Do We Desire the Kingdom of God or the Kingdoms of Men?

He is Faithful

Today we see well-meaning men and women building their kingdoms and pushing their agendas all in the name of Christ all through Christendom. Some put their hopes in who gets elected in the world’s political systems. Some are so bold (and blind) as to name their ministries after themselves, yet we take this all to be perfectly normal. Can you see a huge sign above the banks of the Jordan 2000 years ago reading, “John the Baptist Ministries”?  Can you see ushers seating all the people that went out to observe him in action, handing out baptism request cards, and taking up a collection (or two) at every “service”? Of course, all had to be done “decently and in order.” No, none of this nonsense was how the Spirit wind moved through John the Baptist. He upset the whole religious and political establishment and told everyone they needed to repent as he prepared the way for Christ to appear. The religious establishment didn’t take too kindly to him either.

How easy it is for us who call ourselves “Christian” to hold on to our worldly mindsets, values, earthly ambitions and views on what the Father’s kingdom should look like and how it should operate. Such was the case with the disciples of Christ. They all knew that when Messiah came, He would set up a new world order with the Jews at the top of the heap and themselves as its administrators. How wrong they were! He made it clear to Pilate at His trial that HIS kingdom is not of this world! Jesus finally told the disciples that He had to go up to Jerusalem, be rejected by the leaders of the Jews, be tormented by them and die the death of the cross. Their minds went “tilt”! Peter even took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him saying, “Be it far from you, Lord: this shall not be unto you.” (Matthew 16:22, KJ2000).

Do you remember where it is written that Satan stopped tempting Jesus for a season after His temptation in the wilderness? That season was now over. Satan was back in His face in the form of a beloved disciple who Jesus loved, trying to get Him to go against the will of His Father and save Himself. Until then, Jesus had always said regarding going up to Jerusalem, “My time is not yet come.” What was Peter thinking? Jesus answered Peter’s challenge by saying, “Get you behind me, Satan: you are an offense unto me: for you consider not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Yes, Satan wants us to spare ourselves and save our lives by finding our niche here on earth. To this mindset Jesus went on to say to the disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” After this Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not: and when you are converted, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32, AKJV).

Even though we might confess–as Peter did–that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that is not enough. Down deep inside we have to ask ourselves, “Have I truly been converted?” Or do we, like Peter, still desire and consider the things of men and operate in the ways of men–ways like seeking popularity, fame and wanting worldly safety and comfort more than the plan that God has for our lives? When Jesus bids us to take up our flesh-killing cross and follow Him, will we deny ourselves all these temptations of Satan and His world system and do the “unreasonable thing” even in the eyes of our fellow Christians? When God allows him to sift us, will our faith in Christ survive? It will if we submit to Christ’s preparatory work of the cross in us. We know for sure that when God calls us to walk in His kingdom way, we will hear those who are still in the world and not truly converted calling us to be “reasonable” and spare ourselves as Peter did with Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well:

“…the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” (1)

God has no use for our flesh and its talents (see Romans 7:18). They are useless to Him. The more talented we are, the larger obstacle these talents become and the greater temptation to “do something great for Christ” without His Spirit leading us.

How many of us American Christians have heard the lie of Satan that we as Christians are called to live a happy, successful life in the eyes of the world as a living advertisement on why they should also be Christians? This is not the gospel of God’s kingdom, but rather a false gospel designed by Satan to keep us under his control in his kingdom. If we have bought into this, we are no different than Peter under the influence of Satan, desiring the things of men instead of the things of God. Yes, Satan desires the things that carnal men desire! The flesh of man wars against the Spirit of God and His Spirit wars against our flesh. Which side will our hearts come down on? That is the question.

If the cross has not yet met us in a real way and become a life changing crisis in our daily lives, we are still like Peter was. We have not yet been converted and we have not yet turned from the ways of the world in our hearts. T. Austin-Sparks wrote:

 You see it is a matter, in the first place, of the ground which is taken and occupied by the one concerned. When Peter took heavenly ground – “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” – he was in a very strong position. The keys of the kingdom of heaven, binding on earth and binding in heaven, were his. He was weak, and in a very weak position, when he took earthly ground, the ground of men, the ground of his own judgment and of his own selfhood. The ground taken decided whether he was spiritually strong or weak, and whether Satan had power over him or not. (2)

The flesh in man loves religion because religion gives him an opportunity to have the best of both worlds. With religion we can claim Christ as our Lord, yet remain the one in control of our lives, seeing His cross as a thing of the past and go after “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” After all, isn’t this our God-given “inalienable right”? This phrase from the Declaration of Independence is the opposite of desiring the things of our Father in heaven, yet you would think it came from the very mouth of Jesus Christ if you observe the lives and goals of American Christians. There is no life, liberty and true happiness outside of living IN Christ in obedience to and unity with the Father. We might think we are independent of Satan as we pursue the things of this world, but we are deluded and have not yet been converted in the eyes of God. We are still not seeking to find our lives in God’s kingdom nor His desires for us. Finally Sparks wrote,

 Then, if we are really going to come through to the place of spiritual power as did Peter, that ground of the enemy must continually be forsaken and refused. The enemy has to be robbed of that which will destroy us and give him power to destroy us, and we have to be very ruthless with anything that arises to give him that position and defeat God’s intention where we are concerned. This battle of heaven and hell, God and Satan, goes on in our souls, but there is for us this consolation, that we have a High Priest ever living to make intercession. We have a great asset in the continual intercession of the Lord Jesus for us. Let us close on that note of encouragement and assurance. (2)

May God continue to draw us ever deeper into Christ and out of Satan’s delusions in this world. Only then can we know the love and unity that is ours in Christ, the abundant life of which He spoke.

(1) The Cost of Discipleship, pp. 99

(2) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/000476.html

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“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” – the American Dream

Happy money womanIt is simple as this, “What is it that we find happiness and pleasure in?” The answer shows us the issues of our hearts. God is concerned with our hearts because their condition determines our final destination. Most Americans take the preamble of the Declaration of Independence as their God-given right. This determines the desires of their hearts and sad to say, our American thinking has permeated the world. Wikipedia explains.

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. The phrase gives three examples of the “unalienable rights” which the Declaration says has been given to all human beings by their Creator, and for which governments are created to protect.

These words have been used to justify the worldly pursuits of our soul natures and living however we like. Many have adopted a hedonistic lifestyle, “doing our own thing.” The mantra of the hippie generation of the ’60’s and ’70’s was, “If it feels good, do it!” A large part of the western society adheres to this philosophy today.

But is this the gospel of Christ? I think not, yet the gospel we hear preached in churches today has been heavily influenced by this kind of thinking. One of the most seditious things spoken among Christians today is, “After all, we are all sinners.” In parroting this line we make room for sin in our lives as if it is normal. We use it as an excuse to not grow up in Christ. Yet concerning this attitude John wrote, “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he [Jesus] was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” (1John 3:4-6, nrs).

The soul in man, also known in the Bible as the heart, is seen by God as something very contrary to life in His Kingdom. Jeremiah prophesied, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10, KJ2000). Because of its nature, the heart of fallen man cannot be trusted.

Now let us look at the real gospel of Christ and what Jesus actually taught,

 And he who does not take his cross and take the same road with me which I take, is not worthy of me. He who has found his soul-life, shall ruin and render it useless, and he who has passed a sentence of death upon his soul-life for my sake shall find it.  (Matt 10:38-39, Wuest’s)

This is not exactly the “seeker friendly” happy, happy gospel of today’s churches, is it? The word translated soul-life in this passage is psuche (from where we get the word psyche). How often have we heard a person say, “I am trying to find my life” or “I just want to be happy”?  When I started to follow Jesus, I had the idea that I could use all my natural talents and abilities as I saw best to further His kingdom. That’s what all the rest of the Christians I knew were doing. I remember them saying, “Man, if that rock star (football player, etc.) would just get saved, what a witness he would be for the kingdom of God!” No one showed me the words of Jesus where He said, “Apart from me you can do nothing!”  and “The flesh profits nothing.” Our natural abilities and propensities are the very life that Jesus said must be crucified as we take up our own God-given crosses. Christ’s death on the cross dealt with our sins, but the cross He gives each of us to take up as we follow Him, if we truly are His followers, deals with all soulish things in us, both the “good” and the bad. What is the outworking of this cross in our lives?  Paul put it this way, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This is the real gospel of Christ! We lay down our soul lives and take up His. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

And what is this higher life that we gain from the working of the cross on our soul lives? It is the very life of Christ in us. Yes, we can “pursue happiness,” but the happiness we are to have comes from pursuing the fullness of God as we deny ourselves:

“Behold, happy is the man whom God reproves; therefore despise not the chastening of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he smites, but his hands heal.” (Job 5:17-18, RSV)

“Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God.” (Psalm 146:5, RSV)

“Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) is the man who reverently and worshipfully fears [the Lord] at all times [regardless of circumstances], but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” (Prov 28:14, AMP)

Contrary to popular religious sentiment, all our suffering as the saints of God does not come from the devil. As a good father chastens his children for their own good, God does not spoil His kids. Yes, we are the King’s kids, but the gifts He gives us are not the soulish kind that titillates our flesh, but rather the greatest gift of all, conforming us into the image and likeness of His Son.

“Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know [intimately knowing] the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hos 6:1-3, NRS)

“Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1John 3:2, KJ2000)