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?

The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

2. God is number one, He won’t be number two

Let us first take up the issue of our discipleship to Christ and how it has been compromised. This has happened precisely because we have not understood the implications of knowing God as One!

The Bible is united in its affirmation of God as One. The Jewish Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

What does it mean in practise and what are its implications for life?

We do know that intolerance is born of a monotheistic understanding of God. If God is One and there is no other, then no other god or faith or religion can exist. Generally all who believe in God as monotheistic, express it in the form of intolerance towards all who do not believe in Him. But intolerance is a negative form of expressing the belief and it has no place in Christian faith. The Bible does talk about God as One, but it also teaches that the One God reveals Himself as Three. If three personal beings with free wills of their own co-exist and be so united that they are One then intolerance of the kind that is prevalent in the world today has no room in Christian faith. But what is the right and positive way of expressing our belief in God as One? It is ‘single-hearted devotion’ or as stated in the second part of Jewish Shema and affirmed by Jesus Christ in the words of the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The first of the ten commandments is, “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me.” A popular chorus for children restates it as “God is number one. He won’t be number two”. Jesus stated the same in his call to discipleship, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Os Guinness and John Seel write, “To say that there is one God and no god but God is not the conclusion of a syllogism nor simply an article in a creed. It is an overpowering, brain-hammering, heart-stopping truth that is a command to love the only one worthy of our entire and unswerving allegiance.” (Emphasis mine)

Is this not what is missing among Christians today? The right way of expressing our belief in God as One, is unswerving allegiance to him or in the words of Apostle Paul, ‘single-heartednes’ towards Christ. Instead we have begun to live dual lives – a life of faith in God, of following Christ and of pursuing self and the world!

The words of Paul ‘…simplicity that is in Christ’ can also be translated as ‘sincere devotion to Christ’ or ‘single-heartedness towards Christ’. As I said in my first article on this subject of ‘Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority – Riding Two Horses’, rather than singleness of heart we have begun to ‘ride two horses’. Or as Paul says about Timothy in Philippians 2: 19-20 ‘…all seek their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus’. The modern world has made it both easy and very attractive to ‘follow Christ’ and to pursue self-interest, self-preservation, and personal material affluence. This kind of duality among Christians today is so universal, pervasive and entrenched that we hardly notice it and even if noticed we think it is normal and nothing to worry about nor worthy of paying any attention to. It is appalling to see that many well-meaning Christians are living such dual lives and do not see anything wrong with it!

Quite early in my own personal walk with Christ I came across the statement, “No man or woman amounts to anything in the kingdom, no soul ever touches even the edge of the zone of power, until this lesson is learned that Christ’s business is the supreme concern of life and that all personal considerations, however dear or important, are tributary thereto (Dr. Francis quoted in ‘Streams in the Desert’ – Devotion for December 14) Such thinking clearly indicates one’s theology. Stories of men and women who pursued God and made loving Him their primary pursuit in life testify to it.

If we are created by God and bought with the blood of His own Son then surely we do not belong to ourselves. Therefore “…those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” We just cannot live for anyone else or for anything else. To do so amounts to not only violation of the first commandment but also to violate the terms of discipleship to Christ.

In my first article I had written, “Nothing can be more plain than that. We cannot live for ourselves. Period. Not for our own desires, ambitions, pleasures, aspirations, comforts, security, identity, dignity, glory whatever. We cannot live a life of self-seeking. We live for Christ and His kingdom – his pleasures, his desires, his will, his glory and nothing else. The day you and I decided to follow Christ or the day His choice fell upon us, my friends, we have lost all rights to live for ourselves. If you do not like this then you do not understand the gospel or you are still holding on to your self. There is no choice here. Either we follow Christ and give him our total allegiance or we leave and go our own way.”

Os Guinness and John Seel explain that this kind of unconditional allegiance to Christ means unconditional refusal to give God’s place to anyone and anything else. Such people are uncompromising, unmalleable and therefore unconquerable too. Often they are viewed as intolerant because they are intransigent. Their intransigence is born because of their allegiance to God, the One and only, who has revealed himself in the incarnation of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not the rabid intolerance of the religious fanatic, who bays for the blood of those who disagree. But these uncompromising people do not engage in coercion nor in the extermination of those who disagree with them. But it is seen in their unswerving allegiance or sincere devotedness to Christ and His kingdom.

Such allegiance or devotedness is what constitutes true worship. Paul calls it ‘reasonable service’ or ‘right kind of worship’. Anything less is not worthy of him. Anything else is not worship but strange fire. Any worship without such unswerving love and devotedness is not worship. There is no religious ritual or custom or tradition that can compensate for this. There is no need for any religious place or sanctuary where this worship can be offered. It is given in the life of the individual in spirit and in truth.

Let me bring in a parallel from the book of Exodus. God sent Moses to Pharoah saying, “Let my people go that they may worship me”. But Pharoah would not let them go. He reasoned that they were not kept busy enough with work and therefore they wanted to go on a day’s journey into the desert to worship. First he said they could worship right where they were. Later he said that only men could go and leave the rest of the family behind. He increased their work so that they would not have time to think about worship. I believe we have a modern-day Pharoah in our work and employment. Our employers and employment keep us occupied with work so that we do not give single-hearted devotion to Christ. Or they would have us treat work as worship! Or even work as mission! Or work-place as fishing pond to fish men for Christ! There are a thousand and odd ways the world and its system would want us to be bound up with, so that we do not give unstinted love for Christ. Our God would have none of it. Either we love Him whole heartedly and follow Christ wholly or serve Mammon and the world!

Anyone who wishes to be faithful to his call to follow Christ can never be totally comfortable in the world. Nor can they be comfortable working in any of the organisations and corporations today including church and ministry related works. Any prayer seeking to be comfortable in the world is a wrong prayer.

Oswald Chambers writes, “Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ…The greastest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him…The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Hm.” Only when our discipleship to Christ is understood this way and we are willing to give such unswerving allegiance to him, can we recover our calling and our witness. Without this our own discipleship to Christ would be suspect.

Do you now see, why I say that our condition today is lamentable?

The One, The Three and The Many

Reclaiming Christian Witness and Authority

1. A lamentation and a call for God’s people today!

For 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.”
2 Corinthians 11: 2-3.

What Paul feared seems to have come true! The church being deceived and thus the minds corrupted from the simplicity in Christ appears to have come true over the last two millenia. As I argued in an earlier article the subversion of the church, for all practical purposes, is complete.

A lamentation!
How has it come about that God’s own people have lost their witness and their authority weakened among the nations of the world? Here is Jeremiah’s lamentation of the condition of the people of Israel in Lamentations 4: 1-9:
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!
Even jackals offer their breasts
to nurse their young,
but my people have become heartless
like ostriches in the desert.
Because of thirst the infant’s tongue
sticks to the roof of its mouth;
the children beg for bread,
but no one gives it to them.
Those who once ate delicacies
are destitute in the streets.
Those brought up in royal purple
now lie on ash heaps….
Their princes were brighter than snow
and whiter than milk,
their bodies more ruddy than rubies,
their appearance like lapis lazuli.
But now they are blacker than soot;
they are not recognized in the streets.
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.

Jeremiah’s lamentation of old, is my lamentation today for the people of God, the church!
How has it come about that fine gold has lost its lustre? How is it that the people of God, once worth their weight in gold are considered as pots of clay? And those who ate delicacies are destitute and those brought up in royal purple now lie on ash heaps? How is it that those ruddier than rubies are now blacker than soot and not recognised in the streets, their skin shriveled and sticking to the bones?

Is this not our condition today? Is this not the condition of many churches and many Christians today? Have we no eyes to see? Or have we become so increased with goods gained from our pursuit of the world – what with our state-of-the-art technologies and slick Sunday services and programmes – that we think we are rich and have need of nothing? And do not know that we are wretched, miserable, blind and naked, like the Laodicean church?

Despite all that is going on among Christians worldwide – East or West, I believe the spiritual condition of the church is not in good shape at all. We have become unrecognisable as God’s people and lost our witness. Rather than holding up our reports and statistics, we need to call for fasting and prayer. When Nehemiah heard about the condition of the people and the walls of Jerusalem, he says, “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” ‘Wall of Jerusalem was broken’ indicates, the line of demarcation between them and the world, the walls of identity and separation were broken and this is what made Nehemiah weep and pray about. And this is what my lamentation is about – we have lost our identity and therefore our witness in the world, as God’s people. We have become one among the nations, in our worship and our lifestyles, therefore our witness is lost.

When and how has this come about?

This has come about precisely because our worship and our understanding of God became distorted.

And the call to the people of God today is the same call that God sent to the church at Laodicea, through His servant John the beloved while he was on the island of Patmos,
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”

Or the same call as given by Haggai, the prophet

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord.” (Hag 1: 7,8)

What needs to be lamented about more is the fact of how deficient our understanding of God is and has been for several centuries. I believe that the words in Revelation 3: 18, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire” and the words of Haggai, “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber” imply similar meaning.

I believe, that the prophets are calling us to seek to have intimate understanding of God, to have personal dealings and experiences with Him and to build our lives and the lives of others based on such intimacy with God.

Even a casual observation of the present condition of many Christians and churches worldwide makes it quite plain that our theologies, namely our understanding of God is very shallow. Hence our worship distorted, our witness weak and our behaviours diseased. The present condition of the loss of Christian witness and authority is because of a deficient understanding of God. And if we are to reclaim or recover our witness then we must rediscover the God of the Bible in such a way that not only our behaviours are healed but we regain our witness as God’s people in the world. We must seek to understand God in all His glory as revealed to us in His word as well as in the incarnation of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In what way have we been deceived and our minds been corrupted, in the words of apostle Paul? In what way have we been led away from a sincere devotion or single-heartedness to Christ? And what is it that has weakened our witness and made us lose our authority?

Broadly I believe, it has happened in three different areas – both in individual lives of Christians and corporately as church. In the individual lives of Christians this has happened at the level of our discipleship to Christ. This is because of a lack of understanding of who God is and why he makes such demands on us or why the terms of discipleship to Christ are so stringent.

Corporately it has happened at two different levels – in how we express our spirituality in relation to God or at the level of our worship and the second in relation to the way we live in the world. I am referring specifically to the way Christian faith has been reduced to the level of a religion like any other religion and the inroads that modernity or modernisation, as it is known in history, has made and impacted the way we live undermining our calling to live as Christ lived. These two influences have a python-like stranglehold over the church today.

I shall establish how these influences have had a devastating effect on the church and its witness because of a deficient understanding of the God of the Bible and His incarnation in and through His Son, Jesus Christ.

In the rest of my article, we shall seek to understand the implications of knowing God as One, knowing Him as Three and knowing Him as incarnate. In doing so we shall have arrived at knowing how to reclaim our Christian witness and authority among the nations of the world.

NB: To Follow:

2. God is number one. He won’t be number two

3. Invisible, Unrepresentable, Unassimillable

4. One, Three and Many

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

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

To my friends, family and to all my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am writing this with a  heavy heart and to warn us of the dangers we are living in. You might think that it is preposterous. censorious, unreasonable or even mad of me to write this way. Frankly I do not care. But I hope and pray that we will start looking at what is going on around us and make the needed changes. I am open to any clarifications or discussions on issues I raise here…Thanks for allowing me to share and be myself with you.
Sometime back I was asked, what is the greatest danger to the church today, I responded by saying, “The greatest danger to the church today is the church herself”.
We, the church, God’s own people have, for far too long indulged in an illegitimate relationship with the world. I would say that this unholy alliance has been going on probably for several centuries now and hence we do not see anything wrong with it. Since all of us were born into this condition, we think what we see around us is normal, natural and nothing wrong.
Practically all that is going on in the church today – the so called church services, and the several ministries that take place both in the church and the para church organisations and most of the preaching/teaching of the word of God that is going on in the church including the way we interpret scriptures – is as a result of the illegitimate relationship between the church and the world – to meet the needs, issues, difficulties and problems arising as a result of the illegitimate relationship with the world.
Many take shelter in the fact that they have achieved so much in their life and ministries or that they have been able to bring many to salvation or that their prayers have been answered in so many ways and the proof of it is in their success…both in the world and in the church and the ministries they do. After you have given me all your statistics and shown me the fruit of your labours and shared your testimonies of the so called goodness of God and his answers to your prayers both in your personal, family and church lives – I would still cry out and say, “It is all because of God’s common grace. Such things do happen even for those who do not profess Christ.” Where is the cross in our lives and where is the ‘special grace’ seen in the way we reject and repudiate the world in all its forms among us.
And by worldliness, I mean the identity, the securities, the power and the glory the world offers. The people of God have not only dallied with these but have desired to be defined and described by the categories of the world, for far too long now (often in the delusion of reaching the world).
The worldliness among God’s people is on several fronts. We have today made Christianity a religion. The insistence on church attendance on Sundays at a particular place, giving of offering and tithes as a mandatory way of pleasing God and to find blessing in life are just two forms of religion in the church. Today most Christians worship their church structures, church patterns, services and in some cases even the founders of their church. Some even worship their own success both in the world, church and the ministry. And many worship, worship itself and not the LORD God of the Bible and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the final analysis, worship is about trust in and obedience to the one we call as Lord and God of our lives. It has nothing to do with a place, a system, order or pattern. It is about a lifestyle of faith and obedience to God. By reducing worship to a ritual, a tradition, an order or a pattern we have reduced Christian faith to a religion, which neither the gospels nor the epistles teach. Neither the gospels nor any of the epistles teach any ritual or form. But they are replete with teaching on how we should live.
A second area of worldliness among God’s people is the adopting of the middle-class pursuits and lifestyles. This is primarily an offshoot of the capitalist model of economy and not the result of meditation and worship of the God of the Bible nor His Son. The middle class dream has become the dream of many ‘followers of Christ’ including many great preachers and leaders in the church. Most of our prayers are centred around this pursuit or on problems arising out of it. And practically all the ministries that were born in the last century or so, are born to service the problems and issues arising from the pursuit of middle class dreams. If this is not an accommodation and adjustment with the world then what is?
A third aspect of the illegitimate cohabitation with the world is the systems and structures we have raised to ‘run our churches’ (I say it in quotes because there is no such concept of running a church in the NT) or to do our ministries – the penchant for building large buildings, organisational and administrative structures – the strategies, the projects, the programmes, the language and the terminologies, including the theologies we have come up with to justify them. These structures and systems are all born as a result of human fallenness and therefore reek of human insecurity and identity crisis which itself is a result of our fallenness. These are all borrowed from the world and are not a product of our meditation and worship of the Triune God nor of his incarnation in Christ.
Revelation 3:

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

 

Rather than hiding behind false pretences, justifications and excuses….let us get earnest and repent!

Amen,

Enoch.

 

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.