The Old vs. the New Covenant (the natural vs. the spiritual) – revised 8/11/18

 

New Birth – photo by Michael Clark

Looking around Christendom as I often do, I have concluded that we Christians really don’t see just how spiritual our New Covenant with the Father really is. If we did, we would not be serving so many Old Testament models, worldly paradigms and traditions in our institutions or praying so often for our worldly comforts instead of seeking first HIS kingdom. As Paul warned the Corinthians, we are yet carnal. Don’t we know that we are no longer of this world, engrossed in its temporal things and methods, but have been born of the Spirit of God? Paul wrote:

And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a life-giving spirit. But that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, made of dust: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. (1Cor 15:45-49, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

How often have you been accused of “being so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good”? I know I have been. I used to hand out tracks, “buttonhole” people on street corners for Jesus, go door to door and make myself miserable, because it was put on me by men and not energized by the Holy Spirit within me. I did not know back then that Jesus told His disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Paul wrote to the Ephesians and Colossians:

For you were once darkness, but now are you light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Eph 5:8-11, KJ2000)

If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory. (Col 3:1-4, KJ2000)

What are the “unfruitful works of darkness” if they aren’t dead works void of the Spirit? Zechariah (see Zech. 4) was shown the difference between Old Covenant works of the Law and walking by the Spirit when he saw seven golden lamps (symbolizing the seven churches and seven spirits of God that John saw in Revelation). These were oil lamps (not candlesticks) that were fed their supply of oil (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) by tubes that came down from the throne of God. When asked by God if he knew what he was being shown, he heard these words, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts.” This vision was contrary to the Old Testament system he was part of where the menorah (golden lampstand) in the Holy Place got its supply of olive oil in a different way! In that system it was up to the temple priests to service these lamps with new wicks and keep them filled with pure olive oil. In the eyes of God and the NEW Covenant, this was by human might and power, but NOT by His Spirit. The prophet was given a vision of what it means to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh (See also Galatians 5:16-18). As we grow up in the Spirit of God we will find that His Spirit is sufficient in teaching us all that God has for us and we will become less dependent on men to teach us (see Hebrews 5:12-14).

All too many of us come into the church thinking we have something to offer God because of our own soulish and natural talents that have served us well in the world. God has no place in HIS kingdom for the works of the old uncrucified Adam within us. Dietrich Bonheoffer was a man who died for his faith in Christ in Nazi Germany. He once said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” As we abide in Christ our old man is crucified and we who are His are given the Holy Spirit to walk by and nothing less. “For you were once darkness, but now are you light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8, KJ2000). We are light only as we walk IN the Lord. If we walk the deeds and talents of our flesh we are still “darkness” in the eyes of God (see also 1 John 1:5-7).

One person pointed out that as Christians we are supposed to be spiritual beings having an earthly experience, not worldly beings having spiritual experiences. Paul spoke of this when he wrote:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2Cor 5:17, KJ2000)

For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10, KJ2000)

Jesus only did the works he saw the Father doing. When we walk by the Spirit, we do as Jesus did—we follow God’s master plan for us, not presupposing what He wants. All too many Christians walk in the vanity of their minds saying, “Now in this instance, what would Jesus do?” as if we in our carnal minds could imagine or find out by reading the Bible what works HE has foreordained for us to walk in!

Paul was in Corinth and while there we read, When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled [KJV, “pressed”] by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:5, NKJV). Have you ever felt convicted by the Spirit to make right something that you said or did that was wrong or from a wrong spirit within you? I have and it is like a heavy weight pressing on my chest until I go to that person and make it right. I have been constrained by the Spirit to take a course of action that I could never have found by searching the gospels to find out “what Jesus would have done.” In His kingdom it is not “What would Jesus do,” but rather, “What is Jesus doing through me?”

The table below shows some of the differences between the Old Covenant God made with the Jews and the New Covenant that those who are Christ’s are to walk in. It would do many of us well to read all the scripture references in this table so we could begin to have an idea just how vastly different our New Covenant with Christ really is from the Old.

The Old Covenant… The New Covenant…
Was done away with by God (Romans Romans 7:4, 10:4; Hebrews 8:7-13, 10:18-19) Is a NEW and Lasting Covenant that replaces the old (John 14:6; Hebrews 10:20, 13:20)
Was an earthly covenant (Hebrews 9:23-28) Is a spiritual, heavenly covenant (Hebrews 11:13-16, 13:14)
Was overseen by a special priest cast, the Levites (Deut. 10:8, Ezekiel 44:15) Is a kingdom of royal priests (all believers in Christ) unto God (1 Peter 2:9, Rev. 1:6)
Had earthly high priests who continually offered up sacrificial animals for their sins ( Exodus 39:38, Hebrews 5:1-3;10:11) Has a High Priest (Jesus) who made Himself an offering once for all our sins and is in heaven before God making intercession for us (Hebrews 7:24-25, 10:10-14),
Had a fixed physical temple (which was done away with) at its center that was necessary for conducting animal sacrifices (1 Kings ch. 8, Luke 13:34-35, Hebrews 8:8-13,) Has a vast temple spanning the world with Christ as its Foundation and Cornerstone and is made with living stones (Isaiah 28:16, 1 Cor. 3:11, 1 Peter 2:4-6, Isaiah 66:1, John 4:21-24)
Had an earthly kingdom, Israel, who failed to keep the law of the covenant (Exodus 12:25) Is a heavenly kingdom wherein dwells righteousness (Luke 17:20-21, John 18:36, 2 Peter 3:13)
Included  a law that forced people to rest one day (the Sabbath) each week (Exodus 31:13-17) Is where we have entered into God’s eternal rest knowing that His works were finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:1-9, 6:1; Eph. 2:8-10)
Was broken by sinful men who were brought under a curse (Leviticus 26:14-39; Jeremiah 11:7-10, 31:31-32; Matt. 23:37-39; Galatians 3:10-12) Is not dependent on the righteousness of man, but on Christ’s righteousness alone where we are free from the curse of sin (Romans 5:18, 2 Peter 1:1)
Was dependant on the works of the law (Romans 2:10-13, 10:5) Is dependent on faith in the works of Jesus Christ bringing an end to law keeping for all who believe (Romans 8:3-4,10:4; Galatians 2:16)
(The Law) Was a strict schoolmaster meant to keep us in check by the threat of punishment (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Galatians 3:23-24) Sets us free from Old Covenant law keeping as we walk by faith and abide in His love (Galatians 3:25-26, 5:1-6)
Was based on human effort to be righteous, “Thou shalt…” and “Thou shalt not…” (Exodus 20:1-17) Is dependent on God creating His righteousness within us as His new creations by HIS will (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27, 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, Hebrew ch. 8)
Was founded by a human law giver, Moses (Deut. 4:44-45, John 1:17) Is founded by the very Son of God with grace for grace (John 1:16-17, Eph. 2:8)
Had its laws written on tablets of stone for stony hearts (Exodus 24:12, Ezekiel 11:19) Has His laws internalized, written on our hearts and motivated to do them by His Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-33, 2 Corinthians 3:3)
Was weak because of sinful flesh (Acts 13:39, Romans 8:3a) Is spiritually powerful as we abide IN Christ’s grace (Acts 1:8, Romans 8:1-3b, 4,15-16, 37)
Was dependant on the soul (mind, will and emotions) of man to keep it (Exodus 19:7-9, Nehemiah 10:9) Is dependent on our spirits being unified with His Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17, Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:30-32)
Was based on man’s obedience to the whole law (Deut:11:26-28, 28:15; Galatians 3:10-11) Is based on Christ’s obedience who took the curse upon Himself for us (Romans 5:17-19, Galatians 3:11-14),
Was made with one nation, Israel, as “God’s people” (Jeremiah 11:4) Is made up of all people who believe in Christ who are His New Creation (Isaiah 49:5-6, John 3:16, Galatians 6:14-16)

Paul thus sums up the message of the Good News (gospel) when he said,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:4-6, ESV2011)

Though we are still on this earth, we who are Christ’s are to walk before Him by the Spirit because we now dwell in heavenly places IN Christ Jesus and have been given spiritual sight.

Loaves and Fishes Christians or Broken Vessels unto God’s Glory?

The Jews who followed Jesus were totally focused on their temporal needs. At one point they were even going to take Him by force and make Him their King because He fed them. Then He told them something very spiritual that made many of them stop following Him. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whosoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him.” Have you ever thought that by dwelling in Him and He in us, we are actually partaking of His body and blood because we are one with Him? He later told the twelve disciples, Does this offend you? …It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (see John chapter six).

Both Jews and Gentiles wanted Him to heal their bodies (or the bodies of their servants and children) and He did, but he was more interested in healing their eternal souls. He said to them, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?” (see Matthew 9:1-8) On another occasion Jesus said, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  Some of us have had physical afflictions, as did Paul and Timothy, and God has refused to heal them. He has done this that we might discover that “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” to this Paul observed, “When I am weak, then am I strong.”

The Jews also wanted Him to lead a rebellion, cast the Romans out and set up an earthly kingdom for them to rule. They ignored the fact that God is Spirit, as is His kingdom is, so should His children be. Today we who focus on politics to get what we want are doing the same thing. Jesus said to Pilate during His trial, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, but now is my kingdom not from here.” Do we know what spirit we are of? Then why do we fight as the world does? When the disciples wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village because they refuse to let them pass through it, He rebuked them, and said, You know not what manner of spirit you are of, for the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

On another occasion He told His disciples, “The kingdom of God comes not with outward observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” The kingdom of God is not temporal nor is it like the world systems of men based on hierarchy, but we are a kingdom of servants bound to one another by His love (See Mark 10:42-45). As Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another… God so loved the world…!”

Dear saints, I join with Paul and pray.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might. (Eph 1:16-19, ESV2011)

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Rev 21:22-23, ESV2011)

 

 

The Body Is One!

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32, ESV2011)

Have you ever felt a deep longing to be truly one with other saints of God? I mean one in heart, and one in longing for all that the Father has for each of us as we become members one of another IN Him. Since I came to Christ and was filled with His Spirit, my life has been a constant longing to know Him in His fullness, and part of that longing is to know Him as He is manifest in the members of His body, the true ekklesia of God (those who have been called out of this world and its seductions into Him). This has been a life-long struggle for me and I am sure for many of you. Whenever we found a group of Christians who were coming together in the love of Christ for one another, it wasn’t long until all hell broke in and divided that unity. As a result, many of us have been forced back into seclusion where we lick our wounds and pledge not to ever let religious divisiveness touch us again. The problem is that in our caution we can still remain divided from other members of Christ’s body.  Austin Sparks wrote,

Another thing that is basic to the Lord’s purpose is the necessity for an apprehension of the inclusiveness of Christ as to the church which is His Body. In those parts of the revelation given to us in the Word of God, such as the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians where the fulness of Christ is brought into view most definitely, the thing that is right before us is the church which is His Body. The ultimate thing, the great end, is the fulness of Christ but, unto that, the church His Body is brought into view. Does Ephesians bring in the vast dimensions of divine fulness in Christ? “Filled unto all the fulness of Christ“; “The fulness of Him that fills all in all“. What is connected with that? “The church, which is His Body“. The church is essential for the expression of the ultimate fulness of Christ. That means that unto the fulness of Christ we must have an apprehension of the inclusiveness of Christ in His church. That is the collective nature of the instrument, the vessel, which is to express the fulness of Christ. Over against that is the impossibility of an individual, or any number of individuals as such, ever expressing the fulness of Christ. The necessity is for a life of corporate relationship unto the fulness of Christ.

(…)

This is God’s way of illustrating what we have in the New Testament: “The body is one“. There must be an apprehension of the corporate, the collective life of the church, the Body of Christ, before we can go on to fulness. We demand this fellowship for fulness; it is essential. Limitation is always brought about by separation. The defeat of God’s end is always accomplished by breaking up the Lord’s people into fragments. Schism is a real device of the devil to frustrate God’s end concerning His Son, the Lord Jesus. He has pursued that course from the beginning. It is very impressive and very significant that when the fulness of Christ is brought into view in these letters, there is such a tremendous emphasis laid upon the relationships of the members of the Body one to another.

The Lord Jesus stands to suffer loss in the expression of His fulness when the saints are out of fellowship with one another; and we can strike the greatest blows at the adversary by a solid, determined stand, when on no ground save apostasy, will we be divided in spirit from our brethren. To fight for fellowship, to stand for fellowship, to refuse a break in fellowship, is the way of defeating some of the forms of Satanic activity. It is quite easy to take the other line. It is the most difficult thing to refuse spiritual division, because all the power of hell is out to bring that about. It is only as we see how much is bound up with fellowship, with relationship and the fulness of Christ, that we shall be able to move on toward that fulness, for the Lord counts upon it for His ends.

This is no organised one-ness. This is not the unity that is outward. This is not anything that can be brought about by agreements externally. This is not the uniting of the churches. This is not consenting to a common agreement of credal expression; this is the uniting of the Spirit. This works two ways. It is necessary for us to go on in the Spirit in order that we may have the fullest measure of fellowship. We do not mean that fellowship is impossible between the mature and the less mature. We must be very careful that we do not allow any larger measure of light (as we may conceive it) to interfere with our fellowship with those whom we think have not so much light. There ought to be fellowship between children and adults spiritually, but any kind of refusal of light, of the revealed will of God, is bound sooner or later to limit fellowship, so that unto full fellowship there must be a walking according to the light given. The other way round operates, of course, that as we walk in the light we have fellowship one with another. Going on in the light means an increase of fellowship, and that makes the measure of Christ to increase. (emphasis added) (1)

“It is the most difficult thing to refuse spiritual division, because all the power of hell is out to bring that [division] about. It is only as we see how much is bound up with fellowship, with relationship and the fulness of Christ, that we shall be able to move on toward that fulness, for the Lord counts upon it for His ends.” Yes, “as we see what is bound up in fellowship with the fullness of Christ,” we see our own limitations. Seeing this need can get us beyond our fear that leads us to isolation from other saints of God. The saying goes, “No man is an island.” How true. God has been teaching me in my own tendency for isolation from others. He speaks into my heart most often when He leads me into fellowship by the Spirit with other saints of God. I have found that many of my blog articles come from being in touch on a heart-to-heart level with one of His saints.

We are all familiar with Hebrews 10:25 being used to urge us to “go to church,” but let us read it in context:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith… And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:19-25, ESV2011)

Many of us have spent most of our Christian lives going to church “services” where we “meet together” hoping to have heart-to-heart fellowship, only to have the whole time dominated by a preacher or a teacher. Notice that in the context of this Hebrews verse it says, “We have a Great Priest over the house (Grk. oikos – family) of God.” It’s not talking about an auditorium setting here! Jesus presides over our fellowship by His Spirit so that we may “encourage one another to love and good works all the more so as we see the end drawing near.” This speaks of a gathering together of the members of His body who all function together under the anointing of the Holy Spirit to the building up of itself in love. Jesus said, “Where two or three of you are gathered together in my name [in His character], I am there in your midst.” The smallest gathering of the saints, “two,” is honored by our Lord with His presence.

I have experienced this from time to time and it has ruined me for the standard church service setting. I will continue to seek out my fellow saints on this interpersonal level — usually in a small home gathering and sometimes on the internet or even on a street corner– and I hope you do as well. We who are in the Spirit have God graces to edify and build one another up in Christ. We need each other and are being robbed when this doesn’t happen.

Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (Mal 3:16-18, ESV2011)

(1) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/002858.html

Knowing One Another by the Spirit

Jesus baptism

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Cor 5:16-17, ESV2011)

How often we have heard it said, “Oh, how wonderful it would have been to be with Jesus as He walked the earth 2000 years ago!” There is one thing to remember here, though. We would not have been given the Holy Spirit by which to know Him and, like the Jews of that time, would only know Him and regard Him according to our natural man and not with spiritual eyes to see Him as His Father does. Isaiah prophesied about Him saying, “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Even his own disciple, Nathaniel, said of Jesus, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

Jesus was born into a poor family and grew up in a backwater town in Israel. He was a lowly carpenter’s son, so in the natural He was not highly regarded. It was by the power of the Spirit that people could recognize Him for who He was,  and now we can see Him as He is by the power of His Spirit in us. Many of us have studied the Bible hoping to come to know Jesus in a closer way. Yet without divine revelation we can never know Him after the Spirit. Isaiah prophesied:

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isa 57:15, ESV2011)

Jesus prayed:

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21, ESV2011)

Jesus said that we must become as a child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. We who have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us know Christ after the Spirit, not by our fleshly desires for Him to be what we want Him to be for us. We often hear Him speak to us and some of us have even had Him appear to us in a personal way. Yet, Paul writes that we should have this same spiritual interaction (after the spirit and not after the flesh) when it comes to knowing our fellow saints.

One time some elders in a church I was attending were putting me down to the pastor. This man was different from most pastors I had encountered in my Christian walk. He said to them, “You don’t know Michael as I do, because God has shown me his heart.” Most of us are still a “work in progress” in the hands of the Lord and it is easy for us to be critical of our fellow believers if we only know one another “according to the flesh.” But God knows our final end from the beginning (see Isaiah 46:10). That thing that He has started in us, He has promised to finish! He invites us to pray and ask Him how HE sees and regards those around us who we encounter in our daily lives.

Little David was about to be overlooked by Samuel when the prophet was sent by God to the house of Jessie to choose a new king over Israel. Samuel was about to choose one of David’s big handsome brothers instead of him. David was the youngest son but he had a heart after God that none of His big brothers had. So God said to Samuel:

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature… For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1Sam 16:7, ESV2011)

In our natural humanity we are drawn to “the beautiful people.” We tend to shun people who are dwarfed or overweight or deformed or socially inept, but God looks on their hearts and invites us to know them as HE does. How quickly we judge and shun someone for their outward appearance or their awkward personality. Or worse, we look on the outward beauty of a person and desire it instead of getting to know them after the Spirit.

Once I was on a church “worship team.” I got to be up front of everyone as we performed. We would often practice a bit before the service and one Sunday morning as I walked into the auditorium, the Lord drew my attention to a deformed young man in a wheelchair who was severely handicapped. The Lord said to me, “What you have done to the LEAST of these you have done unto me.” Right then He was giving me an opportunity to really worship Him by spending time with and showing this person His love. He got so excited when I knelt down by him and sang a simple song to him about the love of Jesus. From then on I have remembered Jesus’ words, “Verily I say unto you, Since you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me… Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The Letter Kills, But the Spirit Gives Life

Stephen's Face

(Reading: 2 Corinthians chapter three)

A year or two ago, some Christian friends invited me to attend a church service with them at a “Bible church.” As I sat there looking around the auditorium, I saw many faces that had no life in them and that included the pastor. There was no life in his preaching–or in the whole service for that matter. It was just a bunch of people going through the motions as they kept the law of church attendance on Sunday. Sad to say, I have seen this same lifelessness in some house church meetings as well.

In 2 Corinthians chapter three Paul makes it clear that when the Bible becomes a letter of legalism (so many commandments that we must keep) it kills us. In this chapter he speaks of the glory of Christ that is ours in His NEW Covenant that should shine from our faces as we follow the Spirit in fellowship with Him. If the New Testament becomes a system of rule keeping, we will entirely miss what the New Covenant is (read Hebrews chapter 8)! Here in chapter three, Paul refers to  what happened to Moses as he ministered the Old Covenant Law. Moses’ face shone brightly when he came back down from the mountain after receiving the law in a personal encounter with God, but that glory faded as the letter of the law he ministered worked death within him. As time went on the shining on his face faded because the letter of the law kills, but it is the Spirit that gives life (vs. 6).

This whole chapter is about there being no need for written letters if we are walking in the Spirit of Christ. If we are abiding in the Spirit we are the letters from God. We are the only letters that are needed to minister the gospel as our faces shine with His glory and His Spirit is speaking through us. It is sad that legalism (you must attend church on Sunday, you must tithe, you must not do this or that, etc.) has so taken over in our churches that few Christians today have faces that shine with the glory of the abiding Christ.

Paul wrote, But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.” I remember my first two years of trying to be a “born again” Christian. It began when I was led in a “sinner’s prayer” by a well-meaning pastor in my living room one evening. But soon it was evident that something was missing. I was encouraged to read the Bible, but it was all so many words with no life in them. I might as well have been reading a phone-book with so many names and numbers with no coherent flow. I attended church on Sunday and Wednesday evening every week and went to Sunday school class and even taught one, all to no avail. That empty hole inside prevailed. It was not until I finally surrendered my whole life to Christ unconditionally that the Spirit of God came into me for the first time. In my first attempt to become a Christian I had made a mental decision at the encouragement of a man, but after a spiritual crisis two years later, I surrendered all that I was (a confused mess at best) to Him as He drew me to Himself and filled me with His Spirit. It was then that His glory began to shine from my life and the words of the Bible began to leap off its pages into my heart.

The spiritual meaning of the entire Bible will be veiled to us just as it is and was to those Jews under the Old Covenant if we do not have the Spirit of Christ abiding in us as our Teacher. It will become a letter of laws that we must keep by our mental gyrations instead of a love letter from our Father in heaven that leads us into a deeper loving relationship with Him through His Spirit. Paul wrote, “You are a letter from Christ written with the Spirit of the living God on tablets of human hearts.”

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent [sufficient] of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence [sufficiency] is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2Cor 3:4-6, RSV – emphasis added)

Christ, Our Ladder to the Father

Cda Lake Sunrise

Sunrise over Coeur d’ Alene Lake – Photo taken by Michael Clark

As most of you know, Susanne Schuberth often writes about things that the Spirit has been trying to bring to my attention. This happened with her latest blog article, “True Gratefulness and Real Strength”:

“I have come to know several people over the years who usually express thankfulness as they discern a glass half-full and not half-empty. Nonetheless, it is not necessary to be a Christian to be able to do so. It is a matter of personality alone that decides whether we have to do with an optimist or with a pessimist. Indeed, it is nothing but innate thinking and behavior of our old nature that makes people appear as if they were Christians. Bold words, huh?” (1)

Yes, bold, yet true. Many Christians I’ve met cling to church teachings like the “power of positive thinking.” Or they believe in the “name it and claim it faith teachings”– all of which is nothing more than mind games played by their souls that cater to their own lusts for worldly power, position and gain. These belief systems totally bypass the voice of the Holy Spirit of God! Susanne continued along this line with this comment:

“…Whether you call it the ‘wilderness’ that dries you out or ‘the dark night of the soul’ where our own light gets kind of overruled by His true light over time… That is how a true saint is being made, not by discipling through self-appointed men, but through disciplining by God.” (2)

So true, dear sister! So much pride enters in when we say that a certain man has discipled us, especially when he is of high visibility in church circles. The discipline of men, no matter how vigorous it may be, can never accomplish the soul-stripping that our Father is capable of. He sees deep into our innermost being where the soul hides, often disguising itself as dead or submissive while putting on holy airs. Yet, sooner or later it pops-up in all its ugliness when the human who disciples us is either not watching or condones such behavior because of his own sin and pride. I have run into many Christians who are filled with pride because they sat under the teaching of some high profile Christian teacher and/or writer. They often boast about their great libraries of teaching tapes and books on which they rely, yet in so doing their flesh is manifested in all its ugliness. Paul called the Corinthian Church “yet carnal” for this very reason (see 1 Cor. 3:3-6).

This morning I read something by T. Austin-Sparks that cuts to the core and illuminates the difference between walking by the Spirit of Christ and clinging to the teachings of men.

 Jesus said to Nathanael, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels [Grk. aggelos– messenger] of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. (John 1:51, KJV)

(…)

That open heaven for the Lord Jesus was the anointing [the Messenger of God].  The Spirit descended and lighted upon Him. It was the anointing, and it is the same for us. The open heaven is the anointing of the Spirit from the day of Pentecost onward upon Christ within us. That open heaven means a continually growing revelation of Christ.

Oh, let me urge this. I am brought back to urge this…. The open heaven at once brings God’s revelation in Christ to your very door, makes it available to you, so that you are not dependent in the first place upon libraries, books, addresses or anything else. It is there for you. However much the Lord may see good to use these other things for your help and enrichment, you have your own open heaven, your own clear way through, and no closed dome over your head. The Lord Jesus is becoming more and ever more wonderful in your own heart, because “God, that said, Light shall shine out of darkness” hath “shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). (3)

The Holy Spirit is given to us when we first had saving faith. That same Spirit is the Messenger that ascended and descended on Jesus while He walked on this earth, and He still does as Christ abides in our hearts. He is our Teacher on whom we rely, not the teachings of mere men. A human teacher is only useful to the Spirit when he or she speaks or writes what He is already speaking to us in our hearts. We who teach are only a “second witness” at best. If we are teaching something that tickles the ears of the listener and caters to their flesh, we are false teachers with false anointings. When the Spirit speaks, we get an immediate witness within us that makes our spirits leap for joy, yet soon brings death to what is carnal within us. If the Spirit’s voice falls on spiritually deaf ears, the listeners feel nothing and our words just clutter their minds at best. All true teaching only comes into our being by way of the Ladder on whom the Spirit descends, Jesus Christ. Jesus spoke of the difference. “All who come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep do not hear them.” When we listen to men more than the Holy Spirit, they come before Jesus in our lives and, like the Corinthian church, we are “yet carnal.”

Father, give us ears that can hear and eyes that see what you are telling and showing us that we might be fully conformed to the image of your Son. Amen.

(1) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/true-gratefulness-and-real-strength/

(2) https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/true-gratefulness-and-real-strength/comment-page-1/#comment-17519

(3) http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/books/001033.html

Let Us Go On Unto Maturity!

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Anyone who has followed the leading of the Lord for any length of time can look back and see that He gave them people to fellowship with, learn from and even spiritual gifts from which a “ministry” in the church rose around, only to discover that He asked them to walk away from it and move on. This often causes great confusion and consternation and results in an emotional struggle. We cry out, “But God, didn’t you give this fellowship/gift to me? Hasn’t it been wonderfully used by you in my life and in the lives of others? What is going on?! Is this really you?” What’s worse, once we start to accept it as Him, well-meaning saints see this change coming and try to persuade us to not follow the Lord’s leading.

There is a principle well established in the Bible of God taking His saints out of their comfort zones, stretching them and getting them to grow up further into Him and all that He has for them Look at the lives of Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and all the disciples. Most of these saints had a wilderness period that separated the earlier part of their walk from the last. Its like a spiritual circumcision.

Jesus didn’t teach His disciples to be static in their obedience to Him. They had to leave their nets, their tax business, their parents, their politics, and even their religious traditions to follow Him. To a Pharisee who was stuck in his traditions, Jesus compared being led by the Spirit to being blown around by the wind, not knowing where it is taking you next. Because of his adherence to a temple worship system Nicodemus could only say, “How could this be?”

As one dear older saint pointed out, “the opposite of the Wind of God is bricks.” Like Peter who was always being stretched by the Lord, God does something wonderful in our lives and we want to enshrine and fix it in place saying, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let us build…” (see Matt. 17:1-5). God’s answer to this is always the same, “This is my beloved Son… hear [and follow] Him!” Remember, we serve a God who makes all things new as the old things in our lives pass away. Consider these two passages from Hebrews:

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto maturity; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (Heb 6:1-2, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

We have an altar, of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. (Heb 13:10-14, KJ2000 – emphasis added)

I recently encountered a man with “a recognized prophetic ministry” who has been suffering from a bad back that has sidelined him for a while. He saw this as three years in his own personal wilderness. The problem is that his ministry has become fixed, a tradition in his life that must be continued and served. He is struggling to keep doing what he had been doing before this period with his weakened back. The doctors wanted to do surgery that would have fixed it but incapacitated him for two years while it healed and he refused saying, “This won’t do!” Has he even considered that God’s hand was in it to get him to stop and take a new and better direction in his life? This is so typical of ministers today. They get a name and surround themselves with a ministry machine they create that must be constantly fed or it will die. Soon Jesus challenges them with a new direction that precludes the former work and most of them refuse to answer the wilderness call that they might have something much better. It is like Peter who went back to fishing after Jesus rose again. Jesus appeared to Him while fishing and said, “Peter, do you love me more than these (a net full of fish)? Feed my sheep!”

I can tell you that when God put me into my 14 year wilderness, all that I had at the beginning (ministry, church, fellowship, friends, job, neighbors, local, money, etc.) was soon gone. As I struggled with this void in my life I wondered how long it would last. The more I pushed against it seeking a way out, longing for the good old days, the stronger His chains on me became. It all started when I gave Him permission to kill the pride in me (from moving in spiritual gifts) and make me like His Son — only doing the works I see Him doing and speaking the words that I heard Him saying. To do that He had to wipe my spiritual slate clean!

Toward the end of this wilderness period He let me know that the things that fell into the ground and died (what He took away) was not what He would cause to spring forth when the stripping was over. I was thinking that the former little prophetic ministry would emerge as a GREAT prophetic ministry! As I was coming out at the other end of this dark night experience He said, “You have not been this way before!” This would be a whole new ballgame. What has happened since end of it in1994 has proven this to be true and I am so glad I obeyed.

Once again as I was reading my Open Windows daily devotion, T. Austin-Sparks spoke right to what was happened and is happening in my life as I continue to pursue that for which God has apprehended me.

Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head. (Ephesians 4:15 ESV)

Things may be taking a new and different shape, but the purpose of God is the same. We may be presented with His vision in new and further-on aspects, but it is only what He originally meant. Can we adjust? Can we leave “the things that are behind”? Without raising any questions as to the right or wrong of what has been, can we “go on” and “grow up,” “attain”? God-given vision makes men of prayer. This is almost too obvious when we remember the men of the Bible. It was vision that got them away from the trivial and petty. It requires vision to get prayer on to the major lines and to make it real travail. What a bound and range those prophets had in prayer! But what immense issues were precipitated. It is not our vision for God, but His vision in us that will be dynamic, and that will determine value.

I cannot conclude without pointing out that what could be voluntary with much gain has often to be made compulsory with much loss. This is because we do not stand back from time to time and in detachment and waiting upon the Lord give Him an opportunity of enlarging vision. Many a work which has mightily served the Lord and been a great spiritual testimony has lost its former glory, purity, and impact because it has become a “Work,” a “Movement,” an Organization, and its ramifications and responsibilities have become such as to completely rule out any such “retreat” with God, where that work is put back and a real openness to the Lord for anything else, more or other, is enquired after. The Lord might send prophetic vision by ministry to lead into His fuller meanings if there was a way for it, but we are too busy. What tragedy is related to such preoccupation! (emphasis added by me)

http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/002082.html

Standing on a Sea of Glass with One Another Before His Throne

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Red Fish Lake near Stanley, Idaho – Photo by Michael Clark

I recently got a comment on A Wilderness Voice blog from Susanne Schuberth of Germany. She said something that stirred me to consider its truth.

“I love it too [when two saints are of one mind], since it is very encouraging to see when we are on the same spiritual track IN Him.

I believe spiritual fellowship is meant to strengthen each member, but never to rule over them.”

What a joy it is when we hear another member of Christ’s body saying the very thing that His Spirit has been saying to us.

When I first came to Christ many years ago, He filled me with a deep desire to know Him and a hunger to read about Him in the scriptures. When I first met my wife about four years earlier, she remarked that I couldn’t even name the four gospels, much less Paul’s letters. Being raised a Catholic, I was totally ignorant of the Bible. But when the Spirit of God entered me in 1970, things changed rapidly (thank God for a praying wife and mother-in-law).

At first I read the gospels over and over until I found a center reference that pointed to His words and actions in the Old Testament. I found prophecies about Him and His very words all over the Psalms and then Isaiah and other prophets (See Luke 24:44). Eventually I read the whole Bible. It seems God had a plan for this–He often speaks to me with a portion of a verse, and when I look it up, it’s perfect for the situation or the person I am fellowshipping with. This often happens when He has me write an article or a reply on our bog. Over the last four years this has happened between Susanne and me and she has also spoken into my life, humbly showing me where I am weak and need a heart change. This can only work unto edification as we each humble ourselves before Christ. To “minister” to another out of pride destroys all true fellowship in the Spirit (See Gal. 6:1).

Paul had much to say about the unifying and edifying power of the Spirit of God and how He gifts each of us for the profit of the whole body of Christ.  He wrote to the Corinthians on how the Spirit desires to function in the body of Christ.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1Cor 12:4-7, ESV2011 – emphasis added) (See also: 1Cor 12:18-26 and 1Cor 14:12)

We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all. However, he has given each one of us a special gift according to the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say, “When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.” (Eph 4:4-8, NLT- emphasis added)

God makes sure that each member of Christ’s body is empowered by the Spirit to function according to His eternal plan so that Christ might be manifest throughout the whole earth. But when one member rises up and lords over other members with His gift (see 1Peter 5:1-3 ESV), the rest of the body suffers and, like the parable of Jesus, he causes them to hide their talent [gift] in the dirt. They say to themselves, “I am only a lowly foot covered with dust, what good am I compared to this other brother who is the head with all the talents (seeing, hearing and speaking) this body needs.” Sad to say, this is how most modern churches function today. Yet Paul made it clear if we are members of one another and in Christ’s body, ALL members are equally necessary and gifted to edify one another in the Spirit, giving all glory to our Father. There is nothing more wonderful than a group of the saints of God flowing together in His Spirit. It’s like an angelic choir singing praises to the Lord.

Paul wrote this to the Romans:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom 12:3-8, ESV2011)

The world’s hierarchic mindset of ruling over one another has no place in the body of Christ. Jesus said, If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”  (Mark 9:35, ASV- see also Matthew 20:25-28)

If we are ONE IN Christ, the ground where we stand before His throne is perfectly level. John saw this in his heavenly vision in Revelation.

And before the throne [of God] there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. (Rev 4:6, KJ2000)

And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. (Rev 15:2, KJ2000)

Some of the most beautiful photos I have ever taken have been of a body of water that is flat calm like a mirror, reflecting the far shoreline, the mountains behind it and the sky. A sea of glass is like a mirror because it is perfectly flat. We all stand with equal stature on a sea like this before the throne of God, reflecting the beauty of our Lord and His glory, not our own. We can do this only if we have entered into His rest and ceased from our own labors. There is no place for posturing, hierarchy or dead works as we abide together in the love of Christ before our heavenly Father.

May His Spirit drive this truth home in our hearts, Amen.

Picnik Bay Morning

Picnic Bay Morning – Photo by Michael Clark