“When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1Cor.2:1,2
Do you know why there is no power in human wisdom? Because the best human wisdom can do, is see you and I as “mere men” (1Cor.3:3). If we as Christians, are continually spoken to as mere men, the great danger is that we will believe that and so only behave like mere men (Prov.23:7, 1Cor.3:16). There is no power in the preaching of human wisdom because there is no anointing of the Holy Spirit, no power of God, on human wisdom, for why should the Holy Spirit anoint a message that is understandable without Him? The only message worth hearing, is a message that you need the Holy Spirit to understand, for with the Holy Spirit comes power.
That’s why messages of human wisdom sound really good to the natural mind but they do not have the power to change you, because the Holy Spirit cannot operate through messages that point you…to you, as your hope of change!
“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words” (1Cor.2:4). Messages of human wisdom can sound wise and persuasive, but we need to ask ourselves a question about every message we hear in the year ahead. No matter how wise, and persuasive, and eloquent what I heard was, no matter how much scripture was used to illustrate all the points, did what I just hear leave my faith on me and my performance, or on Christ and Him crucified? Is my faith now resting on a sinning less life, or on a sinless life?
The apostle Paul in this passage declared in effect to the Corinthians “I did not come to you with human wisdom because your faith cannot rest on human wisdom.”
No time of year is more charged with hope of change than the first weeks of January. It is human wisdom to believe that we must change ourselves. That’s why faith cannot rest on human wisdom, because human wisdom will give you no rest. All those wise and persuasive words, are always about what you need to do to change and once you start down that road, it’s a never-ending road because you never know if you have done enough?
A gospel that is about what you need to do is very complicated. Religion is very complicated. You can be in it for years and still be no wiser as to what on earth God wants from you. That’s because as long as your focus is on yourself and what you need to do for God (which is where most religion fixes your gaze), then you will remain effectively blind to what God wants you to see; how much He has already done for you! What God has provided can be summed up in four words; “Christ and Him crucified”.
The Holy Spirit is not pointing you to you and saying; “Look what needs to be done”. He is pointing you to Christ and Him crucified and saying; “Look what has been done!” (Hebrews 12:2). In truth, the more you think you have to do for God, the less you know Him. This is because to know Him, to be filled with His Spirit, is to totally be consumed by what He has done for you, not what you will do for Him (John 6:28,29).
That’s why when Paul said he determined to know nothing among the Corinthians except Christ and Him crucified, he was saying that he decided to only listen to the Holy Spirit, not human wisdom. Any preaching that points you to yourself, no matter how eloquent, no matter how many scriptures are quoted, is merely human wisdom because the Holy Spirit always points us to Christ and Him crucified! (1Cor.2:12).
If you are not at rest as a believer, if you are striving and struggling to change, then it is almost certainly because your faith is not resting on Christ and what He has done. The most likely reason for that, is that at some point in the past, the preaching of mere human wisdom moved your hope, off what Christ has done for you and onto what you are going to do for Him. There is no power to change in what you will do for Christ. There is no power in self-effort (religion). The gospel is not a matter of words but of power because the Gospel is a proclamation of what God sees. Through the proclamation of what God has done; Christ and Him crucified, the Holy Spirit can open eyes to God’s reality, to the way God sees and when you see what God sees….. you will be changed by what you see!
To proclaim the Gospel in all is fullness, is to speak therefore of things which cannot be seen without the Holy Spirit opening our understanding. What we then perceive, is that God is greater and more generous than any man has ever imagined (1Cor.2:9-16). These things are so naturally unbelievable, that you will either be changed or offended, for that is all the gospel preached by the early church did; either offended people or changed them (Acts 13:43-46).
Human wisdom points you to yourself and says in effect “You need to change your life to be a better person and here is what you need to do.” In other words, the emphasis is on you, changing your own life. Such a view of life is inherently self-centred, for without a revelation of God, man remains consumed with self.
Paul told the Galatians that until Christ came, we had been held in bondage (slavery) to such human wisdom, what he described as “the elementary principles of this world.” (Gal.4:3). The idea that it is down to you to change yourself and so to save yourself, is an elementary principle of this world. It is the principle of men who believe they do not have a Saviour to save them or change them. So, how are they supposed to change themselves or save themselves? That brings us to another elementary principle of a world that does not see Christ as their Saviour. You change or save yourself…by what you do!
The Gospel directly contradicts the idea that any man can fundamentally change himself for the better. It declares that we are “saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no man can boast.” (Eph.2:8,9). We are saved by grace, through the person of Jesus (Titus 2:11)
Imagine you are out of your depth and you can’t swim. Someone comes along to save you. What do you have to do? You have to let them save you. Continuing to struggle to save yourself, is now only going to hinder them.
When people asked Jesus what they should be doing, to do what was required by God, His response was never to give them something to do, but someone to believe in. He never pointed them to themselves, but to Himself; their Saviour. How do you let grace save you? You need to stop trying to save yourself, for all your efforts to save yourself are only pushing away your Saviour. Efforts to save yourself, push away the grace of God!
Paul wrote to some Christians in Galatia who were getting religious. They had started to believe that there was something else they needed to do to be saved, besides just let Jesus be their Saviour. Paul used an interesting phrase to describe what was happening to them in Gal.5:4. He said; “You are estranging yourself (distancing yourselves) from the grace of God”. “You have fallen from grace”. It is significant that Paul didn’t use this phrase with the immoral, “badly behaving” Corinthian church, but with the legalistic, “properly behaving” Galatian church. That’s because if Grace is your saviour, then you don’t fall from grace (your saviour) by sinning, but by insisting on saving yourself! (Gal.3:2) There is not a depth of sin you can fall into, that the grace of God cannot save you from, but we need to let the grace of God save us.
Have you ever seen lifesavers swimming out and trying to save someone, who is panicking? The biggest problem they have, is in trying to stop that person from saving themselves, long enough to let them save him. Keep sitting under messages that infer that your salvation depends on your behaviour and you won’t be able to help yourself. You will quietly start to panic and your flesh will not lie still, but will jump into action to save yourself through good works (1Cor.15:56).
Here is an elementary principle of the Kingdom of God; You don’t save yourself by what you do. You let yourself be saved. You let the Saviour do all the saving. Many of us as Christians, let Christ save us many years ago, but we have got caught up since by the spirit of this world (1Cor.2:12), (that elementary principle that you are saved by what you do). We have quietly slipped back into trying to save ourselves through what we do and that life, that self-centred, religious life, is effectively pushing away the grace of God, so that we are not enjoying being saved as Christ intended we would. Do you know that if Christians enjoyed being saved more, the Church would shine so much brighter in this world and be much stronger in every area, for “The joy of the Lord is your strength”. (Neh.8:10)
In every generation of the church, multitudes of believers have started out in joy because they could see that they couldn’t and didn’t save themselves. But after spending years around Christians, whose focus is on doing Christianity, they somehow can’t see as clearly anymore that they have been and always will be, saved entirely by the grace of God. Over the years as their spiritual eyesight has faded, so has their joy. The apostle Peter wrote that if we forget we were cleansed from our sins, then we become short-sighted to the point of blindness. (2Peter 1:9)
The less you see the change that Christ has achieved, the more you will try to achieve change yourself. God’s way of changing men is not through what they do, but through what they believe (Acts 16:31).
This basic principle of the world, that you can change yourself by what you do, is so pervasive, that it is has always been found affecting God’s people, in every generation (Gal.3:1-3). When the spirit of the world, which is man-centred, begins to influence people, you will always see an emphasis on doing, over believing. Churches are full of this sort of teaching; “Here is what you need to do, in order to see change come into your life”. It sounds really helpful and so it’s easy to miss the fact that that type of message is directing your gaze down off Christ and what He has done and back onto yourself and what you are going to do, as your hope of change. Can you see yet, that any view of you changing your life, is a self-centred view of life?
Any gospel message that is man-centred, rather than Christ-centred, is powerless. The apostle Paul would have been tempted many times to read the riot act to some of His churches, to command them to do certain things in order to change, but he discovered from experience, that real change, real transformation, real power, only comes from directing people to Christ, not to themselves. Hence his comment to the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing, while I was among you, only Christ and Him crucified.”
If you took an honest look at your list of things to do this year, that you hope will make you a better Christian, can you say that the emphasis of that list is on your doing, or on Christ’s doing? Why is that important? Because when it comes to change this year or any year, the greatest change in a person’s life, comes as they receive the change that God has already brought about, rather than try to achieve change themselves. The spirit of the world says “Achieve”. The Spirit of God says “Receive”. In other words, our hope isn’t in what we are going to do, but in what Christ has done.
It’s such a powerful thing to have your hope in what has been done, rather than in what is yet to be done. Hope deferred into the future makes the heart sick. Prov 13:12 declares that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Who is the tree of life? Jesus! A longing fulfilled is…Jesus. Jesus is …a longing fulfilled. Are you longing for change? Jesus is that longing fulfilled! If you look to what Jesus has done, you will see all the change you will ever need! But if your hope for change is continually deferred into the future, because you have let it be placed continually on either what you or others are going to do for God, your heart is going to get sickened.
Multitudes of people leave churches every year because they are sick of waiting for change. You can only keep telling people for so long that great change will come to their lives one day, if they keep doing x, y and z. After they have done x, y and z for a few years and no great change has come upon them, they get heart sick. When the Bible talks about the heart, it is not talking about the organ in your chest, but your capacity to believe (Prov.4:23). If you sit under messages, month in month out, year in year out, that keep pointing you to yourself, that boil down to continually telling you what you should be doing more of and what you should be doing less of, in order to please God, those messages will effectively keep dropping your gaze off Christ. In not seeing clearly the great change He has already brought into your life, then your heart, (your capacity to believe, your faith), will be sickened, because more and more it has come to rest on what people are going to do, rather than on what Christ has done. Faith cannot rest on human wisdom, as human wisdom always wants to tell you what you need to do. Human wisdom dressed up in religious clothes will even tell you what your faith needs to do!. So instead of resting, your faith jogs along until it is exhausted and then collapses for lack of rest.
If your hope for change is in what people are going to do, then you will always be waiting for change. But if your hope for change is in the Cross, then you will always be seeing change, for it is in seeing and continually seeing Christ and Him crucified, that people are changed. In part 2 we will look at what this means.