them, and call on Him to do whatever it takes to bring forth the spiritual maturity of His very own Son in us. He wants an unconditional surrender to His perfect will and for us to abide in His wonderful love. We love Him because He first loved us and gave everything He had to save us from ourselves.

So What Is “Perfect” for Us When it Comes to Fellowship?

As I was mulling this over this morning, it became evident that our idea of perfection and God’s idea of perfection are not be the same. Jesus was made perfectly obedient through the things that He suffered. He was also made perfect in love while surrounded by doubters, sinners and twelve disciples who often didn’t get what He was teaching them. To one of them He had to say, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” In all honesty, they ALL desired the things of the typical Jewish male — for Messiah to come and set up a worldly kingdom with them in charge — not so different from another one who said, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God [the angels and the people of God]: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation”? Some of us have come across that delusion, first in bad church leadership, and finally having to admit that it was in us!

No, dear saints, God uses our imperfection and humanity so that our “iron” sharpens another saint’s “iron” and we call out for Him to form His perfectly forbearing love in our hearts. God puts us with other people (even in marriage) who are not perfect, but that have been made “perfect” in their imperfections to be used by His power to change us! Even Jesus cried out, “Oh you of such little faith. How long must I suffer you?”

In God’s wonderful plan He has been able to turn the tables on Satan by using our flesh to humble us and work forgiveness in our hearts for others just like us. Like Joseph said to his brothers when they came before him in Egypt, “But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.”

Body life in the body of Christ is not something perfect in our way of thinking, but it is perfect in His if we live in close enough proximity to one another and dwell together in transparency. Fellowship is designed to bring us into His perfection as we work through our own imperfections and those of our fellow saints. John wrote:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:7-9, ESV2011)

Dear saints, may we look upon the imperfections in one another and see the hand of God working. It is easy to find fault with one another, but it is best to look for those things that are “…true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things… and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Phil 4:8-9, KJ2000)

Unity in Christ’s Light…Coming Into Full Stature

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…until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ. (Eph 4:13, NLT)

God has one goal for each of us and that is to grow up in the Lord until we measure-up to the full stature of His Son. That cannot happen without the unity of His saints (See John 17:21-23). What is Christian unity? Does it happen when we reach 100% church attendance on any given Sunday? Or does it happen when we all adhere to the “articles of faith” handed down by the home office of our denomination? Maybe it happens when all the local churches (as they did in our area) agree to have a great rally together at the local fairgrounds one Sunday each year. All these things were totally foreign to the early church, yet they had a unity in the Spirit that caught the attention of the world around them. They were even accused of turning the world upside down for Christ.

Oh, how far this thing called Christianity has fallen! How about we start with just two people walking together in unity for openers? How often do we see that in our Christian experience? Many of us who “have a ministry” are still Lone Rangers at best and it shows our weakness to the spirit realm. Our “ministry” is still all about us! It is interesting to me that most of the examples of effective ministry in the New Testament are found when two people walked together in the Spirit of God. Wouldn’t this be good place to start? Maybe we should be praying that God puts us together with another saint so we can both prayerfully support one another as we encourage each other to focus on Christ and what His Spirit is saying and directing us to do.

God has no Lone Rangers when it comes to walking in the power of the Spirit much less the unity of the Spirit, yet we totally overlook this in modern Christianity. A person who walks alone is an easy target for the enemy and “one-man band” ministries fall every day. In Mark we read a very interesting thing that Jesus did. “And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth two by two; and gave them power over unclean spirits” (Mark 6:7, KJ2000). It was being sent forth by Him in pairs that they were given power over the works of the devil. When will we ever learn, dear saints?

We don’t know how long Adam walked alone in the garden with God until God observed, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” In Ecclesiastics we read:

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up… and if one prevails against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Eccl 4:9-12, KJ2000)

Two saints walking together in the Spirit of Christ are that threefold cord. Unity in the Spirit and walking in the transparency of the truth of God He calls “walking in the light” and it is imperative if we are to know the fellowship that Jesus shares with His Father. In John’s first letter we read:

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:5-7, KJ2000)

First, notice he did not write, “If you walk in the light as He is in the light…” He wrote we! If we walk in the light of the Father and the Son, the light of the Spirit that He defines as doing the truth, not just talking about it, we will have fellowship with one another. All through Christendom we see people desiring fellowship and not finding any meaningful form because they overlook this one important prerequisite, walking in the light of the Spirit. Allowing God to shine His marvelous light into our hearts seems to be too great a price for most of us. John put the problem this way:

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are worked in God. (John 3:19-21, KJ2000)

Revelation by the Spirit

It is one thing to read the scriptures and another thing to have them revealed to us by the Spirit of Christ. When we walk together in the unity of the Spirit, we soon find out that His marvelous light starts showing us things that He wants us to walk in and understand so that we can enjoy the unity of the Father and the Son. We soon start experiencing our fellowship around the deeper things on God’s heart.

And their eyes were opened, and they knew him… And they said one to another, Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? (Luke 24:31-32, KJ2000)

I believe that the unity of the Spirit in revelation is what was meant when Peter wrote,

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; to which you do well that you take heed, as unto a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of one’s own interpretation. (2Pet 1:19-21, KJ2000)

Here in this passage we see light, revelation and fellowship among the saints of God who walk in His light together.  They don’t try to be complete in themselves, have their own private interpretations, or compete with each other. We need to have the light of God shine into our darkened hearts! Darkness attracts darkness and Light attracts light. We need the Day Star to arise in our hearts as we fellowship together in the Father and the Son.

Praying in God’s Love

James gave us a key to keeping our unity alive in the Spirit.

 “Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart]. The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].” (Jas 5:16, AMP)


When we walk in unity with the one that God puts us with, we soon find that totally opening up to one another in transparency is imperative if we are to continue to walk in the light. Two people who hope to walk this way must be so crucified to themselves that they can trust one another with their deepest secrets and know that the other person will not use these things against them or turn away when we dare to “hang out their dirty laundry.” We dare to reveal such intimate things so that we can pray for one another and be healed of what caused these slips and missteps in the first place. There is one thing needed for this to happen–God’s agape love that knows no selfishness and lives for the good of others. There is tremendous power over sin when we pray for one another in this kind of unity.

The Christianity most of us have experienced in the churches rarely knows what it means to worship God in Spirit and in truth, but what a blessing it is when we dare to embrace and seek the truth with one another and truly walk in His all-revealing light. But this can only be experienced between two hearts that have been broken and crucified in Christ. May these hearts find one another by the power of God. Amen.

Bondservants of God… to be Led by the Holy Spirit

by Michael Clark and Susanne Schuberth*

Bondservants of the Lord pic

Austin-Sparks rightfully observed,

Many things are being constructed to which the Name of the Lord is being affixed – things which appear fine and great and like “the Church,” but which are destined to collapse when God’s hurricane and fire test every man’s work. Good works – philanthropy, hospitality, reform, education, religion, relief, etc. – may be the products, or byproducts, of what is called “Christian civilization” …and things for which to be profoundly grateful… but let us not confuse these with “a new creation,” regeneration, a being “born from above.” (1)

Today the highly visible church systems of men have become something that has a life of its own with the leading of Christ’s Spirit among them a rare thing. There is no resemblance of what calls itself “church life” today and what happened when the Holy Spirit was poured out on those who believed in Christ which we read about in the Book of Acts. All of our best attempts to even duplicate what they had back then will fail for one reason, they are our best attempts! Either Christ builds the household of God upon Himself, The Rock, as its foundation and enlivens what He builds or it is a sham subject to the eroding winds of time and the whims of presumptuous men (See Ephesians 4:14), doomed to live without His blessing on it and subject to the wiles of the devil and his delusions.

Jesus left the Holy Spirit in His place to give life, instruction, direction and power to His body (the ekklesia of God) and His presence was so powerful in those early days that those who lied to Him dropped dead and no one dared to add themselves to those who were called and empowered by Him for fear! The body with its many God-gifted members moved in the unity of a normally functioning human body. In fact the human body is a parable of what our Creator meant the body of Christ on this earth to be… unified, coordinated, obedient to the Head as it builds itself up in the love of God. No amount of human organization can cause this to happen.

T. A. Sparks continues,

The Church is nothing which man can build by any resource in himself personally or collectively. The Church is an organism, not an organization: “Behold, I show you a mystery – we are members of His flesh and of His bones.” Build that, if you can! Launch that; organize that; “run” that! It cannot be done. It is the spontaneous outworking of spiritual forces released… in the acceptance by faith of tremendous facts concerning Christ – facts which are proclaimed out of experience in the power of the Holy Ghost. Not the theological Christ; not the doctrinal Christ; not the Christ of the letter; much less the Jesus of history; but the Christ of Eternity in all the meaning of His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into the Throne of God revealed in the heart by the Holy Spirit – this alone is authority to preach, to serve, to occupy position, to “build” in relation to the House of God. It is folly to spend time and strength otherwise. It is wisdom to labor on this foundation. (1)

Paul wrote,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… individually as he wills. (1Cor 12:4-11, ESV2011)

 Today, few who believe in Christ wait on the Holy Spirit to empower us as HE wills, rather we put our eyes on something that titillates our flesh and makes us feel important as we answer our own call. Or if we yield to the will of God in our initial calling, how soon is it until we cast our eyes on something that is more pleasing and appealing to our natural man who wants to maintain his own preeminence and wars against the Spirit within us? We get away with this in today’s church because even church leadership to whom we look to as an example has often fallen victim to such things.

In my own case, I started out with what some called a “ministry of helps.” I was with a street ministry in the early ‘70’s that had many homes and facilities for those being saved off the streets and it was my gifting to rejuvenate, repair and maintain them. I spent many an hour re-plumbing and unclogging sewer pipes in basements and such, out of the sight of those who had the more glorious positions in that ministry. You might say that I was the guy behind the scenes who kept it all going with my mechanical, electrical and plumbing skills. After leaving that group I was often the church janitor and handy man that kept “things” unplugged the sound system, etc. going.

God did not anoint me to write for him for 22 years after He filled me with His Spirit and even then my writings were not allowed to go public for another eight years. It was then a brother found me and put what I shared with him on the web. I did not call myself to this more visible ministry of blogging book writing and website publishing and to this day I am quite content to remain in obscurity in the back woods of northern Idaho, unknown by others even in my own small town.

Somebody high in Christian circles observed a few years back with pride that in the sixties men were pastors. In the seventies they became teachers. In the eighties they became evangelists and in the nineties they became prophets and finally in the beginning of this century they became apostles. It is as if church leadership is a military or corporate machine in which we are entitled to go up the ladder and achieve higher ranks and titles regardless of our original callings. Far from the minds of leadership today is the downward calling of God regarding our flesh ever descending until we, as Paul, we see ourselves rightfully as “the chief of sinners” not the chief of the apostles. Truly, Paul called it right when he said, “The flesh wars against the Spirit…”

T.A. Sparks continues,

When one called of God to do the work of an evangelist assumes the role of a teacher, or vice-versa, or anyone marked out for this particular functioning attempts to do that, or when one goes beyond their scope and assumes any prerogative which is not theirs by Divine ordering, they are in the way of an arrested ministry, and more, they will be landed into serious confusion. People and things – otherwise occupying a vital position in the Divine plan – put into their wrong places have the Divine unction withdrawn from them… The Holy Spirit’s method is to set His seal upon us as we move according to His leading; not according to our fancy, choice, aptitude, predilection or ambition. (2)

 

Bondservants of the Lord

The apostle Paul wrote,

“For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (1 Cor 9:16-19 ESV)

How many bondservants of the Lord do we have leading in the churches today? How many men will do the work that God called them to without pay or remuneration from those they serve? How many find presenting the gospel free of charge out of obedience to Christ enough reward in itself as Paul (see also 2 Thes. 3:7-12)? How many leaders seek reward for their efforts because they have not been called by God and have not been entrusted by Him with their stewardship? Today, men in our pulpits shamelessly beg for money and support. If God calls a man to be His servant He meets their needs and as David observed, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (Ps 37:25, KJV). It is not righteous for men and women to approach the service of the Lord as if it is a worldly profession, using worldly methods to ascend and succeed.

T. A. Sparks continues,

“Christian service” has come to be a realm in which all the acquisitive, ambitious, obtrusive, assertive, self-seeking, and numerous other elements of the natural man have been vented and taken hold. It has created a system in which human distinctions are the order of the day. Yes, and much more which it is too painful to mention.

We need an adjustment of our minds by a true spiritual perception of the real nature of service, and it will be well for us ever to remember that all work for Christ is not service to Christ (emphasis mine). A child may be very well-meaning and industrious in its “helping [out] mother”, but poor mother may find rather more work created than done.

Now let us say right away… with emphasis… that the indispensable and basic thing to real service is THE SERVANT-SPIRIT AND THE SERVANT-MIND. The matter of service is infinitely more than busy-ness in religious causes, earthly activities in Christian interests; it is the accomplishment of a heavenly will and Divine purpose which registers its impact in the breaking of another foreign will and destroying the works of the devil. This is the force of “obedience” and the “not my will” …and this is the servant-mind and servant-spirit. (1)

Paul wrote,

“For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.” (1 Cor 7:22-23 ESV)

We are called to be the bondservants of Christ not of soulish, self-promoting men. We have been bought by Him as His own with His precious blood. No man has the right to rule over us in the place of Christ’s Spirit. Yes, we are to obey the laws of the land in which we live (see 1 Peter 2:13-17), but we are always to obey the leading of the Spirit and when these two are in conflict it is better to obey God than man.

For a while I was a part of a church that was founded in California by a charismatic leader from the Hollywood area, in fact he was involved in the music industry there before God called him. He was highly respected in the ranks of the church, but he often taught things that were not scriptural and his will and writings were respected by the church leadership under him without question. Our pastor would quote him before he would quote the Bible and was constantly reading his books and often attended seminars taught by him. He was definitely a “company man.” Finally, when I showed him how what he was teaching was contrary to the scriptures the pastor got offended and I told him that this man did not own me. I knew that I was already purchased with the blood of Christ and that I was to obey His Spirit and not the whims of men with their winds of doctrine. We were finally forced to leave that church and since then that pastor was forced to step down in shame and the denomination’s founder and his son (the heir apparent) both died not long after we left. Jesus said, “Every plant that my Father has not planted shall be rooted up.” We are called to be the bond-servants of Christ and obey the leading of His Spirit for He alone is our Savior and Lord. Sparks continues,

The Lord’s need is to have bond-servants… even though the extreme pressure at some time might make them say that they would “no more speak in this Name” … they find that they cannot forbear for long; but cost what it may, they must be in it and at it – the fire is in their bones and zeal of His House eats them up. May we be such, and may the true ground and motive of this fellowship in service be:

“I love, I love my Master,
I will not go out free!
For He is my Redeemer,
He paid the price for me.
I would not leave His service,
It is so sweet and blest;
And in the weariest moments
He gives the truest rest.

“My Master shed His life-blood
My vassal life to win,
And save me from the bondage
Of tyrant self and sin.
He chose me for His service,
And gave me power to choose
That blessed, perfect freedom
Which I shall never lose.” (1)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/001520.html

(2) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/003697.html

* I want to give a special thanks to Susanne Schuberth who sent me these quotes from T. Austin-Sparks and the quotes from Paul that inspired me to write this blog. Once again she and I are hearing the Lord say the same things. What a blessing to walk together in the unity of the Spirit.

It’s a Matter of Life and Death… the Love of God

Solitude and LightThis year has been a blessing as Father continues to draw us closer to Him even though the trials have often been severe. As His love has grown in me, so has the scope of suffering and joy grown as my heart has been opened to feel what is going on in the lives of those He has placed me with in His kingdom. They have been a great encouragement to me as we have prayed for one another and seen Him move in our lives. I would like to thank my wife, Dorothy, for her steadfast encouragement and proof reading and editing skills in these articles I write. I would also like to give a special thanks to Susanne Schuberth and her blog* and the many times God has used her to inspire the things that I have shared as we both have grown in Christ and have encouraged one another.

 The events of this year so remind me of this stanza from “Amazing Grace,”

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I [we] have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me [us] safe thus far,
And grace will lead me [us] home.

I was recently reading something by T. Austin Sparks that really spoke to me about the nature of our Father’s working in our lives and the pattern of terrible lows, followed by His wonderful heavenly highs.

We can have many times of glory in our Christian lives. It is progressive, progressive in this sense: that it is an increasing matter. The Christian finds that from time to time he or she is taken into a deeper, deeper experience of trial, affliction, sorrow… something deeper and more difficult than anything before, and it’s a time when there does not seem to be very much glory; the glory seems to be veiled. There is nothing necessarily wrong about that, dear friends… That is the common experience and that is recognised as being true to Christian experience. But, you see, God is the God of glory and we are called unto His eternal glory and what the Lord means by this is more glory. The deeper the trial, the greater the suffering, the greater the glory, presently. It is only to bring about the glory in fuller measure. It is progressive, like that. And so there seems to be no end to these going-down experiences, but equally there is no end to the coming-up experiences. If there seems to be no end to the dark experiences, be assured that there is no end to the light [enlightening] ones. (http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/004310.html)

As I read this, something that Paul wrote took on greater meaning.

For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:11 RSVA)

For we are like a sweet-smelling incense offered by Christ to God, which spreads among those who are being saved and those who are being lost. For those who are being lost, it is a deadly stench that kills; but for those who are being saved, it is a fragrance that brings life. Who, then, is capable for such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 GNB)

Who can survive a life such as this, and who is sufficient to understand God’s ways with us? We can only endure such dying in Christ by faith, because it is designed to kill that old Adam in us with whom we have so closely identified, so that only the life of Christ remains in us and is manifest to all who know us. To those who perish we smell like death and they despise us for it, but to those who are being saved, we are the smell of His Life that brings life. Mary broke that alabaster box of perfume and poured it all out on Jesus and totally blessed Him with her act of love, and the smell of that perfume filled the whole house and blessed everyone in it. This is the nature of our own sacrifice in the plan of God… our being broken and poured out on and for Him.

Death and glory go hand in hand, but for those who belong to Jesus, death never has the final word, but rather the glory of God manifest in us through Christ. Just before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you” (John 17:1 KJ2000). Jesus glorified the Father by the sweet smelling sacrifice of His own life in obedience. What love for the Father that He would not only lay down His own life, but that He might redeem all of God’s precious creation from sin and death. I love the fragrance of Christ in His saints!

Jesus went on to pray:

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:22-23 ESV)

So we not only see that death is a prerequisite to glory in the economy of God, but is also needed to fully live in the love of the Father and the Son. Oh, what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we should be called the children of God and made one with the Father, the Son and one another in perfect agape love!

Thank you all for your kind and loving comments on our blog this year. May He continue to conform us into the image of Christ as we go from death to death and life to life and may He also draw us ever closer together in His great love.

* https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/