Saturday, February 26, 2011

The New Way of the Spirit

(The following lesson is taken from the writings of Steve Bray-Church Leadership.”)

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3:5-6)

Spiritual leaders will need to distinguish between the old way of trying to conform people to certain written laws and the new way of living by the Spirit. The way of “the letter” is powerless and ineffective in the long run.

In spite of what many may think, we do not become Christians by accepting a list of orthodox beliefs and then conforming to a set of standards. Christ expects much more from His disciples. He died for the purpose of sharing His life with everyone who will follow Him in His way of the cross. (Matt. 16:24-25; Rom. 6:5; John 10:10) It entails dying to our own will and sufficiency and living through His Spirit by faith. It is the only way for His body to come “to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13)

The laws of God can only reveal in a limited sense certain standards of behavior. But even the best of laws cannot change the inner nature. A close study of God’s Word will reveal how He now requires a standard of behavior—true righteousness—that exceeds anything that can be worked out through our human efforts under law. We are required to manifest a life of love that “passes knowledge.” (Eph. 3:19; Matt. 5:48) The sufficiency for this must come from God. Without Christ revealing Himself as the Living Word within our inner being, we will find ourselves powerless to do what God requires. Even the most earnest disciples of Christ will find themselves periodically falling short of the following requirements when they are attempting to live in their own strength.

But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven… Therefore you shall be perfect {in holy love}, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matt. 5:44-45, 48)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything gives thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

The written laws are intended to reveal what God expects from His children. God uses His commands to expose the corruption within the heart. But the law does not have the power to do away with the fallen nature that periodically rises up into wrong actions. Our only hope is in receiving the “abundance of grace” and “the gift of righteousness” that makes it possible to “reign in life through…Christ.” (Rom. 5:17) We are dependent upon the Spirit to reveal the shared life of the Trinity within our inner being.

He {the Spirit} will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine {the eternal Kingdom-life} and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. {The Father and Son share in this same life.} That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known {as an indwelling life} to you. (John 16:14-15 NIV
At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. (John 14:20)
To “know Christ” is to know the eternal life He shares with His Father. When He makes His everlasting life known within our inner being, He comes as an endless source of Living Water. This “higher life” takes us beyond the periodic “wells” of refreshment He uses to sustain us through the wilderness testing period. There is now a “pure river of water of life” flowing ceaselessly from under His throne. When our old self-originated form of life has died and His throne of power is established within the heart, this ever-flowing fountain of life begins to rise out of our inner being.

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. (Rev. 22:1)

As the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38)

But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into {a display of} everlasting life. (John 4:14)

The apostle Paul, in order to “know” Christ, had to count “as loss” his religious heritage, his religious education, his human zeal for serving God, and even the righteousness he had established by obeying the Old Testament laws. He chose to die to the natural plane of life, which includes everything that has its source in self-sufficiency. “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” (John 3:27) In exchange for this loss of everything from the natural plane, he was able to “gain Christ” and the “righteousness which is from God by faith.” This heavenly form of righteousness is much more glorious than the human form of righteousness that is developed by conforming to laws through the works of the flesh.

For we are the circumcision, who…have no confidence in the flesh… If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so… But what things were gain to me {on the natural plane of life}, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection. (Phil. 3:3-10)

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh {in a mortal body} I live by faith in the Son of God… For if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. (Gal. 2:20-21)
Paul is not merely speaking about the Old Testament ceremonial law. He is speaking about God’s written commandments. It includes everything spelled out with letters. Everyone who tries to live by “the letter” will find themselves falling short of the requirements for living in His kingdom. We are simply insufficient when it comes to making ourselves like God in holy love. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

We are not speaking of an antinomianism that simply ignores the requirements found in God’s laws. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17) He came to enable us to fulfill what He requires of us. And He expects us to yield to all His commands. But rather than trying to simply conform to written standards, we are to look to Christ in faith to put within our heart a new form of life that enables us to do by nature what the law requires. The eternal Kingdom-life He established in bodily form has the capacity to live as God requires both in this world and in the age to come. His indwelling life does what the law could not do.

Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law {any written law} given which could have given life {the divine life of God}, truly righteousness would have been by the law… But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law… Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ {to the Source of this divine life}… (Gal. 3:21, 23)

For what the {written} law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son…that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4)

For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. {This includes both the Jews of old and many earnest souls in the church today.} For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness {try to make themselves right, as they try to obey God’s laws in their own strength}, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law of righteousness to everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:2-4)

I say then: Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh… Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are…contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissension…and the like… {Written laws are unable to completely overcome these works of the flesh.} But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:16, 19-23)

Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect {in holy love} by the flesh {through your own efforts}? Have you suffered so many things {to break your self-sufficient spirit} in vain—if indeed it was in vain? (Gal. 3:3)
Everyone lives by one of two ways. We can either live by the flesh in our own strength, or by the Spirit in the power of God. Sadly, we are afraid that much of the church today is still living on the natural plane of life. They are trying to make themselves right by seeking to conform to a personally prioritized list of laws. It is the reason why we still see the works of the flesh, such as “contentions, jealousies…selfish ambitions, dissension…and the like.”

Everyone who will choose to die to their own will and sufficiency can expect Christ to come to them in the power of an “endless life.” His life alone can perfect the heart in holy love and make it possible to live in the righteousness that comes from God by faith.

There arises another Priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life… For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law {the written instructions} made nothing perfect… (Heb. 7:15-16, 19)
Today is the day for Christians to become “perfect in one” with both God and each other. The members of the body are to enter into the life that is shared by the Father and the Son within the Trinity—“that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one…” (John 17:22-23) This is not a figure of speech. As a body of believers we are required to seek out the reality of this promise through faith.

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10)
The elders are expected to display this heavenly life to the members of the body. They must work together in harmony, each utilizing their unique God-given gifts, in the work of building up the church into all the fullness of Christ. They have a responsibility for leading each of the members into Christ’s life of divine love. It is the only sure hope of standing before Him with boldness on the Day of Judgment. (1 John 4:17) Let us therefore pray for the Lord to raise up leaders who will know what is needed to make the church a functioning body of Christ.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life…hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy…be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. (Jude 20-25)

How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him…? (Heb. 2:1-3)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The High Calling of God

Let us look at some questions about the goal of our faith.  What are the desires of our heart? What is it that we hunger and thirst for?  Do we hunger and thirst for righteousness? Or has there become some other goal we have been seeking? What are our dreams?  Has the goal become an important position in the Kingdom of God, one with power?  Have we become distracted from our true goal and calling of God?

Jesus said we are to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. In the Kingdom of God there is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Any true teaching or word from the Lord is meant to increase this desire for His Kingdom Life and His righteousness to be manifested in us and to point us to Christ. The Holy Spirit will never lead us to seek high positions, rank or a place of honor. And it will never make us feel equal to Christ. I know it is strange, but there are teaching out there that implies this.  That is what Lucifer wanted. He said "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High." (Isa 14:14) 

The Kingdom of God is not about seeking the next "revelation" or "experience";  it is about being changed and conformed into the life of Christ.  While we seek Him, He will reveal more and more of Himself to us, but He never said we would be omnipotent, to know all and be all. To be conformed into His likeness is to be changed in character, life and love, as He displayed it to us in His life, but not in position or equal to.

The heart attitude of one that seeks the Kingdom of God in this manner (no matter how far advanced they might come) will never see themselves as equal, they will remain subjected to Christ. Jesus never sought His father’s position. Jesus came for a purpose and when that purpose is complete the scriptures tell us that He will turn ALL back to His father. (1 Corinthians 15:28) "And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all."

Matthew 20:28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

There is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost because of Love. Jesus explained to His disciples that His food was to do the will of His father, it satisfied His hunger. His father's will was to lay down His life for the good of others; this is love in the highest form. He loved the Father more than His own life. There can be no pride, self-will or self seeking motives in us if we are going to love as Jesus loved. This is our walk as Jesus walked, to love as Jesus loved.

Jesus said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)

There has been much emphasis placed on positioning and of becoming "Sons of God", "experiences" and new “revelations”. Again, what are we seeking? What is our heart's desire? Should it not be to do the will of our Father no matter the cost? Should this not be the "food" that satisfies our hunger? There is no "higher" place than to be on our face at the feet of our Father, to be in His presence seeking His will no matter where it takes us.

The world seeks positions and honor. But Jesus said, "…it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister (servant); and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant (slave): Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." Matthew 20:26-28

There are teachings that talk about "the deep work of the cross" and "dying to the Adamic nature", but no real substance on what this means. The focus seems to be more on experiences, and “levels” rather than the love of God and doing His will. The true sons of God are those that have grown to a place where they have laid down their own lives for the Lord. They have given up self will and self love, and their only motivation and “food” is to do the will of their father. These are the ones that are raised into Christ's life of pure love that He displayed on this Earth. They will be constantly laying down their own “rights” for the good of others. This is an incredible love that can only come from the Lord as we submit to Him in ALL things. The more we grow, the more we will become dependant on our Father, just as a child is dependant on their mother, until we become as dependant on the Lord as a new born baby is. This is true humility.

Let our eyes not be on "positions" or the great things the Lord could do through us, but rather let our eyes be upon Him, so our joy will be to do His will and suffer for Him if need be for the good of others. Let Him become our substance; let doing His will be our food. This is the life He wants to give us, let us be willing. Let us seek the Kingdom of God where there is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost!

A friend wrote the following:

God is love. It is a self-sacrificing love. He cannot help Himself. He must give of Himself. He even gave His only Son for us. That is what self-sacrificing love looks like. And what His intentions are in redemption, is to make us like Him in that same nature of self-sacrificing love. That is how the world was to be won over to God's kingdom.

The power that comes from heaven should not be thought of in terms of a force that enables us to do miraculous things for God or have "unique" experiences. Rather, we must look for it as a power that will enable us to enter into that sacrificial life of love. And it is a love that "doesn't count the cost" but rather is a poured out life in the same extravagant way that Mary anointed Jesus with the costly perfume. Not that it {true Christ-like love} desires or even tries to act extravagantly, but when one becomes a vessel empty of the fallen "self"-centeredness in a true circumcision of the heart by the power of the Spirit (Romans 2:29, Colossians 2:11), it is a life that God's Spirit can pour the life and nature of Jesus through in abundance! Coming to any other conclusions as to what our redemption is all about are misguided conclusions I believe and keep the Body of Christ on a low spiritual level or completely in error and deception.