Time for Fresh Perspective

I often set myself a challenge to shake up my world that has become too comfortable, and to grab hold of a fresh perspective. Along the way I ponder interesting questions.  Some might say that I have a complex mind 🙂

One question I remember asking myself when I was seventeen was, “If a tree falls over in a forest and there is no one there to see or hear it, does it still make a sound as it crashes to the ground?”  Perhaps this is an odd question, or one to which we assume the answer is easy, but in pondering it, I began to qualify my world view.

I concluded that, yes the tree would still make a sound even in the absence of anyone to hear it, and that the tree and the sound existed in an ordered universe with defined and knowable rules which at the very least had been set in motion by a supreme being, and would continue to exist and act even in my absence.  In short, I was not the centre of the universe, but my identity and place in this world was somehow defined in relation to an ordered universe fashioned by a god.

Thus continued my quest for seeking out and knowing God, a quest that, as a disciple and follower of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, I am still walking out today.

Recently I was pondering another of these questions, as follows:  “Suppose you lived inside a big box that was sitting on a firm foundation.  Every year the box was shrinking but proportionately so was everything inside the box and also every measuring device that you had.  How would you know the box was shrinking, or that its position in relation to the world outside the box was changing?”  In short, you wouldn’t.  You would be unaware the box was shrinking and would have no reference point to relate to the larger universe outside the box.

As I thought more about this image, I realized that it was a perfect metaphor for the current condition of much of the church today.  
The church has become like a box with high walls that we hide behind and retreat from a world that we are supposed to be actively involved in.  To those outside the box, the church has become increasingly irrelevant, and we do not realize that we are no longer at the centre of society but on its fringes.

As we have retreated behind the walls out of fear and created for ourselves a comfortable, safe place with our own language, customs and practices, we have abandoned our missional calling.  We wait for Christ’s return as a means of rescue, rather than as the establishment of His kingdom here on earth, which God desires no one to miss.

The walls must come down.  The church as the Body of Christ must go out.  We were not called to build walls.  We have been called to the Great Commission and to begin to build the kingdom of God on earth.

We must redefine our frame of reference.  We do not live in a Christian society.  We are not the centre of the universe.  God and his purposes are at the centre.  Our calling is not to hide away or to bring people to a church building where by “osmosis” they can learn about God and learn to talk and act like us.  Our calling is not to change legislation.  Our calling is to go out and to be relational and missional among all people outside the protective box.  We were not called to be a social club.

We live in a very spiritual world alongside people already inclined to believe, or to want to believe, in something spiritual.  People talk of their personal belief system.

In stepping outside the box, and becoming missional, the church as the Body of Christ must avoid a couple of pitfalls.

First, in an effort to be relevant, the church must avoid shifting the goalposts.  In an age of personal spirituality, the church cannot redefine the tenets of the gospel or the identity and importance of the Messiah to leave out the uncomfortable or inconvenient parts.  To do so is to create a false or incomplete gospel and to create a manufactured Jesus.  In the above metaphor of the box, this relativizing of the gospel is akin to setting the base of the box on quicksand.

Second, in an effort to hold on to the unchanging truth of the gospel, the church cannot confuse scriptural truth with subsequent tradition, or combine the timeless truth of the gospel with a likewise timeless method of presentation and delivery.  To do so is to create a truthful but irrelevant message of hope that answers questions that no one is asking.  In the above metaphor of the box, this increasing irrelevancy is akin to having no reference point to relate to the world outside the box.  Instead, proper contextualization of the timeless truth of the gospel and the identity of Jesus as Messiah is essential, to know what people are thinking and how to reach them.

Third, the church cannot show up in the world outside the box only to oppose what it doesn’t like, or what it deems is on the top of God’s agenda.  The church as the Body of Christ – you and me – must be fully engaged in the world outside the box.

Fourth, the church – you and me – must remember that there is greater power in a relationship with people than in a lobby, petition, rally, or protest sign.  To be missional requires each of us to be relational.  Each of us are called to be missional and relational to the people around us, not just as potential converts, but as people – our family members, our co-workers, our neighbours, and indeed everyone we encounter.

It is time for the church to rise up and look up and take up the Great Commission with fresh perspective.  It is time for all of us to tear down walls and think outside of the box.

🙂

Your Born Identity – Part 5.

It happened again.

This time it happened when my connecting flight was cancelled on my way back home from a conference.  My initial reaction was frustration, but as I approached the counter, I reminded myself once again that I could choose my reaction to this waste of my valuable time, and choose how I would use this “wasted” time. I could choose to respond with an attitude like “Don’t you know who I am?”, and take my irritation out on the flight attendant; or I could choose to respond with an attitude like “Don’t you know who He is? Let me show you.”

This is Part 5 (the final part – for now) of a series on Your Born Identity – who you were designed to be, and who, now restored by covenant faith, God has called you to be.  In Part 1 we discussed how through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, that God has declared you to have legal righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  In theological terms this is called justification.  In Part 2, we discussed the nature of the unconditional new covenant relationship between you and God, and that you have the Holy Spirit implanted in you in all His fullness to work within you to put moral righteousness into every part of your life.  In theological terms this is sanctification, and in Part 3 we learned that this sanctification process is not optional, but essential because we belong to Him now and we are to be fully engaged in God’s kingdom work.  Sanctification is progressive, requires hard work and sacrifice, and your new identity needs to grow.  Self-examination is required, and the growth will be evident in tangible ways and by the fruit of the Spirit in your life.  In Part 4, we discussed the need for an essential shift in focus away from yourself as the main event, and toward God and His purposes – on to what He would have you do, as a covenant member of His new royal priesthood over all creation.  This is why you are here, not just to wait and hold on hopefully for his promised return, but to go out and extend His kingdom, to make Him known.

Why you are here is for so much MORE than your personal salvation and personal blessing and gratification.  A shallow interpretation of the gospel leaves one to conclude God’s favour means blessing, and the presence of suffering can be hard to understand.  Yet the uncomfortable truth, rarely spoken of but appearing through the scriptures, such as Hebrews, is that we have been baptized into both the Messiah’s resurrection and the Messiah’s suffering.  Through both – the resurrection and the suffering – we are called to the Great Commission, the working of the harvest, to make Him known and to glorify Him.  He blesses us that we might bless others. He sustains us through the challenges we endure for His sake.  And both the blessing and the hardship – and our response to them – are not about us but about Him.

I have just returned from a pentecostal studies conference that focused on holiness.  The roots of pentecostalism go back to Wesleyan methodism of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the Holiness Movement of the 19th century.  Both of these stressed the subsequent sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not just for ourselves, but so we could go out and change our world and reach people with the practical good news of the new creation in Christ.

Today, even in pentecostal circles, this emphasis on holiness and its inward and outward manifestations is not adequately spoken of or acted upon, at least in North America.  In certain branches, christian faith has descended into a kingdom-now, personal blessing-based, corruption of the gospel message which has re-shaped the Saviour into a personal manufactured Jesus blended with the American dream.  In other branches, the imperative to change the world for the better has become separated from the truth and spiritual foundation of the gospel, so the engagement in social issues contains no gospel at all.

To neither of these descents have we been called.  We have been called to so much more.

We need to return to basics, to a firm foundation, to a covenantal relationship with God made possible through the saving work of the Messiah, to an on-going process of sanctification both inwardly and outwardly.  Like the Wesleyans and the Holiness movement, we need to commit to holiness and to go out and change our world, in this time of already, in-process, not yet of kingdom living as we prepare for His return and the full consummation of the kingdom.  This is a far more accurate depiction of the great commission.

The great commission is not just about personal spiritual salvation, rescue from death and the promise of living in God’s kingdom some day in the future, which we hope will come soon…  It is far more than that.  In short, it is about the restoration of God’s original design and the establishment of his kingdom.  Hesed (lovingkindness) which is at the core of God’s character, which undergirds His kingdom and which is the essence of the gospel, has been extended in covenant faithfulness to you and me as His people.  It needs to be at work through you as you extend and establish His kingdom.

Understanding this – that the great commission is about, but not limited to, “sharing” the good news and saving souls from hell – requires a change of perspective to see the great commission as a greater more encompassing commission than we have realized.  Being about our Father’s work – the great commission – is actually being an ambassador for, and the living embodiment of, the kingdom of God.  This de-mystifies the great commission, and excludes no one, either from working the harvest, or of being part of the harvest. We are all workers in His kingdom, working His inheritance, blessed by Him to do His will, no matter what comes.

So this brings me back to my story of the delayed flight… and giving visible evidence of the kingdom of God.

Many years ago, I found myself stuck in a checkout line at a grocery store, and it was supposed to be the express line.  As time passed, I became inwardly somewhat frustrated, as patience hasn’t always been my best feature. As I waited though, I became aware of the conversations around me, particularly between the cashier and the person at the checkout.  The cashier had made a mistake and was being roundly criticized by the patron.  The next person in line, just in front of me, was abrupt to the cashier, taking out his impatience on her, probably expressing what I inwardly felt.  As I watched and listened though, my impatience vanished and I had compassion on the cashier.  I realized that my inward frustration was wrong and that I was capable of (and expected to be) so much more.  When I approached the cashier with my so important purchase, she was visibly crushed from the previous 2 customers, not crying but close to it, and she wouldn’t even look up at me.  I thought to myself, “I’m going to talk to her… I’m going to make her talk to me and make her smile”…  which I proceeded to do.  At first she responded in only one word answers, but gradually my banter began to have an impact, and she looked up and engaged in a full conversation.  And then she smiled and laughed at something I said.  As I left, she said “Have a great day!”… and then greeted the next customer with a smile.

Something clicked in my mind at that point… getting stuck in a line-up was not optional, but I could choose how to respond, and how to use the time while I was stuck in line.  Routinely now I will engage people in conversation, in line ahead of me or behind me, and always the cashier.  I don’t quote John 3:16 but I give visible tangible evidence of the kingdom of God at work through me, and it changes someone’s world.  Oh yes… the next time I went to that store and that cashier was on duty, she spotted me 3 places back in the line-up and smiled at me.  She remembered.

I did the same thing with the airline attendant who was re-booking my delayed flight.  She had been having a rough day – in her words, “a day like I’ve never had before”, with other delayed flights, and the 3 people in front of me had vented their frustrations on her.  When it was my turn, I was reasonable, friendly, asking questions, and got her to smile and let her guard down a bit.  I thanked her and told her she was doing a great job.  What a visible response, surprised but pleased, I got to that!  Then, 3 hours later and 4 boarded flights at the gate, as we prepared to board our delayed flight, her co-attendant at the desk was checking my flight itinerary, and the woman who had re-booked my flight stopped what she was doing, leaned across, and told her co-worker that everything was fine, as she had “verified Mr. Ambrose’s itinerary personally”.  She remembered!  And my inward reaction was not “Thank you God for favour! She knew who I am!”.  Instead it was “Thank you God.  I hope she caught a glimpse of You and Your kingdom.  I hope You send others of your people across her path.”

Somewhere at some time, there will be the right time for someone to water the seed I planted and share with her John 3:16.  That needs to happen.  Maybe it will be you or me who gets that opportunity.  But every day you and I get opportunities to be  the visible evidence of the kingdom, the tangible manifestation of practical holiness, which you need to extend into your world and into peoples’ lives.  Otherwise the words of the gospel, without its works, will be dismissed by those who are perishing and thrown out for lack of evidence.

As you carry out the great commission, let it be evident to everyone at all times through your words and actions as a covenant member of the kingdom of God.  This is who you are.  This is your born identity as a new creation in the Christ.  To this you have been called!

Your Born Identity – Part 4.

One of my all-time favorite movies (at least the first half of it) is Fiddler on the Roof, a musical about a rural jewish village in Russia as it copes with religious persecution and the social upheaval brought on by a rapidly changing world.  In the midst of this, Tevye, a poor farmer who daily wrestles with God, says to Him: “I know we are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”

Sometimes, as we live our lives as believers and followers of the Christ, it can feel very much like this.  Christians can face ridicule in the news and the workplace.  We face many challenges, and if we are honest, it is difficult to walk out our calling as believers and followers, and a daily struggle to purify ourselves.  Combined with a lot of shallow theology these days that equates faith and obedience in the Christ with a smooth road and blessing in every area of your life, you can wonder what you are doing wrong, or grow discouraged or disillusioned in trying.  “Lord, I’ve tried so hard and it seems like I can’t get ahead.  Why me? Can’t you choose somebody else?  I’m done here.”

This is Part 4 in a 5 part series called Your Born Identity.  In Part 1 we discussed how through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, that God has declared you to have legal righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  In theological terms this is called justification.  In Part 2, we discussed the nature of the unconditional new covenant relationship between you and God, and that you have the Holy Spirit implanted in you in all His fullness to work within you to put moral righteousness into every part of your life.  In theological terms this is sanctification, and in Part 3 we learned that this sanctification process is not optional, but essential because we belong to Him now and we are to be fully engaged in God’s kingdom work.  Sanctification is progressive, requires hard work and sacrifice, and your new identity needs to grow.  Self-examination is required, and the growth will be evident in tangible ways and by the fruit of the Spirit in your life.

During this maturing process, the character of God will grow within you and manifest toward people and situations (also toward yourself!) One key characteristic of God is hesed, meaning “persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy”, and “covenant faithfulness and love in action”.  This will begin to manifest in a maturing believer actively engaged in covenant sanctification.

Some of the questions we ask, as we face challenges, result from not really understanding our new covenant identity, why we are here, what blessings are for, who this is really all about, and what “already, in process, not yet” kingdom living looks like.

Would it shock you to learn that you are not the main reason or the end result of Christ on the cross? Or that His blessing is not about you, and may involve suffering and death?

This is what some might call an “inconvenient truth”.  Uncomfortable even.  But still truth.  “I know we are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” 

The truth is, God loves you and me.  He has set us free from the death-grip of sin and reconciled us to Himself.  But now we are not our own and there is a much bigger picture.  We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, that is growing within us, that He desires to be extended to all people, this Kingdom already established, in process, yet waiting for its complete fulfillment upon His return.  We are workers in His fields, over His creation, to make Him known. Your life belongs to Him.  You serve the Most High.

What this does, of course, is shift our focus.  It shifts our focus away from ourselves and on to Him and His purposes, and what HE would have each of US do. It shifts your focus on to what He would have you do, as a covenant member of His new royal priesthood over all creation.  This is why you are here, not just to wait and hold on hopefully for his promised return, but to go out and extend His kingdom.

This shift in focus to Him and away from yourself leads to other changes.  

First, If we realize who we really are, and what our role really is, it will accelerate the sanctification process and our active participation in it.

Second, it will change how we pray and what we pray for.  If you are like most believers in this generation, most of your prayers focus around yourself and your own concerns.  How would this change if your focus changed and you embraced your covenant identity?

Third, the shift in focus to God and His purposes changes our notion of blessing and of suffering.  God still desires to bless you, but as a co-inheritor of an already established but in process and not yet consummated Kingdom of God, the focal point of the blessing is not your comfort or reward, but rather that you might bless others, that you might better accomplish His purposes and establish His Kingdom and make Him known to others.  This also might change how and what you pray for blessing.

Fourth, changing your focus in this way to the correct focus on Him can change your perspective on the challenges you face.  Understanding that the Kingdom of God is in process, and not yet fully consummated, will alter your perspective:  like the battle of sanctification within you, there is a war going on in the fields you are working on assignment in His Kingdom, and the adversary is the enemy.  The presence of challenge and hardship in your life (and understand that the challenge and hardship discussed here is not that which results from your own past decisions, but the challenge and hardship because of who you are as a member of God’s covenant family, involved in a war) is actually a good sign that His kingdom is advancing.  It is still never pleasant to face hardship! But having the correct perspective on it helps… while these things are unpleasant, and may even demand your life, the presence of challenge and hardship does not mean that you have angered God, it means that you have aggravated an already defeated adversary and irritated those under his sway who have not yet heard the good news of the kingdom.

Fifth, having our focus upon Him and not upon yourself can actually make it easier to follow His commandments and display His character.  For instance, with this change of perspective, it can be easier to forgive, because the real offense is against God, and not you, and eternal separation from God is not something you would wish on even your worst enemy.  Enter the character of God, and the reason for sanctification, because that character trait of hesed – “persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy”, and “covenant faithfulness and love in action” – needs to be well and truly on display, to everyone, because you are God’s ambassador with the good news of His Kingdom.  His Kingdom is not advanced through the fruits of the old nature, but the new.  

Finally, as we will get into in greater depth in Part 5, the reason why you are here, why you face trials of many kinds, why you are blessed, why you need to sanctify yourself, is so much more than your personal salvation and right standing before God.  There is a bigger picture than just you, and in this sanctification process within you, and in this Kingdom work you have been given to do, the fruit of the Spirit are the building blocks of the kingdom of God.

Your Born Identity – Part 3.

You will have heard the oft-used phrase “I am a work in progress.” Perhaps you have used it yourself.  For myself, when I have used this phrase in the past, it has been a self-deprecating way to explain away my flaws or less-than-perfect behaviours.

It is ok to use this phrase about yourself, as long as it is a positive declaration about what changes are yet to come, and you are actively participating in the transformation process!  

This is Part 3 in a series on your new identity as a believer and disciple of the Christ.

As we discussed in Part 1, through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  As a consequence, the Holy Spirit now dwells within you, transforming you from within. God the Father’s SAME surpassingly great power that He exerted to resurrect the Christ from the dead is now implanted in you, and in me, in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit in ALL His fullness.

In Part 2, we discussed the nature of covenant relationship, and in particular, the new covenant and your place in it.  You have now entered, and are under the unconditional terms of, a covenant relationship between you and the Lord. A covenant relationship always has 2 participants: under the new covenant, these are the Holy Spirit and you.

At the point of your faith in the completed work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him, in Christ.  In other words, He has extended His righteous garments over you.  This declaration is as in a court of law:  all charges have been dismissed and your guilt and sentence of death removed.  In legal terms only, you have been declared to have righteous standing before Him.  The Holy Spirit is given as a guarantee of this declaration, and as an agent of change within you.  In theological terms, this is called justification.

From the point of faith onward, the Holy Spirit works with you in active partnership to put the new covenant into full effect within you, putting to death the things that don’t belong in your life any longer, and cultivating and growing moral righteousness – the full implementation of the gospel – into every area of your life, and also equipping you to effectively share the new covenant good news with everyone.  You cannot put the old nature to death on your own, and the Holy Spirit cannot work in you without your full active participation and consent.  In theological terms, this is called sanctification.

The process of sanctification within you is NOT optional.  In real terms, this is the response to God’s command from Leviticus 20:26, re-stated in 1 Peter 1:16:  “Be holy, because I am holy”.  The new covenant has not just saved your soul from death and hell, and fitted you for a heavenly dwelling place some day… it has restored and reinstated the image and glory of God within you that was present at creation before mankind sinned against God.  Under the new covenant, through the covenant (2-sided) process of sanctification, your life needs to progressively display more visible evidence of the glory of God.  In effect, sanctification is extending the kingdom of God within you.

In part this is about you, but only part… God loves you, and wanted to set you free from the bondage and death-grip of sin. Moreover, He loves you too much just to leave you as a newborn babe… having new life, but remaining there, with no growth or transformation.

But it is actually ALL about Him, about His design for creation, and mankind’s role (including your role) in His design to extend His glory throughout (and over) all creation.  That is the real purpose of the gospel… your new identity is not just about you, but about God and the work of His kingdom.  Through His new covenant relationship with you, the moral righteousness of the gospel is being extended through every part of you, transforming you to reflect the glory of God. But He also works this transformation within you to extend his kingdom outward into every area of creation, preparing the world and its people (His people) for Messiah’s return.  There will be more on this in Part 5.

This is why your new identity under the new covenant demands a covenant response.  Your life is not your own.  It belongs to Him – all of it.  The continual process of sanctification is the new covenant relationship at work within you – and it is hard work. The Holy Spirit is in partnership with you – as an active participant – to put into effect the gospel in all its fullness within you.  This does not enhance your declared righteous standing before Him, but it is reclaiming you as a representative and ambassador of God.

The process of sanctification extends morally righteous character into every area of your life, with your consent and involvement in continual choices.  As this morally righteous character grows within you, and the old nature is progressively put to death, (and it MUST be put to death), it is possible for your new identity, the morally righteous character, to become your normative response instead of your old way of doing things.

What is the litmus test of this covenant process of sanctification within you?  Obviously it is the evidence of change and growth in your life, to increasingly reflect God’s character in your thoughts, words and actions.

We like to work from lists and rules as evidence of our adherence to a standard of behaviour, (in this case “holiness”), but at best, lists and rules are not exhaustive but only illustrative of deeper principles and attitudes.  It is to these deeper principles and attitudes that we must go.

I have already referred to God’s instruction to “be holy, because I am holy”.  This is an underlying principle, but in God (and in those He considered righteous) it manifested itself not just in holiness, and justice, and righteousness, but in an attribute called “hesed“.  Hesed, translated in one bible version as “lovingkindness”, has a much deeper nuanced meaning which could be stated as “persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy”, and as “covenant faithfulness and love in action”.  This is a foundational character trait of God, evident in his behaviour toward His people.  Through the new covenant, hesed has been planted within us as part of our new identity.

This is identified by the Messiah when He summed up the Law: “Love the Lord your God with all your soul, heart, mind and strength”, and “love your neighbour as yourself”. Paul in Corinthians 13 identifies love as the foundational characteristic of the new covenant Spirit-filled life.  And in Galatians, Colossians and Ephesians, and in other places, the characteristics of the indwelling Holy Spirit are listed as visible evidence in your life (the “litmus” test) of the glory of God: “be kind to each other, tenderhearted; and forgive each other, just as in the Messiah God has also forgiven you.  So imitate God, as his dear children;  and live a life of love, just as also the Messiah loved us, indeed, on our behalf gave himself up as an offering…” (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2)

This then, is the litmus test, which we can apply to ourselves, of the state of growth within us of His moral righteousness.  It is in the fruit that we are producing, both seen and unseen, and in the extension of His kingdom both within us and through us, that His moral righteousness, our kingdom effectiveness, is demonstrated – or not.

This self-test involves realistic self-examination and required course correction, asking yourself such questions as: “What is my focus?” “What is my response to people and situations?” “What are my desires?” “What thoughts, words, and behaviours in my life do not honour or bring glory to God, and must therefore be removed (put to death).?” Ask the Lord what HE wants YOU to do.

In this process of continual self-examination, listen to the Holy Spirit within you… and do so together with the Word of God open before you, which you need to be reading every day, to ensure that what you are hearing is from the Holy Spirit.  Look at the fruits in your life. Course correct and repent.  And then act on what you hear.

In doing so, beware of your own attempts to rationalize, justify, make excuses for, or explain away behaviours that are not ok.  This is equivalent to self-deception and a refusal to be an active participant along with the Holy Spirit in your sanctification for His glory.  Also, this process will be painful at times.  This is normal and necessary.

The litmus test is best administered through Galatians 5:13-21.  What fruits are being produced in your life?

If, for any reason, your thoughts, your words, or your behaviours illustrate the fruits of the old nature (the “flesh”), then they do not bring glory to God, no matter what you think your reasons or motivation might be.  In this case, recognize it, renounce it, and submit to actively participating in the Holy Spirit’s course correction.

In all circumstances, your thoughts, your words and your behaviours must illustrate the fruits of the indwelling Holy Spirit: if they do, you are bringing glory to God and giving evidence of His kingdom at work.

As a refresher, here are the lists from Galatians 5:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:
immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
(Galatians 5:19-26)

2 last thoughts…

First, the fruit of the Spirit need to be evident in all of your responses, unconditionally.. i.e. your actions, thoughts, words, etc. are not dependent upon circumstances, or upon the actions, thoughts, words, etc. of anyone else.  This is a process in sanctification.

Second, as we will discuss more in Part 5, the fruits of the Spirit are the building blocks of the kingdom of God.

In Part 4, we will look at your place and responsibility in the kingdom of God (why the covenant process of sanctification is necessary), and also provide kingdom perspective on blessing and suffering that we face.

Your Born Identity – Part 2.

There is a figure in greek mythology named Prometheus, who is punished by the gods and chained to a rock, where an eagle came and subjected him to the torment of eating his liver away, only to have it grow back again and be eaten again the next day.

Too often this has become a picture of how we view God and how we live our lives… God as somehow distant and harsh and unconcerned with the suffering we face in our lives that we cannot escape from.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth for a believer and disciple of the Christ.

As we discussed in Part 1, through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  As a consequence, the Holy Spirit now dwells within you, transforming you from within.

God the Father’s SAME surpassingly great power that He exerted to resurrect the Christ from the dead is now implanted in you, and in me, in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit in ALL His fullness.

Yet many of us who wear the label “Christian” seemingly give no evidence of this amazing fact.  We live “lives of quiet desperation” and have come to settle for so much less than what we have been made to be.

WHY IS THIS?

The problem lies in a misunderstanding of what was accomplished when you first believed, and what is at work within you now: the fundamental nature of your relationship with the Lord.  You have now entered, and are under the unconditional terms of, a covenant relationship between you and the Lord.

What is a “Covenant”?

First, a covenant relationship has 2 sides.  In a covenant, each party in the covenant agrees or commits to certain things, unconditionally.  Under the new covenant, there are things that the Lord alone can and will do… and there are things that you alone as a believer, and then a follower of the Christ, must do.  Initial belief or receiving Christ is itself an example of covenant:  He alone could have paid the once-for-all sacrifice to break the power of sin and death over you and reconcile you to God the Father, but it will have no effect upon you until you agree by faith.  The initial steps of the new covenant illustrate the covenant principle of two sides.

Second, a covenant relationship is not a contract.  Under a contract, if one of the parties or signatories to the contract violates their side of the agreement, then the contract is broken and both parties are released from their obligations.  By contrast, under a covenant, if one party violates their side of the covenant, the other party is NOT released from their commitments.  Commitments under covenant are unconditional, and not dependent on the actions of any other party.
Marriage was designed as a covenant, but unfortunately these days we often treat it as a contract instead.
The new covenant illustrates this unconditional and two-sided nature.  God has promised never to leave or forsake you, no matter what.  Yet you can choose to leave and forsake him for a time.  Hopefully you will not do so, but your actions will never cause Him to change his mind or his covenant commitment.

Third, a covenant relationship requires active participation.  Under covenant, both parties commit to active and on-going participation and fulfilment of their roles until the covenant is completed.  For instance, using the analogy of marriage, husband and wife partner together to put their commitments into full effect for the duration of the marriage, growing closer together.  The marriage would not grow or be healthy if one or both spouses checked out or took a passive stance in regard to the relationship.
The new covenant is like that.  Through the Christ, God has effected our freedom from sin and accomplished our reconciliation to Himself, should we choose to receive Him.  But that is only the beginning… To those who believe, He gives the indwelling Holy Spirit to partner with you to put the truth of the gospel into full effect in every area of your life, with your committed active partnership.  God has not checked out and left you on your own; nor can you check out of the process and expect Him to transform you with you as a passive participant.  The new covenant relationship, like marriage, is not an armchair sport.

Fourth, covenant requires sacrifice and exertion.  If you have been taught that life as a believer and follower of the Christ is going to be easy and comfortable, you have been sold a false product.  Any covenant, in part because of its unconditional nature,  is filled with challenge and hard work, to put into effect the covenant’s commitments. Under the new covenant, as a believer, the initial declaration of faith is the easy part. The subsequent implementation of the new covenant into every aspect of your life, for the entire remaining time of this temporal existence, is far more difficult.  It requires sacrifice, surrender, strength and steadiness on your part…in covenant partnership with the Holy Spirit, the fullness of Him that indwells you to work out your salvation to its completion.  You do not do this alone.

Fifth, covenant demands your very life.  Under covenant, you are bound to another in unconditional terms until the covenant is completed, and you cannot be part way in.  Just as God the Father did not spare His own Son, and just as He has given the Holy Spirit in all His fullness to you, your covenant response is your very life, in all areas at all times, to do His will and to bring Him glory.  Your life is no longer your own.

Sixth, the payoff of covenant is huge.  This is true of any covenant, and particularly true of the new covenant.  Also, while the covenant participants walk out the covenant to its completion, there are benefits along the way.  The best way to describe the nature of the new covenant is “already, in process, not yet” … Through the completed work of the cross, and one’s faith in Him and this completed work, the new covenant is already established in the believer; the Holy Spirit indwells the believer as a deposit and active covenant partner, working with the believer each day to extend the completed work into every area of the believer’s life in process; and awaiting the full completion of the covenant, not yet here, upon His return for His covenant people.

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At the point of your faith in the completed work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him, in Christ.  In other words, He has extended His righteous garments over you.  This declaration is as in a court of law:  all charges have been dismissed and your guilt and sentence of death removed.  In legal terms only, you have been declared to have righteous standing before Him.  The Holy Spirit is given as a guarantee of this declaration, and as an agent of change within you.

From the point of faith onward, the Holy Spirit works with you in active partnership to put the new covenant into full effect within you, putting to death the things that don’t belong in your life any longer, and cultivating and growing moral righteousness – the full implementation of the gospel – into every area of your life, and also equipping you to effectively share the new covenant good news with everyone.  You cannot put the old nature to death on your own, and the Holy Spirit cannot work in you without your full active participation and consent.

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Commit to the fullness of the new covenant today… be prepared for hard work, but in partnership with the Holy Spirit, be prepared for victory as well. Press through to become the righteousness of God in all His fullness as a completed work and an effective disciple!

In Part 3, we will look at the litmus test of which nature – the old or the new – is being cultivated in your life and mine.

Your Born Identity – Part 1.

I am becoming more like my father every day.

One of the minor ways in which this is true is in all of the trivia that is stored in my mind.  An enduring memory is of him playing Trivial Pursuit (and beating all of us) through his recall of a vast array of seemingly random bits of information.

Yesterday, I had three seemingly random movie clips running through my brain.  The first was a clip from Hook, when Granny Wendy says to Peter Banning, “Peter… don’t you know who you are?  The stories are true!”  The second was from The Lion King, when the spirit of Mufasa speaks to Simba from the heavens “Simba, you have forgotten me… You have forgotten who you are, and so forgotten me!”  The third was from the Bourne Identity series, the story of a man who has twice lost his identity… the first time deliberately choosing to forget his former self, and the second time, after trauma, waking up to having no idea who he really was.

These all have a theme.  They came to mind after I had a conversation with a Christian man the other day who had no idea, or he had deliberately forgotten, or he had never been taught, who he really was.  He was living in fear, doubt, and frustration, and his life to all appearances looked no different than his friends who did not carry the label “Christian”.  “Don’t you know who you are?” “You have forgotten who you are, and so forgotten Me.”

The distressing part of this story is that he isn’t alone.  There is an entire generation of believers in the Christ today who have no idea who they really are, and because of whose they are, how they are to live.

In Part 2 I will get into the actual nature of your new identity, and its consequences, but for now, there is an amazing fact you need to know:
“I pray that he will give light to the eyes of your hearts, so that you will understand the hope to which he has called you, what rich glories there are in the inheritance he has promised his people, and how surpassingly great is his power working in us who trust him. It works with the same mighty strength he used when he worked in the Messiah to raise him from the dead and seat him at his right hand in heaven…” (Ephesians 1:18-20)

Did you hear that?  Did you know that?  God the Father’s SAME surpassingly great power that He exerted to resurrect the Christ from the dead is now implanted in you, and in me, in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit in ALL His fullness.

That is the huge change that has taken place because, through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah.  As a consequence, the Holy Spirit now dwells within you, transforming you from within.

You are different.  You must live differently.  You life is not your own. You belong to Him.  You have been empowered to live differently, to be light to this world.  That is your new born identity.  You have just forgotten, or you never really knew, who you really are in the Christ.  You have been made new!  You have been empowered to be made new in every part of your life, and you must put it into effect 🙂

You and I are called to become more like our heavenly Father every day.

Check out Part 2  on the nature of your new identity and why it matters.

Reprint: The 10 Lies the Church Tell Women

10 Lies the Church Tells Women
By J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine

We live in the 21st century, but if we’re honest we have to admit that in some ways the church is still in the Dark Ages—specially when we look at the way we treat women. Even though the Scriptures never portray women as secondary to men, our male-dominated religious system still promotes a warped view of female inferiority. Women are tired of this, and as a man, so am I because such demeaning attitudes don’t reflect God’s heart. Jesus challenged gender prejudice at its core when He directed so much of His ministry toward women. In a Middle Eastern culture that considered women mere property, He healed women, discipled them and commissioned them to minister. Yet today we spend much of our energy denying them opportunities and using the Bible to defend our prohibitions. I’ve identified 10 erroneous views about women that for too long have been circulated in the church, preached from pulpits and written in the study notes of popular Bible translations. I believe we must debunk these lies if we want to see the church fully released to fulfill the Great Commission.

Lie #1. God’s Ultimate Plan for Women is That They Serve Their Husbands

How sad that so many Christian men view women from a selfish perspective. This view is often promoted by misreading the account of Eve’s creation in Genesis 2:18-25, in which Adam is provided a “helpmate.” The Hebrew word used here often is translated “companion,” denoting intimacy and partnership. But through the centuries it has been used to imply that Eve was some type of domestic appendage. We men have assumed that God gave Eve to fulfill Adam’s sexual needs as well as to serve as his cook, laundress and maid. But the Genesis account does not say this. After Eve’s creation, God did not tell her: “You are Adam’s helper; I command you to serve him well.” She was not created for servitude; she was fashioned to be a co-laborer with Adam so that they might rule together over creation as God commissioned them to do (see Gen. 1:28).

Lie #2. Women Can’t Be Fulfilled or Spiritually Effective Without a Husband

From the time she was released from a German death camp in 1944 until her death in 1983, Corrie Ten Boom taught the world about a Savior who could forgive the cruelest Nazi. Yet she never married. Did the fact that she did not have a husband make her less “complete”? Some Christians would say yes. We have spent so much energy defending the concept of the biblical family that we are guilty of idolizing it. We’ve preached that a woman’s primary responsibility is to find a godly husband, have lots of babies and stay home to raise them for Christ. But marital status is not a qualifier for ministry. The Bible does not even state whether certain key followers of Jesus, such as the 12 disciples, were married or not. The highest calling of all believers married or unmarried is to develop a relationship with Jesus. Any other earthly relationship is secondary, and Christ Himself warned us never to allow people we love to become idols that distract us from Him.

Lie #3. Women Shouldn’t Work Outside the Home

Many evangelical churches have preached that women who work outside the home are breaking a scriptural commandment, but this conclusion can be reached only by distorting the biblical record. The woman described in Proverbs 31 is often used to bolster a traditional view of the June Cleaver-style matron who spends her day baking casseroles while her husband is at the office. But a careful reading reveals that the Proverbs 31 woman, in her ancient Middle Eastern context, functioned as a real estate agent and ran a textile business. Titus 2:5 instructs women to “take care of their homes” (New Living Translation). But most scholars would agree that this passage simply exhorts married women not to forsake their children. It is true that, because of ambition or materialism, some Christian women neglect their children even though the Holy Spirit has urged them to put their career objectives on hold. But rather than placing a legalistic burden on women by telling them that having a career is ungodly, we should tell both men and women to submit their career plans to the Holy Spirit’s direction.

Lie #4. Women Must Obediently Submit to Their Husbands in All Situations

A distraught Christian woman who was regularly beaten by her husband finally gained the courage to seek counsel from her pastor. After she told him about her husband’s fits of rage, the pastor responded, “If your husband kills you, it will be to the glory of God.” The pastor reached this irresponsible conclusion because of a distorted view of “male headship.”

We often portray marriage as a hierarchy, with husbands on the throne and wives at the footstool, and we use Scripture to justify this view: “Wives…submit to your husbands as you do to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). We assume this verse means women have no say in family matters or that their opinion is second-rate. In extreme cases, women have been told to submit to abuse in order to honor male headship. But this is not a Christian view. Paul also told the Ephesians, “submit to one another” (5:21, emphasis added). I have heard teachings by male clergy on the subject of male headship, but I’ve never heard a pastor encourage men to submit to their wives! Yet in a loving marriage, a man and woman will defer to one another as they make decisions.

In my 16 years of marriage, my wife and I have had plenty of disagreements. But when we reach an impasse, I don’t announce, “I am the head of this house, so what I say goes.” Rather, Deborah and I either agree to pray about the matter, or we choose to defer to one another. The point is never who is in charge. I view my wife as an equal. I am not “over her.” We function as one.

Lie #5. A Man Needs to “Cover” a Woman in Her Ministry Activities

This idea came from a distorted interpretation of the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “the head of woman is man” (NKJV). People have used these words to bolster the idea that women are subservient to men or that they cannot approach God without a male authority figure in their lives. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 about head coverings is a difficult passage, and Bible scholars don’t agree on its meaning. However, most teach that Paul is addressing specific cultural concerns in first-century Corinth and that he is calling for propriety and order in a society where immorality and paganism had blurred gender distinctions. Paul was not placing men in a position of generic rulership over women. Because there is “no male or female in Christ” (see Gal. 3:28), women can pray, worship, study the Bible or minister without a man present. How silly to think that a man, because of his gender, could add credibility to prayer or Spirit-empowered ministry! To believe this would be to trust in the flesh.

Lie #6. A Woman Should View Her Husband as the” Priest of the Home”

Search your concordance. Scripture never describes men as “priests of the home.” This man-made concept was popularized in evangelical churches in the last century. We have one priest, Jesus Christ, whose blood atoned for our sins. It is a mockery of the gospel to suggest that any human being needs an additional priest apart from the Son of God. The Bible says all believers are priests (see 1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 1:6); there is no gender restriction.

Husbands function as priests when they pray for their families or when they minister the Word of God to them, and wives also function in this role. My experience in marriage has been that God speaks both to me and to my wife. He doesn’t say to me, “Since you are the head of this house, I’ll tell you my plans for your family, and you can tell the others what I said.”

Often God has revealed His plans to my wife before I heard anything! Christian men need to stop being defensive and recognize that God has called us to function in unity with our wives. We need to listen to their counsel, consider their opinions, and pray together for the mind of the Lord rather than putting our foot down and shouting, “I am the leader of this family, and what I say goes!”

Lie #7. Women Are Not Equipped to Assume Leadership Roles

The most common mistake we make in biblical interpretation occurs when we take one isolated verse and build a doctrine around it—even if the verse seems to contradict other passages. This is often what we do with 1 Tim. 2:12, “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” (NASB). Most theologians believe that this passage was addressing an isolated situation in Ephesus. They came to this conclusion after studying the myriad of references in the Bible to women in spiritual authority.

The Old Testament records that Deborah was a judge over Israel and God blessed her leadership in battle (see Judg. 4-5). Other women who held authority over men include Miriam, Huldah and Noadiah. Jesus issued His first gospel commission to women (see Matt. 28:1-10), and both men and women were empowered to preach on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Priscilla, Chloe and Phoebe were leaders in the early church, and one woman, Junia, is called an apostle by Paul (Rom. 16:7).

The promise of the prophet Joel was that “sons and daughters” would prophesy after the Holy Spirit was given to the church (Joel 2:28, emphasis added). Yet we have taken one misunderstood verse from Paul’s writings and used it to negate hundreds of other passages that support the full release of women into ministry.

Lie #8. Women Must Not Teach or Preach to Men in a Church Setting

Since 1 Timothy 2:12 obviously contradicts the overall biblical endorsement of women in authority, how are we to understand it? What is Paul actually saying in this passage? In their book I Suffer Not a Woman, Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger explain that certain cultic worship practices involving female priestesses of Diana had invaded the first-century church. These priestesses promoted blasphemous ideas about sex and spirituality, and they sometimes performed rituals in which they pronounced curses on men and declared female superiority.

What Paul was most likely saying to the Ephesians was this: “I do not allow a woman to teach these cultic heresies, nor do I allow them to usurp authority from men by performing pagan rituals.” He was not saying, as some Christians have assumed, “I do not allow godly Christian women to teach the Bible.” In his day, Paul would have been thrilled to have had more skilled women who could teach the truth!

Lie #9. Women Are More Easily Deceived Than Men

This idea has been taught by twisting the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:14, which says, “It was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression” (NLT). Some have suggested that because Eve was tricked by the devil, women have a stronger propensity toward deception. Others have gone so far as to insist that women are to blame for all the evil in the world and are therefore under a greater curse than men.

No respectable Bible scholar in the church today would promote such a view. The Bible clearly states that Adam and Eve were both held guilty by God for their disobedience, and they were both punished. In 1 Timothy, Paul cited the creation account not to place extra blame on Eve but to refute a bizarre teaching that was circulating in Asia Minor.

In the first century, Gnostic heretics were mixing Christianity with paganism. One of their teachings stated that Eve actually liberated the world when she disobeyed God and gained secret knowledge from the devil. Paul was not teaching that women are more prone to deception. He was explaining that what Eve did was not right, and that the Christian view of the creation was that Adam and Eve sinned when they listened to the serpent.

Women are certainly capable of spreading deception because they have a fallen nature as men do, but there is no evidence that they have greater gullibility. That view is rooted in demeaning stereotypes and prejudice.

Lie #10. Women Who Exhibit Strong Leadership Qualities Have a “Spirit of Jezebel”

Once I was listening to Bible teacher Cindy Jacobs speak at a prayer conference in Colorado. When she approached the pulpit, two men who were sitting in front of me turned to each other and began to pray softly. “Lord, we bind the power of the devil from bewitching this audience,” one man said, adding, “We bind the power of Jezebel in the name of Jesus.” These men believed that the crowd would automatically come under a spirit of deception when Jacobs taught them—implied because she was a woman. How absurd! Was Barak “deceived” when he took orders from Deborah? (See Judg. 4:14.)

Did baby Jesus come under a harmful influence when Anna prophesied over Him? (See Luke 2:36-38.) Was Apollos spiritually emasculated when he submitted to the teaching of Priscilla? (See Acts 18:26.) Of course not! To associate godly women with Jezebel, a wicked Old Testament despot, is unfair and offensive, yet men in the church today often pin Jezebel’s label on strong, anointed women because they feel threatened by them.

Let’s stop the insults. If a woman is using manipulation to usurp authority or if she is spreading heresies, then she certainly deserves the Jezebel label—s do men who do such things. But women who walk in spiritual integrity and preach the Word of God with power deserve our respect.

– J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine, is the author of Ten Lies the Church Tells Women (Creation House).