Biblical Plumb-line For Life

Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve

(Biblical Plumb-line For Life)

Enoch Era

Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:14-15.

You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Matthew 6:24.

As we come to the denouement of the ages and are on the brink of entering the promised heavenly Canaan, the call before us is to choose who we serve.

I think the Lord is not looking for large numbers. He is looking for a remnant. Those who followed him wholeheartedly. Those who have not defiled themselves with the world. “It is these who have not defiled themselves…. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.”

The choice is simple but clear. The first commandment and the call to follow Christ both make it very plain that we cannot serve anyone else or anything else.

But today Mammon or money seems to rule everywhere. If we say ‘Jesus is Lord’, Mammon seems to counter it and say ‘Even to serve Jesus, you need me’.

The whole world has gone behind Mammon. The terrorist, the fundamentalist, the liberal, the moralist, the immoral, the far right and the far left, the good, the bad everyone seems to be enslaved to money. The only thing that seems to unite us is money. In history religion, language, race, class, creed, colour, caste have always divided. We are all divided by many things but united in the need, the use and the control of money over us worldwide. We do not recognise it. We do not claim unity on the basis of money yet it is true we are one as long as money is concerned. There is no economic north or south. There is no first world or third world when it comes to the dominance of money. There is no poor, there is no rich as far as its control is concerned.

Christians and the church world wide are no different. They have simply capitulated to the power of money. Practically nothing happens in our lives and churches without money. Every one pays obeisance to it in the seeking, using, saving and cherishing of it. We are happy when we have it. We are sad, disappointed or fearful when we run out of it. Practically everyone of us, including our churches, ministries and leaders take decisions on the basis of availability of funds or the confidence of raising it. We have almost come to the stage where we think that the kingdom of God and missions cannot happen without money.

We say ‘Jesus is Lord’ and that living for Him is our priority. Yet we spend 10-12 hours a day in seeking, earning, spending and saving money. Any time that is left is divided between our time for sleep, recreation, shopping, eating, ministry and worship. We fight over it. We go to courts over it. The question is, ‘Who then is our Lord?’

Oh, the pernicious habit of boasting about our wealth, achievements and attainments, overtly many times but covertly often. Many derive their pride and glory in these. Of course with a parenthetical suffix that it is all ‘by the grace of God’. I am talking about even those who boast about their achievements in ministry. This includes many in the church hierarchies and Christian mission.

We express in very subtle ways, our confidence not only in money but in several things acquired from the pursuit of the world. When you look at many Christians you wonder how much of their confidence in life comes from Christ and how much from their money, education, designation, church affiliation, caste, class, creed, colour and other things. If you are pursuing goals of providing for yourself and your family – financial security. If your value and dignity comes from your pay-packet, bank balance, the house you live in, the car you drive, the degrees beside your name and the position you hold in your job and at the same time you claim to follow Christ, then the call is to you.

So the question is, ‘Who do you serve, my friend?’ Lord Jesus made it very clear that, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

If those who have rejected God’s general revelation and have never heard the gospel, are ‘without excuse’ according to Apostle Paul, how much more those of us who have read and learnt about the Word incarnate and have God’s written Word in our hands, shall we be held responsible? ‘To whomsoever much is given of him shall be much required’ the Lord said.

Judge for yourselves my friends, if what I am saying makes sense or not. Unfortunately we have learnt wrong habits in reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament. First it must be read as God’s word to a people and not to individuals. Even where individuals are addressed it is in the context of the corporate. Second, much of Old Testament must be read in the context of the Ten Commandments and especially in the context of understanding God as One. Seek the face of the Lord and search the scriptures regarding what I am saying and judge for yourselves, if I am crying wolf!

In closing, I must add what the word of God teaches regarding violation of the first commandment and by implication the terms of discipleship to Christ. Moses clearly taught the people of Israel, that any violation or disobedience to His commands brings down upon them the curses spoken in Deuteronomy 29. Read especially the verses from 9-28. And in Deuteronomy 13, Moses taught what must be done to anyone who misleads God’s people from following the Lord whole heartedly. When I look at the condition of the church today worldwide, I wonder if what’s spoken in Deuteronomy 29 has come true among us. In Hebrews 3, Paul picks up on the thought and tells us that many Israelites did not enter the promised land because of unbelief and disobedience.

I believe, we have mislead many God’s people by teaching them to pursue worldly careers and middle-class lifestyles. We have not only egged people on to do it, we prayed for them and gave them promises from scripture to encourage them to do it. It needs to be mentioned here that all the promises in the Old Testament which most Christians quote and claim for their lives were given to the people of Israel corporately and not for individuals to pursue their own dreams and desires in life. These promises are certainly not meant for our present career-driven, materialistic and middle-class lifestyles. The promises can be certainly claimed if we align our lives with the corporate goals and purposes of God for the Church. Even promises given individually to people in Old Testament were in the context of corporate life and for the fulfilling of corporate objectives. Those promises were never given to encourage people to pursue lifestyles which are totally against what is taught and demonstrated by Christ and His apostles. This guilt of misleading people, lies at the doors of parents and elders in families, pastors, teachers and leaders. Deuteronomy 13 applies to all such, if they do not repent. And Deuteronomy 29: 9-28 applies to all who have pursued the world and at the same time tried to follow Christ.

The first commandment, “I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me.” and the call to follow Christ are categorical and unequivocal. These two are the plumb-lines that any Christian can use at any time to see if their lives are aligned with God’s word.

Therefore, the call to you today, “Choose you this day whom you will serve”. Will you serve the gods of the surrounding people around you or the LORD JESUS CHRIST?

And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord. “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.” Joshua 24: 26, 27.

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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

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

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”

How Then Should We Live? Part 4

Read Part 1,2 and 3 below…

4. Lifestyle of faith

Most of the God-talk, the talk of ministry and the talk of being Christian around us today, is just that. Just talk and no walk! And I include myself in it. For all practical purposes and practically everywhere, what we all have ultimately settled for, is to pursue our concerns of security and identity even while claiming to be following Christ and ‘doing ministry’. We use God to serve us on the pretext of serving Him! Practically all our problems that we face in our churches and ministries are related to these pursuits. We will serve Him and follow Him, as long as He allows us to build our securities and identities. We rationalise and protest, we fight and quarrel, we victimise and play the victim, and we politicise and divide when our agendas and pursuits are not served. The politics we play, the leadership problems we have, are all to do with the same pursuits, in the final analysis. I am reminded in this context a quote from Os Guinness’s book, ‘The Call’. Thomas Linacre (1460–1524), founder of the Royal College of Physicians and a distinguished Oxford humanist, was so troubled after the reading the four gospels, he said, “Either these are not the gospels or we are not Christians.” I believe what he said is as true today almost six centuries later as it was during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII in 15th century England albeit, possibly for different reasons.

Let me address two or three objections my readers might bring to what I am saying. The first is that I am making huge generalisation and painting all Christians with the same brush. I must admit that it is true to a large extent. I am making huge generalisations because what I am saying in these articles is generally true of most of us globally, barring a few stray exceptions among us. We have become so much adapted to the modern lifestyles and are so used to the comforts and conveniences of modernity that we hardly understand nor practise our calling to follow Christ, truthfully. Os Guinness writes, “Hardly any Christians are world-denying these days…On every side we see Christians pursuing the rage for relevance, whether seeking the respect of the “cultured despisers’ of the gospel, reaching out to the contemporary “unchurched” with a “user friendly” gospel, or just enjoying the comforts of the age. For many believers the Christian life is now a good life: it simply “goes better with Jesus” even if there is no God and no Resurrection. The result is a series of adaptations of the Christian faith to modern man, that are a capitulation with few rivals in two thousand years.” (The Call, Os Guinness, 2003)

One of the most blatant and universally common adaptations of life to the world, among Christians is the career-driven model of life. This is so common that today even ministry is viewed as a career, as argued in my first article. What is so disquieting is that, it is taught and practised so brazenly even by most pastors and leaders. We spend hours in praying for God’s blessing on our pursuits not realising that we are asking Him what He has so distinctly proscribed(1 John 2: 15-17; James 4: 1-4). The call to follow Christ sounds the death knell to all our ambitions and aspirations for personal or organisational power and glory. It means an end to all kinds of self-aggrandisement and for all prospects for coming up and making it big in life. Don’t we know that anyone who takes up the cross to follow Him must be willing to die on that cross?

The second objection I hear is that I am proposing a perfectionist few of Christian faith. I wonder how anyone can make such an objection. I am not talking about perfectionism. I am talking about obeying Christ and following him whole-heartedly. We do not read anywhere in the gospels, Jesus lowering the terms of His call to follow Him. There are no discounts or rebates offered for discipleship. Instead Jesus challenged people to first count the cost and only then to follow Him (Luke 14: 25-33). Do I hear some say, “What about the thief on the cross?” I hope that it does not reveal the thieving mind to somehow sneak in into heaven at the end, without any cross and cost! The problem with our fallen nature is that when we are bent upon doing what is wrong and evil, “…the mind turns from reason to rationalisation” as Dallas Willard points out. Our heart is desperately wicked as the Bible tells, so when we are cornered, rather than accepting that we could be wrong. It finds ways of explanation, excuse and if possible escape from doing what is right. Or to justify that what we are doing is right.

Take heed, how you build

A third objection could be about my credentials or authority. What authority do I have to question so many and across the board especially when so many well-meaning, godly men and women have done so much for so many centuries? Am I not being arrogant or simply a charlatan? To answer the objection, let me point that we cannot be our own judges. How can the accused be the law-enforcement, the lawyer and the judge? It is no wonder that we justify ourselves! We must all stand before the bar of His Word now (Matt 7: 21-27) and later before His throne. “…But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Cor 3:10-15). We are called now, to take heed how we build. It will be too late at the final judgment.

I have no doubt that the Lord has used so many women and men of God and the organisations raised by them for the salvation of many and the building of His kingdom. Yet I must point out that the fact that God graciously uses our weak and faltering efforts is no excuse for us to continue to do what others have done all along, without any reflection and introspection. We must constantly reflect and learn from the mistakes of the past and move on towards the model He has Himself set for us in His own life on earth. My only concern and appeal is that we not only focus on the goals and objectives of serving the cause of God’s kingdom, but also to see that the ways and means we employ are also derived from the scripture and are in alignment with the values of His kingdom. Otherwise we would be employing, tools borrowed from the world and designed by the devil to do the work of God. This is precisely what the devil wanted Jesus to do in the temptations on the mountain top, as explained earlier in my articles. Quite early in my life I have learnt that the fact that God uses us is no guarantee that everything is alright with us. He uses and blesses our efforts to get his work done for reasons and purposes only He knows. But we must always be waiting on him to know and see if we are following in His steps and doing as He wants us to do. Finally about my authority and credentials, I have none except what prophet Amos claimed in Amos 7: 14-15: “…I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet…Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock…” That is my only claim to any authority, apart from sincere but faltering efforts at following Him for nearly forty years of my life.

Removing the old, bringing in the new

The letter to Hebrews ends with the statement that God is shaking up everything that can be shaken in order to remove them so that, that which cannot be shaken may remain (12: 26-28). What is it that God is shaking up in order to remove? And what is it that God is brining in which cannot be shaken and which remains?

The drift of the whole letter indicates that God is shaking up the old order of things in order to bring in the new. He is removing the old form of worship, the old covenant, the man-made structures, the external, that which is physical and a shadow of the real. He is bringing in the real, the heavenly, and the spiritual. He is removing the temple worship, the never ending sacrifices which needed to be offered year after year and which never made anyone totally righteous. The priesthood was only a shadow of what Christ was to do upon the cross, a perfect priest of a perfect sacrifice offered in the very presence of God, the Holiest of all. How was all this going to be mediated to the believer? It was through a new covenant. The terms of the new covenant were that God would now work through His Holy Spirit by putting His word into our hearts. And therefore, how are we to live? There are no more animal sacrifices to offer. No more temples to attend. No more any need for priests to mediate for us. In fact there is no need for any ecclesiastical orders or for any kind of standard liturgies to follow, in order for man to approach God to worship Him or to live our lives pleasing to Him. Ecclesiastical orders and liturgies might have been of use to some in the past and they might still be helpful to many. To the extent these do not become enslaving forms they might still be good. No doubt these have been devised as helps with good intentions by godly men and women and are based on the teaching of the scripture. But we are now called upon to live by faith, “The just shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38). It is very unfortunate that the Christian world has reverted back to man-made systems and structures in order to worship God. It is a sad irony that while we talk about being the ‘temple of the Holy Ghost’ we still build sanctuaries and demand attendance at those physical structures as a mark of faithfulness and devotion unto God. This is the reason why I assert that the darkest day in the history of the church was the day when we began to build physical structures and began to call them sanctuaries or places of worship. Is it not true that it was this practise more than any other that has made us more like any other religion of the world? And that it was this more than any other that has brought in all kinds of ills that plague us today – our politics, our divisions, and everything else that we needed to run them. Whether the management systems or the organisational models that we borrowed from the world to run our systems and structures.

How do we live then? The just shall live by faith and not in fear is the answer of the letter to Hebrews.

Most of us live by fear – fear of people, fear of future, fear of disease, fear of death, fear of losing our dignity and name, fear of losing our securities and so on. But in the Bible we are called to live by faith – faith, not just for justification but we must learn to live our whole lives by faith. In chapter 11, the author sets forth for us what it looks like to live by faith. We shall explore three men and their lives of faith mentioned here in Hebrews 11, and draw lessons about them from other parts of the scripture as well. But we must address a few popular teachings on faith before we begin to explore the life of faith of Enoch, Abraham and Moses.

Faith as positive thinking

There are three very popular teachings on faith which need to be clarified in this context. These have become very popular over the last fifty years or so. These are generally known by catchy slogans – The ‘power of positive thinking’, the ‘power of positive confession’ and the ‘seed-faith movement’. The first one came into popularity through the book of the same title and a radio talk hosted by Norman Vincent Peale in 1960s. The teaching views faith as positive thinking. It is what most management students learn about the importance of perspective – the ‘glass is empty or full’ tool. That one should not look at the negative aspect of the situation but to look at the positive. His book became very popular even among those who are not Christians and was read by millions across the world. Later Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral fame, Joyce Meyers and Joel Osteen are among the other most popular televangelists who have successfully used this teaching combining it with scriptures and have built multi-million dollar ministries. There is a lot of simple common sense in what they teach. The subtlety is in the using of biblical texts to buttress what they say. But it does not constitute the gospel of Christ. Their books and talks, in my opinion can be categorised as purely motivational. Schuller and Meyers books are very popular and are read by many people across the world.

Faith as positive confession

The power of positive confession or positive speaking or the Word-Faith movement school, has sprung up as an offshoot of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. It combines the positive thinking teaching of Peale with scripture which teach about speaking out what you believe. One such texts is the one Jesus taught, “I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17: 20). Positive confession/speaking teach about claiming in prayer and speaking out boldly in faith what you claim. That what you speak out and say out loud will be done because you are speaking out what you believe to be true. The power of positive speaking is about speaking directly to the problem, sickness and need, and not necessarily to God in prayer. The most popular among those with varied shades of the teaching are Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Paul (David) Yongi Cho, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Charles Capps, Morris Cerullo, Andrew Wommack, Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen, D. G. S. Dinakaran, his son Paul Dinakaran in India and a host of other small time and regional preachers across India. Most of those listed above have gone on to build huge personal empires in the name of ministry. Some of them live very lavish and opulent lifestyles, quite often with the gifts given by many unsuspecting, sincere and simple people. They justify such lifestyles as a blessing from God. The point is you do not see the cross or the lifestyle of Christ in their lives.

Faith as sowing seed

The ‘sow and reap’ or the ‘seed-faith’ teaching also falls into the same category. Seed-faith was first taught by Oral Roberts. Later several picked up on it, teaching people to give or sow in the church or the ministry of the preacher, in order to reap a harvest of blessings. The ‘sow and reap’ or’ seed-faith’ teaching is generally based on 2 Corinthians 9: 6, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” If one reads carefully the context of what Apostle Paul is writing here, it becomes very plain that his emphasis was not on the reaping at all. It was in order to encourage liberal giving to send relief to the needy Christians in Jerusalem; the Apostle is giving the illustration of the farmer who sows liberally. Paul was appealing them to give liberally neither to support the work he was doing nor to maintain a rich lifestyle. If one reads 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 the tenor of Apostle Paul’s appeal makes it plain that, giving should not be encouraged to the point where the giver is put under the stress of poverty nor the recipient under the stress of riches or luxury. Good giving should lead to equality and not to inequality or to uphold the lavish lifestyles of the pastors and leaders.

All these teachings prey upon the fears and the need for security and identity of the people and promises well-being, wealth and prosperity in the name of Christ and His gospel. This encourages and enslaves people to the pursuit of the securities and identities of the world. Exactly what the Lord Jesus said the people of His Kingdom should not be seeking. There is practically very little emphasis on the need for repentance from sin. There is no teaching about the lifestyle of faith, or of the cross which includes self-denial and sacrifice. If self-denial and sacrifice are taught at all, it is taught so that people should deny themselves and give liberally to the ministry of the teacher or the evangelist. Such preaching is not biblical and misleads many from the truth of the gospel. It brings great reproach to the name of Christ.

But the lifestyle of faith looks totally different from any of the above teachings. Let us now turn our attention to Hebrews 11.

 

He walked and he was not!

In Genesis 5: 24 it is written that Enoch walked with God. And Hebrews 11: 5-6 says, “…he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

It must be pointed out that when the Bible talks about faith it does not mean the general spiritual or mental ability to believe. When the Bible talks about faith, it means the response of trust and commitment that a person shows towards the revelation of God or to the Word of God. First, the object of faith is in focus. It is faith in what or whom? It is faith in the God who speaks or reveals Himself. Such faith is seen in trusting the person you believe and giving off of yourself to Him at any cost and against all odds. It means relying or leaning upon Him. These are the first steps in the life of faith. This is what marks each person mentioned in Hebrews 11. And this is what draws God’s attention and approval.

Third, the life of faith is demonstrated in diligent seeking or desiring. It is not enough to claim that we believe in God. But it must show in the way we live and the changes we make in order to seek Him and know Him. Diligence is about putting effort into, or bringing in the needed disciplines to know God. To discipline means the willingness to deny ourselves of anything that hinders. It means saying ‘no’ to certain things but saying ‘yes’ to Him, to His claims and to His demands over us. So the life of faith is a life of discipline. It is a life which puts in, regular and honest effort to seek Him and to know Him. It could mean spending in times of silence and solitude with Him. It means setting apart times of prayer and Bible reading. It means making sacrifices and denying ourselves in order to please Him.

“Can two walk together, unless…”

Enoch walked with God – to walk with another involves agreeing with that person as written in Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” Walking with another means intimacy, friendship, agreement and pleasing. It is no wonder then that the Bible says that Enoch pleased God. And their intimacy was such that God took him away to be with Him. He is one of the two people in the whole Bible, who did not see physical death as known to us. But, if walking means agreeing together, then in a walk between two unequals who must agree with whom? Obviously the lesser must agree to the greater. In this walk of Enoch and God, Enoch must agree with God. But what is it that we have to agree to, in order to walk with God? I can think of two major areas where we must agree with God, in order to walk in intimacy with Him. The first is His sovereignty and the second is His holiness.

Anyone who wishes to know and walk in intimate relationship with the God of the Bible must at some point come face to face with His sovereignty. Because He is God, His authority and His control over everything is final and supreme. And since He is the One and only, and no one else beside Him, His supreme command in the words of the Lord Jesus is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt 22:37-38). This means that we are not our own, we belong to Him. That we have no rights only the responsibility to live for Him and to please Him. Does it sound autocratic? Does it seem enslaving? But that is what we are made for. Living for Him, in love and obedience is our safe haven. As the birds are made to fly and the fish to swim in water, we are made for Him, to live, to move and have our being in Him. As the strings of a guitar find their meaning and music in being tied at both ends, we find our freedom and fulfilment in being bound to Him alone. And everything else and anyone else that tries to take His place must be eschewed.

Os Guinness & 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…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.” His is a call to absolute submission and obedience. Either He is Lord of all or not lord at all! He brooks no rivals, nor any defiance.

Dismantling and redefining

Second knowing Him in His holiness brings us to a shattering and dismantling discovery of ourselves, that there is nothing in us that can make us acceptable or pleasing to Him. Anyone who has come face to face with the Holy God cannot be the same anymore. The holiness of God shatters all images we have of ourselves. The images that I have of myself, as a good son or daughter, a good spouse, a good preacher or teacher, a good leader or any other role that I play in life – all these, when compared with the Holiness of God, are shattered. I begin to see that I have not been and done what is expected of me and that I have failed to meet His mark. We cast ourselves at His mercy, broken. But He reaches forth in grace to redefine us, to be reconstituted into the image of His Son. Such a person begins to live in the shadow of God’s grace. All his credentials are laid upon the cross and all that he is now is defined by the grace of God. Hence he says, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14). We learn to live in meekness and gratefulness. When we deserved judgement, He showed mercy. What more can we demand of Him. How foolish we are to complain, to sulk or to demand that God do as we wish? Listen to the words of a man who understood grace, “For all my father’s house were but dead men before my lord the king. Yet you set your servant among those who eat at your own table. Therefore what right have I still to cry out anymore to the king?” (2 Samuel 19: 28). That is why, I wonder if they are talking about the Christ of the New Testament gospels, when people brag and take pride about who they are and boast about what they have and do and still claim to be followers of Christ! And how can anyone who understands the grace of God fight for positions of power in ‘church hierarchies’ as is often the case in our churches and ministries? Anyone who understands the grace of God and lives in the shadow of it, cannot but be meek and grateful for whatever lot he is given in life.

Having been reconstituted and redefined His command now is, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:16). And we are called to go outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Heb 13: 13). We cannot be comfortable anymore living the way the people of the world live, pursuing the things that the people of the world pursue. As Jesus said, it is the gentiles who run after them, not the citizens of His kingdom (Matt 6: 32). Like the people of Israel about whom prophet Balaam prophesied, “I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.” (Num 23:9 NIV). Listen to Os Guinness & John Seel again, “Or at other times, again, the moral demand makes us uncategorisable. Marching to a divine drummer, we are often out of step with others. Condemned to be seen as outsiders, mad, possessed, odd fellows, dangerous, “we are the imposters who speak the truth…the penniless ones who own the world” (2 Cor 6:8, 10, NEB). But the same absolute demand is also what makes the impossible people unconquerable.” It is no wonder then that God took Enoch away. A man who agrees with God to be able to walk with Him in intimacy cannot be comfortable, living in a world that rejects Him. It is because of this reason I believe, apostle Paul writes that he desires to depart and to be with Christ (Phil 1: 23). How can the followers of Christ, live the way the people of the world live? Is it not disquieting, that God’s people are so comfortable living the way the people of the world are living? Does that not reveal how far removed we are from knowing and walking with Him, as Enoch walked with God?

He went not knowing where!

The record of Abraham’s walk of faith in the book of Genesis is a cornucopia of lessons for the life of faith. He is an epitome of a man of faith. We shall explore three aspects of the life of faith of Abraham.

A brief overview of the life of faith of Abraham reveals that, there is an element of uncertainty built-in, into the life of faith. This is implied in the statement that Abraham went not knowing, where he was going. The call of God to Abraham came with such clarity and authority that there was no room for second guessing or side-stepping it. He was certain about the One who spoke but uncertain about the details and the destination. When God speaks you must obey, you cannot not obey. This is true for every follower of Christ. The summons to follow Him was very clear for the early disciples. They forsook all and followed Him. Os Guinness writes, “As Dietrich Bonhoeffer insisted, ‘The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.’ They did not consider his claims, make up their minds, and then decide whether to follow – they simply heard and obeyed. Their response is ‘a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus.’ The call is all. Jesus is the reason. The only way to follow is to leave everything and follow him. Here is a call that makes short work of all our questions, objections, and evasions. Disciples are not so much those who follow as those who must follow.” And Eugene Peterson explains, “…”faith” – trusting obediently in what we cannot control, living in obedient relationship to the One we cannot see, venturing obediently into a land that we know nothing about.”(The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson, 2007). When have we seen anyone following the Lord this way in our times? Our modern lifestyles do not allow for such obedience. We want everything to be reasoned, analysed, planned, budgeted, programmed, and booked in advance. Implicit and unquestioning obedience is hard for us.

But I have known one such man who lived and obeyed implicitly. Bakht Singh(1903-2000), was a man who came to know the Lord personally while studying in Canada in late 1920s. He was known to have lived in such intimacy with God. He would narrate many such experiences in his life when he went according to God’s word, unplanned and unprepared. He would tell of how God took care of every detail as he went in obedience. When he came back to India in obedience to God’s call to preach the gospel in India, he had no place to live in Bombay (now Mumbai) and no money to buy food as his father, a Sikh, refused to entertain the converted son in his home in Lahore. Bakht Singh was forced to live in uncertainty and yet enjoyed the peace and glory of God’s presence with him on the streets of Bombay. His motto in life was to know the will of God and to do it. He was a man who taught the importance of listening to the voice of God. I grew up under his ministry till my mid20s. But unfortunately today we hardly know such intimacy with God nor can live with such tentativeness in life.

God demands and deserves such obedience from us, because of who He is. We let Him control our lives. We let Him make the decisions and move or stay and accept people, circumstances and even possessions in life only as He allows and at His command. After many years of teaching, I have personally learnt to say to God, “Lord, I will take what you give. I don’t want what you do not give – people, possessions, circumstances and even ministry opportunities. I will be content with whatever lot you would allow me in life.” Like the servants of David always ready to obey, “And the king’s servants said to the king, “We are your servants, ready to do whatever my lord the king commands.” (2 Samuel 15:15). Isn’t our Lord, the King greater than David? Does He not deserve such allegiance? If we cannot trust the One who died for us, who else can we trust?

Living as strangers and pilgrims

Second, faith in God leads to a lifestyle of strangers and pilgrims. We are not called to or promised settled lifestyles. This is implied in the call of God to Abraham and the call to discipleship to Christ.

“By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;  for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb 11:9-10).

We are called out of the world to be part of His kingdom. And as long as we live in this world we find it hard to settle down. There is tentativeness in the lifestyle of strangers and pilgrims. They do not live settled lives as far as their professions, residence and the things they acquire are concerned. They do not amass wealth and possessions and become rooted to a place to such an extent that they cannot uproot and move on at the Lord’s command. Friends we are called to be people who ‘Go into the world to preach the good news’. Even if we were to build or own a house for any reasons, we do not allow it to become a hindrance to move on at the Lord’s command. The modern world does not allow us such lives. Although the modern world made lives very mobile and made it easy for people to move across the globe yet the basic human instinct is for security and settled lives. The career-driven model, the security and identity seeking mind prevent us from living the way of strangers and pilgrims. In fact, for many in India settling down in life – finding a well paying, stable and permanent job, being married and owning an own house – is a major pursuit. For the follower of Christ the idea and the practise of settling down in life with a permanent job and a permanent residence ought to be odious. His hold over everything in life has to be tentative. Why such a lifestyle? First we have no ‘continuing city and we wait for one to come, and we are called to ‘Go’ into the world and yet not live the way the people of the world live. How did Abraham handle it? By building altars and making regular sacrifices. There is in him a constant giving up and moving on. Each place he went or each time he strayed, he built an altar, he sacrificed as a mark of giving up and as a mark of rededication and moved on at the Lord’s command. Eugene Peterson writes, “Abraham was a veteran in the sacrifice business…Each altar became a place of prayer: “Is this the way God commanded and promised, or is this a version of the command and promise that I have customised to my convenience?” At each altar he learned a little more, acquired a deeper discernment, a sharper insight into God’s command and promise in contrast to his innate wilfulness and indulgence but also in contrast to the anti-faith world of Ur with its ziggurats. Altars built at many a crossroads, a life of repeated sacrifices, each sacrifice an act of discernment, separating the chaff of illusion from the wheat of promise.”

But many reason, was not Abraham a rich man? Did not God bless him with a rich herd of livestock and a host of slaves? What is wrong about acquiring wealth? Yes, but Abraham also was always ready to sacrifice, give-up, to pull up His roots and move on. How many of us would be ready to disturb our settled lives and move on if God commands us to go to a troublesome spot in the world? How many of our pastors and leaders would? First, as pointed out in my earlier articles, God does not bless us in order for us to flaunt, nor to hoard. He does not bless us in order for us to roll in luxuries while many around languish in destitution and poverty. He blesses us so that we share with those who do not have. We must learn to give sacrificially and bless others with what God has blessed us with. The practise of giving up and sacrificing begins right from the time Abraham left Ur. First he had to give up his homeland, then the family – his father and brothers. He had to let go off his nephew and unselfishly deny himself the choice of a fertile land. And later he firmly rejected the spoils of war in Genesis 14, “But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’”. (v 22, 23). Elisha demonstrated this when Naaman, the Syrian commander offered him gifts in gratitude, “But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. (2 Kings 5:16).

The wisdom of knowing what and when to accept or when to refuse gifts from people, is rare among us. The blight of ill-gotten wealth has ruined many followers of Christ. It is not becoming of the followers of Christ to flash, flaunt or gloat over their wealth or achievements. While being grateful to God for letting us have more than other unfortunate neighbours, let us not use our riches, or our status or anything else as symbols of our greatness. We may use the treasures of ‘Egypt’ but we may not make a ‘golden calf’ of it. Remember Nebuchadnezzar. Despite being warned through a dream he bragged, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honour of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30). While the word was still in his mouth, his kingdom was taken away from him and was driven into the forest to live like a beast for seven years until he lifted up his eyes to the heavens, acknowledge and praise God’s authority over him. May it not be that some among are stricken with the insanity of Nebuchadnezzar.

Tyranny of the love of God!

What is the tyranny of the love of God? How can love be terrifying? Does it not say that there is no fear in love? To understand it one must stand with Abraham on Mount Moriah. The son of his love bound to the altar. His trembling hand raised and poised to slay him to be offered as a burnt offering unto God. But before that you must endure the ‘agonising’ journey, trudging along with the son born in his old age. Can you see his heart in painful turmoil that he would soon, part company with his son? With his own hands he must put an end to his life for whom, he waited into his old age? No, you must start even before that. You must start on that fateful night before he began his journey, when the word of the Lord came to Abraham and agonise with him about the kind of God he has followed many decades ago. How many sacrifices he has made? How many things he has left behind? How many years he has waited trusting the God who spoke? We do not know what went through Abraham’s mind that night or through the journey or as he raised his hand to slay his son. He has endured many a test. He would yet endure any other trial sent by God, but this one? How can he kill his own son and offer him as a burnt offering? What kind of a God is He? But the record in Genesis is silent about all that. Abraham knew what the test was about. He did not waver and we do not find any hesitation. He was robust in his faith. He knew the God who he believed, trusted and followed all these years.

The Holy Spirit of God gives us three brief glimpses into the heart of Abraham about the fateful event. One in Genesis 22: 5 – Abraham tells his servants to wait while he and the boy would go and worship God and that they will come back. They will come back? How can they come back if he was going to slay his son? The second glimpse is given to us in his answer to his son. When asked where was the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” The third glimpse into his heart is given to us in Hebrews 11: 17-19 – By faith Abraham concluded that God was able to raise Isaac up even from the dead. What faith and confidence in the God he knew!

The tyranny of the love of God is this, that he brooks no rivals. This was the test for Abraham, a test that was like none other which he had endured thus far. If God alone exists and there is none other beside Him, then no one else or nothing else can be loved, worshipped, sought or pursued except Him. No one else and nothing else can control, guide, lead or drive us except Him. Not careers, not the promise of wealth, not the prospect of settlement nothing can be loved or pursued. No green pasture is green enough to attract us. No glitter is strong enough to draw us. Everything else and anything else must be subservient to our love for God. Even the son of promises must be sacrificed if he comes between us and our love for God. For the follower of Christ, His call is clearer, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14: 26-27).

God tested Abraham. But Abraham responded with worship. Hence his answer to the servants – we will worship. True worship is an expression of love and obedience to the One who alone is worthy of such love and obedience. And such worship is too sacred for the public eye, hence the servants needed to stay back. They cannot go to the top of the mountain. They cannot assist him in this worship. They cannot see what was going to happen, understand and remain silent. They must remain at the foot of the mountain. It was a matter to be settled between him and his God. It was extravagant worship in response to the extravagant love of God. The world does not understand such love and such a sacrifice. His God had loved him, provided for him, and taken care of him all along his life’s journey. He had kept His promises. And Abraham knew that He will still keep His promise to make a nation for him through Isaac. He concluded that God will raise up Isaac from the dead! So Abraham honoured God by believing and obeying Him. But who can worship God acceptably? What can mortal man offer equal to the honour and the glory of God? Abraham knew, even the offering of his son as a burnt offering was not enough for the honour and the glory of God. Such an offering must come from God, himself! So his answer to his son, “God will provide for himself the lamb.” What a father! And what a son! And much more – what a God! His God did not let him down. He did provide the lamb. Oh, but subsequently in history, He did not spare His own Son for us all! So that, we can worship Him in truth and in spirit. And Paul asks, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8: 32).

This brings us full circle back again to the words of our Lord and Master, “… and all these things shall be added to you.” Do not run after ‘all these things’. It is the gentiles who run after them – what shall we eat, what shall we wear, where shall we live? The citizens of God’s kingdom live above all these, for he will ‘freely give us all things’ pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1: 3, 4). Our sustenance, our security, our identity and everything else we need are promised and given to us as inheritance in Christ. When we trust in Him for all these and live in such assurance and joy then we shall have honoured Him truly. This is worship that is worthy of the name, the nature and the glory of God. Such worship delights God and brings down the promise of His covenant blessing, “In blessing I will bless you and in multiplying I will multiply you… In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

Friends, where is such trust and obedience unto God these days? If we claim to be worshipping God and yet are driven by the things that drive the people of the world, I wonder if we understand true worship. Where there is no such trust and obedience as that of Abraham, anything that passes for worship today among us is mere noise! And anything that goes on in the name of missions and evangelism is but lip-service if we do not honour God with an extravagant love as that of Abraham. Becoming a blessing to the world is an outflow of such worship. Any worship that is offered and any ministry that is done, if it lacks the trust, obedience and sacrifice as that of Abraham lacks the presence, the provision, and the pleasure of God.

It was the lack of trust and obedience on the part of the people of Israel during their journey in the wilderness that prompted God’s displeasure and censure. A reading of Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 makes this very plain. Hebrews 3:12 – 4:10 reads,

“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief… For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it… There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”

If you notice carefully the unbelief was about their lack of trust that God could provide food and water and about their safety through out their journey. The same issues of sustenance, security and identity of the people of Israel, they always wanted to be like the rest of the nations! Why can’t they be like other nations of the world, was their frequent complaint. This is what led them to murmur against Moses and rebel against God. This is what made them to want idols to worship like all others. And they wanted a king like other nations of the world. They were not satisfied with God as their King.

I wonder if the same displeasure and censure of God is upon us today as well! There are many among us who claim to have salvation but do not have the experience of entering into His rest. My contention is that the lifestyles we have adopted as followers of Christ fall far short of the trust and obedience that it demands. Our career-driven lives, and chasing the securities and identities of the world undermines our trust and obedience to Him. We are woefully like the people of the world. Unless we learn to repent and restore our trust in Him, we will not experience the Sabbath rest promised in Christ. True worship leads to such blessing.

He saw Him who is invisible!

We learn from Moses that the life of faith leads to making choices. In Heb 11:24-28, it is written about Moses, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”

It must be noted that this is not blind faith or dumb faith. This faith was based on God’s word or His revelation to them. Words such as, concluding as in case of Abraham, choosing, esteeming, refusing, and enduring in case of Moses suggest that it was not unreasoning or unthinking faith. They had the option of rejecting but their faith lead them to choose correctly and properly according to the revelation and the understanding they had of God. Their faith involved the engagement of the mind to weigh and to make the right judgement.

One question that bothers many is how come people heard the voice of God with such clarity in those days and why don’t we today? I believe they lived in such pristine times and there were so few influences over them that they recognised when God spoke to them. In our day we are bombarded by voices from all around, the voice of family, friends, public opinion, and our own fears and so on. We give ear often, to voices of convenience, expedience, fear, comfort, greed, procrastination, sheer laziness and a host of others. Today we are exposed to so many external influences. We find it hard to hear the voice of God. This is why the diligence of seeking Him and bringing in the needed disciplines of silence and solitude are so very important for us to rediscover and to hear the voice of God.

We learn from Moses, that faith in God and the desire to please Him leads to a refusal of anything, everything and anyone who do not give allegiance to the One and Only God. Faith in the one and Only Holy God chooses affliction, poverty, loneliness, solitude, rejection, and even loss rather than stand on the same side of that which is antithetical to God and His word. It is for this reason Moses refused the identity of being called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chose to be counted with the people of God. He rejected the treasures of Egypt and chose affliction, rejection and the prospect of becoming the future Pharaoh of Egypt. When you choose to bow down to the One and Only Holy God and His Son, you choose to stand against and in conflict with all other authorities.

This was what made Martin Luther to take a stand against the Papacy. When dissuaded by friends from appearing at Diet at Worms, the simple monk responded, “I am determined to enter the city in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, though as many devils should oppose me as there are tiles upon the houses at Worms”. And later when standing trial and challenged to recant from all that he taught and wrote, he answered, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

These men feared God more than they feared the political or religious authorities of the day. They knew their God and therefore they took a stand and carried out great exploits for Him. When you see today among many followers of Christ, a casualness of faith, the lack of discipline, and the abject surrender of many to the allurements and the seductions of the modern world, you wonder if they understand the call of Christ, or the gospel and the meaning of the cross. Os Guinness writes, “Faith in Christ will regain its decisive authority in the modern world only when we who follow Christ fear God more than we fear the powers and favours of modernity – when we hear God’s call and are so captivated by his summons that we say with Luther, as the earliest printed reports add, “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” And again he writes, “Clearly God’s impossible people are never troublesome to other authorities unless they are mastered by God’s authority…Thus for followers of Christ who have the consuming passion to be His, entirely His, at all costs and forever His, the present cultural captivity of evangelicalism is a scandal and a sorrow that is also a test of love.”

And finally about the lifestyle of faith in the God of the Bible, the I am who I am God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ: in the letter to Hebrews we read, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country…And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise” (Heb 11:13-16, 39-40).

The lifestyle of faith leads to the conviction that nothing is final or complete until he comes in all his authority and glory and therefore lives with hope. They wait for the full and final revelation of the kingdom which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. This is their blessed and glorious hope. The certainty of their hope is in the resurrection of Christ, their Lord. And so in that assurance they continue to live and serve Him until He comes. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor 15:58).

O happy bond, that seals my vows

To Him Who merits all my love!

Let cheerful anthems fill His house,

While to that sacred shrine I move.

It’s done: the great transaction’s done!

I am my Lord’s and He is mine;

He drew me and I followed on;

Charmed to confess the voice divine.

Now rest, my long-divided heart,

Fixed on this blissful center, rest;

Nor ever from they Lord depart;

With Him of every good possessed.

High heav’n, that heard that solemn vow,

That vow renewed shall daily hear,

Till in life’s latest hour I bow

And bless in death a bond so dear. Amen.

Does it sound hard? “You shall not say ‘too hard’ of everything that this people call hard; you shall neither dread nor fear that which they fear. It is the Lord of Hosts whom you must count ‘hard.’ He it is you must fear and dread” (Isaiah 8:12-13, NEB).

 

 

 

For further reading:

(Notes and quotations are mostly taken from the following resources)

Guinness, Os, The Last Christian on Earth (Ventura: Regal, 2010) (Formerly published as The Gravedigger File:Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church, IVP, 1983).

Guinness, Os, The Call (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003)

Guinness, Os and Seel, John, No God but God: Breaking with the idols of our Age (Chicago: Moody, 1992).

Peterson, Eugene, The Jesus Way (London: Hodder, 2007).

Clouse Robert G, Pierard, Richard V and Yamauchi, Edwin M, Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture through the ages (Chicago: Moody, 1993).

Barton Ruth Haley, Invitation to Solitude and Silence (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010)

Sproul, R. C. The Holiness of God, (New York: Guideposts, 1985).

Ramachandra, Vinoth, Gods That Fail: Modern Idolatry and Christian Mission (Cumbria: Paternoster, 1996).

Willard, Dallas, The Great Omission (Oxford: Monarch Book, 2006).

Philip Doddridge, 1702-1751.

 

 

He Who Has Ears to Hear…2

Fig Leaves and Broken Pots

Enoch Era

Broken pots are a poor source to quench anybody’s thirst, fig leaves are a poor means to cover one’s body nor do they provide a sufficient means of protection from the elements. What is common to these is that man has vainly tried both in different forms over the centuries to provide for himself security and satisfaction.

First, let me explain how it has come about that we are so endemically security-seeking and identity-conscious. The most basic, inherent and endemic needs of man are sustenance, security and identity. While sustenance and security are necessary for his living, identity became an issue as a result of his fall into sin. In fact the main issue in the Genesis story about Adam’s disobedience and fall was about identity – ‘you will be like gods’. And when God came seeking, Adam hid himself. Both the man and the woman were trying to hide their bodies from each other as well. Shame, fear, insecurity and identity crisis are some of the effects of the fall. Man was made to live by trust and dependence upon God – his sustenance, his security and identity were to be found through a life of God-oriented and God-dependent living. But with the fall he lost this orientation and began to seek these from sources that can never truly satisfy him. Man became endemically security-conscious and identity seeking. Most of our problems spring from these two areas. Our problems in inter-personal relationships, communication, issues of understanding, our personality strengths and weaknesses are mostly related to issues of security and identity.

Since the fall, all of man’s efforts and pursuits are geared towards seeking and satisfying these basic needs from sources other than God. Just as Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves we seek to find our security and identity in other forms of fig leaves even today. Jeremiah calls them ‘broken cisterns which can hold no water’.

We know that Jesus was on earth not only as God but also as Man. He lived as man was meant to live. As man he demonstrates for us what man’s response ought to be on these issues of sustenance security and identity.

In his temptations on the mountain he points the way for us. His responses give us the clue. When tempted to make bread the primary focus, his response was “Man shall not live by bread alone”. Bread is necessary but bread alone does not satisfy. We are not made for bread, but bread is made for us. Earning a living cannot be the chief focus of man for in the final analysis we are not made for earning a living alone. The same reasoning can be extended to other areas of life. We could say, ‘Man shall not live by jobs and salaries alone’. ‘Man shall not live by marrying alone’ etc. In the second temptation the devil showed him the glory of the nations and promised to give it to him provided he paid obeisance to him (devil). Jesus answered, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only you shall serve”. We cannot find our identity or glory by paying homage to a mere creature. The true and the only focus of our devotion is God and no one else or nothing else. Our glory is in knowing God and relating with him in the right way, not in gaining the riches of the world.

The devil then sought to question his trust in God by tempting him to test God’s faithfulness to care for him and protect him. Would God truly protect him from being hurt even if he jumped from the pinnacle of the temple? What better way to establish his own credentials as God’s anointed? Jesus answered, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God”.  It was not only in the temptations on the mountain but also throughout his life on earth he demonstrated the same trust, dependence and devotion to his Father.

As followers of Christ, we are to live by faith in him – “The just shall live by faith”. We depend upon him for our sustenance, security and identity. We are not to seek these in anything else or anyone else other than our loving heavenly Father as revealed by his Son and mediated to us by his Holy Spirit. Since our basic needs are taken care of by Him and that our eternal security is in Him, we now live with confidence and assurance. It is from this vantage point we live lives of vulnerable and expendable service towards one another and towards the world.

Just as the devil offered alternatives to Jesus on the top of the mountain, we are offered several newer alternatives in every age. These alternatives come to us in the form of philosophies, ideologies, theologies and doctrines, religions, institutions, traditions, rituals, different systems and structures, science and technology etc. These are the broken pots which can hold no water.  When God’s own people, who knew the fountain of living waters left him and made broken pots for themselves, God lamented.

Trojan horse of economics

Friends, my point is this – God’s people, the church today has gone away from him while claiming to worship him and follow him. We are running after the world to seek our living, security and identity. We are doing this precisely by following the capitalist model of life. The capitalist model of life manifests itself in what is commonly known as middle- class lifestyles. Chief characteristics of the middles class life are – career drivenness or what is known as the upwardly mobile, worldly success and material affluence. Is this our Lord’s agenda for us or is it of the world?

We are seeking our security and identity in and through these. Since we were born into it, we do not see it as from the world. We pray and even seek God’s will to pursue these. Our parents, our teachers, our pastors encourage us to do it. We have interpreted and taught the Bible to support such a pursuit. And those who have attained worldly success and material affluence are feted and celebrated as examples of God’s grace and blessing. Such women and men are even raised to the governing counsels of churches and ministries. We find it hard to think that anything could be wrong with it. And some even have ‘great testimonies’ of how God has lead them in pursuing ‘the world’s agenda for living’.

One of the subtler ways in which worldliness manifests itself these days among Christians is in the form of ‘doing ministry’ or being ‘called into full-time ministry’. This is another way by which many believers try to find their security and identity rather than in Christ their Lord. They begin to look for it in ‘ministry’. I believe that actually ‘the call’ they are talking about is the call to radical discipleship. This is the primary call given to every follower of Christ. But it is mistaken for ‘call to full-time ministry’. In fact in the Bible you do not find anything called ‘full-time’ ministry. There is the primary call[1] to belong to God in Christ and then there is the secondary call of a specific task or role that the Lord gives us to fulfil in the church and the world. In the context of institutionalisation of the church and ministry the secondary call began to be viewed as ‘full-time ministry’. But many confuse the primary call to follow Christ totally as the secondary call and therefore talk about ‘being called to do ministry’. So ‘doing ministry’ can become another form of the fig leaf and broken pots of the world. Our satisfaction does not come from the ministry we do but from the Lord. Neither can we find our identity in the fig leaf of ministry but in the Lord. We think anything will do if we can avoid radical discipleship! Church in its present form and Christian organisations do provide plenty of such fig leaves. And many seek their security and identity through ministry and for many it even becomes a matter of pride!

When you are in the business of seeking security and identity from anything or anyone other than God, then anything and everything becomes a source for pride and none of them sufficient enough to satisfy. Even humility becomes a matter of pride! Simplicity becomes a matter of greatness! A little can become a lot to boast about! Any fig leaf is good enough to cover our shame and to drink from a broken pot is not a problem as long as it is a pot! We try to add leaf after leaf and hop from one broken pot to another in the hope of finding satisfaction! But to return to the Lord and take up the call for radical living? Ah, that is for the first century Christians, we think, not for us in the 21st when the whole world is waiting to be feasted upon!

Two questions that need to be answered at this point. Why is the capitalist model of life or middle class dream worldly? And what is Christ’s agenda for living?

History teaches us that since the early part of the previous millennium there have been sweeping changes in the world.  The process of modernisation began with industrialisation and the development of science and technology. This has brought in changes in the way we think about the world and life. Scholars tell us that most of these changes came about as a result of Christian thinking. The precursor to all these was the printing press, which made the Bible available for all to read. But several other scholars believe that Christianity gave rise to modernity and it was modernity that was responsible for subverting Christianity!

One of the major contributions of the modern world is Capitalism. Capitalism has become so pervasive that it has practically seeped into every area of life today and its effects are seen practically in everybody’s life. It has made goods, services and conveniences possible and available to people at a scale never dreamt of before. It has certainly raised the incomes of many and has contributed to overall economic and financial growth and development. This has changed the life of man for good in terms of scientific and technological development and economic well-being.

But it has also changed the way we think about life. It has given rise to what is known as the middle class dream. It has made the pursuit of money, material prosperity attainable, desirable and primary objectives of life. It does provide us some financial security and identity by giving us a social status. Therefore we pursue our careers with religious zeal. Today it is not just the average Christian but many churches and ministries are being run on the capitalist model. Churches have shown servile obeisance to it and has sold its birth right for a broken pot of capitalist broth!

What are the chief ingredients of the capitalist broth? The Concise Encyclopaedia of Economics[2], defines capitalism as economic individualism and that its basic premise is the pursuit of self-interest and the right to own private property. Economic individualism? Pursuit of self-interest? Right to own private property? Are these good and desirable Christian ideals?

Do you now wonder why so many of us who claim to follow Christ and to be part of His body, the church have no qualms whatsoever to be self-seeking, self-preserving and possessive about what belongs to us and about our churches and ministries? Of course we justify it as good stewardship.

Recently a friend’s son got into an IT job in a multi-national company in the US. When he received his pay check at the end of the first month, he was surprised to find that 37% of his income was slashed as tax. In order to avoid the tax, now he has to invest in an insurance and a house eventually. But the job is only a 6 month contract. How does he continue these commitments if his contract is not renewed and does not get another job immediately? Or would it be possible for him to accept the tax deductions and be content with the money he gets into his hand? How would the world look at him if he did that?

Actually this model of life is like an economic Trojan horse – once allowed, it unleashes a hoard of foot soldiers who gradually undermine our commitment to follow Christ!

If you decide to be part of the system then you got to be in the rat race to be upwardly mobile – hard-work, salary increments, incentives, promotions, investments, taxes etc. It gets very difficult to avoid any of these. It is rare for anyone to tell his boss that she or he is happy with the current salary and wishes to forego the annual increments for a time or that one is content with the present position in the company and that they did not wish to be elevated in the present position. Once you are in, you have got to be upwardly mobile or you will not survive in the system or end up being discarded. You are forced to pursue self-interest! Once you are in the race for the middle class dream – you get entrapped and enslaved and the deeper you get into it the harder it gets to get out – an economic and social quagmire indeed! I do know that there are many Christians who endeavour to make a battle of it and try not to be sucked into it. But the question is, is the pursuit of self-interest and the chasing of the middle class dream agendas given to us by the Lord?

The question is, who has set the agenda to pursue the middle class dream? Who has told us to be upwardly mobile in our careers and that worldly success and material prosperity are godly objectives to live for?

The Kingdom model

Read what the Lord says about the agenda for living? What is the teaching of the Bible? What criteria must control the people of God in their decision-making? Should it be money? Three portions of scriptures come to mind at this point:

Matthew 6:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also… 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air…Consider the lilies of the field… O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

2 Corinthians 8:9:

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.

Philippians 2: 4-8:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

According to the teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, those who worship God do not worry about life’s basic needs. It is the ‘gentiles’, the people who do not know God and do not belong to his kingdom who worry about life’s needs. If as the American Economic Association[3] defines economics as ‘the study of how people choose to use resources’ then capitalism is the choice of people to use their resources in order to make profits. If economics is about how people make choices to invest their resources then the above passages from scripture are classic passages on economics for the people of the kingdom of God.

Our choices and decisions of life cannot be made on the basis of, how much we earn, how safe or secure a job is, what kind of clothes we wear, where we live, how much and what we study and any other aspect of life. Our choices and decisions of life will be made on the basis of our worship of God and not on the basis of security-concerns and identity-consciousness. We are to be led by the Spirit of God and not by financial considerations or any other criteria. In Matthew 6: 24 and 25 we read, “You cannot serve God and money.  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…” This means that the one who worships God does not worry about the basic needs of life. He knows that the God he worships cares even for birds and grass and He will surely provide for him. He does not worry about these things therefore he does not live for these. His life decisions are not made on the basis of these things in life. He does not allow these to become the basic pursuits of his life. The corollary truth is that if we worry about them and allow these to become the main focus and pursuit of life we are worshipping money and not God. There is no middle ground here and no middle class dream of upward mobility or worldly success.

From the above teaching we can deduce that the capitalist model, the middle class lifestyle, the career-driven life cannot be the cornerstone and driving force for living for the people of God. This is the reason why I say, to live the middle-class dream and the career-driven life is of the world. It is the agenda set by the world and it is not for the people of God.

The passage from the Sermon quoted above also teaches us about providing for the future. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Certainly Jesus is not talking about a literal ‘tomorrow’. If he did, then it would be difficult to provide for clothes that last only for a day! But I believe, he is talking about not hoarding for several years or generations as many have done. He is teaching us a lifestyle of faith in a heavenly Father who cares for us and knows our needs. Such a life does not allow for hoarding money and possessions as future securities. It is completely out of question in a world where there are so many around us who cannot afford a square meal a day. When churches do it, it is scandalous, especially when its own contributing members cannot afford a decent living! I believe often what we hoard rots as the manna rotted when the children of Israel hoarded for the next day. Our wealth rots in the form of court cases over property disputes or spending on issues of ill-health!

Finally if we are not to be upwardly mobile as the others in the world or be driven by our careers and that the middle class life that most of us have adopted is worldly, how must we live then?

A clear and categorical answer to it is, we must live by faith. “The just shall live by faith” as explained above in this article. The lifestyle of faith[4] is for every follower of Christ and not just for pastors, teachers and preachers.

What should be our objective in life? The Lord Jesus said. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” To seek His kingdom is not about ‘doing ministry’ but about seeking His rule and authority in our lives. We must allow his rule to inundate us instead of the world. We must allow Him to subdue us. As the yeast spreads to ferment the whole dough so also must His kingdom spread in us and through us to others. First it must spread in us then to others. When this begins to happen you will live by a totally different economic model and drive, an economic model of the kingdom of God[5].

Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

 

I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,

  But, ah, the waters failed!

E’en as I stooped to drink they fled,

  And mocked me as I wailed.

Now none but Christ can satisfy,

  None other name for me;

There’s love and life and lasting joy,

    Lord Jesus, found in Thee[6].

 

 

Note: Please look for my next article on Trinitarian Economics.

 

 

[1] About the primary and secondary call look for my post “They do not fear in the day of drought” under the main title of “Values for life” on my blog: https://rupanthar.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/values-for-life-4/

[2] http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Capitalism.html

[3] https://www.aeaweb.org/students/WhatIsEconomics.php

[4] I have explained in detail the ‘Lifestyle of Faith’ in my book “How Then, Should We Live?” You can read the same on my blog. The book is available on request.

[5] Look for my next article ‘Trinitarian Economics’ on the economic model for the people of God.

[6] Emma Frances Shuttleworth Bevan 1827-1909

Values for life – 3

Where is your treasure

&

What is it?

Friends, we have been numbed by the comforts of modernity to such an extent that we do not even know, how to love God with all our heart, mind and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves. We justify our materialism as a blessing from God. How can we cope in a world that is so much caught up in the pursuit of pleasure, wealth and consumerism? The consumerism and the materialistic lifestyles of our times seep in into our lives unawares and only when we are in its grips do we realize how far we have strayed or gone into it.  Are there any practical ways or guidelines to help us cope or counter the onslaught of materialism over our lives?

Attitudes to have:

1. Gratefulness – ‘In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you’1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV). As the popular Chinese proverb says, ‘I complained I have no shoes until I saw a man without feet’. One of our greatest problems is, we look at those who have more than us and complain how less or underprivileged we are. We must learn to look at those who do not have even what we have so that we can be grateful to God. Gratefulness is a great deterrent to counter the spirit of complaining.

2. Contentment – “Keep your lives free from the love of money (Covetousness), and be content with what you have, for God has said, ‘Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” – Hebrews 13:5. (NIV). Notice that contentment counters covetousness.

3. Responsible stewardship – The principle of stewardship teaches that God is the owner of everything that we posses and that we are just stewards of what he gives us. Hence we are accountable to him. This will help us in being careful about the way we use or abuse the resources given to us.

4. Life of faith and trust – In the Sermon on the Mount, Lord Jesus taught the disciples, not to worry about what we shall eat or put on. It is the people of the world who run after them. But our heavenly Father knows what we need and that he would provide when we seek him and his kingdom. How to handle our futures? (See below)

5. Principle of denial – The principle of denial   helps us to overcome the tyranny of things; of food through fasting, of sex through abstinence, of comforts by a life of simplicity. Abraham expressed this when he was asked to take the riches/plunder of war by the King of Sodom. His response was, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.” Genesis 14:22,23 (NKJV)

6. Control and use – In today’s utilitarian world we have the problem of placing economic value over human value or loving money more than loving people. While we are supposed to use things and love people, increasingly our attitudes suggest we love money and use people. We can see this in the dowry deaths and the property disputes that have become such a commonplace problems these days. This is quite often expressed even toward God. We wish to love and obey him if he provides or gives us what we want. We tend to choose the ‘God’ who helps us or prospers us. And if he doesn’t, who needs him! We make the God of our choices. Such an attitude needs to change. Relationship with God and with people is paramount. We must place a high premium on relationships rather than on property or wealth. What I gain from others or from God is not the issue but that I love them because they are worth loving.

Some simple steps to remember

– Buy things you need and use them carefully not flaunt them. “ Many times we buy things we do not need in order to impress people we do not like’ (Arthur Gish). Remember ‘That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God’ Luke 16:15.

– Refuse to use money as a symbol of strength, influence and power (Richard Foster).

– Inculcate the ‘grace of giving’. 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”. Yes money has a way of finding its way into our heart, so much so that Leonard Ravenhill wryly says that many Christians would rather sing, ‘Land my safe on Canaan’s side’ rather than ‘Land me safe on Canaan’s side’!.

How to give and how long to give? As someone said, ‘Give till the master stops giving to  you”. See how the Macedonian Christians(2 Cor 8: 1-7), ‘excelled in the grace of giving’:

  • They overflowed with joy in the midst of severe trials
  • Their extreme poverty welled up into rich generosity/liberality(haplotes means simplicity or single mindedness by implication it means it is uncalculating giving and free from ulterior motives) 
  • Gave as much as they were able
  • Gave beyond ability
  • On their own/voluntarily
  • Considered it a privilege
  • Considered it a service to saints
  • Pleaded urgently for their gift to be accepted
  • They first gave themselves to the Lord

Listen to two church fathers from the 4th century AD. John Chrysostom (347-407 CE) talking about the true meaning of stewardship argues,  “This is also theft not to share one’s possessions…Just as an official in the imperial treasury, if he neglects to distribute where he is ordered, but spends instead for his own indolence, pays the penalty and is put to death, so also the rich man is a kind of steward of the money which is owed for distribution to the poor. He is directed to distribute it to his fellow servants who are in want. So if he spends more on himself than his needs require, he will pay the harshest penalty hereafter. For his own goods are not his own, but belongs to his own fellow servants…I beg you remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs.”

Basil of Caesarea (329-379 CE) preached, ‘That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong.’

– Working hard with our own hands to earn a living is a virtue. Do not  hoard or amass wealth which is damaging to the soul.

7. Cultivate a lifestyle of simplicity – Richard Foster talks about the vow of simplicity in his masterly thought provoking book, Money, Sex and Power. He says the great question of our time is how to move from greed to generosity and from vengeance to magnanimity and from violence to shalom. The vow of simplicity points the way. Simplicity gives us the framework to experience generosity, magnanimity, and shalom.

8. Handling the future – First we must remember that faith in the Lord leads to the conviction that nothing in this world is final or complete until he returns. Therefore we live with hope. Hope that, when he comes – he will finish what he has begun. So we commit all our tomorrows into his hands and live in trust. So the people of his kingdom, while they plan and prepare for the future, their hold over everything is tentative trusting in the Lord to take care of it. Hence the words of our Lord in Matthew 6: 34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Dear Lord, deliver us from the blight of materialism plaguing our culture. Teach us to value our relationship with you and with one another more than riches and property. Teach us to be grateful and be content with what you have given us graciously – break the lust for affluence and pomp. Give us the grace to practice the art of simplicity. Give us grace to give away to those who do not have from what you have given unto us so graciously. Teach us to live with the hope of our calling in you, shining bright before our eyes so that we are not stranded by the glitter of today. Amen