His Presence

Dear Highway

This is the sixth in a series of letters to you, our local church.

We’ve reminded ourselves of the many Biblical metaphors for the church. She is a city on a hill. She is a family, a household, a body, and a fruitful vine. She is an olive tree. She is a temple and a tabernacle, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. She is a bride and a flock, she is a field, and she is an army.

No matter the metaphor, there is an overriding constant: She is His. And as such, she has been granted the greatest gift of all: His Presence!

What is true of the individual believer is true of the church: Christ within!

The texts assuring us of this are many. Let’s quote two of the more familiar. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18:20). And to the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “In Him you (Jews and Gentiles) also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:22).

Imagine for a moment that you are one of those who walked with the incarnate Christ, e.g. Peter, James and John. You personally received His reassurance, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). He promised that He would not leave you as an orphan, but that another who is just like Him, the Holy Spirit, would come. He would not only be with you, but within you, never to depart. You were present on Pentecost when the Spirit fell, and you received. Now imagine gathering post-Pentecost with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and suddenly being overtaken by the notion that God Himself is not present. And I’m not talking about God being present in the sense of His omnipresence, but tangibly so. Such a notion – God’s absence or remoteness – would’ve been absolutely unthinkable! His Presence was a given. A gift, and a defining gift at that.

The Presence of God is fundamental to the New Covenant. When God gave is salvation, He gave us Himself. Jesus closed the gap between holy Heaven and sinful earth, without for a moment relinquishing His holiness. Whosoever believes in Him receives Him, His holiness, and His Heaven. The loss of Presence equates to the loss of salvation!

Every believer knows the awful experience of a disconnection in fellowship with the Lord. We’ve all been so carnal (fleshly) in our focus, for whatever reason, that God feels a million miles away. The same thing happens in marriage – a loss of intimacy; diminished fellowship; reduced communication; remoteness rather than closeness. These feelings are factual, but when it comes to the Lord, they are not founded in the overarching truth of our salvation, but in the experience of the moment. And the way back to intimacy with Him is a return to faith. A return to acknowledging Him, His Person, His Presence, and His rightful place. We call that return to faith repentance; a re-alignment of our hearts and minds with Him.

In the same way, churches might lose the Presence. It’s not that God is absent, but that there has been a disconnection in fellowship. A carnality has crept in, and the Lord has lost His rightful place in the corporate heart. Repentance is necessary. But that repentance does not address separation (even though it might feel like it), but orientation. Under the Old Covenant, the Lord might well have withdrawn to the top of a fenced mountain, or retreated behind heavens turned to brass, but not so under the New Covenant. Christ forever rend the heavens, and the tabernacle of God is now with men.

The irony is that those who most fervently set out to seek the Lord run the risk of steeping themselves in unbelief. The harder we search for Him, the more we can undermine the glorious foundation of our faith, which reveals the God who sought and found us! Let us contend for intimacy by all means, seeking the Lord as a wife might seek her husband and vice-versa, but let us make sure that we never assume separation. The unbeliever is yet to be reconciled to God, but the Christian has been reconciled already.

Let’s return for a moment to the many metaphors describing the church. Let’s be careful in how we apply them. The church is not a house being built so that God can move in; it is a house being built around a God who has already moved in! She is not a bride-to-be awaiting her wedding day; she is a bride enjoying her husband, Jesus. The age to come promises a fullness, now tasted, but not yet fully possessed. Yet Christ has blurred the lines, and the age to come has broken into this age as surely as Heaven has come to earth, leaving us with the perpetual promise of more.

The Presence of God is the jewel, the gathering of the saints the setting. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing. To assume the Presence is not to be presumptuous, but to believe! Let us be careful to welcome Him whenever we gather, but not from afar. He is the ultimate guest of honour who has condescended to be ever-present when we gather, for which we will be ever-grateful.

Much love!

Many Metaphors

This is the fifth in a series of letters to our local church. I’ve been mandated by the Lord to gather the congregation in a fresh way, and I write to provide the what and the why. The aim is to see many more of the saints present on Sunday mornings (and on time if possible, please), ready to be and to do in accordance with the Lord – His word, His will and His ways. This letter is effectively His invitation to you to join us on the journey!


Dear Highway

Jesus, the Living Word, said that we, His church, are a city on a hill: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt 5:14).

Our Bibles, the written Word, provide us with a host of other metaphors that also describe His church. These are given us to enrich our understanding, even while revealing just how gloriously multi-faceted the church that Jesus is building is. Amongst other things, she is a family, a household, a body, and a fruitful vine. She is an olive tree. She is a temple and a tabernacle, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. She is a bride and a flock, she is a field, and she is an army.

What is so clear from Scripture is less evident on the ground. The statistics reflect that in the average local church, ten to twenty percent of the congregation are workers, and the other eighty to ninety percent attendees. In other words, a congregation of two hundred will have somewhere between twenty and forty people on staff and in volunteer teams, doing everything necessary to keep the wheels turning – music, sound, children’s ministry, small group leadership, and the like. Take the church up to two thousand, and the staff and volunteers complement will be up around the two hundred mark. Twenty thousand, and you’ll need two thousand.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. How many preachers can we have on a Sunday, or worship leaders, or ushers? The teams that enable the church to function when gathered are to be lauded and applauded. Their gifts and callings are a blessing, and we value their contributions greatly! But the question remains, what about the rest?

As an aside, the equation changes dramatically when the gathering is much smaller. Plant a church of twenty people and everyone is a contributor. A cell group or house church is the same. The caution in these environments is that with everyone indispensable, obligations easily undermine freedoms, to no good end. Also bear in mind that the first congregation in Jerusalem grew to many thousands very quickly, as did the churches in Antioch and Ephesus in the same era. Small is therefore not necessarily the goal when doing church.

But let’s stay with the eighty percent. The so-called “go to church” people. According to Jesus, they are the light of the world. Monday through Saturday, they are lamps on stands, but together they illuminate nations. Obviously we can’t shoe-horn everything that it means to be and do church into ninety minutes on a Sunday morning, but the point remains. From Jesus’ perspective, the eighty percent are bricks, soldiers, branches and body parts. We must therefore grapple with what that looks like when it’s working as He ordained it to.

As we gather, we should reflect what Jesus declared His church to be. For surely when the church gathers a city on a hill gathers, as does an army, a body, a building, a family and a fruitful vine? Surely this should be self-evident? Unable to conceptualize these things, we’ve traded true contribution for mere participation. Sing. Dance. Clap. Give. Do these, under-girded by supportive virtues like faithfulness, generosity and willing service, and you’re everything the average leadership could hope for. But where in that is the sense of being indispensable. Bricks hardly attend a building any more than arms and legs attend a body. Long may we continue to sing, dance, clap and give, but there has to be much more to it all than that!

Herewith a vital key: In our individual lives as Christians, we do who we are (identity fuels life). As we think in our hearts, so are we. We live right because He has made us righteous. We conduct ourselves as children of God because that is who we are. The same principle applies corporately: congregations will only be who they are in their understanding. Think of the people in the seats as extras on the set on Sunday mornings, and they will never step into their actual role so integral to the plot. People will only brick and branch to the degree to which they are bricks and branches in their own hearts and minds.

Bricks and soldiers, arms and legs – all are indispensable. Simply “getting it” is what starts to change everything. Learning to brick and to soldier together is the easy part, because we can’t but figure that out once the penny has dropped. A renewal of our minds beckons and is pivotal to transformation. As we glimpse a better way, we start the change by first recognising that our thinking needs to shift. That recognition is the beginning of the seismic shift the Bible calls repentance. As the revelation intensifies, we receive the fresh truth, embracing it, taking it to ourselves, and making it our own. And as we do that, we begin to respond accordingly, appropriating and applying it to ourselves and to those around us. Almost before we know it, we find ourselves living in what we’ve seen, doing who we are.

Every gathered congregation is already a city on a hill, potentially ablaze. The other metaphors apply in the same way. Destiny calls. The longing for more is already a-stir in the hearts of the saints. Let that which is asleep awaken and that which is sedentary arise!

Every blessing!

The Rugby Match

The fourth is a series of letters to a local church …

Dear Highway

These letters are at heart an appeal to a congregation to gather. To get to the Sunday meetings more often than not. To get there on time, and with as open and as expectant a heart as possible. It’s time to build the house! Each letter will speak to why and how we should do so. Please read each one carefully and prayerfully.

“You are the light of the world.
A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt 5:14).

Someone described the typical local church as a rugby match – a crowd of people badly in need of exercise urging on a handful of exhausted folk desperately in need of a rest! The analogy always brings a smile as folk recognise the truth of it.

But what if the whole idea is a red herring? Truth is, there’s not much space on the playing field for the crowd. It’s all very well to challenge the folk in the seats to get some skin in the game, but what we’re often aiming for is more bums on more seats more often. And of course we need them to keep chipping in their gate money to fund the whole thing while they’re at it. Preach your heart out on subjects like commitment and involvement, and it might well end up in more people in prayer meetings, mens and womens events, small groups, Bible college, and conferences. But that doesn’t equate to a significant increase in the number of players on the field. The club may seem far more successful, even fielding a second or third team in the league. They might move up in the rankings and put some silverware on display. But when all is said and done, you still have a crowd needing exercise watching the few who could really use a rest, just on a grander scale.

Others shift the debate by viewing the church meetings as opportunities for the specialist few to equip the many in the business of Christian living. For them, the church gathered is somewhere between a hospital for the sick and a boot camp for training the army. To return to the analogy of the rugby game, the real stuff takes place out there in the real world during the week. Sunday is all-important locker-room time. The injured get their cuts and scrapes attended. Fresh kit is thrown onto tired bodies. Everyone gets something to eat and drink. The limited time available is put to good use by the experts giving the players a pep talk. Then it’s back out onto the pitch for real-life match-time once again.

This doesn’t align with what Jesus had to say either. Just as His city on a hill cannot possibly be a star-studded stage with an adoring crowd, neither can it be a behind-the-scenes ops center, working to ensure that individual lamps are kept shining brightly on their individual stands in homes during the week. A quantum leap in thinking is necessary.

Let’s stay with the rugby match analogy. Imagine the same stadium that we started with, match underway, with a significant crowd in attendance. But now, imagine that the really important stuff is emanating from the crowd. What they are doing is the main event, and everything going on down on the pitch is geared towards encouraging their contribution. The actual game is being played in the stands. Animate the bleachers in your mind’s eye. They’re pulsating with life. There’s nothing passive about these people. They’re doing the stuff. They’re not spectators, or fans, or consumers. They’re contributors. They are locked in, fully engaged. They know why they’ve gathered, and they know what they’re doing. On purpose, and in purpose. They know that the important stuff they’re doing is only possible en masse, and the more the merrier. Apart, they are individual lamps on stands. Together, they are a city on a hill, giving light to the nations.

I’d be interested to know what it was you visualised them doing? What is the “stuff”? No metaphor is complete in and of itself, and I’m not trying to stretch things to the point of incredulity, but please take my point. I’m also not minimizing the giving and serving that keeps the wheels turning on a Sunday morning, but these are things we all know intuitively if we’re honest. Something is not quite right with the way we’ve thought about church gatherings. Something is missing!

But what if any gathered congregation is potentially much, much more than we’ve thought? The Scriptures teach that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). What if some of the most important good works are to be walked in together as a congregation when we gather? What if we’ve been walking right past significant breakthroughs, blinded by our preconditioning?

Ask yourself the question (in the context of the church gathered): What is it that anyone can contribute, and that everyone should contribute, in order for the church to be the city on a hill Jesus is raising up?

Our challenge is to answer that question well. To see, understand, enable and release what is already in the house every Sunday, sitting right there in the pews. If we can do that, then gathering will once again become one of the most important things that any Christian can do!

Every blessing as we discover more together.

See you Sunday!

This was the fourth in a series of letters to our local church. Here are the links to the first three …

Where to start …

This is the third in a series of letters to our local church. The first two were A City on a Hill and The New Covenant Ecosystem.

Dear Highway

The prophet Habakkuk was encouraged by the Lord to billboard the vision. A clever double entendre, say the scholars – make it so plain that he who runs can read it, and so plain that he who reads it will run with it. Great wordplay. Great administration of vision. Let’s take a leaf from Habakkuk’s book and read the words of Jesus yet again.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).

No local church will ever perfectly represent the one, glorious, transcendent, eternal church that Jesus is building. But then again, neither does any individual believer perfectly represent Christ. We’re all witnesses to Him, but the treasure will always be in jars of clay, individually and corporately. That’s the way it all works because that’s the way He set things up. It makes His grace the hero, rather than our efforts.

Once we can see that city on a hill in the Spirit, faith for it arises in our hearts. And as with any vision that grip our hearts, the question is “where do we start?”

The answer to that question in terms of our individual witness is self-evident. We do who we are, living for Jesus from the heart. Authenticity is what gives the whole exercise credibility. Our lights then shine through words, works, ways and wonders, as we go about our daily lives, rubbing shoulders with family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. We trust Holy Spirit to lead us, and when He does, we do what He tells us to do. It’s not in the least bit complicated. Even little children understand it.

It’s no less complicated for a local church. We are the “ekklessia”. The called out ones. The Greek carries nuance, and the word is as accurately translated “assembly” as “church”, depending on context. We witness to Christ by doing who we are. We are the church, and as such we gather in His Name. There is perfect congruence here. Christians are those who have taken Christ’s Name, and as the church, we congregate in it.

Of course the local church is a much more profound mystery than just a meeting. It is all at once body, building, army, vine, family, household, and more besides. Each and every local church is all of these things in measure, if none in fullness. Our completeness awaits in the age to come. But it does all start in the simplicity of gathering. In Him, to Him, with Him and for Him. Nothing complicated. No strings attached.

Ever since I can remember there has been talk about recapturing the glories of the early church. These conversations somehow seem to focus on God’s part of the deal – the awe, the great grace, the salvations, the miracles, the sacrificial living. Revisit the text and you’ll discover that our part is really simple. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Really simple Jesus-centered stuff, that requires little beyond showing up with open faith-filled hearts. What was the apostles teaching, if not the Gospel? What was the fellowship, if not those in Christ, gathering in partnership in His Name? The breaking of bread is a celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and prayer is overt dependence on Him in all things. Hardly the makings of elite spirituality. When the early church gathered, it was all about Him!

Is it not amazing how much controversy surrounds church attendance? Could it be that much of the debate and baggage is there to distract and detract from simple fundamentals: I am in Christ. We are the church. Not either/or, but both/and.

It’s that little boy all over again. We show up, five loaves and two fish in hand. None of us has much to offer. Jesus is the one who shows up with the power and the plan. And it’s the Twelve all over again. We get to participate in His plan and benefit from His power. Loaves and fish multiply in our hands, and we get to gather up the leftovers. Through it all, He is glorified, we are edified, and the world is impacted. Along the way bricks become a building, soldiers an army, and bits and bobs of flesh and bone a body. He forges the partnerships, vertical and horizontal. We show up in with intent, hearts full of faith, and He does the rest. “A city on a hill cannot be hidden”.

Just imagine what yet shall be.

Yours in Christ Jesus.

The New Covenant Ecosystem

This is the second in a series of letters written to our local church. They build upon one another, line upon line, precept upon precept. To read the first letter, click here – City on a Hill

Dear Highway

I’m so grateful for the power of the pen, which allows me to communicate across the congregation amidst the pressing demands of modern living.

Jesus said of us, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).

It is vital for each and every believer to take their place amongst God’s people in a tangible and practical way. Being a city on a hill is not pie in the sky stuff; it’s steak on the plate stuff. Jesus was not describing an ethereal, invisible or conceptual city, but a dynamic reality. The local church is God’s light shining into the darkness of our actual world. We are Him on display. We shine in words, works, ways and wonders. Jesus in our midst imbues our gathering with Presence and glory. People can see it, point to it, visit it, experience it and join it. It turns out, brothers and sisters, that we should all “go to church” after all!

The whole exercise is a multi-dimensional partnership. As we choose to muck our lot into our local church in partnership with other believers, a wonderful thing happens – Heaven partners with earth also. The result is a breathtaking win-win every which way. God is glorified, we are edified, and the world is impacted. We benefit even as we give ourselves away, and find ourselves immeasurably enriched.

I’m not proposing some petty cause-and-effect, self-enhancement formula here. This is not tit-for-tat and give-to-get. Teach it that way and you’ll shipwreck people. The truth is that we don’t usually need our local church in any urgent, day-to-day sort of way. We might serve it with that kind of immediacy, but it serves us in a far more big-picture sort of way. Solomon understood when he wrote, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Eccl 11:1). This sowing and reaping is a dynamic which the Lord has embedded in creation. Even those who are not Christians recognise it. They call it karma – what goes around comes around. This is why losing one’s life for Christ and His Gospel ultimately saves it. This immutable principle is plastered across Scripture. Examples abound. “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38).

The local church is an ecosystem. Relationships are symbiotic, with every organism benefiting as the entire ecosystem thrives. Belonging to it is not an optional extra either, but a facet of our very identity in Christ. We are all temples of the Holy Spirit, but only together are we the church. We are all children of God in our own right, but only together are we His family. There my Father is “our Father in heaven”, as Jesus said.

In making the point, our own children spring to mind. I’m so grateful that Estelle and I have raised our family within the local church. It’s not always been easy, what with leading, and with two church splits in a four year period some while ago. Nonetheless, I rejoice that my children have had the basics of the faith instilled in them. They have a grounding in the Scriptures. All three know the Lord. They’ve been baptised as believers. They’ve been baptised in the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. They’ve been persuaded of His faithfulness through a myriad of testimonies of all imaginable kinds over the years. They know how to pray. They know what it means to lift their hands in worship in the congregation of the saints. They are no strangers to the Lord’s manifest Presence. They’ve witnessed miracles, signs and wonders. Of course we’ve played our part, but the local church has been indispensable in the journey.

Our need for the benefits of this symbiosis intensifies all the more when the days are dark. Jesus said, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24:12). We would be hard pressed to better describe our day and age. The imminent threat is not the lawlessness itself, nor a loss of salvation, but the life-extinguishing impact which sustained trouble has on our inner man. Dreams fade and visions die as hope is suffocated. Stretched to the limit, tank empty, the besieged heart unwittingly moves into survival mode. The walls go up as the core temperature goes down, leaving the inner man curled up in a foetal position. The experience is not unique to the Christian, but for those of us who are in Christ, it numbs our faith, sending it into hibernation. Instead of living, we exist, forfeiting the abundantly fruitful “reigning in life” Jesus promised (Rom 5:17).

How exquisite the wisdom of this New Covenant ecosystem is. We keep our eyes glued on Jesus and yield our hearts in service alongside our brothers and sisters. As we do, we are encouraged, nourished, edified, renewed, refreshed and sustained. We who ensure the city on the hill remains ablaze find our own hearts warmed again and again. Our lamps have oil, as it were. Grace abounds, faith grows, the kingdom comes, life flows, and fruit abounds.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that the church should be the center of our Christianity. Jesus is that! But the local church is a God-given means of grace. She facilitates the touch of Heaven on earth in ways we cannot routinely access on our own. She was never designed to tower over our lives in Christ, but to undergird them. As such, she should always be keel-heavy and superstructure-light, with Christ and His Gospel her foundation, and Christ in His glory her crown.

The starting point is in gathering. Nothing complicated or onerous. Just the willingness and expectancy of faith. Me thinking we, and responding accordingly.

Every blessing!

Gavin

A City on a Hill

I’ve recently begun writing a series of letters to our local church.

These arose from of an extended encounter with the Lord. The first letter was firing from the hip, as it were, and not suitable as a blog post. That first letter will therefore appear here in redacted form, and as the first two letters in the series.

Herewith then the first of those …

Dear Highway

Midweek greetings to you and yours.

Please read this letter carefully and prayerfully. It is the first in a series of letters to the congregation. Follow along with me as the theme develops and the revelation unfolds. This is part of the sense of the dawning of a new day in our church, and the letters will help us as we journey together into the future the Lord is beckoning us into.

Jesus put it this way: “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14a).

That “you” is plural, and Jesus is describing His church. Us. Of course His church is much, much bigger than just us. It’s transcendent and eternal, including all believers over all time. But that’s not what Jesus was getting at here. He is describing a church that is tangible. One that can be seen and heard, touched and tasted. One that can be pointed to, or visited. Take in the context and that much becomes obvious.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt 5:14-15).

Notice the both/and. Each of us is a lamp bringing light into our own personal situation and circumstance, and brightly may we shine there. But each of us also have a part to play in something far bigger than ourselves. It’s the Lord’s heart and mind that together we become much more than we could every be on our own. Together we illuminate the nations!

See the synergy pulsating through the metaphor. The same idea is plastered across the Scriptures using other metaphors. The same way in which a building is much more than a pile of bricks, a body more than a collection of limbs, and an army more than a single soldier, so a city on a hill is much more than a collection of individual lamps on the same mountaintop. As we gather in His Name, Jesus the master-builder gets to work, forging that synergy that is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

In recent years our local church has placed a great deal of emphasis on the life in Christ of the individual believer. It’s been so good to embrace the truth that each and every one of us are Christ’s workmanship, carefully crafted, with good works prepared in advance by Him for us to walk in. And ever-so-brightly may we shine as we continue to walk in them. But now there is a new chapter opening up before us. A new chapter that is not either/or, but both/and. It is once again time for us to allow the Spirit to broaden our thinking, and to allow Him to form and fashion us corporately in a fresh way.

My job is to roll up my sleeves and round up the troops. It’s time to build the house. Promise is over her and destiny awaits her. I’ve heard the Lord, and so I’m setting out to do so in faith and with great liberty. Everyone’s invited.

Let me be explicit in what I’m asking for. Not a lot, to be honest. I’m asking for you to show up on Sunday mornings more often than not, and on time at that. It makes a huge difference to the traction and momentum of the meeting when you do so. You might not have any sense of missing anything when you’re not there, but your absence or tardiness costs the rest of us dearly.

I’m asking you to come to the gatherings with intent to engage. Come to lift your voice, to raise your hands, and to hug a neighbour. Bring a friend. Drop something in the offering plate. Come to find someone to encourage. Pray a prayer; break bread; help someone, somewhere, with something. Do whatever your hand finds to do, and obey the Spirit as He prompts. This is not rocket-science. And on your bad days? Come anyway!

On the other hand, we all know that I’m asking for quite a lot. I’m asking you to awaken your heart and to give yourself away in a fresh way. Bums on seats won’t cut it. This is heart-stuff, and I’m asking you to help create the very thing that your heart longs to share in.

See you Sunday!

Gavin

The Great New Covenant Proposition

We have a new identity in Christ. This “new-creation-ness” is thanks to the once-for-all perfect-making work of Jesus on the cross, and is reflected innumerably throughout Scripture. Digest it with joy! If you are in Christ, then this is who you are!

Not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but of the tree of life
Not of Hagar but of Sarah
Not Ishmael but Isaac
Not of Moses but of Abraham
Not of the fig tree but of the olive tree
Not in Adam but in Christ
Not of the will of man but by the will of God
Not of perishable seed but of imperishable
Not fragile but indestructible
Not a work of human effort but a work of God
Not from below but of above
Not temporal but eternal
Not of earth but of heaven
Not of this age but of the age to come
Not defined by the past but defined by the future
Not according to facts but according to truth
Not aligned with things seen but aligned with things unseen
Not old but new
Not dead but alive
Not entombed but exalted
Not darkness but light
Not separated from God but reconciled to Him
Not far away but those brought near
Not condemned but justified
Not guilty but made innocent
Not unclean but clean
Not sinful but made holy
Not of old nature but having a new nature
Not held to ransom but redeemed
Not God’s enemy but God’s friend
No longer a sinner but now a saint
Not neglected but attended
Not bound but free
Not of random happenstance but predestined and chosen
Not lost but found
Not disqualified but qualified
Not disowned but affirmed
Not a slave but a son
Not under law but under grace
Not cursed but blessed
Not to be pitied but to be envied
Not hopeless but hope-filled
Not sick but healed
Not oppressed but delivered
Not poor but rich
Not rejected but accepted
Not shamed but glorified
Not in scarcity and lack but in abundance and amply supplied
Not orphaned but adopted
Not fearing men but fearing God
Not weak but strong
Not powerless but empowered
Not barren but fruitful
Not alone but in community
Not disenfranchised but belonging
Not useless but useful
Not the tail but the head
Not beneath but above
Not purposeless but having good works prepared in advance for us to do
Not cast aside but incorporated
Not by accident but on purpose
Not confused but clear
Not blind but seeing
Not deaf but hearing
Not lame but leaping like a deer
Not broken but made whole
Not inadequate but adequate
Not anxious but confident
Not complaining but rejoicing
Not down but up
Not inconsolable but comforted
Not ashes but beauty
Not variable but constant
Not temporary but permanent
Not of works but of faith
Not of striving and human effort but of rest
Not mourning but gladness
Not disgraced but dignified
Not accused but vindicated
Not defeated but defended
Not under the dominion of satan but under the government of God
Not out of this world but not of it
Not anticipating judgement but rendered unpunishable
Never deserving, but awash in mercy
Not fearful but bold
Not for victory but from victory
Not anxious but confident
Not burdened but light of yoke
Not unlovable but lovely
Not ugly but beautiful
Not unrighteous but righteous
Not in turmoil but at peace
Not irrational but of sound mind (in fact, we have the mind of Christ)
Not disinherited but the heir of the double portion
Not in the flesh but in the Spirit
Not fading away but from glory to glory
Not inept but enabled (the Helper dwells within us!)

Verb-iage (in a good way)!

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved.

The Corinthians had received it. The verb is aorist, active, indicative, second person, plural. That is to say that it describes a past action which had become a present reality. The Corinthian believers had received the Good News about Jesus, and were in possession of it.

Having received it, they were standing in it. Perfect, active, indicative, second person, plural. A state of affairs (perfect). The Corinthians were the doers (active). A reality (indicative). Just as it had been they who had received the Gospel, these brothers and sisters were appropriating it (standing in it) in their daily lives as their ongoing reality.

Standing in it, these they were being saved by it. The verb is present, passive, indicative, second person, plural. These current reality for these believers was that the Gospel was saving them, moment by moment, day by day. They had done the receiving, and in the believing, they were doing the standing, but it was the Gospel that was doing the saving!

Aren’t you delighted that having received the Gospel, we who believe are standing in it, and are being saved. Moment by moment, day by day, our God is saving us! That salvation is as deep and wide and long and high as the love of God. Sozo. A word describing forgiveness of sins, healing, deliverance, rescue, and even resurrection.

I Corinthians 15:1-2a. What Great News this is!

Self-Government

All authority belongs to the Lord.

Any authority we operate in is therefore delegated authority. Because it comes from God, it is inherently good, and those exercising it should do so for good. All God’s gifts are in accordance with His nature, and to be used as such. The Lord never uses His authority to control or manipulate.

Self-Government

Mankind’s dominion is implicit in the creation story from the beginning. As He created it, everything was “good” in God’s assessment. Add mankind, and it all became “very good”. Adam was given charge of the garden, to work and to keep it. His tutelage included the privilege of naming all the animals. All of these suggest dominion. But once Eve was installed as Adam’s helpmeet, the mandate for dominion was made explicit. “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:27–28).

So it was that Adam and Eve were given the gift of self-government. Personal authority, responsibility and accountability. They enjoyed a great deal of freedom indeed, although not boundary-less freedom. But what they did have was unfettered volition. Total freedom of choice. Which they opted to use badly, unfortunately. Nevertheless, the first round of delegation saw Adam with a will to submit to (God), a woman to love (Eve) and a work to do (a garden to tend). Together, they had a will to submit to (God), a spouse to love (each other), and a work to do (the stewardship of the planet). In broader perspective, these mandates were reflections in the temporal of greater, eternal realities.

Incidentally, the reason why Genesis is so important for us is because it answers these questions, and a host of other first-order issues as well.

Family

The second sphere of delegated authority is the family. Adam and Eve’s initial partnership tended towards the co-equal. Their dominion mandate demanded it. Yes, Adam had been created first, and yes, Eve was Adam’s helpmeet. But “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” requires joint effort, each partner playing to their respective strengths.

Interesting to note is that the dominion mandate was never revoked. It was reiterated to Adam and Eve after the fall. It was re-entrusted to Noah and his family after the flood. And it remains in place today. The stewardship of the planet is still ours. We still have God’s will to submit to. The institution of marriage should still shape our social structures. And each of us has a vocational contribution to make. All are thus still a vital part of the equation.

What clouds understanding somewhat is that the establishment of family structures straddled the fall. Before Adam and Eve’s rebellion, their partnership enjoyed an egalitarian-orientated foundation. The lines of authority discernible were reminiscent of those within the Trinity. After the fall, things were quite different. Their mandate had not changed, but their circumstances had. Mercifully, they had been restored to fellowship with God. They were clothed in the skins of the substitutionary sacrifice. They now faced a hostile creation. And the dynamics between them had shifted. Shifted away from equal partnership towards the complementarian and hierarchical. The Bible chapter documenting the fall is steeped in devastation. Perhaps none more so than God’s words to Eve. “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).

Dire abuse followed through the millennia. This redefining of the marriage relationship opened the door to aberrations like polygamy, and worse. The horrors to which women have been subjected through the ages stretches beyond reason. Thanks be to God that Jesus, last Adam, undid the cause of this devastation. Men and women are no longer naked and ashamed. They once again have full and equal access to the Tree of Life, who is Christ. Both, in Christ, have been once again established on equal footing before God. And before one another for that matter. Jesus’ counter-cultural treatment of women substantiates this magnificently. Just recall how honouring Her was of His mother, and how He engaged even Gentile ladies as peers.

Our challenge in the church is to migrate our paradigms on marriage and family pre-fall in Christ. The Trinity is the template for our understanding of community, and not the impositions of sin and death post the fall. Faith in Christ has uprooted us from the temporal and established us in the eternal. Our thinking and our patterns of life must follow. As the Scriptures teach us, our transformation lies in the renewal of our minds.

Civil Government

The third sphere of governance came in the wake of the flood. By that time self-government had all but collapsed. So had the institution of the family. Fallen mankind’s depravity had come to dominate. The future could simply not be allowed to be a repeat of the past.

Heaven introduced sweeping changes. Fauna joined flora as food for mankind. Humanity’s relationship with life and death was being redefined. Another covenant was introduced. The Noahic. A further unilateral covenant of grace. But with increased social structure and responsibility. Civil government was constituted. The dominion mandate was also re-conferred on Noah and family. But with it, new authority for the new responsibility. The governance of our fellow man was now our portfolio. God had personally dealt with murderer Cain, but no more so post-flood. Now the one who took a life would answer to a human tribunal.

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:1–7).

Mankind’s relationship with life and death had been redefined. Greater responsibility, and with it greater authority. Notice how each addition to delegated authority post-fall strengthened humanity in community. A compensation for floundering self-government. Cain had not been Abel’s keeper in any formal sense, but now every Cain became every Abel’s keeper. Men and women were mutually accountable one to another. A double-edged sword though. The greater the delegated authority, the greater the potential for corruption and abuse. Not too long and slavery was born. People objectifying others to the point of literal ownership.

It turns out that the stewardship of our human community is just as poor as our stewardship of our planet. The reason for this is that we’ve lost the capacity to steward ourselves.

Law is for the Lawless

Moses coming down the mountain stone tablets in hand was a progression in an unfolding story. The unfolding story of unredeemed mankind.

The Ten were not the first commandments Heaven had issued. They would also not be the last. But what they were was the core of a new, replacement covenant (which we know as the Old Covenant). A covenant of works. As such, they began formalising the institutions of family and state to a far greater degree. By the time they had been expanded into the full six hundred and thirteen statutes of the Old Covenant, all of life had been addressed.

Make no mistake, the Law was from God, and it was good. But it was also Heaven’s prescription for lawlessness. As such, its goal was preservation. Boundary-less people destroy themselves, and destroy others in the process. Law serves well in that context. It works to keep depravity in check. It limits sin’s destructive consequences by limiting sin’s wicked deeds. Which is why thinking Christians favour the rule of law in their nations. Some legal systems better than others, and we Christians advocate that Judeo-Christian law as the best of the best. Even so, it cannot save.

Law certainly preserves, protecting us from ourselves as it were. But when it comes to salvation, all it can do is expose inadequacy as it addresses concomitant transgressions. Our best efforts, we soon discover, are woeful in the light of the Perfections of God. Six hundred and thirteen rules. Six hundred opportunities to fall short of the glory of God. Thanks to the Law, Israel would be preserved. Nations would disintegrate around them, but theirs would remain intact. They were being preserved until the fullness of time came, when the Christ would be revealed. A preservation that would cost many a life. The three thousand who died right there at Sinai set the tone for things to come. For even as law preserves, so it kills, for its ministry is condemnation and death.

Legalism mummifies. The more comprehensive the rule book, the more effective the preservation of externals. And the more comprehensive the rule book, the less demand for self-government. Remember that life comes from within, starting as a seed. All that Law can do is conform, enforcing conformity to its mold. Which is why Law can never be a panacea. The Trinity is in harmonious community, and without Law. Heaven the same. Law’s governance cannot produce this harmony, as it comes with significant negatives. The Bible calls its dynamics the law of sin and death. Accusation is inescapable in this dynamic, but without a helping hand. Nothing is done to aid ineptness. Law does not transform. It enforces compliance through consequence, stick and carrot, reward or fear, pleasure or pain. And even when constraining bad behaviour, it exacerbates the rebellion within. It stirs up the sin lying dormant in the flesh. Invoke a command, and buried evils are unearthed. An example we can all identify with: none are as hungry as those on a diet!

Law is for the lawless. Simple as that. And let’s also not make the mistake of confining our thinking to civil society alone. Some families need an injection of law to preserve them. So do some churches. Urgent interventions. Emergency measures. Abusive husbands should not be permitted to misuse their wives, nor vice versa. Parents should never be permitted to abuse their children, nor vice versa. Clear thinking on this matter recognises the appropriateness of Law when there is a two year old in residence. Insufficiently self-governing, these little angels are carnal enough to throw a home into disarray. The answer is contextually appropriate law. No matter the situation, be it teen, employee or neighbor, this truth remains true. Law is for the lawless. It is the only way of creating appropriate boundaries when lawlessness is prevalent. But that law, however appropriate in it’s prescription, will never save. Only grace does that. And grace does so through faith, from the heart, inside out.

The New Covenant

Christians are not under Law.

It’s not that they’re lawless. They’re just not under the governance of Law. They are under the governance of the Spirit, who governs in grace. Christians well understand that all things are lawful for them. All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial.

Under grace the dynamics are Spirit and life, not sin and death. A thorough study of the book of Romans reveals this in the way a flawless diamond reflects the light. Myriads of interrelated facets reveal its glittering beauty. A glimpse will suffice. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).

Christians walking in the Spirit are the most submissive people imaginable. Their submission is to God, and is empowered by Him, by the indwelling Spirit. Their submissive attitudes manifest in submission to legitimate authority at every turn. They submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. And because their hearts embrace Godly order, the lives reflect it. Their families embrace it, as do their churches. And their dealings reveal it in social, economic and political settings. But this is not so because of their obedience to Law per se, but because of their life in the Spirit.

And for precisely that reason, they can be the most disobedient people imaginable. That’s because their boundaries are set from within. Their hearts and minds are abuse-proof. Nothing can force them once they come to settled peace on a matter. The execution of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer illustrates the point magnificently. He is the author of the first book of common prayer, by the way. History tells us that Cranmer had succumbed to pressure and recanted his Protestant position. In deep contrition, and after renouncing his recantation, he presented himself at the stake on 21 March 1556. There he burnt off the hand that had signed the recantation before stepping bodily into the flames. Apparently his death was reminiscent of Stephen’s of old, for great grace was upon him throughout his ordeal.

Because Christians are not under Law, the only power over them is the power of the request. Should that request be legitimate, the response will often be the extra mile. Should it be illegitimate, the response will often be the turned cheek. Yet, secure in the New Covenant, they can prove immovable. In this the Gospel moves to being a true revolution, for it breeds true revolutionaries. They are those who are persuaded in their life and cause well beyond what most would consider reasonable.

Order in the Church

What then of the fourth and final sphere of delegated authority, the church.

The authority delegated by Heaven to church leaders should never be misconstrued as a continuation of the earlier progression. Leadership and governance in the church is exclusively in the context of the New Covenant.

And it is the Gospel that is the antidote to humanity’s fallenness. Law has it’s place, but it is the transformation of grace and faith that restores the self-governance of the Garden. In abiding and enabling union with God, personal volition is liberated to realign with true worship. Holy Spirit is within the people of God. They are in Christ, and Christ is in them. Together with Christ, they are hidden in God, enveloped, enfolded and engulfed in Him. For them there is no Law, but a new birth, a new nature, and a new life. Old things, including the Law and their sin, have passed away. The new has come.

Leadership and governance in the church is an administration of this New Covenant. Men and women are given the freedom to choose. Grace enables them to choose wisely. Faith causes them to then do so. Church leaders lead new creations. They lead people under grace. People with new, sincere and submissive hearts. They lead them to follow the Spirit, to revel in grace, and to stand in faith. Theirs is the fullness and freedom of the New Covenant. On their own cognisance. Surrounded by their brother and sisters. And undergirded by their leaders, who urge them on. Further, deeper, and higher. Hands and hearts ever open. For they are His, and He is theirs.

Only on the rarest of occasions is Law invoked in these environments. It is exclusively the preserve of the lawless. It is only invoked when lawlessness threatens to damage and destroy, and appropriate boundaries must be instituted. Even so, this can be done graciously, providing every opportunity for redemption. It is, after all, God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.

For Reflection

Two passages of Scripture, by leaders, addressing leaders, spring to mind. Both are useful for reflection and prayer, underscoring New Covenant perspectives.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:1–11).

Now from Miletus he (Paul) sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: ‘You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”’ ” (Acts 20:17–35).

Be filled with the Spirit

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:15-21).

A biblical imperative

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is a Biblical injunction. It’s a New Covenant imperative. As such, every Christian should obey.

Notice that the verb in question is passive. Those being filled are having something done to them. We also know from the Scriptures that the One doing the filling is Jesus. He is the baptizer in the Holy Spirit, and we are grateful.

The verb being passive is not to imply that we should be at all passive about being filled with the Holy Spirit. Being so is not an optional extra, for it empowers us in our witness, enabling us in words, ways, works and wonders. Jesus is our example in this, as is the early church. In fact, Jesus made it clear that we should ask, seek, and knock in this regard (Luke 11:9-10). These injunctions are all in the present continuous, and best translated “ask and keep on asking”, “seek and keep on seeking”, and “knock and keep on knocking”. We could therefore say that every Christian should be filled with the Holy Spirit, and we should encourage each other to never settle for anything less!

A definitive experience

The terminology used in the book of Acts in describing infilling is instructive. The Holy Spirit is “poured out”, “comes upon” and “fills”. Those being filled “receive” and “drink”. The connection between the two is facilitated by the laying on of hands on occasion, but not always. But no matter the means, the outcome is always definitive. Being filled with the Spirit is a true baptism. An immersion. A dipping, dunking, soaking, steeping and saturating. The idea is one of a bottle thrown into the ocean. The bottle is in the water, and the water is in the bottle. Everyone who is filled with the Spirit knows it. Others present at the time know it too. The evidence is often audible, the most common by far being speaking in tongues, although numerous other signs are included in the Biblical and are still attested to today.

There is merit to the argument that the Scriptures refer to the believer’s first infilling of the Spirit as a baptism, and to subsequent comparable encounters as infillings. This subtle distinction proves important as we recognise that baptism in the Holy Spirit propels the believer into the realms of the Spirit in a definitive way. But there is equal merit in noting that everyone baptised was already in that which they were baptised into. In other words, baptism is a secondary action, but not something totally unfamiliar. Those who are baptised in water first go down into the water before being immersed in it. In the same way, anyone being immersed in the Spirit must already be in the Spirit for that baptism to be able to take place. Understanding this helps us grasp that all Christians are born of the Spirit, have the Spirit, and are in the Spirit, even if not baptised in the Spirit. The latter is distinct from the new birth, and not for salvation, but for empowerment in witness.

Not an ethereal Gnostic bunny-trail

Gnosticism is a category of heresy for any wayward belief which appeals to some form of special “gnosis” or knowledge.

Spiritual things are always vulnerable to Gnostic influences, because spiritual things are by definition revelatory in nature. Everyone alive to God is so thanks to Word and Spirit. That said, some have received much more than others. Maturity plays a part. Having being baptised in the Spirit does also. But then, so do gifts and callings. That’s what makes comparison impossible. How can we compare ears to eyes, as they have completely different functions. Yet in the church, comparisons are both odious and ubiquitous. And because they are objectively impossible, we accomplish the measurement of the immeasurable by imposing the criteria of our subculture.

We keep stumbling over this thing. Dismissing the reality of us having all received a faith of equal standing, and thereby affording one another equal value based on Christ’s assessment, we insist on classifying the citizens of the kingdom based upon our own set of arbitrary performance indicators. Then we’re mortified when the high-profile tele-ministry fails morally. In our convoluted thinking, gifts, callings and influence somehow amount to spirituality and/or maturity. Not so! The outcomes of our lives are by grace and through faith. Confusing performance with spirituality is only possible in the first place thanks to our underlying confusion regarding Law and Grace. It is in this kind of doctrinal detritus that Gnosticism thrives as self-righteousness proliferates.

Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are saturated with this folly. Being filled with the Spirit is right in the middle of the morass, along with anything else regarded as spiritual in that particular subculture. This could be prayer and fasting. It could be speaking tongues or prophesying. It could be miracles, signs and wonders. It could even be serving, or giving, or Bible knowledge. Or falling over and the like. Or a blend of these. Whatever the permutation, it all too seldom defines authentic spirituality by righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, and even less often by love.

I once heard the dynamics of this kind of Charismatic Gnosticism described in terms of drug dealership. The leaders deliver a dose of the fix on a regular basis, for which the church members slavishly pay their ten percent, and jump through the other hoops set before them. The whole setup is stick-and-carrot riddled, but inevitably over-promises and under-delivers, always reaching for an elusive more. Like the level of life in any church, things wax and wane over time, and the more of the treadmill is in reality nothing other than more of the same. Everyone is always getting filled, but few ever are filled in any definitive way.

The Galatian believers were case in point. Obedience to elements of the Law of Moses became their subculture’s criteria for spirituality. Paul regarded them as foolish, and as having been bewitched. They had started in grace, but were pursuing a spirituality of their own design, and doing so in their own strength. Carefully heeding their example will serve us well.

Rain clouds and rising fountains

The flood of Noah’s day provides us with valuable insight. As is often the case, spiritual things reflect in the natural world, casting shadows in the tangible which enable us to better grasp the workings of the invisible. In similar vein as water, the Scriptures also reveal the Spirit as oil, wind, fire and seal.

“In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:11–12). The waters came down, but the waters also came up. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is “poured out” and “comes upon”, but also wells up from within. Jesus was emphatic that anyone who came to Him thirsty would be given this river of living water, and that it would well up from within them (John 7:37-39). I’m sure you can see it now. The bottle is in the ocean and the ocean is in the bottle. We are filled in encounter, where Holy Spirit comes upon us, and we receive. And we are filled as He wells up form within us, for all who are born again have the Holy Spirit in residence.

The conflict in notion resolves as we embrace the genius of the “and”. It is not one or the other, but the one and the other.

Our desire is to obey. Our desire is to be filled with the Spirit, just as the Scriptures instruct. But let’s forgo the nonsensical prescriptions of our subcultures. Let’s desire and pursue the fullness and freedom already given us in Christ. This is our privilege and our inheritance in Him. Let’s recognise that the Scriptures often encourage us to seek the Lord, but never do they tell us how. That’s because seeking the Lord is an “in the Spirit” and a “by the Spirit” thing. Thinking that we know how is the surest sign that we have no idea at all.

New wine

“Do not be drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit”.

Could any metaphor be more apt. Nine o clock one morning, in an upper room in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit fell upon the one hundred and twenty saints gathered there. In the aftermath of the initial torrent of tears and laughter, they found themselves on the streets of the city, bewildered. People thought they were drunk. Yet, Peter stood and preached the Gospel in clarity and power, and three thousand people were saved. He was so clear about a number of things that day, including the fact that what they had just received was for all who would believe. The drinks were free, and Heaven’s Bar was open!

This drunkenness so offends the religious mind. Bit it’s not the destructive drunkenness of wine, but the delightful inebriation of the New Covenant. Those imbibing on this new wine find their defences coming down, and their generosity going up. Their’s is not the belligerence or frivolity of the fermented grape, but the childlike embrace of the Lord and the moment. Joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Not to mention full of song.

For those who are duck to water with this kind of thing, great may be your joy. In this is great blessing, for the joy of the Lord is our strength. Live drunk, and join the soaking meeting circuit. Just don’t be prescriptive about it. Or judgmental of others. Respect, honour and encourage other believers who have never been to a soaking meeting, and who have no intention of ever attending one. Appreciate that they may be just as filled with the Spirit as what you are. For just as not everyone is at their happiest in the clubs over the weekend, several beers down, not all Christians are equally enthralled with hanging out in Heaven’s Bar. Those who love it love it, but those who don’t end up staying home. And to these, the Lord is as generous and loving, and His desire is that they be as filled as anyone else. And so He invites them into the water just as surely. To use Ezekiel’s analogy, in He calls them, ankle deep, knee, deep, waste deep, and beyond. Deep within them He arises, deep calling unto deep, no one knowing the heart of man better than his own spirit within him, born of God and one with Him. The testimonies are endless. The man who dreamt he was being filled with the Spirit, and saw himself speaking in tongues, only to find himself slowly waking, all the while his prayer language pouring from his lips. How gracious is our God.

Let’s also recognise that the Lord is able to turn our rooms into an upper room any time He chooses. What He did in Jerusalem He also did at Cornelius’ house in Caesarea also. And what He did then, He still does now. There is no need to manipulate or manufacture. Authenticity has great value, but imitation little.

Keeping the main thing the main thing

What is important here is that we are filled with the Spirit. The focus should surely not be on the process of infilling, but on the resultant fullness. Some subcultures revolve around the unhelpful notion that we somehow leak, and so require incessantly repeating infillings in order to be Spirit-filled. Other subcultures rightly recognise that no Christian can ever be devoid of the Spirit, and that the Spirit is God Himself, which makes commodity-speak about Him nonsensical. We either have Him or we don’t, because He is a person, who isn’t issued by weight or length or any other measure. Yet the infilling of the Spirit is experiential, and those who receive should surely have more tangible evidence on offer than sound doctrine.

The crux of the issue is clear. Fullness in the Lord. On the one hand, the experience of His habitation within us, and on the other His enabling. Some distinguish between these two by saying that the Spirit is within us for our sake, and upon us for others. This dichotomy helps our understanding, but does not quite hold up Biblically though, for those who drink receive a river in their bellies, and that river refreshes them as well as others. It is not a matter of either/or; remember the genius of the “and”.

By grace alone through faith alone

A life in the Spirit is by grace and through faith, which is in essence a matter of control.

Scripture cautions us regarding the Spirit. In our unbelief, we risk insulting Him, grieving Him, resisting Him and and quenching Him. The language is revealing. There is nothing we can do to help Him, but we are able to hinder Him. We are the ones to keep in step with Him, and not the other way around. And so it is that in concluding, we return once again to the Gospel. God is gracious. Ours is to believe, and in our believing, to yield.

Great obedience to God is not founded in our strength or our courage. It is rooted in trust. In letting go. In yielding to His thoughts, His ways, His pace, His path. This is the key to being filled with the Spirit. We do not fill ourselves. The Holy Spirit is the gift of the Father, and Jesus is the one who does the filling. To be filled with the Spirit is His doing. We believe, and believing, receive.