“For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.’ But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” -Neh. 6.9
If we would have anything to do with the enlargement of God’s purposes in the earth, we must be anchored in the understanding that quite frequently, we will experience severe and exacting conflicts.
There is a form of discouragement that feeds the self-life and nurtures cowardice. It might better be called self-pity. Oswald Chambers addresses this ill brand of discouragement like this:
“…. discouragement is disenchanted self-love.”
“…. self-pity is Satanic.”
When we have not adequately launched out with reckless trust in the Lord, we will be repeatedly overcome with self-pity until a deathblow is dealt to our egotism, and if we pass through that death rightly, our illusions of life and ministry will have been pulverized. This is the work of the Cross of Jesus Christ, and it is a mercy from the Lord. Not until the axe has been laid to this root can we even commence to participate in the building of His house.
“If our hopes are being disappointed just now, it means that they are being purified.” -Chambers
If behooves us to discern if we are bound by self-pity, for if we are, it is likely that we are stubbornly moving forward in something that He has not ordained, even if we are purportedly doing it ‘in His name.’ Our “strange fire” must be quenched, our self-initiated ventures must be crushed, and we must be wrung out entirely of the mirky waters of human ambition. It is a necessary pulverization, and once we get familiar with the good hand of the Lord that effects it, we learn to welcome that holy inward work.
When the Lord has permitted the pulverization of our brazen presumption, as was the case in the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem (for Judah had not heeded to the real prophetic view), He gives vision to to men like Nehemiah. Such servants are required for the building of that which the Lord has envisaged in His great heart.
As with Moses, Paul, Nehemiah, or any other man authentically formed and sent by the Lord, the mountain of fulfilled vision is shown as off in the distance, and a great valley lies between the “Here am I, send me” and the “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Most men faint along the way, having been inspired by the distant mountain, but unwilling to brave the valley of obedience. We delight in the fragrance of the rose but are unwilling to await its growth, and we wilt when touched from time to time with an unexpected thorn. Yet every seasoned florist has felt the thorn from time to time. It is intrinsic to dealing with the genuinely precious things.
We need to come to grips with the fact that the principalities and powers of darkness will press against the true work of the Kingdom until the day that they are cast into the lake of fire. There is no such thing as coasting into the fullness of Jesus Christ. The Scripture says we “wrestle“ and struggle and battle against evil powers in this age.
We will necessarily be met with tumult and our categories will be jostled. This pilgrimage is not a vacation. It is, as one author has written, “a long obedience in the same direction.” Along with all the joys, we must be aware that there will be resistance.
“It is costly to go on to the heavenlies, it is painful; but it is the way of the pioneer, and it has to be settled that that is how it is.” -T. Austin Sparks
Nehemiah would not be discouraged. He turned to the One Who has ever and always been secure and enthroned above every power, for he was cognizant of the fact that he was not building a wall unto himself, nor even a wall within which his people could experience a padded life. It was “from Him, through Him, and to Him,” therefore the servant cannot succumb to self-pity, for that would not be in keeping with the pilgrimage or the work. It would not be in keeping with his calling as a man who walks circumspectly before the heavenly King.
This understanding is in the ‘DNA’ of the apostolic faith. Paul’s own calling was infused from the beginning with the idea that he would meet with serious hostility from men and devils.
“…. he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” -Acts 9.15b-16
But the line of his obedience held because he was also conscious from the beginning that the call did not have to do with anything that issued to his ego or his self-glorification.
“….he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name….”
Dear saint, get your eyes off of yourself, pierce through the influence of the powers of darkness in prayer, and behold again the Lamb of God on the throne. Wisdom and strength for the pilgrimage are realized when we behold “the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Not only is equipment available, but He will nourish, enliven, and hydrate your soul when you let go of self-pity and delight in His Person. “Thou preparest a table before me” in the wilderness, “in the presence of my enemies.”
He is worthy of the totality of your heart, He will fill “everything in every way,” and He will make clear that holy work to which He has called you. Whatever that simple and glorious work might be, let your preoccupation be the glory of Christ, and every bump, hurdle, and wind in the valley will be a privileged occasion for demonstrating His wisdom to the same powers that had previously incapacitated your pilgrimage.
“The evangelization of the world [and every other true obedience] is a desperate struggle against the prince of darkness, and everything his rage can stir up in the shape of obstacles, vexation, and opposition, whether by circumstance or by the hand of man.” -W.C. Burns
“…. in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” -Acts 20.23
“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God….” -Acts 14.22
“Therefore…. I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” -Acts 26.19
Bryan Purtle is the founder of the Antioch Prayer Society in Kansas City, MO.
Posted in Featured Articles, The Kingdom of God Tagged with: cross of jesus, discouragement, Holy Spirit, human ambition, illusions of life, Jerusalem, obedience, Oswald Chambers, self pity, wilderness
“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” -Matt. 6.6
There is something most holy and precious about obediences and acts of loyalty that are carried out unto the Lord in secret. The real discrepancy in modern ministry is not a lack of activity or enthusiasm, but a woeful lack of true foundations, and this malady stems from the neglect of a secret life with God.
At the end of the day, all our anxieties, fears, compromises, moral collapses, and worldly strivings can be traced back to a threadbare secret life. We may be gifted in some form of ministry, waxing eloquent in spiritual talk, and impressing our friends and colleagues, but when the heat and press of real life strikes our hearts, our best facades wither for want of the reality of Jesus Christ. “Beholding Him, we are changed,” but when the secret place of prayer is forsaken for other things, we are “mere men” with no heavenly distinctive in the earth.
The Lord has never cared much for religious performances. Feverish and self-conscious attempts at spirituality are ever and always driven by the desire to be seen and approved by men. He has always been the great Purist in terms of a jealousy for reality and “truth in the innermost parts”, and this can only be established and maintained when we are engaging Him in the secret place. It takes time to cultivate a secret life, for we are an inwardly itchy and distracted people, always yearning for recognition and praise. But during Jesus’ earthly sojourn, He left us with the preeminent example of Sonship, living out a seemingly mundane 30 years of submission to earthly parents and carpentry work, while abiding with His heavenly Father when there was no one to pat Him on His back. His identity was found totally in the favor the Father, and so He was able to live in a distinctive manner, “full of grace and truth”, unmoved by criticism and unaffected by flattery.
He did not strive for the recognition of His name or His spirituality, but lived a common life in a radically uncommon way. If anyone had the earthly right to “toot” their own horn it would have been Him, but He demonstrated the wisdom of God by glorying in that which only His Father could see. And when the day of His showing forth came, He emerged from the Jordan waters as One upon Whom the Spirit rested “without measure.”
Dear saint, get your eyes off of men, and cease this deathly cycle of seeking their praise and acceptance. As you fix your eyes upon “Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith,” you will be delivered from strife and brought into the real rest of sonship. All things will be made new. He will bring you into His heart and purpose, and your secret life with God will become your supreme treasure.
The great enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ in the present day is the conception of practical work that has not come from the New Testament, but from the systems of the world in which endless energy and activities are insisted upon, but no private life with God. -Oswald Chambers
(Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God, by David McCasland; Discovery House Publishers, 1993; p. 187)
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: authenticity, encountering God, foundations, humility, inner life, Jesus, obedience, Oswald Chambers, prayer, secret life, seeking God
“For while I was with you I resolved to know nothing except Jesus the Messiah, and Him crucified.” -1 Cor. 2.2
“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.” -Acts 8.5
Every true preaching will lead its hearers to a higher vision of Jesus Christ, and the centrality and supremacy of His cross. When we set up camp around superfluities or even biblical doctrines, however crucial they may be, yet fail to proclaim them in a manner that points the hearer Christ-ward, we fail in the high calling of true proclamation.
Nearly every religion on the earth has some measure of light and truth; some paradigm or thought that could be beneficial for living. But they all fall short of the glory of God, they do not impart life, and not one of them can deliver a salvational reality. Only the proclamation of “Christ, and Him crucified” brings to bear the truth of God, for “there is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved.”
No other supposed faith can hold a candle to the glory of the Man, Christ Jesus, and none of them can answer the ancient problem of mankind; namely, the universal dilemma of depravity and sin. To preach Jesus in the apostolic sense is not merely to give a “Roman’s Road to Salvation” presentation. It is to declare things which “angels long to look into,” the mystery of God as the merciful Judge, and the remarkable desire of Jesus Christ to be reconciled and related to those who believe. Only the Gospel reveals the eternal God as He is, and only the Gospel deals with the issue of sin.
The missionary message is the limitless significance of Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins, and a missionary is one who is soaked in that revelation.
The key to the missionary message is the remissionary aspect of Christ’s life, not His kindness and His goodness, and His revealing of the Fatherhood of God; the great limitless significance is that He is the propitiation for our sins.
A missionary is one who is wedded to the charter of His Lord and Master, he has not to proclaim his own point of view, but to proclaim the Lamb of God.
(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, October 15th selection)
Missionary work, ministries, movements, or “revivals” that stray from the proclamation of “Christ, and Him crucified” will ultimately fade into nullity. Even if they flourish numerically, they will fade in the age to come. “That which is born of flesh is flesh,” and only the foundation of Jesus Himself will endure to the glory of God. He must be the center, the nexus, the capstone of our proclamation and vision. Even other necessary biblical views will fade into nothingness unless they are postured in such a way as to lead us to “Christ, and Him crucified.” We need not to set forth our “own view, but to proclaim the Lamb of God.”
We are struggling back to God, and that is the peculiar thing that characterizes our own ministry. Instead of being occupied with the formalisms and superfluities, our endeavor is to come back under the light of the Spirit of God, to the real truths of God; to have them settled down in our hearts, branded upon our souls, and stamped upon our conscience, that we may walk in truth and power and strength as servants of God.
-John G. Lake
A man may preach about eschatology, the issue of Israel, divine healing, or even the cross itself, without preaching Jesus Christ. If it is only categorical and canned as a message, he may even expound on 1 Corinthians 2.2 without actually preaching “Christ, and Him crucified.”
In turn, a man sent by the Lord will expound on the same subjects in such a way that it leads to the centrality and glorification of Jesus Christ in the heart of the Church. Everything depends on whether or not the proclaimer is ascribing the glory to God in his own soul. If we are puffed up about knowledge, wanting to be clever, hoping to receive a certain calculated response from our hearers, we are disqualified from preaching Jesus Christ. Our own souls must be ever and always ascribing glory to the Lamb of God, or all our speech becomes suspect and dubious.
Thus, a radical and total jealousy for Christ Himself to be glorified is at the heart of true proclamation. Philip preached Jesus; which is to say, he didn’t only speak of Him, but his proclamation was an actual conveyance of the Person and work of Christ Himself. Something of the substance of the Lord was transmitted to the hearers, and salvation ensued immediately. For Paul it was the same reality, and even the prophets of old preached Christ in this manner, though their subject matter was not as descriptive.
We need to see to the restoration of preaching Christ Himself, and not merely speaking of Him in a superficial or skin-deep manner. Down to the “marrow” of the soul, we must be infused with an active jealousy for the glory of Jesus Christ. Preaching and living from that place is preaching Christ indeed.
Have I “resolved to know nothing except Jesus the Messiah, and Him crucified,” or am I frolicking on the periphery of Christian theology and thought? He must be the center, dear saints. The world shall be in want of a true proclamation of the Gospel unless we give Him the preeminent place.
The more the Church holds to its central message- Jesus Christ Himself- the more effective it is.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Acts, Jesus, John G. Lake, Oswald Chambers, Paul, proclamation, prophets, restoration
“…. he that has seen Me has seen the Father….” -John 14.9
In the October 30th selection of My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers gives us this awesome thought:
Until we know Jesus, God is a mere abstraction, we cannot have faith in Him; but immediately we hear Jesus say- “he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,” we have something that is real, and faith is boundless. Faith is the whole man rightly related to God by the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
The darkness that marks ‘god-seeking’ cultures is profounder and more tragic than we know. Even in modern evangelicalism, there is enough of a measure of humanistic thought that in most cases believers remain unbroken over the condition of mankind. If one were to survey the nation of India, for instance, and the number of gods or goddesses men pursue there, it would become clear that the whole of the nation is pursuing “God” as a mere abstraction.
Men will spend weeks standing on one leg, days and sometimes months in fasting, whole nights in meditation and reading of ancient texts, or cut and pierce their bodies in numerous ways, just for the positive sense it gives them in knowing that their souls are bent in a spiritual direction. From one village to the next, their deities change name and form, and most of the time there are multiple gods to worship in each household. There is no spiritual stability, no answer to the problem of sin, no consciousness of God’s holiness and love, but instead the bewildering pursuit of the divine in mere abstractions. Paul did not see these kinds of religious pursuits as valid in any way, stating that they were literally worshiping “demons” whether they knew it or not. (1 Cor. 10.20)
We cannot have faith in God until we have seen His Son for who He is, and believed in Him unto salvation. The nations are groping in darkness, incapable of finding anything but false and fading lights, and not until the Church has penetrated their darkness with the light of truth in Christ will they have any hope at all. The darkness is not bound to idolatry in India, but is the plight of mankind in every culture and in every form of life where Christ has not become the center. Across the board men are seeking their gods in abstraction, be they wooden statues or cars, homes and big screen T.V.’s, and only those who have come into communion with the One true God through the Gospel have the unfading hope of true Light. Only we have stability and certitude about eternity, for it has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and it is founded upon the revelation that God has given in the Scriptures. Do we dare keep this great light to ourselves?
They must know of His great love. They must know of His power to break the stranglehold of sin and shame. They must know that He has come in the flesh, died, raised, and ascended, and that He’s coming again. They are groping about after “mere abstractions,” when the revelation of God the Father has already been given. They must hear of the Man, Christ Jesus!
How can we live so indifferently, so numbly, so stingily. Have we failed to realize that unless the nations see God through the revelation of the Gospel they will only pursue Him through abstractions, and will fall totally short of the glory of grace altogether? Do we really believe that unless they come into the Gospel they will perish, forever?
We need to be freed from humanistic mixtures and hollow hopes for their progressive improvement, and brought onto the grounds of apostolic certitude. Paul shed blood and tears, took stones in the face and lashes on the back, for the singular purpose of setting forth the Man Christ Jesus to those who were seeking God in mere abstractions. We need the same sight, the same courage, the same burden, the same faith, and the same missionary spirit, or else they perish forever. It’s time to wake up, saints. It’s not a dream. It’s not an option. Woe unto us if we preach not the Gospel.
“If sinners be damned at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. Let them go with our arms around their knees. Let no one go there unwarned or unprayed for.” -Charles Spurgeon
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: Charles Spurgeon, Church, demons, holiness, Holy Spirit, India, Jesus Christ, Oswald Chambers, Paul
Editor’s Note: Cross-posted as this week’s Ask Dr. Brown question.
Holiness is beautiful; legalism is binding; holiness brings life; legalism brings death. They are as different as night and day, and yet at first glance, they can seem similar, because they both stand against sinful behavior and call for holy living. How can we distinguish between the two? Let me first present some thoughts on holiness before defining legalism and its dangers.
According to Samuel Logan Brengle, holiness is “pure love.” According to Samuel Lucas, “The essence of true holiness consists in conformity to the nature and will of God.” Stated another way, holiness is becoming like Jesus in thought, word, and deed, in heart, mind, and conduct. Holiness is something beautiful and wonderful!
God is holy, and so His very being reflects the perfection of righteousness and goodness and purity and wholesomeness and compassion and mercy and justice. As expressed by Ralph Finlayson, “The sum of all God’s attributes, the outshining of all that God is, is holiness” – and we are called to emulate that holiness. As is it written in 1 Pet 1:15 (quoting Lev 19:2), “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”
To be holy is to be separated from sin and to be separated to God, which means to be separated from that which is bad and destructive and evil and unclean and polluting and to be separated to that which is like the Lord. Sin is spiritual poison; holiness is spiritual health. As William Jenkyn explained, “There is nothing destroyed by sanctification but that which would destroy us.” In short, everything holy is good; nothing unholy is good. Everything unholy is bad; nothing holy is bad.
And yet there’s more: Holiness is our goal, our destiny, our portion. It expresses the very essence of the nature and character of God and describes the highest level of spirituality attainable by man. Listen to the testimony of the Word:
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph 1:4). “Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah loved the congregation [or, church] and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant congregation [or, church], without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph 5:25-27).
That’s why Joseph Caryl could say, “Perfect holiness is the aim of the saints on earth, and it is the reward of the saints in heaven.” Or, as expressed by John Whitlock, “. . . the Christian’s . . . way is holiness, his end happiness.” Oswald Chambers understood this too, stating that “God has one destined end for mankind – holiness! His one aim is the production of saints. God is not an eternal blessing-machine for men. He did not come to save men out of pity. He came to save men because He had created them to be holy.”
William Gurnall was therefore entirely right when he wrote, “Say not that thou hast royal blood in thy veins, and art born of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by daring to be holy.” (You might want to stop for a moment and read that again. What a godly challenge!)
Why then do many believers resist holiness? One major reason is that many of them have been hurt by legalism, and so they immediately associate holiness with legalism.
What then is legalism? Legalism is rules without relationship, emphasizing standards more than the Savior and laws more than love. It is a system based on fear and characterized by joyless judgmentalism, producing futility instead of freedom.
To an unsaved person the legalist preaches justification by works, saying, “You’re a wicked sinner and you need to get rid of all your filthy habits if you want the Lord to accept you.” There is no grace in this message, no exalting of the life-changing, sin-cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, no clear proclamation of mercy.
The declaration of God’s love expressed through the cross is muffled – if it is even heard at all. Consequently, the proof of the new birth is seen almost entirely in what someone no longer does, and this continues to be the pattern for believers within the church: They are judged almost entirely by a few external standards (which, in many cases, are not even expressly mentioned in the Word) and they are monitored by conformity to the particular group’s code of conduct. And the result is external conformity rather than inward transformation – and that means either self-righteousness of self-condemnation (or both!).
Of course, it is absolutely true that God has very high standards, and for anyone honestly reading the Word, there can be no doubt that He calls us to live by very high standards – in our thoughts, words, and deeds; in our attitudes; in our sexuality; in our families; in our relationships; and much, much more. Passages like this are common in the New Testament:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph 5:1-6).
Tragically, legalists, despite their best intentions, get things tragically wrong. First, they try to change a person from the outside in (whereas God deals with us from the inside out); second, they fail to present a balanced picture of the Lord, putting too little stress on His mercy and too much emphasis on His wrath; third, they do not point the struggling sinner (or believer) to the Lord’s supernatural empowerment, making holiness a matter of human effort alone; and fourth, they add laws, standards, commandments, customs, and traditions that are not found in the Word, making those things even more important than the biblical commandments themselves.
In contrast, true, scriptural holiness begins with the heart and flows from an encounter with God and His Word. It calls for repentance in response to the Lord’s gracious offer of salvation and it offers a way to be holy – the blood of Jesus and the Spirit of God. Biblical holiness is free, although it requires discipline and perseverance. For the legalist, nothing is free. Everything must be earned! That’s why legalism leads to bondage and holiness leads to liberty.
As Ralph Cudworth explained many years ago, “I do not mean by holiness the mere performance of outward duties of religion, coldly acted over, as a task; not our habitual prayings, hearings, fastings, multiplied one upon another (though these be all good, as subservient to a higher end); but I mean an inward soul and principle of divine life (Romans 8:1-5), that spiriteth all these.”
It is that inward spiritual principle that must be cultivated, the principle of intimacy with Jesus, the principle of being renewed in our minds by His Word and Spirit, the principle of being conformed to His image and character, hating what He hates and loving what He loves. As Dr. Kent Hughes expressed in his book Disciplines of a Godly Man, “There is a universe of difference between the motivations behind legalism and discipline. Legalism says, ‘I will do this thing to gain merit with God,’ while discipline says, “I will do this because I love God and want to please him.’ Legalism is man-centered; discipline is God-centered.”
To quote Oswald Chambers again, “A bird flies persistently and easily because the air is its domain and its world. A legal Christian is one who is trying to live in a rarer world than is natural to him. Our Lord said, ‘If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed,’ i.e., free from the inside, born from above, lifted into another world where there is no strenuous effort to live in a world not natural to us, but where we can soar continually higher and higher because we are in the natural domain of spiritual life.”
Unfortunately, the moment you preach biblical holiness, many Christians put their hands over their ears and say, “That’s legalism! That’s condemnation! That’s manmade religion! That’s the dead letter of the law! You won’t put me in bondage! I won’t listen to stuff like that!” As Robert Brimstead observed, “The idea of living strictly by what the Bible says has been branded as legalism.”
And so, these Christians run from the dangerous clutches of legalism and fall into the deadly grasp of license, that self-deceived state of fleshly liberty, catering to their carnality rather than crucifying it. What a terrible error!
Whatever comes naturally to these “liberated” believers is accepted as normal (and “understood,” of course, by the Lord), while biblical commandments are brought down to the level of their own experience, and anything that brings any kind of spiritual pressure to bear on them is rejected as not being the easy yoke and light burden of Jesus. And when the Holy Spirit brings conviction on people like this, they rebuke the devil for trying to condemn them – ultimately at the expense of their own souls.
To quote Oswald Chambers yet again, “The only liberty a saint has is the liberty not to use his liberty. . . . Liberty means ability not to violate the law; license means personal insistence on doing what I like. . . . To be free from the law means that I am the living law of God, there is no independence of God in my make-up. License is rebellion against all law. If my heart does not become the centre of Divine love, it may become the center of diabolical license.”
What then is the antidote? Flee from legalism, stay far away from license, and run to holiness; reject humanly birthed, external religion, give no place to false teaching that excuses carnality, and instead embrace new covenant, heart transformation — and in the power of the Spirit, supernaturally enabled by God’s grace, deal ruthlessly with sin in your life. That is the path to freedom!
Sin is so utterly awful that only the blood of Jesus could pay for it (1 Pet 1:16-19). We dare not trivialize sin in our lives.
In closing, let me bathe you with the truth of God’s liberating Word. (Yes, I know that this has been a long article, but I think you’ll agree that the subject is quite important – really, the difference between life and death.) Listen to the Word of the Lord!
“Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God” (Rom 6:12-13, NLT).
“Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (Rom 13:13-14, NLT).
“Because we have these promises [of being sons and daughters of God], dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God” (2 Cor 7:1, NLT).
“For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. . . . God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thes 4:2, 7-8, NLT).
“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Ps 24:3-5, ESV).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matt 5:29-30, ESV)
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14, ESV).
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21, ESV).
What a wonderful Savior!
For more information on holiness and legalism, see Dr. Brown’s mp3 series Go and Sin No More, available at the AskDrBrown Online Bookstore by clicking here.
Go and Sin No More
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: change, discipline, holiness, judgmentalism, legalism, liberty, New Testament, Oswald Chambers, purity, Ralph Cudworth, Samuel Lucas, sanctification, sin
The prophets of Israel were remarkable men who had been seized by the hand of the Lord and brought into a cosmic view of time and eternity, righteousness and rebellion, mercy and judgment, Kings and nations, and the stunning responsibility of speaking on behalf of the One on the Throne.
In 1962, Abraham Heschel’s classic two-volume set “The Prophets” hit the printing presses. It was a work which started out as his Ph.D. thesis in German, and eventually grew into book form, becoming a widely heralded masterpiece on the subject of prophetism. One of the questions he asked in the first volume is looming large in my spirit at this writing, and in an age where there are many boasts and testimonies of prophetic activity in the Church of the West, I think it behooves us to consider it.
Heschel’s question, inspired by long and laborious perusals of the oracles of the Hebrew Bible, was this:
“What manner of man is the prophet?”
Many have asked this question in recent decades, and some have sought to give answers. Indeed, movements and ministries have been raised up with men bearing the title of “prophet.” You can find movements which place the bulk of their emphasis on supernatural activity, in terms of visions, dreams, interpretations and personal words of prophecy. You can find others who say that a prophet is basically one who preaches a message of repentance. Both views have valuable aspects, and should not be thrown out as a whole. There are many variations of these two emphases, and the opinions are often shared with great feeling and concern.
While Eph. 2.20 refers primarily to the apostles and prophets of the Scriptures, it’s clear that without these kinds of foundational servants the Church is going to be severely hindered from coming into the fullness of God. It is most likely to go through unfortunate cycles of backsliding, leaning on the arm of the flesh, and functioning in a mode of life that is far removed from the reality that the Lord has intended and desired. Unless we see the formation and emergence of the kinds of servants that Paul saw as crucial for the Church’s maturity, we run the risk of celebrating all kinds of external ministry successes that will crumble in the day of trial, having been built on faulty foundations.
It is vital, therefore, that we revive the question, “What manner of man is the prophet?”
I am suspicious of the great chasm that has been fixed between the role of the OT prophet and the role of the NT prophet. The idea that a NT prophet has an entirely different ministry, one of edification and encouragement only, is a distortion of the overarching testimony of the Scriptures. This distortion has much to do with the lack of a distinction between the Spiritual gift of prophecy, which may be given to any believer in the Body, and the foundational ministry of the prophet, which is reserved for the Lord’s choosing and can only be placed upon a mature servant of the Lord. The first is accessible to any believer, whether he is a new convert or a seasoned elder. The latter is a holy appointment, a sacred office, and it is reserved for the one whom the Lord has anointed, consecrated, and commissioned for this particular ministry. The blurring of these lines has caused great damage, men have often been prematurely or falsely appointed, and the standard of the prophetic call has been cheapened. We need to recognize this distinction, encourage an atmosphere where the gift of prophecy can bring edification to the Body, while maintaining a jealousy for the raising up of foundational prophetic servants.
It is my contention that we have done with the prophet what we have done with the Lord Himself. We have interpreted the prophet’s role and nature based on our experience, or based on what best meets our present satisfaction. The idea that we have fashioned our own ideas of prophetic ministry is evidenced by the fact that so many believers who are boasting of prophetic activity are virtually non-literate, uninterested and unfamiliar with the words of the Prophets of Scripture.
Many have seen Israel’s prophets as the old order of prophetic ministry, but some elements of the “new order” that have been presented seem to me to run contrary to the Spirit and stature of everything prophetic in both testaments. We have so little written in the NT of prophetic ministry that it is difficult to be as specific as many have sought to be in recent times. Even so, the overall view of the Spirit and nature of prophetic work has not changed in the NT, as I see it. The prophet’s ministry is one of recovery and restoration, calling his hearers away from self-absorption, deception and apostasy, and back to God Himself, back to righteous living, back to love and humility, back to reality.
Little is said of Agabus and Silas in terms of prophetic function, but we see the greatest Prophet, Jesus Himself, in remarkable breadth in the Gospels. We see John the prophet’s experience, and the message he is called to convey over the course of 22 chapters in Revelation. These are New Covenant prophets in the highest sense, and the thrust of their ministry and message is the same as that of the OT prophets. The revelation of God and the message of His Kingdom has only deepened and become more pronounced. Their message is not contrary to that of the OT prophets, it is the fulfillment and fuller proclamation of the same vision and view. Why should it be otherwise? Jesus is the Eternal One who has never changed, and John was encountering the same God that the OT prophets encountered! NT prophetic ministry flows in a continuum with the OT prophets, but it presents more clearly and more fully the heart and Kingdom of God.
I am therefore dubious about an idea or expression of prophetic ministry that runs against the grain of the revelation of God already given in the Scriptures. If we have thousands of believers acquainted with prophetic ministry who consider the words of Israel’s prophets to be somehow “old-hat” or irrelevant to us, then what are we tending towards? If Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, then could it be that the idea of NT prophets replacing OT prophetical stature and function is erroneous and even a gateway to eventual deception? If our idea of any ministry removes or lessens the sense of God that the early prophets and apostles conveyed, should we not raise a cry?
The prophets of Israel had a cosmic view, which means that they had been lifted above the wisdom and counsel of their contemporaries and brought into a revelation of the government and Kingdom of God. They saw beyond the tangible, past the immediate, and through the veneer that most of their friends and neighbors were content to hide behind. They could no longer “go with the flow” of material pursuits, religious pomp, or any other idea of life which robbed them of the presence and heart of the Holy One of Israel. This marked them out as different.
They were distinguished from the religious functionaries of their day because they communicated a word and vision of God as He is, and not as men had fancied Him to be.
The great issue of history is that men have not been willing to receive God as He has revealed Himself. They have been offended at Him, unwilling to surrender their lives to His leadership. They have loved pride when He delights in humility. They have loved hate when He delights in compassion. They have loved sin when He delights in righteousness. They have loved unequal weights and measures when He desires truth in the inmost parts.
The world and its systems are perpetuated and carried along by a pursuit of freedom, pleasure, and self-gratification which is devoid of God’s leadership and government. It is the antithesis of the Lord’s intention for creation. The world is content to live in a pipe-dream. It is happy with the fantasy. “Ignorance is bliss,” they say. The prophet comes to yank the wool from our eyes. He reminds us of the holiness and character of God, calling us back to reality and truth, dashing our self-centric dreams to holy desert grounds, where we are compelled by fear and awe to remove our sandals. We see with wide eyes and dropped jaws that our opinions and rights are the expression of the most despicable kind of presumption. Our feet are bared, and we fall prostrate. We can not proceed to walk in the same way any longer. From that illuminated threshold, we begin to see Him as He is- holy, eternal, and abounding in lovingkindness.
Here are some of Heschel’s thoughts on the manner of the prophet:
“While others are intoxicated with the here and now, the prophet has a vision of an end. The prophet is human, yet he employs notes one octave too high for our ears. He experiences moments that defy our understanding. He is …an assaulter of the mind. Often his words begin to burn where conscience ends. The prophet is an iconoclast, challenging the apparently holy, revered, and awesome. Beliefs cherished as certainties, institutions endowed with supreme sanctity, he exposes as scandalous pretensions.
The prophets must have been shattered by some cataclysmic experience in order to be able to shatter others. The words of the prophet are stern, sour, stinging. But behind his austerity is love and compassion for mankind.
Others may suffer from the terror of cosmic aloneness, the prophet is overwhelmed by the grandeur of the divine presence. He is incapable of isolating the world. There is an interaction between man and God which to disregard is an act of insolence. Isolation is a fairy tale.
…The prophet’s word is a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven.
…the purpose of prophecy is to conquer callousness, to change the inner man as well as to revolutionize history.
It is embarrassing to be a prophet. There are so many pretenders, predicting peace and prosperity, offering cheerful words, adding strength to self-reliance, while the prophet predicts disaster, pestilence, agony, and destruction.” (The Prophets Vol. I, A. Heschel; Harper Colophon Books, 1962)
The prophet of God is a broken man; one who has been devastated at the plight of the nations. He has a “fierce loyalty” to the Lord, and his heart is shattered from the realization that the God of holiness and beauty is being neglected while men and their petty systems are being exalted and celebrated. When the Name of God is denigrated, disrespected, or misappropriated, the prophet’s heart burns with a jealousy for the restoration of true worship.
The prophet has a cosmic view, a heavenly vision, for He has encountered the God who transcends our prepackaged categories and preferences. He has come to know the Lord as He is, and His heart cannot be satisfied until the ones to whom he has been called have come into that intimate knowledge themselves. This is why the prophet is foundational.
The prophet is the bearer of the thoughts and words of God Himself. He is an earthen vessel, radically connected to the society that surrounds him, yet conveying and communicating a wisdom and reality that the common man and the frivolous religionist have not been willing to see and hear. He is among the people, identifying with them in mercy. He is not an aloof, self-righteous pietist. He is an awakener, using words and tears to remind us how God really feels and thinks. He lives in the world of God. He has been converted from carnality, broken from his arrogance, severed from self-sufficiency. He introduces us to God’s world, the heavenly Kingdom, and quite literally, everything depends upon whether we casually receive his word, reject it, or take it into the deepest parts of our hearts and lives.
The prophet is not a self-consciously dramatic character, doing what he thinks prophets do in attempts at filling a role or office. A prophet is a God-fashioned, God-intoxicated, God-inspired man with a cosmic view of time and eternity. He sees beyond the mundaneness of everyday affairs, the buzz of modern politicking, the pull of fashion and entertainment, and any man-centered attempts at ministry. He is not inflated by flattery, and he has learned to rejoice when opposed. He realizes that he is bearing a Kingdom view which is of utmost value to his hearers. Indeed, life and death hang on the words that he proclaims.
He is not a showman, boasting of a title or inwardly aching for religious fame. Nor is he a grouchy man, putting on some kind of an archaic garb, spiritual aura and hoping to remind us of Moses. He does not have to try at being “prophetic.” There is nothing self-conscious about a foundational servant of the Lord. They are not speaking on behalf of their opinions or the lifting up of their reputations. They have been stricken with a vision of the majestic One, and they speak out of that reality.
I wonder why we have heard so much about prophets, why people will flock by the thousands to conferences and events in hopes of receiving a “personal prophetic word,” when so few have been willing to crack open the Scriptures to hear from the men whom the Lord Jesus valued as prophets. I’m not discounting the genuine works of the Spirit that we see in many circles. I’m asking some serious questions here. Could it be that we have in many ways made our own God, and have not been willing to receive Him as He is? If we are willing to chase men who call themselves prophets, and who have the latest insights and revelations which bring us a positive lift without dealing with the issue of sin, then who are we really hearing from? What manner of man is the prophet, and what manner of a God is he presenting and proclaiming?
I will likely be accused of discouraging the prophetic gifts by asking questions like this, but that is not my intention. We need to “eagerly desire” the gifts, and I have pursued the Lord for their increase in the church for over a decade. But I believe these questions are crucial for our future witness and testimony. If what we have known as prophetic has not brought us into the same consciousness, the same trembling, the same holiness, the same consecration, the same cosmic view that the prophets of Israel and the apostles of the New Testament came into, what can we say of its veracity? Is it the same prophetic reality?
Perhaps a measure of blessing comes as a result of many of these meetings and expressions. I am certain that the Lord is working in many ways through various expressions in the Body, and that healing and blessing have come to many in every setting where Jesus is being lifted up. Perhaps a facet of the Lord’s heart is received, and I don’t want to discount or disregard that. But where is the sense of the fear of the Lord? How can the Church go on with hundreds of pastors stepping down from ministry a month due to sexual sin? How can we blend in so successfully with a world that is moving at breakneck speed toward eternal judgment?
I am convinced that the stature and call of a prophet has not changed with the New Covenant, it has only deepened. Christ has become the center and fulfillment. The Gift of Prophecy has become available to all saints, and the Spirit which rested on the prophets of old has been poured out copiously because of the work of Christ.
Moses’ cry that all God’s people were prophets has become a brighter possibility, but we will not come into that prophetic reality if we are unwilling to receive Him as King, Father, and Judge. We will not come into that prophetic reality as long as we are chasing after faddish teachings or personality-exalting, success ministries. If the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then the Church has a responsibility to be sure that the God we are worshiping and proclaiming is the same as the God that the prophets and apostles of the Scriptures heralded. The cosmic view of the prophets revolved around God Himself, and if He is not being proclaimed as He has revealed Himself, we are in grave danger of falling into a pit with the other blind guides of our generation.
Could it be that with all of our teachings on the prophetic, all of our conferences on the prophetic, all of our insights of prophetic ministry, that most of us have yet to come into the kind of union with the Lord that produced the men who became foundational for our faith? I am thankful for every genuine furtherance of the work of the Spirit in recent years, but my heart is crying out for the fullness of Christ. I know there is a greater love, a greater sense of the fear of the Lord, a higher place of abandonment to His heart. O, for a greater vision of God Himself! The world is perishing for want of true servants who have come out from the holy place, proclaiming the truth of God with incandescent hearts!
“I would choose to see the brightness of the heavenly things, although their lightning-glory leave me blind henceforth to any earthly glow; and I would hear but once the voice of God Almighty sweep in thunder from His Throne, although from hence mine ear be deaf to the sweet trembling chime of this world’s music. I had rather stand a prophet of my God, with all the thrills of trembling, which must shake the heart of one who in earth’s garments, in the vesture frail of flesh and blood, is called to minister as seraphs do with fire- than bear the palm of any other triumph.” -Unknown author, quoted by Oswald Chambers
The Lord is jealous to mold and fashion a prophetic people, walking in the joy of the Lord and the brightness of His holiness. We need to be staggered and awakened from our fairy-tale paradigms, and brought into the revelation of God, and His coming Kingdom. Prophets will bring this necessary jolt.
The prophets of old foresaw a coming King, a Judgment approaching, and a glory covering the earth as a result. They wept in compassion over their own people, who could usually be found straying from the primacy of worship and the hope of His calling. They cried out in warning, with a merciful identification and an intercessory burden. They were glowing witnesses during days of unrighteousness. What will we be in our generation, friends?
If the Lord is jealous to raise up a prophetic Church that loves with His love, is holy as He is holy, and extends His Kingdom to Israel and the nations, how can we give ourselves to any other pursuit, whether secular or religious?
God Himself is coming, saints, and we are not prepared for His coming. Israel is not yet ready. The nations are drastically ill-prepared. When He comes, He will come as Judge and Saviour. There will be terrible judgment and devastation, nations rising up against nations as never before. To the degree that the Lord has a Church of this quality in the earth, to that degree will salvation, revival, and mercy break forth in the midst of the upheaval.
We have a prophetic call to weep and pray, to give ourselves to time in worship and in the Scriptures. We have a call to purify our hands and cleanse our hearts from the sin and pride of this age. We have a responsibility to speak the truth to one another in love. We have a mandate to proclaim His Gospel in every dark place.
What kind of view are you walking in? Does your vision for life consist of a hollow 60 to 70 years of pursuing your own pleasures and wants? Is your vision for ministry a mere hope for success in the worldy sense, accolades from family, friends and colleagues? Or have you been stricken with the majesty of God and brought into the heavenly vision?
We need something more than a Christian T-Shirt and a tract, friends. We need something more than an impeccable model for Church structure. We need something more than impressive buildings and state-of- the-art equipment. We need a cosmic view. We need to see what the prophets of old saw. They saw the beauty and holiness of God. They had glimpses of His coming Kingdom, and they came into the realization that the earth was tottering under the weight of sin, pride and rebellion. Out of the revelation of God, intertwined with glimpses of His coming, they cried out for mercy. If we are not crying out as they did, it’s because we are not seeing as they saw.
JUDGMENT IS NOT THE FINAL WORD
As we come into prophetic reality, we will see mercy and salvation released in our day. And at the end of this age, we will see the ultimate release of righteousness and mercy when “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.” (2. Thess. 1.7-8)
The cosmic view of the prophets did not end in the Judgment. They were possessed by a Divine hope. Judgment, trouble, and turbulence do mark the end of the age, but tribulation is not the final word. The prophetical visions in Scripture end in great glory, the permanent destruction of death, the removal of all sin and sickness, and the indestructible reality of a New Heaven and New Earth inhabited by God Himself!
The prophets panted for this day, the apostles yearned for His return, and they all labored for an expression of that future Kingdom in their present experiences. What a view to abide in. What a hope! What a worship-inducing vision. The hour is later than we know, and the King of Glory is coming. Are you content to spend your days devoid of this cosmic view? Are you treating life with a holy sobriety? Do you have a cry for the fullness of Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom in the nations, or are you content with something less?
“The Bible stirs up an intense and unquenchable hope that an age of time coming on this earth, inconceivably wonderful, when all that we have ever dreamed will fade into silly fancies beside the reality.” -Oswald Chambers
O God, restore the reality of the prophetic vision. We want to more actively join the company of these foundational servants. Let our lives burn with the same passion, brim with the same hope, tremble with the same awe, and love with the same heart. Bring about the recovery of prophetic reality, and let your Name be glorified in Jerusalem, and in the cities of the earth.
Posted in The Kingdom of God Tagged with: God, Heschel, holiness, Oswald Chambers, prophecy, prophets