If then you were raised with Christ.

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Col.3:1-3.

There is an old saying which claims that it is possible to be “so heavenly minded, that you are no earthly good”. You will find that nowhere in the Bible. In fact, in the opening verses of Colossians 3, the Holy Spirit is calling the Church to rise into her heavenly mind, if she is truly to be earthly good. I believe the power that enables the Church to rise, into the mind of Christ, is still to be found in the same place John Bunyan found it 400 years ago and which he summed up so powerfully in just two lines.

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.”

In our generation, our access to natural resources and our ability through technology to communicate our message, is far beyond anything John Bunyan would have known, or indeed any previous generation of the church  Yet I wonder if from eternity, will it be seen that we used those resources to merely command more people than ever before……to run, rather than bid them fly and give them wings?

At the end of the day, has all the weight of these natural resources, simply tied us more to the earthly realm? Has every subtle addition/condition/tradition/innovation we have added to the Gospel, so estranged us from the grace of God, (as Paul warned it would), that we have become classroom experts on flying, having accumulated so much excess natural baggage, that we are no longer able to get off the ground in our thinking? Do too many of our meetings now largely consist of us exhorting each other to run faster up and down the runway, in order to experience something that feels like wind on our faces? And when our engines are finally burnt out from so much revving and so little flying and we collapse in a heap, disappointed and disillusioned, what are we to make of it all? How did our great expectations and our actual experience come to drift so far apart?

If after all we have been through in recent years, you feel like you are coming to the end of yourself, that you just can’t do this ‘ministry’ life anymore, then I am excited for you, for that place called ‘the end of yourself’ is where we were each first lifted by His Spirit and despite the fact that we may have heard a thousand messages since, that have exhorted our flesh to ‘get back in the game’, the end of yourself was not the beginning of our walk in Christ, it is our walk in Christ, for the Spirit still says “As you received Him, SO walk in Him.” (Col.2:6)

We are never to move on from the Gospel, for the Gospel itself is the very power of God unto salvation. Leave the Gospel behind and you leave the power behind; the power to rise above your earthly record, the power to resist being defined by what you do, the power to be whom God declares you to be, rather than spend a lifetime trying to become whom the world, (even the church), want you to be.

But I have come to see that in my life, repeatedly, I have left the Gospel behind, without even realising I had done so. Each time I have succumbed to the pressure to produce results in man’s time. Each time my own fears have driven me to try and become someone great for God, I end up not in green pastures by still waters, but running around in the barrenness of busyness, trying to cover my self-consciousness with good works, always becoming but never being.

In the first Adam we fell, from being to becoming and the spirit of this fallen world, the spirit of performance, drives us into the earth, to try and build our way to heaven, our towers of Babel, our monuments to our own strength. But in the last Adam we rose, from becoming to being and the Spirit that comes from God does not us drive into the earth, He leads us upwards, into the mind of Christ on us, up from becoming to being; being whom He declares us to be in Christ. The fruit of Ascension ministries was always to be ascended lives.

I have found that it’s all too possible for me as a believer to be estranged by this world from the reality of our union with Christ, in the words of Paul, to be “seduced away from the simplicity that is, ‘in Christ’ (2Cor.11:3) and not just once but many times. But I have also found that the days where I despair of ever being able to produce a godly life, are also the very days that I am restored to the truth; that I myself have no power, no life, apart from Him (Eph.2:8,9). Days that bring us to the end of ourselves, bring us back to the place of revelation; the revelation that ‘I cannot live the Christian life’ because ‘A stronger I has never been the solution, it has always been the problem!’ (2Cor.1:8,9)

This explains why preaching that seeks to motivate the I to do better, (that effectively throws people back onto the strength of their flesh), can produce much blood, sweat and tears, but never has the power to lift people out of themselves (Gal.3:1-5). Just because a preacher got you to flap harder, doesn’t mean you actually ascended any higher. On the contrary, keep pointing people to themselves and you will raise a people so self-conscious and so dependent on their own will power, that in their weary minds they continue to feel as alienated from Christ, as the earth is from the heavens (Eph.4:17,18). The longer Martha worked in her kitchen FOR the Lord, the further she felt FROM the Lord, until she became so focused on herself, that she could no longer see the reality that all of heaven could see; Christ in her midst, to GIVE, not to take. The reality that heaven could see that day, was that God in flesh was standing in Martha’s front room. But anyone passing her house and catching a glimpse of her in the kitchen that morning, would have seen nothing in her demeanour, that reflected the presence of God.  Well Church….”If then you were raised with Christ…..”

I believe those words are a clarion call to the Church of every generation, but especially to ours, for we live in the information age, where we are being deafened and blinded by so many earthly calls to do good, to set our strength, our wits, our experience, all our natural resources, on urgent temporal earthly matters, not eternal heavenly ones. In fact, we are so busy doing earthly good, that being raised with Christ apparently will just have to wait, till all our doing is over. To the earthly minded, being raised with Christ can only come at the end of our story and to such a mind and from such a mind, the gospel will always sound like mere instruction on what you need to do, to earn this coming raise.

It comes somewhat as a rude awakening to such minds, to discover that from heaven’s perspective, our death and resurrection aren’t merely the epilogue to our lives, they are the prologue (Col.3:3). We were born from above, not just so that we could return above at the end of our days, but so today we could live from above, live from Heaven’s reality. Even if the Church has forgotten, the Holy Spirit still knows, that it was not an earthly message about getting to heaven one day that caused the Church to first break out of the building it had locked itself into (Acts 2:3,4). It was the glorious, unearthly, foolish, message that can only be known by the Spirit, that we have been given something better than heaven one day. “Look! Behold! Today! We have the King of Heaven… living in us!”

To preach the gospel in the power of the Spirit, is not to present people with the promise of God, but the very presence of God, for we have not been given the Spirit that we would merely preach an earthly message more eloquently (1Cor.2:4). So Church, if then you were raised with Christ….  

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