“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.

Stop trying to enter His favour. Enter His rest.

“Man cannot live on bread alone but on every word that keeps proceeding from the mouth of God.”                                                                                     Matt.4:4

Three times the devil came to Jesus and each time questioned His relationship with the Father; “If you are the son of God…”. Each time Jesus had to take a stand against these accusations and He did so with the same words; “It is written…”

Notice Jesus at this point did not look to his own earthly record. He never said, “I am the son of God because of what I have done”. If anyone deserved to point to their record as a justification for the blessing of God it was Jesus, but where did He point to in order to resist the devil? He said; “It is written. Man cannot live on bread alone but on every word that keeps proceeding from the mouth of God.” (Matt.4:4). Jesus pointed to the bond between Himself and His Father, to their communion. He refused to be His own source of life, to sustain Himself apart from the Father. This was a consistent truth that Jesus kept returning to; that the persons of the Godhead do not see life as an individual pursuit, but only through relationship. (John 12:49,50. John 14:9-11, John 16:12,13).

The voice of condemnation still points each of us to our record and says; “Call yourself a Christian?” Without a revelation that the source of our new life is our union with Christ, many believers fall into condemnation and discouragement as they attempt to ‘prove’ their Christian credentials by their church work. Instead of growing up in the revelation of their new life as united with Christ (1Cor.6:17, Col.3:3), through being taught about the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17, 2Cor.5:21, Hebrews 5:13), much teaching instead repeatedly points them to their lifestyle; (public behaviour, church-going, Bible knowledge and evangelistic activities) as what will really please God. This unfortunately starts believers off on a treadmill of attempting to enter God’s favour, instead of entering His rest!

Without a foundational understanding that their old, ‘try your best for God’, self, died with Christ (Gal.2:20, Col.3:3) and that now Christ’s life is their life (1 Cor.6:17, Col.3:4), many Christians spend a lifetime still thinking and so living from self-alone. Yet the Cross was God’s way of bringing that old self-alone life to an end.

The image of the Cross looks like the letter “I” with a stroke through it. That is precisely what God did at the Cross. Christ took your old separated from God (sinful) condition and died it away, that you and I would no longer live cut off from Him in our thinking and living, but would live drawing life from our union with Him.

When we are tempted to doubt or despair, it is often because we are looking in the wrong direction; at our natural circumstances, rather than our eternal life. Don’t look at what’s coming against you. Look at who you are hidden in and joined to. To tempt Jesus to despair, Satan pointed Him to the dry and hard environment He was in and claimed that a son of God shouldn’t be in this situation. Jesus’ reply showed that His identity, His very life, was not rooted in what was happening to Him, but in His relationship with His Father. He refused the idea that life could be defined by one’s own performance, or by the accumulation or consumption of natural resources (Matt.4:4, Luke 12:15). Rather true life was ‘being together with’ God. In fact, Jesus defined eternal life in terms of relationship with the Father (John 17:3). Because Jesus knew that through His own life, death and resurrection, man could once more be joined in spirit to God, this is why He was able to declare “I am the life”. As we are taught by the Holy Spirit to think about life as God thinks, then we too come to see that apart from union with God through Christ, men are not really living, only existing! To the world who points to their material gains, the Christian with a revelation of their union with God (in Christ), can (like Jesus) say to the world, the flesh and the devil….”But that’s not life!” Man cannot live on bread alone because He was not made merely for natural things (like bread and possessions), but made for God, for communion with Him and that communion (the very words God speaks to Him) is life itself.

Of course God, as any good Father, desires that men and women are well provided for in the natural realm, but that is not His definition of a “good life”. Imagine if you were the father of a child that had been born in prison and grew up in solitary confinement. Would knowing that all their needs, for food and shelter and even education were being given to them in their cell satisfy you that they were having a “good life”? Knowing the life of relationships they were missing out on, you would know that they couldn’t possibly grow into the person you wanted them to be, apart from those relationships. You would barely describe what they had as life. To you they would be existing in that cell, but not really living.

The difference between being in relationship with God, in communion with Him through Christ and being apart from Him are so great, that to God, anybody living without Christ looks to Him to be in solitary confinement! Think of that. A man or woman may appear to have many friends and a busy social life, yet deep down remain afraid of being alone, for all their human relationships are not fulfilling a deeper desire for communion within their soul, a need only God can fill.

Yet Christians too, without a revelation of how God sees life (as communion), can be so influenced by the spirit of the world (I need more in my life) that they live continually trying to please God as if there is something more He would give them if they behaved better. Meanwhile the Spirit that comes from God is seeking to open their eyes to see that God has freely given all He has to give (Rom.8:32, 1Cor.2:12, 1Cor.3:16,21-23), because perfect love doesn’t give on the basis of our worthiness to receive, but on His willingness to give (Rom.5:8).

So “pray harder, worship better, give more, try harder, one more big push and God will give you what you need”, is a message for the blind leading the blind. Go back to the Cross and look at God in Christ giving everything He has on Calvary, even unto death and ask yourself this question, “Does that look like God is withholding Himself from me until I do better?” (Rom.8:32)

The worst thing someone can do for us is to keep directing our attention off Christ and onto our Christian works. It takes our focus off what Christ has done and shifts our faith off that rock and onto the shifting sands of our performance. That has the same effect as Peter dropping his gaze off Jesus and onto the wind and the waves; we sink into self-condemnation.

Religion says that a man gets what he deserves, so try harder to deserve more. Make every effort to enter His favour. Pray harder, Worship harder.  The problem is when that doesn’t work, (and it can’t because God doesn’t bless you on the basis of your righteousness, but Christ’s), the disappointment only makes you harder in your heart. Sit under that message long enough and you will get disappointed often enough in God that unbelief will grow in you because “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Prov.13:12) An unbelieving heart struggles to receive the truth of God’s grace; that in Christ we already have God’s favour! If you will not as a believer repent (change your thinking) about how much you already have in Christ (all you need), then you will never in this life enjoy the rest in your soul that allows the fruit of His life to blossom, for as long as you are striving to enter His favour, you cannot enter into the experience of His rest (Ps116:7, Rom.10:1-4).

How God sees.

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24

Jesus said to the woman at the well and to us, “You cannot worship whom you do not know.” God is spirit, therefore to know Him, we can only know Him by the spirit. So to worship God in spirit and in truth, we must see by the Spirit of God who He is. You and I cannot rely on our natural senses to tell us who God is. You may feel that He is disappointed in you, you may feel that He is angry with you, you may feel that He is ignoring you and so come to a conclusion about who He is through your natural feelings. That is not knowing Him by the spirit. You may see some disaster in the world or some terrible tragedy befall a particular type of person or people and make up your mind about who He is by what you see. That is not knowing Him by the spirit. You may hear tremendously moving or persuasive accounts of men, who think they know what He is like and make up your mind about Him by what you hear. That too is not knowing Him by the spirit.

For each one of us, the only true revelation of who God is, comes by the Spirit. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”  (1Cor.12:3) To see God as He truly is, you must see by the Holy Spirit. But what does that mean? What does it mean….to see by the Spirit?

One day, about 2018 years ago in the temple in Jerusalem, it was an ordinary day with many hundreds of people coming and going, including many new mothers bringing their babies to be dedicated to the Lord. An old man called Simeon, being full of the Holy Spirit, walked across the temple court, picked out one particular baby; Jesus, picked him up in his arms and to the shock of Mary and Joseph said “Bless you Lord. Now I can die in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29,30)

What is it to see by the Spirit? To see by the Spirit, is to see what the Spirit sees.

We must understand that what the Spirit sees as perfect and full of the glory of God, our natural eyes, our natural understanding sees as weak and foolish, –like a new-born baby, looking just like all the other new born babies.

As believers, if we do not allow the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see what He sees, then we will live like mere men. If we only see ourselves in the natural, then all we will ever see of ourselves as believers, is that we are weak, foolish and sinful and we will remain blind to what the Spirit sees; that we are perfect and full of the glory of God, ….for here is what the Spirit sees, He sees Christ in you and you in Christ.

What do you see?

Jesus came to open the eyes of the blind, to bring sight not just in the natural, but that men would see what God sees. What does God see when He looks at us as believers? He sees us in Christ as His beautiful, perfect bride, for when He looks at us, He sees His new creation in Christ, He sees His perfect work of redemption. When He looks at us, He does not see our work, He sees His. He does not see our life (separated/apart from Him/fallen short of His glory/sinful life). He does not see a separated life because He does not see two lives, our old life and our new life. He sees one life, for as Jesus declared in the garden of Gethsemane, we are made perfect in one (John 17:23). Atonement is all about at-one-ment.

That is why the Holy Spirit ministers to our spirits, to the new man in Christ and speaks to us as if we are complete in Christ, because that is the reality He sees (Col.2:10).

The Holy Spirit does not see us, nor speak to us, according to who we think we are, or feel ourselves to be. He speaks to us according to who He knows us to be.

You may say, ‘are you seriously asking me to see myself from heaven’s perspective?’ Yes! The Gospel is seriously asking you to see yourself from heaven’s perspective. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col.3:2-4) Set your mind on things above, not earthly things, for you died and your life is no longer a self alone life but an US life. The Holy Spirit doesn’t waste His time speaking to a dead man, He only speaks to the new creation. If we want to know who the Holy Spirit sees us as believers to be, we need only read the Word, for He wrote it. He wrote this in 2.Cor.5:17. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Now that is how the Spirit sees us, ALL NEW, …..but many of us Christians have a problem. We don’t see very well in the Spirit. We just can’t seem to see ourselves as the Spirit sees us! According to what Jesus declared to this Samaritan woman, if we can’t see what God sees, we can’t worship Him in spirit and in truth. When we think of worship, as Christians, we think of singing and being in church. But to God, our life is our worship; how we are living and how we are living all comes down to what we see, what we are believing (Prov.4:23, Prov.23:7)

Eager to impress God the people said to Jesus, “What should we do that we may do the works of God?” Right the way across the Church today, the same question is being debated; “What should the Church be doing, to be about God’s business, to be doing the works of God? In John 6:29, Jesus gave the answer to that question; “This is the work of God, “Believe in the one he sent.”

To be fruitful in God, we must not define ourselves, we must not see ourselves, by what we do. We must believe in His work, not ours. To worship God in spirit and in truth is not about singing the right songs, or putting on the right sort of meetings, it is about living each day according to how God sees us, not how the world sees us, for how God sees us, is the only truth that God sees (1Sam.16:17, 2Cor.5:16)

When you are a father or mother, you see your children as the most precious things in the world. But every day you know that they will go into a world that does not see them as you see them. They will be in a classroom, or a bus, or a street, or one day a factory and to everyone else they will just be another nameless face in the crowd. The world will not treat them as you treat them. They will not speak to them as you do, for they do not see the truth that you see; they do not see how precious and perfect they are. Your hope and your prayer is this; that your children would not grow to see themselves through the world’s eyes, but through yours; that they would grow in the truth of how special, how wonderful they are and in knowing that truth about themselves, that truth would appear in their lives, so that they would lead the wonderful and precious life that you always saw in them. Welcome to the Gospel that abolished religion. Welcome to the message that still opens the eyes of men and women to see in Christ how God sees us.

How God sees us, is the only truth that God sees. Most of us as Christians, when we look at ourselves, all we see is our old record. As long as that is all you see, then that will be all you sound like; the same old record. Here’s the Gospel; God changed your record. If any man be in Christ, the old record has passed away, behold all things have become new. Keep looking to Christ as your life and your life will be worship to God, in spirit and in truth.

 

Learning to think as heaven thinks.

Of all the people who ever walked the earth, the person who said the most extraordinary words that have ever been uttered on this earth was Jesus Christ. Who else had ever said to a man who had been dead for four days, “Come forth!” Who else had ever said to a cripple, “All your sins are forgiven. Get up and walk!” Who else has ever said of Himself; “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days.” We also know that the things He said, especially to people of notorious character, appeared to many foolish and dangerous and yet not only did His words delight these people, but also transformed those who believed them. He seemed to have had an entirely different view of people, what we now know to have been a heavenly view, a view from eternity. Even the soldiers sent to arrest Him, were instead themselves arrested by His words! They summed up what everyone else was thinking “No-one has ever spoken the way this man does!” (John 7:46) Do you think it may have been God’s intention that His Church speak like that? Jesus attracted the pub crowd, but was despised by the religious crowd. How has the Church managed to reverse that? Could it be because we have not learned to speak from heaven’s perspective over people and are left looking at their natural behavior?  On being asked about the things He said, John 12:49,50 records Jesus’ amazing answer. He said of His own words….“I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. ….Whatever I say, is just what the Father has told me to say!” In other words, Jesus spoke the most extraordinary words, because He was hearing the most extraordinary words.

We gather together as Church because we have a deep desire to hear from God. Despite being the generation of the Church that has more access to earthly resources that any previous generation, we can all see, year after year, that no amount of finance, experience, knowledge or manpower can do what revelation from heaven can do. What Jesus said to Peter about building the Church, is as true today as the day He said it (Matt.16:17). Flesh and blood cannot give us the revelation, the extraordinary words, the words that manifest the Kingdom of heaven. They can only come from our Father in heaven.

Here is something else extraordinary that Jesus said recorded in John 14:12; “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do;”  All that leads us to this conclusion. If the source of the extraordinary works that Jesus did, was the extraordinary words He said and if the source of the extraordinary words He said, was the extraordinary words He heard from heaven, then there can only be two possible reasons why we, the Church, are largely not yet doing the extraordinary works of Jesus. Either our Father in heaven is not speaking extraordinary words to us, or, for some reason, we are not hearing the extraordinary words He is speaking to us. I think we can agree that it cannot be the first reason, because Jesus gave a promise to His disciples about God continuing to speak to His Church. Those words are recorded in John 16:12,13. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

Isn’t that interesting. According to Jesus, even the Holy Spirit does not speak on His own, but only what He hears in the Godhead. Neither Father, nor Son, nor Holy Spirit, say or do anything on their own. They live and speak as an US. To God, life is not singular, it is found in communion and it manifests through conversation. This is the life God offers to us; the “us” life.

I believe that the Holy Spirit holds out to the Church of each generation, an extraordinary invitation; an invitation to do nothing less than participate in the conversation of the Godhead, by taking our place in the communion of the Godhead. This invitation can be found among other places in Colossians 3:1-3 and reads as follows; “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” For so long in our lives as Christians, we have thought of our life in terms of ‘what do I need to do for God?’ But to God, life is not an I. Life is not singular, it is found in communion and it manifests through conversation. Remember, God is not asking us to do anything for Him. He is asking us to do everything with Him! We can see this view of life right from the very first chapter of the Bible, because we can hear it in the way God speaks, when He says things such as “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” (Gen.1:26) And later when God looks at Adam standing alone and says; “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen.2:18)

Here surely must be one way we can measure the maturity of any believer; Does their life appear to have matured out of the “I” mind-set of the first Adam and into the US mind-set of the last Adam?

Or in plainer English, “Is that Christian acting for the good of the body, or for the good of Himself?

So, we have ruled out the possibility that our Father in heaven is no longer speaking extraordinary words to His Church, for every good Father speaks to His children and indeed Romans 8:16 assures us that, “The Holy Spirit does testifiy/witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.”
So that leaves us with a question. If God is speaking, then why are we, the Church, largely today, not hearing and so not speaking into this generation, the extraordinary words that are coming from heaven; words so extraordinary that they manifest/reveal the power of the Kingdom of the Son, to be greater than the Kingdom of darkness?

Here is a big clue in 1Cor.2:14 “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them.” Many times, I should have prophesied, spoken by the Spirit of God, extraordinary words over what appeared very ordinary people or ordinary situations, but I did not, because I could not accept, could not get past, how foolish those words sounded to me. As a natural man, I have matured to the point where I am able to speak an earthly language fluently; a language called English. But as a spiritual man, I have not yet matured to the point where I able to speak a heavenly language fluently; a language called Foolish. Unfortunately for me, 1Cor.1:21 doesn’t say that God was well-pleased through the Englishness of the message preached, to save those who believe. It says that “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” So what’s hindering me as a believer from speaking fluent foolish? (from speaking words so extraordinary, that to the natural, logical, rational, earthly mind, they sound foolish) The answer is that words come from thoughts. If I am largely not speaking the words of God, it is because I am largely not thinking the thoughts of God. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just want to give us the words of God to pass on, as if we are no more than courier service. God’s vision of the Church is not a post office. We are not simple a heavenly version of Parcel Express, to deliver God’s mail. In being given the Holy Spirit, we have been given the mind of Christ, that we may think the thoughts of God, for it is from the thoughts of God that the words of God come. This is how the apostle Paul expressed this truth to the Corinthians in 1Cor.2:12,13 “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, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. So I want to put it to you today that the reason we the Church are by and large not hearing and so speaking into this generation, the extraordinary words that are coming from heaven, is because ….something is hindering us from thinking the thoughts that Heaven thinks. Here is a clue. There is an Old way of thinking and a New way of thinking

The yoke that brings rest: Union with Christ.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28,29

The Gospel has the power to bring God’s life to people because it is a supernatural message. It is a message about God has done for all people. It is not a message about what people need to do for God. Messages about what people should be doing for God, may sound very good, because we all value good advice. But they don’t bring life, because they don’t point you to God and say “Isn’t He good?” They point you to yourself and say “Why aren’t you better?” Many of us as believers, have been fed in church for years a diet of good advice.

Jesus did not die, so that you would have access to good advice. He died so that you and I could have access to His table. He died so that we could take our seats at His table and partake of the richest food in the world, communion with God (Eph.2:6)

I have spoken recently of a family birthday tradition that Nicola has followed for years with each of our children. On the morning of their birthday they find the kitchen and breakfast table covered in balloons and decorations, with sweets and presents on the table. She only asks one thing of each of them; that they take a seat and enjoy the generous provision that she has lovingly and freely provided. Her joy is to see their faces when they see the table, for they are the faces of children who know that what they see is already theirs, who know that they have absolutely nothing to do to earn this feast, only sit down and enjoy it. How our Father in heaven must yearn to see that look of joy on the faces of the men and women for whom He provided the greatest and most precious gift ever; a seat at His table, a share in His life.

What would you think as a parent, if you prepared and laid out a feast like that for your child, only to watch them day after day, spend so long washing their hands before they come to the table, that every morning, they run out of time and never make it to the feast? Now you have some idea of how the Father must feel over His Church, His children, trying so hard, for years to clean themselves up, that they have yet to know what it is to sit down at His table. What do you think our Father in heaven feels like, when the Church teaches a message that keeps His children trying to clean themselves up for so long, that although they have been Christian for years, yet they have still not partaken of the joy and liberty and extravagant abundance of the life prepared and laid out before them; a life free from fear, guilt and shame?

Here is the Gospel. Through Christ, the Father “brought you to the banqueting house and His banner over you is love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4)

Any teaching that places your hope of union with God, on your life, on how clean your life is, (let’s call that religion), will effectively separate you in your mind from God. Religion separates people from God and then makes a living on charging them to draw near. The moment you as a believer, start to think that the state of your life, separates you from God’s Spirit, then you have just given away the gift of His rest and opened yourself up to believe every strange teaching blowing through the church, that will tell you something you should be doing, or praying, or giving to get closer to God.

The reason many of us as Christians struggle to know the rest and peace of God, in the midst of this world of trouble, is that in our minds we have become separated from God. Someone has directed us away from the table of His presence and back to the sink to wash ourselves for the umpteenth time.

When Jesus speaks of coming to Him for rest in Matthew 11:28, why does He start to talk about giving us a yoke? Because a yoke is the means by which two lives become one. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, were the means by which two lives could become one; yours and His. To come to Him, is to accept His yoke, to accept union with Him. Now what God has joined together, let not man put asunder. Rest for your soul is only found when you will accept union with Christ, accept that

“He who is joined to the Lord, is one spirit with Him” (1 Cor. 6:17)

Jesus left water baptism to help the renewal of the mind, the thinking of all believers. You were water baptised to help you get rid of the idea that you could live the life of union with God, while at the same time live a life separate from God. That old ‘separated from God’ life, that ‘trying to clean myself up’ life, died and was buried.

The day I married Nicola, my old separated life, single life, apart from her life, ended. Two became one. This is a mystery, but it is a reality that I live in every day. Because my heart was fully persuaded of the truth of our union, then my mind became totally renewed to this reality. I don’t have to try hard every day to be married to Nicola, I just am. It is totally effortless, because the substance, the nature of our union is LOVE, a shared love that yokes us together as one.

Jesus promised, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. If you have to try hard to be a Christian every day, that is just a sign that your mind is not renewed yet to the truth that….Your life for Him, does not make you a Christian. His life in you makes you a Christian!

Is there discipline and effort in my life as a Christian? Yes, but not to earn the rest of God, but to enter into the rest of God. “Make every effort to enter that rest”, the Lord declares (Hebrews 4:11). It is an effort to enter into the rest, of union with Christ, because the foundation of that rest is a truth that the ego struggles to receive; your old single life died. As the spirit of this world lifts up you and your ego and as that spirit of performance is also at work in the church, then it requires an effort to enter the rest of God because the world and most of the Church are flowing in the other direction. They are not pointing to God and saying “Isn’t He good?” but pointing to you and saying “Why aren’t you better?”

A mother does not have to produce a child, she only bears a child. Christian, God is not asking you to produce the life of Christ, only bear the life of Christ. That is why Jesus sent His disciples out into the world with these words…“Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8), because He knew that none of us can give without a revelation of what we have already received.

God never asks us to do anything, that His life in us doesn’t want to do or isn’t able to do. In truth He never asks us to do anything but what His life in us can do, for He is convinced and wants us to be too, that we are a totally new creation, joined to Him in spirit and have within us the same miracle working spirit that rose Christ from the dead. If I want my children to be convinced of their worth in my eyes, then I refuse point blank to address them in any other way, but in the truth of their worth. Even if they feel badly about themselves, I refuse to speak to them in agreement with the way they feel, but want my words to lift them up into the truth of their great worth.

Please listen carefully. Even though you and I may struggle to see ourselves as one with God in Spirit, supernatural children of a supernatural God, our Father cannot agree to speak to us according to how we feel. He cannot speak a lie. This is why the things the Holy Spirit says to His Church will appear to natural soulish thinking as foolishness, whereas the things that a mere religious spirit would teach appear quite reasonable. Have you never noticed that religion only asks of you what is possible? It will tell you; pray more, do more, give more, all of which are possible and appeal to the “me” life, what I can do forGod. But the Holy Spirit does not speak to believers of the possible, but of the impossible. He says “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”(Matt.10:8)

Why? Why does the Holy Spirit ask of believers, things which, apart from God’s Spirit, are impossible to do? Because He can see clearly what we have not yet seen. As believers, we are NOT apart from the Spirit of God, but are one spirit with Him. The life He has called us to is NOT a natural “do you best for God” life. It is “God’s best IN you” life. The Holy Spirit does not speak to the “me” life. He speaks to the “us” life (1Cor.6:19). When we teach Christians that rather than pray to God for the sick, that they should heal the sick, many actually get offended that we are asking of them the impossible! The ironic thing is, that when I look across the body of Christ, what I see is Christians getting burnt out, not by trying to do the impossible, but by trying to do nothing but the possible and striving to do it better! God asks of us the impossible, for that is who He insists we now are; people yoked to the God of the impossible, a people who have ceased from their ‘possible’ works and found the rest of allowing His life in us, the impossibly good life, to be our life.

The God who could not stand back.

At the beginning of January, while I was preparing the first message of the year, the Lord laid a simple statement on my heart which I have come back to again and again. It seemed to me He was saying, “I am not asking you to do one thing FOR me, I only ask you to do everything WITH me.” This is the same truth that Jesus declared in John 15:5, where describing Himself as the vine and us as the branches He said seven little words that can save you and I from a lifetime of barrenness; “apart from me you can do nothing.”

The scriptures are clear on this matter; that we have each been “saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph.2:8,9) What awakened you and I to our need of God was not anything ‘of ourselves’. No one in this church can take credit for their own salvation. Repentance is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. Jesus declared in John 6:44, “No man can come to me unless the Father draws him.” Repentance is not something any man or woman can do apart from God’s presence, apart from the influence/anointing of His Holy Spirit.

Why do I keep repeating that truth? Because I think many of us as Christians pay lip-service to that truth, but we do not let it grip us and humble us. The generosity of God is humbling and I believe the Holy Spirit is continually speaking to us of the generosity of God because He knows that so many of us as Christians become hardened by a world where everything must be achieved by the sweat of our brow and in forgetting salvation remains a gift we lose our thanksgiving, our joy. The Spirit still says to the Church; ‘As you received Him, so walk in Him, …overflowing in thankfulness.’ (Col.2:6,7).

Is it not astonishing then, that so many of us as Christians are quick to criticise the world for their behaviour and their views, when the only thing that separates us from our unbelieving neighbour is the grace of God? How can we demand of them to repent/change as if they could do it on their own, when we could not? None of us repented on our own, apart from the influence of the Holy Spirit. (John 6:44). If the presence of God is what brings unbelievers to faith, then this is not the hour for the Church to stand back from people with ungodly views and lives, this is the hour to draw near them, for today God’s presence is to be found in His body, His people. (1Cor.3:16, Eph.5:18). Jesus was continually to be found among people whose views and lifestyle scandalised the religious and on being challenged about it, His reply was “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mark2:16,17). To Nicodemus also, Jesus declared; “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:17). Jesus never condemned sinners. Do you know why? In the very next verse He tells us why. “They stand condemned already by their unbelief.” (John 3:18).

What unbelievers need is not more condemnation. This is especially true in a nation where historically the condemnation of religion (of all traditions) has driven folk out into the world looking for more compassion and understanding than they found in the church. They don’t need God to stand back from them, they need His presence to draw near them. If the head of the body; Christ, drew near them, then any part of the body that draws back from them has a poor connection with the head, for how can the head and the body be going in two different directions? This happens when the body gets puffed up with pride in its own achievements, forgetting that pious self-denial was not how they were saved! (Col.2:18,19 NLT). Contrary to being puffed up, the sign of believers growing up is that they grow into the head, that is, they share the mind of Christ and the heart of Christ for the lost (Eph.4:15).

Once we come to see that it was entirely and only by the grace of God that we came to know God, through the presence of His Holy Spirit, (who came to us in and through the Word about Christ, the Gospel. Rom.10:17), then we come to understand that what this nation needs, is not the condemnation of religion, but the Gospel of God’s grace, for it is by this gospel that repentance and faith came to us (Acts 20:24). It is the grace of God, the generosity of God, that leads people to repentance (Luke 15:17, Rom.2:4). A god who turns His back on people who disagree with Him, who is unfaithful to them when they are unfaithful to Him, is a god made in the image of men. But that is not the revelation of God that Christ revealed, the God who called from the Cross; “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.” (Luke23:34). The God Christ revealed is a God who, rather than wait until we became more godly, embraced us while we were still ungodly, reconciling us to Himself while we were still his enemies, dead in our sins (Rom.5:6-10). Before we stand in judgement over those who have rejected God’s Word on the sanctity of life of the unborn (Psalm 139:13,14, Jer.1:5 ), let us pause for a moment and remember that such were we and how glad are we that He did not stand back from us, but drew near us to save us? (1Cor.6:11).

He has now given us His Holy Spirit that we might draw near to this world (Mark.16:15), (not stand back from them), for is He who is in us not greater than he who is in the world? Let’s not rely on trying to get people to a church building to encounter God’s presence. Let us awake to the presence of God in each one of us and so be being filled with His Spirit (Eph.5:18), His presence, that we may be His presence in this community and in this generation, because people still awake to their need of God in the same old way they have been awakening for 2000 years. They encounter God’s presence in His people and especially through those who have learned to live in His presence and speak from His presence, people who just don’t know about God, but know God, because they live every day in the truth of His presence, His righteousness freely gifted to them, the truth of Immanuel; God with us.

That’s why at River City, we continually preach of our union with Christ, that we may be, being filled with the knowledge of His presence, because without a revelation of our union with Christ, that we now have the presence of God with us, then the communication of our faith will not be effectual (Philemon 1:6), for we will always be preaching the gospel as doing not being; doing to get God one day, rather than being with God today (2Cor.6:2). We will be forever giving people good advice, (what they should do next for God to keep Him happy) and this nation is sick to death of good advice because every dog in the street can see that there is no power to change in good advice. Good advice only wraps people up more in themselves and their doing. Only the Good news of the gospel will free people from themselves, by wrapping them up with Christ.

River City Church, the reason the Holy Spirit has been soaking us in a message about God’s generosity was never to fill us with pride, but to so humble us, that we are filled with love for unbelievers, knowing that all they need is the gift we have received; the grace of God in Christ. This grace came to us through the Gospel and now lives in us as the very presence of God, His Holy Spirit. So, let us offer them His presence by declaring to them the same Gospel by which His presence came to us, the gospel that sets a nation free from the heavy yoke of religion (doing to get), that has driven people to live as if God is dead. That Gospel is this; Ireland, the holy life you could not reach, has reached down to you in the person of Christ. He did not and does not stand back from you. Rather He came to you and has become for you, all that you tried to be yourself, apart from Him. He has become for you wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. He has left you not one thing to do for Him, only believe in His goodness, not yours, and in believing in Him, you will find yourself where He always wanted you to be; with Him!

 

The turning point: Learning to receive what God has given.

“If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”                                                                      Romans 4:1-3

We were not made, we were not designed, to live apart from God. The original lie remains a lie; we cannot be like God by merely taking the knowledge of what good is and trying to be good. No matter how hard I try, I cannot be good as God is good. I cannot make myself “as good as new”. This may come as a shock, but God doesn’t try to be good, He just is! God is good because God is love. Goodness is His nature and in Him there is no evil at all. The apostle John declared God to be “full of light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1John 1:5). God’s nature never changes and this unchanging goodness of God is described as His “Immutability”. This means that God’s character cannot have changed between the Old Testament and the New. The God of the New Testament; the God of Peter and John, was the same God as that of the Old Testament; the God of Moses and Elijah. Yet it was precisely this belief, that God does not change, that was used by Jesus’ opponents again and again as the reason they would not believe in Him. To them, the God of Moses was a God who brought death and destruction, sickness and disease, on those disobedient to His commands. (Deut.28:21,22) Even to Jesus’ own disciples it seemed obvious that those afflicted with disease or poverty must have done something to deserve it (John 9:2) It also appeared obvious in that day, that if someone was caught in the very act of adultery then God wanted them stoned to death. They could point to the very scripture to prove it (Lev.20:10). Yet Jesus appeared to go out of His way to show mercy and grace to the very people the religious saw as the enemies of God. He healed all the sick who came to Him, without exception and declared God’s forgiveness for notorious sinners and did all this not from a respectable distance, but living His life in the midst of them, in genuine love. Again and again both from Jesus’ own lips (John. 5:19, 14:9) and from the writings of the apostles (John 1:18, Col.1:15, Heb.1:3), Jesus was declared to be God incarnate. Now if God is immutable and doesn’t change, how do we explain this? Is He angry at sinners or full of compassion for them? Does He bless some and curse others, based on their obedience to His commands, or does He bless all who come to Him, irrespective of their righteousness? (Matt.15:30, Luke 4:40, 6:19) You see if God really is immutable, unchanging, then His thinking and His character has not ‘evolved’ from one attitude into another. His nature, His heart, His character, His judgement, view and opinion (glory) has always been the same and always will be. So which is it? Does God inspect our righteousness, our prayer life, the level of sin in our lives or some other aspect of our performance and decide whether He will bless or heal us based on that? Or did Jesus really do what the Gospel declares that He did; reveal the way God has always felt about us, from even before the world was made? (2Tim.1:9). Did He not reveal that God is a God who never wanted the limits of our obedience to be the limits of His blessing, no more than we ever wanted our children to think that we only care for them for the obedience that we can get out of them? Is He a Father who cares about us, or one who only cares about our behaviour?  Is He not the God who came and set us right with Himself, by freely giving us His Spirit, His life, because He knew that apart from giving Himself to us, there was no way we could ever be good like Him, new like Him? Is it true that all we have to do, like Abraham, is enter into what God has done for us and trust that He has set us right with Himself, rather than trying to be right on our own? Can we really trust in Jesus’s life as the only reason why we can receive freely from God (Eph 2:8,9), or should we keep trying to add our righteousness to His?

The more we are hoping that our lives are holy enough for God to bless or heal us, the more we will have difficulty receiving from God (James 1:6-8), for we have not yet made up our mind that Jesus is our new life before God (Col.3:4). The reason many of us have struggled for years to receive from God is that we have not grown in the Spirit to see ourselves as God sees us, to see that our old “try harder” life died (Col.3:2,3) and has been replaced by an entirely new life (2Cor.5;17) The Spirit leads us into this life by showing us just how much God has already given to us; everything in Christ! (Rom.8:32, Eph.1:3). This revelation leads us into rest and peace with God. It enables me to keep both eyes on His finished work, not one eye on His work and one on mine. That’s a recipe for going around in circles! Do we have a God who waits to see what we are like before He gives, or do we have a God who revealed His true nature by giving us everything when we didn’t deserve anything (Rom.5:8). Am I still spending my Christian life waiting for God to bless me because He is a God who has yet to make up His mind whether to give, or because I have yet to make up my mind that He has given?

Don’t wait till another year to receive what God has done. Make your life a story about God’s generosity, not your religiosity. Let the Gospel of God’s grace make up your mind, once and for all, about who this God is. Let Him be the God that came, the God that set you right. Don’t live as if Christ never came and God is waiting for you to be right, be good, be new, on your own. Rather let the generosity of God lead you to change your thinking (repent) of trying to impress God.

Christian, how much of your life you spend trying to impress God, is the measure of how little impression you think Christ made on your behalf. God is immutable, unchanging. Don’t waste another day of your life trying to change His mind about you. Instead hear the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit change your mind, so that your days of waiting, your days of living merely by your natural senses can end and your days of living in the Spirit can begin (1Cor.2:12 I believe the Holy Spirit comes to change our mind and give us God’s mind, to lead us into the truth of how much God has shared His life with us. I don’t believe God has given us His life, half-heartedly, hesitantly or conditionally, but fully, freely and unconditionally. But I have had a problem down the years in learning to receive freely. I have lived double-minded, one moment thanking God that things are going well, the next wondering what I have done to deserve all my troubles. One moment living as if Jesus’ life and God’s Spirit, has been given to me unreservedly, the next wondering what I have to do to get more out of Him. I believe such double-mindedness about God’s character hinders my ability to freely receive, for He has given on the basis of Jesus life and I am attempting to receive on the basis of my life. What is the postman to do when confronted with a man who only has to sign his name to receive, but insists on paying for what has already been paid for? Why do we struggle so much to receive freely? Because we have been conformed to this world and the elementary principle of this world, which is that everyone gets what they deserve, so get busy deserving (Col.2:20). Through the revelation of the true immutable character of God, revealed in Jesus, my thinking is being renewed and my life transformed, from anxiety to peace, from self-centredness to generosity, from self-life to Christ-life. Jesus said to His disciples, “Freely you have received, freely give.” In terms of being able to fully freely receive the forgiveness and healing that is in Christ, I am not there yet. I still struggle at times to receive. As a result I am not fully able to minister (give) what has been placed in me to give; the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead. But this one thing I know; I am not where I was. My thinking is being changed and I am growing in the revelation that the immutable unchanging nature of God means that I can stop striving to impress a God whose love and good purpose for my life never will change. I can learn to enter more fully into what God has done for me (sonship in Christ), rather than continue to try and be right on my own (religion). The Holy Spirit is teaching us to daily sign our name, to freely receive the parcel of sonship that is being presented to us, so that we may open up the real story of our lives, the story of His life given to me, not my life given for Him!