Archive for the ‘True Christianity’ Category
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Philippians 3:1
Some things are so vitally important that they need to be said more than once.
Years ago I wrote an article that is buried somewhere under the posts in this blog. I believe it to be one of the most important things I have ever spoken or written about. I also believe it to be more relevant today than ever before.
As many of the newer visitors and subscribers to this blog have not read it, I feel quite compelled to repost it. Please feel free to copy the content, post it elsewhere or distribute it in any form.
Blessings to all.
There is something wickedly satisfying about arriving first in life. This I learned at a tender age after my first success in beating my older brother to the kitchen table in our house in Namibia. Our lunchtime races down the long passage had become somewhat of a ritual, and, being the smallest, I was usually the last one to arrive. But when success did come it came sweetly. After all the thrashings, I enjoyed his defeat even more than my victory.
This is why I call it wickedly satisfying, for joy derived from another’s misfortune is wicked indeed. The Germans speak of “Schadenfreude” (leedvermaak in Afrikaans), that is, that warped sense of relief we experience when something bad happens to others instead of us. It explains why humans enjoy gossip and are morbidly fascinated with vehicle accident scenes, and it reveals something of the universal human drive to end up on top of the heap, to always win, to die with the most toys (See Ecclesiastes 4:4). The rat race is indeed an apt description of life on planet earth.
Ego-death a Non-negotiable
Many prophets and sages have warned for millennia against running this race, and they have done so in the names of many gods. Examples abound, but I will mention just one. Buddhists have a real issue with the ego, and they teach that “man is a bundle of desires”. The solution? If you remove the source of envy you also remove unhappy and resentful feelings about others’ possessions, they say. And so the Buddhist authorities in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan have banned advertising.
The gospel of Jesus Christ, however, has a completely different approach to the matter. Instead of warning us against running the rat race, it tells us that we are rats. We are, therefore, perfectly consistent when we behave in the crazy ways we do. It is not our behavior that constitutes the problem, it is our identity. Hence the New Testament’s one and only prescription: The annihilation (read crucifixion) of the competitive rat.
Without this event, which we can call “ego-death”, any effort at Christianity is as sensible as attempting to climb Everest by staying at home. It simply cannot be done. The cross is no different to the guillotine, the noose or the electric chair. It is an instrument of death and serves the explicit purpose of executing the criminal. What a silver bullet and wooden stake are to a vampire, the cross is to the ego. The funeral of baptism is the funeral of self, and so 2 Corinthians 5:17’s “new creation”, resurrected in the image and the likeness of Christ, is a creation that seeks not to win but to serve, for this is what Christ came to do.
It was Adam and Eve, under the inspiration of the serpent, who thought that equality with God was something to be grasped, not Christ (See Genesis 3:5 and Philippians 2:6).
A Religious Masquerade
Egos, of course, hide well, and they hide best under cloaks of righteousness, which is why we so constantly run into them in churches. In the Bible religious self exaltation is personified by the sect of the Pharisees: “They do all their deeds to be seen by others… they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” Their dress code, behaviour in the religious assemblies, status and titles all conspire to elevate them above the masses, giving them the bizarre privilege of fusing the religious pilgrimage with the ego-trip, impressing God and people simultaneously, obtaining heaven with earth still in their pockets.
Winning means arriving first, as my early races down the passage taught me. To win one must have arrived, and winning religiously implies having arrived religiously. For clerical supremacy to survive some sort of arrival is required, and, as it happens in churches, a fitting doctrine is needed to prove and clarify the arrival.
A doctrine of arrival, put very simply, is a theologically constructed idea which proposes some final insight, experience or realisation of promise. It distinguishes the one who has arrived from those who are still on their way. It also offers a circumvention of the painfully humbling business of believing, hoping and waiting. Proud people do not wait well, which explains why God employs time so successfully in humbling his servants. Forcing arrival by fabricating a destination is humanity’s attempt to appear victorious and to bypass the discomfort caused by the impatience of the ego.
The Error of Realised Eschatology
There is no heresy as deceitful as the one which offers a shortcut to the Promised Land. Such impatience led to Adam’s sin, to Esau forfeiting his birthright, to the Israelites constructing a golden calf and to the Prodigal leaving the family home. Every time the underlying philosophy is the same: We want it all. We want it now
Since the time of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who taught “that the resurrection has already happened”, doctrines of arrival have littered the ecclesiastical landscape. Theologians speak of “realised eschatology”, that is, the erroneous and dangerous view that the blessings linked to the resurrection of the saints, the Lord’s return, the visible and final coming of the Kingdom and the restoration of all things are to be appropriated somehow in this world and age.
There are many modern day examples of this age-old heresy, for instance prosperity theology (the restoration of our finances and possessions), extreme teachings on healing (our bodies and health have been restored), obsession with signs and wonders (natural laws have been made subject to us), the conviction that doctrinal perfection is possible (we understand perfectly), elitist churches who believe that they have a perfect understanding and practice of “fellowship” (we love and meet perfectly), post-millennial Reconstructionism or “Kingdom Now” theology (we have the perfect political system) and the belief in sinless perfection (we are perfectly holy).
All of these, of course, are just different and novel ways of proclaiming “we have arrived”.
The Biblical Doctrine of Waiting
It was David who said “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” This principle runs like a golden thread throughout Scripture. Abraham had to wait for the promise of a son to be fulfilled. Moses had to wait 40 years in the wilderness before God called him, and then another 40 years before he was afforded a glimpse of the Promised Land. The disciples had to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, and in the letter to the Romans we read that we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
The Kingdom has come in part but not fully. We haven’t arrived yet, and the pain of the planet is one of God’s most efficient tools to remind us of this and to build our faith. The heroes of Hebrews 11 were all looking ahead to a heavenly country. They were not perfectly healed, prosperous, organised or, if you look closely, sinless. Their ‘perfection’ beckoned from a heavenly country.
The ironic thing is: To the degree that we want to drag heaven down here we cease to find it in our hearts, we cease to live by faith, in other words. Perfectionism in its many guises is nothing but veiled materialism. It is an insistence to make the intangible tangible, a refusal to live by faith.
The answer to all of these is quite simple:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18 – 25)
Christianity is a waiting religion. When we wonder why this is so, we are reminded by Scripture that we are “saved in hope”, and that “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Ultimately all waiting experiences are intended by God as exercises to strengthen us for the great wait: The day of his coming. Through them we are taught and reminded that the gratification of Christianity is not instant but deferred. Through them we learn to live by faith, not by sight.
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world, John tells us. If you do, then the love of the Father is not in you.
The problem with some of us is that we turn from the world before we turn to the Father. And then, when we eventually do turn to the Father, we make the mistake of thinking that we have already (rather conveniently) forsaken the world. We may even conclude that we have some advantage over those poor souls who have not yet dealt with the issue of “not loving the world”.
If we hold to such a view, we have never come close to understanding John’s words. In fact, we may love the world very much whilst thinking that we have forsaken it.
The key to understanding John’s words is found in Jesus’ words: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). “Loving the world” does not mean loving something that exists apart from you. Rather, it means that you love something in which you live and of which you are a part.
What I mean is this: You cannot separate the idea of your own “life in the world” from the idea of “the world”. The two are inseparable. And so, “loving the world” means loving some or other relationship, dynamic or interaction that exists between you and the world. This could be anything, and it differs from person to person, but the common denominator between all of them is what Jesus refers to as “your life in this world”.
It is this thing that you are not allowed to love. It is this thing that you are told to hate. It is impossible to not love the world whilst loving your life in it.
Some of us turn from the world as one would turn from a bad business partnership. Perhaps we have been disillusioned by the loss of a loved one. Perhaps by war, disease or poverty. Perhaps we are sick and tired of the rampant materialism around us. Whatever the case, it is not that difficult for a thinking person to see through the facade of life and to adopt some or other countercultural agenda to express his or her misgivings.
They are all around us: Some become Greenpeace activists, others gangster rappers. World haters are as plentiful on the worldwide web as are the utopian experiments that have preceded it. From Babel to Woodstock, people have tried to reengineer society. Tupac Shakur has become the spokesman for many of his generation when he sings: “It’s just me against the world, baby.”
The point is, while all of these people turn against the world, none of them turn against their own lives in this world. And so their turning away from the world in one way always ends up as a turning back to it in another way. Paul Gauguin became sick of the pretentious Parisian art scene and fled. But he still had his life in this world, and so he was forced to find an alternative place for it. This he did in Tahiti, where he reinvented himself by indulging in sexual exploits with prepubescent peasant girls. Tahiti may be the exact contrast of Paris. But it is still in this world. Gauguin merely swopped one life in the world for another. He may have told himself that he had escaped, but he hadn’t. He died at 54, his body racked with Syphilis and poisoned by alcohol. He loved his life in this world, and so he lost it.
The same can be said of countless other efforts to flee the world. It never works. Indeed, it cannot work. You can no more hate the world than you can flee from it by trying to jump to the clouds. There is a law that will bring you back. You may not end up in the same place where you left off, but you can rest assured that you will return. Hating the world in one way will always lead to loving it in another. That is why burnt out CEO’s become tree huggers and billionaire heiresses philanthropists.
And so it is simply impossible to turn from the world before one has turned to the Father. You may think that you have seen through the world and that you did so all by yourself, but you are deceived. The world lives on happily in your new life. God is little concerned with that which you have turned from. He is interested in what you have turned to. If it wasn’t him, then you have simply traded in old idols for new ones.
A Religious World…
The error above is by no means restricted to the sad world of those who have forsaken obvious forms of worldliness for subtle ones. On the contrary, its worst manifestation is in the area of religion, and the reason is clear to see: Religion, more than any worldly form of otherworldliness, provides a way to turn against the world without turning against your life in this world. This is because religion provides a substitute life that appears to be more non-worldly than any other. And so religion makes it more possible to hate the world, whilst loving your life in it, than any other pursuit.
Ever wondered why billions of people are happy to turn to religion without seeing the need to turn to Christ? The answer is simple: Religion does not need Christ to facilitate the great escape from the world. It can do so all by itself. To escape one’s life in this world is a different story. For that you need Christ. And the reason is clear to see. To escape from one’s life in this world is to escape from your very self. And that cannot happen without Jesus Christ.
What Jesus commanded was a peculiar thing. To hate one’s life in this world is to hate the symbiosis that exists between the world and you. It is to understand that there is a demonic and vile interplay between the human soul and this dark, evil age. It is to understand that the two feed on one another, and that they cannot exist without one another.
Many Christians believe that the so-called “world” was created by Satan. Of course I am referring here to the wicked world system, not the planet we live on or the people on it. The Greek word “kosmos” is used in Scripture to refer to all three, and we are only using it in the sense of the world system. Let us not be confused. The most famous verse in all of Scripture tells us that God loved the world, and he was not contradicting himself. He loves the people, and he has created the planet as a depiction of his glory. But he hates the system, and that is what we are commanded to hate.
When Paul called Satan the “god of this world” (literally “age” in Greek), this is what he had in mind. And so it is not difficult to see why people think that Satan created this wicked world system.
But he never did. We did. This world is nothing but a projection of our hearts, tailor-made to suit our desires. We birthed it. We invented it. We hold the rights to the patent. Fallen humanity created this world in the same way a man takes a piece of wood or clay and shapes it into an idol. Satan never gave us Hollywood. We did. Satan did not give us Wall Street. We did. Satan did not invent the Mafia, or the Third Reich, or the porn industry. We did. And astonishing as it may sound, we did all these things, and keep on doing them, for the very purpose of reacting against our very own former systems that have failed us. Whether it’s Hefner’s house of bunnies or Hitler’s Aryan race, we all seek the Utopian kingdom that will help us to escape a world that has failed us in some or other way.
The reason why Satan is the god of this world is not because he has created it, but because we have elected him. You don’t need to create a country in order to be its president. What you need is to win the hearts of the people. And this Satan did. He rules through us, not apart from us. We created this world as a result of our allegiance to him. He rules our hearts, and so everything we do is from him, through him, for him.
This is why it is impossible to escape the world, and sheer idiocy to suggest that a human being can do so. We are not in the world. The world is in us. The reason why Christ set his kingdom up in the hearts of people and not in Jerusalem is that the problem has never been in Jerusalem. It is within us. That is where the change of rule should take place.
When we flee the world, we take it with us. We may become desert monks, but we will only transplant the world in the process. It is not what goes into a person that makes him unclean, but what comes out.
“For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”
The first step to forsaking the world is to hate your own life in it. It is to see that your very soul has been baptised in a way of thinking and behaving that is corrupt from its beginning to its end. It is to see that you yourself are the contamination, the primary shaper of the bricks that make up Babylon. It is a deep need to cease existing in your present state, a passionate desire for a new life altogether.
In short: It is to see Christ as the fullness, glory and beauty of God, and the desire to be dissolved in him. There is no other passage out of this world but through Jesus Christ. He is the Ark. He will take you to the new world. He will take you through the waters of death and judgment. In them he will bury you and everything associated with you. And out of them he will birth a new creature, conformed to his image and likeness.
The only way to ever stop loving this world is to believe in Jesus Christ, to know him and to love him with all of your being.
All other efforts to do so are futile. It is as simple as that.
This is the third (and most important) post dealing with the issue of “desire”. If you happen to read this and you have not read the previous two, it might be a good idea to do so first. However, what I am about to share can stand on its own. It is, I believe, such a foundational truth that it ultimately relegates everything else relating to “desire” to the status of mere commentary. And so you can continue right on if you are not in the mood to read the previous posts.
This post is somewhat long, but I offer no apologies.
Desire: An Appetite
What is desire? Desire is a yearning towards something. It is a hunger for something, and so it can be described as an appetite. Of course human beings have many desires for many different things, but in the final analysis they are all bits of one great desire. All appetites are mere shadows of one single appetite, namely the human appetite for spirituality.
Let me explain. Just as we are born hungry, and just as we need a source through which life will be administered to us in order to replace “craving” with “satisfaction”, so we are born spiritually hungry. In other words, just as “life” exists on two planes, namely the natural and the spiritual, so our yearning for it exists on two planes. We are naturally hungry, and we are spiritually hungry. Consequently, we can experience “fullness” both in the natural and spiritual realm.
Note that “hunger” and “satisfaction” serve as the primary indicators by which humans determine whether life has been administered to them or not. Of course this does not mean that these indicators are infallible. If you have seen Super Size Me you will know what I am talking about. But mostly we get it right. Mostly the pangs on our stomach direct us in a marvelous way to some or other source of nutrition that not only provides gratification, but that also keeps us alive.
Until we are hungry again, of course. And then the process repeats itself.
The point cannot be overstated: Hunger is what we experience, but it is in fact life that we crave. My two year old seems constantly hungry, but he is oblivious of the fact that when he eats he is satisfying a much deeper need: The need to survive as a human. And so God has designed a marvelous cycle of desire and fulfillment to keep us alive.
At this point we are ready for a few conclusions:
• Human desire is always an attempt to move from death to life, although this mostly happens outside of awareness. Note that Eve’s desire for the forbidden tree neutralized the fear brought about by God’s ominous warning of certain death. We’ll see why in a moment.
• For desire to cease, it looks outside itself for an object that can administer the life necessary to provide gratification. Eve “saw” the forbidden tree and concluded that the prospect of being “like God” would administer more life than eating of the other tree. Clearly, for being like God would imply more than merely receiving life. It implied becoming a source of life.
• Desire is not a pleasant experience. As the awareness of lack, its main aim is to destroy itself. And so the exhilaration of desire does not have to do with the desire itself, but with the prospect of gratification, that is, with desire’s absence. Desire’s main aim is to stop desiring. This is why Eve’s desire led her to pick and eat the forbidden fruit.
• The aim of desire is to bind the one who desires with the object of desire in a union of life. The result of this union is contentment, satisfaction and a total immunity to all lesser objects of desire. Eve expected the tree to do more than provide a snack. She expected it to transform her identity.
• When the object of desire fails to live up to its promises, for instance by offering mere temporary gratification, desire will return and the cycle will begin again. This could lead to an effort to extract more out of the object of desire or to interact with it in a fresh way. It could also lead to a total abandonment of it in the hope of finding a more suitable object of desire (See the reference to the Samaritan woman of John 4 later on in this post).
Made by God, Made for God
With the above in mind, let us consider two quotes:
You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. Augustine
There was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself. Blaise Pascal
God created us with a passion in our hearts: A passion for him. The aim of this desire is to unite us to God in an eternal, loving union. Just as children crave mother’s milk for the sake of their survival, we crave spiritual satisfaction for our spiritual survival. And just as the human body will not allow itself to be fooled in regard to the demands of its appetite, God does not allow us to experience this satisfaction apart from him.
Now think about this:
WHEN GOD DISAPPEARS OUT OF OUR PICTURE, OUR DESIRE FOR HIM DOES NOT DISAPPEAR.
No. It remains. It is an eternal and indistinguishable spiritual survival instinct, and it cannot be eradicated. And so, without God, the very passion that was intended to unite us to God becomes the passion that drives us to all kinds of objects and things in which we hope to find a suitable substitute for the absence of God. The reason people ‘s desires lead them to all kinds of sins is that they are seeking spiritual fulfillment. As Chesterton once said: “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” It is because of dispossession that we seek to possess, in other words.
If you are still with me, please stay here. I am about to say something that you may never have heard, and that may very well change the way you view Christianity, the world and yourself:
DESIRE CANNOT BE RESISTED.
Let me say that again: Desire cannot be resisted. The reason for this is that it is a spiritual force, given by God to you for the purpose of enabling you to fulfill the greatest commandment: To love him with all your heart, mind, strength and soul.
This instinct is engraved on your DNA and nothing can ever change it. The great commandment has never been an option. It is part of your constitution. And you will spend your life trying to obey it, no matter how confused you may be as to how to do it. The difference between human beings is not that some are religious and others are not. No. All people are deeply religious. The difference between them has to do with the particular avenue they choose as an outlet for their religious instincts. Even a self-professed atheist is doomed to finding some sort of mission, object or person in his or her life to make it more bearable. As always, desire is the navigating tool to do so.
Now for the punch line: If desire cannot be resisted, then it is futile to try and do so, even if it is “sinful” desire. To try and conquer desire is to fight against God, for desire is given by God as the appetite of the human soul. Even a child will tell you that it is pointless to overcome hunger by trying to resist it. It simply won’t work. Hunger and thirst only disappear when there is a filling of sorts, and it has to be a filling that corresponds with the demands of the body. This is why people adrift on the ocean eventually die of thirst. Seawater does not do it for them. In fact, the more they drink, the more they thirst. And to religiously command such a person to “stop thirsting” is idiocy.
The Purpose of the Law
This, of course, is the purpose of the Mosaic Law: To illustrate the impossibility of conquering human desire. As I pointed out in The Root of Desire II (this may be a good time to read it, if you haven’t done so before), Paul’s epic battle to keep the law of God (and his ultimate failure) had absolutely nothing to do with sins like adultery, theft, lying and so on.
No, Romans 7 makes it clear that all of Paul’s failure in keeping the law sprung from one, single commandment: The tenth, that is, the prohibition against desire. The “very commandment that was intended to bring life” (Note: …to bring life) instead produced in Paul “every kind of covetous desire” (See verses 8-10). And so Paul concludes: “I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” Put differently, Paul would not have understood desire as a powerful spiritual force that cannot be overcome by willpower, even the strongest religious willpower in the world, were it not for the tenth commandment.
Desire cannot be resisted, not even by the world’s most moral man. This is why God chose Saul the Pharisee as the channel through which to reveal the benefits of the New Covenant. Through Saul’s dismal failure to keep the law that he respected so much, the real purpose of the law is revealed: To make us aware of sin. Not of sins, but of sin.
The law shows us that we are slaves of desire and that we cannot do anything about it. Yet it is not the desire itself that is sin, but the way in which we choose to satisfy it. To get this wrong is to commit idolatry, that is, to attribute God-like characteristics to lifeless things. As strange as it may sound, the principle underlying all sin is love. But it is forbidden love. As Norman Grubb pointed out, sin is an illicit love match.
For our man adrift on the ocean, neither seawater nor willpower can bring life. For the man in Romans 7, and that includes all of us, neither sin nor religion can satisfy us. We need “real food” and “real bread”, to use Jesus’ terminology. Our desires must not be annihilated. They must be redirected. That statement is so important that it bears repeating:
OUR DESIRES MUST NOT BE ANNIHILATED. THEY MUST BE REDIRECTED.
Desire is the force that is intended to drive us away from the inherent emptiness in ourselves, and the horrible experience of that emptiness, to some or other source of fulfillment. This force is even stronger than our natural survival instinct, which is why some people will commit suicide in the hope of finding more satisfaction in death than they do in life. As I pointed out in the previous posts, every action of a human being is preceded by a desire. When we act, we obey desire. Desire rules us. We do not rule desire.
The man who sold all in Matthew 13 did not do so because he found religion. He did so because he found a treasure that was worth more than everything he owned. Through it all he remained true to his desires – desires that were transformed by a discovery of great treasure.
Similarly, the mistake of the rich young ruler was not his unwillingness to let go of his possessions. It was his inability to see the supreme worth of Jesus Christ. He was blind to the pearl of great price, as all of us are, and so his desires compelled him to hold on the only collection he knew. This is why Jesus pointed out, in true Romans 7 fashion, that salvation is “impossible” for human beings. The impossibility, of course, has to do with ruling over our desires. Clearly, for “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
The Solution to Romans 7
The solution to the problem of Romans 7 is found in Romans 8. Here we find the “filling” that solves the universal problem of humanity’s spiritual emptiness. Romans 8 is about the Spirit of God, and the implications of being filled by the Spirit.
In this chapter Paul says that “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (verse 2). Note the movement from death to life, and then note how this actually plays out in practice: “ Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (verse 5). Note the references to desire. And note that human desire does not cease in this equation. Rather, it is redirected from the guidance of the sinful nature to the guidance of the Spirit. And so the man in Romans 8 finds it possible to keep the law, for his desires has been conformed to the will of God!
Paul’s effort to resist desire in Romans 7 was futile. This was no mistake, but a necessary lesson to indicate that salvation is an impossibility for humans, but a possibility with God whose Spirit of life can arrest our desires and direct them in a wholly different direction.
Christ the Bread and Water of Life
The above clearly illustrates how bankrupt religion is as a means to curb desire. Only Jesus Christ can offer the satisfaction sought by the human soul. No amount of rules, ritual, willpower or anything else in the whole, wide world can do this. Only Christ can, and this is what we mean when we say “Jesus Christ is all”. Of course, this is what the Bible means when it says that Jesus Christ has the supremacy in everything and that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him”.
Think about it: Jesus had at his disposal countless metaphors by which to illustrate to us who he was and what his mission involved. But he chose the image of a meal from heaven to do so. We are to eat and drink him, he instructed us, and the result will be that we will never hunger or thirst again. Every time that Christians sit down to the Lord’s Supper, this is what they confess. Christ is our life. Christ is our delight. Christ is sufficient. We desire nothing but Christ.
Loving the Father and loving the Son is not an act of the will. It is a spontaneous and irresistible compulsion following the discovery of who God really is. This treasure is locked up in Jesus Christ, as is evident from the following verses:
• It has pleased God to let his fullness dwell in Christ (Col. 1:19)
• Jesus Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15; 1 Cor. 4:4)
• Jesus Christ is the “exact representation” of the being of God (Heb. 1:3)
• Jesus Christ is the “Word” of God, that is, God’s primary communication to us (John 1:1, 14)
• When Philip asked Jesus to “show” the Father to the disciples, Jesus replied: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?”
Jesus Christ is the character and nature of God embodied in the flesh, and so the only avenue to the fullness, wholeness and contentment of God is in and through Jesus Christ. We are to take him into us as our ancestors were intended to eat of the tree of life. His life is the life of God, the only life that satisfies.
And so the great commandment, to love God with all of our faculties and with all of each faculty, and the Mosaic Law’s great prohibition against covetousness, is in reality one and the same commandment. Matthew 22:37 and Exodus 20:17 are the two sides of the same coin, the one stated positively, the other negatively. The one summarises the great “do” of the law (covering all the so-called “sins of omission”) and the other the great don’t of the law (covering the “sins of commission”). All of them are wrapped up in a single principle: The all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. And so Jesus Christ is both the central message of the Ten Commandments as well as the New Testament.
With the above in mind, reconsider the following verses, most of which you may know:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water … My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night… Psalm 63
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-2
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God. Psalm 42:1-2
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. Psalm 73:25
I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Psalm 143:6
You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. Psalm 145:16
Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. Isaiah 26:8-9
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live. Isaiah 55
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew 5:6
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. John 4:13-14
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. John 6:35
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. John 6:51
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. John 7:37
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:8
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. Revelation 21:6
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. Revelation 22:17
Jesus Christ is our satisfaction. We were created and designed for a relationship with him. That is why we exist. Nothing can quench this desire. We are the bride of the Groom, and our desire is for our husband.
Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we will remain thirsty throughout all our affairs with different lovers. Our problem is not our thirst. It is the wells we drink from. This is the message of John 4, and it is the central message of the Bible. As God said through the prophet Jeremiah: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
Only two sins, God says. We do not allow him to be our satisfaction, and we seek our satisfaction in that which cannot satisfy.
It was Augustine who said that the gospel is not about duty, but about delight. He was right. Our mission on planet earth is to delight ourselves in God. Nothing brings God more glory, for nothing reflects his fullness better in this age. His perfection is best expressed in our contentment. His life is best expressed in our satisfaction.
As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. John 6:57
The Law: God’s Instrument to Reveal the Universal Problem of Desire
As most of us know, the real purpose behind the law is to show us that we are sinners: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).
In the final analysis, the law was not given to be kept but broken, showing us that we are in need of a savior. “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin”, Paul says (Romans 7:7). In this sense the law was the “schoolmaster” that led us to Christ (Galatians 2:24). Of course this does not reveal any deficiency on the law’s part. The deficiency is with us, as we shall promptly see.
The problem is that this phenomenal truth of Scripture is usually proclaimed up to the point that I have just made, and then left for all kinds of conclusions to be drawn. And so it is assumed that the “knowledge of sin” brought about by the law is a “knowledge of sins”, that is, a revelation of all the wrong deeds that we are prohibited to do: As we struggle to live up to all these moral commandments we eventually become despondent, and so we are led to Christ who will then save us and empower us to live up to God’s holy commands.
This is not the teaching of the Bible, and our understanding of Christianity is sadly lacking if that is the way we understand the law, sin and redemption.
The Man in Romans 7
Two paragraphs earlier I quoted the apostle Paul as saying “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” This statement comes from Romans 7, a chapter that is devoted in its entirety to illustrating that those who are “in the flesh” cannot live up to the law’s righteous requirements.
Paul’s famous statement “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” comes from this chapter. Paul does not speak here about his Christian experience, as is oftentimes assumed, but about the experience of a man in the flesh who tries to keep the law but cannot. The result is that he cries out at the end of the chapter “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
It is this cry of despair that ultimately causes Paul to look away from himself and to Jesus Christ for deliverance. And so Romans 8 introduces us to the “life in the Spirit”, a life that transcends the limitations of the law brought about by the weakness of the flesh.
Whilst the key to Romans 7 is “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (verse 18) and “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (8:8), the key to Romans 8 is “but you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit” (8:9) and “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”
Wow. What a teaching. These two classic chapters are foundational to any discussion of the deeper Christian life. And so they should be. Yet our understanding of them is sadly lacking if we stop here.
The Meaning of Romans 7:7
Go back to Romans 7:7: “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” Now read the rest of the verse and further: “I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”
Wait a minute… Romans 7 is not about the whole of the law. It is only about one, single commandment: “You shall not covet.” Paul never struggled with adultery, or murder, or lying, or theft. In fact, he wrote to the Philippians that Saul the Pharisee was “faultless” as far as legalistic righteousness was concerned.
So what happened in Romans 7? The answer is simple: Here Paul tells us about the one commandment that he could not keep: The tenth. Covetousness is not a word we use often, and is better translated today as “eagerly desirous”. Romans 7 is the biographical account of a Pharisee who kept the whole of the law, but could not curb “all kinds of covetousness”. And so, he says, he would not have “known sin” if it were not for this commandment.
Whilst the first nine commandments prohibit certain actions, the final commandmend prohibits an intention. As we saw in the previous post, desire is the root and sinful deeds the fruit. The first nine commandments addresses the fruit, the tenth addresses the root. We always break the tenth before we break one of the first nine. You first covet your neighbour’s wife (Tenth command) before committing adultery with her (Seventh command). Likewise, you first covet your neighbour’s possessions (Tenth command) before you steal from your neighbour (Eighth command). In fact, every time you break one of the first nine commandments, you end up breaking two commandments: The one in question, as well as the tenth!
Whilst it is possible to refrain from external sins, it is impossible to refrain from the motive underlying it.
As I have written elsewhere:
The real origin of sin, in other words, can be traced back to the problem of covetousness. In fact, as Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, where covetousness is present sin has already been committed (Matt. 5:27-28), and the carrying out of covetous intentions is mere coincidence and formality. In this sense we can say that the command not to covet is really a summary of the Ten Commandments, for where coveting is no longer present sin would no longer follow.
The problem of sin, therefore, is an inward one, and it is the purpose of the tenth commandment to illustrate this. To put it another way: The problem of sin is a spiritual problem, and this can only be pointed out by a spiritual commandment. When the tenth commandment confronted Paul, he acknowledged it as ‘spiritual’, but in failing to keep it he had to acknowledge himself as ‘unspiritual, a slave to sin’ (v. 14). While the first nine commandments revealed to Paul his ability to meet the external demands of the law, the tenth commandment revealed to him his inability to live up to the law’s spiritual requirements. In this sense sin was ‘recognised as sin’ in his life (v. 13).
Paul’s despair, culminating in his ‘wretched man that I am’, came about solely as a result of the one commandment that he found impossible to keep. It is this experience, more than anything else, that revealed to him his need of salvation, and that prepared him for the conviction that something needed to be done about his ‘un-spirituality’.
Romans 7 is the Bible’s greatest exposition of the problem of desire, and its conclusion is clear: The most righteous Pharisee in all of history, who could boast more “in his flesh” than any other (Philippians 3:4), could not overcome desire. And so the great Saul was revealed to be a lawbreaker, for “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Of course this does not only apply to Saul the Pharisee, but also to you and I.
It would appear that the law is much more “spiritual” than what we have been led to believe. Its aim is not legal conformance to external requirements, but the revelation that we are in need of a Savior who can transform our desirous Adamic nature.
More about that in the next posts.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night. Psalm 63:4 – 5
It seems that everybody has become interested in the pursuit of happiness lately. Oprah has made an issue of it on her program, Will Smith has done a movie on it, numerous scholarly studies are being done on it and a whole new genre of books on the topic are hitting the shelves, some of them instant bestsellers.
Happiness, of course, is one of the central themes of Scripture. The happiness of the creature, however, is never presented apart from the fullness of the Creator. To put it differently: The Bible presents personal happiness as the primary evidence that the excellence of God has been fully apprehended. God’s perfection is best expressed in man’s delight, for, as John Piper has written, “enjoying God makes him look supremely valuable”.
Happiness, therefore, was never intended as a mere experience for the benefit of the individual. Rather, it should be seen as the heart’s response to the glory of God and so as the primary testimony of God’s greatness. The experience of fullness and contentment so desperately sought by the world can never be found apart from the fullness and contentment that exists in God alone. The supreme worth of God is what causes satisfaction in the heart of a person, and nothing else.
As Jonathan Edwards wrote three centuries ago: “The end of the creation is that God may communicate happiness to the creature; for if God created the world that he may be glorified in the creature, he created it that they might rejoice in his glory.”
My conversion had an interesting effect on me. It left me with a knot on my stomach. You know that feeling you get when you hear your puppy has been run over? Well, that’s more or less what it felt like. For four, long torturous years.
I had to do something, and so I sought help from fellow Christians. There were, of course, quite a few who were more than willing to comply. At the first Bible college I attended, two of the lecturers decided I needed deliverance from the knot, and so they invited me to one of their sessions after hours. I happily obliged, and before long found myself on a chair in a deserted classroom, with a bucket strategically placed in front of me. The bucket was for vomiting, you see, which happened to be the way many deliverance sessions were going in the early eighties. I now suspect Linda Blair had more to do with it than the gospels, but back then I knew nothing. And so I really tried, but I could only produce a few feeble burps. These initially encouraged my would-be deliverers, one of whom was assisting with rhythmic back-pats. But in the end we all just gave up. The knot did not end up in the bucket. Instead, it responded by giving itself an extra tight twist, leaving me with the distinct impression that it knew exactly what I was trying to do.
The knot made me backslide quite regularly. It had a rather nasty habit of untying itself whenever I gave myself up to sin. But whenever I repented, which became a dramatic serial habit of mine, the knot would reappear out of the blue. And it would stay, until I gave up again and fell headlong into sin. Of course this made absolutely no sense to me. Why on earth was I tortured whenever I wanted to please the Lord? And why was it such a blessed relief to simply give in and let my depraved nature take over? I simply could not figure it out.
And then there was the excommunication. During one of these seasons of knot-free depravity I did something that outraged a high official of the denomination that I belonged to. In an effort to conceal the evidence of a night of sin, committed on the property of the denomination’s headquarters (where I was living at the time), I gave an unsober friend of mine directions to a fence from where he could dump the whole foul lot onto the pavement of a Johannesburg back street. To this day I don’t know how he did it (or didn’t do it), but when he finally stumbled onto a fence and fulfilled his mission, it was not the fence I had in mind. The next morning the General Secretary of the denomination awoke to find the sordid sight of the previous night’s debauchery amongst his roses. And so I was told to pack my bags. Even the gentle Dutch pastor who had baptised me a few months earlier expressed his disappointment. I left the sacred grounds and moved in with the family of a girl that I had met at the games arcade down the street. The knot was gone. At least for a while.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not proud of the above, nor am I boasting about sin or making light of it. I am simply relating the tyrannous hold that the knot had on me. It would not allow itself to be exorcised. Or church-disciplined. Or counseled (inner healing through the healing of memories, but I’ll spare you.) Prayer did not help. Neither did fasting. Listening to many sermons proved futile. The more I tried to get rid of it through some or other spiritual effort, the more it hit back with a vengeance. I even had Reinhardt Bonnke lay hands on me, and I fell backwards, believing it was the power of the Holy Spirit. But as I lay there, the only real thing was the knot.
When I joined the Army, as all young South Africans had to do at the time, the knot made me preach the Word in the week and smoke marijuana over the weekend. It finally caused me to go on AWOL, get busted, end up in military prison, repent behind bars (I still have the confessional letter I wrote) and get horribly drunk soon afterwards.
It was during the autumn of 1984 that it happened. Miraculously. I was reading the book Turn Your Back on the Problem, by Bible teacher Malcolm Smith, when the lights went on and revelation flooded my soul. My mind was blown, and so it has remained for 27 years.
What was the revelation? Simply this: I have been trying so hard to live the Christian life all these years. I have been trying. I…
That was the problem: I. I had tried to live the life of God, a life that he alone could live. The second I realized this the knot gave me a beautiful smile, bowed gracefully and disappeared, never to return.
I was my own greatest enemy. I tried to do what God alone could do. Of course! I was never supposed to do it. That’s why Jesus Christ came to earth. To do what I could never do! Christ gave us his life because we needed it, because our lives were not, could not, work themselves out. In a flash I saw it: Christianity was the great exchange. I had to lay down my life and take up his. Christianity was not effort, effort, effort. It was resting in the completed works of God. It was allowing him to live his life in me. It was accepting his grace, and not trying to earn it. Over and over I said: “We are first forgiven, then transformed. Not first transformed, then forgiven!” Within a matter of weeks I was freed from the addictions and instability that had plagued me for so long. Naturally, for I allowed Christ to start living his life in and through me.
In the unbelievable sovereignty, mercy and providence of God, the next book that I picked up and started reading was Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life. Here I found the theological explanation of the revelation that I had discovered in Smith’s book. I was a changed man, and I decided there and then to commit my life to spreading this simple message of the cross, a message that not a single one of the pastors, lecturers, counselors, deliverers, prophets and traveling evangelists gave me. “How can this be?” I thought. How come none of them told me?
This is what I have been doing since then, but that’s another story. The reason behind the testimony above is that I learned about the ministry of a fellow South African, Andre van der Merwe, during the past week. His website warmed my heart and stirred up these memories. You can visit it at www.NewCovenantGrace.com.
With his kind permission I post one of his articles here, which captures exactly what I have been trying to say about living under grace rather than under the law.
Did Jesus End The Law or Not?
Scripture: Matt 5:17-18. Let’s settle this issue!
Many people that still believe they have to live according to the Old Covenant Laws have thrown Matt 5:17-18 at Grace Preachers to try and prove their case. Let us now therefore look at what the Bible really says about living under the law, and if we are still bound to it, because all scripture has to be interpreted by scripture. First off, let’s start with this week’s main scripture:
Matt 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Peter Ditzel from http://www.wordofhisgrace.org explains these 2 verses as follows: “Jesus is giving us two either/or conditions here: The law cannot pass until heaven and earth pass OR the law cannot pass until all is accomplished. One or the other can do it. Heaven and earth have not yet passed, so we will leave that aside. But what did Jesus mean by ALL being accomplished? He was referring to what He had just said in the previous sentence: the fulfilling or completing of the law AND the prophets. Once He had completed the law and the prophets, the law could pass. Why is it that so many people who accept that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies have a hard time understanding that in the same way, He fulfilled the Old Testament laws — all of them?”
When you are under a contractual obligation to someone, and you fulfill all the requirements of the contract, the contract is finished & over. But if you simply destroy the contractual agreement before you have fulfilled its requirements, you are not released from its obligations, which is why Jesus said He did not come to destroy the Law. But the moment you do fulfill it you are set free from it! In exactly the same way Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but He fulfilled it, see verse 17 above again. Jesus was in all ways 100% obedient to the law for his entire life (isn’t that amazing???), thereby fulfilling its requirements. Let’s look at more verses (and there are many more than the ones below) that prove the law has passed.
Rom 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Because all the righteous requirements of the law have been fulfilled in Jesus, and since we are given the righteousness of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit as a free gift when we put our faith in Jesus, it means that in Christ we have fulfilled the requirements of the law as well, therefore the law has ended for us as well. Rom 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Matt 11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. The entire law and the old testament prophets spoke of the coming of the Messiah who would forgive the sins of the whole world. The law was our tutor (schoolmaster), teaching us “right living” until we should put our faith in Jesus and begin to live by faith. Now that we put our faith in Jesus, we don’t need the tutor of the law anymore. Gal 3:23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
Luk 16:16 “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.” This verse implies that if you still preach law-based living, you are NOT preaching the Kingdom, because you are preaching the things that ended with John the Baptist over 2000 years ago – read the verse again. How much clearer can it get??
Gal 3:16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And also Gal 3:19 What then is the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions, UNTIL THE SEED SHOULD COME to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. This verse says that the law was given because of transgressions UNTIL THE SEED should come (and if you will read the story of Israel in Exodus you will see it was specifically the sin of self righteousness). Then when the SEED (Christ) came, the law was fulfilled and we are not under it anymore.
Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. This verse says that if there were such a thing as the “court of heaven”, that the law & prophets would have stood up as witnesses, pointed their fingers to us who put our faith in Jesus and said: “This person is righteous!”
We are now not under the law anymore, but instead we live by faith. And here is a shocker, something that will no doubt shut the mouths of those who still try to be justified by obeying the law. Lets look at 2 verses first: Gal 3:12 And the law is not of faith… and also Rom 14:23b … for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Can you see what it says when you combine these 2 verses? Can you see it??? Since the law is not of faith, and since anything that is not of faith is sin, then it means that those who try to be justified by their own good works and try to live up to some moral code (the law) are actually living in sin!!
Lastly, look at what Jesus said just after this week’s 2 key verses: Matt 5:20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. The Scribes & Pharisees prided themselves in how well they kept the laws of Moses, it’s what they did for a living! These laws included all the rituals & daily sacrifices, not just the 10 commandments. In fact most people who try to live up to the Law of Moses today would pale in comparison against your average Pharisee. No, the righteousness that Jesus was talking about was not about us trying to live more obedient or more holy, He was talking about a righteousness that comes from God, given to every believer as a free gift at the point of salvation when we put our faith in Jesus, the exact same moment where Jesus is given our sin & transgressions and we are given His perfect righteousness: 2 Cor 5:21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Yours in Grace
Andre van der Merwe
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22
The immediate effect of the primordial sin committed by our great ancestors is described as follows in the book of Genesis: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked…”
The Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer once commented on this passage and described Adam and Eve’s experience as one of “shame”, namely that which gives “reluctant witness to its own fallen state.”
Indeed. Shame is inextricably linked to sin. If we are born into this world as sinners, as the Scriptures teach us, then we also bring with us a very real sense of guilt and shame. The problem of humanity’s struggle with feelings of guilt has been recognized by scholars from backgrounds as diverse as Soren Kierkegaard and Sigmund Freud’s. The problem cannot be denied. It is the solution that is more difficult to find.
According to the New Testament authors, the problem of guilt has been dealt with by the blood of the cross, and by the blood alone. Our legal, objective guilt has been atoned for, and as a result our subjective and experiential guilt is removed. A clean conscience is therefore the logical conclusion of our right standing with God.
Oftentimes Christians fail to understand this, and as a result they fail to draw a distinction between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the condemnation of the enemy. They may even think there is something noble about their feelings of guilt, as though they are helping to pay for their sins.
Such an attitude defies the righteousness granted by God. As Watchman Nee once said: Let us side with God and not with the accuser of the brethren.
And when he had disarmed the rulers and the authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross. Colossians 2:15
Spectacles have an origin. They don’t occur in and of themselves. They are fruits and manifestations of much more primary occurrences. If we hold to the belief that our lives in this world are but shadows of the occurrences that take place in the spiritual realm, which we do, then it should come as no surprise that the spectacles in our lives are mere reflections of an ancient and eternal truth that has been told through the story of the serpent’s rise and fall.
Herein is the key. The rise preceded the fall. The rise was not ordained by God, but fueled by pride, and so it led to the fall – as promotions of the self always do. In its final conclusion, the rise became nothing but a public spectacle, a convulsion of sorts.
It was Paul who noted that the narrative was more than mere history. An overseer of the church, he noted, must not be a new convert, lest he becomes swelled up with pride and fall into the judgment of the Devil. The story is a parable and the message is clear: The one who promotes him or herself will become a spectacle for the world to see. Their rise will not lead to glory but to shame. John tells us in his revelation that the dragon was thrown down to earth. Knowing that his time was short he persecuted the woman. He wished the same spectacle on her that he had become, and so he has tempted her since she first set foot on the planet with the very temptation that he himself had been tempted with, desiring to involve as many as possible in the spectacle that he had become. The first woman became the first victim. Her yearning for greatness led to shame. Both she and her husband were made spectacles as a result of their desire to rise up and be like God, and after them a multitude followed in their footsteps.
It was Jesus Christ, the second man, who reversed the order. His fall preceded his rise. He became nothing, we read in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Unlike Satan, Adam, Eve and every lost soul in the history of the universe, Christ did not see equality with God something to be grasped. He became nothing, and so God exalted him to the highest place. And herein we are given a second parable, and so since the dawn of time the people of God have been characterized by the fact that they are first a spectacle and then exalted.
“Dere be two sides to de gospel,” said the old Negro preacher, “de beliebing side, and de behabing side.”
He was right: The gospel has a God side as well as a human side to it. And in case you hadn’t noticed, it is this very fact that has led to theologians wanting to throttle each other for centuries. Was Jesus God or man? Are we saved by divine election or by free choice? What is more important: Grace or works? Or, in the Negro preacher’s words: Beliebing or behabing?
An Age-Old Division
These are but some of the debates, and they all prove an interesting point: Like the ancient Gnostics, we have noticed that there is both a spiritual and a material element to life. But we struggle to work out the relationship between the two. We struggle to understand how they exist together, and, in our efforts to do so, we often embrace the one at the cost of the other.
Diagrammatically, the relationship between the spiritual and the material is oftentimes presented as follows:
According to our diagram, grace represents the spiritual, the higher, the heavenly, the invisible. Nature represents the material or fleshly, the lower, the earthly, the visible. This would put God above the line, and people below the line. The big question is: How do they fit together?
The Gnostics believed that they had found the answer: They reckoned that the lower storey of “nature” was very much like a prison. The spirit or soul of man was being held captive here, and what was needed was some form of “escape”. This escape could only take place by a denial of everything that was “natural” or fleshly. Celibacy, self-castigation and strict dietary rules are some examples of efforts to escape the lower storey of nature.
Had Plato lived in the second century, he might have sued the Gnostics for stealing his ideas. Plato was much concerned with the division between the upper and lower levels of life, and so the term “dualism” is narrowly associated with Platonic thought. Raphael’s famous painting The School of Athens is mostly interpreted as presenting the tension between the heavenly and the earthly dimensions: Plato and Aristotle are seen in the center of the picture, with Plato’s finger pointing up and Aristotle’s hand gesturing down. It has often been said that every great Greek philosopher can be seen in the picture. The challenge to understand the relationship between so-called “first causes” and its earthly manifestations was a common one at the time.
The Birth of Christian Dualism
Many years later, these ideas would infiltrate Christianity under the guise of monasticism. It was basically the same old Gnostic idea, heavily influenced by Platonic dualism, with a Christian whitewash over it. It was also a fulfillment of a chilling prophecy that Paul gave to Timothy long before:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-5
Along the same lines, Paul wrote to the Colossians:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 16:23
Note that the effort to deny the lower storey of matter, through “severity of the body”, is accompanied by efforts to make manifest the higher spiritual storey, through visions and an obsession with angels.
A Stairway to Heaven
Christian dualism is what you get when you subscribe to a mystical and otherworldly view of spirituality (not in the Barthian but in the Platonic sense). It is rooted in the assumption that our salvation, according to this definition, has come in its fullness and that we can and should live on this planet as super-spiritual beings. Due to the fallenness of our environment, however, we are held prisoners, and thus we dedicate our lives to planning and implementing our escape. This we do by creating various spiritual compartments in our lives that allow us to act out our otherworldliness. We have done so over the centuries, from the early years of Monasticism to that which we call the “full-time ministry” today – the ultimate modern compartment of super-spirituality, and, as such, the object of envy for millions of Christians.
Some of us have crossed the threshold between matter and spirit, between worldliness and divinity, and we live our lives on a different plane.
Dualism and the New Covenant
Of course this is not what the Bible teaches. Christianity is an integrated lifestyle – being in the world, but not of the world. The Old Testament picture of compartmentalised religiosity has been done away with as a result of the dawning of a new, better covenant: A covenant where the Sabbath is no longer restricted to one day of the week, but where it becomes a lifestyle of rest due the finished work of Christ; a lifestyle where the ritual of sacrifice is no longer restricted to certain times and events, but where it becomes a permanent reality in heavenly places; a lifestyle where prayer is no longer something we do only at set times, but something we are admonished to do at all times; a lifestyle where our giving is no longer restricted to one tenth of our income, but to everything we own; a lifestyle where we no longer fast at certain times for certain purposes, but where fasting becomes a lifestyle of continuing sacrifice – where we become the sacrifices, as Paul puts it; a lifestyle were the ministry of the priesthood is no longer limited to a select few, but where each and every believer carries the title of priest; a lifestyle where the art of loving is no longer something we do only where we find those who qualify for our love, such as the image we find of the “neighbor” in the book of Leviticus, but something we do at all times to all people, such as the image we find of the neighbour in the parable of the good Samaritan and the Sermon on the Mount – where we do not look for a neighbour but we become the neighbour – living a life of love, as Paul instructed the Ephesians; and lastly, a lifestyle where we need not break into the holy of holies because our God is hiding there, but one of continuous fellowship with a God who is with us.
Compartmentalised spirituality has become the great enemy of the church, partly due to its extreme form of godliness and the religious pride it injects, and partly due the excuse it offers the rest of the spiritual plebs for just being the unspiritual creatures they are. The one side of the dualistic coin is legalism, the other side is worldliness – and these two have proven to be the greatest barriers to the life preached by Christ.
Dualists are people who do not realise that the call to discipleship is not a call to “doing” but a call to “becoming”. They do not see that God’s restorative action in our lives took place not because he introduced more or better ritual, but because he introduced the concept of the “new creature”, something unheard of in religion. And by introducing this concept the death of ritual was announced, for ritual no longer served any purpose. We now understand that its only purpose was that of a shadow, a symbol, pointing ahead to the good things that were coming.
The Great “There” Promised by Dualism
Dualism fuels the religious rat race, for it offers a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a higher state of being, an Archimedean point of absolute spirituality. Of course there is no unanimity as to exactly what this state consists of – the only unanimity amongst dualists being their collective discontentment with ordinary humdrum spirituality, and their subsequent desire and efforts to escape from it. And so we are always on our way somewhere, but we never arrive. We are always on a fast train to nowhere, which is why the trip feels great but the destination not. And whether we are chasing revivals, new waves of teaching, apostolic reformations, or whatever, like astronauts we always find ourselves coming back to earth after a season in space – only to begin planning for the next trip.
To use C.S. Lewis’ quip, “we live in the Shadowlands”, forever searching for that glorious spot of sunlight that so constantly evades us, forever searching for a stairway to heaven. Like the Samaritans, we believe our worship will be possible once we have identified the place to do it, and in the process we have created many mountains and even more Jerusalems. Feverishly active as both travelers and tour guides on these pilgrimages, Jesus’ crystal-clear teaching seems to have completely passed us by: “…a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
Spiritual worship is possible worship, for it requires nothing but inner submission to God. It is the only fitting response to Jesus’ unorthodox and earth shattering statement “The kingdom of God is within you”, made to a group of religious separatists who were forever arguing the benefits of tradition, ritual and ceremony. By pointing inward, Jesus once for all settled the debate as to where God’s seat is to be found. An inner kingdom demands an inner response, an inner journey, and an inner kingdom places God within reach of all people. We no longer need to go to the mountain, the mountain has come to us. We are still pilgrims, yes, but our pilgrimage is a spiritual one.
Like the foolish Galatians, we have been bewitched. We who started of with the Spirit have halted in the flesh. Unwilling to accept that there is such a thing as a free meal, we have stubbornly refused to live by manna alone, and instead have slaved away at erecting a golden calf.
What Actually Happened on the Day of Pentecost
As a young Christian, eighteen at the time, I joined a Pentecostal denomination, and it took me nearly another eighteen years to find out what the day of Pentecost was all about. Strange as this may seem, it makes perfect sense when I think about it in hindsight. For many years I had the notion that the Spirit of God was a vague, impersonal, disembodied vapour who did little more than “energise” people. Certainly no-one ever taught me to believe this in so many words, yet this is what I perceived. In retrospect, it is clear that these beliefs came about as a result of the continual “search” for the Spirit that I observed in my denomination – as if He had disappeared. Phrases and prayers like “Come, Holy Spirit”, “I sense the Spirit of God in this place” and “Allow the Spirit to touch you” all contributed to my belief that the Spirit was far away and hard to find, yet that He appeared at times out of the blue, like a distant uncle popping in for a surprise visit.
Many years later I realised that the Spirit of God is not a force, nor an entity apart from God, but in fact God himself. And this changed my perception of Pentecost. Rather than an outpouring of raw power that had to be repeated over and over again, Pentecost became the day that the God of the heavens came to visit, and stayed. God was finally with us. The Spirit was no longer restricted to the holy of holies, but now made his dwelling with men and women. In order to become spiritual worshipers, the Spirit was needed, and it was on this glorious day that the Spirit came. It was not the beginning of a new era of successive visits and outpourings, but the birth of spiritual worship – a continuous relationship with the God who is with us.
And, as you would guess, it was the day that dualism died.