If then you were raised with Christ.

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

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

Run John run, the law commands, but gives us neither feet nor hands. Far better news the gospel brings, it bids us fly and gives us wings.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prodigal Church is Coming Home

Acts 4 tells us that when the religious leaders saw the boldness and confidence of the apostles, it says that they “took note that these men had been with Jesus”. What they could not understand (because such things are foolishness to the natural mind) is that the filling of the Holy Spirit enables us to rise from becoming to being. The apostles weren’t bold because they had been with Jesus (after all they had been with him for three years and then ran off as soon as He was taken from them). They were bold and full of confidence because since being filled with the Spirit, they found themselves BEING with Jesus all the time, for that is what the Holy Spirit does, raises us up from becoming to Being, from promise to Presence. The Holy Spirit is given, that we can live in the presence of God.

He came down to lift us up, in our being, from people waiting for God, to people being with God. Let me put it this way. We can only find our true being, in His presence. In the Old Testament under the Old Covenant, we see God’s people waiting for a Saviour. They were a people living in the promise of God. But in the early Church, under the New Covenant, because of the coming of the Holy Spirit, God’s people are no longer a people living in the promise of God. Why not? I will let Jesus answer that from Luke 24:49. He said to His disciples….“Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” If you are a Christian then you received God’s Spirit, and if you received God’s Spirit, His promise, then you now no longer have to live in the promise of God, you can live in the presence of God.

Have you noticed? When the Holy Spirit speaks to you, He doesn’t speak of who you could be, but of you are are, because He doesn’t speak to you on the basis of your life, but Christs. (Rom.8:16) He calls you as if you already are whom you hope to become, because the Kingdom of the Son is the realm of what now is! In heaven, there is no one trying to become anyone, for all have found their being with God (Col.3:1-4). The Kingdom of heaven is not the realm of becoming, it is the realm of being!

So let it be done on the earth as it is in heaven, let the ‘being with’ God be manifest on the earth, through the lives of men and women filled with God’s Spirit, the ‘being with God’ Spirit. No matter what you have done in this life, or what has been done to you. No matter what your earthly record is, God’s Spirit does not speak to you on the basis of your life for God, but on the basis of His life for you; Christ. (Acts 10:15-19). The Holy Spirit never speaks to you of who you could be, but of who you are! (Acts 9:15-17) Why? Because He wants your faith to rest on Christ’s finished work, not your unfinished works.

This is how you can tell if someone is speaking by God’s Spirit or a religious (self-effort) spirit.

  • If someone is speaking by God’s Spirit, their words will leave you in the presence of God.
  • If someone is speaking by a religious spirit, their words will leave you in the promise of God, for they believe His presence is always for a better people or a better time. There is always something you must do first (Gal.5:2). Do you know that if you live by a religious spirit long enough, it is possible for God to be with you and yet you be totally blind to His presence. Just ask the Pharisees!  
  • In other words, religion will always leave you becoming, but never lift you into being, for it always leaves you looking to yourself, not Christ

It always sounds so holy and biblical, the promise of His presence, but listen carefully and you will discover it is always conditional on your life, not Christ’s (Rom.10:2-4). No matter how many scriptures someone quotes to you, always ask yourself one question. Is what I am hearing, leaving my faith on Christ’s finished work, or my unfinished works?

  • Are they speaking to me of His obedience, or mine.
  • Are they leaving my hope in my repentance, or have they so lifted my hope off myself and onto Christ, that I find that their words are actually causing a metanoia, (a repentance unto God), that their words are actually bringing me into the presence of God and I am finding my life being with God?

Never tell people to repent, as if that is something they can do apart from God’s Spirit. Remember the 7 words of Jesus that set people free from religion/self-effort, Apart from me, you can do nothing (John 15:5). If people cannot repent apart from the Spirit of God, then if you want to see them repent, impart to them the power to repent, by speaking words of the Spirit, words that tell people who they are because Christ lives; ‘reconciled, forgiven, called’, not words that tell them who they could become, if, they, only repented a bit harder, or prayed a bit more, or waited a bit longer! Hope deferred makes the heart sick. The Gospel does not lead people to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, leaving their hope on what they can do to become like God. That’s because the Gospel does not present people with a hope deferred (their works), but a dream fulfilled (Christ’s finished work), a tree of life. (Prov.13:12).

In the natural, new life cannot be birthed apart from intimacy, apart from a ‘being with’. It is the same in the Spirit. Only the Spirit who imparts ‘being with’ God, brings forth new life. That’s why when Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can a man be born from above, born of the Spirit of God?” Jesus never pointed Nicodemus to Himself, or His obedience, or His repentance, rather He lifted Nicodemus’s vision off Himself and onto the Spirit (John 3:5-8) Jesus was saying in effect, “The flesh, what you do, does not birth life in the Spirit. Only the Spirit gives birth to Spirit.” Being is imparted by being with. Only the ‘being with God’ Spirit, can impart the ‘being with God’ life.

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is always to lift our vision

  • From the earthly to the heavenly realm
  • From the temporal to the eternal life
  • From the things that are passing away, onto the things that will never pass away.
  • From our doing for Him, onto His being in us and our being in Him.
  • From a life of always becoming but never arriving, (which describes the life of so many of us in the church for years under a mixed grace and law gospel), to the life of being who He says we now are; a being with God!

Romans 8:16 does not say that the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are becoming God’s children, but that we are God’s children. Or as the apostle John put it, “See how great a love the Father has given us, that we would be called children of God; and in fact that is who we are.” (1John 3:1)

In Luke 15 Jesus tells us that the prodigal son had a plea, a prayer all rehearsed that he was pinning all his hopes on, to move the father to save his life. It went like this, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:21) Listen again to what he is saying? “I am no longer worthy to BE”. He is saying, ‘I want to draw back from the name you would give me; Son.  I want to be named according to what I have done. Give me the name servant.’

As long as the church remains under the Law, tolerating a mixed message of grace and law, she is saying to the Father, in effect, “We are not worthy to be called by the name son, to be ‘in Christ’, to find our being with you, so make us servants, name us after our works. Let us earn our being with you. Let us name ourselves after our works, our repentance, our obedience, our prayer life. Let us live always becoming, but never being, never being ‘with you’.

We all know what the Father thought when He heard his son speak like that. The prodigal may have come home, but his father can hear in his words that he still doesn’t get it. He is falling again, from being to becoming, as the whole human race did when Adam fell.

  • In the first Adam, we fell, from being to becoming; from being with God, to becoming with God, but never arriving. That’s because we could never be like Him, by ourselves, for He is never a God by Himself (Gen.1:26).
  • In the Last Adam, Christ, we rose, from becoming to being; from becoming with God one day, to being with God every day and the power to live that life came with the coming of God’s Spirit, the ‘being with God’ Spirit.

How much does God really want you and I to share in His life, to live as a human being with God? As much as the Father in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal son, desired His son to be with Him. Can you remember how much that father wanted His son to be with Him? Luke 15:20 says that on seeing his son, the father ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. Do you know that the word there that describes the father falling on the prodigal son, is the same word that is used by the apostle Peter, to describe the way the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius’ household as he preached the Gospel to them (Acts 11:15)

That prodigal son left home to make a name for himself and here he is, still trying to name himself after his own life. He is living as an orphan. The prodigal son thinks his greatest need is to know what to do. He is saying in effect, “Father instruct me on what I need to do and I will do it. Be my instructor, my manager.” The Father sees immediately that his son’s greatest need is not to know what to do, but to know who he is. His greatest need is not an instructor, but a father. As long as the church sits under a mixed message of law and grace, then the apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians will remain as true in 2023 as they were 2000 years ago, in a church filled with Old Covenant minded believers. He said, “You have 10000 instructors but not many fathers. In Christ Jesus I became your father, I begat you. Through the Gospel!’

The prodigal son had been trying to become someone for years, by his own efforts. I believe that describes the life of multitudes of believers, wandering in a dry place called ‘doing to become’. In Luke 15, on hearing this confession “I am not worthy to be”, The Father sees that his son is still blind to who he truly is. He needs to see himself as the Father sees him. He needs a metanoia (total repentance) and that’s why the Father immediately physically dresses him as an esteemed son. He doesn’t tell him to repent. He draws near him, imparting to him the power to repent, for He clothes Him in the garments of a son. In that act He is declaring, “Behold, Look. Open your eyes. See, whom I declare you to BE. Enough becoming. Come home to my table and BE. Be my son!”

Any message that will not leave you clothed in the garments of righteousness, cannot open your eyes to the call of God on your life, to find your being with Him, by His grace, not your efforts. The Gospel is not instruction on how you can reconcile yourself to God, it is news; that God in Christ has reconciled you to Himself (2Cor.5:19). It does not point to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but to the Tree of Life; Christ. That act of clothing the prodigal, was an impartation of sonship. I see that as a powerful picture of the necessity of the impartation of the Spirit, for people’s eyes to be opened to see themselves as God sees them and that impartation comes through the preaching of the Gospel of God’s grace, not the Gospel of our obedience, or our repentance, or our anything.

Remember in 2023 what you heard in 2022. No matter how many scriptures someone quotes to you, always ask yourself one question. Is what I am hearing leaving my faith on Christ’s finished work, or my unfinished works?

  • Are they speaking to me of His obedience, or mine.
  • Are they leaving my hope in my repentance, or have they so lifted my hope off myself and onto Christ, that I find that their words are actually causing a metanoia, a repentance unto God?
  • Are their words leaving me in the promise of God, or the presence of God.

Never tell people to repent, as if that is something they can do apart from God’s Spirit. Remember the 7 words that set people free from religion/self-effort; Apart from me you can do nothing. If people cannot repent apart from the Spirit of God, then if you want to see them repent, impart to them the power to repent, by speaking words of the Spirit, words that tell people who they are because Christ lives; reconciled, forgiven, called, not words that tell them who they could become, if they only repented a bit harder, or prayed a bit more, or waited a bit longer, for the Father has waited long enough, for His sons to come home!

He is still the Father who goes out to His Sons and speaks to them of their being with Him (Luke 15:31), for by such words from the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of being (not becoming), men and women find themselves clothed in Christ, the best life the Father has to give; the ‘being with God’ life. By such words the prodigal Church is coming home, home to her true being; with Christ in God.

Honey. we shrunk the Gospel!

Over the years I must have attended hundreds of lambing’s and calving’s, but only a handful of foaling’s. Horses are extremely protective of their new-born and like to give birth in the dead of night when they are sure there are no people around. Now the world is full of horses, so although the birthing process is hidden from us, there is no denying that horses are giving birth to horses.

Now the world is also full of beliefs and although we may not be aware how beliefs are birthed in people’s hearts, there is no denying that beliefs are giving birth to beliefs. In the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, just as flesh gives birth to flesh, spirit gives birth to spirit. There is also no denying that the lives people are leading all over this world, their attitudes and their actions are the direct result of the beliefs birthed in their hearts.

There is no escape from this truth. All of us are living according to what we are believing about this world and our place in it. That being the case, I want to ask you a very important question this morning.What do you believe is the Gospel?

Let me help you.

If I asked you to quote me one verse from the Bible that best encapsulated the gospel, which one would you choose? For multitudes of people, the verse that comes to mind is something else Jesus said to Nicodemus, recorded in John 3:16,“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” That verse says that God “so loved” the world that He gave, in other words, here is the measure of how much God loves us; He gave us His only son.

Can you see that in these words Jesus is revealing the Father, by pointing to His love? You cannot know God if you do not know His love, for as the apostle John declared, “God is love”. So, to know God, we need to know His love and to know His love we need to see just how much He has given and here is how much He has given, here is how much He loves, Here is who He is; ……His only Son.

Can you see then, that until you or I begin to see just how much was given to us, in the giving of Christ, we cannot begin to know Father God in the way He wants to be known.

Let me use an illustration.

There is an old story told about a young man who was coming up to his college graduation and he knew his father would give him a gift on his graduation and he had his eye on a certain car for sale and he told his father that this is what he wanted for a graduation gift. His father was quite wealthy and could have afforded to buy it for him. On the day of his graduation, so the story goes, the father calls the son into his study and presents him with his graduation present, a beautifully wrapped Bible. The son is so angry at not getting the car, that he throws the bible down on the table and storms out. Soon after that he leaves home and cuts himself off from his father, until one day, years later he has to walk back into that study again, this time to arrange his father’s funeral. There he sees in his father’s desk, the bible he was given as a graduation present and for the first time he reaches in and takes it out of its box and as he opens it, out falls a key with a label on it. Guess what. It is the key to the car he had wanted all those years ago and the attached label says, “paid in full”.

All those years had gone by and that young man never realised just how much had been given to him by his father and so never realised the love of his father and so for all those years, he never really knew his father. Now I don’t know if that story is true or not, but let me tell you something I do know is true. Jesus told us a very similar story in Luke 15, about two sons who never really knew their father, until….. they got to see the extravagance of his giving.

I wonder how true that could be of me this morning. I think I know what is in the Bible, but in truth, I have yet to discover the true extravagance of the gift given to me and so I have yet to know the true generosity of the giver. For much of my life, I thought in the gift of the Bible, the Father was saying to me, “Here, learn all this off and one day you will be ready to receive my gift of eternal life”. Whereas in truth, this gospel is not about what I could get one day, in the future, if, I love God enough.Rather it is the announcement of what has already been given to me, because God loved me enough!

Can you see then that, any gospel that does not reveal just how much was given to us, in the giving of Christ, cannot bring us to know Father God in the way He wants to be known. It is my conviction that in much of the Church, the way we preach the gospel, does not reveal the true extravagance of the Father.

The tragedy of that, is that our lives cannot outgrow our beliefs (Proverbs 4:23) Spirit gives birth to spirit. People who believe in a small god, live small lives.

Have you noticed that the lives of believers cannot surpass their revelation of the father? Christians who are judgemental, quick to condemn and apparently always angry at the world, are like that because in their hearts, that is who they believe God to be like and you cannot live beyond the borders of what you have believed. If we are living small, self-absorbed, self-conscious, fearful lives, then the root of that, is what we have believed.

A small gospel, produces a small life.

There was a film that came out 30 years ago about a scientist who invented a machine that could shrink things and ended up accidentally shrinking his kids. Everything you needed to know about the film was in the title. It was called “Honey, I shrunk the kids”. It was so successful that a few years later they brought out a sequel called “Honey I blew up the kid”.

But do you know the sad thing is that parents do have the power to shrink their kids. My fears, my anxieties, my beliefs and my unbelief, has profoundly shaped the lives of my children, for my words have shaped them and those words were born from my beliefs. Nowhere is that more profound in their lives, than the effect on them of what I have believed about God. My beliefs became their beliefs, through the words I spoke over them.

In the same way, flesh gave birth to flesh, spirit gave birth to spirit. That is what Paul meant when he said to the Corinthians, “I became your father through the gospel.” This morning I want to share with you my conviction that the Gospel is much bigger, more glorious, more generous and more joyful than we have ever known, because the lives we were destined to live in Christ, have got to be bigger, more glorious, more generous and more joyful than the small lives limited by anxiety, that multitudes of us as believers are living today.

Let me say that in a different way.

If believers are living shrunken lives, it is for one reason and one reason only. Honey, we shrunk the gospel. And when you shrink the gospel, you shrink the kids. 

If the Gospel you are sitting under isn’t revealing the enormity of what God has done; in the giving of His only son, then there is no power in that gospel to bring about the transformation of your life, from someone who has been religiously self-absorbed, to someone who lives like a star-struck lover, totally smitten and fulfilled through the love of another and so living in the awareness of that love, that their lives are full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

If the gospel you are hearing, isn’t revealing to you the enormity of what has been freely given to you, then it will not have the power to lift you out of your self, for how can the Spirit move through a message on what you need to give to God, when in the words of the apostle Paul, that very Spirit has come from God, ”that we may know the things freely given to us by God.”  (1Cor.2:12)

Which do you think has more power to free you from self-effort;

  • a message about what God requires of you? or
  • a message about what God has done for you?

You see for years I thought the Holy Spirit was given to teach me what to do. But here is the truth. The Holy Spirit is given that we would grow in the knowledge of the Father, through the Son, for to be filled with such knowledge of God, is to know who you are and what you already have, in God your Father. When you know that, when you know how blessed you are, you won’t need anyone to tell you what to do …….because you will already be doing it.

That’s because the faith that comes from God, can’t help expressing itself through love, in the same way that when you are in love, you don’t need instruction on how to kiss. You just can’t help doing it! Paul called the Gospel, the power of God because the gospel He preached revealed God as He really is and do you know, God is so good, that you can’t know Him for who he really is and remain the same. In fact, knowing Him, was always God’s way of transforming our lives. As Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” But the truth is not a list of instructions, it is the person of God Himself.

Being told what you need to do, never set anyone free, because being pointed to yourself, ….can never set you free from yourself. You needed a Saviour to set you free and You are not that Saviour.

That’s why Paul was so furious when he heard that someone had come along to the Galatians and added to the gospel because He knew that..to add to the Gospel, is to shrink the gospel.

Some religious men had come in among the Galatians and taken the pure message about God and His love, (what Paul called the message of Christ and Him crucified) and added a little instruction to it, about being circumcised. That little contamination (that little leaven as Paul called it), changed the whole nature of the Gospel, from a message about God and His gift, to one about you and your work. That little addition, took the power out of the message because being told what you need to do, never set anyone free.

It was a lie when it was told to Adam in the garden. It was a lie when it was told to the Galatians. It was still a lie when it was written above the entrance gate to Auschwitz concentration camp, “Arbite macht frey” (Work will set you free).

That is not the Gospel.

And everywhere, in every generation, whenever the church has added a little instruction to the gospel, they have taken the power from the Gospel, for only the truth can carry the power of the Spirit and the truth is that you cannot set yourself free by what you do for God. If you could, …..you wouldn’t need a Saviour.

That’s what Paul meant when he warned the Galatians, that if you believe this different gospel, which is no gospel at all, you will have estranged yourself from Christ, you will have fallen from grace. You see, to fall from grace, is to turn your back on the power of God, to go back to self-effort. There is no power in self-effort because Grace is the power of God, not works.

Many Christians get nervous when you start to talk about grace because in their minds grace speaks of an absence, the absence of God’s judgement. Grace is not an absence. Grace is a presence, the presence of God. Grace is His life, His Spirit, His empowering, to live His life. The Gospel is the good news that through Christ, His grace is now freely available for all who want to live in the power of His life. For all who want to live in the power of their own life, there is religion.

And what Paul was telling the Galatians, is that you cannot mix the two. Add a little religion to your gospel and you will shrink it of power. That’s why as soon as Paul heard that the Galatians had tampered with the gospel, he started to question them about where exactly they thought the power came from, by which miracles had been done in their midst. He asked them… Did that power come through your obedience to the Law, or through hearing the Gospel? Can you hear what he was asking them? Does power come from hearing what you need to give God, or hearing what God has given you? He was warning them that in adding a little self-effort to the message, they had just shrunk the power of the gospel because there is no power in any gospel …..that points you to yourself.

Being told what to do, never set anyone free, because being pointed to yourself, can never set you free from yourself. The Gospel is not a revelation of what you need to do, to get God to give!

The Gospel is the glorious revelation of the enormity of how much God has already given and to see how much, to see “His only son”, is to see the Father in spirit and in truth. The Gospel doesn’t point to you and say “Do!” It points to Christ and says “Done!” It doesn’t point us to the darkness of self-effort. It points us to the light of Christ and when we see by His light, when we see life, in the light of how much we have been given, we see ourselves to already have all things in Christ and such knowledge takes an axe to the root of our grasping selfish life, for when you see that your Father has saved you through the gift of His son, ……you stop trying to save yourself. Being told what to do, never set anyone free and the power of the Gospel is that it reveals the righteousness of God, His eternal life, is not some thing we achieve, but some one we receive; Christ, the gift of God’s life, not the reward. There can be no mixing of receiving and achieving, when it comes to the Gospel because one is of God and one is of ourselves.

No matter how zealous they were for God, in praying and fasting and sacrificial living, Paul said in Romans 10 that his Jewish brethren could not submit to receive the gift of God’s righteousness; Christ, because they were so determined to establish their own righteousness. The grace of God is not a licence to sin, it is the power of God, to live in union with Him, but we can only live in that power of grace, to the extent that we submit to receive and live in God’s life, entirely as a gift.

Can you do that? Can you put your pride in your back pocket and accept righteousness as a gift? Or are you too, determined to establish your own righteousness? As long as you are, you will insist on mixing a little law in to your life with Christ. Every time you do that, you are stepping back from Christ, estranging yourself from participating in the gift of His shared life. You are going back to your old self-life, for only a man who sees Himself as having a separate life from God, tries to establish his own righteousness. In being married to Nicola, I only have one life and it is a married life. I don’t have a married life and a single life. To live as if I have, would only shrink my married life.

Any gospel that leaves you with the impression, that God is looking to you, to convince Him that you are worth saving, is a shrunken powerless gospel that can only produce a shrunken powerless life, because being pointed to yourself, can never set you free from your self and Jesus came to set you free from that self, apart from God, life because, in His words, “apart from me, ….you can do nothing.”

The power of salvation, the power of grace, is that it is precisely not of ourselves, our self-life. As Paul declared to the Ephesians… The life of God is lived by grace, through faith and this not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:8,9) Why doesn’t God want us to boast? Because only a man who is living a self-made life boasts and that grieves God because a boasting man cannot receive grace, which is the power of God. So a boasting man, is living a powerless life. Let me give you another description of boasting. It is when believers start judging others as less worthy in God’s eyes because they have either forgotten or never saw clearly, that all they have received from God, came by grace. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive and if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?” (1Cor 4:7)

So, we are talking this morning about the Gospel and I am saying that the Gospel is the most powerful message in the world, but that power is all of God, not of man. That power is grace, not self-effort and so whenever in history, a little law has been added to the gospel of grace, power has been stripped from the gospel and a shrunken gospel has only ever borne shrunken believers.

I am not against big churches, when I say this, but bigger churches don’t change nations, bigger Christians do! There is no point in trying to build bigger churches, if all they can produce are smaller Christians. I have wondered in recent years, at how a gospel so leavened with law, is tolerated so widely in the church. I have a growing conviction that the answer to that question may be found in the modern church’s obsession with numbers. It is always easier to control smaller Christians. Give them a shrunken gospel and they will never grow out of their fears. They will keep coming, to hear what they need to do, in order to be worth saving.

This morning I have been planting a seed in your life, a truth that if it takes root, I believe will bear great fruit and that truth is this; The Gospel doesn’t point to you and say “Do!” It points to Christ and says “Done!” In pointing to Christ, the Gospel is nothing short of the revelation of the nature of God, His love, a love that is so wide and long and high and deep, that our hearts capacity to receive this love has to grow and it only grows as we are pointed, not to what we need to give God, but to the enormity of what He has given us; Christ, God’s very life. Our lives do not grow in the likeness of God, through the knowledge of what we need to do for God, but rather, in the words of the apostle Peter, His grace and peace are multiplied to us through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2Peter 1:2) In light of that, I want you to pause for a moment and ask yourself in all honesty, is the gospel you are sitting under, abundantly multiplying grace and peace to you?

Let me put that in plainer English. Is the Gospel you are sitting under blowing your mind? Is it causing your eyes to grow wide like saucers in wonder? Is it growing you month by month, year by year, into a childlike confidence, which is the fruit of a soul feeling so secure and safe in the love of a parent, that they never give a thought as to what they need to do to make that parent save them? When we shrink the gospel to a message that will get people to work harder for God, in order for us to build a ‘bigger’ church, we only produce shrunken Christians because there is no power in any gospel that points you to yourself. Being told what to do, never set anyone free, because being pointed to yourself, can never set you free from yourself.

When you preach the gospel leavened by a little law, believers never grow out of self-consciousness. How can they, when the gospel they are being raised under, always ends up pointing them to their life, rather than to Christs? How can I fix my eyes on Christ, when the church never stops exhorting me to fix my eyes on what needs to be done for Christ? (did you catch that?)  

How can a bird fly in the liberty of the heavenly realm it was made for, when one wing has been nailed to the earth?Preach the Law, dressed up as the gospel to believers and it nails them to the earthly realm. It has done in every generation. Paul saw it in his generation and wrote his letter to the Galatians and 350 years ago, John Bunyan saw it too and beautifully summed it up in 2 lines. He wrote “Run John run”, the law commands, but gives us neither feet nor hands. Far better news the gospel brings. It bids us fly and gives us wings.’ The power that lifts you up, to live from the heavenly realm, is the grace of God, not the flapping of your arms. If the Gospel you are sitting under keeps speaking to you, as if God is looking to you to produce your own wings, by your own religious efforts, then I have good news for you. Your frustration with your religious life is shared by your heavenly Father, who never called you to live as a chicken, but as an eagle and there is a world of difference between those two lives.

  • The chicken attempts to get off the earth by his own strength.
  • The eagle allows the wind His wings were made for, to carry him up and beyond the earthly realm, so he lives from an entirely higher perspective on life than the chicken.

If the Gospel you have been raised under is not imparting to you enough breath of God to lift you out of a self-absorbed life, nor even bidding you to fly, to transcend an earthly, Adamic, self-centred mindset, then you are sitting under a shrunken gospel. Our lives cannot outgrow our beliefs. A small gospel produces a small life and nothing shrinks the gospel more than a little law. And everywhere, in every generation, whenever the church has added a little instruction to the gospel, the Gospel has shrunken in power, for only the truth can carry the power of the Spirit and the truth is that you cannot set yourself free by what you do for God. If you could, …..you wouldn’t need a Saviour.

This morning you have heard the gospel and even now, as your head might be saying, “Yes, but what do I have to do?” Your heart has already began to do all that is necessary; to believe, because spirit gives birth to spirit and faith is the spirit that comes by hearing the Gospel!

The Rising Church.

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. When Christ, who is your[ life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”  Colossians 3:1-4

There is something about this January that feels very much like “selah”. We have finished one season and are about to enter another and the Spirit gently says, “stop and listen”. ‘Selah’ can also be translated ‘forever’ and indeed to hear from the heavenly realm is to hear of what is forever. In these verses from Colossians 3, there is a little word that carries the power to renew our vision in this world when we stop and listen and allow the Holy Spirit to breathe it into our hearts. The word ‘is’. When our hearts and minds, (our perception) is set on the realm of the Spirit, we can live in thanksgiving for what is. But when our eyes are set on earthly things, we find ourselves living in fear of what might be.

In this information age, the world sits in a great darkness (the fear of what might be) and that darkness is broadcast across the world 24 hours a day. Multimedia companies compete to be the greatest carriers of that darkness and the nations sit imprisoned by fear. In a prison where purveyors of doom and gloom are a dime a dozen, we are called to sing a different song, for only those who have been given the Spirit to see what “is” because of Christ, can sing a song of thanksgiving and victory, the sound of the Kingdom of light. It is this knowing by the Spirit of what has been given in Christ, that empowers us to proclaim this news of what has been given, this news of whatnow is. (1Cor.2:12).

This world right now is drowning in good advice. Good advice doesn’t set hearts alight, good news does! Yes, there is a glory in the message that says, “Victory is near, get your house in order, cut back on your sinning and step up on your praying”. (2Cor.3:7-11) But look around you. Such a message cannot dispel the darkness in this world, for the message ‘victory is near, look to your behaviour’ is the message of the spirit of this world (1Cor.2:12). It’s the message that is being broadcast across the world every day; “Victory is near and here is what you need to do to save yourself.” Such a message cannot dispel the darkness in this world because it is not the light of the Gospel, for the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not declare what will be, if, you. It declares what now is, because He, Christ! The Gospel is not, “your glory will come one day, hang on in there and keep your eyes fixed on world events’. That’s not the gospel because it is not the promise of dawn that dispels the darkness but the dawn itself and the gospel proclaimed in the power of the Spirit is the dawn rising on the darkness (Rev.19:10). It is not the promise of glory that dispels the darkness, it is the present glory in us, that dispels the presentdarkness in the world (2Cor.3:18) and that is why right now, when the world has never seemed such a dark place, has never been so blinded and deafened by man-made light and sound, this is not the hour for the Church to be captivated by earthly events, but to be setting her eyes above, where her real life is (Col.3:1-4). To see by the Spirit is to see that the biggest obstruction to an explosion of heavenly light from the Church are not masks on faces but veils on hearts, for multitudes of believers still slumber in the shadow of the Law, rather than rise in the light of the Gospel (2Cor.3:7-18)

The Church can only rise and shine in the light of what is (Prov.13:12). This is why we are living in a season when our foundations are being exposed, for we were not called to build on what might be, but on what is and the Church needs to see again, that the power of heaven is not found in the excellence of our plans, but in the foolishness of our message. (1Cor.1:18, 2Cor.12:10). How foolish, to sing in the dark as if you are standing in the noonday sun (Acts 16:25). But to hear the Gospel proclaimed by the Spirit, is to hear that your light has come and that the glory of the Lord has already risen on you. It is to hear that in the day when darkness covers the earth and deep darkness the peoples, we can arise and shine for His glory has appeared in us. When the Church arises in the light of what is, she proclaims the gospel on earth as it is in heaven and nations come to her light and kings to the brightness of her rising (Isaiah 60:1-3). This is the rising Church, a people awakened by the light of the gospel of what is, to arise into the life that now is, the life that dawned at the resurrection; hidden with Christ in God.

If Paul and Silas had only seen as the world sees, then while lying in that jail in Philippi they would have seen themselves as ‘forsaken by God’. But in the darkness of that cell, they found themselves seeing more clearly than ever, seeing by the Spirit. That night a different sound was heard in that jail, not the cries of men forsaken by God, but the song of men hidden in God (Acts 16:25). It was a song that so resonated with a creation groaning for men to see and speak as sons of God, that the very stones around them cried out and gave up their prisoners (Acts 16:26, Rom.8:19-22). When the jailer called for light to see by, he found in their cell a light already shining! Paul and Silas did not sing in the hope that if they sang well enough or long enough, God might answer. They sang as men who carried God’s answer; Christ and were joyfully carrying that answer into the darkest places on earth. Their lives were light shining in the darkness as they lived not waiting for a better day but living in the eternal day of the Lord. They were the light of Christ dawning on those sitting in great darkness. They were not proclaiming a message of what might be, but of what is. In knowing that reality, they were not waiting for freedom, they were living in a freedom that chains or walls could not contain (2Cor.3:17). So captivated were the other prisoners, that they could not bring themselves to run back out into a world where they had never found such liberty (Acts 16:28). Once men see the liberty the Spirit brings, the pale imitations this world offers lose their power (Gal.5:16).

Selah! Let the Church hear the song of heaven; thanksgiving for what is. Let the sound of that song begin to rise over a generation who have sat in darkness. Let our song not be about a better day to come, for only the dawn dispels the darkness, not the promise of the dawn. Let us not despair at the darkness around us, for this is very day for which we were called, for what better place for the children of light, the children of what is, to shine, than a world darkened by the fear of what might be (Phil.2:15). To see the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, we must preach the Gospel on earth as it is in heaven, for in heaven it is not good advice on what might be, but the good news of what is! To a world blinded and deafened by the age of information, let us proclaim what can only be seen by the Spirit, for still today at the sound of such a song, the greatest prison in the world opens, the unbelieving heart.

A Gospel to get drunk on.

A Gospel to get drunk on.

The love of this world will accept you when you deserve acceptance. “But God demonstrated His love in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Now that is a verse to hear again and again and again, a verse that needs to rain down on our hearts like the kisses of the Father rained down on the prodigal son. We need to go away and receive that verse like kisses from heaven, until a thanksgiving is birthed in our heart, a thanksgiving that you can feel well up inside you to something like joy inexpressible and full of glory (1Peter 1:8). Only such a thanksgiving, brings a joy powerful enough to melt and remould the hardest of hearts (Luke 7:47, Luke 19:8,9). Only a repentance borne of the Spirit, a true metanoia, a true revelation of the heart of the Father, brings such a joy, such a strength to a believer’s life (1Cor.12:3). That’s why everywhere across the Church, were repentance has been watered down, to merely what we need to do for God, we find no-one drunk on the Gospel anymore, for true repentance is seeing, how completely God has saved us in Christ (Eph.2:8,9). It is seeing the heart, the generosity of the Father and through that “seeing by the Spirit”, finding His gift of faith in your heart (Rom.2:4).

There is no end to the generosity of our heavenly Father, for even the faith that receives His life, comes from Him. It is His faith in you, for as the apostle Paul declared, “we are 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) Repentance is not a work of the flesh, but a work of the Spirit for, “No man can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ but by the Spirit.” (1Cor.12:3). In other words, the production of faith, is God’s part, not ours and it comes by the hearing of how generous He is; the hearing of the Gospel of His grace, not the gospel of our repentance!

Faith comes by hearing the gospel of what God has given, not the gospel of what He might give, if you repent. No-one gets drunk on that gospel!

Never tell anyone they need more faith. Just give them more of the Gospel that brings faith, the Gospel of God’s grace, not the gospel of their repentance, or their faith (Rom.10:17). Receiving is not a work of the flesh, it is a work of the Spirit, because it is seeing what no natural eye can see, or ear can hear, or heart can imagine about the nature of God, His love, a love that accepted us, while we were rejecting Him (1Cor.2:9,10, Luke 23:34). A love that didn’t say, ‘I will accept them when they repent of their ways and stop rejecting me’, but a love that declared in effect, ‘I will love them and give all I have to them, not in the hour they have repented, but in the hour when they are reviling me and rejecting me and spitting in my face and crucifying me. That will be the hour that I reveal to them the only love that has the power to set them free from themselves; the love of one who gives all He has to them, before they have repented.’ “For God demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. (Rom.5:8).

The more we see repentance as a work of the flesh, the more we will preach the Gospel as what men have to give to God, rather than how much God has given to men and such messages will always sound as earnest and necessary as the need that carried the prodigal son home to His Father, and by such messages men may find themselves back in church, but they will not find themselves drunk on thanksgiving with a joy inexpressible and full of glory (1Peter1:8), for in the modern church there is not the joy that throws such parties. Instead, there is a works ethic, that will more likely see prodigals brought into the house simply to be trained up for the fields, where they can quietly join their elder brothers and spend the rest of their lives working for God, in order one day, in the by and by, to be worthy of the inheritance they were promised. Church, I don’t think we had permission to postpone the party that the heavenly realm rejoices in, over one sinner who repents (2Cor.6:2). The whole earth is groaning for such a proclamation of victory, for the manifestation on the earth of the joy that is in heaven over the completeness of Christ’s work of reconciliation. To see it, is to see no man after the flesh and to beseech all men to be whom Christ sees them to be (2Cor.5:16-19).

For many years, whenever I heard anyone talk about repentance or faith, my heart used to sink because I wrongly understood these words to be words about me and that God was looking to me, to come up with a certain level of repentance or faith, before He would do something for me. No wonder my heart used to sink, because believing that you have to produce something ‘of yourself to move God, leaves your hope on yourself and do you know what I have found, after years of watching myself and others believe that repentance and faith were something we had to produce for God? A hope on yourself, is not a strong enough hope to get drunk on!

That’s because when my hope is constantly directed onto my performance, my repentance, my faith, my prayer life, my church service, I no longer can find in my heart a thanksgiving welling up, to joy inexpressible and full of glory, because I find it impossible to be thankful to a God who is always demanding more (Prov13:12). A hope in yourself, is not a strong enough hope to get drunk on.

Now the natural man cannot see/perceive God to be that generous, for he has never seen such generosity in this natural realm. As the apostle Paul said to the Romans, someone might dare to die for a good man, but God died for His enemies. (Rom.5:6-10). All men have ever heard of God, is religion (self-effort. You get what you deserve.) So, without a revelation of the Spirit, natural man cannot speak of a God who freely gives because he cannot imagine such a God, especially when all his natural vision can see around him is lack, not provision. All his natural understanding can deduct from that, is that God has not freely given, so He must be a God who is waiting on something from us. When such a man opens his mouth to speak, all that can come out, is what is in his heart, what he is believing and so the Gospel from this man’s mouth will always sound like a message on what men need to give to God.

How can I convince you that’s not the Gospel? I don’t have to. I only have to ask you to look into your own heart. If today, you cannot find there a joy inexpressible and full of glory, then ask the Holy Spirit to show you why. Ask Him to show you, why feet that were made to run into the streets with good news, can now only walk to church for more good advice.

Fathered by love

Obedience is a fundamental aspect of the life of Christ. Christ’s obedience took Him to the Cross, but His love for us was not birthed out of His obedience. It was the other way around. The source of His obedience, was His love, which is His very nature (1John 4:8). God’s plan was not to send Christ to live an exemplary life, that we now must try and imitate, through obedience. He never had a plan to save the world through our obedience. His plan was to save the world through His love.

To God, obedience was never something that we bring to Him, as if we have made it ourselves! The only obedience that pleases God, is that which His love has birthed in our lives, obedience that is of the Spirit, that is the gift of God (Eph.2:8,9). Godly obedience is not about will power, but about a will empowered by the Spirit of God. Jesus told Nicodemus that flesh always gives birth to flesh (John.3:6). Obedience that is birthed out of a life filled with the fear of rejection, will never lead to the character of Christ, for love was the root of His obedience, not fear. Threatening people never produces godly obedience, but a self-centred and self-serving obedience (1John 4:18). Such obedience can look impressive, but even if it results in me giving away all I own and sacrificing my own life, if it was not birthed by the love of God then it “profits me nothing” (1Cor 13:3) The obedience of the religious in Jesus’ day, led only to pride and division. It was that sort of obedience to God, that persecuted and then crucified Christ. Such obedience has a zeal for God but does not know Him, because it is self-centred (Rom.10:3). 

For every believer, our union with Christ in God means there is no longer ‘your’ obedience, in the sense that you have been left alone to produce obedience by yourself. The Father expects you to produce nothing by yourself, not even repentance! (1Cor.12:3, John 15:5). You do not have that sort of life anymore, an ‘alone by yourself’ life; a life that boasts that “I have been obedient”. Instead, every Christian should be able to say what the apostle Paul said, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me and the life I live now, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” (Gal 2:20) The obedience of the believer arises from their union with God in Christ, not from their separation from Him.

God’s plan was always to make men righteous not through their obedience, but through His. The apostle Paul boldly declared to the Romans that ‘men are made righteous by the obedience of the one man’. (Rom.5:19) Here is the news that sets you free from a life of self-effort (religion). That one man is not you! It is Jesus Christ. Yes, we are made righteous by obedience; His!

Our lives are an open book, as to whose obedience we are now relying on and operating in. Let your faith be rooted in His obedience, His life, and what will manifest in your life is the righteousness of God (John 15:4). But if you let religion, the spirit of the world, the spirit that says “You can do it for Him” subtly move your faith off His obedience and onto yours, then more and more what this world will see in your life is not God’s righteousness, but self-righteousness and all the division and finger-pointing that goes with it. If the gospel we have been sitting under has produced in us a self-righteousness, that loves to measure and define people according to their level of obedience to God’s commands, then somewhere along the road, we have been robbed of the power of the gospel (Gal.5:4). The power of the gospel is that it reveals the righteousness of God to be the gift of God (Rom.1:16,17) and that very revelation; that Christ has become for us our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption (1Cor.1:30), sets us free from the power of sin and death, for that came through the lie; that we could be like God, by ourselves. God never had a plan to save the world through our obedience. His plan was to save the world through His love. The obedience of God in our lives, is the work of His Spirit, His nature, His love in our heart, from which obedience is birthed (Gal.5:16). Obedience is only pleasing to God, if His love is the root, the source of that obedience. Let me put that another way. Obedience is only pleasing to God, if He is the Father of that obedience (Rom.8:14).

Imagine a young pastor in Africa who marries his sweetheart and he and his wife are very happy, but as the years go by, it becomes apparent that they cannot have children. They take medical advice and they pray and get their friends to pray, but months turn into years and she never conceives. Their constant prayer is “Lord we don’t want to remain barren. We just want to bear fruit.” The pastor’s wife becomes increasingly focused on her barrenness. One Spring he leaves to travel into the bush to lead an evangelistic campaign that will keep him away from home for 8 weeks. There is no phone coverage where he is going. When he finally returns home, his wife runs to greet him with the happy news that she is expecting. She proudly shares with him how she has been to the doctor that week and a scan has shown that she is six weeks pregnant. The pastor says, “But how can you be six weeks pregnant if I have been away for 8 weeks?” His wife replies, “But what does that matter, compared to the fact that I have a child? The goal was that I bear a child, right?”. “Wrong”, her husband replies. “The goal was that we bear our child!”

Any ministry that puts obedience before love, will be content with an obedience fathered by fear, guilt, or shame. But these fathers will never produce the obedience that the love of God conceives in us. They are the dead-beat dads of the spiritual world, for they leave us as orphans having to provide salvation for ourselves and our hearts full of anger and frustration. Jesus promised never to leave us as orphans, striving to make a name for ourselves and His medicine for that spirit of religion (self-effort) is His Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, by which we cry “Abba, Father” (Rom.8:15). He never asked Mary to produce a child, but to bear the child of His Spirit. He is not asking us to produce obedience, but to bear His, the obedience fathered by love.

Phelim Doherty.

The world cannot be in awe before the church is.

Acts 11 tells us that when Barnabas arrived in Antioch and saw ‘what the grace of God had done’ he encouraged them to abide in (remain in) that grace.[1] He was so convinced of the importance of them being deeply rooted in what Christ had done, that he left Antioch to go searching for Saul in Tarsus. On finding him, they both returned and taught the new believers “for an entire year”.[2] It is significant that the result of this is not recorded in scripture in terms of what they did, but rather who they were. Acts 11:26 simply records, “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

How did Barnabas know to do this? Because in Jerusalem he had personally witnessed the remarkable fruit of believers remaining in, abiding in, what the grace of God had done there too. I have been struck by the profound importance of that little word “in”. Listen again to the account from Acts 2:42 of what the early church were doing during a season of great growth.

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles……. And the Lord added [q]to the church daily those who were being saved.”[3]

All this, came from continuing steadfastly in. In light of this, consider the following question. How much of our modern church life, is more founded on continuing steadfastly to, rather than continuing steadfastly in?

If the diet we are feeding our congregations on, (the messages they are being reared under), consistently speak to them more of what could be, one day, rather than what is today, then inevitably their hope will slip, from what Christ has done for them, onto what they could do for Him. Now certainly one way to grow a church, is to communicate a great vision that excites and motivates the congregation and attracts people who desire to be part of something ‘big’. All of us desire to see something big happen in our cities and in our nation. That is commendable, but is ‘desire’ the foundation of the growth we see in the Church in Acts? I want to suggest to you a different foundation in believer’s lives, one that better withstands a storm; thanksgiving!

The pattern of Church life we see in Acts, isn’t that they were continuing steadfastly to a goal, so much as continuing steadfastly in a reality. Jesus didn’t say ‘Dream big and you will bear much fruit.’ He said, ‘Abide in me and you will bear much fruit’.[4] Thanksgiving is always more lifegiving, than desire. Yes, it’s exciting to dream, but to abide in Christ, is to abide in a dream fulfilled, for “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.[5]. The Church is founded and grows, from what God has done for man; Christ and Him crucified; the tree of life.[6] Desire is never as life-giving as thanksgiving, which is why you can only keep people together for so long, by always pointing them to something big in their future, because hope deferred makes the heart sick. Only a dream fulfilled is a tree of life. It is not the hope of some thing big in our future, but the reality of some one big in our present, that sets the Church apart.[1] Neither the threats, nor the promises of this world should move us, for the Church of Jesus Christ is not hoping for a victory. We are a people coming from a victory! We don’t bring advice, we bring news![2]

Hope deferred makes the heart sick. In some parts of the Western Christian world, local churches have been fed for so long on a diet of what could be, rather than what is, that their sickened hearts are now full of resentment, anger and fear. Being spiritually blind to their life in Christ[3], they find themselves grasping for earthly power and being known for their complaints and lack of grace towards their ‘opponents’. It is hard to know which is more astonishing; how far they have fallen from the language of thanksgiving, the mark of all those filled with the Spirit[4], or the fact that they can’t see how far they have fallen!

Acts 2:11 says that on the day of Pentecost the gathered nations each heard the Church declare in their own language “the wonderful works of God”. The Gospel of God’s grace is not the proclamation of wonderful works that God might do, if we… It is the proclamation of the wonderful works He has done[5]. The effectual communication of faith is not found in the speaking of what could be. Philemon v6 declares that “the communication of our faith is made effectual by the acknowledgement of every good thing (already) in us, in Christ Jesus.”  We see the effectual communication of faith in the early Church, not because they continued steadfastly to something, but because they continued steadfastly in something; the grace given, the life given to them by His Spirit; the IN Christ life.

The ‘big’ thing, in fact the biggest thing, in our cities or nations, is not what the church will do. It is who the Church is! To the church in Corinth, grasping for worldly power, the apostle Paul had a question; “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”[6]. How can we complain that the world isn’t listening, when we aren’t seeing! It is only when we start to live as those seeing by the Spirit, that the world turns to listen.[7].

The storm of the last 15 months has served to test and reveal the foundations of lives and ministries. Those whose lives are founded on thanksgiving for what Christ has done; His eternal plan, have fared better than those who had built too much of their lives on their temporal plans. Paul and Silas in that jail in Philippi, weren’t singing and giving thanks in order that God would move on their behalf. Even if that building had not been shaken, they would have continued that night in thanksgiving, for they weren’t giving thanks for what could be, but for what was! They weren’t continuing steadfastly to some preferred better life. They were continuing steadfastly IN the grace, the life, they had been given, a life described by Paul as “hidden with Christ IN God.”[8].

The real proof of the enormity of what we already have in Christ; His overcoming life, becomes most evident to us and to the world, not in the day when all appears to earthly eyes to be going well, but rather in the day when nothing appears to be going well and yet we still find within us a spring of thanksgiving and joy, keeping us in His perfect peace.[1]. This is why it is seasons of trial that often better allow us to test and approve the foundations of our lives. It is the season of shaking that allows us to see again, what He never wanted us to take our eyes from; the unshakable work of His grace; His life in us. This is not an inward-looking life, but an upward looking life. For to see your life already hidden with Christ in God, is to set your eyes on things above, not on the earth below[2].

I believe the Holy Spirit wants the Church to begin to see our lives so clearly from a heavenly perspective, that we are filled with a great awe, a great awareness of the reality of God’s presence in us, what the Bible calls ‘the fear of God’. It is only when the Church awakens to the presence of God in their midst, that the world is stirred. Look once more to what Acts 2:43 describes happening, when the church continued steadfastly in the grace already given. “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” (NASB) Notice the order. Awe came first. Why? Because the world cannot be in awe, before the Church is!

In this season, the church has been stripped of much of her earthly trappings. What better time than in a storm, to see the difference between temporal and eternal foundations and to see that the communication of our faith will not be made effective by a bigger building or more resources, but by how much we continue steadfastly in awe, of the wonderful work God has done in us. It’s great to have plans, but the source of our joy, or strength, our growth, must not be found in what we are continuing steadfastly to, but rather what we are continuing steadfastly in; the heavenly life in Christ we have been given, by the grace of God. If all that the last 15 months brings about, is a change in our doing but not in our believing, (our seeing in the Spirit), then from eternity’s perspective nothing really changed. Just because we move the chairs back again, doesn’t mean we are any less socially distanced from expressing the fullness of Christ in His body than we were before.

How can we complain that the world isn’t listening, when we aren’t seeing? The world cannot be in awe before the Church is. This is why the great apostolic prayer for the Church, is that which prays for our eyes to open that we may see, that the riches of His glorious inheritance, ….is already in us![3]. If our hearts are sick of waiting for a glorious future, let the Holy Spirit open our eyes to a dream fulfilled; our life hidden with Christ in God[4]. Let the awe of that so consume us, that out of our hearts springs a sound that brings down every man-made wall in our lives and causes the world to listen; the sound of thanksgiving![5]

[1] James 1:2-4

[2] Colossians 3:1,2

[3] Ephesians 1:18

[4] Colossians 3:3

[5] Acts 16:25

[1] 2Cor.5:17

[2] Acts 13:38

[3] Ephesians 1:3

[4] 1Thess.5:16-18

[5] Acts 10:34-44

[6] 1Cor.3:16

[7] Acts 3:4-11,Acts 16:25

[8] Colossians 3:3

[1] Acts 11:23

[2] Acts 11:26

[3] Acts 2:42,43,47

[4] John 15:5

[5] Proverbs 13:12

[6] 1Cor.3:11

Schools out!

From students to sons, by the power of the Gospel.

“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.”  (1Cor.4:15)

Strong’s definition of the Greek word translated ‘guardian’ or ‘instructor’ includes this phrase; “a servant whose office it was to take the children to school”.

If multitudes in the church are not growing up into the mind of Christ and are still not seeing themselves after the spirit (2Cor.5:16), could it be because we too can still look at the church today and say what Paul said, “You have ten thousand servants taking the children to school, but not many fathers.”

As long as believers remain without a revelation of their sonship in Christ (Rom.8:14), their acceptance in the beloved, they can only live as eternal students.

In all honesty, how many believers in our churches have spent years accumulating knowledge, but have never entered the rest and confidence that only a child who knows they are the apple of their father’s eye can enjoy? Many entered this ‘school system’ decades ago but still feel unqualified to do much more than invite others to join the school.  In the natural world, maturity is defined as attaining the capacity to reproduce. Is our dependence on a model of church that revolves around producing ‘events’ to attract unbelievers, simply an admission that many of our churches are not raising disciples but managing converts? Maturity has always come by the building up of the body “in love” (Eph 4:11-16). Children enter the school system to be built up in knowledge, but it is to another institution that society looks for them to be built up in love; the family.

Changing the model of school, does little to heal the heart of an orphan. There has been much discussion about the ‘how’ of ‘doing’ church in a pandemic, but the real question is not “how will we be doing Church?”, but “who will be being Church, sons or students”. In the Kingdom of God, exploits are done by those who know their Father, not just know about Him (Daniel 11:32).

Schools demand a focus on self and hold out the promise of making something of oneself. Families do not promise identity, they impart it. Families are not a means to a better end, they are God’s better end, our source and our destiny. Families speak to a child of who they are, not who they could be.

This difference, between speaking to people according to their works, their performance and speaking to them according to their true worth, is the difference between speaking as a manager and speaking as a Father. A manager can give you great advice, that can result in increased productivity in your life. But unfortunately, managerial language tends to speak to us of who we could be, one day, if we, rather than speak to us as who we aretoday, because He! The danger is that such language keeps our vision on ourselves and our hope on our performance. Better days are always promised, but never seem to arrive, sparking repeated waves of introspection. Earthly vision is always looking for more because it can’t see the enormity of what has been given (2Kings 6:17). It always speaks of a future goal; what we are going to achieve, but never a present reality; who we are today in Christ.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick. There is only so long that faith can survive in a measuring atmosphere. Our hearts were built to celebrate, not endlessly calculate. The Father’s house is, in truth, full of the sound of a finished work, the sound of music and dancing, but all work and no celebration indeed makes the church a very dull son.

The language of earthly vision is not the voice of a Father entreating us to enter into His joy, but that of a manager entreating us to try harder to do better. Such language creates in the church a culture of good advice, not good news. Where has that culture led us? It has left us with the local church blending right in on main street, alongside all the other charitable organisations who are also offering good advice …and serving better coffee than we are!

Keep watering down the Good News of what He has done, with a little good advice on what we still need to do, and the result is that too many of us as believers struggle to see ourselves as who we now are in Christ, who we are in the Father’s eyes, for we are being reared on the vision of who we are in our elder brother’s eyes! Such short-sightedness is the result of our vision being formed by the words of those who see us primarily as workers for His Kingdom, rather than sonsin His Kingdom, for to be short-sighted in the Spirit, is to be living as if what Christ achieved wasn’t enough to qualify us to live in communion with His Spirit (2Peter1:9). When the blind lead the blind, the only way is down and how the angels must wonder at the sight of sons of God living as mere men (1Cor.3:3).  

So how are the sons to be raised to maturity? How are we to see in the Church, the Gideons rise out of the hole they have stepped into and the Saul’s of Tarsus breathing out the Spirit rather than anger. We need the fathers to arise, those who will not measure the children of God according to their performance, for only those men and women who carry the heart of the Father, can see as He sees and so speak as He speaks (1Cor.2:13). Only the words of a father can impart what a manager cannot; a revelation of identity, that transcends earthly performance; the life of a son, not the life of an employee working his way to a promotion.

When believers come to see that they are a Christian, not because of their new behaviour but because of their new birth, (that they are saved by grace through faith and this NOT of themselves), a remarkable thing happens. They finally stop trying to be a Christian and start living as a child of God because they begin to see themselves as their Father sees them; hidden with Christ in God (Col.3:3). To see yourself the way the Father sees you, is to be filled with joy inexpressible and full of glory and any believer full of thanksgiving, is holier by accident than the most sin-conscious, self-absorbed zealot (Rom 10:1-4).

So how is this vision of the father imparted to His children, to raise up sons to maturity? Is it through a new model of church, or a different system of training leaders, or perhaps a fresh wave of self-examination? How did Paul become a father to the Corinthians? The answer is right there in the verse we began with.

“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” 

Only a gospel that reveals salvation as all of Christ and “not of ourselves, lest any man should boast” (measure), can unbind the Lazarus church from being so wrapped up in its own performance, as to remain blind and deaf to the reality that we died and this life is now an entirely new creation (2Cor.5:17).

Irrespective of whether He finds them returning from the world stinking of drink, or finds them working away in the church stinking of self-righteousness, the Father always greets His children in the same way; as the apple of His eye, a cause for rejoicing (Luke 15:20-24). Only a gospel that reveals such a loving father, can raise children who live so well loved, that they speak the language of heaven in all circumstances; thanksgiving, and by this the will of the Father is done on the earth (1Thess.5:16-18, Acts.16:25,16). Only a father can greet his children the way Paul greeted his churches. Irrespective of the moral failures or heresy at work in their lives, he greeted them as the saints in Corinth, not the sinners, because he understood that their fundamental lack was not will-power, but vision and the vision of the Father can never be imparted through a gospel that says, ‘Try harder’, but only one that with great rejoicing declares ‘See further, See Christ and Him crucified, was enough!’

Such good news creates a sound in the realm of the spirit, the sound of music and dancing, the sound of the Father calling His children in from the field, a sound powerful enough to cause a metanoia in the Church, a repentance unto life, a looking up from self to Christ. It is the sound of this outbreak of joy in the church, that will cause the world also to look up and ask, “What does this mean?”, for up to now, all they have heard is the sound of servants bringing the children to school. How different is the sound of sons, entering into the joy of their Father, for it is the proclamation so many have longed to hear; “Schools out!”

Let such great commotions once more break out in cities across our land, the sound of the joy of the poor and the consternation of the religious, a sound that can only be caused by the proclamation of a gospel foolish enough to set men free from themselves (1Cor.1:23).

(This article was written for ascensionforum.uk)

A Pandemic of camel swallowing.

You may think your greatest need right now, with so many strong opinions flying around this world, is to know who is right and who is wrong, that you may choose the right side of an argument. But we all have a greater need, than to know the right thing to do. We need to know the heart of Him, who went to the Cross, not so that He would be right, but so that we, who were his enemies, could be right (Rom.5:10). In the coming days and for the rest of your life, no matter what the issue is, from politics to vaccines to artificial intelligence, information without love cannot bring you to Christlikeness and any decision founded on fear, will never bear the fruit of a decision founded on thanksgiving. You may be convinced that the only issue that matters, is whether it is right or wrong to do a particular thing, but there is something greater at stake, the state of our heart.

  • What’s the point of making the right decision, of being right on an issue, when your attitude to those who oppose your position, shows your heart to be full of fear, not love.
  • What’s the point of being right, when the Holy Spirit would rather you be wrong, because your idea of ‘being right’ is hindering people from coming to Christ? Listen to what the apostle Paul, full of the Holy Spirit said to the Corinthians, who were so set on being proved right, that they were taking each other to court in front of the world. He said to them; “Would you not rather be wronged? Would you not rather be cheated, than behave like this before the world? (1Cor.6)
  • What’s the point of being right, of holding all the right positions on all the right moral issues of the day, only to end up, as far from the heart of God, as the elder brother lecturing his own father on the rights and wrongs of welcoming home the prodigal (Luke 15:29,30)
  • What’s the point of being right, when the heart of God, felt by Paul for his Jewish brothers, was to rather be wrong and cursed and cut off from Christ, than for them to perish (Rom.9:3)
  • What’s the point of being right, when the very God we claim to serve, is one who chose to be wrong, to be cursed, to be sin, in order that we might become right, in God (John 3:16, 2Cor.5:21)

To be filled with the nature, the Spirit, of Him who is Love, is not to ask, “What should I do, in order to be right?”, but rather it is to ask, “What should I do, in order that my brother be right?” That’s why the church has never matured in Christlikeness by information, but always by the revelation of the love of God (Eph 4:11-16). God’s answer was never to educate our old self, but to put him to death because a self-centred life can never be right in the eyes of God (2Cor.5:17).

Throughout the New Testament, you can find accounts of issues that were as controversial for the believers in Paul’s day, as some of our medical questions today. Some believers in the city of Corinth wrote to Paul to ask about one of these issues; his opinion on the question of whether it was right for a Christian to eat food, (meat in this case), that had been used in pagan temples, to sacrifice to false gods. Like many people today, they probably believed that the answer was a simple Yes or No, because they thought of the act of eating such meat as either right or wrong. All Paul had to do, they thought, was to give them a simple Yes or No. But he didn’t. Instead, we read these words at the beginning of Chapter 8 of his first letter to the Corinthians; “Now about food sacrificed to idols:” and then, instead of a yes or no, we get three chapters explaining why his answer can be yes, or no, because for Paul the fundamental question was not, whether his action made him right or wrong, but rather, what effect would his action have on others?

Do you know the reason, why so many in the Church are so desperate to be right, that they have no problem cursing those whom they see to be the enemies of all that is right? Because they have no revelation of their own righteousness in Christ (Hebrews 5:13), and without that, you will always be trying so hard to be right, that all of your decisions are more about you being right, than others (Rom 10:1-4). But a self-centred life can never be right in the eyes of God. No matter how many issues you are right on, at the end of the day, the self-life can only ever produce a self-ish life (John 3:6).

Don’t be taken in by how passionate and zealous many Christians sound on the great moral issues of the day. No matter how right they sound, if you really want to know if they are being led by the Spirit, listen to the way they speak about their opponents. Do they speak in the language of the One who laid down His life for his? Do they speak the language of thanksgiving? Some of the most zealous Christians on the subjects of morality, have little or no revelation of the things of the Spirit because as long as you are trying to establish your own righteousness, you cannot submit to the righteousness that comes from God; the love that would rather be found wrong, that others would be found right. Where is the love that would rather lose the argument, lose the reputation, or lose the election, than hinder a soul from coming to Christ? Christian, you don’t take the moral high ground by winning. Our Saviour already took that hill by dying. As long as multitudes in the body of Christ remain short-sighted to the point of blindness to His Kingdom (2Peter1:9), they will continue to fight over the Kingdoms of men. Their communities need them to swallow their pride, but they are too busy swallowing camels (Matt.23:24). At the current rate, camels will soon be extinct!

The body of Christ, the Church, has always grown up in Christlikeness, not through the impartation of knowledge, but through the impartation of love. To be filled with the Spirit, is to be filled with the love of God and a thanksgiving that lifts your eyes off yourself. That’s why my answer throughout this year, to all the questions before us, is simply to keep preaching the Gospel, the news that fills men with thanksgiving because the only immunity to the pandemic of unbelief in this world, is thanksgiving!

There is a lot of good advice out there, both on how not to catch the virus and how to get immune to it. There is nothing wrong with taking good advice. Good advice will help you not to catch Covid. But good advice is not enough to stop you catching unbelief because the only immunity to the unbelief in this world, is a level of thanksgiving in your life, that only the Good news of the Gospel can produce,

  • a Gospel that reveals you to be right, not because you did the right thing, but because He did,
  • a gospel that reveals you to be now right, because you are now right where He wanted you to be; hidden with Christ in God (Col3:3)

Nothing you or I will ever do, will make us as right as that! Only when we start to see that, start to see by the Spirit, can we leave our self-centred life where He left it, in the grave and rise instead every day, to live that others would be right, for that is what it is to live, as the body of Christ.

The Great Renewal

You may have heard the story of the two shoe salesmen who were both sent by rival companies to a foreign country at the turn of the twentieth century. After several days there, both sent a telegram back to their respective head offices. The first man wrote “Research complete. Unmitigated disaster. No-one here wears shoes”. The second salesman wrote “Research complete. Glorious opportunity. No-one here wears shoes.”

So, what do we see as we look at this present situation? That may depend on whether we are looking by natural understanding or by the Spirit. Surrounded and hemmed in by the enemy, the prophet’s servant could only see problems everywhere. But filled with the Spirit, Elisha prayed “Lord open his eyes” and when the servant looked again, by the Spirit he saw the hills were filled with an angelic army (2 Kings 6:15-17). Do you really think that this present pandemic came as a surprise to God? It is for such a time as this that we have been prepared, to be a people so rooted in our identity as children of God, that we live knowing we have in Christ all we need, to thrive in all seasons (Philippians 4:12,13).

None of us likes anything that appears to restrict our liberty to worship, but it was the capacity of the early church to worship under much more severe restrictions than these, that spoke powerfully to their society. We respect and pray for the governing authorities placed over us, but we do not look to them to provide us with the right conditions for worship. The authorities in Philippi provided Paul and Silas with a dungeon and chains and from that confinement came worship that shook the earth! No external restriction can hinder our worship, only what we believe in our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). By God’s grace, external pressures only serve to reveal in us what cannot be crushed (2 Corinthians 4:7-12). Whatever restrictions are put on our ability to gather together to worship, they still pale before the restrictions confronting the church for the first 300 years after Christ’s ascension. Yet from kitchen tables in humble homes they radically transformed their society.

For years we have prayed for ‘revival’ to come, without much idea of the great change and upheaval that would come to our lives at such a time. In our natural understanding, we have got so used to tying our hopes to carefully laid plans, that to enter a season where such plans count for little, has challenged us to think profoundly about the expression of our faith in this generation. To all the plans of each Church generation, Jesus gives the same reply; “Follow me!”. As Elisha discovered, there cannot be a following without a leaving! (1 Kings 19:21). With the call of God comes the grace, the capacity, to leave behind what needs to be left behind.

This may look like a time of great restriction on the Church, but it is in fact a time of great renewal. We are being pushed out of the nest and must leave behind much of the tradition and form of ‘doing’ church, in order to grow in the revelation of ‘being’ Church. We will be surprised at the effectiveness of believers thrown into living one day at a time, but the early church would not have been. They saw the Kingdom of God impact society to a measure we have not, while living day to day under oppressive conditions.

The Ekklesia of God is not a building or a denomination, but the people of God living one life, in one mind, by one Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is the expression of the life of Christ, through a multitude of diverse lives rooted and established in their identity in Him, bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to the world of business, education and culture. Buildings and denominations are simply servants of this Kingdom, not the Kingdom itself.

Paul shed no tears over the wreck of the ship that brought him to Malta. He simply used the pieces left to press on into the new day before him, for he knew that God was with him, not the ship! I recommend we don’t waste time trying to rebuild the ship. Let us also use what we can salvage and set out boldly into this generation with the message, “The Kingdom of God has drawn near you, for look, it cannot be contained nor defined by a building!”

The harvest the Church has been praying for is now knocking on our door. It looks as alien to us as Saul did to Ananias, but the Spirit is here to open our eyes and ears to the truth; ‘those who are with us, are greater than those who are with them’ (2 Kings 6:16). Welcome to the great renewal!