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SPIRITUAL UNITY
AWAKENING

By David A. J. Seargent
 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. A Vision for the Church

2. The House of God

3. Idols of Our Lives

4. What About Society?

5. A Course of Action

6. Contemplation and the Awareness of God

 

1
A VISION FOR THE CHURCH

 

As Christians we are commanded to proclaim the Gospel; the good news of Christ. But what is this good news? And what does proclaiming it entail?

First, let us be clear about what it is not. It is not a set of ethical rules. It is not a religious system. It is not a philosophy or theological system. To be sure, it embraces all of these elements to a greater or lesser degree, but it is not to be confused with any one of them.

The Gospel is not primarily a belief. It is an invitation. An invitation to meet and become an intimate friend with a Person who is both truly God and truly human and who gave his life so that we may live in the presence of God forever.

But Jesus is not just an historical figure; not even a unique Figure who performed something that nobody else could (his atoning death and resurrection). He is all of these, but he is also a very contemporary Person who stands before us now as a living figure. Beyond the Jesus of ancient history is the Jesus of the present moment; the Jesus who waits to come and dwell within our spirits and through his Holy Spirit transform us increasingly into his own image.

The Gospel is the good news that this miracle has been made possible by the atoning death and victorious resurrection of Jesus. It is also the good news that this same Jesus now waits for us to turn away from a self-centred life and toward him, by inviting him to come into our spirits in a real and vital way.

Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. A relationship between a man or woman and God in Jesus. A Christian is one who has Jesus spiritually within.

But this relationship with God is not something simply to be enjoyed by ourselves. We are saved and transformed, not simply that we may become holy people and go to Heaven when we die, but so that we may become parts of a community of people who are similarly being transformed inwardly and who, collectively, maintain the presence of Christ in the flesh within today’s world. This company of genuine Christians, the church (not to be confused with any denomination, or even with the institutionalized church per se) is the Body of Christ today. In a very real sense, it is the continuation of the incarnation of Jesus down through history. Jesus Christ is the Head and the church is his Body; his corporate Body in the world. Through the church, God is involved in human society, just as Jesus was involved in human society. Society is influenced by God to the degree that all aspects of it are influenced by members of the church and to the degree that each of these church members is surrendered to the will of God. The healing of society and its transformation toward a holy and just community is, I believe, a consequence of the sanctification of the individual and the sanctifying influence of many sanctified individuals upon the broader world.

Nevertheless, the church can only be a unifying and transforming factor if it does not succumb to the divisions of human society itself. Alas, this is just what has happened. The church as a whole and the people who are its members have lost sight of the unifying vision of being the Body of Christ and have allowed the false gods of human society to usurp the place that belongs to Christ alone. Christian has become divided from Christian along the lines of race, politics, class (and sundry other “secular” divisions) as well as the peculiarly “religious” divisions of denomination, worship style, theological doctrine and so forth.

These become “gods” when they assume a greater importance than the simple but profound fact of belonging to Christ, being in him as part of his corporate Body and being indwelt by his Spirit.

For example, one’s theology may become so critical to one’s definition of a Christian that anyone having a different theological position is regarded either as a non-Christian or as a “sub-standard” Christian. (I am not talking about essential theological doctrines, eg the Deity of Christ, but such things as predestination, eschatological doctrines, apostolic succession etc). A Calvinist (say) may so highly regard the doctrine of Predestination that it effectively becomes his Gospel, such that anyone rejecting it is thereby not considered a true Christian, even though he or she may be truly committed to following Christ. Similarly, a Pentecostal may place speaking in tongues so highly as to believe that anyone not speaking in tongues is unsaved. Or, from the other perspective, an Armenian may reject the Calvinist position as heresy and a strongly anti-charismatic may dismiss Pentecostals as being inspired by the devil. Yet, if all of these people have truly given themselves to Jesus, in reality they are all members of the Body of Christ. Surely, this fact is more important than their differences, important though these may well be.

Of course, they will not all be correct and I am certainly not arguing that we take a position of theological relativism. I am only saying that we should recognize that it is relationship with God in Jesus that determines whether or not a person is a fellow member of the Body, not whether they speak in tongues (or reject speaking in tongues) or whether they believe in Predestination (or reject belief in Predestination).

Similarly, there are some who prefer a highly formal style of worship, while others like free expression. But if both have experienced the saving grace of God in Christ, are they not equally Christian?

It is probably even worse when Christians are divided over secular matters such as race or politics. It is a terrible thing when Christian fights Christian because their countries are at war. In past ages, wars were even fought over theological differences (although these were always bound up with politics) and many Christians have been persecuted and put to death at the hands of other equally committed Christians. Think of the persecution of early Quakers by the Church of England, to name just one example. If only they could have seen Christ in each other … if only!

All of these false gods must go. The church must spiritually unite, not necessarily by merging into a single denomination, but by awakening to a single vision … the vision of itself as it ought to be; a vision of the church in all its sundry and diverse manifestations united in a higher unity as the Body of Christ, indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, with Christ alone as its Lord and Head. The church must awaken to the vision of itself as the New Jerusalem into which stream all the diverse strands of human society, merging there as the single citizenry of the Holy City. It must have the vision of this citizenry going forth into the world again, still being members of whatever race or faction they previously were, but now with this one great difference; that from henceforth they carry first and foremost the badge of a citizen of the Heavenly City. Ambassadors now of Heaven, being transformed inwardly by the continuing workings of the Holy Spirit, in the process of being molded into the likeness of the Man from Heaven, they enter the world again, bringing with them the vision of humanity redeemed, of society transformed and of a world truly reflecting the qualities of heaven.

This is, unfortunately, not what we have today. But how do we get from today’s church to the ideal? How can this great renewal occur? Is it just a dream?

Although many Christians would disagree with me, I do not believe that it is just an unrealizable ideal. After all, Jesus taught his disciples to pray that the Father’s will be done on earth as in Heaven. God’s will is followed in Heaven totally, otherwise it would not be Heaven. And in praying what we have come to call the “Lord’s Prayer”, we are praying for the same to apply on earth as well. Surely Jesus would not have taught us to pray for something that would never come to pass!

However, even if you don’t agree that the church will one day be “without wrinkle or spot” in this present age, you would surely agree that we push toward it as an ideal. Did not William Law (though speaking of the individual Christian rather than the church as a whole) advise that we should strive toward perfection, for by so doing we might at least arrive at something a little better than mediocrity?

In my opinion, the present-day church must recapture the vision of holiness; both the absolute holiness of God and the thirst for purity that is an inevitable consequence of true conversion. A. W. Tozer lamented that there were too many “half converted” people in the church. Of course, we cannot really be “half converted”. We either are or we are not, as Tozer himself well knew. But what he meant was that too many church members are satisfied with settling down at a point below full commitment to Jesus. They believe, they go to church and they live relatively moral lives, but true spiritual transformation is simply not there. Or if it is there, it is too weak to have any real impact either on their lives or upon the life of the church and world.

There are, alas, many within the visible church who seem only to have been converted in the mind. They believe truly enough, but their belief bears little fruit in their lives. The real impact of the Gospel does not penetrate into the deeper recesses of their being. Some of these people become those of whom Jesus spoke in the Parable of the Sower as the seeds that fell on shallow ground. Because the ground is shallow, the seeds germinate quickly in the warmth, but their roots are so close to the surface that the plant soon dies. It takes little for such people to lose their faith, because theirs was never a saving faith in the first place. It was simply an interesting belief that they held until something more appealing came along, or an emotional response to an energetic preacher that evaporated once the emotion cooled. Nothing penetrated into their deeper spirits.

Not all people with a merely “surface faith” fall away however. Some go through life with the sort of faith that James spoke about; a faith that has no spiritual impact whatsoever and which, as James said, is a faith that is shared even by the devils. At least, the devils have enough appreciation of the holiness of God to tremble. Unfortunately, the holiness of God has become such a taboo subject in so many pulpits today that the nominal Christians with their surface-only religion do not even do that. If they did, presumably they would take their relationship with God more seriously!

So the first step is to become truly aware of the holiness of God … and not just “aware” as an intellectual assent, but as a deep spiritual experience. Watchman Nee used the term “the shining” to indicate a type of inward spiritual illumination, brought about by the Holy Spirit, that made the truth of a spiritual fact experientially real to the individual. Genuine conversion is a “shining” on the fact that salvation lies in surrender to Jesus. Simply believing this in the head, however, saves no-one. But when the Holy Spirit illuminates its truth and applies it to the individual, a true spiritual conversion takes place and the person is saved.

What the church, and its members, needs is a “shining” on the fact of God’s holiness. But the fact must be heard before it can be “shone”!

Once the holiness of God is truly revealed to us, the full force of sin begins to be correctly appreciated. We read about people falling to the ground during the revivals under Wesley and Edwards, often in a state of great terror as they experienced the double-edged “shining” of God’s holiness and their own sinfulness. Even someone as holy as John told, in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, how he fell at the feet of the glorified Christ like one who was dead. Such is the effect on people of the holiness of God when truly revealed to their spirits.

A genuinely converted person will feel inwardly drawn toward personal holiness. If one claims to have been converted and yet delights in some deliberate sin, something is seriously wrong. It is true that even a converted person will, at times, commit sin and it is true that Christians continue to struggle with sin, but it is not true that a genuine Christian can continue to wallow in deliberate sin. Unless holiness becomes increasingly attractive and sin increasingly distasteful following conversion, the validity of that conversion must be seriously questioned, irrespective of the intensity of sobs and fervor of promises at the penitent form.

The church and all those within it must also be clear that Jesus is their personal Lord and that allegiance to Him must come before allegiance to anything or anyone else. Christians must see themselves as individual members of the corporate Body of Christ and must be submitted to the Head and work together in the unity of the Spirit so that the will of the Head (Jesus) is carried out through the corporate Body. We must realize that in trying to put in motion our own plans for the way in which we think the church should operate, we are treating the Body as our own bodies would be treated if our limbs and organs acquired wills of their own and started operating independently of the brain. Our own bodies would tear themselves apart; so why should we expect any less disastrous result for the Body of Christ?

We must always remember that God wants his people to be one in heart and mind. He has given us this unity as a free gift; the unity shared by having the mind of Christ. But while ever we allow other things to disrupt our unity, we will not experience it. We remain like the beggar who was given a cheque for a vast amount of money, but failed to cash the cheque and remain in poverty.

All of this must, I believe, be “shone” into the innermost spirits of Christians and into the corporate spirit of the church. Like everything else in the Christian walk, intellectual understanding is not enough. The truth of it must go deep down into the spirit; be “shone” as Nee would say and “engrafted” into our spiritual nature, as Selwyn Hughes expressed it. Then, and only then, will the spiritual unity of the Body (which the church has been given already … it is not something to be acquired) be realized in fact and the church made ready to be the instrument of the Holy Spirit in driving back the gates of Hell.

This then, is the vision. A vision of the spiritual renewal of individual Christians and of the church itself; a spiritual renewal that stresses the transforming inner work of the Holy Spirit in the individual and a vision of the church in which the unity of the Body of Christ and the mutual indwelling of the Holy Spirit is an experience of fellowship so powerful that all divisions of society and the world pale in comparison; a spiritual renewal in which the gospel and its consequences for humanity are seen to be so vital that it is openly proclaimed as the God-given alternative to the many unhealthy and disruptive features with which society is riddled. It will be, as we shall see as this book unfolds, a spiritual renewal which calls for preparation through spiritual exercise of prayer, meditation and reflection, preferably within the context of small groups, although individually if this proves not to be possible in any particular situation.

For the present though, let us look at what God is doing in the world today.

 

 

 

2

THE HOUSE OF GOD

If asked the question “What is God doing in the world today?” what would be your answer?

There are many possible answers, but the one that most impressed itself upon my mind was given by a man named Geoff Wilson whom I knew in my university days.

“God”, he said “is building a house”!

Now what on earth could he have meant by that statement?

Simply this. God is building together the church – his people – into a living home in which his Spirit may be found; a temple in which he can be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Whatever else God may be discerned as doing in modern Christianity, whether bringing Christians of different cultural and denominational backgrounds together in common worship, reviving the spiritual life of the church through a variety of renewal movements and so forth, this is the overriding divine action; God is building his church into a living house wherein he is to dwell in this world and wherein he is to be worshipped.

Of course, this house is not one of bricks and mortar. It is built up of living persons, Christians whose lives are dedicated to him. But each living brick is to be fitted into its proper place and each rough beam is to be made smooth before it can be used in the structure. In other words, each person must allow himself or herself to be placed by God in the correct spot within his church and each must allow God to purify and refine his or her spirit to make it more receptive of the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Bricks are of no use if they are scattered around in the yard and a wooden beam cannot be placed in a building whilst it remains roughly hewn!

Likewise, bricks cannot be used in a house while ever they are cemented together into an outhouse. No, first the outhouse must be torn down and the bricks cleaned of whatever old cement continues to cling to them. Only then may they be used for the main building.

But here the “bricks” are Christians, the outhouses are man-made projects and the clinging cement is whatever belongs to these projects that separates those involved from the rest of God’s people. The real point of the analogy now becomes clear. How can God properly fit us into the structure of his church universal while we refuse to budge from the little houses that man has built in response to one facet of the universal truth of Christ?

We may now see renewal and church unity movements in their proper perspective. They are necessary for the living bricks to be cleansed and removed from their false positions in outhouses and placed in their true positions in the house of God. They are necessary for the rough-hewn timber to be dressed and moulded and in general made fit for the Householder. But they can no longer be seen as ends in themselves. They are not the primary activities of God. They are only some of the ways in which he is making preparation for his principal work in this day and age; the building of his House – a House which, let it be said, may include the projects and denominations that are presently seen as evidence of schism. However, these will be included, not as independent “outhouses” but as internal rooms of the one great House.

Of course, this “principal work” may be thought of under the form of other metaphors. God is building a Kingdom or Family of people dedication to himself – as the chorus says, “I’m building a people of power”. Or, he is building a Body animated by his Spirit and each of the organs is being placed in its rightful region. All of these metaphors are biblical and each says the same thing in a different way. We may even see in these three metaphors of the church – kingdom/family, temple/house and body – a reflection of the nature of God himself. God is building a Temple of the Spirit in which the Family of the Father worship him in the corporate Body of the Son.

“But” you protest, “why do you say that God is doing this today? Has he not already done it? Surely the church is already the Body of the Son, Temple of the Holy Spirit and Kingdom of the Father! The Bible states quite plainly that we are already the children of God, heirs with Christ, part of the body of Christ in this age, and so on (1Jn. 3: 1-2, Gal. 4:7, 1Cor. 12: 13-31). Why do you say that God is doing this today as if it is an unfinished work?”

In a real sense you would be quite correct. This has been accomplished, just as our sanctification and election to eternal life have also been accomplished. St. Paul, form instance, felt no reticence about addressing his letters to saints at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2) and so forth as he saw these Christians as having already inherited the full blessing of God; as already being in possession of sanctification and eternal life. But this realization did not stop him from immediately chastising them for their sins. He did not pull any punches concerning the gravity of their sinful actions and he let them know in uncompromising terms how far they had strayed from the commands of Christ. Yet, he continued to refer to them as “saints”; because that is exactly what they were! They were saints because of what Christ had done on their behalf and they had been spiritually sealed by God in the assurance that they would eventually be purified and transformed into the very likeness of Jesus, even though their present spiritual state was in practice something a lot less sublime.

So it is with the church as a whole and with each manifestation of this church in the local congregation. Because of what Christ has done, the church is already the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit and the Family of the Father. It is, indeed, the elect Kingdom of God. Moreover, each congregation, each group of Christians gathered together for worship, is a local manifestation of all these aspects of the church. This is how it is seen by God through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

But, alas, just as the saints to whom Paul wrote were seldom very “saintly” in the more colloquial meaning of the word, so the actual church, and its local congregations, has not been famous for displaying spiritual unity. This is not to say that they church does not already possess this unity. God has given the church all the spiritual power and unity that according to his infinite wisdom it can require, just as he has given each Christian the fullness of his Holy Spirit and sanctification. In his eyes, all this has been done already through Christ. But having all of these truly supernatural and divine gifts does not necessarily mean that we as individuals or the church as a whole will use them. Individually we fall far short of our full potential as saints of God by allowing self will and less than divinely inspired courses of action (which the biblical writers call “sin”) to get in the road. And the church as a whole has done exactly the same thing. Like us – its individual members – it has compromised its status as a divine institution and allowed outside non-spiritual and all-too-human influences to disrupt its unity of spirit and cause it to fall short of its true potential as Body, House/Temple and Kingdom/Family. In some respects the church has been like a person who had received as a gift an elaborate box but, unaware of its contents, placed it underneath his bed and forgot that he even owned it. Desperate for money, he tried all manner of schemes (not all entirely honest) but could never really lift himself from relative poverty. Little did he know however, that contained within the box was a collection of precious stones worth literally millions of dollars. Had he examined his gift more closely and found that it could actually be opened up, he would have possessed wealth beyond his wildest dreams … and all as a free gift!

The result is that the church has been, for all practical purposes, knocked to pieces by sin and the lack of realization of the great gift that it possesses. To go back to Geoff Wilson’s metaphor, it is as if the house has been knocked over before the building had even properly begun and all through history the bricks have either been lying scattered in the yard or else built together by human agents into a variety of little outhouses, each vainly trying to masquerade as the true structure originally intended by the Master Builder’s plan.

Keeping to that metaphor, God is in these times breaking down the smaller buildings, mixing the bricks together, cleaning them up and laying them anew in the building of his original plan, each in its own proper place.

Geoff Wilson was not speaking of the Ecumenical Movement. He was not speaking of man’s attempts at bringing about structural denominational unity. Nor was he predicting the merging of all Christians into a single super-denomination, nor an ending of denominational structure altogether. His frame of reference was the spiritual awakening that took place in many churches in the early 1970s and the fact that the same spiritual experiences and the same ideas appeared to be springing up “spontaneously” all over the place and in a variety of denominations. This movement played a large part in the rise of lay involvement and the widespread charismatic influence which has entered so much into mainstream Christianity today, but which was then looked upon with much skepticism by many church people. But the structure of God’s house was being put together and piece by piece the building continues to take shape according to the Master Builder’s divine plan.

Since the 1960s and 1970s, an important feature of the church at large has been the growing involvement of the laity. We are finally waking up to the fact that a church congregation should never be seen as a passenger liner with one captain up front and the rest of the people simply being carried along for the ride. The ideal church is more like a racing canoe, where everyone rows to his or her uttermost. In other words, the church should not have a “minister” out on his own directing the service while the rest of the congregation listens passively in the pews. This structure, which unfortunately became traditional long ago, makes a mockery of the New Testament concept of the church as the Body of Christ. If there is one overriding feature of a body (a living body at any rate!), it is the active interrelation of all of its members. A body is an organism; its members fit together and function together as constituent parts of a whole.

Changing the imagery to that of a household or of a team, St. Paul stresses this same fact again when he speaks of the distribution of spiritual gifts amongst the members of the church. Gifts are given to each member, he states, and it naturally follows that if one has been granted a gift, one is supposed to use that gift, i.e., one has a responsibility to exercise a ministry, in the exercise of which, the gift is to be used. Each member of the church is a “minister”, not just those who have been ordained to their special position, and each member of the church should be actively exercising his or her particular ministry for the good of all.

When each member of the church is exercising his or her ministry, then the members of the team will have been placed in their proper positions and each of the living bricks will have been laid in its rightful place in the House of God. The church, in other words, will then be functioning as God intended it to function. But of course, for each church member to be placed in his or her correct place, that person must first become convinced of the truth of the statement that God has a specific ministry for his or her life and, secondly, he or she must become sufficiently sensitive to God’s will as to allow him to guide the person to that ministry. In this way, the building up and spiritual unification of the church is seen to be the other side of the same coin as the spiritual renewal and Christian growth of each of its members. (It must also be said that those who exercise organizational authority in the church must also become aware that they are part of a spiritual racing canoe and not captains of an ocean liner!).

It almost seems too simple; too trite!

All we need do is,

accept that, as a member of God’s church, we each have a specific role (a ministry) and that God has equipped us with special gifts for this purpose – both “natural” gifts or “talents” (as we may call them) and specifically spiritual gifts given when we became Christians (these are the ways in which the Holy Spirit manifests himself through us in our divinely appointed role in the church) and,

(b) make ourselves more receptive of the guidance of God as he places us where he wants us to be.

It all sounds so simple. Not easy … but simple. And as such it tends to be dismissed by an age for which only complicated answers to questions are acceptable. Yet, if we think about it, can there really be any other way? If the unity and revitalization of the church is not to be on God’s terms, then on whose terms can it be and how can God be expected to bless it?

Unity for its own sake is not necessarily good. Even revival, though essentially good, may not always attain its potential best. Unless the true nature of the church is kept in mind and unless unity and revival are such as to make this true nature increasingly explicit, all that we are left with is a man-made formula of political union and psychological gimmicks masquerading as evidence of renewal. Even if the Ecumenical Movement could bring about a single denomination into which all the present-day denominations were merged and even if the Gospel was given such a popular face and embroidered with all the methods that high pressure psychology could muster, such that churches were filled to overflowing, the result would almost certainly not be union and revival but rather a mere imitation thereof which would leave Christianity in a truly sorry state. We would risk going back, not to New Testament Christianity, but to the authoritarian and politics-dominated church of pre-Reformation Europe.

In my opinion, any unity or “program of renewal” imposed upon the church from the top – from the hierarchy – will be more likely to end with a pre-Reformation Western church than with one truly alive and united in the deeper spiritual sense. Unless I am seriously mistaken, the spiritual renewal which is the true mark of God’s building of his house will come from the bottom; from small and mostly lay groups and movements. The movement of the church in this direction is, as we have said, one of the most encouraging signs of spiritual renewal in recent decades.

The breaking down of prejudicial barriers between Christians of differing traditions is allowing a greater mixing and interchange between the different parts of the church. Small prayer and/or study groups comprised of Christians of different denominations or even from different traditions within the same denomination do not present the difficulties that would have occurred in earlier and more insular ages and it is in the continuing development of these that the main thrust of union and revival is, I believe, coming.

Imagine the following situation. In a small town or suburb there are several Christian denominations, but with a growing spirit of co-operation between them. Already there is a good deal of sharing of Christian work in such fields as religious education in schools and the like. Periodically there is even a combined church service held on a rotation basis at the different churches.

As an extension of this spirit of co-operation, a “house group” was formed with an open membership to Christians of any tradition. The only stipulation was that all members of the group should have a personal and committed faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord, Saviour and God. That, of course, implied a certain degree of theological agreement (for instance, one could hardly accept Jesus in this sense if he or she rejected Jesus’ divinity) but the stress was upon basic spiritual relationship with God through Christ rather than theological agreement per se.

This group met regularly for prayer, meditation, sharing and study. It came to include Christians of various denominational traditions as well as those who, though personally committed to Christ as Lord, had nevertheless not really found a spiritual home in any denomination. It also included people of differing traditions from within the same church. For example, the Anglican Church includes those who do not feel that they have truly worshipped God unless the “altar” is ablaze with candles and the air heavy with incense, but it also harbours others who feel that placing a lighted candle on the “communion Table” – let alone lighting incense – is almost making a pact with the Devil! Not surprisingly, members of these factions can be further apart than members of separate denominations and relationships between them can be less than demonstratively Christian. Nevertheless, for those members of each faction who truly accept Christ as Lord and who understand that this acceptance constitutes the essence of being a Christian, meeting together in a spirit of simple Christian fellowship – without the “trappings” acquired by either faction – can be an enriching experience and may even be the first time that each comes to see the other as being genuinely Christian.

Of course, such fellowship will not be possible for those who hold that more than the simple acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord is required for Christianity, but such people effectively separate themselves from the wider fellowship of the church by retaining what might be called a Christ-plus Christianity; “Christ plus membership of the catholic tradition” or “Christ plus fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible” or “Christ plus speaking in tongues” and so forth. One may indeed enter into fellowship with other Christians of different traditions even if he/she believes that these other Christians are in error at some points. We may be surprised to find that these “other Christians” are not so different after all! But if we were to reject adherents of other Christian traditions, even if they still accept Jesus as Lord, then fellowship is not possible. Thankfully, this attitude is declining, but enough continues to exist to erect barriers between genuine believers. In truth, an attitude that places something other than, or in addition to, Christ at the centre of Christianity is essentially idolatry. This question of subtle idolatry and the false gods which split the church will be looked at in some detail as we turn to the third chapter.

 

 

 

3

IDOLS OF OUR LIVES

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true – even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 Jn. 5:20-21).

What did John mean when he wrote this passage?

Was he really concerned lest the Christians to whom he was writing turned from worshipping Christ to the worship of Zeus or Diana or falling prostrate before a statue of the Roman Emperor?

I think not. I think that the Elder had something far more subtle in mind when he sent this warning to those early Christians; something which is every bit as relevant to us today.

A “god” or an “idol” need not be a pagan deity or graven image. Idolatry is not restricted to non-Christian cults. A “god” is really anything around which a person’s life is molded, the pivot about which a life turns. Think of a royal control room at the very centre of our being. From the throne at the centre of this room, all aspects of our lives are controlled and around this throne, all the scattered features of our lives unite in paying homage to whomever or whatever occupies it. But who or what really sits on the throne of our lives? Who or what truly commands the whole of our being?

The answers will vary from person to person, and even those answers will very often be in terms of what that person would like to believe occupies the throne, rather than truthful recognition of its actual occupant!

Try this quick test to identify the occupant of the throne of your own life at this moment. Simply answer these questions as honestly as possible without too much reflection as to what the answers “should” be.

During your idle moments, to what does you mind most often tend to revert?

Discounting necessary expenditure, on what are you most happy and most likely to spend your money? What do you value most in these practical monetary terms?

About what do you most enjoy reading and discussing?

In conformity to what do you most desire your life and attitudes to be molded?

What is the overriding ambition in life? In the attainment of what would you deem your life to be successful?

What is it that you would prefer to see promoted above all else?

What do you most ardently wish to defend when it is attacked, derided or misunderstood by others? The scorn and derision of what topic makes you most annoyed?

If a pattern of similar answers emerges here, the subject most indicated will be the one on the throne of your life. This subject – this person or thing – will be your personal god; the idol that you, by your desires and actions, are worshipping!

It was these false gods that John warned his readers to avoid. Anything, in short, that commandeers the throne at the centre of ones’ being which Jesus Christ alone should occupy. Christ will not share his throne with another god. If something else moves in, Christ by necessity moves out!

What are some of these false gods that fight for the throne of Christ?

Truly, they are legion. Just to name a few; money, prestige, sex, a “good job”, a respected place in society, ones’ business, ones’ lodge, political party, trade union, employer organization, service club, sporting club, garden, pets, home, church, interpretation of the Bible, theological doctrine … In other words, anything!

These are not necessarily evil of course. On the contrary, many of our “false gods” are in themselves both good and necessary to a well balanced life. But they become evil when they are allowed to stray out of their proper sphere and assume a dominating influence in our lives. When they usurp the rule of Christ, instead of being subject to him, they overstep their authority and war against the rule of God just as surely as the rebel angels. In the blunt language of the Old Testament, they have seduced us into committing spiritual adultery with another god.

This is, I believe, what John had in mind when he warned those to whom he was writing about the danger of idols. The sin of pushing Jesus out of the pivotal place in our lives is not something to be taken lightly. Not only does it damage our own spiritual life and seriously stunt our spiritual growth, but it lies at the root of much division in both church and society and seriously weakens the mission and witness of the church.

If we are to be serious about our Christian walk, we must engage in constant vigilance against these “false gods” who are forever trying to assail the Throne Room. Without falling victim to morbid introspection, we must nevertheless take frequent inventories of our spiritual lives, lest a new “god” seduces us from pure allegiance to Jesus. Most of us will experience many attempted inner coups as one “false god” after another tries to wrest the throne from Jesus. We must be prepared to be ever ready to knock these presumptuous upstarts off the throne and return them to their rightful place in our lives. Most need not be cast out completely; just placed back in their correct position under the feet of Jesus.

Probably the most dangerous “gods” are those whose correct place actually lies very close to the feet of Jesus. I am thinking specifically of those subjects concerned with church and belief. These are dangerous because we may easily become so involved with them that we fail to see that we have let go of Christ himself. We may become so caught up in doing God’s work or defending God’s truth that these actually come to replace Jesus as our motivation for action. We may even come to feel self righteous through our defense of the “gospel truth” against those who we see as perverting it that we start to see our own interpretation as being the essence of Christianity itself. I am not denying the necessity of defending the gospel against heretical doctrines, but I am cautioning that we make sure that the beliefs attacked are really heretical and not simply Christian views which place a difference emphasis on scriptural truths that we personally do not.

We said earlier that the presence of “false gods” weakens the church. But what would the church be like if they could all be permanently driven out?

In such a church, Jesus would truly be worshipped as Lord of all. Each member of the church would have his/hr life centred on Jesus. All aspects of life would have the imprint of the Holy Spirit, because all would be under his direction. Like the Blessed in Dante’s vision of Paradise, the wills of all would be made one through union with the Will Divine. In the ideal church, the will of God would refract in perfect harmony through the many prisms of individual wills totally united with his own. The will of each is the will of all and the will of all is the will of God. Yet no-one is a puppet, such is the total harmony of human natures transformed spiritually into the likeness of the human nature of Jesus. As God wills that everyone totally submits to Jesus, their wills become one with the will of God.

In such a church, conflict can have no place.

Alas, the actual church is quite different!

But why?

We have been blessed with the Holy Spirit. We have been enabled to submit to Jesus and to come into perfect harmony with the will of God.

So what is wrong?!

The following may sound simplistic, but then again, it is often the simple answers that fall nearest to the mark.

The church is split and weak because it has not come into full submission to the will of God. The allegiance of each believer, and the company of all believers in general, is split between Jesus and “other gods” – idols, in John’s blunt terminology.

Once the high vision of the church in spiritual unity is lost, “natural instincts” take over and “other gods” are placed upon the throne that ought to be reserved for Christ alone. Factions tend to form, centred on people whose real desire is other than furthering the Kingdom of God (even though they may not even recognize this themselves!). “These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instinct and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 1:19).

These divisions may not be specifically doctrinal or “religious”. Imagine a congregation in which two elders fall out with each other over party politics. One is (say) very far left and the other is conservative. They may even come to the point of denying that someone with the opponent’s political orientation can even be a true Christian. We can easily see how this could induce division within a congregation. Church members cold begin to take sides and, unless this problem was nipped very early in the bud by a wise pastor, a serious problem could develop.

We can also imagine a similar situation arising from the influx of Christians of mixed nationalities and/or economic circumstances coming into a traditional middle-class and very conservative church. We could imagine similar problems arising in an elderly congregation following a successful youth outreach mission. Of course, anyone truly centred of Jesus and totally committed to extending his Kingdom would be thrilled by either scenario, but if one’s own ethnicity or conservatism had already removed Jesus from the throne, the reaction might be less charitable.

Moreover, we not infrequently are faced with the spectacle of Christians from two different traditions treating one another as enemies, and hurling accusations of having corrupted the Gospel across the denominational lines. There can be little that turns away the non-believer faster than this. Of course doctrine is important, but it is not God. Only God is God, and he will tolerate no rivals.

How distressing to God must be the spectacle of religious wars! Yet, the spirit of religious wars lurks in the heart of the bigot, even if violence is never contemplated. He who is angry with his brother commits murder in his heart, said Jesus … so surely the one who is estranged from another Christian over a point of doctrine or form of worship is guilty of religious warfare “in the heart”.

We begin to travel down this road the moment we start thinking of ourselves as Baptists, Pentecostals and the like, rather than as Christians. It is not even as though we are Christians first and Baptists (say) second, as this designation adds something to our Christianity. That too would be an idol. Rather, being Baptist is just one of many ways of being Christian. Certainly, there will be differences between denominations. But no one denomination has a monopoly on truth … or on error. And the one thing that all genuinely Christian denominations share in common is the spiritual unity of the Body of Christ; the most important common denominator of all!

Every time something other than Christ assumes the role of a god in the life of an individual Christian, of a congregation, of a denomination or of the Church Universal itself, dissention and hurt result. And dissention conceives and brings forth factionalism and factionalism, when it is fully grown, gives birth to schism.

If only we Christians would just keep in the forefront of our minds the immense value of the gift that we have received from God. We have been made sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters of Christ, heirs of eternal life, partakers of the very life of God himself and in the unity of love which unites the three persons of the Holy Trinity. In the face of this, how trivial are our petty little divisions! And how disgustingly small these roots of division frequently are. How obscene they must appear to God!

If we are honest, we must admit that we all have our own private collection of petty little idols waiting to usurp the throne of Jesus in our lives. Only a firm concept of what it really means to be Christian and consistent and frequently examination of our spiritual lives can adequately counter the danger which they pose.

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols”.

 

 

4

WHAT ABOUT SOCIETY?

In the previous chapter we said a few words about what the ideal church would be like and how far below this standard the actual church falls. We saw that the ideal church can only become actual if Christ is retained on the throne of the life of each Christian, of each congregation and of the church as a whole. Once something else, be it “religious” or “secular”, is placed above Christ or on an equal footing with him, the will of the individual – person or church – ceases to be in union with the will of God and disharmony begins to arise between the person, or the church, and God and between person and person, congregation and congregation, faction and faction, group and group. Factions are effectively the temples of idols as their members are united in the worship of something that has usurped the throne of Christ and split his true church (1Cor. 1: 10-17).

But something else may be said about the ideal church. Because God’s primary will is for no-one to be lost, the ideal church would embrace everybody within its fellowship. There would be no division of church and society, because both would be the same. Everybody would be Christian and the church would simply be “society at worship” or, conversely, society would be the church in action. Not even the barriers between church and world, sacred and secular, would remain.

The Christian’s vision of the ideal society must of necessity follow from his or her vision of the ideal church. St. John’s vision of the redeemed in the New World symbolically expresses the main features of a Christian ideal society. John’s vision, true enough, was of the absolute perfection of Heaven, but if a Christian could dream of an ideal society on earth, the main features of St. John’s vision would be included in at least a modified form.

As I understand it, the essential features are,

the obvious presence of God. In John’s vision, God’s glory was everywhere, transforming all aspects of living. Nothing was done out of sight of God and no action was performed that was not in accord with his will. All life was to the praise and glory of God, implying,

absence of a temple or specified place of worship. Everywhere was the place of worship and every activity was worship. Gone was all division of “sacred” and “secular” because all had become “sacred” by being wholeheartedly dedicated to God in a totally spontaneous manner – a natural, and yet a supernatural, response from the centre of the transformed nature of the risen saints.

Any terrestrial reflection of this celestial glory must exhibit these features in some degree. If the presence of God is not as “objective” and “cosmic” as in the celestial perfection, at least his presence will be k own inwardly by the members of the hypothetical ideal terrestrial society and would be outwardly displayed in the lives of its people.

Specific places of worship may indeed remain, but the meetings held therein would no longer be seen as being fundamentally apart from the rest of life. Meeting for worship would be how society as a body would meet God, dedicate itself anew to his service and receive spiritual direction and blessing.

Such a society has never existed on earth. Had mankind never fallen, we may imagine that human society would have been somewhat like this. But mankind has fallen. The unfallen spiritual state does not exist. But redeemed mankind does exist; a section of fallen mankind that is being lifted toward perfected mankind. The only unfallen man is Jesus Christ, but those who have committed their lives to him and who, by and through this living commitment, have received his Spirit, are already seen by God the Father as if they are unfallen. It is they who are reserved for the celestial glory that would have been the destiny of unfallen mankind.

Therefore, even though the ideal human society is not for this age, mankind is being redeemed and to the extent that this “redemption presence” is present in society, some features of the ideal society will shine through.

Those members of mankind who have been redeemed through Christ can and, I believe, should play a real part in influencing society to travel just a little closer to the ideal, even if the full ideal could not come unless most of humankind became followers of Jesus. It is for this reason that I do not believe that political power exercised by “Christian” political parties is in accordance with God’s will. That, after all, was one of Satan’s temptations of Jesus (Matt. 4:8-10). Let us not, as confessed followers of Jesus, succumb to the temptation which our Master avoided!

Indeed, although a “Christian” political party can uphold a basic Christian morality, and legislate for the same once in power, it cannot legislate for the one thing essential for transforming human society into the ideal; it cannot legislate for the awareness of God.

What society is crying out for (although it does not know it) is exactly the same as the church is crying out for and for which each and every Christian should be striving … for a great awakening of the spiritual depth and unity which God gives us in Christ. What is desperately needed is a mighty revival; not a preaching campaign, but a mystical revelation of the glory of God breaking out throughout the population, necessarily accompanied by a revelation of how spiritually filthy we are – and the church is, and society is – in the glorious Light of God.

This is what happened in Wales in 1904. From a few small but persistent prayer meetings there broke forth upon the population at large what can best be described as a wave of divine illumination. It was as if God tore open the veil of Heaven and allowed himself to be seen by the people; not with their physical eyes of course, but with the inner spiritual sense which most of us try to deny even exists. Virtually overnight, chapels were filled and bars emptied. Magistrates had no cases to try in the courts. Pit ponies in the coal mines that had previously only responded to swear words needed retraining because the minors had ceased using profanities. Bible studies and prayer meetings were held in mines, and a tourist passing through one of the towns influenced by the revival at 3am commented on how all the houses were lighted even at that hour and people were even seen on their knees in the streets.

The society in that part of Wales changed overnight to a degree that no human revolution could imitate.

Similar effects accompanied the Methodist revival and the Great Awakenings in America. The early Salvation Army saw changing society as part of its mission to evangelize the poor. True revival cannot do otherwise than impact upon society as a whole!

If society is to be changed into something more like the ideal, revival rather than reform or revolution is the answer!

The Marxists got it right insofar as they believed that the inner nature of people must change, but they were wrong in believing that this change follows the reorganization of society. They were mislead by the humanistic philosophy which sees mankind as being basically good and co-operative and which blames a corrupted society for turning us into selfish creatures capable of any crime. Christians see this as putting the cart before the horse. Society is corrupt because we are corrupt … and this innate corruption has a deep spiritual root which can only be plucked out and destroyed at the Cross of Jesus. First, let our corrupted nature be crucified with Jesus that we may spiritually rise with him as truly converted and spiritually remade people, and then society can change for the better.

Clearly, this involves something far more radical than a moral revolution or a campaign of “law and order”, or even a “return to faith”. It involves an inward reorientation of each individual – a dying to self and living to Christ – such that society itself undergoes the process of death and resurrection.

The process starts with us. It begins with those who name Jesus as our Lord surrendering our minds to the mind of Christ, yielding to the movement of the Holy Spirit and allowing ourselves to be transformed little by little into the image of our Lord. As we change, so the church changes and, ultimately, the world changes … as we become more like Christ, so the church increasingly reveals her high calling as the Bride of Christ and as more and more people are attracted into the Bride, so society itself comes to look more and more like the Kingdom of God. Can any calling be higher than this? Can any ambition be more magnificent? 

 

 

 

5

A COURSE OF ACTION

We will now look at a practical suggestion; one suggested way that this high calling might become a reality. This is in the form of a “spiritual exercise” that can either be followed alone or with a small group of up to six or so people. It is, however, strictly for committed Christians who have made a personal commitment to Jesus as their personal Saviour, Lord and God and who hold the Bible to be the revealed word of God and that everything necessary for salvation is contained therein or provable from what is written therein. It is important to be sure about this, as the belief in spiritual illumination of truth already revealed in the Bible can easily slide over into a belief in revelation beyond what the Bible actually says. We need to be very clear about this from the very start and remain firm in our resolve to test every illumination and word of prophecy against the revelation recorded in the pages of the Bible.

We must also be clear that this “exercise” is a form of quiet time intended to open our spirits to the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. It is not a form of spiritual relaxation and is not intended to produce “warm fuzzy glows”. Indeed, it should constantly present us with challenges and there may be times when we are made to feel decidedly uneasy. But this is how it should be, for only through challenge and confrontation (under the guidance of God) with those aspects of our lives that are still not surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus, can we expect to grow spiritually.

Although following a set form may be challenged by some as incompatible with freedom in the Spirit, we nevertheless feel that it is essential for the initial times of spiritual exercise. We therefore strongly urge all those participating in these times of quiet (whether as individuals or as small groups) to follow the format at least for the first four times i.e. while the meditations listed below are being used. One of the following four meditations is to be used each time, in the order in which they are given below, and included with the form of the exercise which we will soon present.

We therefore urge that, at least initially, the personal or group time of meditation and reflection follow this form.

Opening Prayer

We suggest the following prayer, or one very similar. Please pray it slowly and reflectively.

 

Loving Heavenly Father, we pray that by your Holy Spirit, we your people may be moved to take hold of the deep unity that you have so graciously given us already in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mould your church into a living unity transcending race, class, denomination and all else that divides us and continues to tear apart the Body of Christ in this age.

We thank you for that immeasurable love through which, in the Cross of your dear Son, you made possible our unity in his Body, the church, and we stand in awe as we contemplate both the joy of the privilege of being part of his Body and the responsibility of being the arms, legs and mouth of Christ in today’s world.

Forgive us the sin of forgetting this great fact. Forgive us the blasphemy of so often treading underfoot your mighty gift as we allow worldly divisions and prejudices to set us against our fellow Christians, and thereby tear asunder Christ’s body and frustrate your work of reconciling the world to yourself and its people to each other in your family. Forgive us for continually going our own way and following our own plans and desires.

Remove from us all worldliness and pride, from which strife and division proceed. Lead us always to put your will before our own plans and desires. Mercifully grant us true repentance and so lead us to experience that glorious fellowship and profound unity of spirit, mind and will enjoyed by our brothers and sisters in Christ long ago in the early days of the first church. In Jesus name we earnestly pray. Amen.

A Time of Self Examination

Reflect on the past week, asking ourselves whether there have been times of spiritual growth or of stumbling. What has assisted our growth? What has been a cause of stumbling? Have we been faithful witnesses to Christ? Commit this to the Lord.

A Time of Meditation

Pray the Lord’s Prayer slowly and reflectively, taking time to pray it, while pondering each line. Pray it with the heart and not simply with the head.

Move then to silent meditation on a short passage of the Bible. Please follow the meditations listed below (one for each session) for the first four sessions. It is also advisable to periodically keep returning to them, as they are very important.

Simply dwell upon the passage in complete silence, placing all in God’s hands. Ask him to deepen your understanding of the passage and to engraft it into you spirit. Don’t try to analyse the passage intellectually, but simply allow God to speak through it; to make it “live” in the silence of your mind. Waiting in silence, you may receive an illumination from God or hear the “still small voice” speaking to you.

Try to remain in meditation for at least ten minutes, longer if possible. You may wish to remain in meditation for half an hour or more.

A Time of Reflection, Application and, if in a group, Sharing

Reflect on what you have experienced in the time of meditation. Have you been granted some insight that you can put into practice at your church, family, place of work etc.?

In a group, this will be a time of mutual sharing and maybe of shared plans for the practical application of experiences.

Closing Prayers

A suitable closing prayer, for a group, may be,

We thank you Lord Jesus for our time of fellowship this day and we ask that you will remain with us as we pursue our separate lives, that we be ever mindful of remaining in you and you in us and that through our mutual union with you in the Holy Spirit, we remain together one Family of the Father, one Body of the Son, one Temple of the Holy Spirit; one Church of the Blessed Trinity, God forever. Amen.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen. (2 Cor. 13:14).

 

 

THE FOUR BASIC MEDITATIONS

Meditation 1

"Our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29).

Comment

This meditation holds before us the awe and holiness of God.

Holy fear has somewhat fallen out of fashion these days, and Christians are all the poorer for that. Certainly, we have the immense privilege of being able to approach God through Christ, but we must remember that this privilege is one that has been won for us by the blood of Jesus and that the God whom we approach is a God of holiness and might.

 

Meditation 2

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6).

"Jesus is Lord"

Comment

The first part of this meditation shows us the way to the God who is a consuming fire, and the Way is Jesus. In Jesus, the Fire wears a human body. Through Jesus and only through Jesus can we approach the Unapproachable and through Jesus alone, Almighty God comes down to us, not in fire and wrath, but in the Person of a divine Human Being inviting us to come into a personal loving relationship with Him!

Jesus is the Way ... the way through whom each individual human being can reach up to God and through whom God reaches down to each of us.

He is the truth ... the truth about what God is and what man ought to be and can be through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

And He is the life ... the Life of Deity manifested in human form so that human life may be transformed and partake of the Divine Nature in and through Him.

The second part of this meditation is, or ought to be, our response to this revelation of Jesus. It focuses upon the central core of Christian spirituality. It is the absolutely essential step that we all must take to become a true Christian.

But what does it mean - really mean - to accept Jesus as Lord?

It means that we accept him as the central authority of our lives. We make a definite commitment to live the kind of life which he desires of us and we both accept this and welcome the indwelling power of his Spirit who enables us to live in this way.

Acceptance of Jesus as Lord also implies belief in his divine and human natures; that he is truly God and truly Man. If he is Lord, he is also Saviour, but only as both Man and God can he be Saviour. As Man he lifts humanity up to God and as God he brings divinity down to Man.

We likewise note that Paul also says that no one can call Jesus "Lord" except he or she be moved by the Holy Spirit (1Cor, 12:3). Of course, this does not mean that no one can simply say "Jesus is Lord" without inspiration (a parrot could be taught to do this!) but, rather, no one can assert this with conviction. Asserting and truly believing that Jesus is Lord (which really means being a Christian) is not something that one can do "naturally". It is a divine miracle - dependent entirely upon the grace of God!

Once we accept him as Saviour and worship him as our God, his image becomes - as it were - stamped on a sensitized heart. Something inexpressible begins to happen in our lives; our existence has a new "feel" about it which (though very real) is not easy to pin down with words. A new hunger begins to appear; a new desire to really surrender more and more to Jesus and, paradoxically, the more we rise to this desire, the stronger it becomes. If this inner change truly appears and grows, we can say that we have truly accepted Jesus as Lord and our Christian life has begun.

As we meditate on the Lordship of Christ, keeping these thoughts in mind, we allow ourselves to experience an attitude of total and complete helplessness in the hands of Almighty God. We allow ourselves to feel the weight of our sin and how we are as filthy rags before the absolute purity of God. And yet, as we surrender to Him through our acceptance of the Lordship of Christ, He washes our sins away and looks upon us as pure with Christ's own purity!

We see Jesus as our life, our everything. We depend totally upon God to bring us to the point of acceptance of him. We abandon ourselves completely to God and to the moving of the Holy Spirit.

 

Meditation 3

"you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Comment

As the previous meditation concentrated upon the individual's relationship with God through Christ, so this concentrates upon the life of the believer as a part of the corporate Body of Christ. All who are members of the church are "organs" in the Body by and through which Christ has chosen to be active in the world today.

In our meditation, we remember that the one divine life - the Holy Spirit - inspires and guides each member of the Body and that, through each being united with the Holy Spirit, we are also united with one another.

We remember that as we yield our personal and self-centred lives and wills to Jesus - as we increasingly allow him to be the one true Lord of our lives - we yield our personal life to the life of the Body. We yield to Jesus as Lord and Head of the church as well as to Jesus the Lord of our individual lives.

We seek this deepest life within us - a life manifested through all desires to surrender to Christ and to follow him. We dwell upon these spiritual desires and let all other desires fall away from us. We allow ourselves to be drawn increasingly into the life of the group and, through the group, into the life of the Body of Christ. As each of us allows himself/herself to be drawn into a deepening experience of the Body and increasingly live for the Body through his/her role within it, so the Body itself increasingly functions as the Body of Christ. It comes under increasing control of the Head as each of its members more fully yields to the Divine Mind within the Body ... the Holy Spirit.

This deeper inner commitment will show itself in practical terms as increasing involvement, increasing interest and increasing desire for involvement in church life and witness. It will also manifest as a growing love for other Christians ... including those of different persuasions, temperament or background.

 

Meditation 4

"[you] ... have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all (Colossians 3: 10-11).

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28).

Comment

In this meditation, we are shown three classes of division between people and we are assured that they are overcome amongst Christians through mutual unity within the Body.

The first division is social. Paul exemplifies this by "slave and free", but today we could also add "employer and employee", "politically conservative and politically liberal", "professional person and manual labourer" and so forth. Think about this. The differences that cause so much division both within society at large and, all too frequently, at a personal level, melt away as we become increasingly aware of the "Body unity". In other words, as we experience fellowship at this deep level, we increasingly see one another as Christians first and primarily. The tags which society may place upon us become decreasingly important.

The second division might be called divinely instituted if we bear in mind that it was actually the sin of humanity that made it necessary in the first place. It is the division of Jew (the chosen of God) and gentile or heathen (Paul exemplifies this as "Greek"). What Paul is saying is that both Jew and gentile must leave behind their former position ... the gentile "comes in from the cold", from beyond the people of God, and is brought into union within the Body, but the Jew also must renounce any thought that he is right with God simply by virtue of birth within the Jewish nation. Both groups are now united in being equally in need of Christ and individuals from each group can find fellowship together if they turn away from their past condition and become united in the Body.

Thirdly, membership of the Body transcends natural divisions, eg sexual (male and female) and racial (Greek, barbarian, Scythian). Such natural differences include Asian and Caucasian, black and white and all of the many innate differences between people and groups of people that can so often be exaggerated into matters of real significance. But these differences too melt away into the unity that exists between true Christians.

We meditate on this fact and allow the true enormity of it to become realized in our minds.

With this meditation we touch the very heart of the unity that alone is adequate to bring Christians of different theological and denominational differences into true unity of spirit. We meditate on this fact.

But the impact of these passages goes beyond church unity in the usual sense. We imagine the world as it would be if all its people fulfilled the potential for which they were created and truly became parts of the Body. Imagine the ideal; all divisions transcended by the unity of Spirit knitting all parts of the Body together as all people reflected in their lives the Glory of God. We meditate on this and pray that God will inspire more and more people with this magnificent vision.

These four meditations focus attention upon the four important themes; the majesty of God, the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the implications of membership in his corporate Body, the church. It is suggested that these meditations be repeated frequently in order to keep focus.

The Bible is a deep well of passages for meditation. As we read the Bible, passages will frequently impress themselves upon us as subjects for meditation. The following are just a few suggestions.

 

Meditations on the Nature of God

God is light (1 Jn 1:5)

God is love (1 Jn 4:8 also 1 Jn 4:16)

God is spirit (Jn 4:24)

God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).

Comment

These are the four positive statements about the nature of God in the New Testament. In them, a little of the Divine nature is revealed to us.

Light. We think of purity, splendor and, in the spiritual sense, the total lack of evil. The light also illuminates others. It purifies, but it also judges in so far as it illuminates aspects of our character that we would rather remain hidden.

Love. “How much an I loved?” I asked. “This much” answered Jesus, as he spread out his arms on the Cross!

God is love. His deep nature is love. His whole being is love. It is in their mutual love that the three Persons of the Holy Trinity unite into one God. In loving, God is therefore fulfilling his very nature. He loves us, but do we respond? He goes on loving us, even while we grieve him by our coldness and sin. When will we be so loving with those who turn away from us?

But if we are truly regenerate in Christ, if God’s Spirit is indeed within us, then love must be our deepest nature as well. The same love which is expressed through the Persons of the Holy Trinity is placed within our hearts! Through the Holy Spirit, we are grounded in God’s own nature … in perfect love!

Spirit. God is not bounded by the confines of the material world. He is not confined to space and time, but is of an altogether different and more wonderful nature. Nothing causes him to exist and nothing can destroy him. He is the only totally self-sufficient being. Spirit is living. Spirit is loving. Spirit is intelligence. God is a living God, an active God, a God of intelligence far beyond anything conceivable by the feeble mind of man. God is a loving God. God knows every atom of this infinite universe, knows everything that has ever, is and shall ever happen … and he knows it all in a timeless instant! Nothing can contain him. Nothing can comprehend him. Nothing can know more of him than it is his pleasure to reveal. Our response is not understanding, but overwhelming awe in the eternal presence of such a God.

Fire. God is a God of awe. God is a God of wrath. How can there be wrath in a God who is love? Wrath and love are not so far apart. As love burns fiercely, so must wrath against all that damages or corrupts the beloved. The awe of God, the love of God, the wrath of God overwhelms us. All we can do is bow in reverence and adoring contemplation before the Awesome presence. Think of the power of the atom. Or of the Sun. Even though the Sun is very far away, we can still not look at it for more than an instant without our eyes being damaged. Its rays burn the skin of fair-skinned folk and may even cause death if they are exposed for too long. Yet the atom and the Sun are but creatures of God. How much more awesome and wonderful must the Creator be and how much less can we take liberties with him? He may be our loving father, but he remains the Creator of the mighty stars with their furnaces of thermonuclear fire. He reigns amid light impenetrable … only through Jesus may we look upon him without being burnt away by the Consuming Fire!

 

Meditations on the Nature of Creation and the Ultimate Intention of God

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1)

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:20 – 22)

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Col. 1: 19-20).

Comment

The whole creation is God’s. He created it from nothing by the power of his Word and nothing that al all-good God creates can be in itself evil. Parts of the creation may have become corrupted, but it remains essentially good just because it is the work of God.

Whatever else is brought forth in the creation, its divine purpose is the revealing of the sons of God, the brothers and sisters of Christ the incarnate Word; spiritually mature men and women who share Christ’s own relationship of sonship with God the Father. Spiritual copies of the incarnate Word, the same Word through whom the universe was created in the first place. From within the creation, God brings forth images of the Creator! Images of the Creator to worship him – creation responding through them in worship of its creator.

Creation awaits this to happen. For the moment, sin has spoiled those for whom this great gift has been predestined, and the creation has shared in this corruption. It has been corrupted by the actions of fallen mankind and it has also been denied the positive influence that an unfallen race would have exercised. If the stewards of God’s property are corrupted, not only is the property damaged, but the garden of God has not been properly cared for and it has failed to produce a worthy crop.

As fallen humanity is restored to its predestined place as the sons of God, the creation itself is purified by the removal of this stain. We may wonder how this vast universe can be corrupted by a race confined to one tiny planet. Well, God is so pure that even one sin in an infinite ocean renders the entire ocean polluted before him. Perhaps the removal of sin from mankind, and therefore from creation itself, will be followed by the creation of other children of God on other worlds. Perhaps the removal of sin from creation by the redemption of man will release the power of God within creation in ways that are now hindered by the presence of that very sin. Perhaps redeemed man will have a role in determining the fate of the entire universe in a way that we cannot even imagine now; a divinely guided cosmic engineering that reverses the bondage to decay of the entire creation. We do not know. All we do know is that the redemption of mankind somehow has cosmic consequences and eternal significance. We do not need to believe that the whole attention of God is focused upon it or upon us however. Many thoughts must occupy the great mind of God, most of them further removed from our comprehension than the Theory of Relativity is removed from the understanding of a microbe. But neither must the redemption of mankind be considered some secondary concern happening in a cosmic backwater. This cosmic dimension of mankind’s redemption and role in creation – and in the renewed creation – must be placed in its proper perspective before a true concept of man and his relationship with God and creation can be formed. Once this is realized, the mission of Jesus will be seen in a broader perspective as well; as the restoration of those predestined to be sons of God, not simply as the setting up of a nice religious faith.

As we see Christ and ourselves against this cosmic canvas, we respond in worship and adoration.

 

Meditations on the Nature of Jesus

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well (Jn. 14:6-7)

Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness (Jn. 12:44-46)

No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also (1Jn. 2:23)

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God (1 Jn. 5:15)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:15-17 )

Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life (1Jn. 5:10-11)

No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3b)

This is how we can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God (1 Jn. 4:2-3).

Comment

Jesus said “I am the way”. He did not give his disciples instructions in some religious system or series of spiritual exercises and tell them “do this, and you will find the way to the Father if you try hard enough and don’t falter”. No. Spiritual exercises are not the way to salvation. Jesus is … and Jesus alone is! Not Jesus plus some other teaching or practice.

Because Jesus is in union with the Father and it is through Jesus and through Jesus alone that God reaches down to mankind, it follows that in relating to Jesus, we relate in just the same manner to the Father; we relate directly to God. To know Jesus personally is to know God personally.

Through Jesus’ death on the Cross, we have obtained forgiveness of sin. Those who rely on their own good works underestimate the seriousness of sin. They reduce sin to something that they can eradicate from their lives by their own efforts. But sin is far too serious and deep-seated in our spirits to be dealt with by our own abilities. God is so totally holy that he can only save a perfect person, and since none of us comes anywhere near being perfect, we stand under his condemnation. But – praise God – Jesus was perfect, and if we yield to him as our Lord, God sees us as sharing in his perfection. The punishment that we deserve fell on Jesus on the Cross and his righteousness has been born within us in its place. He took our sin and gave us his purity!

We take this miracle to ourselves, each of us personally. Had each of us individually been the only person ever to have responded, he would still have died. For each of us alone. That is how much he loves each of us individually!

Dwell upon this thought. Had Jesus not died, I would be doomed to spend eternity in Hell. That is what Jesus did for me. How should we feel toward someone who saved our life; and died in the attempt? Jesus saved my eternal life, and not only died but bore my punishment! But even more than that, he brought me to a place where I am being transformed by the Spirit of God and fitted for an eternal habitation with the Creator of the universe!

The other side of this means that my sins alone would have been enough to have taken Jesus to the Cross. I crucified Christ! Each of us stands before God either as Christ-slayers or as individuals redeemed through his blood. How we respond to him determines which we are.

We sometimes hear it said “How can someone enjoy Heaven knowing that a loved one is in Hell?” I don’t know the answer, but I do know that God loves each of us more deeply than any human love. Thing how greatly God would have suffered if the whole human race – beings created in his very image – had gone to Hell. Such would have happened if Jesus had, by exercising his free will, avoided the Cross. We can now better appreciate his pain in Gethsemane. Not only did the eternal fate of the human race rest upon him, but in a sense, even the eternal fate of God depended upon his actions. The fate of the creation that groans in travail as it awaits the manifestation of the sons of God, likewise depended upon his decision. He prayed that if the “cup” could be taken from him – if there was an alternate plan – may it be so. But there was no alternative. Think about this … if there had been an alternative, God would have revealed it then to Jesus. He could have told Jesus to go back and teach a form of fasting, or some type of meditation or whatever. But he did not. This is surely evidence – if any more is needed – that salvation is in Jesus alone and could become actual only through the Cross.

But the Cross of Calvary was really the culmination of Jesus’ suffering. All through his earthly life, he carried a kind of cross. Have you ever been trapped for a time in the company of lewd and blasphemous people? It is not pleasant, is it? Well, if we, who are sinners, can experience this embarrassment and lack of ease, imagine how the pure Son of God must have felt surrounded for thirty three years by sinners? Yet he loved them all, and for your sake, and for mine, was wiling to bear this cross also out of love.

Meditate on these matters, praying that God will cause us to better appreciate the unfathomable sacrifice that Jesus made for each and every one of us, that we may love him more deeply.

 

Meditations on the Fruit of the Holy Spirit

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control … Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Rom. 5:22 – 25).

 

Comment

Notice that Paul said that the fruit of the Spirit is … “Is” not “are”! The fruit of the Holy Spirit is singular, and manifests in a variety of ways, some of which Paul enumerated in the passage. To have the fruit of the Holy Spirit is to possess the nature of Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit is the Christ-like nature. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are how it is revealed through the character. These are the characteristics revealed in the nature of Jesus, and they are the mark of the true Christian. Their sinful opposites belong to the godless nature which we crucified when we accepted Christ, that the nature of Jesus may live in and through us.

This is our standard, the measure of our spiritual maturity.

O Lord, enable us to be more like Jesus; may the nature of Jesus be increasingly seen in us. May we continually die to the old nature and its sinful desires, that we may live more and more according to the nature of Jesus; the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Sundry Meditations

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth (1 Jn. 3:18)

You have been born anew, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Pet. 1:23)

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18) [an alternative translation has “contemplate” for “reflect” in this passage]

Jesus declared “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again … flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit (Jn. 3:3 & 3:6

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in al. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Col. 3:11-14).

 

 

 

6

CONTEMPLATION AND THE AWARENESS OF GOD

After meditation has been practised for a while, it may grade off into a deeper form of prayer known to spiritual writers as contemplation. As this phase is approached, you may find that it becomes increasingly difficult to dwell on the meditations as thoughts expressed in words. Words and images begin to get in the way of what you feel you should be doing. What you feel that you should be doing is simply resting in the attitudes (for want of a better term) that the meditation has aroused within you; the love of God, surrender to God, a passion for holiness because you know that this is pleasing to God and a silent, wordless, adoration of God. This silent adoration, beyond words and specific thoughts and images, is probably about as far into contemplative prayer that the majority of us will go in this life, but it is enough to be really and truly touched by God and experience a beautiful something that many busy and cerebral Christians miss to their detriment.

In what ever degree contemplation is experienced however, it comes to us as a gift from God, not as something that we can reach by our own efforts. It is a spiritual gift, and has always been recognized as such by the church. In this it differs from meditation. Meditation is something that we do; contemplation is something that God does.

It helps, I think, to understand the difference between meditation and contemplation by considering the analogy of a person crossing a body of water by boat. He begins the journey with much physical effort, rowing out through the calm waters close to shore. However, once he has rowed out a certain distance into the lake, out beyond the sheltering headlands, he begins to pick up a slight tail wind and hoists his sails, still rowing. He continues to row, but no longer as hard as the wind in his sails is now assisting his labour. Finally, far out on the surface of the lake, his boat experiences the full force of a strong breeze, so strong that he can cease from his rowing altogether as his boat is simply and swiftly propelled along by the wind, faster and further than even his most strenuous rowing could carry him.

Meditation is like rowing the boat. Certainly, it is an activity within the grace of God, but it is something into which a good deal of mental and spiritual effort must be placed. But the more we meditate within the will of God, the more shall the boat of our souls be carried by the wind of the Holy Spirit as he begins filling our sails and our praying becomes more contemplative. Like the wind, contemplation is something God-given, over which we have no control. All we can do is raise our sails in surrender to the Wind of God, while steering the boat with the compass of his Word.

In contemplation, God may be said to impress upon our hearts an intuition or appreciation of his nature – Who he is and What he is. This (for want of better terms) “intuition”, this vague “perception” of God through a glass darkly, how ever dim it may be, is nevertheless sufficient to set the heart ablaze; to throw into stark contrast the sinfulness of our nature and the holy, pure and utterly transcendent being of Almighty God. We may already know in the head – with the rational mind – that God is almighty, ure and holy; a consuming fire. But until God touches our hearts with these truths we can never know them as they should be known. And it is only when the are known in this heart-felt way instead of as dry theological propositions, that God himself is perceived as being sufficiently real to us for our worship to be truly acceptable to him.

This “heart knowing”, this “perception” or “intuitive appreciation” of God and his attributes, even though through a glass darkly, is the essence of contemplation. From the simple adoring silence that is probably as far as most of us will go, to the rapturous ecstasy of the mystic saint, it is the work of the Holy Spirit granting us some level of awareness and appreciation of the God whom we worship, such that we fall back in silent wonder and praise beyond all words and “contemplate” (if only for an instant) the awesome Deity who calls us to himself.

All true worship, all genuine and effective Christian service, all Christian ethics, must surely begin with some degree of contemplative “vision” and awareness if it is to be based upon a sure foundation. How can one who has felt the heat of the Consuming Fire and has had It ignite a flame within his own heart ever again turn to the idols that split God’s church and weaken the instrument of Christ in the world? How can anyone who has been granted even the vaguest, fleeting and obscure impression of the Infinite Majesty ever be satisfied with anything less than total dedication to Christ? How can such a person ever again attach supreme importance to things of this world; things which divide person from person and end all too often in conflict at a personal level and in strife, war and death on a larger scene?

All of these are seen as but mist before the face of God and once even the dim reflection of the radiance of that Face has been discerned, how can any of these infinitely lesser things ever again assume the status of gods?

Why then, do so many worldly thorns and briers choke the Word in the lives of all-too-many churches and individual church members? Why is so much worship dry and formal, and why do so many church people worship a god who is little more than a caricature of the God of the Bible?

There is, I believe, essentially only one answer. We have lost the desire for the gift of contemplation. We are no longer willing to come to God through biblical meditation; to enter through his Word into that quiet inner temple where he may grant us something of that vision, that appreciation of holiness, that he granted the prophet Isaiah so long ago. For Isaiah it was a true vision. He “saw” God high and lifted up on the throne of the Universe (Is. 6: 1 – 13). So powerful was Isaiah’s “heart appreciation” of God’s holiness that he cried “Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips … and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Is. 6:5). Isaiah would have possessed “head knowledge” of God’s majesty and hominess, but it was not until he “saw” it for himself that he truly appreciated the truth of God’s majesty and the sinfulness of his own nature. It was only then that he responded with dedicated service.

I fear that much church worship is not like Isaiah’s response in that it does not proceed from a “vision” of God. It is more like the sacrifice of Cain.

God, it will be recalled (Gen. 4:3 – 5), rejected Cain’s sacrifice but accepted that of his brother Abel.

Why?

What was right with Abel’s sacrifice that was not right with Cain’s?

Some biblical commentators find the difference in the nature of the sacrifices themselves. Abel’s was a blood sacrifice whereas Cain’s was not. This, they argue, showed that Abel was more aware of sin than Cain was and this led him to realize that only in the shedding of sacrificial blood was there remission of sins.

This, I feel, reads too much back into the story. Abel raised animals whereas Cain tilled the soil, so it would have seemed appropriate for him to offer an animal sacrifice without any thought of “sacrificial blood’ per se. Similarly, it would have seemed appropriate for Cain to have offered a portion of his crop to God.

The real difference, I believe, lies in the fact that Abel offered “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” (Gen. 4:4) whereas Cain was satisfied to offer to God “some of the fruits of the soil” (Gen. 4:3) … what was left over, so to speak. It was Abel’s “appreciation” of the nature of God, not primarily any consciousness of his own sin (although, like Isaiah, this awareness would have been an inevitable consequence), and his serious response with his sacrifice of part of the best of his possessions, that made his worship acceptable to God. For Cain, on the other hand, sacrifice and worship were simply duties that had to be performed. Whereas Abel was truly godly, Cain was merely religious. The actions of Abel, like those of Isaiah, were serious responses to a contemplative appreciation of the nature of God. Cain responded only to what was expected of him; to “tradition”.

It is often said that “God has no grandchildren” – each generation must experience God itself and not rely merely upon religious tradition handed down from ones’ forebears. Abel was a child of God. In responding to traditional expectations rather than to true experience, Cain tried to be a grandchild of God … and ended up being a child of the devil! (1 Jn. 3:12).

Is our worship and our Christian service truly grounded in contemplative appreciation of the holiness, awe, majesty and magnificence of God? Do we ever sit in silent rapt adoration of our God and praise him from the depths of our hearts and spirits in silent outpourings of love? Or is our worship cold and mechanical; simply a response to traditional expectations?

It is a sobering thought that so much “worship” may be no more acceptable to God than the sacrifice of Cain!

Worship of God, wrote Dr. A. W. Tozer, is the primary purpose of man. And worship that is a response of the whole person – body, intellect, emotion and spirit – to the grace of contemplation should be a major focus of our churches.

Ceremony and ritual do not constitute worship, although a certain amount of ritual is clearly approved by Christ as part of the expression of worship. Had he not approved of any form of ritual, he would not have instituted Holy Communion!

Listening to a sermon is also a necessary and valid part of Christian meetings, but let us not fool ourselves into thinking that a church meeting which is all sermon is an adequate expression of worship.

On the other hand, mere emotionalism devoid of a true underlying spirituality is not worship either, how ever warm the fuzzy glow that it induces may be.

Even the exercise of spiritual gifts does not of itself guarantee true worship. Although, as Tozer taught, spiritual gifts are given by God so that a Spirit-filled Christian can adequately live the Christian life and worship in ways beyond merely human potential, simple possession of the gifts themselves does not necessarily mean that one is a Spirit-filled Christian or that one is certain to use the gifts correctly. Indeed, it seems that one can exercise the gifts and not even be saved! We must remember that some of those whom Jesus “never knew” exercised the gifts of healing, casting out demons and the like, yet were quite mistaken in their assumption that this was a sign of their salvation.

Were their gifts not authentic?

This is possible, though Jesus did not say this. At issue was the lack of authenticity of Christian commitment, not of the spiritual gifts per se. The ability to preach or work miracles are not in themselves evidences of being in the saved state, if Jesus is not in the heart!

For someone who has tasted even the most rudimentary level of contemplative experience however, neither ritual nor teaching can ever be sufficient in themselves. Moreover, there will be an experience of a relationship with God through Jesus that is deeper than human emotion, even though it might at times be expressed in an emotional way. The only adequate worship for one touched in this way will be the heart’s outpouring; the first fruit of heart, soul, mind and strength dedicated to God as surely as Abel’s finest beast.

 

 

For those interested in joining a unity-meditative prayer group, or starting up one in their area, log onto http://www.unityinchrist.com/umpg/umpg4.htm

 

 

 

IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, COMMENTS OR WOULD JUST LIKE
TO SHARE THOUGHTS WITH ME, YOU CAN CONTACT ME AT:

 

seargent@ozemail.com.au

 

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