Sunday, 15 September 2019

The story of the Kingdom of God

The history of the Kingdom of God

The kingdom of God was not a new concept suddenly introduced by Jesus in his preaching (even though it was the major aspect of his preaching and parables: The gospel of the Kingdom of God). It has a long history in the Bible… here is a short overview of the concept as it is revealed over time in the Bible. The Kingdom of God was not an afterthought, but it will become clear that this was the ultimate purpose of God right from the start of creation.
The whole universe, heavens and earth, was created by the LORD God for Himself (described in Gen.1-2). And He created mankind to rule over the earth as his representatives. This is our ultimate creation purpose, right from the start. Obviously, to rule as the representative of somebody else, you have to be in constant communication with who-ever you are representing. The image that you reflect, needs to be the image of the Person you represent (otherwise you are representing yourself or somebody else). And this is the relationship described in Gen.2-3 between mankind and the LORD God.
But then came the fall into sin and rebellion against God (described in Gen.3-4). Mankind gave their allegiance and obedience to the serpent, turning their backs on their Creator and King and on their whole reason for being; their creation purpose (to rule as his representatives). Satan became the de facto ruler of this earth as we (the rightful stewards of this earth) gave him our allegiance. Even during this time, a handful of people “walked with God” and were considered faithful to Him (e.g. Enoch and Noah).
But then, when the sinfulness and rebellion of mankind became too great, God disinhereted the nations. They were given over to worshipping “other gods”, lesser spiritual beings… who often followed the devil in his rebellion against God and became part of his “the kingdom of this world” – the nations at larger no longer served or worshipped the one true God directly, but served false gods of their own making and imagination, or even worshipped demons (this process is also referred to in some of the Psalms and in parts of Gen.6-11).
And then the Lord God intervened. He started again with a single person to whom He gave the promise that he would become the father of many nations and with a single country that would become his very own… although all of the earth belongs to Him as the Creator, He was not going to take it back with violence and judgement. He would start with a single nation through whom the world would see what He looks like and what it looks like if people followed Him and lived for Him. He would become their King and rule them through his righteous and holy teaching (Law/Torah). They would be separated to Him from among all the nations and be a Kingdom of priests to Him (Ex.19:5-6). Priests represent the people to God and Kings rule as his representatives over the earth (their land, which He would give to them as an eternal inheritence). But this position was also conditional; they had to keep his covenant, commands and Torah (Law) that showed them the way to live this holy lives as his representatives on earth. Deut.32:8-9 – “ When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He divided mankind, He fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.” It is among these “sons of God” that He will arise to judge them and ultimately inherit all the nations of earth again as described in Ps.82.
And herein lies one of the most basic aspects of the Kingdom of God… It is through our sin (disobedience to God and obeying the voice of the satan instead) that we have lost our position as his representatives and given rule over the earth to the enemy (satan, called the prince/ruler/god of this world in the New Testament). And even Israel, the chosen nation, disobeyed his Torah. The Good News of the Kingdom, is that God is going to take back the rulership that belongs to Him alone. And He is going to use people to do that. More specifically, He was going to use a very specific Person (the Son of man) to do it, as the representative of all mankind, the Anointed. Jesus of Nazareth came, proclaiming the Good News that the promised Kingdom of God has arrived (because the King has arrived). There were many promises through the ages given through the prophets about this promised King. And one of the main things He did, was to live 100% according to the Torah of God, even challenging his opponents, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46) after having just convicted them all of their own sin (John 8:1-12). Thus He was the one righteous Man who could give a righteous offering of Himself to atone for all our sins (Is.53), according to the prophecies. Taking our sins and forever dealing with it as the Representative of mankind, He forever removed any claim that the tempter had on earth. Thus, through his death and resurrection, He freed us from sin, the law, fear of death, our flesh and this present world system (ruled by the “prince of this world”), into his new Kingdom as the true Representative of God the Father on earth – He showed us the face of God, his true character.
One of the promises about the coming Messiah, the Son of David according to the flesh, was that He would rule over all the nations (Is.9,11:10, Dan.7:14). However, He would also break every weapon of war and nations will no longer learn to make war (Is.2:4, Hos.1:17, 2:17,Mic.4:3). How then would He win the whole earth, all nations, as his Kingdom? “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zech.4:6). This was the Kingdom demonstrated and established by Jesus on earth… like a mustard seed, smallest of all (cultivated) seeds, growing into a tree (Matt.13:31-32). And this was the method through which God chose to re-establish his reign on earth – not by a mighty display of his power as during the Exodus, but through the Spirit of his Son, changing us into the image of his Son when we enter into and become part of his Kingdom, through his Spirit (Rom.8:29,12:1-2, John 3:3,5).
Yes, there is also a future fulfillment, when the power and authority of the Lord (and our sonship) finally becomes visible in its glory (2 Thess.1:7-10). Then, He will recreate a new heaven and earth, uncorruptable and where it will literally and vissibly be heaven on earth (Rev.21-22). The Kingdom that He planned when creating mankind originally, where we rule as his representatives, will finally become a reality, but even more glorious than the first creation (just compare Gen.1-2 with Rev.21-22). But in the meantime, for now He is establishing his Kingdom in and through all those who willingly join themselves to Him and give themselves fully to Him, through repentance and faith (trust) in Him. We are being prepared in this world for our future with Him – by learning how to live in communion with Him (and each other). We are completing the mission with which the Father sent Jesus (John 20:21), establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, not in our own strength or through our own power, but through our unity with Him (John 15:1-16:11).

Sunday, 1 September 2019

The gospel of the Kingdom of God

The gospel of the Kingdom

Jesus started his public ministry with these words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark.1:15) Right from the start it is all about the Kingdom of God. The single object of most of the parables and teachings of Jesus is about the Kingdom of God (just read the gospels).
Jesus starts his ministry with the Good News of the Kingdom of God, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (Matt.4:23); He ends his time on earth teaching about the Kingdom, “To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3); the early disciples continue to preach the Kingdom of God, “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12), “And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.”; and the book of Acts ends with Paul preaching the Kingdom of God, “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of Godand teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” (Acts 28:30)
In What is a disciple? The true Good News, we read a little bit about the true gospel in contrast to various false gospels. But the word “gospel” (Besorah in Hebrew / Euangellion in Greek) means something like “Good News”, “Happy Message”, “Joyful Proclamation”, “glad tidings”. It is used in the Old Testament already (e.g. after victory over enemies - ) and in New Testament times it was often used for the glad tidings that a new king or emperor has been crowned and the uncertainty of deciding who will reign has been settled. One of the clearest passages in the Old Testament is part of the introduction to Isaiah 53, “How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
” (Is.52:7) What is the content of the message of peace, happiness and salvation? “Your God reigns” (He is King!). This Kingdom of God has been promised in connection with the Messiah, the Son of Man, in multiple Messianic prophecies, e.g., “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ … But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.” (Jer.23:5-6, 30:9) 
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. … And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” (Ezek.34:15-16,23)
I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
” (Dan.7:13-14)
These are the promises to which Jesus was referring when He said “the time is fulfilled”. This is a whole different viewpoint of the Good News – it is not primarily about us being saved from our sins and eternal death, but about the righteous King coming to take his rightful place. More about this story of the Kingdom in the next piece. But here I want to mention some practical implications to the fact that the gospel is all about the Kingdom of God:
  1. We enter the Kingdom by repentence and faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed King, High Priest and Prophet of the New Covenant. “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”” (John 3:3)
  2. We are saved into something. From the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of light. We are not simply saved for ourselves and our own “eternal life in heaven” (pie in the sky someday when we die).
  3. The whole purpose of the Kingdom of God is to re-establish the Kingdom of God (his reign) on earth as it is in heaven. Mankind, who was put in charge of the earth, has rebelled against Him, serving the “prince of this world” and He has overlooked this rebellion for some time. But now He is re-establishing his reign over the earth, through a Man, Jesus the promised Messiah King.
  4. The Kingdom is all about the King. It is all about Messiah Jesus. All of our previous posts about the church and revival comes back to this principle… it is all about Jesus.
  5. He, Jesus, the Messiah, is the King. We follow Him. We obey Him. We serve Him… when we enter his Kingdom. This is a voluntary decision. He never forces anybody to enter the Kingdom. But if we do it, we belong fully to Him. He created us, and He bought us back from sin, in order that we may belong to Him. He has a double claim on our lives.
  6. The Kingdom is built on foundations of righteousness and the love and mercy of God, not on military power or earthly authority. There is only one King, and He rules in our hearts when we enter his Kingdom. He makes us new people that are able to keep his cmmands of love, by coming to live inside us (How to follow Him).
  7. The Kingdom starts small (like a mustard seed) and grows slowly to become big (like a large tree). It involves individuals entering in, not nations “converted” by the sword. It grows through discipleship, becoming like Jesus, and disciple-making, helping others to become like Jesus. All living born-again Christians are part of the physical representation of Messiah on earth, his body. While the Kingdom of God is already here on earth where-ever Messiah reigns in the hearts of his disciples, this is just the beginning. The future involves the Kingdom being established in its full power, when Messiah returns in glory and power, and all those who have died in Him are resurrected to eternal life (1 Cor. 15). Then the original creation purpose of God, why He created mankind in the first place, will be fulfilled.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

How to follow Him

How to follow Him

WWJD?

We have already established that a Christian, accoring to the Bible is a disciple, a follower, an apprentice of the Messiah (Christ) (Acts 11:26) in What is a disicple? The true Good News. But what does this actually mean? According to many people it is to look at the example of Jesus, and do the same. This is typical of the “what would Jesus do (WWJD)” understanding of being a Christian. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor.11:1) and Peter said, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Pet.2:21). There can be no denying that there is some truth in this understanding of being a Christian and following Jesus.
There is one important point that is missed by the WWJD viewpoint of following the Messiah, however – Jesus is not dead! He died on the cross yes, but He was raised from the dead and is alive today! “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Messiah (Christ) died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me.” (1 Cor.15:3-8). What does this mean for our following of Jesus? It implies that we (should) hear and follow the voice of the living Messiah today (see On hearing the voice of the good Shepherd)! It is not only about following the example of Jesus from 2000 years ago, but also of hearing his voice and following Him here and now.
We already talked about hearing his voice and living all of our lives in his presence. Here I want to focus on how we obey Him. In his last command, Jesus told his disciples to make disciples of all nations and to teach them to obey all that He has commanded them (Matt.28:18-20). But He precedes and closes off the command with two great promises:
  1. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” – in this very important sense, the Kingdom of heaven has now come – and
  2. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – we are not left alone to do what He command us on our own or in our own strength.
These promises are an inherent part of the command to make (and be) disciples of Messiah Jesus. But even more, even from the perspective of following the example of Jesus, He has taught us how we are to follow Him:
  1. So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.’” (John 5:19) – If even the Son of God can do nothing of his own accord, can we?
  2. I can do nothing on my own.” (John 5:30) – Isn’t this the promise of Jesus in Matt.28 that He would not leave us on our own?
  3. …I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” (John 8:28)… “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the One who sent me has himself given me a commandment–what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49) – Is this not what He promised elsewhere, “And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mar.13:11? And then Jesus extends the example He showed to us: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (Joh.15:4), “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ ” (Joh.20:21) – Just as He remained in and lived out of his Father, we are to remain and live out of Him. This is the secret of discipleship. To live and remain in Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less.
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life..” 1 John 5:11-12).

Monday, 10 June 2019

Walking with Him

Living in His presence

Walking humbly with your God

‘With what shall I come before the Lord, 
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
” (Mic.6:6-8)
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” (Deut.10:12)
Since the beginning (see e.g. Enoch and Noah) this was the one thing that God wanted – that we would walk (live) mindful of his presence. It is important to realise that it is not about the actual presence of the God who fills heaven and earth (Jer.23:24), but about our awareness of his holy presence.
And this has become reality in the New Covenant when we not only livebefore Him, but He lives in us and we in Him. From Romans to 2 Peter the words “in Christ” are found 89 times! Jesus Himself expresses this clearly in John 14:17-18, 20, 15:1-14, 17:21-23, 26. The Scripture in 1 Thess.5:17 says, “pray without ceasing,”. How is this possible? Don’t we have jobs and work to do?
The secret is to live a life in the presence of God, a life of dependence on Him and his power working in us.
  • I have very early on in my walk with the Lord learned that I cannot do any “spiritual” work in my own strength… Because of my natural personality as an introvert, I simply could not talk to people about Jesus and what God has done for us through Him. That was why I prayed so desperately for God to fill me with his Holy Spirit, because I knew from experience that I could never be a witness to Him by myself (not that I didn’t try at first). But He could (and did!) use me as an instrument in his hand after filling me with his Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
  • However, until very recently, my secular work, my studies, etc. I simply did in my own strength. Yes, I did my best because I did it “for Him”, but I relied on my own wisdom and intelligence to do it. Being healthy and loving to learn, I thought that I could do this well enough on my own. But I recently learned that as a follower of Jesus, I cannot. A little book by brother Lawrence, “the practice of the presence of God”, as well as a number of personal circumstances, suddenly brought it home to me… walking in the presence of the Lord includes a life of total dependence on Him, a life of faith (trust) in Him. In our secular jobs we are serving Him(this I knew), and therefore, just like we need his Spirit for serving Him in “spiritual matters”, we need Him to serve Him in our daily work (this I learned).
  • Even more so, I learned that even when we relax, rest, or go on holiday (which we all need), we should do it in dependence on Him. Jesus rested (e.g. sleeping in the boat on the Sea of Gallilee), but even his time of rest, was a time of teaching and of being useful to God (Matt.8:23-27, Matt.14:13). I realised that we can trust the Father to lead us to rest as we need it (Matt.11:28-30, Mark 6:31). He will not allow us to burn out serving Him… burn-out is all too often the evidence that we have been serving Him in our own strength. But similarly, considering my “down time” as my own, opens me to all kinds of temptations. It was while David was relaxing in Jerusalem with his army fighting in Rabba, that he sinned with Bathsheba (2 Sam.11). I also found that I was most vulnerable to sin when relaxing, “doing my own thing”. Even our “off” time we are to spend in his presence.
All good and well, but how do we live (walk) in the presence of God? A few practical things I have learned:
  • Make sure there are no unconfessed sins that can break your intimacy with the Holy God. Go to Him in prayer and ask Him to show you any and all sin that is in your life that may separate you from Him (Isa.59:1-2). Then know that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin when we acknowledge and confess them to Him one-by-one by name (1 John 1:5-10) – He even forgets about them (think about that! – Isa.43:25).
  • During the day, talk to God about what you are doing. Ask his help and ask Him to lead you to do it to his glory, out of love for Him because of his great love for you. Thank Him for his help and praise Him for all that He has done for us continually (Eph.5:18-20).
  • If you sin against your brother (or even a non-believer), immediately go to him or her and make peace (reconcile) if possible – Matt.5:24– then you can continue to walk in His presence with a clear conscience.
  • Quiet prayer, also about your daily chores, is how you come into the presence of God. However, after that you remain in his presence simply by an inner awareness that He is there… and as soon as you loose this awareness, you return to Him in quiet prayer.
This all is part of how we follow the promised good Shepherd in his coming Kingdom.

Monday, 3 June 2019

On revival - index

On revival

Links to what I am learning about revival and planning to prayerfully investigate further in this time…
1. What is revival and what it is not
2. Where I get spiritual food
3. New wine in new wineskins: on church structure 
4. What is a disciple? The true Good News
5. On hearing the voice of the good Shepherd
6. Living in his presence (walking humbly with your God)
7. How to follow Him
8. The gospel of the Kingdom of God
9. The story of the Kingdom of God
10. The power of the Holy Spirit
11. The problem of sin
12. The answer to the problem of sin

Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd (and following Him)

The Good Shepherd

Hearing the voice of Jesus

One of the most important, but also most misunderstood aspects of discipleship (being a Christian), is about hearing the voice of God. It should be part of the FAQ of Christianity. A personal relationship with God through Jesus implies that I can hear his voice. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27). What is important to note, is that we are not simply following the example of Jesus; we are actually following the risen Lord, the living King of the Kingdom of Heaven (see What is a disicple? The true Good News).
Elsewhere, I have written something on how Christians hear the voice of God (Quora). This includes,
  • Reading the Bible to get to know Him. His word for everyone.
  • Reading the Bible and having a sudden insight into how how it is applicable to my current situation - a personal “Word of the Lord” that is not applicable to all Christians or circumstances. - the Holy Spirit applying the Scriptures.
  • An deep inner peace about a decision. This implies that I know the peace of God already and there is currently no known sins in my life that can disturb his peace.
  • An inner feeling, similar to my conscience, just knowing that something is true and right. I still test it by the Scriptures.
  • Specific circumstances that suddenly line up with the above. especially after a time of prayer and fasting. This is not always God speaking to us, and are to be tested (e.g. by asking older and wiser Christians for their advice, and making sure that it is in line with the Bible).
  • Prayer, followed by any of the above. If we want to hear his voice, we should ask Him to lead us. Prayer helps to create the expectation that God will speak to me, to bring me to the place where I will listen.
  • Have I been following Him in the past? Have I obeyed everything He told me? God will not reveal anything new to me until I have obeyed what He had already said to me.
  • An audible voice. This has never happened to me, but has happened to some of my fellow Christians. However, it is not common, even for those people to whom God has spoken audibly.
  • God speaking through a dream. This has only happened once or twice in my life to me. Normally this is a dream in which I dream about God or an angel speaking to me; not just a normal dream that I interpret as a message from God. I often cannot forget the dream. And it is obviously in line with what the Bible teaches.
  • Sometime a soft inner pulling, showing me somebody in need, something I should do to comfort or help somebody, an insight in a certain situation about what God wants me to do. Feels similar to my conscience, but beforehand.
  • Only once in my life has God communicated with me through a vision. It was both to teach me something profound and also to make me experience something of his presence.
  • In a smallish community of fellow believers, we often had the experience in our weekly meetings that God would have spoken to a number of us about the exact same subject or from the exact same part of Scripture.
  • Answers to prayer: often not in the way I expected, but unmistakenly the hand of God. I can only pray according to the will of God if I know what His will and character is. And I can only pray with true faith (fully trusting that He will hear my prayers) when I know that I am not praying with wrong motives or ask for something that is against the will of God. The way in which God answers my prayers teaches me more about who He is.
  • Prophetic insight (word of knowledge?) where I just “instinctively” know something about somebody I have never met in order to help or pray for them according to the will of God. Or an inner discomfort when hearing some teaching (and later finding it to contradict the Bible).
Some of the lessons that I have been learning about hearing the voice of God from the words of Jesus in John 10
  • We become part of his sheep herd only by entering through Him. He is the door for the sheep and only by entering through Him are we saved.
  • He calls us by name. He knows each one of us personally.
  • We do not follow Him as individuals, but together as a single herd.This was something that I only learned fairly recently. We are not following the Messiah Jesus simply as individuals, but we hear his voice as a group in unity. I have experienced this in the past where as a group we shared what we have learned in the past week – and often God has been talking to us about the same thing. And then the different parts of what we shared, fit together like a puzzle giving the full picture; or like a diamond, with many facets and being seen from different perspectives increases our appreciation of its beauty.
  • Getting to know someone takes time. It is through following Him, listening to his voice and going where He calls us, that we get to know his voice.
  • It is through getting to know the voice of Jesus Himself that we can easily recognise the voice of a stranger. It is not by learning a bunch of (true) doctrines that we will be able to recognise false teaching, but by knowing Him. Again, this process of getting to know Him is something that happens in fellowship with other followers of Jesus.
  • Nobody can pluck us from his hand. If we loose the way, He is the good Shepherd who will come looking for us (Luk.15:4-7).
Christians “hearing the voice of God” is something that many people misunderstand. Although God sometimes speak in an audible voice, this is not common (even in the experience of those who have heard Him in this way). However, it is clear from the way Jesus spoke that his sheep (those who have entered into the Kingdom of God through Him – the Gate of the sheep) should be able to hear and follow his voice. And this was not only true for while He was physically on earth; He explicitly says that He would not leave us as orphans, but would come back to his disciples through the Holy Spirit (John 14). The book of Acts demonstrates how this happened in practice. Paul goes as far as to say that anyone who does not have the Spirit of Messiah, does not belong to Him (Rom.8:9). And he repeatedly says that we are to be led by the Holy Spirit (e.g. Rom.8:1,14, Gal.5:16-18). We can hear the voice of the Shepherd, The real question is if we are (still) following Him.

True gospel - What is a Christian really?

The true Good News

What is a Christian really?

This is not the message I originally planned to share this week. However, I was confronted by a question earlier: Why do so many people accept God and then live anyway they want? Basically there are two answers to this:
  1. They do not know the God with whom we have to do.
  2. They were taught a false gospel.
In a following post (Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd) I am going to talk about the first point. Here I just want to hook on to the previous post about church structures and revival. There are two main reasons given why so many young people leave the church:
  1. They don’t get relevant answers to their questions and specifically the doubts with which their faith is assaulted from all sides.
  2. They find church boring and irrelevant to real life. 
    I will venture that the true answer to both problems is not in changing our traditions and structures, but in introducing them to the living God. To have a living relationship with the living God isnever boring! It may be dangerous and costly, but it is not boring. Moreover, the person having a relationship and experience of the living God is never at a disadvantage against even the cleverest atheistic argument. The reality of God in our lives is the most important answer to any atheistic or other argument – it is the word of our testimony (Rev.12:11). Of course there is more – It helps to discover that there are good answers to most atheistic questions (e.g. Cold Case Christianity). But more important than any knowledge of (true) facts, is knowing God personally.
What does it mean to be a Christian? This question touches the root of the gospel. The one “definition” for Christian in the Bible, explaining where the term was first used, says that the disciples were first called “Christains” in Antioch (Acts 11:26). A disciple of Jesus is a follower, a student, an apprentice of the living Jesus who have risen from death, in a personal relationship; it is not only about trying to follow the example of Jesus when He was on earth. One “false gospel” which is sometimes taught and a reason for people living “anyway they want” after accepting Jesus… is that you can be a “Christian” and “saved”, but without being a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ or the need for anything more really, than a one-time “decision for Christ”. This is one side of the false gospel, which can be called the “gospel” of lawlessness (Frank Viola calls it the gospel of libertarianism) – mentioned in Matt.7:23, 23:28, 24:12, Rom.6:19, Tit.2:14, 1 Joh.3:4. Read the passages and you will get a pretty good idea what Jesus thinks of this!
This gospel of lawlessness, however, is often a reaction to another “false gospel”, the “gospel” of legalism. This is the gospel that says that now, after having repented and accepted Jesus Christ, you need to start living “like a Christian”. In the New Testament time, this was mostly by requiring new believers to keep all the Torah (Law) of Moses – they had to be circumcised (become Jews) and commanded to keep the whole law (after all, Jesus was a Jew and kept the whole Law, so as his followers, so should we). In modern-day Christianity our legalism is more hidden. We know that we do not have to keep the whole Law of Moses, but instead, we create our own list of (human-made?) laws. “Now that you are a Christian, you need to pray everyday, read your Bible, go to church and witness to the gospel.” You have to wear certain clothes or avoid certain places, etc… not only that, you need to live in the same way as Jesus did (read the “sermon on the mount” as a starting point). And here is the thing, if you devote yourself to Jesus and to loving like He did and living like He commands us to live… you will soon learn that the Christian life is simply impossible (“Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” – Matt.5:48, 2 Cor.13:11). At this stage you will have a few options:
  1. Give up on the Christian life. It is simply not possible for me, so I will not even try. And then I grab on to a false (partial) gospel of “grace” that says that it doesn’t matter how I live anymore… as long as I “believe” in Jesus (actually, according to James 2 this is not real faith). I fall back to the gospel of lawlessness. This is often the starting point and reason for those who teach a gospel of lawlessness. They found Rom.7 to be true in their lives… I cannot do what I know I should.
  2. Become self-righteous. I change the requirements to something that I find easy to do. And then I can judge those others who sin in different ways to the way I sin (their sins are always worse than my own). I become a legalist, making a list of Christian things to do (including mostly those that I find easy and leaving out the more difficult parts). And then I compare myself to others and feel good about myself for not sinning like they do… “God I thank you that I am not like other people…” (Luk.18:11).
  3. I keep on living under condemnation. I keep on trying in my own strength (and failing). A life of “walking and falling”, often more on the ground and going backward than actually going forward.
  4. Discover who I am in Messiah and the power of his Holy Spirit. Moving from Rom.7 into the reality of Rom.8. Realise that I have been born again, that I am a new creation; that Jesus actually livesin me and lives his life through me; that just as I gave myself to Himwhen I first came to Him, I need to keep on living in dependence on Him, being led and empowered by his Spirit. Discover the true Good News of the Kingdom of God. Not only learning that I should follow Jesus Christ as his disciple, but learning how to follow Him, how to hear his voice, how to obey Him and be filled with his Holy Spirit.
What is the true Good News (gospel)? That God has done for us and will do in us what we could not do for ourselves. That it is primarily about his Kingdom and his plan in the world (and our part in it) and not simply about being saved from hell. The Lord is establishing his Kingdom on earth through us. We are no longer part of the kingdoms of this world, but become citizens of the Kingdom of God that was established by the Messiah King, Jesus (Yeshua) of Nazareth. It is through our unity with Him that we are free and saved from our sin (It is is very simple: “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life..” 1 John 5:11-12). It is all about the King, the Messiah Jesus. It is this perspective the enables us to identify any false gospel (there are many): if it is not above all about Jesus Himself and our position in Him, it is false. If it is aboutourselves and our attempts (or lack of even trying), it is false. The true gospel of the Kingdom is all about the King. We do not need to know every false gospel and false teaching in order to identify what is false… we only need to know the true Good News (that God has finally established his coming Kingdom here on earth through Jesus, his Son) in order to see what is in contradiction to this gospel. He is the One who enables us to live according to his will, changing us into the image of his Son (Rom.8:29).