Missing The Point About Missing The Mark!

Yes, the church in particular and the Christian world in general have missed the point about missing the mark! There is no question about it. The tragic irony is that we do not even know that we have missed the point about missing the mark, while all the time we talk about ‘missing the mark’!

Anyone who is familiar with the teaching of the Bible knows, that the word for SIN both in the Old and the New Testaments is translated as failing to ‘hit a target’ or ‘reach a standard’, or ‘missing the mark’.

But the question is, what is the mark we have missed? And what is the point we are missing about ‘missing the mark’?

We have missed the mark of the objective or the purpose of God in creating us as humans in his own image. The purpose of God for us is made clear in the summary of the ten commandments as the greatest of the commandments – to love God with all the powers of our being. To love God, to seek him and to live for him and no one else and nothing else. This is the only thing lawful. Everything else is unlawful. This is the only thing moral. Every other pursuit which does not spring from the pursuit of God and from a life of fellowship with him is illegal, immoral and totally evil. And neither such people nor such lives have any place in the Kingdom of God.

J. I. Packer explains, “Sin is going contrary to God, retreating from God, turning one’s back on God, ignoring God… What, in positive terms, is the essence of sin?… Living not for Him, but for yourself; loving and serving and pleasing yourself without reference to the Creator; trying to be as far as possible independent of him, taking yourself out of his hands, holding him at arms length, keeping the reins of your life in your own hands; acting as if you and your pleasure, were the end to which all things else, God included, must be made to function as a means – that is the attitude in which sin essentially consists.”

He further writes, “Paul tells us that sin began when men who ‘knew God… did not honour him as God, or give thanks to him’(Rom 1:21), and he gives us the most exact analysis of the spirit of sin that the Bible contains when he declares that ‘the mind of the flesh (the mind and heart of unregenerate sinner) is enmity against God’ (Rom 8: 7), disaffection to his rule, resentment of his claims, and hostility to his word, all expressed in a fixed and unalterable determination to pursue one’s own independence in defiance of the Creator.” (God’s Word’s, J. I. Packer, 1981)

Everything man has done since his fall into sin is with this disaffection with God and his word, thus disassociating with him and the life through him. We know that right there in the book of Genesis, apart from a few who lived by faith and in fellowship with God, humans went on a totally different course outside of a relationship with God. And in his attempt to make a living for himself, man had embarked upon a course of total independence of God. Man’s God-defying, his identity and security-seeking attitude outside of a relationship with God is epitomised in the words of the Babelites, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

Of course in carving out a life independent of God, man has gone on to create and develop several systems and structures in every area of life. He has developed ‘quite fine and sophisticated’ religious, philosophical, political, economic, judicial, military, and socio-cultural systems and structures. He has built so-called centres of ‘higher learning’ of schools and universities for the sake of imbibing this knowledge which is independent of the Creator.

As the Preacher in OT cryptically states, “…God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” Therefore he says, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Eccl 7:29; 1;2) Everything is vain because they not only lack anything of eternal or spiritual value but they are all under God’s judgement. Neither baptising nor christening them nor any amount of prayer is going to make them acceptable to God. The Bible simply and categorically declares that the world and everything in it is passing away. For everything man has made independent of the Creator is under God’s condemnation.

The words of our Lord Jesus in John 10:10 are very eloquent too, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Jesus was not only implying that there was no life in the world unless he gave it but there is a radical indictment of all other options and solutions offered by the world that they not only rob but kill and destroy! Jesus also pits himself against all other options and solutions on offer.

The very fact that Jesus chose to be born in a cattle shed in a small shanty town outside of Jerusalem, and the kind of life he chose to live tells us about the value he placed on what man has made of the world and its systems and structures. He was born and lived totally out of the world’s systems and the models it offers. If this is not understood then we do not understand anything about Christ and the gospel of the kingdom he preached.

The point missed

The point that is being missed both by the church and the Christian world is that everything that man has made for himself in his brief history on earth is apart from God and in defiance of God and out side of fellowship with God. Therefore everything he has done during his existence on earth howsoever grand, howsoever sophisticated, howsoever beneficial from human perspective, is under the condemnation of God. It is, as Paul writes, under God’s wrath (Rom 1:18) and therefore ‘evil’(Eph 5:16). This is the reason why Bible neither recognises nor acknowledges the wisdom nor the achievements of man in the world, howsoever grand or beneficial to life on earth. These have no eternal nor spiritual value.

Apostle John and Paul are very categorical, “And the world is passing away along with its desires…” and “For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Jn 2:17, 1 Cor 7:30).

In the last 2000 years, the church in general and Christians in particular, have lost this understanding regarding the world and its systems and structures. Therefore they have not only cozied up to its ways of life but cavorted and have begun to cohabit with the world. Practically every aspect of our lives both as Christians and the church today is imbued with the world and its ways.

We have tacitly adopted world’s thinking and world’s systems and models – from the way we think about and do worship to our missions and evangelism including the way we teach the Bible both in our churches and seminaries. Our very understanding of church is discoloured with world’s thinking. The organisational models and the lifestyles we have adopted as individuals are all of the world. They are neither of Christ nor of his Apostles in the New Testament.

We have not only pursued but promoted and prospered and have taken pleasure and pride in what the people of the world have carved out for themselves in defiance and independence of God; that which is under God’s judgement and therefore under his wrath. In general many Christians have been in thrall of the knowledge, power and positions that the world offers. We seem to be enchanted by the things that Christ resisted and rejected when tempted. Why is it we are so much enthralled by one’s progress and growth in the world and are least focused on one’s spiritual development and growth? Even our understanding of spiritual growth is understood more in terms of acquiring of social and communication skills and participation in ministry related activities. We seem to have forgotten that spiritual growth is about a life of spiritual intimacy with God such that he or she lives in and by the spirit while living in the body and the world (Rom 8:4-9)

Our very understanding of the ‘will of God’ is so self-centred and world-focused that we do not even think of the will of God as his purpose in creating humankind! And that it is to this purpose Jesus was referring to in Matthew 12:50 and John in 1 John 2:17.

We spend enormous amounts of our time and resources to gaining that which is under God’s wrath – its knowledge systems, its life models and its economic and governing systems. We even encourage our children to pursue the same with panache.

This is totally unacceptable and alien to God and his kingdom. It is not just detestable but abhorring to him. Churches and Christians cannot have anything to do with the world and its ways. It is oxymoronic to call oneself a Christian and to pursue and cherish what the God-defying world has to offer, howsoever grand and useful it might appear to be.

Flee from the wrath to come!

In the Old Testament, the Lord said to his people, Israel not to follow any of the systems and methods of the people around them. They were to be different from the nations among whom they lived. They were to be different as he was different. Right from the building of the ark by Noah to the building of the temple and in all aspects of the people of Israel as a nation they were to follow his statutes and instructions as commanded in his law. They were not to follow the ways of the peoples around them. The church was called out and constituted precisely in the same way. They were called out of the world to be ‘imitators of God’ and not to follow the world and its ways.

Since when have the knowledge and wisdom of the world become acceptable and necessary for the building of the Kingdom of God? When has God said that it was alright to use the power structures and systems of the world to promote his kingdom? Since when has gaining philosophical acumen, political and economic clout become necessary for spreading of the gospel? Who said that gaining positions of power and knowledge in the world were essential to be his witnesses and that these were blessings to be sought after and cherished?

The grotesque irony is that we not only pray for and seek but even conduct thanksgiving services for ‘gaining the world’ which is under God’s wrath, not realising that we might perish with it!! We pray for, seek and gloat over that which Apostle Paul called as ‘dung’. How can any one pursue and gain that which is under God’s judgement and claim that it was a blessing received from God! How can any one claim that they prayed and sought God’s will in seeking the world and what it has to offer! Isn’t it like King Saul claiming that it was God’s will for him to spare the goats and the sheep in order to worship God?! Isn’t it like Achan having a thanksgiving meeting for the things he stole from Jericho?! Oh, the horror of it!

Is it any wonder then that when Christ called people into his kingdom, the conditions he laid were so stringent – deny yourself, leave everything of self, world, and sin in order to be his disciples? And the first requirement was REPENTANCE – to ‘turn one’s back’ upon every thing of sin, self and the world in order to be born of life from above and thus be part of his kingdom. And is it any wonder that when he returns he will say to many even to those who claim that they have done a lot in his name, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matt 7: 23)? This is because all that they did was not with the life that comes from God but with the knowledge and power that springs from self and the world. If you claim to be a child of God and yet if your life and work is by and for the flesh and the world, then your claim to new birth is suspect, my friend!

Everything that man does whether as ministry or in any other area of life if not done with the knowledge and power that springs from a fellowship with God has no eternal value and does not pass muster before God at the final reckoning. How tragic would it be for anyone who relied upon the knowledge, money and strength gained in the world in order to live the life of a Christian or to ‘do ministry’ and have presumed that he or she was serving God!

Our engagement with the world ought to be as little as possible, to the extent necessary as Paul says, “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Cor 7: 29 – 31)

Our calling to be God’s own people is to ‘go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come’(Heb 13: 13, 14). We are to live as strangers and pilgrims in this world and not to pursue, participate, promote nor take pride in its wealth nor in its glory.

The writer to the Hebrews comments about the life of those who live by faith, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”(Heb 11: 13-16). It is extremely alarming that for the last century or so, Christians both individually and corporately have all but forgotten this teaching. They are recklessly heading like Achan of old, into the abyss of worldly gain and glory not knowing that Achan’s fate could be their lot too!

Or as the Preacher says, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed in to judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Eccl 12: 13,14)

The teaching is simple and straightforward. As God said to Joshua in the context of Achan, “…they have taken some of the devoted things (things on which there was God’s judgement and which were devoted to be destroyed); … Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you…”(Josh 7: 11,12. Italics are mine)

The world and everything in it – with all its systems of religions, philosophies, education, economics, politics, along with all the knowledge, power and positions it can offer with all its development and life models including its philanthropic and humanitarian efforts are under God’s judgement and God’s wrath. Anyone who pursues, promotes, takes pleasure and pride in it will merit the same judgement and wrath of God which is upon the world. And until Christians repudiate and reject all that is of the world they will not only be enslaved to it but would falter and fumble from one defeat to another and will be disowned by God and face the same fate that awaits the world and its systems.

Woe, unto anyone who teaches and preaches anything other than this! Woe unto anyone who has promoted such self-affirming and world-pursuing lifestyles and passed it off as the teaching of our Lord and Savour Jesus Christ! How dare they call themselves as preachers of the gospel! How so ever great, well known and successful a preacher, teacher or leader may have been, if he or she has not taught self-denying, world-forsaking and sin-rejecting life – they have not only miserably failed but have been ‘blind guides of the blind’! By whose measure are they considered great and successful? If their greatness and success is measured by the size of the structures, budgets and numbers they have garnered, they are probably closer to Babel than to Bethlehem! Since when has the truthfulness of the gospel of Christ come to depend upon the greatness or the successfulness of the preacher! I care not if this is an indictment of some of the so-called great leaders…they shall perish with their greatness if they have not taught and fostered lifestyles based on agape and in the footsteps of our Lord and Master!

The call then is for a clear and total separation from the world and all that it has to offer.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:16)

“Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Rev 18: 4,5)

“Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6: 17, 18)

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight… “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’… Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:4, 7-9)

The good fruit is the fruit of a life lived in and by the Spirit and not in and for and by the world or the flesh. May the Lord give unto us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in understanding this. May the Lord help us to flee from the wrath which is already upon this world and to flee from the wrath to come. Amen.

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Knowing God As Incarnate

To know God in His incarnation is to talk about knowing Him as God who came down as man and lived among us. John writes about the Word becoming flesh and adds, “…we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The question that needs to be asked is what is the glory they saw? A careful study of the New testament leads us to understand that ‘they saw His glory’ at three levels.

1. They saw the glory of God as Man. We all understand this truth and celebrate it every year during the month of December. But we have sentimentalised His birth and death so much that the essential lesson of incarnation is lost. In fact the redemptive purpose of incarnation and the subsequent evangelism and missions have taken away our focus from the broader purpose of incarnation. And of course the commercialising of it as a festival is another aspect of it that saps it of its true significance. This is to our own loss.

J.I. Packer writes, “God became a man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed, and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think of it the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation”

But what is the truth of the incarnation? And what are its implications for us apart from redemption through the atoning death of Christ upon the cross? What is the glory of God as revealed in His incarnation?

They saw the glory of God as man, The divine as human. The Infinite God as finite man. The Great one as simple. God who is Spirit has now come in a body. The One who is immortal has now come into that which is mortal. The rich One has come as poor. The invincible One made himself vulnerable. The One who is Almighty has made himself weak.

Does it not sound incredulous? Can we wrap our minds around those staggering thoughts? Truly ‘nothing in fiction is as fantastic’. Even the angels long to look into what God is up to with becoming man.

Oh, I wish I could marshal the hosts of heaven to sing,“O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, You have set Your glory above the heavens!” Or let Apostle Paul use his pen to describe in his own cryptic way, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh…”

The truth is that this is the essential message of incarnation. In a world where everyone one wants to go higher, grow bigger, get richer, become larger, incarnation teaches us that small is beautiful, to be weak is to be strong, and to be poor is to be rich. While the world chooses the upward trajectory of living, Christ in His incarnation preferred the downward trajectory. Frankly, the Bible does not promote smallness or weakness or poverty as virtues in themselves. But that the small, the weak and the poor find it easier to trust in God. And therefore they are greater, bigger, stronger and richer in the Kingdom of God.

Is it any wonder that God chooses the weak and the foolish and the last shall be first and the first last in His Kingdom?

Friends, the desire and the drive to get richer, bigger and greater is from Babel and Babylon, not from Bethlehem! This is the meaning of knowing God in his incarnation. And this is the only way we can counter modernity and the lifestyles it fosters.

You cannot adopt lifestyles whose roots are in capitalism and claim to be the child of God! The call, therefore is to be imitators of God as His children.

2. They saw the glory of man as Man, in Christ.

I do not tire to say that according to the Bible, no man ever lived as man was meant to live. Christ is the only one to ever live as man was meant to live. ‘All have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory’, says the Bible. Therefore the true glory of man can be seen in Christ alone. He was the only one who pleased God totally.

Jesus teaches us what it means to love God alone and to live by trusting and obeying Him always. He said that he can do nothing of himself, except what he sees the Father do. He affirmed that his food was to do the will of the Father. He claimed that he always pleased his Father and that the Father never left him alone. No man who ever graced this earth said such words. The Father was so pleased with Jesus that He opened the heavens and affirmed him. And Jesus lived in quietness and confidence in the shadow of the Father’s assurance and approval. He did not need any man or angel to affirm him. Nor did he seek anybody’s testimony of him. He did not seek the identities of the world nor did he do or work to find his security in anything of this world.

The scribes, Pharisees and the teachers of the law were left dumbfounded on several occasions by not only the depth of his understanding of the law, of life and righteousness but the ease with which he talked and lived suggested that it was his natural habitat. Many times both the people and the leaders marvelled at his sense of authority and confidence when he spoke and taught about God and the law. You do not find in Jesus any sense of insecurity either with regard to his physical needs or about life even when he stood before Pilate. He suffered no crisis of identity when he moved with the socially unacceptable nor when he bent down to wash the feet of his disciples. He had no throne, no crown no armies yet he ruled in life as a true king.

In the demonstration of His love, compassion and service there are few peers in the history of man. He was as involved with life as he was detached from its cares and pleasures. He was as engaged with the needs, the pains and sorrows of others as he was disengaged from their opinions and pursuits. Jesus was hardly concerned about His image or His looks. Isaiah in His prophecy probably gives us a glimpse into His physical appearance, “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.”(Isaiah 53:2).

He accepted and affirmed the human, but he was not humanistic. He accepted and affirmed the material but he was not materialistic. He accepted and affirmed the physical and the temporal yet he was not secular. He overcame the physical often with the spiritual. He did not let the physical constrain or control him.

He did not treat the people around him with condescending disdain. He did not use power language nor power demeanour to show his superiority. He did not try to dominate or control people by word or by actions. If ever there was a human who could do it, it was him. Yet he did not. We miss all this when we read the gospels because we romanticised his life and look only at the sentimental aspects of it.

At the end he gave himself to the Father for us, willingly, totally and unhesitatingly.

Friends this is how man was meant to live. This is how you and I are meant to live. This is the glory of man! Oh, I wish I had a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise! You know, actually I will, when I see Him in His glory.

In fact we do not need a thousand tongues to sing his praise nor a thousand lives but just one life to live as he lived.

If you wish to know what it means to live agape lifestyle, look at Jesus. He is the prototype of it. We can only be his imitators. Come let us follow him and live as he lived. This is the best way we honour or worship him. The call, therefore is to be imitators of God, as His dear children.

3. John was also talking about seeing the continuing glory of God in the Church, His Body.

What is the Church? If our answer is, it is the body of Christ. Then the next question we must answer is, how should the church be? The simplest answer is, the church must be as Christ was when he was in the body. Period.

But down through centuries the answer to that question has taken so many forms and shapes that today church is a grotesque deformity. When I think of it my heart is filled with extreme grief and at the same time utmost anger at what we have done to and with the church. How sad, how blind, how deaf and how foolish we are?

We are the body of Christ when we live the way Christ lived, in the human body while on earth. Instead we tend to think that church is a system or a service or a programme or a meeting or a gathering. And then we began to call ourselves with different tags, often hilarious – Anglican, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic or Brethren. Or names taken from Old testament as Hebron, Zion, Carmel or from the New Testament as Grace Church, Hope Church, Agape church and some very ingenious ones from the Bible as Burning bush church or Pillar of Fire church, so on and so forth.

When places, or programmes or people who founded it take precedence over the Person of Christ then you can be sure my friend, that the Holy Spirit of God is no where near such groups. God has not given us a programme to conduct nor an order of service to follow. Neither Christ nor Paul taught any of it. If anyone thinks that their pattern is the right one then they know nothing about the body of Christ nor the New Testament. It doesn’t matter how great a man of God the founder was or how big or large the building or the gathering went on to become, if they have not taught or teach people how to live as Christ lived then I am afraid, they have failed.

But since we began to focus on gathering therefore, we began to focus on the programme or the service that is conducted when we gather. And since we need a place to gather we began to spend millions on buildings. Then we spend millions on maintaining them. We then spend millions more on court cases to guard them. Instead, if the same drive and effort were put into living and teaching people to live as Christ lived, today we would be a ‘city set upon a hill’.

If you do not wish to accept what I say and wish to wait until you hear ‘I do not know you. Depart from me’, I cannot help it, my friend! I will only cry unto God that He will open our eyes to see.

In fact, church does meet and gathers but let it be firmly fixed in our brains that we do not represent Christ as his body by gathering or meeting. We represent him as his body by living as he lived. In this, Christ is our pattern for living. There is no other. Only then we are his body and only then we shall have the glory and the fullness of God dwell among us. Only then does the gospel become the gospel to the world. Only then we shall be his true witnesses. And only then, ‘the manifold wisdom of God will be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord’

But the irony is, none of us is worthy or able to live as Christ lived. It is he who wishes to live in us and reproduce himself in and through us by his Spirit who dwells in us. As we yield to his working in our lives to subdue all things in us to himself then we shall see God ‘able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us’ in transforming us to live as Christ lived.

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh…” God wills to manifest himself in the flesh again through us. Hence Christ says, “…a body have you prepared for me”… a body in which he reveals his glory by living in and through them! When the church, which is the body of Christ lets him live through them, then the ‘earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’

Friends, they saw his glory, the continuing glory of God in the body of Christ, the church. Have you?

The call therefore, is to be imitators of God. Come, let us follow him. Let us let him work in us with his power to subdue us, to fill us and to reproduce himself in us. And then, “… to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Knowing God As Three

The teaching about the Trinity of God is not just an article in a creed. It is a mind-blowing, life-challenging, life-transforming, liberating and life-fulfilling truth. A persistent pursuit of God with a single-minded commitment and a single-hearted devotion leads to the understanding that the God of the Bible subsists as a communion of three persons.

Knowing God as Three, is crucial to understanding about the nature of being, the world, the human life, the individual, marriage, family, society, church, missions, tolerance, organisation, governance, economics, global peace, reconciliation and a host of other issues pertinent to life and existence.

While we confess that the God of the Bible is triune, there has been a general tendency to think of him as purely ‘monotheistic’ so strongly, that we often tend to be unitarian in our thinking and behaviour. This is the greatest anomaly in the Christian understanding of the God of the Bible. The present state of affairs in the church as individuals as well as, as a community is because of this lack.

If our commitment to the Lord was complete – to know, to love and to please Him alone; and not allow our insecurities and fears to distract us or be drawn away by the attractions and the allurements of the world or be side-tracked by the models of life in the world, we would have surely and certainly understood God and His tri-unity. This was true of the people of Israel and it is turning out to be true about the church too.

Therefore a simple and a straight forward charge is that we have not loved, served, followed nor worshipped God wholly. We were overwhelmed by our own insecurities and were enchanted by the ephemeral promise of prosperity and glory in the world. Therefore today we have practically become unrecognisable as God’s own people. Rather than living as ‘a people dwelling alone’ we have become as people who are counted among the nations!’

We went after the world to seek its models of life. Today we are so deeply entrenched in these that even to talk about them as worldly seems strange. We have been following world’s thinking, its ways of life in practically everything including the practise of our faith as Christians. The organisation models we follow to ‘run our churches’, the economics we practise in our transactions within the church and with others in the world, the ministry models we follow and even the way we do our church services, are drawn from the world and not from our understanding of God nor His word. Our teachers and leaders are in the same situation as us. Even our interpretation of scripture is discoloured and dominated by thinking borrowed from the world.

Unless there is sincere repentance and an honest and persistent pursuit of God, there will be no change. As I said in my previous article, we are in serious danger of hearing His words, “I do not know you. Depart from me”.

Actually in many contexts we have not been pursuing God, we have been pursuing ourselves and our welfare. Even in our prayer and ‘godly living’, we were not seeking Him but our self and our welfare. Even when we claim to do ministry we were seeking our own interests and our own future. Long ago Apostle Paul saw this and said ‘All seek their own and none the things of Christ Jesus’. Oh, the horror of it! Alas, friends it is heart-rending – the grossness of our waywardness!

One of the major aspects of our fallenness is about losing our identity as people made in the image of God and the resulting insecurity. Since then whatever man does he does it in order to find his identity and security. So our language, our relationships, our understanding of self and others, our organisations and governing patterns and our economics, all of these heavily reek of our insecurity and identity-crisis.

Only when we come into a right understanding of the Triune God and the incarnation of the Son of God we begin to learn that in the relationships in the Godhead and in His incarnation there is no indication nor any trace of insecurity nor identity-crisis. And unless we seek Him and are touched by Him, we will not experience true healing and liberation. With all our talk of redemption, if we do not demonstrate that we are secure in our identity as God’s own people but run to the world for it or seek it in our church or ministry structures then, I wonder if our redemption is real.

I cannot go into all the aspects of the implications of knowing God as Three, here. I am sorry for having to say this, but most of you who are reading or listening to these articles have no time for a serious and sustained thinking nor to engage in a discussion of it. In fact much against my own convictions, in these articles I am pandering to the modern quirk of shorter spans of attention and busy schedules! Others who have the time and wish to read can access the lengthier ones at my blog.

1. The nature of being. First we must understand the ontology of being or the nature of being as revealed in the Godhead. Paul writes about it in Ephesians 5:1& 2, “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.”

To be imitators of God, Paul indicates, is to do what Christ has done. ‘Christ loved us and gave himself up for us’. Such ‘giving of oneself for others’ is a ‘fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’. But it is the Son of God, who is in ‘very nature God’, He is the One who has given of himself for us. In fact, first God gave away His own Son for us. Then Christ gave himself up for us. This tells us that it is the very nature of the diving being, to give of Himself to and for others! It is the basic ontology of God and by corollary the ontology of being. Apostle John simply states it as, “God is love”.

The nature of God is to give himself to the other… the Father gives to the Son and the Son gives back to the Father through the Holy Spirit. The constant giving and receiving between the Three makes them what they are – Complete, individually and together. The giving and the receiving is constant, eternal and infinite sharing of life without hesitation or holding back. This is the nature of being, of the divine being. And this is what we were created to be or live as.

Therefore, Apostle Paul’s exhortation is that if we claim to be born of God and are the children of God then we must demonstrate the nature of God – the nature of God as demonstrated by His own Son in the giving of Himself for us unto God.

It is the agape or the dynamic of love which must define and determine everything in life. It is God’s nature and He wishes to indwell us and reproduce it in us. Our lifestyles, our relationships, our communication, our organising and governing systems and our economics must be based on agape. It is about these areas I shall mention briefly below.

2. Our lifestyles. We must remember that as humans who have fallen into sin we have developed our own lifestyles since the fall. One can read about it the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Those are lifestyles born from guilt, shame, fear, insecurity and loss of identity. The climax of it is seen in the building of the tower of Babel. Such lifestyles were and are generally self-seeking, self-preserving and individualistic. The aim is to cover the guilt and shame and seek security and identity in the world rather than in the Maker. To this fallen enterprise of man the modern world has come as a great boon.

Since the beginning of industrialisation, and in the name of development the western world has given to the rest of the world a way of thinking and of living which is called ‘modernity’. It is beyond the purview of this message and my own access to resources to go into all the aspects of modernity or modernism. But modernity is a classic build-up of man to Babel proportions. In the final analysis all that it has done is to make humans self-reliant, self-confident bordering on arrogance, through education, employment and material affluence. It has made us more independent, individualistic and self-centred. Grabbing for and holding onto what we have has become part of us.

So today we have all adopted a life model which springs from modernity and not from Christ nor His apostles. To a large extent our lifestyles today are private, individualistic, self-centred and self-seeking. We derive our confidence from our family pedigree, education, professions and money rather than in Christ.

Apostle Paul captures it well in 2 Timothy 3: 1-5,7, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power… always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”

The saddest irony is that the people of God participated, possessed, took pride in, promoted, and often prayed not just for this lifestyle but the whole project of the fallen man to find his security and identity in the world and what it has to offer and not in their Creator!

Agape lifestyles are not self-promoting nor self-preserving. They are self-effacing and self-giving to the point of self-sacrificing. Hence Paul’s words to the church, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”.

3. Our relationships. The implications of believing in the Triune God is to live in relationships. To live together in relationships in such a way as to be One is the ontology of the divine being. There is no room here for private, individualistic, and self-centred lives. The dynamic by which we live in relationships is the dynamic of love not power. This means there is no exercise of power to dominate or to control in order to bring oneness. Domination and control are the lot of fallen humanity but alien to the divine being and to the people of God.

There is voluntary giving of oneself to the other because of love. Love does not seek its own. Love seeks the welfare of the other. The Son pleases the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Son and the Father. The Father gives all authority to the Son. There is no fear of being taken advantage of in the Trinity. Because there is no fear in love(1John 4: 18).

This is the way families and churches need to be constituted – with self-giving love. It is because of love we share and it is because of love we make room for others to be and do. This not by the exercise of power. So the basis for our relationships is the self-giving love which enables us to voluntarily submit to one another.

Such living is counter-cultural, antithetical to anything and everything that we know in the world. There is no greed nor insecurity nor domination and control in this way of living. But love, health, mutuality and divine fullness.

Knowing God as triune reminds us that while we are individuals, we are also corporate beings. To live as corporate beings is to live with the knowledge that we have an inherent spiritual union with other children of God, a union that lasts into eternity, and that we are responsible and accountable to one another under God, especially those with whom God has brought us into a relationship. This is what Jesus prayed for in His High Priestly prayer in John 17 and that this is crucial for the world to know Him.

Instead because of our insecurities we continue to divide on the basis of colour, language, gender, doctrine and denominational affiliations. We are so foolish and shameless that we even justify these and continue to affirm these identities and wallow in our insecurities. Unless such proponents and promoters repent, they cannot think of a place in the Kingdom of God.

The best way we demonstrate our corporateness is by living in fellowship or communion with one another as the body of Christ. We have forgotten that true fellowship is about sharing the life of God in us with others in such a way that we experience God’s fullness among us corporately. But today we are so busy that we have reduced fellowship in the church to a meeting or a programme and that too once in a week. So rather than sharing of life, we attend the meeting and go away with a false sense of satisfaction that we have ‘fellowshipped’! How sad! We miss what God has for us in one another through Him.

4. Our organisations, governing systems and leadership models. Practically all our organisational and governing models today, whether Christian or otherwise are what I call, structures of identity-crisis and insecurity. Whatever their origins these are all political structures deriving their power from world’s knowledge, money, position or from the personal charisma and confidence of the leader(s). Besides most of the newer churches and para church ministries have just adopted an organisational style which is purely capitalist and entrepreneurial. The organisational structures they follow are political, generally autocratic, monolithic, hierarchical, bureaucratic and nowhere near to anything that you learn from either the Triune God or in the incarnation in His Son, Jesus Christ.

All these are political structures and are a result of our fallenness. Most of them are run on power derived from either money or position or knowledge gained form the world. Such structures promise to provide security and identity but in the process become enslaving. They do not last more than a generation. Even those which seem to have lasted longer are mere shells coasting along on momentum generated by the founders and not by the power of God.

But since the people of God are not self-seeking but self-giving they do not form political structures but as the household of God they constitute themselves based on the dynamic of love and voluntary submission to one another. They organise themselves not by power derived from knowledge, money or position but through love. Such organising and governing is essentially small, simple, direct, family-like and family-sized.

This is the way the God who is Three subsists and this is what His Son lived and showed while on earth. If we claim to be His children then we must show the nature of our Father. Otherwise we shall have to hear Him say, “I do not know you”.

5. Our economics. What can one say about our economics today? Everyone of us with few exceptions have adopted lifestyles arising from capitalism. Even our churches and ministries are being run on the same model. Practically everything we do – the way we live and the way we do ministry – everything has become an entrepreneurship. When you see even churches and ministries run on this model, one wonders if these so-called ‘servants of God’ are talking about the God of the Bible and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The different models of economics in the world are not derived from Trinitarian understanding of God but from human fallenness. Therefore all such models in the final analysis lead to extortion and exploitation. The church cannot have anything to do with such systems.

You see even our economics as people of God, must come from the nature of God. The nature of God is of self-giving love. This must dictate all our dealings with one another. Therefore we give ourselves in the service of others as Christ gave himself for us. There is no room here for greed or even the motive of profit-making. One does not serve with the aim of gaining by serving. One serves because one has the ability or the resources that the other is in need of. True love serves freely seeking the welfare of the object of love. Just as God gave away his Son for us and as Christ offered himself up for us. In this is the model for economics. An economics based on the self-giving love of Christ which is different from anything that one can think of in the world.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” And “…the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Those statements of Apostle Paul point the way.

It can be said of such people, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” (Psalm 133)

So the call to the people of God today is, “Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” Oh, that we would hear His voice. Amen.

The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

5. “But a body have you prepared for me”

The One God, who is revealed as Three now manifests himself in the many – the many spread across time, space, history and into eternity!

In incarnation He came down to dwell among men, as Man. But after His resurrection, ascension and exaltation He manifests Himself in the Church, which is His Body. Apostle Paul writes, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Eph 1: 22, 23. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Col 2: 9, 10.

Thus He now lives among men, in His body the Church. Hence the Messianic prayer, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” This Body is not only the body that Christ had in His incarnation but I believe, it also constitutes people ‘called out of the world’ to be His own. Who also are willing to fulfill the Father’s will as Christ, their Master did even if it meant death on a cross.

They have learned to live in communion with God and with one another patterned according to the Triune God – distinct yet one, one yet many. United in communion yet distinct in being. They have learned to give of themselves to God and to one another just as the Father gave away the Son and the Son offers himself to the Father through the Spirit and gives himself to us.

We have thus come to answer the question, how does the invisible God make himself known? What representation God allows of Himself, if He does at all.

Before the coming of Christ. God is represented in his Word. As Moses explained to the people of Israel, “You came near and stood at the bottom of the mountain. The mountain burned with fire that reached up to the sky. There were thick black clouds and darkness. Then the Lord spoke to you from the fire. You heard the sound of someone speaking, but you did not see any form. There was only a voice.” He is known in His voice and in the recording of that voice in written form. This is why He is also known as the Word. And the same Word became flesh and lived among us.

We can say therefore, that God makes himself known both by speaking and in His incarnation as man, not any man but the Man, Christ Jesus. More importantly He now makes Himself known in His people, the Church, people called out of every tribe, every nation, every tongue and every colour by indwelling them. Although this manifestation of Him through the Church now is in weakness, frailty and imperfection, it continues into eternity and all ages in fullness, glory and perfection.

The question about the purpose of incarnation is a crucial one. How we answer it determines how we think about our life on earth and the place of the Church in the eternal plans of God and how she should conduct herself now in the world.

Apart from revealing the Father, the redemption of the human race, the purpose of His incarnation was also to reveal man or to show how man should live. For no man ever lived the way men should live for they all had sinned and had fallen short of God’s glory. Christ in his humanity was the only one who lived as men should live. Only then could He be our representative in order to make propitiation for our sins. The full significance of this can be understood when we look at the fact that the only being closest to God in appearance in the whole of creation is the human, because he has been made in God’s own image.

Therefore the purpose of incarnation is to not only to redeem man but to dwell among them and that the incarnation of God continues in the Church, His body. Apostle Paul’s point in his letter to the Ephesians, is that God has now included even the ‘gentiles’ along with the Jews in His eternal plan of ‘calling many sons unto glory’ and making them part of Christ’s body, the Church, of which Christ is the Head. This is the mystery hidden from ages in God but he, Paul, has been chosen to bring this to light.

This Apostle Paul writes is”…the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Eph 3: 8-11)

“The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:7)

Listen to the prophecy of Isaiah which I think basically, refers to the redeemed people of God, But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!…“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (emphasis mine, Isa 43: 1 – 14.)

But all this is a finished act for God. Hence He rests. He rests because, “…his works were finished from the foundation of the world.” Oh, the joy, the beauty and the glory of the unsearchable riches of God in Christ! This calls for falling down before Him in awe, adoration and praise!

Such a divine and corporate dynamic cannot be captured in an institution. What system or ritual or tradition or programme can capture this? Hence it is utterly preposterous and nonsensical to think that we can give representation to God in our systems, structures, patterns and programmes. Nor can a single group or an individual ever think that they can fully capture the divine essence in them. He is known first in His Son. But now, He is known in the body He made for His Son, namely the Church.

But the question is, how does God make Himself known in and through the Church? If God incarnates in His Son, Jesus Christ and if the incarnation continues in His body the Church, then the Church can make God known only when she models her life according to the life of Christ, as revealed in the gospels and expounded by the apostles in their letters to the churches. In this is the WORD among us. A church that is born of the WORD and lives by that WORD and demonstrates the WORD in her life. The WORD embodied in the church!

Therefore Paul writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”. And again, “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.”

To be imitators of God we must ‘mimic’ (in greek the root word is the same for imitate and mimic) Him and love as He loves. We are asked to do this as Christ loved us. This is the kind of representation the Son makes of the Father. And this is the only representation the church can make of the Father. Only thus we shall have a witness that cannot be duplicated by the world. When God’s people begin to live as Christ lived, their witness shines brighter than the noon-day sun. This is the visibility that God allows of Himself. The visibility of lives lived as ‘imitators of God’. The point is, we were already created in the image of God and this image has been restored to us in Christ through redemption.

Only when we live as ‘imitators of God’ then do we not ony fulfill the purpose of our Creation and find meaning and fulfillment in life. But only thus we would be able to give representation to God in our lives and make Him visible in our lives. This is God’s chosen way. As Paul says, it is the “mystery hidden from ages” and “the mystery of godliness” that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Mark the word ‘now’. This is not something that would happen later. This is something that happens now. The manifold wisdom of God is made known NOW to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places! That is when God’s people become ‘imitators of God’ and ‘walk in love as Christ loved us’.

Any other way of representing God would be deficient, spurious and unworthy of Him. If we think we can make God visible in our religious forms, rituals, customs and traditions or in our programmes and projects or even in our material and worldly affluence then we are not only blind and deluded but become stooges of the enemies of God. Rather than being God’s co-workers to build His Kingdom we become collaborators of God’s enemy and become a hindrance to the work of God.

The only authentic way is the way Christ lived. For He is authentic God and authentic Man in His incarnation! In all this God’s ultimate purpose is THAT CHRIST MAY BE ALL IN ALL!

Listen to the words of the apostle in Colossians 1: 15-23, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” (Emphasis mine)

CHRIST is God’s pattern for man. When God commanded Moses to build the temple He commanded him to make it ‘according to the pattern shown to him on the mountain’. Accordingly the pattern in which we build the church in the New Testament era is CHRIST. Hence Paul’s words to the Ephesians, “…he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” The goal of every apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher is to bring God’s people to ‘the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’.

Any other objective in ministry is unworthy of and falls far short of the purpose and the glory of God! If through our work we are not bringing about the ‘unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God’ among God’s people, then I wonder if we are doing God’s work at all! Rather than building ‘church buildings’ and huge sanctuaries at great costs, how commendable and glorious to spend on building people ‘to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’. The former is comparatively easy. But the later, while it is demanding does not give itself to statistics and reports.

Where are the people who are like Timothy of whom the Apostle writes, “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Much of the ministry today seems to be to work for ones own interests in the name of safe-guarding the interests of the organisation – its security and its identity. For in many instances our own security and identity are bound up with that of the ministries we do rather than our God. Therefore in many instances our ministires have become our careers. Rather than losing ourselves in serving others for the sake of Christ our objectives are often discoloured with self-seeking – career-growth, and self-preservation.

The Son shows the Father to us in the life he lived – in the words he spoke, the works he did and the way he lived. His disciples were to just go and make disciples of all nations by teaching them and constituting them into congregations of God’s called out people or to be local expression of Christ as His body, the church.

In his incarnation Jesus reveals God, reveals man and in the process he demonstrates a way of living which is alien to human nature and thinking. Our nature and thinking is of fallenness which betrays our insecurity and identity-crisis. Therefore all our systems and structures betray the same malady – in our governance, our economics and our institutions. Our relationships, our friendships, and even our fellowships often are plagued by it. But Jesus, as God and as Man demonstrates wholeness and a life totally at rest with Himself and with others around him. Everything he said and did was from rest. He could not or would not be pushed around by others’ attitudes, fears or insecurity.

In his incarnation he teaches us a totally different trajectory of living – of self-denial, condescension, service and sacrifice. It is not the upward trajectory (if I may use the word) of life, like the rest of the world but a downward trajectory of life. It is of God coming into the world as man. The infinite now coming as finite. The great one as simple and the mighty one as helpless. I have tried to capture the thought in the following poem:

We have seen his glory
The glory of God as Man

Great One as simple
Invisible as visible
Immortal as mortal
Almighty as helpless
Rich One as poor
Invincible as vulnerable
Infinite as finite
Sovereign as servant!

We have seen his glory
The glory of the Real Man
Real God as Real Man
Authentic God as authentic man
No more distant, no more far
Neither illusive nor obscure
No more invisible but now
Real, visible and vulnerable.

Visible and seeable
Physical and touchable
Vulnerable yet invincible
Humble yet strong
Beatable yet unbeaten
Killable yet never-dying
Abusable yet not abused!
Small yet encompassing the universe!

He is God but now he is also man
They saw His glory. Have you?

His representation of God is of a loving and caring Father and not of an autocratic despot. Nor of a controlling and dominating ruler.

The life that Christ lived while on earth was not the private, individualistic, self-seeking and self-centered life that most of us have learnt from the world. He was led by the will of God and by the Spirit of God. You do not find Him guarding his identity nor working for his security. It was a life of constant pouring of himself into others. He sought His Father’s pleasure in seeking our welfare so, “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

The only authentic way is to live as Christ lived. As mentioned earlier only when the church demonstrates the same mind as Christ’s or when we begin to imitate God and walk in love as Christ, we would be His true witnesses. Only such people can claim to have the authority to speak for God to the world!

Finally it must be noted that none of us individually can ever represent God fully as Christ did. Only corporately we can ever think of attaining to His perfection as Paul writes to Ephesians. “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,…” It is all of us together – the redeemed humanity, in Christ and as Christ.

As we yield to one another in Him and yield to His working in us, we are transformed to be the people He has called us to be. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

4. One, Three and Many

The One, the Three and the many sums up all that is in this universe. The One God who reveals himself as three is the basis for all the variety and the diversity in life and the world.

We have seen the implications of knowing God as One. While giving our unswerving allegiance to Him, how to think of Him as three and what implications does it hold for life?

A right understanding of God, especially his tri-personality, is crucial to understanding about the nature of being, the world, the human life, the individual, marriage, family, society, church, missions, tolerance, organisation, governance, economics, global peace, reconciliation and host of other issues pertinent to life and existence.

If there has been one anomaly in the Christian or even evangelical understanding of God, it is in the understanding of the doctrine of Trinity. I must state it here and state it with all the strength that I can muster, that the present state of affairs in the church as individuals as well as, as a community is because of the lack of right understanding of the God, who is revealed in His word as Three. It is because of this lack, the church has gone behind the world and has learnt practically all of its ways from the world – the way we think of ourselves as individuals, our relationships and fellowship, the organisation models and the kind of economics we practise among us.

As individuals we cherish and guard our private, individualistic, self-centered and self-seeking lifestyles. We derive our confidence from our education, position, and money. We have forgotten that we are made for relationships – with God and with others, that to love them is to seek their pleasure.

We have reduced fellowship in the church to a meeting or a programme. We have forgotten that true fellowship is about sharing the life of God in us with others in such a way that we experience His fullness among us corporately.

I believe that the three major organisational models followed by the different churches globally, namely the Episcopalian, Presbyterian and the Congregational models are an offshoot of eisegesis and not exegesis at all. Besides most of the newer churches and para church ministries have just adopted an organisational style which is purely entrepreneurial. Whatever their origins these are all political structures deriving their power from worldly knowledge, money, position or from the personal charisma and confidence of the leader(s). And all of these are political, monolithic, hierarchical, bureaucratic and nowhere near to anything that you learn from either the God of the Bible or his incarnation in his Son, Jesus Christ.

What can one say of our economics? Everyone of us with few exceptions have adopted lifestyles arising from capitalism. Even our churches and ministries are being run on the same model. Alongwith the entrepreneurship learnt from the world, we do not see the irony with using our gifts to earn profits in the name of ministry. Earning profits from ministry in order to build our own careers is unworthy of anything that is taught in scripture. Patenting our knowledge from the misuse of it is one thing but making it inaccessible to others is another matter. Truth is nobody’s monopoly. It is God’s and must be let loose in the world.

Do you still wonder that our witness is lost and authority weakened? Therefore Jeremiah’s lamentation rings true, “How the gold has lost its luster, the fine gold become dull! The sacred gems are scattered at every street corner. How the precious children of Zion, once worth their weight in gold, are now considered as pots of clay, the work of a potter’s hands!”

The only teaching that can remedy this situation if the church is willing to learn and change, is a persistent and continuous meditation on the Trinity and the incarnation of God in the person of Christ. I do not see any other way. Despite all their claims to personal and corporate success and riches, I personally think that the people of God have been earthbound and rendered spiritually destitute for several decades now. In the words of Jeremiah, the prophet, “Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as a stick. Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field.” For far too long they have been fed upon earthly fare and not the manna from heaven.

“A right understanding of God is the panacea for millions of evils in the world” wrote A W Tozer in his ‘The knowledge of the Holy’. Mortimer J Adler, the General Editor in the 1980s of the Encyclopaedia Britannica wrote in his article on God, “More consequences follow from that one issue than from any other.”

The ontology of being
First, it must be noted that Trinity is not the same as trimurti in Hinduism. Trimurti is a triad of three gods, collapsing into a single form with three faces. Trinity is one God revealed as three persons or subsistence.

While we confess that the God of the Bible is triune, there has been a general tendency to think of him as purely ‘monotheistic’, so strongly and probably in reaction to Greek polytheism or even the eastern dualism, that we often tend to be ‘unitarian’ in our thinking. This needs to be remedied.

The One God is the basis for the Three and the Three the basis for many. If God were One, an unitarian being, then there could be no place or room for any other. He would fill all space, all time, all eternity leaving no room for any other to exist. But God as revealed in the Bible is not unitarian but trinitarian. He is three.

There is room (if such a figure of speech is permitted) within the Godhead for three co-equal and self-expressing beings with free-will to co-exist eternally. Therefore He makes room for not just the universe but for other self-conscious, self-expressing, and rational beings with a free will to exist.

God is ONE yet THREE. It can be said from our knowledge of scripture, the three are in such mutual communion and inter-mingling in their giving and receiving that all differences cease to exist, while still retaining their distinctives and particularity. God is ONE because of the communion. God is THREE because of the room, the space they give each other to exist, to express and to BE. This is another fact of God’s inherent being and gives us the basis for our understanding the nature of being.

The communion of sharing leads to oneness and unity. The giving of room (accommodation) to each other gives each the distinctness and particularity. The oneness does not subsume the distinctness of each nor the distinctness affirmed at the expense of oneness. The individuals do not collapse into each other so as to lose their distinctness or identity nor the distinctness and identity emphasised in such a way as to make communion and oneness impossible.

But for such dynamic relationships of distinctness and particularity yet maintaining unity and oneness there is need for willingness to share, to give and to receive. This in turn calls for submission and vulnerability. This is the ontology of being.

The implications of believing in the Triune God is to live in relationships. To live together in relationships in such a way as to be One is the ontology of the divine being. There is no room here for private, individualistic, and self-centeredness lives. The dynamic by which they live in relationships is the dynamic of love not power. This means there is no exercise of power to dominate or to control in order to bring oneness. Domination and control are the lot of fallen humanity but alien to the divine being. There is voluntary giving of oneself to the other because of love. Love does not seek its own. Love seeks the pleasure of the other. The Son pleases the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Son and the Father. The Father gives all authority to the Son. There is no fear of being taken advantage of in the Trinity. Because there is no fear in love(1John 4: 18).

This is the way families and churches need to be constituted – with self-giving love. It is because of love we share and it is because of love we make room for others to be and do. This not by the exercise of power, especially power that is derived from knowledge or money or physical strength but through love. So the basis for our relationships is the self-giving love which enables us to voluntarily submit to one another. Such relations are based on voluntary love and submission therefore these are not structures of power. Structures of power are political structures and are a result of our fallenness. Such structures promise to provide security and identity but in the process are enslaving. But since the people of God are not self-seeking but self-giving they do not form political structures instead they live as a family or as the household of God based on the dynamic of self-giving love and voluntary submission to one another.

It can be said of such people, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” (Psalm 133)

Furthermore, the fellowship and relationships even among Christians have become purely utilitarian. We do not want to give ourselves fully to people nor do others want us as we are wholly. We pick and choose who we want, what we want and when we want of others. In the name of professionalism we have become mechanical and distant. And in the name of specialisation we have become choosy, calculating and compartmentalised.

In the Godhead however, they give of themselves to each other, fully, totally, unhesitatingly and without holding back. It’s a free flow of love and life. Relationships in families and the church must be the same.

Such a life is counter-cultural, antithetical to anything and everything that we know in the world. There is no greed nor insecurity nor domination and control in this way of living. But love, health, mutuality and divine fullness.

The dynamic of love also dictates our dealings with one another. Therefore we give ourselves in the service of others as Christ gave himself for us. There is no room here for greed or even the motive of profit-making. One does not serve with the aim of gaining by serving. One serves because one has the ability or the resources that the other is in need of. True love serves freely seeking the welfare of the object of love. Just as God gave away his Son for us and as Christ offered himself up for us. In this is a model for economics. An economics based on the self-giving love of Christ which is different from anything that one can think of in the world.

This is captured for us in these words of apostle Paul, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” And “…the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The different models of economics in the world are not derived from Trinitarian understanding of God but from human fallenness. Therefore all such models in the final analysis lead to extortion and exploitation. The church cannot have anything to do with such structures.

God is One, yet Three is the basis for communication, fellowship and relationships. To communicate is not just passing on of information as it is understood in the world today. Communication within the Godhead is the communication of love. Communication of love is not the expressing of emotion or sentiment as we tend to think but it is the communication of their being or the communication of life between them. Which is what is fellowship or communion. God does not communicate in mere words. His words have the force of his being behind them. When he speaks he gives of himself unreservedly, unselfishly, totally, without holding back anything. This is the reason why, God speaking is not information dumping but giving of himself. Hence what God speaks comes to pass. Life is communicated and therefore created. Relationships are born leading to communion of life. Jesus said, “…the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”(Jn 6:63)

Unfortunately much of the preaching in the church today has become information dumping rather than communication of life. This is one of the consequences of fallenness. Where are the signs of redemption then? Information dissemination and acquiring of knowledge is the way of teaching and learning in the world. But when even churches and Christian seminaries adopt the same model, is it not worldliness? No wonder we have so many people with BIG heads! ‘Knowledge puffs up’ wrote the Apostle. Many in the church today are left hungry, unfed, unchanged and gasping for life.

Until we rediscover the Triune God, understand Him and live by the implications of such an understanding, we shall be groping for answers and flounder from one ‘broken pot’ to another and just take whatever is on offer from the world. Is this not the reason why, we have borrowed the organisational models from the world and not from the Triune God. Therefore we have the sad spectacle of so-called ‘management-gurus’ of the world, who are now considered experts on Christian leadership conduct seminars on how to manage our churches. With such gross compromise and worldliness, how can we be witnesses before the world and have the authority to speak for God. I lament!

N.B.: Please read ‘Trinitarian Economics’ and ‘Small is Beautiful’ below in the blog, for more on trinitarian understanding of economics and organisation.

The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

3. Invisible, unrepresentable, unassimilable

The second area of distortion in our understanding of God and of following Christ is about how we express our faith and spirituality. This has to do with the nature of God as Spirit and therefore invisible.

Os Guinness and John Seele write about the Roman general Pompey entering Jerusalem in the first century B. C. He wanted to see the Jewish representation of their god. On entering the Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem, he found nothing. The inner sanctum was empty. There was no graven image of God. Pompey was stunned and infuriated. Pompey “could invade Jerusalem and carry Jews back to Rome but he could not lay his hands on the Jewish God for his Roman pantheon. What was unrepresentable also was unassimilable. Such a God was intolerable to Pompey. The God of the Jews was an utterly impossible God… He who is, beside whom there is no other — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is also the God and Father of Jesus Christ — is an impossible God.”

The crux of the issue is this. The God of the Bible, the infinite and immeasurable God is also Spirit. Therefore He is invisible. He who is invisible is unrepresentable. He who is unrepresentable is unassimilable. This is what makes the God of the Bible impossible. And His people too are impossible people when they remain unassimilable like their God. But alas, that is not the story of the church in the last 2000 years! We have made that which is impossible, possible – the invisible, visible; the unrepresentable, representable; and the unassimilable, assimilable!. This is our SIN and our GUILT!

How has this come about? This has come about precisely by letting the Christian faith to be represented as any other religion and by adopting lifestyles which are totally antithetical to the teaching of the New Testament.

Within a few decades after the death of the last of the twelve apostles – we started building places for Christian gathering which began to be called sanctuaries or houses of God or churches. We then appointed special people to conduct the services in these special places. Then we gave them a special procedure or liturgy to conduct the services. The insistence on attendance at a church service on Sundays, the giving of tithes and offerings as part of the service as an act of gratitude and worship unto God completed the representation of Christian faith as a religion. We now have religious places, religious people and religious customs and traditions like any other religion. Is this not the reason why we are now reckoned and numbered with other religions of the world?
Neither Christ nor any of the twelve apostles taught nor encouraged any religious system nor any religious custom nor talked about building any religious structures. The New Testament is totally silent on any of this. We might try to read religion into some of the statements of the apostles but no where do they explicitly talk about it.

On the other hand apostle Paul in Galatians 4: 1-7, talks about the Old Testament law and its system as ‘guardians and governors’ appointed over a son while he is still a child. A child is no different from a slave, says Paul. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Later in Colossians 3: 16-23, he argues that several religious practices prevalent among Christians were a mere ‘…shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.’ Suggesting that since the substance is now with us we do not need these shadows any longer.

The Letter to Hebrews leads a scathing attack on all external, physical and temporal forms of religion, religious structures, systems and traditions. The author talks about all the Old Testament forms, traditions, priesthood and sacrifices including the old covenant as a copy, a shadow and now obsolete. “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9: 11). He concludes that ‘the just shall live by faith’ and goes on to draw portraits of people who lived by faith.

It is very sad and unfortunate that these passages from the Letters in the New Testament were interpreted as referring only to the Mosaic Law and its requirements of sacrifices and priesthood. While primarily such an interpretation is correct, my thesis is that the passages and their essence must be extended to include all forms of religion. Because both the Lord Jesus and his twelve apostles make it plain that ‘to follow Christ’ is not to follow a religion but to come under the authority of God as revealed and represented in Christ. This is not a religion but a life in relationship with the God of the universe through the mediatorship of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Christian life therefore is a life of faith. It is represented in the way we live and not by any religious system, structure, tradition or custom. Any teaching or insistence on any practise as mandatory to Christian faith and living makes Christian faith like any other religion of the world. Hence even a legalistic insistence on attendance at a ‘church service’ and the teaching about regular tithing and offering is no different from the insistence by any religion to offer different forms of oblations and sacrifices to appease the gods. All such forms even in the Old Testament were only symbolical, a shadow and were given as guardians and governors in childhood. But now since Christ has come, we now have the substance. We do not need shadows and symbols any longer. We ‘look to Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith’ and live our lives by faith and freedom in Him.

The point I am making here is simply this. We have made Christian faith representable and thus made it assimilable into the surrounding regions of the world. We did this by introducing different forms of practices, customs, patterns, systems, structures whether in the form of buildings or institutions like any other religion of the world. Practically all of us are guilty of it. Some of us have taken it to a religious extreme some of us are a little more circumspect.

Even the groups and congregations who are not affiliated to any mainline denomination and boast of being different from them have lapsed into same religious forms and practices which they originally resisted. Practically all of them began in rebellion to the mechanical and religious forms of worship in the denominations. But in the end each of them turned out to be equally enslaving in the patterns of their worship. And the reasons are the same – a lack of right understanding of the God of the Bible.

Today the world over Christianity is almost assimilated into the world of religions and is considered no different from any other religion. And by pursuing political and economic power we have begun to be counted with the nations of the world unlike the people of God about whom Balaam prophesied in Numbers 23: 9, “I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.”

What more? In many instances apart from creating these different forms, patterns, systems and structures, we have raised these to the status of absolutes. Thus committing idolatry. Because only God is absolute and everything else and everyone else is relative. When that which is relative is given the status of an absolute, we raise it to the status of God.

When we make God and faith in Him representable by anything that is not commanded by Him then we not only reduce God to less than what He is but make Him relative to and comparable with the created and man-made. This too, is idolatry.

To raise that which is relative to the status of the absolute and to reduce the absolute to the status of the relative is idolatry and therefore sin against God. Oh, how many Christian groups and congregations have fallen into this trap by making God representable in some form or the other through the patterns, systems and structures they have created. Or by giving the place of God to these patterns, systems and structures and in some cases to the leaders or the teachers who teach and lead them. Is it any wonder that we have lost our power and our witness?

Some one has said that the human heart is an idol-making factory. Do you now see the subtlety of the deception? In the name of worship and devotion to Christ how often we make our own systems, patterns, programmes, leaders and even churches the measure for everyone. And when you notice that many well-meaning and sincere Christians are in it, one cannot but lament!

The God of the Bible is an impossible God and His people are impossible people too. He is impossible because He is immeasurable. Therefore invisible. Therefore unrepresentable. Therefore unclassifiable. Therefore unmalleable. Therefore unassimilable. His people are shaped by His truth and therefore are uncompromising to all pressures, molds, and seductions. Their allegiance is to Him alone. Their love for Him is unconditional therefore they are unconquerable.

Os Guinness & John Seel write, “A central consequence of the vision of such an impossible God is God-centered relativising: God and His truth call into question all opinions, customs, loyalties, and claims that differ from their own… God alone is absolute, so all that is not God is relative… Unconditional obedience to God therefore means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Thus those who confess one God are those who are ready to criticise everything else – nation, class, race, party, power, wealth, ideology, science, government, and church – whenever it threatens to usurp the place of God. After all, there is no other.”

As if giving representation to God in the religious forms and systems were not enough there is one other more dishonourable and repugnant things among Christians today. This is to think that we can give representation to our God through the ‘blessings’ we have garnered from our pursuit of the world. This only shows how biblically puerile our thinking has become. So we have the sad spectacle of many Christians chasing the knowledge, the power and the glories of the world. What more? When Christians think that they can use these ‘blessings’ to serve God, what can one say? It is like Judas Iscariot wanting to fulfill the ‘great commission’ with the thirty pieces of silver he gained from selling His master! Alas, I lament!

We have forgotten that a church or people who have pursued and benefited by the gifts and blessings of the world have no gospel to preach and would lose their witness and authority. We forget that if worldly blessings were the measure then there are more people in the world who have more of the said ‘blessings’ than most Christians. But the saddest part of it is when you see so many enslaved to the world – to acquiring knowledge, wealth and respectability you cannot but lament with Jeremiah, “How the precious children of Zion, once worth their weight in gold, are now considered as pots of clay…Those who once ate delicacies are destitute in the streets. Those brought up in royal purple now lie on ash heaps….”

This is the reason why I wonder, if much of today’s evangelism and ministry were not from guilt than from a true devotion to Christ, notwithstanding the sincerity of those who do it!

It is no wonder that we seem to be producing people in our own likeness through our evangelism and missions. “For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” Jesus warned. What a shame if after all our efforts to convert people to Christ we make them more worthy of hell, because we don’t seem to be converting them to Christ but to our structures, patterns and lifestyles. And I wonder if it is to such people Jesus would say, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Oh, the prospect of being ‘banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and of being erased from the knowledge of him who knows all’! (C.S.Lewis) One cannot even imagine how it would be!

But the question still remains, if God is invisible how can he be represented then? What representation does God allow of Himself, if He does at all?

How Then Should We Live? – Part 3

(Read Part 1 & 2 of the article ‘How Then Should We Live? – As Christ Lived’ and ‘Living the Gospel’ below)

 

3.  “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”

 “Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.  But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.  Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honour”. John 12:20-26.

 “Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.  Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day.” John 1:35-39.

One wonders what the Greeks saw. We are not told. But let us make that our plea as well – oh, to see Jesus and learn of Him and follow Him as the early disciples did! We also do no know what those early disciples saw when they went to see where He was living. But whatever it is they saw made them to remain with Him. They remained with Him for the rest of their lives.

But if like the Greeks, someone in our day were to ask us the same question, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus?” What do we have to show? A couple of years ago, a young man who was at our fellowship asked a similar question. He was particularly going through a rough patch in his life. He asked, “I wish God was visible. I wish we could see Him, feel Him and talk to Him in real, even today”. I said to him, “God had appeared once in history in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. There were people who saw Him and wrote about Him. There is no need for God to appear again. But more importantly today, God makes Himself visible through His people, the Church. Church is His body and it is through the Church He makes Himself visible to the world today”. If this is so then, what has the Church to offer to the world today? If people were to ask us to show Jesus or God what can we show them? What does Church mean to most people today? Does it mean a person represented in His people, called the Church? Or does it mean buildings and structures, orders and forms, systems and rituals, programmes and projects, politics, groups and denominations?

One of the purposes of the incarnation of Christ are, that He came to reveal man as much as he came to reveal God and to redeem man. He himself taught that no one can see the Father except him, to whom the Son chooses to reveal (Matthew 11:27). And again in His own words He says that he came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). But it is equally clear that Jesus came into the world to live as man was meant to live. Often this is not emphasised sufficiently when talking about His incarnation. From Adam till date, no one ever lived the way man was meant to live except the incarnate Son of God. It is imperative that He lived as man was meant to live, so that He could be their representative and substitute. Is it any wonder then, that the Bible mentions that during the course of His life upon earth there were at least two instances when a voice from heaven was heard saying, ‘This is my beloved Son in Him I am pleased’. And John writes “…God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (6:27). The first of those instances was before Jesus uttered even a single word by way of preaching in public nor had performed a single miracle. Obviously the divine approval of the Son came based on His life as a son at His home with his family and as a carpenter, not as a teacher or as miracle worker.

The genius of Jesus

One of the chief quests of man for centuries has been to explore what the good or virtuous life is. Philosophers of all hues have tried to define man and how he should live. But the genius of Jesus Christ demonstrated and taught such a life in a span of about thirty-three years. One need go no further than Jesus of Nazareth if we wished to learn how we should live as women and men.  His life was a gracious and mellifluous combination of devotion and dependence upon God, humility and holiness, service and sacrifice for man. One of the first things that strikes you about the life of Jesus, when you read the gospels is that it was so simple, natural and normal. There was a total lack of pomp or show, and no attempt is made neither by Him nor His disciples nor the writers of the gospels to impress anyone. Even the use of His powers to perform the miracles was so natural and matter-of-fact that there was no attempt to dazzle people with spectacular feats. We do not find Him fretting about the daily need of food, clothes nor any of the insecurities that plague most people. He did not have a place of His own to live yet we do not find in Him any sense of insecurity. In fact He challenged with confidence and contentment one who wanted to follow Him saying, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”(Luke 9: 58). He was neither perturbed nor overwhelmed unduly by attention, adulation nor by ridicule and rejection. He lived above all these, on a totally higher plane.

Gordon McDonald writes, “Maybe this is one of the geniuses of Jesus: He knew when to stop, how to refuse the cocktail of privilege, fame, and applause that distorts one’s ability to think wisely and to master self.” It is no wonder then that He challenged people to follow Him. And those who did then and subsequently through history testify about the power of His life. “God became a man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed, and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think of it the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation” – J. I. Packer (1926 – )

The call to follow Christ is not a call to join a religion, or even to join an institution or an organisation or a movement. It is a call to a lifestyle like that of the Lord Jesus Christ. This the twelve disciples discovered soon. They followed Him hoping that they were joining a movement to restore the Promised Land to Israel. They were hoping to be in the forefront of the movement and even to occupy positions of power along with Christ. Not until the crucifixion and the resurrection of their Master, did it dawn on them that they were called to a totally different kind of Kingdom – one with no crowns or thrones or boundaries. Not until then, did the manner of His birth, the kind of lifestyle or the manner of His death make any sense to them. They discovered that there would be no forms to conform to nor procedures to learn nor any systems or structures to build, but to live a life of utter abandonment and absolute surrender to His authority. That to be part of His kingdom was to live in relationship with Him and under His Lordship. That to be in this kingdom was a matter of a different lifestyle – one that is totally counter cultural and counter to all that the world stands for. That one consigns all considerations of security, status, dignity and even the quest for daily bread to a life of faith and trust upon Him. That to follow Christ was not a matter of seeking the securities of the world or to pursue the power or the glamour the world promises. In the light of this one wonders how anyone who understands Christ and His gospel could think of a crusade to deliver the Holy Land as in the Middle Ages. Or for the followers of Christ to pursue the power structures both in religious hierarchies and political systems of the world, whether in the form of ornate ecclesiastical orders of the Roman Catholic Church and other Protestant denominations or the North American Evangelical alliances with the so-called right-wing politics? To follow Christ is not about lobbying for and gaining political power in order to spread Christ’s kingdom. It is not even about gaining global financial clout to influence and control policies of governments for Christ or to exert political or economic hegemony in the name of Christ.  If it were, Christ would not have chosen a bunch of unlettered fisher men from the backwaters of the Sea of Galilee.

What can one say about the rivalries of 1990s in Ireland and the Gulf wars? Or even of the acts of intolerance committed through centuries in the name of spreading the gospel? (Don’t we owe an apology to the world? C. S. Lewis writes, “If ever the book which I am not going to write is written, it must be the full confession of Christendom to Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty. Large areas of the world will not hear us until we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Molech.”) Or about the unseemly alliance between the church and corporate businesses for the overt purpose of global missions and evangelism, but actually fuelled by the insecurities and claustrophobia of the capitalist minds, in the aftermath of the World wars and propped up by a skewed understanding of eschatology?

To follow Christ is not even about ‘going to church’ or about ‘attending a church service’ or about ‘doing the church’ correctly. Today millions are spent to build ornate buildings and for conducting slick worship services, while billions languish in poverty and hunger worldwide. And many Christian preachers, teachers and leaders sponge upon the insecurities and the need for identity and dignity of many in their churches. And I wonder if Martin Luther and others in the forefront of the Protestant movement had protested sufficiently! I wish they did and abdicated all enslaving forms of religion and taught a lifestyle in the footsteps of their Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. For if they did then, today we would not be witnesses to the extremely reprehensible and the stark obscenity of the preachers of the gospel, promising and playing upon the insecurities of the people; enslaving them to a life-time of worldly pursuits to be sought as a form of blessing from God for their ‘faithfulness and godliness’. It is no wonder then that some detractors of the gospel equated Christianity to a religion and dubbed it the ‘opiate’ or a ‘psychological crutch’ of the masses. For that is what we have made it out to be when we enslaved the people to the pursuit of a comfortable middle-class life-style. And baptised it as a blessing from God! Where is the cross today in the lives of Christians? Where is the self-denial? Where is the lifestyle of Christ among us today?

The crux of the theme of the book of Hebrews is Christ. Christ is portrayed as the full and final revelation from God in the first 4 chapters. He is God’s final word to man, therefore pay careful attention to him (2:1) and that by trusting in Him and obedience to Him one finds the true Sabbath rest. And in the next 6 chapters, He is portrayed as the perfect and complete redemption from God for man. In Him is man’s complete redemption and that there is no need anymore for external, physical and man-made forms of enslaving systems. He now rules not by religious systems or through rules and regulations but by a new covenant mediated through His word and by His Holy Spirit. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord.  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  (Heb 8:7-12). Therefore, we live by looking to Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith (Heb 12: 2).

‘Come…learn of me’

Let us look into the gospels and try to draw a sketch of his life on earth, if we may.

Jesus bids us to come unto Him and learn of Him and promises that we would find rest for our souls. If only we would listen to Him. It is not learning about Him in the sense of gathering information about Him as most of us tend to think. It is to ‘learn of me’ which is about imbibing Him by spending time with and allowing Him the freedom to work in us, to put Himself into us. This is the same as seeking His kingdom and His righteousness. To seek His kingdom is about seeking His rule, His authority, and His control over our lives. It is the same as taking His yoke upon us which is to come under His control, as the oxen under a yoke are under the control of the farmer. This is where it all begins. When God’s rule comes into our lives then the first thing we learn is what Jesus answered the devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”.

Not by bread alone

One of the sad ironies in the church today is that while claiming to proclaim the gospel, we have settled for something less than what Christ taught and what the early apostles preached and lived for. I refer to the evangelical emphasis on sin and forgiveness from it, as the main focus of the gospel. While this is true, it must also be said that it has led, I believe, to an emphasis on making salvation only a matter of forgiveness of sin and finding a way to heaven. And it ignores totally the aspect of denouncing or denying ourselves of the values and pursuits of the world. This is why we find so many people who claim to be Christian and yet living with the same pursuits and drives as the rest of the world. How can one claim to be a follower of Christ and be comfortable living the way the world does? Nay, in some circles it has been taught to pray and seek security and comfort, power, status and fame as marks of God’s blessing. And that not to possess these was a mark of God’s displeasure. In fact if one were to walk into any church or to a prayer meeting anywhere in the world today, and take a look at the requests for prayer or listen to the prayers offered, most of the prayers revolve around wanting what the Lord categorically rejected in His temptation on the mountain top. I wonder if Matthew and Luke, by recording Jesus’ temptations right at the beginning of their gospels are suggesting that worldliness and the denial of its values and pursuits was a major concern and focus of the gospel of Christ. Ignoring such an emphasis I believe, has spawned several generations of Christians who claim to have the experience of salvation yet without any real change as far as their lifestyles are concerned.

Therefore this is my major concern that we are not only in the world but of it, and also that we pursue every thing in life just as everyone else does. We are driven by the same things that the people of the world are driven with, we live for the same things that the people of the world live for. We are so easily disturbed and are discouraged by the same things that disturb and discourage the world. Unless the followers of Christ demonstrate a different lifestyle, one which is not controlled by the cares and pleasures of life, one which is driven by a totally different value system, we have nothing to offer the world. The gospel we preach would not be gospel at all!

In the temptations Jesus refuses firmly and categorically anything other than God as the source of our strength or the focus of our devotion. He refuses to use God or His gifts for personal gain or to build an identity for Himself. His life was marked by total devotion and dependence upon the Father all through His life. We have discussed this in some detail in my first article. If even Jesus the Son of God needed ‘every word that comes from the mouth of God’, how much more we would? One of the most basic and constant temptations in life, as discussed earlier, is to make something else other than our Creator, the source of our sustenance, security, identity and dignity. The world looks for these in wealth and possessions, status and power, name and recognition. The world runs after these. And they are discouraged when they do not get it. Quite often most of them are willing to go to any extent to get these – resorting to corrupt practices, illegal means, and dubious methods. It is an intoxicating pursuit for many. The history of humankind is the history of such pursuits. Jesus was the first among many who broke their power and attraction with clarity and consummate ease when He faced these in His temptations on the mountain top. There have been many men before Him and after who have tried but most of them in general went to one extreme or the other; the extremes of stoicism or Epicureanism, of monasticism or libertarianism. But mark Jesus’ answer to the devil. He does not say, man shall not live by bread at all or all that man needs is the word of God and nothing else. The sting in the temptation was to make food the primary source of His sustenance, which Jesus refused firmly. Food is needed, yes. But the word of God is needed more; because man is not just a physical being but a spiritual being as well. And he basically derive our existence from Him. The genius of Jesus knew where to draw the line.

How does this work out in practical life? Recently in our Sunday fellowship gathering, one fellow brother asked “how can one who is working and earning a regular salary demonstrate his dependence on God”. We do it not only by expressing and affirming our trust in Him both through prayer and gratitude but also by a life of the discipline of self-denial and giving. There ought to be times in the life of a child of God when he, by deliberate action and regular discipline deprives himself of anything that is becoming a source of one’s life, sustenance, security and identity. John Wesley says, “When I have any money, I get rid of it as quickly as possible, lest it find a way into my heart”. A person, who lives by faith, is willing to share and give away sacrificially because he knows his ultimate source of sustenance and security is not his possessions but the Lord. He learns to live by sharing what he has with others because they need what he has. When followers of Christ live this way, those who have gathered more do not have any excess and those who have gathered less do not have any need. It is only then we have something to tell and offer to the world. Otherwise we would just have a religion called ‘Christianity’ to offer, like any other religion of the world.

‘What sort of a king could he be’  

Second His life was marked by contentment, gratitude and simplicity. There was an inner contentment in Jesus which was difficult to understand. His family and friends were worried that He should speed up the process of His life mission by being more proactive than He seemed to be. So they were trying to push Him to do things so that He will be known for who He was. His mother tried at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. His brothers tried to push Him to do something that would propel Him to centre stage and what better time and place than the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. His disciples were restless that time was running out and that He was talking about the cross and not about thrones and crowns. But Jesus was living by a totally different drive or was dancing to a totally different tune which others could not hear. Hence He was unfazed or unperturbed by the clamour around. There was a sense of quiet confidence and of contentment in His demeanour which no one could understand.

A person who knows the Sovereign God and knows that his life is in His hands is not worried or perturbed by anything in life. And when he knows and understands that He did not spare his own son for him, he is not worried what happens. Listen to him sing, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 8 35-39. This is the stuff of which great missionaries of yore were made. When you think of women and men like Adoniram Judson, John G Paton, Helen Roseveare, to name just a few, you know of what mettle they were made. The kind of life they were called to live and lived with exceptional grace and contentment is nothing short of miraculous. You begin to know that they are like giants and we are like grasshoppers before them.

Think of the simplicity of Jesus, the very manner of his birth and the way He lived and moved among people was so simple and down to earth. A popular song goes, ‘He had no throne or a crown of gold and his palace was only an inn; he worked as a carpenter most of his life; what sort of a king could he be’. How different from the jet-setting, larger-than-life Christian leaders, preachers and the so-called miracle workers of our day. Whatever the justification, it certainly does not fit the Master they proclaim. We have forgotten that God does not bless us with material blessings for us to flaunt nor to hoard. Neither does He bless us in order for us carry them as trophies of our faithfulness and godliness.  He blesses us, so that we share with others. The genius of Jesus knew to draw the line between moderation and excess and He knew that He did not derive His identity from any of the external props offered by the world. He said, “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15). How can a person live such a life of uncertainty and yet be content? Jesus lived in the shadow of the assurance and approval of His heavenly Father and therefore was not swayed by the vagaries of public opinion nor was driven by the pursuits of worlds values. This brings us to the third aspect of the life of Christ.

Ministry…Jesus way

His life was of sharing, service and sacrifice. He says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). Christ’s work was one of natural, normal and spontaneous response to need around Him. It did not matter if it was a large crowd or a single individual nor did it matter how important the person was by world’s standards. So whether it was Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin or the Samaritan woman Jesus served them by speaking and sharing with them His time and teaching. He had time both for the social outcast and the socially high-class, the pauper and the rich ruler. He made no distinction nor counted their worthiness to receive His ministry. His was a spontaneous response of love to need without any consideration of cost or worthiness of an individual. All were worthy to receive His love and service. True love, loves, serves, and gives freely without counting the cost or expecting returns. He was not programme-driven, budget-driven, nor performance-driven unlike most ministries today. He went for one woman, the Samaritan and won the whole village. We today go for the whole village in our penchant for numbers and in the name of stewardship and lose the woman and the village!

Today Christian service is seen and done more as organised or institutionalised work. It must be noted that the success of any organisation depends on its projects and programmes. Programmes and projects are the life of any organisation. And the success of the programmes depends on the budget available and the performance of individuals involved in the programmes. Is it any wonder then that the emphasis in most ministry organisations is to employ slick marketing techniques for raising funds and on charismatic performers with fine social and communication skills to conduct the programmes? While this in itself is not wrong or bad, what is deplorable is that prayer has all but disappeared from our ministry agendas except as a ritual suffix and a prefix for all our activities. And dependence upon the Holy Spirit of God for wisdom and for power is all but gone. Is it any wonder that today’s model of ministry produces fans and not followers, while Jesus made followers who were willing to give themselves away for Him? For Jesus success was not about numbers, budgets and reports. It was about knowing what the Father was doing and doing it upon earth (John 5:19-20). It meant an intimate walk with the Father to know what He was doing at any given moment of time and doing it on earth. So success is not about the quantum of work we do for God. It is about how much God is able to work in us and subdue us unto himself. “…according to the power that works in us,” (Eph 3:20). Ministry is born out of such intimacy with God and is a spontaneous outflow of His working in our lives. I wish to emphasise in this context that ministry is not something that we do for God, but ministry is the fruit of an ongoing walk and intimacy with God, very much like the intimacy between a husband and wife which results in bringing new life into the world. Such ministry cannot be produced by marketing techniques or by management skills. The genius of Jesus knew that being connected to the source of life was the only way to bring forth the fruit of life into the world.

In fact, I must assert that the hierarchical, programme-driven and performance-based organisational models we have adopted to organise our churches and ministries is alien to scripture and borrowed from the world and is an off-shoot of commercialised thinking. This is another aspect of worldliness among us. Let me point out three major scripturally unacceptable practises in our ministries. One, the relationality in these organisations is based on employer-employee, or boss-worker relationality. Most churches and ministries suffer because of such a mindset. Among the people of God relationality ought to be that of a family. A second practise that is unacceptable in this model is that the value of an individual is judged on the basis of one’s performance and the worth she/he generates for the organisation. Among the people of God one’s worth is based on the worth God places upon the individual by virtue of creation and redemption and not on how much wealth she/he can generate nor on any other criteria. A third practise that is unacceptable is the wrong leadership models it has created. Leadership in the church is not about holding positions nor is it about administrative and financial power. Leadership in the church is about the spiritual authority invested in a person by virtue of her/his calling and a personal life of godliness and rectitude. And it is demonstrated in selfless and vulnerable servant hood. Over and above as mentioned in my second article, this model of organising has led to commercialism of the worst kind and much abuse of power.

But apart from the fact that these models of ministry are unscriptural, what needs to be said more than anything is that these structures and systems we have created to do our works, ministry and even to ‘do church’, supplant God from our lives. Whether the administrative structures we create or the physical structures we build, very soon they become the source of our sustenance, security and identity and the focus of our devotion. Thus they not only supplant God from our lives but we begin to live and fight for their perpetuity. I call this the ‘Babel Syndrome’. Alonzo McDonald[1] calls it the ‘idol of immortality’ in his article, ‘The grand inquisitor lives – Idolatry in organisations and management’. He writes, “Whenever immortality becomes the central objective of an organisation, its demise is inevitable. Concern for the self-perpetuation of the institution and the preservation of the status quo is the greatest idol that any institution will face…When continuing existence is sought directly as an end rather than as a by-product of serving wider needs, the dynamics of idolatry lead to deception and disaster for organisation.” (No God But God, Os Guinness and John Seel, 1992). Idolatry of church buildings, its systems and structures and also the different ministry organisations is so widespread among us that we hardly consider it as idolatry. As mentioned, anything that becomes the source of our sustenance, security and identity and the focus of our devotion becomes god in our lives. This is the saddest irony among Christians. In the name of worshipping the true and the living God and of serving Him we have unwittingly become idolatrous. And it must be noted that idols are soon overtaken by enslaving evil powers. And we do not even know that we have been tripped into becoming slaves of the evil one in the name of worshipping and serving God. Is this not what the devil tried to do with Jesus in the third temptation?

Listen to the words of Vinoth Ramachandra in his book. ‘Gods That Fail’, “This is seen in every human project: once a project acquires a certain size and becomes invested with human dreams of ‘progress’ or of ‘liberation’, it attains a life of its own, dragging human beings and societies in its wake. It is also seen in the mega-corporations and bureaucracies of the modern world. No one is any longer in control. There is no one who bears responsibility when things go wrong. Having surrendered our hearts, individually and collectively, to idols, we become enslaved by demons.” This is true both with most governments of the nations of the world, the mega-corporations, of Christian institutions and church structures. Today, how many Christian organisations and churches have become enslaving systems for hordes of Christians worldwide. What a tragedy? What a shame! How scandalous! Do you wonder now, why we talked about the four major scandals of Christianity in my first article?

The genius of Jesus knew how to avoid such idolatry. He knew the sting in the temptation brought by the devil and therefore answered, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.” One wonders at the confidence of Jesus when He said to His disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel. He did not give them a structure or an organisation. They were to trust in Him and go. Their living, security and dignity are all given to them as inheritance in Him. They were to go empowered by the Holy Spirit. The only structure that Paul taught for the churches to have, was the simplest, of elders and deacons with oversight confined to the immediately local and not regional, national or global. The church government was to remain essentially and functionally local and personal. I believe, wherever and whenever the structure exceeds the local, it lapses into an enslaving system of idolatry. And wherever and whenever they lapse into idolatry, the Holy Spirit of God withdraws and their effectiveness for God is lost. The history of the Church is littered with such structures. But sadly, we do neither see nor learn from history and so even the best among us continue to trip and fall into the same lure of bigness, greatness and power offered by the evil one in the name of larger influence and greater effectiveness. And lose all influence and effectiveness in the bargain! I believe this is true with so many great and godly men and women in history. Those who began so well, both in the ministry, the business and governments of the world, men and women who were simple and modest in their beginnings but as they grew they fell into the same lure of getting bigger for the sake of greater effectiveness, influence or power. This is the ‘Babel syndrome’, to make a name and reach the skies. Quite often as Paul writes, “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.”(Phil 2: 21). The third temptation of Jesus is about this – greater reach, influence, power, name and glory. God’s pattern is for simple, immediate, personal and relational ways of helping, serving and reaching others. Today in the context of globalisation the temptation is much greater. How many great men and women brought growth, development and comfort to so many yet in the process created structures and systems which later have become enslaving and oppressive. How foolish we are! Oh, that we would sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of Him a little of His genius! Nay, a little of His gentleness and meekness!

Holy God, incarnate Man!

A fourth facet of the life of Christ to look at is His purity of life and righteousness. The purity that Jesus taught can be summarised in two of His statements in His teaching to His disciples. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” and “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:8, 20. The purity taught by Jesus is heart purity and not ritual or external piety; purity of thought, motive, purpose, and action. He had no patience for the Pharisaic righteousness of external, man-pleasing and ritual purity.

But we are running ahead. We must pause and get a right perspective about this whole subject of purity and holiness. If Jesus is who He claimed to be then we must first look at what it means when the Bible talks about God as holy. What is meant by the holiness of God?

The first thing that comes to our mind when we talk about holiness is purity or moral perfection. But it is not the only meaning or the primary meaning of the word. Scholars tell us that it is a difficult word to translate and foreign to most languages. The primary meaning of the word has to do with uniqueness or of being different or separate. R. C Sproul tells us that it comes from an ancient word which meant ‘to cut’ or ‘to separate’ (The Holiness of God, R. C. Sproul, 1985). He suggests that it could be translated as ‘a cut apart’ or ‘a cut above the rest’. So when we talk about God as holy, we are saying that He is a cut above the rest. He is different and separate from everything and anything we know among all creatures. Holiness is what makes God, God. It is what distinguishes Him as God, separate or different from all humans.

When we meet other humans, we are at home with them because we have so many things in common and so many things that we can compare and be comfortable with. But when we come face to face with God, how does it feel? When you find that there is nothing in Him with which we can compare ourselves or nothing common between us, how does it feel? Listen to what Isaiah the prophet says when he came into the presence of the holy God. Before this he had so much to say about the people of Israel, how hypocritical and how sinful they were and he calls down God’s wrath upon them. But now,

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.  Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6: 1-5).

“Woe is me, for I am undone!”…what kind of response is this?  Till now he had not seen anything like this. All that he has seen so far was what he could relate to and was at home. But the holiness of God, that was something different from all that he knew so far. And now he felt totally devastated, undone or dismantled! This is what happens when the finite, mortal and fallen human comes face to face with a holy God – devastation, dismantlement! When we come face to face with Him, all our patterns of thinking, being and doing are undone! The structures and foundations on which we have built our securities and identities come crashing! The hollowness of our inner being is exposed in all its stark nakedness. Ruth Haley Barton writing about what happens when we spend in silence and solitude in the presence of God says, “Perhaps we glimpse an ego-driven self that is bent on control and image-management. Perhaps we see an empty self that is hungry to fill itself with approval of others. Perhaps we glimpse the broken self desperately seeking to preserve its identity as one who has it all together. Or maybe we see a wounded self that has spent untold energy seeking healing where healing cannot be found”. (Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton, 2010). We stand exposed in his awesome presence and we cry, “Woe is me, for I am undone”.

It is only when our spiritual poverty is exposed and disbanded, when the masks we wear are cracked open and the false props on which we have built our securities and identities are undone then we are ready to be put together by Him in grace. Only then do we really begin to recognise and say in utter helplessness and utmost sincerity, “I am what I am by the grace of God”. A person, who has understood the holiness of God, also understands the grace of God. And such a person knows what it means to live under grace. He learns to live in utter dependence upon God and will be totally devoted to Him and not on anything else or to anyone else. He also lives in that confidence and assurance. Such a person is not swayed by anything or anyone in this world. No cost is too big. No barrier is too strong and no glitter is too attractive to draw him away from his Lord and Master. He does not chase the ephemeral riches, the mirage of success or the sheen of dignity offered by the world. Such a person would be ready to walk the way of his Master. He would be able to live through any uncertainty. Listen to the words of such a man, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ…Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christwho strengthens me.” (Phil 3: 7, 8; 4:11-13) When was the last you heard such language from our preachers and leaders today or from the rank and file of our churches?

But, if God is holy and His holiness is His infinite superiority, transcendence, above anyone or anything that we know among all created beings then how does it work out in the life of Jesus Christ on earth? How does it show in God incarnate?

In the gospels we read that the lifestyle of Christ unnerved many. It does even today. The sense of purpose He demonstrated at age of twelve must have been as awe-inspiring to His parents as to the religious leaders listening to Him. Those words do not seem to be that of an over-confident immature young boy trying to be a man or of a precocious adolescent. Very few among men can boast of such clarity and confidence even after many years of woeful searching. His sense of contentment and joy was so enviable and contagious that a rich young man ran to Him to learn the secret of His zest and verve for living. By all standards the rich, young ruler as the gospel records tell us, was far ahead of Jesus in all the worldly attainments and in the acquiring of social and economic status symbols. Yet he realised that this Jesus, who had no house to live in or any money even to pay his taxes and surrounded by a few rustic fisher men had something that was missing in his own life. He must have been convinced that the eternal life that Jesus was talking about must be what He possessed and demonstrated so fully, and what he himself was lacking and needed badly.

The scribes, Pharisees and the teachers of the law were left dumbfounded on several occasions by not only the depth of His understanding of the law, of life and righteousness but the ease with which He talked and lived suggested that it was His natural habitat. Many times both the people and the leaders marvelled at His sense of authority and confidence when He spoke and taught about God and the law. You do not find in Him any sense of insecurity either with regard to His physical needs or about life even when He stood before Pilate. He suffered no crisis of identity when He moved with the socially unacceptable or when He bent down to wash the feet of His disciples. He had no throne, no crown no armies yet He ruled in life as a true king. In the demonstration of His love, compassion and service there are few peers in the history of man. He was as involved with life as He was detached from its cares and pleasures. He was as engaged with the needs, the pains and sorrows of others as He was disengaged from their opinions and pursuits. Jesus was hardly concerned about His image or His looks. Isaiah in His prophecy probably gives us a glimpse into His physical appearance, “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.”(Isaiah 53:2). One wonders where Jesus learnt His homiletics. No one seems to have taught Him the importance of grooming! What can one say about the current rush for image-makeovers and the pre-occupation with the narcissistic? Or of the performance-driven ‘preachers of the gospel’ preening in their cosmetic glory! Surely He lived above the rest around Him then and far above any we know now.

But let us take a look at two areas of His teaching that emphasise His own holiness and His expectation of His followers. The first has been alluded to at the beginning of this section.

Much of the teaching on purity among Christians today revolves around piety or godliness, which are interpreted in very narrow terms of religiosity; of church attendance, regular offering and tithing and in generally being good. I assert that such teaching is superficial and reflects bhakti or religious duty as taught in all religions. What does it mean when Jesus calls for a higher righteousness than that of the Pharisees? He not only meant the higher interpretation of the law which He gave in the Sermon on the Mount but it also means a lifestyle totally different from the way the world lives. Today in many cases among Christians that emphasis is missing. What is totally unacceptable and scandalous is that today even among many so-called Christian circles, dishonesty in relationships, lying, hypocrisy, compromise and plain deception are condoned as unavoidable in a fallen world.  Piety has never been so grossly misunderstood in the history of the church. Godliness or piety meant moral purity, personal holiness, sensitivity and compassion towards the needy and the suffering. The pietism of the 17th Century Europe emphasised “Bible-centered moralism that emphasised personal conviction of sin, repentance, conversion and a new existence in Christ. The forgiven Christian would manifest Christ in his or her daily life through personal holiness and sensitivity to the needs of others.”(Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture through the ages, Robert G. Clouse, Richard V. Pierard, Edwin M. Yamauchi, 1993)  But today the emphasis on personal holiness and separation from the world are so widely neglected.

That brings me to the second area of holiness that was taught by the Lord. Holiness is to be separate or to be different from the world. Jesus taught very plainly and categorically that the pursuits of the people of the world cannot be the pursuits of the people of His kingdom. If as Jesus said “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” how can His followers be engaged or be immersed in materialistic pursuits of amassing wealth and getting richer and richer in this world? And if “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” then how can they pursue the identities and the glories of the world? Listen further to His teaching about the Kingdom. He taught that when invited to a party, not to occupy the place of honour but rather to take a lowly place. And when you throw a party do not invite those who can invite you back but the simple the poor and those who cannot invite you back. And further,

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.  To him who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.  And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.  Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:27-38.

All this suggests that the holiness and righteousness that Jesus taught and demonstrated was not only moral purity but a lifestyle that was superior and different from any that was known in the world then and since. Such a lifestyle demands that we have no concern for our personal security and identity. Since these are met in Christ and therefore we learn to live above such concerns. But such a life could be lived only in the shadow of the assurance of security and acceptance we have in Christ.

It is not only unfortunate but also scandalous that we have taught and lived such a tame gospel. The lifestyle of the Kingdom of God as taught by Lord Jesus Christ is so much different and superior to anything that we know in this world. This is true holiness.

G. K Chesterton lamented, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” It is no wonder then that Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “In truth there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.” I think it is because of that reason we fail to see the true difference of the life that Jesus taught and lived. And it is the reason why, I believe, even to write about it is so difficult. As I developed the thoughts in this article that was my experience and challenge; to write about something that we do not see in anyone around nor is it something that is normal for us.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, apostle Paul warns, “I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (11:2, 3). For all appearances this warning of Paul seems to have come true today. We are so enamoured by the gifts and blessings of the modern world that we hardly understand the nature of our calling to follow Christ and seem to have given ourselves liberal discounts on discipleship to Him! We are so numbed by the comforts and conveniences of the world and are so drunk on them that we do not even see or understand how far we have drifted from the model that Christ has given us in His own life on earth! We have been deceived and corrupted from the simplicity and the purity in Christ.

So to the question, how then should we live? The answer is simple and clear ‘Live like Jesus, the Man’. But to live as Jesus lived, we must immerse ourselves in the gospels with the plea as that of the Greeks who came to Phillip, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus’ and be willing to ‘learn of Him”, His life of devotion and dependence upon the Father, of contentment, gratitude and simplicity, of sharing, service and sacrifice and of holiness, righteousness and justice.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honours of Thy name.

Jesus! The name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.

Ecce homo! Behold, the man! Amen.

He lived among us!

(A poem)

The creator of heaven and earth

He whom the heavens cannot contain;

How was he contained in a womb?

Or be laid in a borrowed tomb?

He was born among us, as us!

He lived with the mortals,

The infinite and the immortal;

With man he made his dwelling

For 33 years humbly willing,

He lived among us, for us!

He ate and slept like the rest of us,

Hated and slandered as one with us,

Yet not hating as any among us,

Living as man in order to show us.

He lived among us, as us!

His gentle touch brought great solace

To the broken-hearted, words of grace;

As cool waters to a parched soul,

To the hypocrite, as scorching a hole.

He lived among us, as us!

Where do you live – they wished to know.

Come and see – if you would follow.

Birds and foxes, burrows and nests,

The Maker of heavens has no place to rest.

He lived among us, as us!

To reveal the Father, He did come,

Redeem the lost and take them home;

Stripped and wounded by those he would save,

Nailed to the stake, yet he forgave.

He died for us, as us!

In the garden, fetters lay shattered;

Death and sin forever vanquished;

Men and angels rejoice he is God;

Raised to the heavens, as Lord.

He arose, to live in us!


[1] Alonzo L. McDonald has several decades of management experience in professional firms, government, media and in large and small businesses. He is a former U.S. ambassador, a former White House staff director, and a former faculty member of the Harvard Business School.