“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are things that God has revealed to us by His Spirit.” 1Cor.2:9,10.
What our natural senses cannot reveal, God’s Spirit reveals. If God’s Spirit reveals to us, what our natural senses cannot reveal, then can you see that what the Spirit wants to reveal to us, is not who we are in the natural. God wants us to see ourselves as He sees us, and we can only do that as His Spirit reveals to us how He sees us.
The Holy Spirit is given that we would see what God sees. What God sees is so extraordinary, so beyond our natural understanding, that the Holy Spirit has to, over time, lead us into the truth of what God sees. “Lead into” is a phrase Jesus used of the Holy Spirit in John 16:13: “When He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will lead you into all truth” (guide, show the way). Jesus at times would say to His disciples, “I have much to say to you, but you are not yet able to bear it. (John 16:12)
We see also in the ministry of Paul, that he too at times could not speak certain truths to some, as they were not yet at the point of being able to receive what he had to say. One notable example of a group unable to receive truth because of spiritual immaturity is found in the letter to the Hebrews. Many of the New Testament letters are written to Gentile believers, but here the writer pinpoints a truth that the Hebrews are, (to use Jesus’ phrase), “not yet able to bear”. He writes…”For though ]by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.” Hebrews 5:12,13
It is interesting to read v13 in the New Life Version: “Anyone who lives on milk cannot understand the teaching about being right with God. He is a baby.” If you don’t understand the teaching on righteousness, the teaching on how you are already as a believer, right with God, righteous in God’s sight, then you will live merely natural religious lives; continually trying to please God and therefore continually thinking about whether you are pleasing Him or not. You will thus find yourself living continually self-conscious and sin-conscious, rather than living from the heavenly realm, living seeing by the Spirit what God sees. it is impossible to live a generous life while living self-consciously because the self-conscious life is by definition a self-ish life!
So, what is it that the Spirit shows us that God sees? What is it that is beyond any natural hearing or natural sight or natural religious understanding, that we need the Holy Spirit to see? 1Cor.2:10 declares it to be..“the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are things that God has revealed to us by His Spirit.”
In other words, the Holy Spirit wants us to see what God sees and what does God see? He sees what He has prepared; Christ and Him crucified and He is content with what He sees, for He sees that Christ and Him crucified is enough.
- The more clearly we see what He sees, the more we enter that contentment, that rest of a God who has ceased from His works and wants us to cease from ours (Heb.4:10).
- The less clearly, we see what He sees; that Christ and Him crucified is enough, the less our lives manifest the joy and rest of God over His finished work.
Churches that continually minister to their congregations’ messages about what God requires of them, gradually bring the vision of believers down. Down from the joy of the spiritual realm, where they can see that what Christ did was enough to present them holy and blameless before God (Col.1:22) and down into the natural realm, where they see themselves as far from holy and blameless. But that is not the realm to see by, for those who were risen in Christ. “Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 [a]Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Col.3.1-4.
The Holy Spirit seeks to lift the eyes of those risen, to see now from heaven’s perspective, to see from Christ’s finished work. To see from Christ is to see clearly how complete and finished is the work He has done. Keeping our eyes fixed on how He sees us, empowers us to grow up into how He sees us, to grow up into who we now are in Him (Heb.12:2, 2Cor.3:18). The work of ascension ministries in the Church is precisely to keep pointing the Church to Christ (and not themselves), so that they grow up into who they already are in Him, for He is their very life TODAY, not some day soon (1Cor.6:17, Eph.4:11-24, Col.3:4). Ascension ministries are about raising believers to live in ascension life, to live from the life they have been placed in. Only by the Holy Spirit can we see this life and live from where we have been raised to; seated and hidden with Christ in God (Col.3.3)
To the believer who started off seeing by the Spirit and has now been “brought back to earth”, legalistic Christianity (try harder to be holier and God will bless you) appears to offer him a way to draw nearer to “holy and blameless”. It appears to offer him wings. But in effect it has clipped his wings, for having been blinded to the finished nature of Christ’s work, he is being led back down to the self-righteousness “earthly” religious life that naturally minded believers “see’ as the best they can “do” for God. Paul made clear to the Galatians what he thought of trying to finish in the flesh a life that was birthed from the Spirit and what he thought of any “gospel” that encouraged such striving. (Gal.3:1-5).
Only by the Spirit can believers see themselves as God sees them (according to what Christ has done). God sees that what Christ did, (which God had prepared from before time began, “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world”) is enough; enough for us to be who He says we are. So, to preach the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit, is to declare to all men what God sees; ‘Christ and Him crucified and that enough’; enough for whosoever who believes in Him, to live as God sees them to be; reconciled to God (2Cor.5:19-21).
What I now want to show you, is that when the Gospel is not watered down, but preached in all its glory as a message entirely about what God has done, it is in itself the power for men and women to “be” whom God has made them to be, in Christ.
Some news is so good, that you don’t have to demand a response to it. The news itself is good enough to produce a response. In 1945 for several days throughout the UK, people were waiting for news which they had yearned to hear for 6 long years; the official announcement that the war was over. When that announcement finally come over the airwaves on 8th May 1945, the government did not have to instruct the people on how to respond. No-one could stop them responding! The whole country began to dance and laugh and party and cry and eat and drink and party again. They had not lived like that all throughout the war years. They had not lived like a people who had attained victory, a people who had attained peace, they had lived as a people who were waiting for victory, waiting for peace. But now they lived as a people in victory and in peace. What give them the power to live that way? The good news itself, that the war was over.
Paul wrote to the Romans; “I am not ashamed of this gospel for it is, in itself, the power of God to save people (Rom.1:16). Paul knew the message itself was powerful enough to bring people into a new life because unlike religion, it is not a message about what people have to do for God, but of what God has done for all people; won victory and peace! The war is over. God is not against you, He is for you! He is so for you, that He came down and took your life, your humanity, into Himself, so that you may now live in His life, His Spirit, simply by believing this good news of what He has done. Even better, you now can believe, because His faith, His life, His very Spirit, is carried and imparted in the message, the Gospel, the word of Christ. “Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” Rom.10:17 (NASB)
Through the Word of Christ, the Gospel, the Holy Spirit gives you the ability to hear what no ear has heard and to see what no eye has seen and to believe what no mind has ever imagined!
- When the Gospel is continually proclaimed as the news of what God has done for us, it is the power for people to live in victory, in peace, in Christ.
- But when the Gospel is continually proclaimed as news of what God wants us to do for Him, then we end up with a people waiting; waiting to live in victory, waiting to live in peace, waiting to live in Christ; a people living a life apart from the truth, apart from the reality that God sees.
It is the proclamation of the Gospel as good news that produces the life of victory and peace, the life of God, in people. If Churchill had come on the radio on 8th May and announced to the U.K that the war wasn’t over yet but required one more push from everyone, one more big effort and we will get there,… would there have been singing and dancing? No! because….
The life of victory and peace, is only imparted by the news of victory and peace.
Water down the Gospel and you get a watered-down life. What changes men and women, is seeing what God sees and what God sees, is that what Christ did was enough to bring us into union with God. This is what the Holy Spirit leads men into seeing; the sufficiency of Christ and Him crucified, in opening the way for us to share in the life of God, the shared life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How? By believing its true.
Now to this you might respond; “Aha! I knew it. Despite all your talk of “good news” and no ‘work’, I knew that there was still something ‘I’ had to DO. You are telling me that there is ‘work’ I have to do. I have to believe!”
In response, I would say two things.
- The ‘work’ God requires of you is to believe. These are the exact words of Jesus recorded in John 6:29, on being asked what were ‘the works’ God requires of men; “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
- But this is where the good news gets even better. God doesn’t expect anyone to believe by themselves! God is not a god who expects or demands that blind men see. He is the God who opens the eyes of the blind. (Luke 4:18)
The power to see what God sees and so live from the reality God sees; live as someone ‘hidden with Christ in God’ (Col.3:3), comes in the message itself.
The very faith of God; the belief that God believes, comes by hearing and “hearing by the Word of Christ” (Rom.10:17). Faith doesn’t come by hearing the news about Moses or Abraham or David. Yes, “God, at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, but He has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” Hebrews 1:1. It is in the message of what Christ has done, comes the power of God, the Spirit of God, to enable even the least believer to live at a level of intimacy with God greater than the greatest of the old Testament prophets; John the Baptist (Matt.11:11)
So we have been saying that it is the truth of the good news of what Christ has done, that carries the power of God, the Spirit of God, the grace of God, that enables us to see what God sees and so live in light of what God sees.
God the Father wants us to see ourselves in a new light, in light of what He has done for us. In this light (which the Holy Spirit gives through the Gospel), we can see clearly that we are saved and called to a holy life NOT BECAUSE OF ANYTHING WE HAVE DONE. This truth is beautifully and powerfully declared by the apostle Paul, in his second letter to Timothy. “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 2Tim.1:9,10. NIV.
Our salvation and our calling are “not because of anything we have done”. Those seven words effectively confirm that the gospel abolishes religion! (Heb.10:9). Every religion in the world, (including legalistic Christianity), proclaims that God relates to men according to what they have done and so points men to themselves as their hope and leaves them wondering whether they have “repented” enough, “believed” enough or “confessed” enough, to satisfy God. This despite the fact that the New Testament declares that no man can repent, or believe, or confess Christ as Lord, apart from the grace of God, apart from the enabling presence of God’s Spirit (John 6:44, Acts.11:18, 1Cor.12:3). The apostle John declared this in John 1:13 when he described how Christians are born; “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Ephesians 2:8,9 confirms that if salvation was in any sense our doing, then we would have something to boast in, but in fact it is entirely a work of God’s grace so that “no man should boast”. If you want to boast, you will have to go back to religion, for it is a product of the natural mind and so to the natural man, the idea that God will bless his efforts seems eminently reasonable and fair, as his hope has always been in himself. To the natural man (apart from the revelation of the Spirit), to the ‘religious’ mind, a gospel that declares salvation to be “not because of anything you have done”, sounds both foolish and offensive (1Cor.1:23), not to mention dangerous (Rom.3:8, Rom.6:15).
To all this you might say, “But I thought I became born again because I did something. After all, I made a decision for Christ, didn’t I?” How can the Holy Spirit declare that I was saved and called “not because of anything I had done”? Good question!
Have you ever noticed how often, when asked a question, Jesus replied with a question of His own? When I asked Him about the decision I had made for Him, here is the answer I got…..a question! That decision you made for Christ, the one you say, “I made”. Which ‘I’ made that decision? The old ‘I’ or the new ‘I’?
Remember in Gal. 2:20, Paul spoke of two ‘I’s; the old ‘I’ and the new ‘I’. He wrote, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” He is declaring in effect, “The life I live now is I; yet not I, but Christ living in me.” Can you see that the old ‘I’, the ‘I’ that was crucified with Christ, was the ‘I alone’, the new I that rose up, was the ‘I in Christ’. One ‘I’ was of the first Adam and one ‘I’ was of the last Adam. (1Cor.15:45)
On that day when you stood and said ‘the sinners prayer’, or ‘asked Jesus into your life’ or said whatever you felt you had to say, which “I“ made that confession of faith? The I alone, or the I in God? (the I indwelt by the faith of the Son of God). It could not have been the old I, the ‘I alone’, the I of the first Adam because that I was dead to God, dead in his sin and incapable of confessing Christ as his Saviour. “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,” Col.2:13. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Eph.2:4,5.
Every person who is born- again is born “of the Spirit” (John 3:6). The power of the Spirit to bring people out of the Kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of the Son, (out of living dead in our sins and separated from God and into living in union with God), is imparted by the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ and Him crucified; the Gospel of His finished work, not the Gospel of your unfinished work!.
No wonder Paul was so excited about preaching the gospel, for He knew it to be in itself the power of God to save (Rom.1:16). No wonder He felt the love of God compel him to share such good news with as many as he could. No wonder he asked “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Rom.10:14,15.
God’s Spirit, through the preaching of the Gospel, brings light for men to see themselves as God sees them. By this light (revelation) we can begin to see ourselves..
- not in light of all the things that we have done, or have been done to us, but
- in the light of what God has done for us, in light of Christ and Him crucified.
That’s why Paul, at the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians, told them that while he was with them, he determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, to see them in that light, not in light of their behaviour, but in the light of God’s purpose and grace, given to them in Christ since before the beginning of time (1Tim.2:9). Men and women who see by the revelation of the Spirit, who by the Spirit know the heart of the Father, know that God does not save and call people according to what they have done.
- He is the God who called a coward hiding in a hole in the ground, “Mighty warrior”. He saw Gideon according to His purpose and grace and not according to what he had done.
- He is the God who called an escaped murderer “The deliverer of my people”. Because He saw Moses according to His purpose and grace and not according to what he had done.
- He is the God who called an adulterer and a murderer “a man after my own heart” because He saw David according to His purpose and grace and not according to what He had done.
- He is the God who called a man who broke his promise and betrayed Him in His hour of need “a shepherd of my sheep”, because He saw Peter according to His purpose and grace and not according to what He had done.
God is not hesitating to invite people to share His life, until He first inspects what they have done, because He doesn’t see people according to what they have done but according to His own purpose and grace already given to them in Christ Jesus.
He sees them according to what He has done.
Why do we need the Holy Spirit to see? Because we see people according to what they have done. God sees them according to what He has done.
Paul resolved to see “all men” after the Spirit, not after the flesh and to speak to them words of the Spirit of God, not mere human wisdom. He resolved to see no man after the flesh (2Cor.5:16). That’s why despite the appalling immoral behaviour of that church, Paul did not open address his letter to the sinners in Corinth, but to the saints in Corinth.
- Human wisdom (religion), always speaks to you about what you need to do.
- The Gospel of the Spirit of God, speaks of what Christ has done.
Listen to our opening verse again; “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are things that God has revealed to us by His Spirit.” The things God has prepared; these are the things God reveals to us by His Spirit.
- Religion points to you and says DO.
- The Gospel points to Christ and says DONE.
I believe the apostle Paul’s strategy to strengthen the Church is timeless and transcultural, (Ireland or India or Iceland) because it was never based on natural human wisdom, but in fact on raising the vision, the thinking of men and women, out of the natural realm (of what they have done and are doing ) and into the heavenly realm of God’s eternal purpose and grace towards them in Christ, or as he described it in Ephesians 4; to grow up believers into the head, the mind of Christ.
Ephesians 4 is famous for its description of the five-fold ascension ministry gifts in the church of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher and often we get so focused on those ministries that we forget their purpose.
- Bridges have a purpose; to enable people to get to the other side of a natural obstacle. Bridges are not built simply so that a country can claim to have bridges.
- Ascension ministries are not about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These ministries are all about getting believers over a natural obstacle; their natural earthly thinking and into a new way of thinking and a new way of living, called Ascension life; life in Christ.
If we want to see more Christ-like Christians, it is not enough just teach them how to avoid the dirt, we must give them the wings to ascend out of it and the gospel gives us wings. That little rhyme that John Bunyan wrote 400 years ago, still goes to the heart of why some Christians live their whole lives trying, while others live trusting.
Run, John, run, the law commands,
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.
Let the finished work of Christ be preached in all its dangerous foolishness, for its time the church that came down to earth with a bump, rises up again with a shout that will bring down the walls of religion “Christ and Him crucified and that enough!’