The Complete Christmas; in Him…you!

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,  and in Him you have been made complete,”                                                                                 Col.2:9,10

Those three little words sum up the whole purpose of Christ’s coming; so that …in Him you!

Ephesians 4 declares that the effects of the five ‘ascension’ ministries in the Church is to so root and ground Christians in the truth of their identity in Christ that they can no longer be “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine” but instead “grow up into Christ” (Eph.4:14,15). In other words, that they will be mature enough not to be manipulated by anyone who tries to intimidate them or guilt trip them through fear. To see how real this danger was, we only have to read Paul’s letter to the Galatians; an eternal warning on how legalism can creep into a Christian community and leave them powerless and merely religious.

The gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are given to prevent this from happening, by ensuring that believers are equipped (Greek ‘katartismos’) and edified (Greek ‘oikodome’) (Eph.4:12). This is speaking primarily about the necessity of good teaching and for believers to be raised in a loving environment where they can witness and experience the power of the gospel to transform the thinking and so the lives of even the most hardened individuals. Such transformation can only follow a renewal of our thinking; a total change in how we see ourselves, the world and God. This allows us to live lives of confidence and generosity, not ignorance and selfishness (Rom 12:2). The foundation for such a life is the revelation of the believer’s union with Christ, the revelation that through Christ, we are not cut off from God and left to save ourselves, but are (entirely by His grace), as connected to God as the body is to the head (1Cor.3:11, Col.3:3).

From bitter experience, Paul had come to be convinced that without being rooted and established in this revelation, churches remained vulnerable to ideas based on worldly religious thinking. He knew that if a community of believers remain with their eyes fixed on Christ as their life, their life blossoms with the fruit of the Spirit (John 15:4,5). To be Christ conscious is to be union conscious, ever growing up “into the head” (Eph 4:15). It is to be persuaded by the Holy Spirit that we aren’t merely each living “separate” lives for God, but rather there is only one life that we are sharing in and that is the life of Christ (Eph.4:4-6).

But what happens when instead of being taught this continually and growing in the revelation of our union with Christ, churches are fed a diet of teaching that infers that separation from God (sin), is something that we have to work hard at preventing? What happens when more emphasis in teaching and practice is placed on sin (separation), than on Christ (union)? Think of a happily married couple who have eyes for no-one else but each other and are enjoying the peace, security and confidence of their lives together. Now imagine the husband comes home one day with an “idea”. He says that the last thing they would both want to happen is for one of them to start having eyes for someone else. Therefore, to prevent this from happening, each of them should now agree to start preparing a daily list to give to the other of any “straying” thoughts they might have had towards another person. In this way, by bringing their “sin” ever before them, this will keep their marriage stronger! Well, what do you think of that idea? In your opinion, would you think after six months of that focus, their marriage would know the same peace, security and confidence?

Separation consciousness cannot strengthen a marriage in the same way that love (union) consciousness can. It is a poor substitute. At some point the constant focus on finding fault will cause one or other of the partners to become defensive.

Separation (sin) consciousness inevitably leads to self-condemnation, which leads to an attempt to cover up. This attempt to “cover up” manifests in churches as self-righteousness. Keep pointing me to myself and soon all I can see is how well or how poorly I measure up to others. Keep going and the inevitable result is division. Now have a look at the body of Christ on the earth today!

The apostle Paul is very clear on the reason why believers do not grow up into union with Christ. “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” (Eph.4:17). Here he is not just telling, he is “insisting”, that believers, (those who are one with God in Christ, as connected to God as their body is to their head), stop thinking the way unbelievers think. They must stop thinking and so living as if they are separated from God because to think like that is futile. The Greek word translated “futile” is ‘mataiotes’ which actually means “devoid of truth” or “perverse”!

There is nothing more futile in this world that to see New Covenant believers (at one with God), act and pray like Old Covenant believers (separated from God). It is such a problem across the body of Christ, it has so dimed the light of the Church, that at River City Church I am afraid we insist on it in the Lord too, that believers grow up to live in the reality of their union with Christ, that they live and talk like sons of God.

  • We insist on treating and speaking to Christians as if they are as connected to God as their body is to their head. (Col.3:3)
  • We insist on speaking to you as if you are the very temple of the Holy Spirit. (1Cor.6:19)
  • We insist on speaking to you as if you have already been blessed in the heavenly realms with every blessing in Christ. (Eph.1:3)
  • We insist on no longer regarding you after the flesh but after the Spirit. (2Cor.5:16)
  • We insist on preaching the justification and the sanctification of the believer by the finished work of Christ, not by our unfinished efforts at church. (1Cor.1:30. Heb.10:10)
  • So we insist that in Christ you have already been made righteous by grace, and in Christ you have already been forgiven by grace, and in Christ you have already been healed by grace. (Rom.5:17, Col.1:14, 2:13, 1Peter2:24)

And we insist on speaking these truths to each other continually for this one reason, that although God has already freely gifted these things to us in Christ, by grace, it is by faith that we receive and walk in the reality of the ‘in Christ’ life and that very faith, that ability to receive what God has freely given, comes by hearing. (Rom.10:17)

Hearing what? By hearing the gospel; the grace of God in truth (Col.1:6). Faith doesn’t come by hearing what you need to do, or do better for God. Faith comes by hearing what God has done for you. This is why we teach Christians that they don’t need to give more, pray more or do more to receive from God. They only need to listen more to the enormity of what has already been freely given to man in Christ and that listening heals our hearts; our ability to believe and receive.

This Christmas, millions will remember that the baby in the manger was “the fullness of the Deity dwelling in bodily form’. But what excites heaven is when millions start to see that “in Christ” all the fullness of the Deity still dwells and guess who is in Christ now? Have a look in the mirror Church! For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,  and in Him you have been made complete,” (Col.2:9,10) Those three little words sum up the whole purpose of Christ’s coming; so that …in Him you!

Church, have a completely amazing Christmas, for ‘in Christ’ you are the amazing completion of Christmas!

Praying from heaven.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”                                            Mark 11:24

The prayers that most glorify God by their effectiveness, are not those which rise to heaven…but those which come from heaven! (Col.3:2,3). It is in discerning the voice of the Spirit, that we can begin to see how heaven sees and what we see is the magnitude of Christ’s victory and the scale of Satan’s defeat (Col.2:15). Such a heavenly perspective allows us to cease praying to victory and start praying from victory! (1John.4:4). The prayers that shake the Kingdom of darkness are those that proclaim its demise, not those that list its achievements! (1Cor.15:55,57).

Let us pray from the revelation that whatever the Spirit leads us to come to the Father for, has already been given in Christ, for in Him are not all the promises of God Yes and Amen? (2Cor.1:20). In Christ, have we not already been gifted every blessing in the heavenly realm? (Eph.1:3). This is why Jesus instructed His disciples in Mark 11:24, Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Hannah had cried out for years for a child. Through a word from Eli, the priest at the temple, revelation came and she saw her child as already given and her countenance changed and she went home and conceived (1Sam.1:12-19). In believing that she had already received…she received. Note Hannah’s faith was not in her prayer, but in the Word from God and even that faith was a gift that came by hearing! Let’s pray that many of us across the church, experience a fresh revelation of our union with Christ as already given, that we may conceive great fruit from that revelation. From the mind-set of union (the mind of Christ), we can begin to understand that the Lord is not asking us to do one thing for Him, but everything with Him. Let it be so too when it comes to prayer. Let us not come to Him saying “Listen Lord, we are speaking”, but rather “Speak Lord, we are listening!” (1Sam.3:10)

What is the mind of Christ on prayer? Listen again to what Jesus said in Mark 11:24, “When you pray, pray believing that you have already received what you asked for and it will be yours.” How could Jesus pray like that? Because He prayed knowing His Father. He didn’t pray in ignorance, He prayed in faith and faith can only operate when the will of God is known. How can someone be praying in faith, if they are in doubt as to whether what they are asking is in the will of God or not and so doubting whether He will give or not? (James 1:7). Because He knew His Father, when Jesus prayed, He would pray from a place of thanksgiving (John 11:42). This is the place we must pray from. It helps to live there!

Imagine if we believed that the only place we could pray from, the only place acceptable to God, was a certain building, on a certain street. Eventually, to save us the trouble of travelling to that building multiple times every day, we would consider moving there. How can we continually pray from a place of thanksgiving? Move to there! Start living from the place God prepared for us, this place called IN CHRIST, this place called UNION (2Peter 1:4), of ONE MIND with God. (1Cor.2:16, 1Cor.6:17)

How could Jesus always pray from a place of thanksgiving? Because He and the Father were of one mind entirely and so whatever Jesus asked for, was already as good as given. This meant that when Jesus prayed, He prayed believing that He had already received what He had asked for (Mark 11:24). When we pray from our spirit, joined to God’s Spirit, we are only ever asking what it is the Father’s will that we have! To bear fruit in prayer, we only need to remain, to abide, rooted and connected to the mind of Christ, through the Spirit (John 15:4.5). Apart from thinking the thoughts of God, we cannot speak the will of God and this is precisely why we have been given the Spirit who knows all things, even the mind of God. It is that we may think the thoughts of God and pray the prayers of God. Listen to how Paul described the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the Corinthians; “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, [e]combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” (1Cor.2:12,13) So, the best way to learn to pray, is to learn to think the thoughts of God.

This way of thinking is taught by the Spirit of God through “ascension ministries”, the ministries of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. The ministry gifts are of Him, to raise up a people who would live in Him. The Apostolic Church is known for believing in ascension ministries. But those gifts were not given that men and women may believe in ascension ministries. They were given that men and women would live in ascension life. What’s the point of believing in food, if you never eat.

What’s the point of believing in teachers, if you never grow in understanding. If believers are not rising into the mind of Christ, it is usually because the mind of Christ is not being communicated to them. How is a child to feel like a son, if he is continually spoken to as an orphan? How is a bride to think of herself as a wife, if she is continually spoken to as one separated from her husband? How is it possible for believers to grow up into the head, to start to live from our position of union with Christ, if we continue to think of ourselves as separated from God by our sins? (Eph4:14)

In that same passage that proclaims that our words are to be taught by the Holy Spirit, through the renewing of our thoughts, the apostle Paul warns that to speak or pray in this heavenly manner can only sound foolish to the earthly minded man. “But [f]a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually [g]appraised.” (1Cor.2:14).

I have often heard very impressive sounding prayers, where the believer praying is passionate, emotional, full of zeal ….but praying as if the life, death and resurrection of Christ achieved nothing. They pray as if the intent of their prayer is to get God to move, to bless us with some blessing that we have not yet received. Here is the gospel; God moved! As the song goes, He moved from heaven to earth, from the earth to the Cross, from the Cross to the grave and from the grave to the sky and then He moved again in the pouring out of His Holy Spirit into the spirits of every generation of the Church. Believer, God moved. He moved to you. Your move!

Only it is no longer your move alone, for now, because of the Cross (Col.3:3), every believer, everyone joined to the Lord, is one spirit with Him. This means that it is no longer you alone, but you “together with” God, you “hidden with” God in Christ (Eph.2:5-7,Col.3:3) who prays.

This is how the body of Christ is to pray; as Christ prays, “of one being, one mind, with the Father”. When challenged as to the key to His effectiveness in ministry, Jesus pointed to the fact that He was not speaking “on my own”. He was thinking and so speaking from a mind in union with the Father. In John 8:28 He declared, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me,'” Again in John 12:49,50 He repeated this truth; “For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

What those two scriptures and others establish, is that Christ and the Father were of one mind, so if we are to pray as the body of Christ, then we must pray as Christ prayed, we must pray from a place of union with the Father.

In your life and mine as believers, the place of union with the Father, is our spirits.

“He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1Corinthinans 6:17) So, when our prayers are spirit led, they are always prayers of faith and thanksgiving, for we can say as Christ said; “Father we know that you always hear us” (John 11:42)

But if we have not learnt to think from, see from, speak from, the place that the Father has placed us in; Christ; the divine union, one mind, how can we expect to pray from that place?

  • If we don’t pray supernaturally, as people joined to God by His Son, then we will pray naturally, as people separated from God by our sin.
  • If we will not regard ourselves after the Spirit, then we will regard ourselves after the flesh.
  • If we don’t pray as New Covenant believers, then we can only pray as Old Covenant
  • If we will not see that it is because of Christ’s obedience, His holy life, His prayer, that all God’s promises are Yes and Amen for those of us in Christ, then we will pray as if the answer to our prayers depends on our obedience, our holy life, our prayers.

As spirt-filled New Covenant believers, we don’t pray that God would change. We pray that we would change, in that our vision of who God is and what He has done would grow and grow. We don’t pray that God would come down. We pray, that we rise up, to see from God’s perspective just how much was accomplished when He did come down. We pray that we may see, truly see as Christ sees; God as “our father.”

The prayers that most glorify God are not the prayers that rise to heaven, they are the prayers that come from heaven and the Holy Spirit desires to pray those prayers through us. This is why He is continually witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God (Rom.8:16), that we might pray as children of God, so that the voice of our Father and the knowledge of Him would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

We speak wisdom among the perfect.

Last Sunday’s message was a declaration that each believer is an entirely new creation, but will not live as such, as long as their thinking is a mixture of old and new! (www.graceriver.org/church-podcasts)  No amount of sacrifices you make for God is going to change His mind about you now, because He made up His mind about you before you were even born (Jer.1:5, 2Tim.1:9). The truth is out there for all the world to see. Jesus Christ dying for you, is God’s mind made up about you.

But how does a Christian live, who thinks that God is still in the process of making up His mind about them? They live as if Christianity is a religion, a religion they can use to get God to change His mind about them. The only problem however, about thinking that your good behaviour will change God’s mind about you, is that history and the Gospel both declare that God died for us, before we had a chance to do one good thing for Him. The Gospel calls that “just the right time” (Rom.5:6)
Your behaviour didn’t make God good and your behaviour doesn’t keep God good.
He just IS good and Jesus Christ IS how good He is.

Jesus died so that we should not have to live any more as people separated from God by our sin, but rather live as people united to God by His Son (1Cor.6:17, John 14:23). Romans 7:4 tells us that we died to the Law, that we may be married to another (Christ), that we may bear fruit unto God. Now how should a husband feel about his bride living as if she is not married to him? Is that a minor thing to be overlooked, or in fact is it not something that grieves him deeply? Having loved us so deeply and paid such a high price to be married to us, is the Spirit of God not entitled to be grieved by believers still living as if their sin separates them from Him. Is He not entitled to be grieved by us living as if Christ’s blood is no better than the blood of bulls and goats, living as if some days our sins are forgiven and some days they are not and so living as if some days we are married to God and sharing in His righteousness and some days we are separated from God and have to go back to our old husband of the Law, back to religious thinking and religious behaviour, back to the life of a natural man, with no spiritual discernment? (Heb.5:12,13)

God’s new way of union with Him, abolishes the old way of living separated from Him and God does not want us to continue in an old way of thinking, once the new way has come (Rom12:2). He no more approves of mixing those two lives, than Nicola could approve of me living one day as if married to her and the next as if single.

God’s Word declares that every believer “is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold all things have become new”. (2Cor.5:17). Is the Holy Spirit not entitled to say to us, “What part of ‘all new’ don’t you understand?”

How would you feel if you paid for a brand-new car and later discovered that it wasn’t new at all, but was actually full of second hand parts? Would you be upset? Why would you be upset? Because you had paid for a new car! Christ has paid for a new life! Please don’t be surprised if He insists that the Christian life is not simply the old flesh trying harder to be good. Please don’t be upset if he insists that the gospel, the good news, is that ‘in Christ’, you died and you now have an entirely new life, a life now joined with Christ in God (Col.3:1-4, 1Cor.6:17)
This new life is not a mixture of our old life and Christ’s life. There was nothing good about our old separated from God life, that God thought He could recycle. The Christian life was not designed to be an add on to your self-life. It is the abolition of your self-life. I don’t mind saying this again and again as faith comes by hearing.

Hebrews 10: 9 compares religious offerings for sin and Jesus’ offering of Himself and clearly declares “He takes away the first, to establish the second.”

As a minister of the gospel, I cannot allow the first to remain. I must speak as a minister of the New Covenant (not the mixed covenant) and so must you. I cannot speak to believers as if the blood of Jesus has done nothing and they are still separated from God by their sin. I must speak to those born of God as if they now are of God; good and acceptable and perfect, dead to sin and alive to God. I must speak to you and deal with you as those married to God, hidden with God in Christ. How can I tell you to set your mind on things above, if I will not speak to you as ones living from above, even when your behaviour does not match that?
Even if your behaviour falls far short of someone living from God, I still must declare to you what the Holy Spirit has been declaring to the Church for 2000 years; “know you not, you are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” (1Cor.3:16). I must declare to you that your old “separated from God” life died in Christ and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. I must ask you, Christian, to set your mind on things above, on what all above can see about you; that Perfection has made His home at the core of your life, in your spirit (Rom.8:11, 1Peter.1:23). Church, we must all, as ministers of the NEW Covenant, speak to believers as who they now are in Christ (2Cor.3:6). We must see each other after the spirit, not after the flesh, as OF the spirit, not OF the flesh and for this purpose we have been given the Spirit who is from God (1Cor.2:12, 1Peter1:23)
If we are to walk in the Spirit and speak after the Spirit, then we must allow our minds to be renewed to Christ’s mind. Do you know that the Father, the Son and the Spirit, share the one mind on us (1John 16:13)? Many Christians don’t. They know that the Father says He “remembers our sins no more”, but they believe it is the Spirit who keeps bringing their sins before them (Heb.8:12,13). Then they wonder why their Christian experience is so mixed between hope and condemnation. It is because mixed experience comes from mixed thinking! The Father and the Holy Spirit do not have two different minds on our sins. God would have us to have one mind; the mind of Christ. So how does the Father see us? He sees us to be, according to Ephesians 1:4; “holy and blameless before Him”, in Christ.

When you start talking to believers like that, as if they are now holy and blameless in God’s eyes, not everyone can take that (2Peter3:16). Why not? Because so many of us who have been born from above, have not yet had our minds renewed to think from above (Col.3:1-3).
We still live as what Paul called mere men (1Cor.3:3), natural men and to the natural man, the thoughts of God toward us sounds foolish and anyone who dares to speak God’s wisdom sounds foolish (1Cor.2:14). Yet, Paul dared. He dared to speak the wisdom of God among the perfect and that’s the title of this message and the declaration of God’s Spirit to the Church today. We speak wisdom among them that are perfect. (1Cor.2:6). ‘Perfect’ can also be translated ‘mature’. Keep speaking to believers in a way that imparts no faith in Christ’s finished work and we leave them immature children, still under the schoolmaster of the Law, where no faith is required (Gal.3:23-25) and tossed to and fro by every new teaching that comes into the church, promising a way to change God’s mind about them (Eph.4:14).
Church, we have the mind of Christ, in order that even on your worst day, what you do does not define who you are. Christ’s perfect life given to you, defines and names you (1Peter1:23). His perfect mind given to you, will enable you to think of yourself as He does; good and acceptable and perfect in Christ, that you may be as you think; that you may be as your father in heaven is (Matt.5:48). By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. (1John 4:17)

We as believers need to hear the Gospel that God not only does not save us according to our works, but He does not call us according to our works. He does not address us/speak to us according to our works, but according to His eternal purpose, His eternal will, already given to us in Christ, from all eternity (2Tim.1:9). So I can speak to you as who He has called you to be from all eternity, or I can speak to you by the name men have called you all your earthy life. Which would you like? He speaks to us, that we may believe who He declares us to be; children of God, children born of His will (John 1:13) and as His will is good and acceptable and perfect, then so are all born of His will, for the Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:6, Rom.12:2.)

Even though some of you cannot yet accept that, we have no authority from God to speak to you as anything less than who He now declares you to be (2Cor.3:6). We know that not everyone can immediately accept this language; to be spoken to as a victor in all seasons (1John 5:4). Often when we feel overwhelmed by trials, we want people to focus with us on the magnitude of our problems and to take our side against someone else. But you cannot settle for playing the victim and walk in the victory of Christ. Either we will live, as if He who is in us is greater than whatever we face in this world, or we will live from an earthly, natural viewpoint of this world (1John 4:4-6). You can keep telling Jesus how awful your life has been for 38 years, or you can receive His view of your life; “Rise! Pick up your mat and walk!” (John 5:8).

So, what’s it going to be River City Church? Are we going to rise; to take some first steps into thinking, speaking and walking as who God now sees us to be; one with God in Christ? Or are we going to lie back on our mats and insist on judging everything and everyone by natural wisdom? (1Cor.2:12-16), so ensuring the Church continues to divide, over and over. Is “Church” to be merely an activity of programs and good evangelistic works to keep the saints busy until the Lord comes back? Or is the new life that God has paid for, something more than what “I” can do for God. Can this generation of the Church too, not rise to declare, “It is no longer I”? (Gal.2:20). So, forgive us, if we dare to speak the wisdom of God among the perfect. Peter said that some of what Paul wrote was hard to understand and that people had distorted what he was saying. We are all too fully aware of how speaking to believers as if their sins have been forever dealt with, leaves us open to slander and distortion (2Peter 3:16), yet we are sustained by the great fruit that has appeared in so many of your lives; perfect love casting our fear (1John 4:18) and it is by such fruit that the truth is known (John.13:35).

 

Insist on the Gospel.

 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”                                                                                                                                      Ephesians 4:17,18.

In Ephesians 4:11-18, the apostle Paul gives us a revelation of the union of Christ with His body, the Church. In this great declaration he is not just telling, he is insisting, that believers, those who are one with God in Christ, as connected to God as their body is to their head, stop thinking the way unbelievers think. He is insisting that they stop thinking and so living as if they are separated from God because to think like that is futile. There is nothing more futile in this world that to see New Covenant believers (in union with God through Christ), act and pray like Old Covenant believers (waiting for union with God through Christ).

It is such a problem across the body of Christ. It has so dimmed the light of the Church, that at River City Church I am afraid we insist on it in the Lord too. We insist that believers grow up to live in the reality of their union with Christ, that they live and talk like sons of God.

  • We insist on treating and speaking to Christians as if they are as connected to God, as their body is to their head (1Cor.12:27, Eph.4:15,16, Col.1:18)
  • We insist on speaking to them as if they are the very temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor.6:19).
  • We insist on speaking to them as if they have already been blessed in the heavenly realms with every blessing in Christ (Eph.1:3)
  • We insist on no longer regarding them after the flesh but after the Spirit (2Cor.5:16).
  • We insist on preaching the justification and the sanctification of the believer by the finished work of Christ, not by our unfinished efforts at church (1Cor.1:30, Col.2:10).
  • So we insist that in Christ, believers have already been made righteous by grace (Col.1:22), and in Christ they have already been forgiven by grace (Col.1:14), and in Christ they have already been healed by grace (Eph.1:3, 1Peter.2:24).

And we insist on speaking these truths to each other continually for this one reason, that although God has already freely gifted these things to us in Christ, by grace, it is by faith that we receive and walk in the reality of the ‘in Christ’ life and that very faith, that ability to receive what God has freely given, comes by hearing (Rom.10:17, Eph.2:8,9)

Hearing what? By hearing the gospel; the grace of God in truth (Col.1:6). Faith doesn’t come by hearing what you need to do or do better for God. Faith comes by hearing what God has done for you. So we teach Christians that they don’t need to give more, pray more or do more to receive from God. They only need to listen more to the enormity of what has already been freely given to man in Christ and that listening heals our hearts; our ability to believe/receive.

That listening releases faith; the ability to receive. If listening to the wrong message was what caused our hearts (the ability to receive) to be sick, then listening to the right message is what will heal our hearts (John 6:63).

In very basic terms, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Prov.13:12)

  • Messages that defer your hope to ……Christ in heaven one day, sicken the heart.
  • Messages that declare your hope to be …..Christ in you today, heal the heart.

Years of listening to loud heavy metal music will damage your hearing. The dangerous thing is that it happens so slowly you don’t notice it, especially when you like the music! Years of listening to heavy gospel messages about what God will do for us, if we first do something more for Him, slowly but surely damages a believer’s ability to live in the NOW of the gospel. I am shocked by how deaf Christians can be and how deaf I had become, to the good news of the gospel.

Messages about what God will do for us if we first do something for Him, slowly estrange or distance us from the reality of what we now already have in Christ and move our hope onto some new thing that God is going to do. Hear the Gospel. God doesn’t need to do some new thing. He doesn’t need to abandon the New Covenant and bring in something newer. We just need to grow in the revelation that a Christian is an entirely new creation, who freely draws life and provision from God Himself (2Cor.5:17).

Without the revelation, that in Christ, the very core of your being, your identity, your Spirit, has been made new (1Cor.6:17), Christians are left run around looking for something new in the natural realm. Being in local church leadership now for over 20 years, I have seen my fair share of Christians wandering about. Until believers come to see that there is nothing newer out there, than what Christ has done in them, they will always be wandering from place to place, hungry for something new. I have seen so many people wander in, stay for a while and wander out again. Like the Father of the prodigal, I know there is no use trying to tell them that the life they are trying to achieve has already been gifted to them. It seems we all need to make that journey ourselves, to come to the end of all our trying; trying to achieve and trying to earn the blessing of God and arrive at our various pig pens to receive a revelation of what was always ours (Luke.15:15-17).

We want to see people grow in the revelation of the fatherhood of God and everything we do is to that end. There is nothing harder on sin than the Cross of Calvary because there is nothing more effective in dealing with fear in a person’s life than the love of God. Perfect love casts out all fear (1John.4:18) and the Gospel message is the proclamation and impartation of such perfect love (Rom.1:16). Why would you have to keep on sinning, keep on grasping for more of life, when your eyes start to open to see just how much life you now have in Christ? Remember the siege of Samaria, when the four lepers went out to the camp of the enemy and found it empty and treasure just lying around to be picked up (2Kings.7:3-20). In knowing themselves to be poor, they started to grasp and hoard the riches, the spoils of the victory. Back and forth they went, grasping, feeling richer and richer, until a moment came when they didn’t feel like they needed to keep grasping for themselves any longer. They felt rich enough to start to do the right thing, to start to share the wealth with others.

If you keep on hearing of the richness of the presence of God in your lives, there will come a time when you do not feel poor and abandoned and disappointed any more and you will stop grasping and running to and fro to try and save yourself. Instead, you will feel rich enough to be the generous carriers of good news, the people God always saw you to be in Him; the generous children of a generous father. Is that who you want to live as? Then insist on the Gospel.

Can you get too much of grace?

“And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”                                                                                                                                                        John 1:16-18

 Notice how the law was ‘given’, but grace and truth ‘came’. If grace or truth were just doctrines, the scripture would have read that “grace and truth were given through Jesus Christ”. Moses could ‘give’ the Law, because he was separate from it, but grace and truth had to ‘come’ through Jesus because He could not separate Himself from either. There are many things I can give you of mine and still remain apart from you. I can give you instructions without having to come with them myself. But there is one thing of mine I cannot give you and remain apart from you; my presence.

The Bible says more than just ‘God loves us’. It declares “God is love”. (1 John 4:8). Jesus claimed more than just that He knew the truth. He declared “I am the Truth”. (John 14:6) When the scripture states that “truth came through Jesus Christ”, it is declaring that truth is more than a doctrine, truth is a person.

The greatest exposition of truth is the exposition of the person Jesus Christ, which is why error inevitably seeps into our understanding of truth from the moment a church stops preaching Christ and Him crucified and starts to move onto so-called ‘deeper’ truths. There is no more profound, no more liberating, no more powerful truth than Christ and Him crucified for us (1Cor.2:2). The Gospel is not just for our conversion, it is the deepest truth of life that carries us into maturity, for the mark of maturity in the believer is their understanding of righteousness (Hebrews 5:13). The Gospel revelation of Christ as our righteousness is the power (Romans 1:16,17) that lifts us out of mere religion and enables us to walk in the liberty of the Spirit, free from the condemnation of the Law and the constant striving to do better that it demands. The revelation of Christ as our righteousness, our life before God (Col.3:4), frees us to walk forward boldly and confidently in life with our eyes on Him, rather than stumble hesitantly, fearfully and increasingly wearily around in circles, as a man does who is trying to walk while constantly examining himself.

It is not possible to separate Jesus from truth, which is why for truth to come to man, Jesus had to come. But this same scripture in John 1:17 also clearly declares that for grace to come, Jesus had to come. The scripture places grace and truth together, united as one in the person of Christ. Just as Truth is a person not a doctrine, so too is Grace. We can no more separate grace from truth, than we can separate Jesus from the Father. To see one is to see the other (John 14:9). To preach grace is to preach truth. To preach grace is to preach Christ.

This is why Paul described the gospel he preached as “the gospel of God’s grace” and declared his whole ministry was based on simply proclaiming this message of grace (Acts 20:24) To the Galatians he declared the grace of Christ to be ‘the’ Gospel (Galatians 1:6) and warned them that in moving away from preaching grace they were beginning to preach a different gospel, one that would result in them cutting themselves off from the power of the Gospel, which is the revelation that Christ is our righteousness (2 Cor.5:21). Only this truth sets us free from trying to establish our own righteousness. This is why as soon as Paul heard that signs of self-righteousness had appeared in the Galatian church (i.e the teaching that there are some things you need to do and keep doing to be ‘really’ saved), he knew that they must have started to try and mix in a little law into the pure grace message, not knowing that even one little addition changes the whole nature of the gospel (Gal.5:9)

When the scriptures declare that we are “saved by grace, through faith and this not of ourselves, but is the gift of God, so that no man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8), this is a declaration that the entirety of our salvation (justification and sanctification) is by grace. In other words you don’t become a Christian by grace (Christ’s obedience), but stay a Christian by hard work (your obedience). You become and are then kept in Christ, totally by the grace of God, for He is not the author only but the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) It is His Spirit, His life in us, that is our sanctification (holiness), not our efforts to live right (Romans 15:16) Right living can be a fruit of holiness, but never the root. The root of our holiness is Christ (John 15:5).

This misunderstanding, that I am saved by grace, but kept saved by my performance, explains why many Christians see the gospel, the message of grace, as an elementary teaching, something we need to teach the world, whereas we Christians need something ‘deeper’. In attempting to go on to something deeper, Christians get caught up in all sorts of teachings that sound very important and impressive, but they may take years to notice that in leaving behind the simplicity of the gospel (grace), they have cut themselves off from the power to live the Christian life (2.Cor.11:3). They are left listening longingly to the testimonies of new believers and wondering what happened to the joy of their salvation!

For over 25 years I have been telling Nicola “I love you”. I have yet to hear her say “That’s all you ever say, Can’t I have a more varied diet? Isn’t it time you changed the message and moved on to something deeper?” The gift of Christ (grace), is the Father’s declaration of love to us (John 3:16). Is it possible to get too much of grace? You can only believe it is, if you believe it is possible to get too much of Christ or possible to get too much of the love of the Father. I believe that preaching and teaching every week that the Christ life is a gift of love (grace) and not a reward (religion), is restoring to folk the joy of their salvation, the joy of knowing that their Father is not withholding Himself from them, but has already in Christ, freely given them all that He has (Luke 15:31) That joy is our strength and so a diet of the gospel of grace is the richest soul food a believer can receive.

So eat up Church and be filled with the joy of the Spirit, over how completely Christ has saved you. Let the nations see our joy and ask us for the food that brings it and let us tell them that the fullness they see is “His fullness that we have all received and grace for grace.”

Seeing through this world

Mary did not rise to serve until she had spent time at the feet of Jesus, listening to His Word (Luke 10:39). This summer has been an opportunity not just for physical rest but to enter deeper into the rest in our souls that is the fruit of His Word; His sound mind planted in us. Fear and the impatience it leads to, can drive us into setting goals for ourselves that are simply not of God and as we strive to attain them, it is often relationships with others that become collateral damage. It helps to remember that our task is not to build the Church, but to make disciples (Matt.28:19). More and more it is becoming clearer to me that if, as Christians, we do not begin to see by the Spirit, the eternal truth of our identity and provision in Christ, then we will continually look to people for our worth and so live in constant disappointment. That disappointment affects our capacity to believe (Prov.13:12), much like carrying a sack of potatoes on your back would affect your capacity to run. As out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, so, disappointed Christians wear their hearts on their sleeve. We sing choruses well, but our private conversations revolve around people and circumstances and how they have let us down! The way we behave is entirely a product of our thinking, which is directly rooted in the beliefs of our heart (Prov.4:23). We are each today exactly the product of what we have believed. This is not a popular message among believers.
Your family may be falling apart and circumstances appear to be constantly against you, but the way you feel remains the product of your thoughts and they are the product of what you are believing (Prov.23:7). The Gospel does not dismiss the reality of the circumstances and trials we are going through, it simply proclaims that there is a greater reality (1John4:4) and exhorts us to fix our gaze on that reality. In the words of the apostle Paul, “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2Cor.4:18) Paul was so surrounded by trouble, that he simply could not have gone on if he had not fixed his gaze into the unseen realm.
Seeing through and beyond our present troubles allows us not just to endure, but to thrive in thanksgiving, irrespective of the circumstances. In all our striving to attain ‘godly’ goals, to find God’s will, it is good to remember that “giving thanks in all circumstances” is in fact, precisely God’s will for our lives (1Thess.5:18). This world may be measuring your “success’ by the achievements that are seen, but heaven rejoices more to see a joy in your heart that remains, even when no tangible result for all your efforts is seen in the ‘seen’ realm. Let me put that another way. When we treat others in a way we would not like to be treated ourselves, in order to reach a goal, it is a sign that our gaze is fixed on the seen rather than the unseen realm. Keep doing that and one day you may reach the top of the ladder of success in the seen realm…only to find it is leaning against the wrong wall in the unseen realm.
Without a revelation that in the midst of the worst season of our lives, that we as believers remain hidden with Christ in God and overflowing with His grace towards us, then we always remain vulnerable to hurt and disappointment. Such disappointment with God and life will leave the gospel sounding like foolishness to us (1Cor.2:14). To Christians unused to fixing their gaze in the unseen realm, it sounds foolishness to say that the answer to their needs is a revelation of the finished work of the Cross. The gospel of God’s grace is not just an offence to the world, but also to Christians whose gaze is fixed in the seen realm (1Cor.3:18-23). It is true that we all need physical help and support, not mere words (James 2:16), but if as believers we do not mature in our sonship in Christ, if we do not begin to live from the unseen eternal realm, then any comfort we receive from a situation appearing to turn out well will be short-lived, for more trouble is always just around the corner! If we don’t learn to fix our gaze into the unseen realm, to live from our “in Christ” identity as a son of God, then we will continue to be tossed to and fro by the winds of circumstance. We will go from joy to despair and back, almost on a monthly basis. This is not the life of rest, the inheritance, that Jesus paid such a high price for us to enjoy. The apostle Paul endured so many setbacks, eventually seeing friends desert him and his churches infiltrated by legalists and yet he wrote these words; “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil.4:12,13)
Many Christians lurch from one crisis to another in life, all the time promising themselves that they will get around to the deeper questions of God, once they get through this ‘rough patch’. But without a revelation of our new life and identity in Christ, we always appear like grasshoppers in our own eyes before life’s giants and life to us will become a never-ending rough patch. Again, this is in no way to diminish the reality of the giant problems we face, it is simply to state that He who is within us, (the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead), is a greater reality that any giant in this world (1John 4:4).
Are you fed up waiting for your circumstances to improve? Well then stop fixing your gaze on the temporal realm because if you are waiting for your troubles to stop…you are in for a long wait (John 16:33). Instead fix your gaze on the eternal realm, where all waiting has come to an end, for Christ has done it! He has made a way for you to live as an eternal child of God, not one day when you die, but TODAY (2Cor.6:2). Stop waiting for God’s favour and start living in it. Do you know that God’s grace is such on your life, that you can lose all things and still live as if you have won all things? (1Cor.3:21,22). Maybe to be told that in this life things may not turn out the way you hoped, is not what you wanted to hear. Perhaps you were hoping that when your family saw your life going so miraculously well, they would finally believe that the Lord is good. Many people saw Jesus do miracles and yet were not convinced God was with them, but strangely enough everyone who saw Him resurrected from the dead was convinced. Maybe what our families need, is not so much to always see us miraculously avoiding trouble, but rather to always see us walking through it, as the resurrected Jesus walked through the wall of the upper room! To see us walking on in joy, even in the worst of trouble, as only someone can, who has seen through this temporal passing away world and into eternity. Is that not what it is to walk in resurrection life in 2018, to walk through this world, by ‘seeing through’ this world.

“Ever the bridesmaid, never the bride”

Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.” Romans 7:4

How do you think a husband would feel if he discovered after marrying the love of his life, that she acted as if they weren’t married at all and went out with other men? How would he feel, if on questioning her, he found her to be so deeply insecure about his love for her and feeling so unworthy to be loved, that in her heart she believed he could not really have been serious in his marriage to her and that their marriage was in name only? You might think that a ridiculous scenario. No-one is going to get married and then live as if the marriage isn’t real. You think so? Let’s have another look at many of us in the church.
How many of us for years, have not struggled to rest in the love of God, to believe that His love for us is the last word on our identity and destiny? How many of us have not repeatedly fallen back to believing that there must be something we need to do, in order to be, or stay, worthy of His life, worthy of union with Him? How many of us would confess to living, feeling that we must be a disappointment to God, that He may love us, but He probably doesn’t like us? How much of our Christian lives have been spent asking God what He wants us to do and then worrying that we haven’t done what He wanted us to?
The Gospel declares that the union He offers us is based entirely on Christ’s obedience and life (Romans 5:19, Hebrews 10:14), that our identity is hidden in Him. Yet our striving to please God, the widespread lack of fulfilment that drives believers to be continually seeking for something ‘new’ and the ease with which we pass judgement on others, all reveal that for many of us, our hope is more on ourselves and our work for Him, rather than on Christ and Him crucified. So many of us take this gift of union with Him, the gift of His life, the Christ life, the sinless life, what Romans 7:4 calls the ‘married’ life and we mix it with our old ‘apart from Him’ life, our old ‘If I try harder I will get more and do better’ life. The result is we get something that has the outward appearance of holiness and godliness, but somehow lacks the power and the joy and the liberty and the abundant generosity of Christ’s life.
Romans 7:4 declares the reason why Christ gave His body for us. It was so “that we would be married to another….” We cannot be married to two different lives at the same time. We cannot live married and live as if single at the same time. We cannot live believing that we are one with Him (1Cor.6:17), blessed with every blessing He has to give (Ephesians1:3) and at the same time believe that He has not yet given us everything He has to give, but could be persuaded to pour out more if we pray hard enough! Yet that very double-mindedness is where many of us have lived for years and the result is that we struggle to receive the grace of God. James warned us of the result of living double minded about the truth of God’s generosity to give freely, to give without finding fault. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8)
Look at this scripture again. “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another”
Can you see it? God sees you as married to Christ. He took your old life, your old single, separated from God in your sin life, onto Himself on the Cross and He took it and killed it and buried it. He did that so that you and I and anyone who receives the gift of God, can live in a new state, a new reality before God, a new state of being, a state the Bible calls “in Christ”. The Holy Spirit’s work is to declare this new state into the souls of men and women, that they would be whom God knows them and sees them to be; married to Him (2Cor.5:17-20)
The final part of this verse names the evidence of this union. “…that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.” Apart from remaining in this reality, apart from believing in the power of His grace towards us and in us, apart from remaining in the truth that His Spirit and our spirits are one, we can bear no fruit! Jesus declared that branches cannot bear fruit if they attempt to live apart from their vine (John 15:5) The fruit of believing that God has so comprehensively dealt with our sin, that we are now dead to sin and joined in our spirits with His sinless life, is listed in Galatians 5:22.23 including, love, joy, peace and patience. In other words, the result of renewing our minds to our new married state, is that we start to appear like the one our heart and minds are married to; Christ.
This is the perfecting work of the Holy Spirit, who only ever addresses believers according to their new state; that is according to who they now are in the spirit. The Holy Spirit deals with us according to the reality He knows, not according to how we feel. He speaks to us as a new man in Christ. He does not speak to us according to who we think we are; a poor sinner trying their best for God. He only speaks to us as who Christ declares we are; a totally new creation, joined to the Lord and one spirit with Him (1Cor.6:17). The Holy Spirit does not minister to your idea of you (poor wee me, long way from God, struggling in sin) for in His reality that person does not exist. You may not reckon that ‘self’ dead, but the Holy Spirit does, or He would not have authored Romans 6:11 (“reckon yourselves to be dead to sin”). You may only see yourself in the natural and see the sin in your life, but the Holy Spirit sees by God’s reality. He sees your sin where God put it; on Christ’s body on that Cross and then dead and buried. He knows that through Christ’s body the old sinner was put to death. He knows He can be of no help to you by speaking to you as if that person still lives. The Holy Spirit only ministers to one person, you in Christ, you in the Spirit, not two people. Jesus confirmed that we are made perfect, not in two, but in one! (John 17:23)
This world system values people according to what they can do. God does not value us according to what we can do for Him. The Cross set us free from that system because it declared our true value to God; Christ. Religion that exhorts us to do more for God, is a product of the spirit of this world. The Gospel does not say “do”, it says “be” (“Cor.5:20). All the doing was done by Christ, in order that we would be who He has made us to be; one with Him. That is not to say that there is not much to be done in this world, but it is to be done of Him and not merely for Him. You can be sure the day Jesus visited Martha and Mary that Mary too worked hard, but her work began and emerged out of her rest with Christ. Martha’s focus was on impressing Jesus. Mary’s was on being impressed by Jesus. Yes there is much work to be done to share the message of the gospel in our community, but if we do not start from a place of revelation of our true state before God, we will only lead them into church-life rather than Christ-life. Christ did not shed His blood that you or I would live a life of feeling insufficient, incomplete, never good enough, never ready, a life living according to the natural senses. If I do not allow the Gospel of the Grace of God and the Holy Spirit to change my mind (metanoia, true repentance), so that I no longer live as if my sin separates me from God, then I will live as if my sin separates me from God! I will live a merely religious life, a life lived in doubt and fear, where my heart constantly cries to God “Is this enough yet?” I will live as ‘ever the bridesmaid but never the bride’, always waiting for a better day, but never living in the better day, never bearing the fruit of my union with Him, because my mind has never been renewed to the truth, that from the Cross, God has already declared “It is enough!” The apostle Peter confirmed that the reason believers fail to grow in Christ, is that they have not been rooted and grounded in the reality of their true state before God. “But those who fail to develop in this way are short-sighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.” (2.Peter1:9)
Believer, you are married to Christ. Let us stop examining our lives from a merely natural point of view and behaving like mere men (1Cor.3:3). Let us allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us as those hidden in Christ, married to Him. Let His words wake us up, to Christ in us, for if we don’t see Christ in us, how can we expect the world to? (John 17:22,23) Receive His kiss, sleeping beauty! Receive the revelation of His Spirit and awake to God’s reality; righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom.14:17).

True love comes in person

“Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”                                                       1Cor.15:34

Many religions would agree with us that God must be love. Yet apart from knowing Christ, no man can truly know God because only Christ revealed the love of God, the nature of God (1John4:8). What the appearance of Christ revealed is that the love of God is so great (the nature of God is such), that He refuses to give us anything less than Himself (John 3:16). This is why scripture makes no distinction between grace and the person of Christ. Grace is not merely a quality that God has to some measure, rather grace finds its truest and purest expression in the person of Christ (as does truth and love). This is why the apostle John could write that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) and the apostle Paul that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men teaching us to deny ungodliness…” (Titus 2:11,12)

The God that Christ revealed did not stand back from us and send love or grace as some thing. True love comes in person. If your child or loved one was lying dying in hospital, no-one would have to tell you or explain to you that sending them a text, or even sending a friend with a message of support, is not what love does. Love comes in person. Every human being who has ever loved another knows this and that is why even a child can understand the truth of the Gospel; if God is love, then love had to come in person and He did, in the person of Jesus Christ.

So, the righteousness of God is not a thing that God sent, while He remained apart or aloof from us (John 1:17). The righteousness of God given to us, was His very presence; God incarnate in human flesh (1Cor.1:30). Jesus was, as the Nicene Creed declared: “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father.” Why? Because God who is love, does not know how to give less than Himself, for that is what true love does. And so He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?(Rom.8:32). If God gave us His son and there is nothing greater than His son, then how can He withhold any thing from us, for that would be to cherish a thing more than His own Son.

When this truth dawns, that in not withholding His Son from us that God has already given all that He has and is to us, then the effect on our soul is to be flooded with peace and thanksgiving (Phil.4:11-13). No longer when my life is facing a crisis do I have to attempt to awake God to action or persuade him through my prayer or suffering to “release” His favour on my life. Because of Christ, no longer does man have to strive to enter God’s favour, instead He now calls us into His rest (Hebrews 4;11). But there is no rest for the man who refuses the revelation that Christ was God, fully giving Himself to man, even to the point of standing in our place and living our lives. Refuse the revelation that your old ‘self’ life was put to death on the Cross (Rom.6:11, Gal.2:20, Col.3:3) and that you are now joined to God and one with His Spirit (1Cor.6:17) and you will never find rest, for you will be constantly chasing righteousness as some thing to be gained rather than some one to be submitted to and received (Rom.10:1-4)

The righteousness of God is not merely a legal standing before God. The righteousness of God is nothing less than God fromGod. This is why we can absolutely expect that Christians should grow in the likeness of Christ and bear the fruit of His Spirit, His life (Gal.5:22,23). If the righteousness of God that we receive, is merely a legality, (God letting us off the hook), then you should expect little change in the life of someone who has received the righteousness of God because there has been no change of heart (Matt.23:25,26). But if the gift of God’s righteousness is the gift of His presence, then there should be a great and powerful change in the life of everyone who receives the righteousness of God, for in the presence of light, darkness cannot stand! In the presence of union, separation cannot stand. In the presence of the truth of the love of God, the fear of separation (death) cannot stand. In the presence of the Spirit of faith, unbelief (the root of sins), cannot stand.

The Bible says; “As a man thinks so he is.” (Prov.23:7) Jesus put it like this; “Be it done unto you according to your faith.” (Matt.9:29) I believe the more we will receive/acknowledge/take hold of the righteousness of God as His very presence with us, the more His presence manifests and effects our lives, bringing transformation into the likeness of Christ (1John 3:2). Let His life be your root (your life) and His life will appear in you (John 15:5). The apostle Paul wrote this to the Colossians. 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. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” This speaks of the work of the Spirit to renew our thinking, so that we no longer think of ourselves from an earthly (‘separated from God, us down here, Him up there’, mind-set), but to think of ourselves from heaven’s perspective (hidden with Christ, in God).

What happens if Christians do not awake to the enormity of what Christ has done; that they are entirely new creatures (2Cor.5:17) in whom God chooses to make His home? (John 14:23, 1Cor.6:17). Then they will continue to think and so speak from an Old Covenant ‘separated from God’ mind-set and so their message to the world will inevitably always emphasise what man still needs to do for God, rather than what God has done for man. To put it more bluntly, Christians who have yet to grasp that it was not their repentance that saved them but Christ, can’t resist adding a little self-effort as an essential ingredient in salvation and so inevitably always reduce the Gospel from the good news of what God has done for men, to good advice on what men need to do for God.

Why don’t people want to hear the gospel these days? Well we could blame a lot of things; TV, wealth, media, schools and Christians frequently do. We love to complain about the government or the media or the rise of other religions, (as if these things suddenly got more powerful than the Holy Spirit). The answer is much simpler. People are not against good news. People haven’t changed from the time of the book of Acts. People still want to hear good news, it’s just that when they hear the word “Gospel” today, they simply do not associate that with good news!

That’s because for years the gospel they have heard has not been preached as the news of what Christ has done about men’s sins. It has been preached as the news of what men need to do about their sins. That’s what happens when for 2000 years men keep adding to the Gospel. Eventually you end up with a message, not about Christ and what He has done, but about men and what they need to do. I am not saying that men do not need to repent from their sins. I am saying that men cannot repent from their sins if you don’t give them the Gospel, the good news that they can now be reconciled to God, by believing in what Christ has done about their sins (2Cor.5:18-20). Don’t ask men to believe in themselves. That’s not the gospel. Ask them to believe in Christ. Don’t ask them to do something about their sins. Don’t leave them with the impression that God has done nothing about their sins, but He will do something about their sins…if they first will do something for Him. Remember always, that the Gospel can be summed up in two words; He first

Don’t just expect men to love God, when the Bible says quite clearly that we can only love God because He first loved us (1John 4:19).

If the Gospel can be summed up in two words; HE FIRST, then religion can be summed up also in two words; YOU FIRST. If you first will do something for God, then He will save you. Religion thus leaves men’s hope on themselves, not Christ and that is why religion is powerless to save men. Repentance is not the root of salvation. Repentance, (men turning from their sins), is the fruit of salvation.

Men are “saved by grace, through faith and that not of themselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9). If men are saved by grace, if men are saved by the gift of God…then for God’s sake offer them the grace of God, offer them the gift of God; Christ!

When you present Christ, never present Christ as the reward for their repentance.

Don’t ask men to believe in their repentance. Don’t ask men to believe in themselves. That’s not the gospel. Don’t present a God who is no different from themselves, a God who says, “Well if you do this for me, then I will do this for you.”

Don’t give them a religious God. Give them the true God, the one whom the religious hated, the one who demonstrated His love for them in this, while they were still sinners, He died for them (Rom.5:8). Give them the true God, who when men had given nothing to Him, He gave everything to them.

So Church, let us awake to righteousness and sin not (1Cor.15:34). Let us awake to the truth, that the righteousness we have been given, is nothing short of the very presence of God, for true love came in person and in His presence sin/separation can no more exist than darkness can exist in light. What makes the darkness to go? Only the light. What purges our life of sins? Only the knowledge of God, knowing what God knows and this is what God knows; you have no need to sin, to grasp for life, for life Himself has been given to you (John 3:16).

A Glorious Dawn

“Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.”                                                                                                             Romans 7:4

When Jesus laid down His life for us, it was not done through gritted teeth, but for the joy set before Him, flowing from His great love for us (Hebrews 12:2). To walk in our new life of union with Him, will mean walking in the revelation that our old “self” or single, apart from Him, life…. is dead and buried. Our water baptism is the public proclamation of the death of our single life and the birth of our married—”to Him who was raised from the dead”, life.

When I married Nicola, I laid down my single life. To some it may look like a great sacrifice, to give up the freedom and autonomy of a single life. But I let the single life die because of the joy set before me. The thought of being married to Nicola meant that I never looked back with any regrets. I just asked, “Where do I have to sign!”

A marriage and the life of union that involves, may look from the outside as something which has cost a life-time of sacrifice. But from the viewpoint of the person who loves in that relationship, the truth is that whatever they had to lay down of self, it was worth it, to experience life as the union of two hearts.

Sometimes when our children were infants, sitting in a high chair at the dinner table, they would reach over and grab a knife. Have you ever tried to prise something out of the hand of a child who doesn’t want to let go? We discovered that the easiest way to prompt them to let go, was to offer them something even more shiny and interesting! God too intends that we lay down our old self-sufficient life, not as a sacrifice (with gritted teeth), but as a child lays down one thing to take hold of something more beautiful.

Whenever Christianity is preached as sacrifice and hard work, there has not been the full revelation, that what we lay down is nothing compared to what we receive. The apostle Paul was beaten, whipped, imprisoned, rejected, slandered and abandoned by former friends for years, yet his description of all that was; our light and momentary troubles.” Yes, there was a cost to walking in union with God, but when he considered the enormity of what he had received, Paul wrote this;

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor 4:17)

When we come to see that life as a New Covenant believer; married to Christ, so surpasses in quality the life of those still married to the law and slaves to sin and self (Romans 6:5-7), only then will we begin to understand why God has appeared for years to remain deaf to all our plans to improve our self-lives!

Here is the Gospel; God will not help you to save your ‘self’ because God doesn’t want your independent, cut off from Him, ‘self’ to be saved! He never made you to be a “self”, to live apart from Him. In fact, God doesn’t know what a self-life is. He has never had one! He has always been an US. In fact, this is the first truth proclaimed in the Bible. “In the beginning God created…” (Genesis 1:1) The Hebrew word translated ‘God’ throughout Genesis is “elohiym”, which is the plural of the word “eloahh”, describing the supreme deity. Even the very scripture which describes the creation of man, declares God as saying; “Let us make man in our image after our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)

God, who has only known life as an “us”, made you and I to be in relationship with Him, joined with Him, ONE with Him, as the Son is with the Father and the Spirit. This is the union Jesus described and anticipated joyfully for us, in His prayer to His Father.  “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 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 sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:2–23)

We can’t by ourselves, join our ‘selves’ to God, (even though mere religion keeps telling us we should try). Only God can join Himself to man, for only God can overcome the distance/barrier between self-life and God life, between sin and holiness and here is the good news, the Gospel; HE ALREADY HAS.

That’s called the Finished Work. Through His Incarnation, His perfect life, His atoning death and victorious resurrection, Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the only one who can join God and Man, has cleared the way for anyone who wants to, to receive an entirely new form of life altogether not a self-life, but a joined life (1Cor.6:17,19,20), a life called; “married—to Him who was raised from the dead.” (Romans 7:4). He has only attached one condition to this new life……You must receive it as a pure gift of God (Eph.2:8).

So why do so many of us as Christians still live as if our “self” didn’t die on the Cross, still live as if God must be persuaded by our prayers and our piety to come and join His life with ours? If God has not withheld even His very life, His very Spirit from us and now lives in union with our spirits (1Cor.6:17), why do so many of us still live as if we are waiting for Him to move and still pray as if we can persuade Him to do more for us or give more to us? You may not like the answer.

If you as a parent, the single greatest influencer of your child, keep addressing them as if they are a disappointment to you and are not yet worthy of you, why are you surprised if they grow up to be overly self-conscious and bound by anxiety and condemnation? Likewise, if you as a Christian have spent years sitting under teaching that repeatedly has you separated from God’s presence by your sins and running back to the altar regularly to repent, then don’t be surprised if you think, pray and behave as if Christ’s once and forever sacrifice for all sin, for all time (Hebrews 10:11-14), is not enough and is only made effective when topped up by your “repentance”.

The problem with mixing a little Old Covenant (Law) into the New Covenant (Gospel), is that it subtly moves Christian’s faith from Christ to “self”, from God’s righteousness to self-righteousness. Only the light of the Gospel that proclaims salvation to be “not of your ’selves’, but the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8,9) can cause the only repentance in believers that enables them to walk in the spirit, in their union with God’s Spirit; the repenting of their self-righteousness (religion).

How hard it is to let go of the product of our own best efforts for God. Abraham wept many tears when the Lord told Him that the son of His flesh, Ishmael, would never live the blessed life of the son of the Spirit, Isaac (Gal.4:28-31). Law and Grace cannot live together in the same house! Only when believers see the eternal glory of Christ as freely gifted to them, can they lay down the bling of a glittering religious identity and take up the heavenly gold of their union with Christ in God.

This nation desperately needs the Church, those who carry the name of Christ, to repent of their religion. For this reason, the rising Church will preach salvation (justification and sanctification), as entirely the gift of His grace (Ephesians 2:8,9), for only a gospel that lifts our eyes entirely onto Christ, can transform the face of the Church to be as a shining light (Colossians 3:2,3, Hebrews 12:2, 2Cor.3:18). Only the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24) can call out a people who have sat under the shadow of the Law, into the glorious dawn that the appearing of Grace has ushered in (Titus 2:11).

Arise Church, out of the darkness of self-righteousness and into the glorious light that the message of God’s righteousness proclaims (Romans 1:16,17). For your glory has come and now we can see why Jesus rejoiced to lay down His life, for that glory is nothing less than marriage to God, that we may bear the fruit of His life, the us life. Only as we repent of self-righteousness can we bear the light of God’s righteousness and only that light has the power to reveal to this generation that the glitter of this world’s separation from God, is utter darkness compared to the true light of union with Christ.

“Only those who know the grace of God, should claim to know the God of grace!”

“You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”                                                                    John 5:39,40.

The religious Jews who opposed Jesus had so prided themselves in their knowledge about God, that they thought that knowing about God was the only way for God to be known in this life. In other words, they saw the Law, (knowing as much as you could about right and wrong), as the culmination of knowing God. They saw doing good as knowing God. They saw knowing right from wrong as knowing God. The result was, with their focus so fixed on themselves, they effectively blinded themselves to God’s presence right with them; Christ. (Rom.10:1-3)

Even today, the more a Christian has been brought up under a Law-based, Old Covenant way of thinking of God, the more they will think that knowing ‘right from wrong’ is knowing God and the more they too (like the religious Jews of Jesus’ day) will start to despise people who do wrong, stand back from them and condemn them.

Here is the Gospel. You and I, as Christians, are only saved today because we have a God who did not stand back from us and condemn us when we were doing wrong, but rushed to meet us at our point of need! If all we can do is criticize, condemn and step back from people who do wrong, then we may know right from wrong, but we don’t know God as well as we would like people to think we do (Luke 9:54,55).

Only those who know the grace of God, should claim to know the God of grace!

Before we as Christians claim to speak for God, let us remember that the God of whom we speak, is the God who did not come into this world to condemn sinners but to save them (John 3:17). He knew that the root of all they did was sin; (separation from His presence) and so their salvation could only come by the ending of that separation, by union with God through Christ.

So yes, we could like Moses just give our neighbours the Law and tell them to get on with doing good and they will be blessed. But doing good will not cause them to know God! Knowing right from wrong is not enough to know God (John 5:39). There were two trees in the garden. Surely the Church can do better than merely point the world to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Do we not have the tree of life?

The apostle John declares this truth in John 1:17; “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The Church is not called to sit in its ivory towers giving out the Law to their communities, but to be Christ to those communities. If Christ; the head of the body, loved sinners and knowing He was life to them, gave His presence to them, drew near to them, then how can we the body, draw back from them and still claim to be knowing God? How can the head and the body be going in two different directions at the same time?

What our community needs is the presence of God. We need to take down every barrier that may prevent the Church going out to the community or the community drawing near the Church. That’s why we need to preach the Gospel, the revelation of the generosity of God to Christians, so that we, the body of Christ, become so aware of God’s presence, His heart for the lost, that we are carried by His presence into the community; not out of guilt or fear, but because the love of God compels us (2Cor.5:14). Taking down barriers also involves transforming the physical appearance of our church buildings, so that we are better equipped to welcome people into a place where we can sit down and be with them, rather than merely talk at them. Why do we need to be with them? Because living in the presence of the person of God, is the power to be changed.

Here is a simple church strategy for evangelism. Keep preaching the undiluted, glorious, magnificent, gospel of Christ’s finished work so that believers live constantly aware of the presence of God (be thee being filled with the Spirit of God. (Eph 5:18). Then, by all means possible, bring the lost into the presence of people who are living in the presence of God, that they might taste and see that the Lord is good! This we do primarily by sending believers out into the midst of the community full of the Holy Spirit. Apostolic means ‘sent one’.  So, we keep preaching ‘Christ in you’, that you may be persuaded that you are now Christ in the world! Only disciples convinced that God is with them, are ready to be sent out (Matt.28:19,20).

The presence of God is communicated in a powerful way through the proclamation of the gospel, the message of what God has done. The Gospel is good news precisely because it is not news of what God will do (if you…), but news of what God has done (when you were incapable of doing anything). It is the clear declaration that His presence, His eternal life, is available today (here and now) and not sometime in the future when you have cleaned yourself up enough, or died (then and there).

Can I encourage you that if you carry the name of Christ, then you are called to grow in intimacy with God, not just hunker down till the Lord comes back! The way God has chosen for us to know Him and grow in Him, is by living as part of a body, by participating in this one life together (Heb.10:25). That’s why the work of the Spirit is always to bring the body together and the work of the enemy is always to tear the body apart. You will receive the deepest wounds in the house of your friends. Nodding acquaintances can’t hurt you like your family or church family can. Of course your postman or your milkman appears to be nicer to you than some Christians! That’s because you have placed no expectations on him/her at all, whereas you demand Christians to come up to a certain standard, which is a sure recipe for taking offence. God has given each believer a way to overcome hurt, rejection and unforgiveness in our lives, the things that cause us to want to draw back from the body. This truth, that sets us free from offence, is so important that we put it up on the powerpoint every Sunday. Christian, you cannot take offence because ….”You died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Col.3:3)

No amount of rejection in your life can hold a candle to the acceptance you have in Christ. So live in God’s acceptance, not the world’s rejection. Live in Christ, not in the hurt of what they did to you. Live in the light, not in the dark. Live in the reality of the presence of God. Live in the light of what Christ has done. Live in the light that your life is hidden with Christ in God and as we do that together as a local church, we will be that light on a hill and others will see that light and it will draw them out of darkness.