Missing The Point About Missing The Mark!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The point missed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flee from the wrath to come!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Knowing God As Spirit

Knowing God as Spirit opens a vista that we hardly know anything about. It is a vista that encompasses all dimensions of space and time and beyond. For space and time have to do with the physical. The Spirit has to do with the eternal. I am reminded of a chorus from my childhood about the love of God, ‘Wide, wide as the ocean; High as the heavens above; Deep, deep as the deepest sea….’ To know God as Spirit is wider than all oceans, higher than all heavens and deeper than all the seas. It is like Ezekiel swimming in the waters that flowed from the House of God… first it was ankle deep, then it was waist deep, then it was neck deep, later he could barely keep his head above the waters. As your head is bobbing barely above the waters, you try to reach for support but it eludes your hands, you try to touch the floor with your toes but you almost drown in the process, the shores are totally invisible, overwhelmed you swallow the waters and yet you are not lost nor drowned. You know that you are safe and secure exploring, drowning yourself in, soaring high yet not lost. Knowing God as Spirit is like that!

Knowing God as Spirit is intimate yet not intrusive. It is invisible yet not intimidating. It is deep, reaching the depths of your being yet not violating. It is so beyond all knowledge and experience yet it is not overwhelming.

Very few of us in the history of humanity have touched the outskirts of God who is Spirit. Those who did just went beyond life without experiencing the pangs of death. Such men and women are hardly concerned with the things that concern others. They are not hindered nor bothered nor restrained by the physical and the temporal. They live above all these, in a realm where God and angels dwell.

In the last 100 years or so there were two major movements of the Spirit of God. One hoped that they would teach the church, the realm of the Spirit. But sadly they fell into the same trap as the rest of us, the trap of the physical, of modernity and the pursuit of security and identity. They became as worldly as the rest of us and as helpless as Samson shorn of his hair.

Just as love is the ontology of the Divine Being, so is the Spirit. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, quite simply and unambiguously “God is Spirit”. To know God as Spirit is to know God as He is.

To know God as Spirit, though daunting yet it is not impossible for we were created in God’s image. Which means we were created as spirit beings, nevertheless with a body. This is the reason why, man holds a unique position in all of creation. He is the only one who has a body and spirit. He is both physical and spiritual. In the spirit, he communes with God. But in the body he connects with the physical world.

But tragedy struck, and man lost his contact with God. He became dead in the spirit. From then on he began to live a purely physical life. As the Preacher said, there is eternity in the heart but he doesn’t know how to reach it. He lost his spiritual abilities to soar into eternity and commune with His Maker.

Many many years later, there came a sociological process known as secularisation, an offshoot of modernism, which led to the constitution of life in such a way that the spiritual and the eternal do not matter. All that is there is this world of the five senses and we must strive to fend for ourselves in this physical world. Over a period of time as the process gained greater and greater tacit acceptance all around, even the people of God succumbed. To those who still had a hangover of the spiritual, the enemy of our souls offered alternatives or surrogates, if you like. The surrogate of religion for some and to others the surrogate of attending and participating in a church service, giving tithes and doing ministry but don’t you forget the body… pray and seek God’s blessing as you run after food, clothes, houses and more… Did he not say ‘All these things will be added unto you?’

Therefore, what does it mean to know God as Spirit? What are its implications for life?

First, to know God as Spirit is to know to live in the Spirit.

Knowing God as Spirit is crucial to knowing what it means to live in the Spirit. To live in the Spirit is to live above the physical, the material and the temporal. This is what we learn from the life of Christ and the apostles, especially Paul. And this is what it means to be citizens of God’s Kingdom. But unfortunately we began to divide life as sacred and secular or as those called to live such lives in the Spirit while others can be more secular.

This has also come about because of the narrower understanding of the word ‘flesh’ in the New Testament as ‘fallen sinful nature’. This we generally understand as referring to the baser aspects of the flesh and think that it does not apply to the legitimate pursuits of life – of food, clothes and houses or for sustenance, security and identity. We must remember that the ‘fallen sinful nature’ has made us to be purely physical and that the pursuit of the purely physical – pursuit of careers and material well-being is equally fallen and has little value in the Kingdom of God.

When we live purely for the physical at the expense of the spiritual, it invariably ends up being purely external and superficial. This is the hallmark of contemporary living. Education, employment, pay-cheques, wealth, religion, including much of what passes for Christianity – in-terms of regular church-attendance and doing ministry, philanthropy, social and language skills and host of others have deluded us into thinking like little Jack Horner, who ‘sat in a corner eating a Christmas pie. He put in his thumb, pulled out a plum and said what a good boy am I!’ Superficial spirituality and perpetual imbecility are some of the hallmark characteristics of contemporary living. Apostle Paul says it well, “…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”

Unfortunately for us today, our lives are constituted so that we think we cannot live without food, clothes, money and several other things which are now considered as necessities. We forget that the words, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’ can also be extended to ‘Man shall not live by money alone’, ‘Man shall live not by employment alone’, ‘Man shall not live by marriage alone’ so on and so forth. But we live as if those are legitimate pursuits, that they can be pursued prayerfully and by even claiming promises from the word of God! How blind and how foolish we are!

To know God as Spirit is to know to live in the Spirit, which means that we now consider the physical, the material and the temporal as incidental to life and that the spiritual is essential and eternal. To live in the Spirit is not to allow the physical to dominate and control us. Hence the words of Paul in Romans 8: 1-16.

  • Those who are in Christ Jesus are not under condemnation

  • They do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit

  • They set their minds on the things of the Spirit and not on things of the flesh

  • Those who are born of the Spirit of God are indwelt by the Spirit of God

  • They are led by the Spirit and are the sons of God

  • To live in the flesh is death but to live in the Spirit is life and peace

  • Those who live according to the flesh cannot please God, and are hostile to God

What is most disturbing today is that many who claim to be born of the Spirit and are indwelt by the Spirit, living consistently and continuously in the flesh! According to Romans 8, this is impossible. Yet many seem to be comfortable living and pursuing the physical and the temporal. Friends, something is amiss here! How can people on the way to Canaan hanker and long for the life in Egypt? Those who did that among the people of Israel, perished in the wilderness. Lord swore and saw to it that none of them would enter the promised land!! It is this thought that has taken away my sleep for days… I grieved over it and then decided that I must write this series of four articles.

If we do not live according to the Spirit but live as if the physical, material and the temporal are very important and essential, I believe we set ourselves up for experiencing lifeless lives while claiming to be alive “You have a name that you are alive but you are dead”! And we set ourselves up to be hostile to God and His ways. Therefore, my fear is that many of us are in the danger of hearing from the Lord on the last day, “I do not know you, depart from me”. I fear that many of our lives are not even recorded in his radar, as it were. How distressful!

The truth is, while like the people of Israel we hankered and longed for the world, unlike them we prayed for, pursued, possessed, prospered and prided ourselves in our worldly achievements and attainments. We ran after and brought that on which God has pronounced His judgement and began to live comfortably with it. We do not realise how fateful it is, both spiritually and eternally. If that on which God’s judgement is, is with us we make ourselves liable to the same judgement. Therefore the plea,“Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins”

If you say that it is none of my business to write or say all these things, don’t worry! I have already decided that I will be silent, henceforth. Unless you wish to interact further.

The question that needs to be asked of everyone who claims to be the child of God is primarily this: Are you led by the Spirit of God? Do you live according to the Spirit or flesh? What do you set your minds on, on things of the Spirit or of flesh?

Second, to know God in the Spirit is to know that He is invisible. Hence the strict prohibition of making and worshipping idols in scripture. To say that God is invisible is to say that we cannot make visible forms of him nor can we make him visible in any systems or structures. He chose to make himself visible in human form once and now He chooses to make himself visible through the Body of Christ, the church.

It is true that there is an inherent quest in the heart of man to feel what we believe. This quest often leads man to make forms and symbols, in physical manifestations or in performing religious activities and rituals. But the quest to feel our faith was satisfied in the incarnation of the Son of God in history and He incarnates again by dwelling in and among His people the church. This is the reason why the church is called His body. So the quest in the heart of man to feel faith must be met in the Body of Christ, the church.

Therefore knowing God as Spirit is to know that God wishes to indwell us and make himself visible to the world in and through us. This is the reason why Christian calling is not about conducting programmes and church services nor building ‘church buildings’. It is not even about preaching the gospel by conducting crusades and campaigns nor is it about doing missions by opening schools and hospitals nor even in church planting. Christian calling is about Christian living. Christian living is about letting Christ indwell us and reproduce himself in us both individually and corporately. Only when we let the Son of God do this then we not only let God make himself visible through us but only then are we truly His body.

While many evangelicals detest being called as ritualistic, it must be said that the penchant for church attendance, tithing and participation in church activities fall into the same category, if concurrently we do not let Christ manifest himself living in and through us. The physical activity of attendance, participation, the traditional and the ritual often becomes the surrogate of the truly spiritual. This means that sadly, many seem to be content with the surrogate rather than the real.

We seem to think that Christian disciplines and practises – like daily Bible-reading, prayer, fasting, attendance at a church gathering, tithing and doing ministry – are an end in themselves. If we think that they are an expression of our spirituality or that God is pleased because we do them, then we are mistaken. Christian disciplines and practises are means to an end. They must lead to transformation to Christ-likeness and to Christ-like living. Christ-likeness is not about just having some social graces and being and doing good. It is about living the way Christ lived when he was on earth as man. Only then God is pleased not because we keep the disciplines regularly nor show some goodness. On the other hand we not only become complacent with the disciplines and practices but they make us proud and foster holier-than-thou attitude towards others. Thus becoming idols in our lives. This is how certain Christian and church practises have become entrenched and enslave us for generations.

We must seek the God who is Spirit, be inundated, overwhelmed and be saturated by Him in such a way that the physical and temporal recede into the back ground of our lives and we begin to live in the Spirit. Life in the Spirit is the life that confidently proclaims, I cannot be over come by anyone or anything, I will not be overwhelmed by the issues of life. I will not be drowned by the considerations of the flesh.

They confidently affirm along with Paul, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is worship in spirit and in truth.

It is only about such people it will be written, ‘the world was not worthy of them’. Would you wish to be part of them, Then forsake all that the world and flesh have to offer and follow Him. Seek the Lord and His Kingdom alone! May the Lord help us.

Knowing God As Incarnate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing God As Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The nature of being. First we must understand the ontology of being or the nature of being as revealed in the Godhead. Paul writes about it in Ephesians 5:1& 2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing God As One

Knowing God as One has been expressed primarily in a negative way by the three monotheistic faiths of the world. The argument goes like this. If God is one then there can be no other God or no one can make any claim to know any other God. Therefore any such claims must be extinguished and all such proponents must be exterminated. I call this as rabid intolerance. But what is the positive way.

The Shema prayer which every devout Jew recites several times every day, teaches that the positive implications of Knowing God as One is to love Him only and no one else and nothing else. This means anyone who believes in One God begins to realise that one cannot live for anything else and anyone else except for Him. He made us and He is the sole owner of everything in the universe. Everything and everyone exist for His pleasure.

Such an understanding takes away all our rights to live for ourselves. We have no right to live even for our welfare, our careers, our pleasure. One’s career is not in pursuing university degrees nor about high profile jobs nor respectability nor even economic security. One cannot seek these even in so-called ministry. Not even in church systems and structures and hierarchies. Our only career is to pursue God. Every other career and concern must be subsumed to this one pursuit in life – the pursuit of God. Our pleasure and welfare, dignity and security are to be found in Him alone. Every other pursuit is tantamount to an idolatry or adultery or prostitution of our self. So any activity we engage in, including pursuing education and jobs or even ministry, must be with the clear leading of the Lord and not for the sake of gaining social respectability nor economic stability nor any other temporal gain.

Such devotedness to God was not only taught but demanded by Jesus Christ in His call to discipleship. The call to love God only, comes to us in the form of the call to discipleship given by Christ, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Apostle Paul stated the same truth as, ‘You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your bodies’. And, ‘he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised’.

I believe such an understanding leads to 3 basic things in the life of a follower of Christ:

1. It gives us the focus or the objective for living. To love God and to live for Him alone, His glory and His pleasure. Period. We have no right to live for anything else and anyone else. This also means that we as the people of God seek our basic needs in God alone and not from the world. Our basic needs of sustenance, security and identity are to be found in loving and trusting our God.

But unfortunately like the people of Israel we seem to seek these from the world. The people of Israel often left God and sought foreign help and foreign gods. They went to Egypt for food. They went to the Philistines for weapons of war. They sought the help of Syrians and Assyrians often to rescue them from their enemies. But God actually said that He would provide for them and protect them and own them as His people if they trusted Him and sought Him. The persistent dirge of the prophets in the Old Testament was to call the people back to love, serve and trust God alone.

Similarly, the most unambiguous indictment that can be brought against God’s people today, is that they have sought the dignities and identities promised by the world and have found security in its ways of life and in its systems. They have not only sought it, but they flaunt it and take pride in it. They even offer thanksgiving for attaining to and acquiring what the world has to offer. How blind we can be!

Hence God’s word says, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” (NASB)

You see friends, our trials, problems, difficulties and sufferings are not because we follow Christ completely but because we do not follow Him completely! In many contexts God is not on our side!

2. Second, with objective and focus comes discipline of life. The people who love and pursue God alone are those who are disciplined. They know where they are going and what they need to be doing. Anything that is unimportant or not essential to loving God and following Him is spurned and rejected. Anyone who claims to know the God of the Bible cannot be casual and perfunctory with life. In fact I would think that it is totally anachronistic to claim to know God and not be conscious, single-minded and serious. (I do not elaborate much on this here because that is not the basic purpose in this series of articles. I guess I have said enough here for you to explore on your own.)

3. Third, such a person or people maintain a life that is separate and distinct from the rest of the world. They just cannot live the way the people of the world live. They cannot pursue the same things that the people of the world pursue. They do not pray for the same things that the people of the world pray for. They are not discouraged by the same things that the people of the world are discouraged with.

Even a cursory glance at the condition of Christians worldwide suggests that this is not true of them. We have become just like everyone else in the world – self-seeking, individualistic, money-driven, career-driven. Pursuing personal growth has become the chief aim in life for many. This is true of even those who claim to be in so-called full-time ministry. In fact they are worse. Because they take advantage of the insecurities of the people and build their own identity and security. Worldly achievements and attainments have become primary objectives in life for practically everyone, all over the world. We only give the tag that it is God’s blessing and take false comfort in it. Even our preachers, pastors and Christian leaders have proved to be false teachers by egging the people of God to pursue the identities and securities offered by the world. Is it any wonder that we have ceased to be ‘testimonies for Christ’?

We have become so hardened and have lost all sense of propriety as Gods people that we think that learning and displaying proper cultural etiquette and social graces and niceties is enough to be Christian and our godliness is demonstrated in terms of some basic honesty, attendance at church services, regular tithing and contributing to ministry.

True and essential Christianity is not just about these but it is about a life that is totally antithetical to the way the rest of the world lives. And whose dynamic is not in money nor education nor influence gained through connections with the world but of a dynamic that is totally unexplainable by any of the categories of the world. It is lived by the dynamic of the power of resurrection of Christ.

Had the people of Israel loved and pursued the One God with a single-minded commitment and a single-hearted devotion they would have begun to discover that He lives in relationships and that He is Triune. And that therein lies the solution to communication, relationships, organisation and economics and a host of other issues pertaining to life on earth. We do not have to learn our behaviour from the world nor how to manage our life and work nor about how we organise ourselves or transact our relationships. We learn these from the Triune God.

But tragically both Israel and the Christians in the last 2 millennia have gone to the world to learn from it, how to organise and govern themselves and how to conduct economic transactions between themselves and with the world. The result is of a people who are totally undistinguishable from the rest of the world. We were supposed to be ‘a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations!’ Or as the Lord said through prophet Jeremiah, “I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?

Friends as you can see, we have been hurtling down the wrong track for several centuries now and are in the danger of being ‘spewed out’ by the Lord or hear his fateful words, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ May the Lord help us.

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.

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.”