As prophesied by the prophet Joel “…will pour out My Spirit in those days” the early Church began with an initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit where His provisions of power and grace facilitated many being saved, healed, and delivered as the Spirit acted upon each believing heart. However, as time passed this initial outpouring begins to ebb and subsequently many start to see letters from Paul, Peter and John showing up at the door step of their local Churches. Each letter contained a common theme and message of encouragement, insights into who Jesus was, is, and is to come including exhortations, correction, discipline and a variety of reminders of Gods many promises and spiritual riches in Christ.
To maintain a healthy church and as directed and inspired by the Holy Spirit the Apostles provided more God given knowledge and understanding into the person and ministry of Jesus Christ, and especially resurrection power, thus attempting to encourage those who were having difficulties maintaining their God given faith under much persecution, personal temptations and false teachings. One of the primary reasons this knowledge had been given, via these letters, had been intended to point the believer to the real source for maintaining their faith, hope, and abiding love in Jesus Christ risen, exalted, and crowned with glory in heavenly places. As many began to stray from Gods given purpose and mark the Apostles attempted to move them on and into an abiding relationship with Gods only begotten Son.
I’m the true Vine
If the first century local churches were going to mature and know the blessings that were derived from walking in a manner that is well pleasing to the Lord, bearing fruit in every good work, it would have to draw deeply from the life within them. However, because the Life is unseen by the light of day it is only known by the light of heaven. As many spiritual things were diminishing in the believer’s external world their inner life was meant to grow. Maturity and fruitfulness is not a consequence of what is external, or religious, or necessarily found in much activities, but it is through God granting insight and spiritual knowledge of His Son that each might abide in Him by faith and in due season produce fruit. External things, whether religious or spiritual cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit; certainly the change that most people expect and look for does not come through personal discipline or human effort, but is discovered in ones abiding union with Christ and His life. Yes, people continue to be saved and healed as the Spirit moves upon them but it is in our increasing in an understanding of our abiding in the Vine that will result in a fruitful life however, it is not simply fruit but fruit of heavenly quality that we must look for. Therefore the church is not unlike Israel where the prophet Isaiah prophecy of God’s redemptive work and expectations, saying,
Let me [as God’s representative] sing of and for my greatly Beloved [God, the Son] a tender song of my Beloved concerning His vineyard [His chosen people]. My greatly Beloved had a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. And He dug and trenched the ground and gathered out the stones from it and planted it with the choicest vine and built a tower in the midst of it and hewed out a winepress in it. And He looked for it to bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild (sour) grapes.
Gods intentions for His people in the new covenant has not changed from the old; He is still looking for fruitfulness, but not simply fruit, but high quality fruit which the new Vine is more than able to infuse into each branch. The wild or sour grapes mentioned are the consequence of not pruning the branch in a timely and correct manner, i.e. … the purpose of pruning is to obtain maximum yields of high quality grapes and to allow adequate vegetative growth for the following season. Therefore the husbandmen will prune the branches. The ignorance of Gods people lies in their not understanding, expecting and responsive to this process.
Jesus had explained to His disciples that He was the true Vine and they were the branches and if they would abide in Him they would produce fruit in due season. In addition, Jesus explains that in their producing some fruit that the Father, the husbandmen, would come and prune the branches so that they would produce a high quantity and quality of fruit. I think this goes without saying, but how much low quality fruit exists in the church today, much. I also speak of myself, I do not exclude myself as if there had been a lot of good fruit in my life, but that does not stop me from desiring to be fruitful.
Consequently, the apparent and perceived diminishing of this initial first century outpouring had not been an end in itself, but only a beginning. Not unlike the vineyard on a very fruitful hill where the ground had been plowed and trenched and the stones removed and planted with the choicest Vine the church is to produce fruit of this Vine as it abides. However, as God looked for Israel to bring forth grapes, it brought forth wild (sour) grapes; it is the Father who looks over the branches and sorts among the leaves of the church looking for the quality of fruit that proceeds from the life giving Vine. Recognizing that a lot of extraneous vegetation is produced during this initial planting (outpouring) but the Father, the husbandmen/vinedresser, seeks for a high quality fruit so He begins the pruning process. If the church does not understand what the Fathers purpose is it will continue to produce a lot of vegetation and sour grapes.
Therefore, it is Gods intent to have high quality grapes, and these selfsame branches, abiding in the Vine, have to draw deeply from the Vine to produce them, remembering Jesus own words, without me you can do nothing, thus we must learn from the Lord how to draw life from Him. As a quick note I believe that Jesus judgment seat will have more to do with the quality, rather than, the quantity of grapes produced in one’s life. I believe that one grape of high quality is better than one thousand inferior ones, i.e. sour grapes- at least there is one. What would you rather have, a bushel of sour grapes or one sweet grape? At a minimum you get to taste what is true and of high quality rather than a lot of vinegary tasting ones. What is most important here is the Vine, our abiding, drawing deep from its life and nourishment recognizing that what is required is a God given understanding and knowledge, as well as ability, to abide, i.e., a unification with the Son that in due time will produce life, and how could it not for the Son is the life giving Spirit, isn’t He. Therefore in abiding one cannot help but produce the fruit of the living Vine. What remains for all of us is to listen carefully from the Holy Spirit and respond correctly to His teaching thus mentoring us for He will through the direction and bidding from the Father and Son reveal what is hidden from the noon day sun.
Not only had Jesus explained that He was the Vine but also He was the Bread of life, the Resurrection and Life, the Way and the Truth. And again, Jesus explained that He is also the Light, therefore until we all possess a God given understanding to know Jesus as He describes Himself to us we will never mature nor become fruitful in the manner that God has intended for us. Jesus is not an abstraction, a historical moral figure we are to imitate, nor is He a doctrine, or a verse on a page, someone’s teaching or preaching topic, however He is the ascended Son of the living God, crowned with glory on high, the expressed image of the Father, our high priest and king, king of the Fathers kingdom. Therefore we can see and understand the prominent place He must have in our daily lives, and to treat Him otherwise is to dismiss Him, neglect Him, setting Him above and out of our reach, however as He explained, He is our daily bread, the light of our day, and our entrance into a new life and creation. If we are to walk as we should we are solely dependent upon Him, dependent upon Him as our nourishment, light, and life. Recognize that these things are not external to us but internal, they are revealed and to be known in our most inner man through and by the Holy Spirit who dwells in all of us. If we are to know this unprecedented union with Jesus it is because the Holy Spirit is in us and maintains this union an intimate relationship with the Son and the Father. Know this that according to Jesus words that if we will obey His commandments He will reveal Himself to us and the Father and the Son will make their abode with us. These things are not understood by much study but as the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit reveal them to the seeking heart.
History teaches that many miss the mark
Historically, if you study revivals, Christian movements, or denominations each had started out by an initial outpouring of the Spirit where many folks were saved, miracles happened and people were healed. However, what had started out with a lot of Holy Spirit impetus, over the years that which had a good start begins to ebb and eventually what had begun as something dynamic and Spirit filled, full of grace, slips into error, stagnation, and a lot of left over religious activity mechanically performed by cold hearted practitioners (sour grapes). When a movement or denomination focuses more upon maintaining their position in this world, much religious activity, or their pet doctrines rather than pursuing and knowing the Son and the rule of His love in our hearts then the pruning has to begin if these branches are to produce fruit.
This scenario is not unlike a lot of Churches today, which have had their strong beginnings, but over time, people begin to waver, their faith weakens, and their leadership begins to wander in and out of every popular teaching, whim, or fad, attempting to prop up what is perceived as falling down. Therefore budgets are cut as people leave, and in many cases the doors of the church eventually close. In an effort to preserve what is falling many will reinvent themselves attempting to reproduce their initial experience, or many will recreate what their initial spiritual experience had been, and in doing so become formal and stagnant, a class room experience, overtly pragmatic or perfunctory. However, in all these attempts and in light of this lifeless and dormant atmosphere all kinds of extra biblical “spiritual” experiences break out and a lot of weird teaching surfaces amongst them. Instead of moving onto a godly and holy maturity and true fruitfulness and reverential worship many slip into some kind of cult like setting, or settle into a formal, organized, and social religion, or many simply stagnate and leave the church altogether.
What we need to ask ourselves is why this occurs? Had not this initial outpouring been something God initiated, had been His will, His personal intervention, and in giving of His Spirit God intended to build and grow the Church unto maturity?
The definition of the Greek word hamartia is to miss the mark, to error, be mistaken, to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honor, to do, or go wrong. I believe the mark God has always intended for us is Jesus Christ, who is in us, that we might abide in Him, and in Him walk in the newness of His life (in other words to draw deeply from His life). Those who wander off this path will not be fruitful nor will God’s grace continue to be communicated to them; how can it when it only proceeds from the Son. There many strange teachings, brothers, and teachers who propagate error begin to show up. Paul gave insight into the future of a local church that He mentored explaining,
I know that after I am gone, ferocious wolves will get in among you, not sparing the flock;
Even from among your own selves men will come to the front who, by saying perverse (distorted and corrupt) things, will endeavor to draw away the disciples after them [to their own party].
Therefore be always alert and on your guard, being mindful that for three years I never stopped night or day seriously to admonish and advise and exhort you one by one with tears.
And now [brethren], I commit you to God [I deposit you in His charge, entrusting you to His protection and care]. And I commend you to the Word of His grace [to the commands and counsels and promises of His unmerited favor]. It is able to build you up and to give you [your rightful] inheritance among all God’s set-apart ones (those consecrated, purified, and transformed of soul).
Many times we listen to a preacher or a group of Christians and think that there is something off here but cannot pin point exactly what we perceive, yet something is wrong in their message, worship, or intentions. A group or church who has gone astray cannot imitate the purity of love, grace, and mercies of that proceed from Christ, and when they do their behaviors is suspect. It is only those godly attributes in Christ that are inviting to all and invites a Holy Spirit given amen in us.
It is Gods intent to reveal Christ, for in Him the Fathers grace for daily living is found, also all spiritual treasures and blessings in heavenly places are discovered. When Jesus explains that He is our life we must allow the Holy Spirit to move us from a position of self-reliance to the reality and experiences of Christ life in us. If we are to be set apart as Paul suggest it is by the sanctifying work of the Father. If we are going to know the true realities and experience of Christ life in us we must see and understand our own personal lifelessness in both our spirit and heart. The fruit we are to bear, that which can glorify the Father is the life of the Son in us. Jesus set the bar so high that it would only be through His life that we can obey Him. Again, without me you can do nothing. The success and change that we all should be seeking will be realized only in terms of walking upright, holy, and godly all the other superficial religious activities and behaviors are inconsequential in terms of knowing the Father. There is simply one road that leads to life and it is a road paved with Jesus instructions; for it is the Holy Spirit who gives direction and it is the Son who provides the grace and strength.
One important prerequisite to know life is the initial recognition of one’s true inner condition. Prior to teaching the Jews the narrow road that leads to life Jesus explained that blessed are the poor in spirit. One must recognize they are lifeless apart from Christ in you, and it will become evident simply by allowing His light to expose our true inner condition, i.e. there is an absence of an inner compulsion or longing for an abiding relationship with the Son; where apart from this union one does not partake of His heart. Neither can one know Jesus heart and desire after the Father and His will, not only to know it, but to walk in it unto pleasing Him. One must have a longing for mercy and goodness (given from the Father) to follow you all the days of your life.
No one is able to come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me attracts and draws him and gives him the desire to come to Me, and [then] I will raise him up [from the dead] at the last day
Apart from these both your external and internal life are frustrated. In the absence of Christ life our inner condition remains hardened and dull of spirit and heart to the Holy Spirits voice speaking in us, nor do you know what He is saying or attempting to teach us. We look for His voice everywhere but in us, basically because we can’t hear it nor do we understand what He would reveal to us. We join in on His heavenly conversation when we begin to know that He is speaking, for He is speaking to us regarding all things pertaining to personal righteousness, godliness, and holiness, i.e. He speaks of the manner in which we are to daily walk, for the sole purpose of pleasing the Lord. I don’t believe there could be or can be anything higher or more rewarding in life than to walk, as orchestrated and given to us in Christ, unto doing the will of the Father thus pleasing to the Lord. When Christ life is revealed in us in this manner His kingdom rule has truly come down to earth.
In addition, we must recognize the inner condition where there is no Christ’s given light, without it we remain ignorant to spiritual understanding and in interpreting correctly the mind of Christ and His spoken words as recorded in scriptures. We remain in the dark concerning spiritual things, they seem distant and difficult for us, where we continue to wrestle with them, yet without any real heart felt and knowing of them. Although one might study the bible all their lives does not guarantee that they understand Jesus words. I see a lot of frustrated theologians out there remembering that without the Lords light and the Spirits inner voice when men are left to their our ability to reason they usually get spiritual things all messed up leading to many errors. Yes, you can repeat the words written and even teach others, but inwardly you remain distant and aloof from heavenly realities.
Especially is there no strength in one’s inner man (be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might), therefore your faith remains but feeble and barely recognizable in you, nor do you have the God given capability to focus your inner life toward heaven above where Christ is seated. Also, your experience with God given daily grace and peace remains foreign to you, i.e. your inner life remains empty, in the dark, is dull and lifeless, as well as listless and there exist a deep sense of emptiness in you. Though you might think I’m explaining the condition of a non-believer I’m not. However, recognize that Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount first words were of a declaration of those who were blessed, and it would be those whose recognize and had experiences with their true inner condition apart from Christ. How is it that Jesus could speak of such things it is because He saw in men their true behaviors both in them and in their external world? Jesus filled with all of those things of His Father and the Spirit inner condition remained at peace, full of mercies and grace, abundance of spiritual strength and faith and great desire after His Father to do His will. Looking out from His inner condition of heart, soul, mind and strength Jesus saw clearly the deep emptiness that exists in us apart from God.
If men are going to know Jesus life in the manner that He would like to reveal Himself, His kingdom, and the Fathers love they will have to see and know their true inner condition as He saw it and knows it to be. If we continue to buy into what many preachers tell us that we have it all, because it is written, believing and attempting to claim it for ourselves, apart from Gods personal intervention and compulsion we will continue to walk void of any true knowledge of the Sons life, thus remain frustrated and even questioning the realities of our own salvation. I fear in lest some fall away because Jesus life becomes so foreign to their personal experience that they throw their hands up say “this isn’t working”. Many move through life explaining that the just live by faith which is correct however their faith should be working in concert with Paul’s words when he stated that “according to Gods glorious riches that you might strengthen with might in your inner man, though His Spirit, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith…Especially will we continue to walk in personal failure, falling into many and various allusive temptations, drawing away by the dictates of the flesh, really never knowing any level of personal righteousness in Christ. An inner condition always absent of grace, peace and any strength produces no real fruit, the author of Hebrews writes regarding grace working in us when he says… let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear. If absent of those many and various spiritual riches in Christ we will have to maintain an some kind of an outer appearance that we feel is acceptable as we walk into our local church.
Jesus spoke of the poor in spirit, those who hungered and thirsted, the merciful, the meek, the pure in heart, and the peace makers who would be blessed with heavenly things, things from His kingdom. When someone has had but a quick and fleeting experience of Christ life in them and it again ebbs this creates in us a heart to know more, and when absent of these things associated with Christ life we will experience even a deeper sense of emptiness than previously experience, and until His life again is manifested in us are inner life greatly suffers and causes us much pain. In fact if not recognized and sought after this emptiness can plunge us into a lot of things we should not get involved with to fill the void. Many preach to sinners of a void that only Jesus can fill but these same preachers should be preaching to Christians who are experience more of the void than an unbelievers does. Why is this, because Christians have tasted of heavenly things and have the light of heaven that lends itself to more knowledge of this void in them? The normal thing to do is simply remain in denial of these things and continue to fill this void with the world, the things in. There are a multitude of both worldly and religious activities that can occupy our time and space where we are avoid thinking or knowing just how far off the mark our lives truly are.
Because of our continual indifference toward the things of God and Christ the world has much more of an attraction to you than your God does. Know that apart from these things the Fathers has given, things that speak of His kingdom, things in Christ, how is it that we can possibly make any real progress in knowing our God for it is His great pleasure to reveal Himself to us, in fact our eternity will be filled with His revealing Himself to us, which is unending, where if there were days and times in heaven, each day and each time would be filled with more and more of the revelations of our Gods many attributes and beauty.
Missing Gods mark has many warning signs along its path. We can be confident that God will continue to compel you along this path, even unto the end of your life. However, when we finally humble ourselves and respond to Him He begins to draw us simply through revealing more of His Son. The Father gives understanding and knowledge of Him who dwells by His Spirit in our spirit that Jesus might become the source of our nourishment, light and life, therefore revelation is needed. Paul explains it this way in his letter to the Ephesians Church,
“… grant you a spirit of wisdom and revelation [of insight into mysteries and secrets] in the [deep and intimate] knowledge of Him, By having the eyes of your heart flooded with light, so that you can know and understand the hope to which He has called you…”
As mentioned earlier, missing the mark, i.e., a progressive maturing in one’s understanding, knowledge, and knowing Christ in you as our source for walking upright and holy before our God, causes churches, movements, or denominations to begin to morph into more human efforts, carnal works basically because the Spirits calling us to a resting place in Christ has been ignored; ignored because of personal arrogance, ignorance, neglect, or simply because His voice cannot be heard any longer due to the hardening of the heart. However, in spite of our failures the Father, the Son, through the Spirit, is working with us, within, instructing that we might understand our new position that had been prepared for us, that is in His Son; remembering that Jesus is the source of any personal or Church fruitfulness. Good works are those that proceed from Christ inward dwelling, in our inner man. In the Gospel of John, Jesus explains His unique relationship He had with His Father, in union with Him; where the source of His work is the Father, who dwells in Him, “…but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.” Jesus explains what the fruit of His dwelling in the Father was, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father….Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me…” In like manner that Jesus was in the Father perfectly expressing His image, so it is with those who dwell in Christ, unto fruitfulness.
Later in the Gospel of John Jesus provides us with a simple illustration of our new relationship in union with Him, and if maintained, will produce fruit, the fruit of His indwelling; fruits are proof of our abiding and are representative of Gods image, His likeness. Jesus also provides us with the consequences of not dwelling,
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me…for without Me you can do nothing…If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned…By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit…”
I believe the Father, who owns and keeps His vineyard, works judiciously over His vine that all branches might bear fruit. Why does God work, because His image and glory is at stake? Why has the world rejected what the Church has to offer, they have not seen the image of the Father, instead, what they have seen (carnal Christians) has made them reject us. “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit”
If the Christian, a movement, or denomination does not learn to abide, or continues to abide unto fruitfulness, they can be likened to a branch that begins to wither on the grapevine. Upon discovering the withering branch, the only recourse for the gardener is to prune it back, or cut it away. When you see a branch that has brown leaves amidst all the green ones, you get your trimmer out and cut it away, and what good is this withered branch to you after it is cut away, nothing, except to throw it in the trash. Jesus illustration of the cutting away, and throwing into the fire, is a picture of the outcome of men’s works apart from Christ. This is not God throwing someone into the fires of hell, as some might suggest, but instead it is an illustration, the Lord used, describing the extreme difference and outcome between works that originate in Him (good works) and works that carnal men attempt apart from an abiding relationship with the Son (bad works). By works, I mean not only ministry, but more importantly, our daily walk; behavior that flows from the life of Christ within in those who are abiding in Him, in union with Him, unto fruitfulness. It is only as we abide that we can bear fruit, and in bearing fruit, God is glorified. God is glorified through fruitfulness because it is work that He accomplishes in and through His Son, in us. In other words, the source of true fruitfulness is from God, in Christ, and now in us.
Newness of Life
We have been justified through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, we were buried with Him through baptism into His death, our old nature was crucified with Him that the body of sin might be done away with, and now just as Christ was raised from the dead, by the glory of the Father, even so, we also should walk in newness of life, for if we have been united (in union) together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.
“…made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”
We need to understand the implications of God raising us up with Christ; our old nature has been put to death, but now in Christ we have a new nature, a divine one, having been raised from the death of the old, now raised, with Him, into the new. In our new position in Him, our abiding place, we can now walk in this newness of life which proceeds from our heavenly position, in Christ, unto fruitfulness. In the manner that we can continue to walk in the old, without any effort whatsoever; it is natural to us and we don’t need anyone to instruct us, it is in like manner we walk in the new. We reject the old and walk in the new by faith. However, many will stop there, explaining to you to walk now by faith in the new, without explaining that the Holy Spirit is in you who will now give you instruction, revelations of Christ in you, insight, spiritual wisdom and understanding, enlightening your eyes (eyes of your heart- inward), so that you can begin to crawl, and when you get your spiritual legs, begin to walk, and run. To live in the old nature is quite easy for you because you have been doing it for many years, no instruction required, but it is Gods intention to provide instruction for you to walk in the new. To walk anew we need to abide; the Holy Spirit instructs us to do so because in abiding we can receive instruction, however, and more importantly, we can begin to know the heart of the Lord. Remember what Jesus said, take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I’m lowly and meek of heart.
Preparing a New Place
Historically, the Church has expeditiously taught the fundamentals of the faith, however has not understood what God had intended in the resurrection. In the Gospel of John Jesus explains to the disciples that He is going away and will return, however, His return (not His second coming where we will all see Him) is not visual, but spiritual, i.e., the coming of His Spirit to us, as illustrated in the verses from the Gospel of John below,
“…but you know Him for He dwells in you, and, but you will see Me, because I live, you will live also…”
“…I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
“…the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
“…A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”
“…He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
“Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
I’m sure the disciples did not understand the implications of what Jesus meant when He said, I’m going away… I will go and prepare a place for you…and return to you, nor did they understand the manner Jesus would be returning to them, Spirit and Life (not His second coming). For He prepared a place for them; the washing of His word, His death and burial, His resurrection, and His entering into heaven with His own blood, and the subsequent sending of the Holy Spirit into theirs and our spirits, and in the coming of the Holy Spirit, He brings with Him His life, “Because I live, you will live also”.
We understand this new position as Paul explains, “…it pleased God to reveal His Son in me…” John explains, “…abide in Him …” Peter explains, “…partake of His divine nature…” and finally Jesus words, “…without me you can do nothing…abide in me…”
What is most unfortunate is many of our contemporary scribes, those who claim to be the gate-keepers of biblical interpretations and apologetics, dogmatically assert that the above verses from Johns Gospel speak of Jesus future second coming and not His coming into men’s hearts. What these self-appointed gate-keepers have done is shut out all those of us who have a hunger to know the Lord.
The place Jesus had been preparing, through His sacrificial work, paving the way for the entrance of His life, again, into our hearts and our spirits, i.e., what Adam and Eve had in the garden has returned through new birth, that now He might abide, and in our abiding in Him who abides in us we might produce much fruit, because the vine is with men. The sanctuary once shrouded in a deep veil of darkness, lifeless and without light, now in Christ, the life and light has again entered into the inner sanctuary of men that we might walk in the newness of His life, in us. Jesus stands at the door of our heart and is knocking that He might come in with His light, spiritual wisdom, understanding, His living word, His life, and His love and peace that passes knowledge. The Father has accomplished the work, through the Son, that Jesus can enter our inner sanctuary, a place that had previously remained in the dark, a cold place, indifferent to the Father now the light shines in our hearts.
“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”
Christ formed in you
Jesus is our safe place, our safe harbor from every deception of man and deceptions of our own heart, in Christ Jesus is our place of true security, He is our source for spiritual wisdom and understanding, our place of rest from our works, our hiding place and protection from the world and the evil one in it, and our place that assures us of our Fathers good pleasure, because it is Jesus life that the Father takes pleasure in and seeks to form in us. God’s intention for us, His working in us, and for us, is to one end that we might abide in His resurrected living Son until His Son is formed in us. Paul explains his working in cooperation with God to this end,
“My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you…”
Also, Paul speaks to who it is that dwells in Him and the life that he is now living,
“…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 I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me…”
Jesus life is formed in those who learn to abide in Him, we abide until “…it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me …” Abiding can be likened unto a marriage relationship; after many years of living with your spouse, unbeknownst to you, you begin to assimilate some of your spouse’s behavior, hopefully good ones. Unless you daily live with someone you cannot really know them, knowing the good and bad? What I have found after 37 years of marriage is that my wife is really the only one who knows me; the good, the bad and the ugly. We must understand that Jesus resides in our inner most being, our inner sanctuary, the place only you know. All is in view of the Lords eye, who fortunately loves us in spite of what He sees, for He knows us better than we know ourselves: our thoughts, desires, imaginations, sins, and yes evil. I think a lot of us believe our relationship with the Lord can be likened to dating, and not a marriage. Dating someone means we usually put our best foot forward, however, when you spend years with someone, what actually is in the cup will come spilling out when bumped. Jesus already knows what is in the cup; we can’t hide who we really are under a blanket of a lot of religious activities, as if we were only dating and trying to put our best foot forward for the Lord.
We abide that we might know Him. It would be ludicrous to think you came to know your spouse simply by reading their personal biography, looking at their photos, or, if they have one, reading their Facebook profile. Over many years of “walking” out your Christianity does not mean you know the Lord, or are known by Him; reading, praying, and studying does not mean that you know Christ. Jesus can remain just another historical character on a page. Reading only touches ones imagination, mind and reason, and sometimes emotion but does not necessarily touch your heart and spirit. If you read about an apple, looked at pictures of an apple, and listened to testimonies from those who have eaten an apple; testifying of its textures, fragrance, and sweetness; however you personally have never eaten an apple, than you have not actually experienced the apple.
We all come to know the saving grace of God through a born again experience, an encounter with the Lord, where each of us, who are born of the Spirit, have had a brief encounter with the Lord. Periodically in worship, or your reading sessions, again, you encounter the Lords love, grace, and His peace; love and peace that passes knowledge. However, after you leave the worship service, or set aside the book, what you had experienced quickly departs. God leads us to the bread of Life by dropping bread crumbs along our way that we might abide and know Him daily.
Stop toiling and doing and producing for the food that perishes and decomposes [in the using], but strive and work and produce rather for the [lasting] food which endures [continually] unto life eternal; the Son of Man will give (furnish) you that, for God the Father has authorized and certified Him and put His seal of endorsement upon Him.
It is in abiding that we can continually know the Lord and are trained by Him, unto holiness. Not only know His love and peace, but also His heart, mind, Spirit, passions, and desires; where the common thread through all of these attributes of the Lord is a love for the Father, unto pleasing and obeying Him.
Jesus possessed a heart to always please His Father, therefore in all that we would do, in word or deed, whether were sweeping floors or programming computers, if in our abiding, our single goal is this, “…to walk worthy of the Lord and to please Him in all respects…” then we know we are truly making progress and maturing as revealed and taught by the Holy Spirit. John the Apostle explained it this way, “…He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked…”
Where Your Treasure is
By His power, God has transitioned us from the kingdom of this world and darkness into the kingdom of His Son. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love”. In Gods kingdom is the place where we experience His blessings, through the Holy Spirit, as Paul explained, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ…” In this world are temporal blessings, but in the blessings, coming from heavenly places from Him who now resides in the kingdom, are eternal blessings, i.e., Spiritual, wrought by the Holy Spirit in us who abide; where the main aspect of these blessings is a continual unveiling of the Son, in us, that we might know Him and live in Him, partaking of His revealed life; our true treasure.
Many speak of blessings, but what they have in mind is physical things, temporal, which is unfortunate, because this seeking of temporal blessings speaks to the carnal mind of the Church; looking for and seeking things of this world, and not things above. We have to understand that where our treasure is there will also be our heart; if our heart is on worldly, temporal things, the love of God (Gods agape) cannot be in us. Yes we can have things, but things cannot have us; we all have things. In all our abiding there is no greater treasure then the love of the Father, in us. When His extraordinary love is revealed, our respond will be as the man in Jesus parable, who discovered the treasure hidden in the field, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Abiding is not control
The other day I was reading a book on abiding where the author suggested that in the abiding experience Jesus comes in and controls our will, and emotions and thoughts; however, from my experience this is not true. Jesus does not control anything, to say that He does is to miss-understand what it means to abide. We still have a free will and can decide to walk away at any time. My experience has been that as His love, grace, and mercy are revealed in our inner sanctuary; it is so overwhelming, compelling, and inspiring that like the man in the parable, who sold all, that he might possess the field, so it is with those who have discovered the treasure. Selling all is not control, but it is that we might possess the true treasure where selling is an activity of submission, surrender, listening, hearing, seeking, asking, knocking, praying, reading, diligent, because God is a rewarded of those who diligently seek Him (if your reward is not God you’re not “selling”), and yes even attending Church, that we might buy the field and own the treasure. Not control, but selling in view of the great treasure.
Don’t get distracted and wander away from abiding
Those who are veterans of the Christian walk understand that over the year’s one can become easily distracted with all kinds of external activities, neglecting what is of most importance, i.e. to abide unto fruitfulness. Religion, with all its associated entrapments can distract us when we become inordinately pre-occupied with all there is to do. Jesus explains that, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” We think of treasure in terms of mostly physical things this world offers us, and invites us too. However, religious activities can easily become our treasure in place of the Christ who is our true treasure and inheritance.
As a professing Christian for over 40 years it has been my experience that there is always something to do or some new thing that comes along; another group, the next movement, or, depending upon which book your pastor has just finished, the next Church task. Pastors feel that if they can get everyone busy enough they will stay out of trouble. Every time you turn around, some group has the next move of God to occupy your time, the next popular book for everyone to read, the next big bible conference to attend, or the next teaching to follow; every wind of doctrine that blows through our Churches. Religious work and activities can deflect ones attention and become a snare; a snare because the focus of the heart is not upon God, in Christ; focus and attention is upon the things of God, and not upon God Himself. The Jews were so focused, and in servitude to, the things of God: law, statutes, ordinances, ceremonies, and Jewish tradition, that they could not recognize their Messiah standing in front of them. Ones work, doctrine, opinion, pet teaching can actually blind us and cause spiritual deafness, to the extreme that we lose focus upon what God has purposed in His Son. We abide first then work, or do not work, depending upon Gods will for us. In our abiding we will have a single focus and that is upon the Son.
If not abiding, were not in Gods perfect will for us, nor is our work. Until all come and bow their knee before the Son, and by faith abide in Him who abides in us, we will not realize, or possess, that personal relationship we consciously or unconsciously seek. All work must originate in Christ, those works that do not originate with Him are considered lawless, Jesus explains,
“Not everyone who is saying to me Lord, lord, shall come into the reign of the heavens; but he who is doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, lord, have we not in thy name prophesied? and in thy name cast out demons? and in thy name done many mighty things? and then I will acknowledge to them, that — I never knew you, depart from me ye who are working lawlessness”
Ian Major Thomas explains,
“God does not honor men and women and their deeds or their books or their organizations. The Father in heaven delights to honor His Son. It is only the Life of the Lord Jesus— His activity, clothed with you and displayed through you— that ultimately will find the approval of God.”
Testing the building material
The scriptures contain Gods foundation and His building plans, and the name of architect, Jesus. Not only do we need to understand the difference between the plans, the architect who created the plans, but we need to understand the difference between the building materials men use, and those God has ordained for all to use. We get a brief glance at those materials that are eternal, as John describes when he saw the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven,
“Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls!”
I believe when too much of man’s exertion, energies, and personal endeavors begin to overtake the work God began by His Spirit, and the fact that God is jealous over His foundation, what is built upon it, and its ensuing quality, He will allow fire to test the excellence of the materials, whether originating in man or God. The only material God allows on His foundation is gold, silver and precious stone.
Paul drives home the point explaining that all the building materials will be tested. Tested by fire, for fire will reveal the quality of the materials used for the building. Paul mentions to the Corinthian Church a testing of the building materials their leaders had been using; building upon the foundation that Paul had carefully laid, and warns,
“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is…”
Fire will destroy wood, hay and straw, those things characteristics of materials men use, materials that will not withstand the test of fire. However, gold, silver and precious stones are kingdom building materials and will survive any fire. In Revelation, Jesus admonishes the Laodiceans, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire that thou mayest be rich…”
When Jesus said without me you can do nothing should be a wakeup call for all who work and build, as to the quality of materials they are using. If a revival, a great move of God or denomination begins to build upon the foundation with inferior materials, wood, hay or straw, rather than kingdom materials purchased from the Son, will not stand. Inferior building materials are those things that do not originate in Holy Spirit; these are carnal, human effort, strength, means and methods that proceed from self-sufficiency. What will remain after the fire is but a heap of spiritual rubble.
The heart of the Worker
Not only do we need to understand the importance of materials one builds with, but we also need to know the heart of the one who God is trusting to build. The Father trusted His Son, His Sons heart, “…I do always those things I see my Father doing…” Jesus would never do anything that would compromise the relationship He had with His Father. Jesus heart and focus was always upon His Father, never upon His Fathers work, for He loved His Father. It is in abiding that we can know Jesus heart, the same heart that He had, and has, toward His Father. If we do not know Jesus heart we will always error, because our heart is corrupt and evil, and eventually this same heart can pervert a marriage, a Church, a movement, or even whole denominations. Apart from Christ, we will mess it up every time, consequently missing the mark.
Jesus heart had one focus, and that was upon His Fathers will, His purposes, His intention, no matter how insignificant the work might seem, or situation He found Himself in, Jesus was not above or below what the Father wanted of Him. Jesus could preach to the Samaritan women at the well, or preach to the crowds; each received the same level of attention, grace, and love, because it was a work given by His Father.
When the Father asked Jesus to talk with the Samaritan women, Jesus did not dismiss it as too menial or beneath Him. In the Jewish tradition the Samaritans were despised and considered as half Jews” and “a mixed race” and women were considered inferior to men; as expressed by the disciples when they came upon Jesus talking with the women,
“… Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
As a side note, I’m astounded that during Jesus discourse with the women that He told her things He told no other. Many times prior, Jesus kept silent regarding who He was, however, without all the crowds, the lights and music, charismatic personalities, or weird preaching, Jesus gave this women a revelation that few had “…Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He (Messiah)…”
The real work can begin when we understand Jesus was able to turn His world upside down because He had a heart after God and not after the works of God. His heart was not upon the crowds, or the spiritual excitement, the healings, money, nor did He care for the personal recognition coming from the crowds, His single focus was always His Father. A pure heart and motives carry more weight in knowing how to please the Father; it is a pure, lowly, and meek heart God can trust to build upon His foundation.
Christ the Lampstand in our Churches
Many Churches today are running solely on human effort: ingenuity, business sense, marketing, psychology, or intellectual prowess rather than dependency upon the Lord, and His Spirit. Leaders have turned to bells and whistles, to attract the crowds. Many attend their services to be entertained by all the music, charismatic personalities, video screens, uplifting drama presentations, emotional teaching and pleas, testimony of how this church has helped them rather than exalting Him who has been exalted to the heavens, where little teaching exist that might lead one to what God has truly intended in His Son; an abiding relationship that produces the quality of fruit and worship He desires. The Spirit seeks to speak, unveil things hidden in Christ, mysteries hidden since the foundation of the world, the treasures of the kingdom, however, and unfortunately, the Spirit voice is neglected or He is grieved because of all the religious rhetoric, nonsensical teachings coming from the pulpits, inordinate demonstrations, and noises, shouts from the crowds. It has been my experience that if I want to know those things God has so freely given to His children, mysteries hidden in Christ, I cannot go to the typical Church to learn them. I have been given more insight in the quiet places of my life than I have ever received in Church, or at some large bible conference. Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, but withdrew to a quiet place to explain the mysteries of His kingdom to His disciples.
In my visiting different Churches, I have sat in the back so I can observe the people during worship and the preaching. What I have found is people attending the Churches, are coming in late, wearing jeans, shorts, tennis shoes, drinking coffee during the meeting, cell phones ringing, texting, and many are even falling asleep which I believe is disrespectful to the Lord and the preacher and certainly is not the worship and reverence due to our God and His Son. Our actions within the Church building speak of the mind of the Church; not recognizing the Body of Christ or possessing a level of respect and faith to Him who it is that walks amongst us.
When Jesus walks amongst us, He can, or cannot manifest His presence; if He does manifest Himself the atmosphere in the building will change, Jesus brings the kingdom atmosphere with Him; consequently our demeanor, worship, music, and the pastors message will all take on a different temper, more in line with purity, holiness, godliness and reverence in godly fear; rather than the usual emotional or intellectual pleas made by uniformed Pastors. In the presence of Jesus, preaching takes on more of an authoritative tone, convicting (not condemning) our hearts, therefore our testimony will be as the Jews after listening to Jesus preach on the mount,
“And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
In my opinion, most of the blame for the disposition in Churches is the Pastors. At some level people don’t necessarily show up to see the Pastor, or listen to Him, however, they continue to come hoping that one day the Lord will actually show up, and manifest Himself, as Ian Major Thomas, the indwelling Life of Christ, says,
“…to be entirely honest, I know of nothing quite so boring as Christianity without Christ. Countless people have stopped going to a place of worship simply because they are sick of going through the motions of a dead religion. They are tired of trying to start a car on an empty tank. What a pity that there are not more people around to show them that Jesus Christ is alive…”
When Jesus manifests Himself in our assemblies all the pews will be filled, each in attendance will demonstrate a level of respect and reverence, when He is in our midst. What we need, in our Churches today is to know and believe what John’s saw in revelations, when he explains whom he saw walking amongst the lampstands (Churches),
“Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore… The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches…These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands…”
Begin to abide – in season fruit will appear
Recognize that God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) does the work. Our work is to believe. Having faith, i.e. the faith given to us is active, responsive, and obedient. How is it obedient, it is obedient as it is responsive to the words of the Lord that are leading us in a specific direction and that are the land of promise, the kingdom of God? The Psalmist provides us with some insight,
For they got not the land [of Canaan] in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your countenance [did it], because You were favorable toward and did delight in them.
Jesus gives us some insight into the work we are to do,
They then said, What are we to do, that we may [habitually] be working the works of God? [What are we to do to carry out what God requires?]. Jesus replied, This is the work (service) that God asks of you: that you believe in the One Whom He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His Messenger].
Abiding is by faith and to do what God asks of us is only understood through abiding for the Holy Spirit gives understanding and administers the light of heaven through union with Christ and knowledge of the Son of Man. In addition, left to our own understanding we are usually all over the scriptural map in terms of understanding Gods will. Gods will is not necessarily individual but is universal, i.e. His will is primarily given and known so that we might walk upright, holy, and godly during the time we are here. In all our behaviors, as the Lords peace, grace and strength are manifest in our life we are to live in accordance with His words; attempting to live according to scripture apart from abiding, apart from the “Arm”, “Hand” and “Light” of the Lords Will only result in failure and frustration. Certainly as we attempt in our own abilities to live according to Jesus words through personal discipline always falls sorely short of His life working in our inner most being, i.e. it smells of flesh and blood of human effort, and certainly is not the sweet aroma of the Lords life the Father seeks and is according to His Will. Any attempt on our part to enter the land via any other means than what Israel knew will end in failure, error and usually corruption,
The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.
Again, the Palmst explains in what manner he saw from where his success in life came, in the Will of God according to His method of salvation,
For You have delivered my life from death, yes, and my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life and of the living
Notice he said You have delivered me, kept him from falling and provided the light of life. The Palmist did not lay claim to his own self efforts or skills, nor his humanity but attributed his success to His God who activity worked in his life.
If you have been a Christian for any length of time you should possess a level of insight into your fallen nature, and your sin, e.g., if the gospel says don’t lie it is not long until you find that at times you lie. You know you should not lie, and feel guilty for doing so, but how to stop, how to change, escapes us.
Faced with the Gospels many challenges, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to make the changes Jesus asks of us. However, what we should realize is change is not within our power. Yes we can make some external changes; alter our behavior through some level of personal discipline, however, no matter what external changes we attempt it is never enough to please God; God is only pleased with one life and that is His Sons. Abiding is the only place that we can know and live the life that God is pleased with; a life that is communicated to us, and not one that we can imitate. Abiding is relational, and in the same manner that we might spent time with our wife, or a good friend, it is in abiding that we begin to know Christ’s and His life, to become comfortable with Him, and in union with Him, we can now live, walking worthy.
You get up in the morning and you feel cold toward God and His things, you don’t want to pray, nor seek God. If we are honest we would admit that is the condition of our inner life most of the time. However, the only way that this inner coldness and indifference changes is to draw close, through the Holy Spirit, to the Lord. Why is this true? Because the Lord fellowships with His Father and sits in His kingdom which full of life, and as we draw up close we draw up close to the Life and the coldness of our heart begins to warm in His Company. Our indifference toward the things of God begins to fall away in the light of His presence, our self-sufficiency fades in His sufficiency, our independence begins to dissipate as our faith comes alive in the presence of His eternal life, and the focus of our heart turns from self to the Son. God breathe life into all His creature, but into His new creature, in Christ, He breathes eternal life that we might truly be alive, not only organically but spiritually alive to God.
Not only is abiding a focus and product of a God given spiritual strength, but as well is an experience, an experience maintained by faith, because Jesus manifest Himself to those who dwell in Him, i.e. He communicates His love, love that passes knowledge,
“….that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
As the fruit of His indwelling begins to show up in our inward parts, as we abide by faith, we begin to talk, act, and behave differently; the difference is not based in adherence to religious principles, or control, but it is relational, personal, it is personal because abiding is communion and fellowship with Him who is holy, and subsequent partaking of another’s nature, Christ’s divine nature, as Peter instructs us, “…that through these (promises) you may be partakers of the divine nature…”
In the Gospel of John Jesus explains the nature of His relationship with His Father, and based upon this heavenly relationship the Father reveals to Jesus all things that He does, and will show Him greater things that He does and works, that the world might marvel.
“For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel”
Therefore, the world will marvel, be in awe, when the Church has the same faithful, loving, and trust-worthy relationship Jesus had with the Father. The Father honors those who have a heart after His Son, those walking in a manner that fully pleases Him. As a Church, and individually, we must move from an emphasis upon an outward manifestation to an inward one, “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God And they shall be My people.” It is only as we recognize that God, not only walks amongst us, but also dwells in us can we begin to walk. As the Church begins walking in a manner worthy they will bear fruit and will possess an intimate fellowship with their Father as A.W. Tozer, Mystery of the Holy Spirit, explains, “God cannot possibly have fellowship with a man or woman that is not living right or not walking right”
As the Church begins to grow and mature in the knowledge of God (knowing Him), where there exists a relationship of trust, in like manner that the Father revealed to His Son all things, God is comfortable to reveal His greater works to the Church that the world might marvel.