I remember as a young boy watching my grandmother go up to the front left corner of her Catholic church, put a quarter in the money slot and light a votive candle. It was one of about a hundred small candles in little glass containers that looked like an oversized red shot glass. She would then kneel down and pray for a few moments in front of this rack of candles, then return to her seat. We were told that as long as the candle was burning, our prayer request would be before God. This is just one of thousands of superstitions that we were taught in Catholic school.
Jesus said, “If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt 6:22-23, ESV2011).
How great indeed. We all thought that spiritual light was to be found in the doctrines of the church. If we submitted to its teachings without question and faithfully received the sacraments, we would be saved from hell. Never mind if what the Bible teaches was contrary to all that. As one priest told me when I was starting to question church doctrine in light of the scriptures, “When it comes to a conflict of the teachings of the church and what the Bible says, church doctrine is always preeminent.” Somehow, deep inside, I knew this was wrong and it started me on a quest to find out the truth about God and Jesus Christ.
A couple years after this I finally overcame my fear of going to hell and walked out of the Catholic church for that last time. My next step along the path that God would put me on was to start going to a “Bible church.” The first time I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ was in that church. After that first Sunday we attended, I invited the pastor to meet with me in my home. That night he led me down the “gospel road” in the Book of Romans and I prayed with him to receive Jesus as my Savior.
We attended that church faithfully for about two years and were faithful to work in the nursery, the “junior boys” class, mow the church lawn and whatever was asked of us. Yet, by the end of that time I still had this terrible spiritual hunger inside. You see, this denomination taught us nothing about being filled with the Spirit of God as part of salvation. Truly, the light that was within me had become darkness because I still had no power over sin in my life. The author of the Book of Hebrews wrote:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food… Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance… (Heb 5:11 to 6:1, ESV2011)
If we are to grow up and be teachers of Christ and His kingdom we need to abide in THEE Teacher, the Holy Spirit. One of the church elders even told me that seeking the Holy Spirit was “dangerous.” Yes, He is dangerous if you have a vested interest in your own carnality! As God would have it, I finally heard about the Holy Spirit from someone in whom He dwelt where before I was told that the Holy Spirit was optional. Romans chapter eight makes it clear that if we do not have the Spirit of God in us, we are none of His.
My search finally brought me to an unconditional surrender of my life to the Lord. I not only gave him my sins, but my whole life. I repented not just of my sins in the past, but of who I was and all that I ever selfishly wanted to be. The problem was that sin was dwelling in my members and that was what made me a captive sinner and an ineffective Christian. Or like the cartoon Pogo put it, “We have found the enemy and HE IS US!” Once I totally surrendered and asked God to kill everything in me that was not of Him, God did a life changing miracle and made the light of His Spirit shine within me. T. Austin-Sparks wrote:
The first thing for us to remember is that there is an essential ground upon which we are led to the greater fulnesses of the Lord. The Lord’s will for us is these greater fulnesses of Christ. And there is something necessary from our side, which is undoubtedly a spirit of utterness for the Lord. (1)
I will not go into all the other stages that made up my spiritual path after 1970, but after being filled with His Spirit I was flat-out for God! I can look back now and see the meaning of this verse quite clearly,
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (Prov 4:18, ESV2011)
There is one thing made perfectly clear in the Word of the Lord, and which to many has become quite clear in experience, that there is a graduation in the life of fellowship with the Lord – it is an ever growing thing – and that the course of our union with the Lord is marked by stages. These are upward stages, representing different levels and different expanses. As we go on, we are led from one degree to another, from one level to another, and with each successive level there is a wider view and very often a changing view. (1)
If we seek His righteousness in our lives, we will find ourselves on a path that takes us from darkness to the dawn, from the dawn to the sunrise, from the sunrise to the noonday sun that is over our heads and causes all the shadows of our darkness to flee. Salvation is not a onetime reciting of a “sinner’s prayer” nor is it going down to the altar to “recommit your life to Jesus” over and over again. Giving our lives completely over to Christ is just the beginning of the walk He has for us wherein we take up our crosses and follow Him. Like the sun that moves through the sky, Jesus in our life is always on the move. He sets us on a path to righteousness, not on a church pew. If we don’t keep moving with the movement of the Son, we’ll soon find that we are left sitting in the darkness of a dead religious system.
“The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12, ESV2011- emphasis added).
He is not limited by the doctrines men have composed from the pages of the Bible that we try to follow by human understanding and effort. Doctrines are static and fixed and human effort and understanding will always fall short of hearing the voice of God. But the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is alive and He desires to be very active in our lives by His Spirit leading us into all truth (see John 16:13). His truth in us grows! It is not static. Paul contrasted Moses and the veil that he wore on his face because the glory of God that was once upon it was fading. He contrasted this with the glory that is ours IN Christ,
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image [as His] from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2Cor 3:18, ESV2011)
In spiritual growth we go from glory to glory. What a promise! “For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16, ESV2011) His grace is given us so we can have the power to move on into a greater fullness with Him where we will find more grace to grow into a greater filling of Christ within us.
Jesus Christ is not a dead religion. His Spirit does not stand still. “In him we live and move and have our being… For we are indeed his offspring.” (Acts 17:28, ESV2011 – emphasis added). All creation has been designed by God as our teacher if we have eyes to see. God has put us on a planet that rotates. If we are to stay in the light of the sun we must constantly be moving west at the same speed the earth revolves. It is the same if we are to stay in the grace of God. As soon as we become content with our spiritual growth and put down roots in some denomination or movement, we start to die spiritually. In one religious group I was in, the leader addressed our fears that God had moved on without us by saying, “Didn’t God use this movement to reach you and haven’t you grown in it?” We would agree. Then he would say, “Then what makes you think by leaving it you will remain in His blessing?” That line of reasoning worked for a long time, until it became evident to everyone that the leader was abusing us for his own gain. When Christ moves on and His grace is no longer in the organization you are in because the leadership has taken His place, what might have once been used by God in your life has become a cult.
“Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” (Luke 11:35, ESV2011)
We Christians tend to be campers. We find a nice comfortable place where God has bless us and we want to set up camp. This is why the Father rebuked Peter on the mount that day.
And after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his clothing was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if you will, let us make here three tabernacles; one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he yet spoke, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear you him. (Matt 17:1-5, KJ2000 – emphasis added)
These days with a zeal like that, Peter would quickly be put in charge of the “church building committee.” But as soon as we focus on doing something “great for God” instead of on His Son who IS the Greatness of God, the Spirit will move on.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, ESV2011)
Sparks sums it up by saying,
There never was anybody so completely, so utterly, and so immediately adjusted to the Father as the Lord Jesus was. His adjustments to the Father were instant and complete. At the end there was a conflict lasting for a little while; a bitter, deep conflict: “…if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done“. There is adjustment.
By a perfect adjustment to the revealed will of the Father He has become the perfect example of the perfect embodiment of the will of God done in a Man. Our course is to become one with Christ by the Holy Spirit in what He is. And subjection to Christ simply means that He, in Whom the will of God has been perfectly done, becomes our Lord. That is only another way of saying that the will of God in Christ becomes absolutely sovereign in us. On our part we become subject to the perfect will of God in Christ. It is a matter of the will. “I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision“, said Paul. (1)