For a wide variety of reasons, it is becoming, in our time, ever more challenging to live life as a Christian. The long accepted order of things is being destabilized. Old boundaries are disappearing and paradigms are shifting – sometimes abruptly. We live in a world in which it is hard to know what one can count on.
As I write, the United States and the United Kingdom are at war with Iraq. US forces are present in more than 40 nations around the world. The world is an unstable place with a small but growing army of dictators, tyrants and usurpers opportunistically competing for power at every turn.
The United Nations is anything but united. As a peacemaking organization, it is virtually useless. It is morally and ethically bankrupt. As a forum for anti-US sentiment, it reigns supreme. As a threat to the sovereignty of nations, it has no equal. The UN actively and overtly pursues a new global order in which it provides the basis for what will undoubtedly be a socialist style world government (though it pays lip service to the idea of democracy).
Christians of all stripes are under siege throughout much of the world – especially in communist and Islamic nations. Tens of thousands of Christians are murdered each year in socialist police states and by religious fanatics. As Christian suffer and die for their faith, the world stands largely mute.
Internally, the Church is a house divided against itself in myriad ways. As an influence on society, it has become largely irrelevant and impotent. It has virtually no influence on society. Rather, society is influencing it to its detriment. There is no such thing as a “Christian consensus” about much of anything. Christians squabble with each other over virtually every point of belief, doctrine and practice. Organizationally, there are tens of thousands of Christian denominations in the world – each claiming to be an authentic manifestation of “the Church.” For a new person, entering for the first time into the Christian world, it has the appearance of utter chaos. Who is right? Who has The Truth? Whom do I follow? Denominations compete for new members, money and support. Disoriented, confused, Christians exit at an alarming rate by the back door of the churches they’ve entered. Hope is often dashed on the rocks of disillusionment. Being a Christian wasn’t what they thought it would be.
In stormy times like these, we all need to find reliable navigation, firm anchors and safe harbors. In the modern world, such things are elusive or non-existent. All that we once thought we could count on is being incrementally disassembled. Nothing is “for sure.” All bets are off. A new army of destructive barbarians is marauding its way back and forth across the face of the earth leaving in its wake misery, heartache and death. Only half our nation stands firmly against it. The other half seems to seek to give it aid and comfort. Meanwhile, the Church – whatever that is – is in disarray. What, in the face of all this chaos, is a Christian supposed to do?
Eyes on Christ
Before Jesus departed this earth to be with God the Father, he gave his disciples certain instructions and parting messages. One of them is recorded in John 14:15 ff. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
So the first thing every Christian must do, no matter what is happening around him or her, is to explicitly follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. On another occasion Jesus had asked,“Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?” (Luke 6:46). Doing the things Jesus said that we ought to be doing should be an ongoing preoccupation with every Christian, no matter what his or her denomination teaches or fails to teach. We have four accounts of what Jesus said and did: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Between them, we can acquire a pretty good fix on what Jesus meant by doing the things that he said. It’s a matter of reading them, and following Jesus’ instructions to the degree that we can understand them, and in the places were we can’t, studying, digging and researching until we do. Books like Jesus the Jewish Theologian and The Parables by Dr. Brad Young are very helpful in this regard (seeRecommended Reading List under the Hebrew roots studies heading at the ACD website: www.godward.org ).
Returning to Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples, we find him saying, “And I will pray to the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may be abide with you forever” (John 14:16). The word here-translated “Comforter” is the Greek parakletos. It means in the active sense “helper” or “intercessor.” By the very wording of this verse – “anotherComforter” – the same title is implied for Jesus himself. But it is only the Holy Spirit that is expressly called “Helper” in the fourth gospel (cf. John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7). When Jesus was physically present with his disciples, he was their helper, their intercessor. After he ascended to Heaven following his resurrection, the Holy Spirit was sent to aid the Church. For us, it is the empowering aspect of Deity (Acts 1:8). It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to accomplish anything beyond the natural capacities of the flesh and the mind.
The Role of the Spirit
The terms “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” are sometimes used interchangeably in Paul’s writings. For example, he says to the Romans, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9).
Real Christianity is not merely a “religion.” To have the Spirit of God or that of Christ is to be “in” the Spirit. The indwelling of God’s Spirit is what makes a person a real Christian (I Corinthians 12:13). If we lack the Spirit of God, we are not authentic Christians, no matter how religious we might be.
The indwelling Spirit of God not only empowers believers, it transforms their minds and revamps their thinking. To the degree that the Spirit of God influences us, we think less and less like the world out of which we were called, and more and more like Christ who was the perfect reflection of God. Note Paul’s words: “…be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove [put to the test] what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2).
As our minds are renewed by the influence of the Spirit, our worldview changes. We now have a new roadmap with which to navigate the world – in fact we have two: the written Word of God and the guiding, helping, empowering Holy Spirit. Instead of seeing the world from within, we view it from without. We are in it, but not of it. Increasingly, as the Holy Spirit plays an ever-larger role in our lives, we develop a “God’s-eye” view of the world. We learn to see as God sees, and to think as God thinks. Paul said, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5).
The Spirit of Christ should produce in us the mind of Christ. Increasingly, we should be adopting Christ-like viewpoints, attitudes and behaviors. By means of the Spirit, we make the transition from natural, carnal people to spiritual people. Paul explained this process to the Corinthians: “But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
“But he that is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged by no man.
“For who hath known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:14-16).
There is a natural person, and there is a spiritual person. The difference is the presence or absence of the influence of the Spirit of God. To the unconverted carnal mind, the concerns and issues of Spirit-led Christians seem absurd, foolish, superstitious or stupidly religious. A spiritual person has a God’s eye view of the world. He or she understands fully what’s going on “out there” because the Spirit of God brings about a different kind of “seeing.” The word of God explains to Christians the nature of the world. The Spirit of God enables us to understand the Word. The nature of the Christian destiny is also explained by the Spirit of God: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God” (I Corinthians 2:9-10).
Spiritual seeing is seeing on a higher plane. To see with spiritual eyes is to realize that there is more to the world than is apparent to the eyes of flesh. It is to see deeper, higher, and beyond the confines of the material world. It is to comprehend that in spite of the daily horrors of life on this planet, God has something better in mind for his children. It is to know that despite our illnesses, weaknesses and human bondages, God has something better in mind for us. As the Word says of Messiah, “The Sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2).
Jesus is the Savior, the Deliverer. He has the answers to all human dilemmas and problems. He is “the way, the truth and the life.” He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. There is no problem he cannot solve, no illness or damage that he cannot heal, no demon that he cannot cast out or subdue. Our relationship with God in Christ through the Spirit is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian in troublous times. We must put energy into this relationship. We must spend time in the Scriptures, studying what it means to be a follower of Yeshua ha Mashiach – Jesus the Anointed One. Once we have studied his teachings and example, and have learned what it is that he requires of us, we must begin living it. To do so, we will have to learn to walk, not merely in the power of our own flesh, but in the Spirit.
The Importance of Good Works
Matthew 5:14-16 says this: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid [apparently a reference to a city that is today called Safed]. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
“Let our light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father which is in heaven.”
Christians should not be noted for their scandals, their internal warfares, their doctrinal squabbles, and their endless reorganizations, disfellowshippings and markings. They should not be famous for their lawsuits or their contentious nature. They should be known for their good works.
What are good works? Good works simply means ministering to people at their points of real need. By “people” I mean any people. Jesus didn’t hang out with the Jewish or Roman establishments of his day (though he did go to a Pharisee’s house for dinner on one occasion). He spent time with those who needed him, those who had the humility to listen to what he said. Let’s take a look at Luke 5:27-32. A man named Levi, a tax collector, was invited by Rabbi Jesus to become one of his talmidim – one of his rabbinic students. Levi accepted the invitation. To celebrate the end of his old life, and the beginning of his new one with Jesus, he held a great feast in his own house. (Tax collectors were often quite wealthy. Within Judaism, tax collecting is found on various lists of “despised professions.”) Levi invited his friends and fellow tax collectors to join them for the banquet. When a certain group of scribes and Pharisees got wind of the banquet, they sought to discredit Jesus for the company he was keeping. Jesus then pointed out that “they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Many of the scribes and Pharisees, though not all of them, were unable to recognize their own sinfulness. They did not consider themselves to be “sick.” They presumed that they should be the teachers and that Jesus, if anything, should listen to them. So Jesus was unable to lead them to repentance.
With the tax collectors and other sinners, it was a different matter. They had the humility to recognize that they were sinners, and that Jesus could help them with their problem. You will often find that the only people you can really minister to are people who have lost all pride and who openly acknowledge their neediness. It is the poor, the broken, and the humble whoare able to receive the message of the Gospel. The haughty, the proud, the self-sufficient, the know-it-alls, usually reject it. Look for people who have the humility to receive what you have to give, and then give it gently, with love, kindness and consideration – always protecting that broken person’s humanity and dignity.
If someone is proud, unteachable, resistant, contentious and self-satisfied, avoid them like the plague. If you try to reach them, you are casting your pearls before swine. I believe that we have to come to the end of ourselves before we come to the beginning of God.
Now notice John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give unto you. That ye love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
If we hate each other, argue endlessly with each other about every point of doctrine, reject and shun each other, and avoid each other so that we don’t have to meet anyone’s needs, what kind of Christians are we? We don’t have to agree with each other on every point of doctrine to love one another. (Study Romans 14 closely on this subject.)
We need to open up our horizons and expand our vision. We need to recognize the fact that there are true Christians in just about any church, and false ones in most churches. The wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest. The harvest hasn’t happened yet. So we have to live with that reality. But help the people who can be helped, and ignore those who don’t want your help. Love those who will accept your love, and leave the others alone. Don’t cast pearls indiscriminately.
What we have as God’s children is precious. We don’t want to give it away thoughtlessly. We must treat it as precious and share it as something of great value.
We do live in dangerous times. Christians are being slaughtered around the world at a rate of about 100,000 a year, and no one is rushing to their aid. Even other Christians are passive in the face of this carnage. (If you want more information on this, go to the web page of Voice of the Martyrs.) We need to be ready to minister to our brethren who are suffering, and then to anyone God sticks in front of our faces. We need to be shoring up our faith for the trials ahead. We need to come to conviction about what we really believe, and may be willing to die for. We are going to have to live with terrorism for the foreseeable future. It’s like roaches or ants, there’s almost no way to get them all. And if you don’t kill them in their lair, they’ll always come back.
To sum up: Live a clean, godly life. Live morally and live a life of good works. Pray and intercede for all who need it. Help those who have the humility to accept your help. Find the broken people and get them fixed. Be ready at all times to help whomever God plants in front of your face. In helping people, always preserve their dignity and their humanity. Never ever embarrass or humiliate another human being created in the image of God. Be kind to people, be gentle with them. Don’t cast pearls. Be honest in all your dealings. Be trustworthy and full of integrity. Live as much as you can an exemplary life, and don’t give anybody anything to legitimately criticize.
And remember this: who you are when nobody’s watching is who you really are.