A series of talks Dallas gave for African Enterprise on his first trip to South Africa in 1985. He works through some of the material that became The Spirit of the Disciplines.
Dallas: It is a great pleasure to be here. It is my first time in Africa and so as you would expect it’s a time of a lot of learning and I’m sure growing. I feel like my head has already been given so much information, it will take me quite a while to digest it. When I walked in the other evening—Thursday evening and saw Michael, he said, “Welcome to Africa. You will soon be so confused, you won’t know what to think.” [Laughter] And, I think maybe there is something to that. [00:34]
Well, I trust the Lord will bring us to clarity on those things, which matter most for this present teaching opportunity and I am very grateful to Africa Enterprises for inviting me. I am very grateful to you for coming and I am just trusting the Lord is going to deal with us very richly and help us understand those things which will lead into a path of sure conformity to the holiness and power of His son, Jesus.
Now, this morning, I am going to spend some time in the first hour; we have two hours. I’ll be going for 45-50 minutes and we will take a break and will come back for a second hour. [1:12]
In the first hour I am going to be introducing the topic of Spirituality and Mission as I understand them, and I am going to just talk about the two sides of that conjunction—spirituality and mission.
In the States, spirituality has been a topic that has been growing very rapidly in many directions and I think, many times that one can truly say that it has lost its center. There is a spirituality of practically everything now in the States. Yesterday or some time back, I was reading Calvin Miller and he remarked that spirituality—many people think is a topic for the very old and the very dead. That’s one way of looking at it. It doesn’t have much to do with life. If you would walk up on the street to someone and say, “Now, I am going to be spiritual,” it’s not clear what they would expect or perhaps what you would expect if someone said they were going to be spiritual to you. [2:17]
Spirituality means many things and so we must spend some time getting clear about exactly what spirituality is. Sometimes in the States, it means something largely negative. A person who is spiritual is unworldly; sometimes that means impractical; sometimes it means that they don’t smoke cigarettes or dance or do some other thing. Spirituality is often thought of purely in terms of negations and I want to say at the outset that spirituality as it is present in the Old and New Testament, has very little to do with negation—very little to do with negation—and nearly all of that is a byproduct.
Sometimes we think of spirituality as a practice of certain kind, like fasting or solitude or silence or sometimes prayer; possibly witnessing or the way we give our money. Rarely does spirituality extend, however to the ordinary life of ordinary people who are running the banks and the schools and the armies and things of that sort, and that’s an unfortunate fact about the concept of spirituality. Here is another place where spiritualty presents itself as if somehow it were separate from ordinary life. I intend to challenge that conception as strongly as I can and I intend to say to you that spirituality is a kind of total life for the believer and follower of Jesus Christ. [3:48]
Let me give you some passages of scripture—one from the Old and the New Testament that will give us an initial connection between spirituality and missions. The first is a well-known passage in Psalm 51. In Psalm 51, David is coming to grips with some things that had happened in his life where the psalmist is dealing with those events and he is above all, depressed and sorrowful that a kind of life has been taken away from him because of his actions. And he says in Psalm 51:10—“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy (my) salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.” [4:52]
The Old Testament is a book of great familiarity with the Holy Spirit. There are differences between the Old and the New but one of the strange mistakes that some people make is the idea that the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of God—or God as a spiritual being is not present in the Old Testament. Nothing could be further from the truth. He is present from the first stages where He hovers over the waters in creation. And coming on through the Old Testament from the beginning to the end, the Spirit of God is present everywhere and it is the Spirit of God that is the primary focus of spirituality and in relationship to that Spirit of God, we’ve become spiritual people.
Spirituality is a relationship to God and David, or the psalmist here sees this and recognizes that only in so far as he is upheld and environed and directed and filled in his heart by the Spirit of God can he teach transgressors the way and sinners be converted. There is an inward life, which is inseparable from an outward expression that constitutes our spirituality and makes mission not only successful; it makes mission inevitable. [6:21]
And just to accentuate that, I want to give you one other passage in the 7th chapter of the Gospel according to John. In the 7th chapter of John, on the Feast of Tabernacles, I believe it is, Jesus stands up on that last day and in response to certain rituals, which were practiced on that day of the feast, the 37th verse of John 7—“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly (inmost parts) shall flow rivers of living water.” “ . . . Rivers of living water . . . he that believeth on me from his inmost part”—that part which David was speaking of. Create in me a clean heart. Renew the spirit. Uphold me by thy free spirit. That part would come rivers of living water. Life-giving water. Living water is life-giving water. And now the explanation comes—“(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given . . .)” (John 7:39) That verse—the misunderstanding of it is one of the things that makes people not be clear about the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament because Jesus was not yet glorified. [7:48]
Now, I want to be a little bit picky this morning about words and try to help us understand just as clearly as possible what some of the main terms we are dealing with here concern. And above all, we want to talk about spirit and I am going to give a formulation of what spirit is and I want us to think about it very carefully because we must understand that our understanding affects our faith.
There is an unfortunate dichotomy, which is set up by many people between understanding and faith. It’s terribly sad and we must overcome it. What we understand by faith is of course not the result of merely natural powers of understanding. That’s true but that doesn’t mean we don’t understand it. We believe in order to understand, and our understanding enlightens our belief. [9:03]
So, now I want us to just use a formula here—spirit is disembodied, personal power—disembodied, personal power. God, of course is Spirit above all else and indeed John 4 simply says, “God is Spirit.” He is disembodied, personal power.
That’s why the second commandment is so important. The second commandment, which you find in Exodus 20 says this—“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God . . . ” (Exodus 20:4 & 5) The second commandment is guaranteed to secure in the mind of the believer the spiritual nature of God. God is disembodied, personal power. [10:34]
Now, there of course are other kinds of powers. For example, if we wanted to, we could spend a good deal of time talking about soul and about body. These are extremely important to think of and so, to speak very loosely and generally about these concepts—soul involves an embodied, personal power in the case of human beings, and if we wanted to really get into some interesting things about the scripture, which we don’t have time to get into, we might talk about spirits generally and especially evil spirits and their relationship to bodies and why it is that they want to be embodied. [11:14]
Let me just summarize it very briefly by saying, these spirits can only act through bodies. That’s why it’s sufficient for the simple believer to resist the devil in order to make him flee because these spirits cannot harm anyone except through body and they long to have a body because a body gives them a place to act from. They are powerless outside of a body.
God’s infinite Spirit is not powerless outside of a body and He can enter a body and we must take this very seriously understanding it to mean something absolutely real and absolutely fundamental when Paul tells us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is not something to be taken as nearly pretty words. [12:05]
I am going to be saying to you tomorrow some things about the role of the body in redemption and in mission, which may require you to rethink some things and I always tell groups that I speak to that I am sometimes wrong. I have made mistakes and so I stand before you in a spirit of willingness to be taught as well as to teach. But I want to say some things to you about the body and it’s very important for us to understand the role of our body in redemption and in particular, we will never understand spirituality until we come to understand spirituality as a dimension of our bodily life. [12:45]
Spirituality is a dimension of our bodily life. Our bodies were created to lead a spiritual life in conjunction with God. We lost that connection when Adam sinned. You remember that when Adam sinned, God said, ”The day you eat of the fruit of the tree, you will die.” (Genesis 2:17) Now, after they ate of the fruit of the tree, they continued to exist, didn’t they? They had a kind of life but they were dead in that which they were above all meant to occupy; namely, the spiritual relationship between themselves and God, which would give them a spiritual life. Spiritual life is spirituality. It’s a kind of life. Spirituality is a kind of life.
Now, we’ve got to talk a little bit about life and again, I apologize, I don’t want to be too abstract and brainy about all of this but we simply must understand. You see, the word for salvation in the New Testament is above all, life. “He that hath the Son hath life . . . ” [1 John 5:12] What is life?
I am going to give you another painful concept now. All right? Life is the power to continue in existence and expand by appropriating what lies beyond. See? And what Adam and Eve lost was the power to enter into a relationship to the Kingdom of God—the rule of God—God and His order—the personal order, which comes from His being. They could still eat potatoes. I don’t know if they had potatoes then but they could still eat them if they had them. They could eat something. So, they biologically were still alive. They could still procreate. They could run about. So, they had life in those dimensions but the kind of life for which they were above all made. The kind of life in which they were to rule the universe for God; that life was lost and they were thrown back into impotence and decay and eventual death because they lost the highest principle. [15:50]
Life is the power to relate. Take a little seed of corn—if it is alive—if you put it in the soil and you give it moisture and the right temperature, what will it do? It will send out a little tendril into the dirt and low and behold, this unlikely looking thing begins to eat dirt. Honest, that’s what it does; it eats dirt. It appropriates dirt. [Soil is a better word.] Soil! [Laughter] Well, that’s clean dirt, I guess as they say. [Laughter] What it does is it transforms the soil or dirt into corn stalk, right? And it continues to exist and to expand by continuing to appropriate this and it’s life is defined by that inner principle, if you put a grain of wheat into the ground, you won’t get a cornstalk; it’s a different kind of life, isn’t it? The life is different. [16:57]
An animal can run about and animals don’t eat dirt or soil usually but they can eat what eats soil and so they grow and they expand their powers and gradually they fulfill the cycle of life, which is appropriate to them.
Life is just this—a power to continue in existence to expand by appropriating what lies beyond and when we lose that power, we are dead. If you lose the power to eat, you won’t be here long. Biologically, you will be dead. [17:45]
Spiritual life is the power to enter into a relationship to God in His Kingdom and we are dead in trespasses and sin until God restores that connection through His life-giving Word. Now, as that is restored, we have the opportunity of entering evermore fully into the spiritual life. The spiritual person is a person who in a very high degree has integrated all of their natural powers into the spiritual Kingdom of God, which has been given to them through the action of God’s Word.
Now, in your folder, you have some of these concepts stated and so you can perhaps save yourself a little trouble by just looking right after the two outlines for the course, you will see something headed “Some Basic Concepts for Understanding the Spiritual Life in the Kingdom of God.” [18:50]
And if you look at the third paragraph there—a person is a spiritual person to the degree that his or her life is correctly integrated into and dominated by God’s spiritual Kingdom or rule. The babe in Christ has spiritual life but in a largely insipient form; much in his embodied and concretely socialized personality is not under the effective direction of the spirit, you see? [19:24]
So now what that makes clear to us is that when we are born again of the Spirit of God—when we are born from above and placed by God back in connection with that Kingdom, the resources of that Kingdom then are available to be appropriated as we grow in the Spirit. When that happens, there is much room for growth and we are faced then with the question, how do we grow in the Spirit? How do we grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? And we are faced with the issue of whether or not, in particular, that is something that is just going to be poured on our head, whether we want it or not. Or is it something, which we must rise up and seize by a method of growth in the Spirit? That’s very largely the issue which I shall be dealing with in the days ahead—the method of growth in the spiritual life. [20:35]
I hope you have given some thought to this and I hope you will think deeply about it as the days go by during this week. I hope that each of us might hold before us the question—what is my plan for spiritual growth? What is my plan for spiritual growth?
Now, I don’t know how it is in your country but in my country, you cannot rely upon what is recommended by the churches generally as a means for spiritual growth. I can tell you what is recommended in our country and I don’t know what is recommend here. Certainly, faithful attendance upon the services and that’s important and all of these things are important—of prayer, study of the scripture, witnessing; that’s really about it—giving perhaps. But now, we have many people who have spent forty years doing that and they are hardly above the level of the nearest babe in Christ. We are in a tremendous bind over this and it’s partly created by our teachings about grace. [21:53]
We are told that grace is what saves us. We are “saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) and I certainly don’t want you to misunderstand a thing that I am saying here on that point. We are saved by grace through faith but that does not settle the question of what we are to do then. And very often, in the States, salvation comes down to merely what happens after the funeral and you are left now to live until then without any answer as to how you enter into the Kingdom of God and lay hold of it as Jesus said, “ . . . violent men take it by force . . . ” (Matthew 11:12)
How do you rise up and lay hold of the Kingdom of God and grow into it to the point to where you have the power and the holiness of Jesus and mission is inevitable? People cannot stop the mission because it flows forth from your innermost beings like rivers of living water. See? That’s the question. How do we come to that point? It does not happen automatically and while it happens by grace in the sense that we never merit it, it does not happen by inaction. [23:06]
Now, I want to give you now the quotation from Oswald Chambers, which is just before the pages—empty pages that are inserted in your reading—and I want to just read a little passage or two from this. This marvelous book from Oswald Chambers called The Psychology of Redemption Attempts to Deal. It’s one of the very few attempts to deal with this problem of how do we go about a plan or a strategy for spiritual growth? Chambers starts his quotation by pointing out that “sin dwells in human nature but that it is a natural thing; it is abnormal and that redemption of God through our Lord Jesus Christ delivers human nature from sin.”
This may shock you. You may think—oh, he’s talking about sinless perfection; this can’t be. Well, you know when we get to talking about sinless perfection; I always want to ask people, are you planning to continue on sinning? [24:07]
You see the issue need not be perfection. The issue is a very simple one of how we plan to live; and if I have a person who is planning to continue to tell lies on the general grounds that everyone is imperfect and we can’t be perfect, I know I’ve got someone who has not really seen the light of the Gospel in Jesus Christ. And you see, the person continues to think that somehow it’s difficult to tell the truth and live in the truth. They haven’t begun to understand that the real difficulty lies in the life of the liar and they say it is difficult to love your enemies and they have not yet begun to understand that the difficulty lies with those who hate their enemies. Look
at their lives and see what happens. The easy way as Jesus said, and I will return to this in a moment—the easy way lies in the yoke with Christ where we find rest and power to do the things that He did. [25:13]
Oswald Chambers goes ahead here to say that God never saves men and women from the trouble of manifesting the fact that He has made them sons and daughters. Certainly in order to enter into that life fully, we are going to have to be different persons, but that’s what we’ve been talking about all along anyway, isn’t it?
And so, the call is to become the different kind of person and the way we do that is through what he calls on the next page “the exercised experience” and Chambers is extremely good here in recognizing that the fundamental problem that we have to deal with in fallen human nature lies in habit and he remarks that “the question of forming habits on the basis of the grace of God is the vital one and if we refuse to do this—if we refuse to practice righteousness, then when the crisis comes, we ask God to help us but He cannot if we have not made our nature an alley.” [26:19]
Now, we need to stop a moment on that phrase. That’s very bold of him to say, “He cannot.” And perhaps we shouldn’t put it that way. It is enough to say that he will not and let’s dwell on that a moment. [26:34]
You know, many times we befuddle ourselves by thinking about what God can do. God can do anything. God could come in here; He could turn this podium into a helicopter and I could get into it and fly out the window. But He’s not likely to do that. God can do anything.
The question is not what God CAN do; the question is what can we reliably count on God as doing? And here is where Chambers is absolutely right. If you are unwilling to practice righteousness in the effort to grow in grace, God will rarely bale you out by an infusion at the moment. And much of our problem in growing in grace is that we keep thinking in terms of momentary infusions—infusions at the moment—and God will help us at the moment, but He will not replace aid at the moment with the results of continuing practice of righteousness as we follow Christ in His way.
There will be no substitution and this is where Chambers word, I think is so absolutely helpful. The practicing is ours, not Gods. God regenerates us and puts us in contact with His divine resources. That’s the life that He gives in the new birth—puts us in contact with the divine resources. [28:02]
But now when He comes to the appropriation of those resources, He has given us the means to become His co-laborers and His co-workers. He expects us to rise up and take the means which are proven, which are seen in His life, as we shall talk more about in a moment—seen in His own life—the means for maintaining that relationship with God, which will give the power to live a life of complete righteousness before Him.
Paul after all says that we are to submit our bodies as living sacrifices—all that God has put in our hearts by His spirit, then when the crisis comes, we shall find that we have not only God’s grace to stand by us but our own nature also and the crisis is passed without any disaster. [28:53]
The mark of the Spirit in the life of the believer is always the incommensurability of the result with the effort—the incommensurability—let me explain that. That’s the mark of the presence of the spiritual in the life of the believer.
Going back to the Old Testament, you remember that story that is told in Judges 15:14 about Samson and how Samson was taken captive and bound and in the valley of Lehi, the Spirit of God, the scripture says, “ . . . came . . . upon him . . .” and he picked up the “jawbone of an ass and slew” a huge number of people. You see, the Spirit of God came upon him and because that Spirit was upon him, the result was entirely out of proportion to what he could do in his own human efforts. That’s always the mark of the Spirit—the incommensurability of the result with the effort. Human effort could not do that. [30:13]
The clearest case that we have of this is studied in Galatian. I lost the point off of my pin; there we go. In Galatians 2, and this is the case of Abraham and Isaac from Sarah and Abraham and Ishmael from Hagar. And you will remember that, Isaac is said to be the “child of promise;” (Galatians 4:28) Hagar, the “child of the flesh” (Galatians 4:23) and the difference is simply that in order for Isaac to be brought forth, it required the cooperation of God. It required something beyond the effort of Abraham and Sarah in the natural.
In the case of Abraham and Hagar, it was not beyond the natural powers. The mark of the spirit is always the incommensurability of the result to the effort and the spiritual person then is one who walks as it were clothed in a power that is beyond him or herself. This expresses itself in the holiness of their lives. It expresses itself in many ways where they exercise the power of the Kingdom to bring to pass things, which could not otherwise be attained by the normal human being. [31:40]
Now, turning it around of course, I don’t want us to get too far away on the abnormal because as Oswald Chambers indicates, “when we speak of the normal, we are speaking of what is truly abnormal in human life.” We are in an abnormal condition. We are in a condition of death and when we look at the world around us as we often do and say, “How can people do such things?” You see, there is a fundamental insight in that statement which is said so often, “How can all of the killing and the oppression and the sorrow and the suffering—how can that be inflicted by human beings on one another?”
Well you see, they are in an abnormal condition and in that very expression, we sense what normality is and we say, “How could this be?” Because we see that the normal condition of man was something much greater than that: and of course the answer to the question, “How can these things happen” is always to be answered in terms of what people are ready to do—what is in their members? The sin that is in their members—they would not do the things that they do and the things that they do, they would not do. If you ask them, they will say, “Oh, I wouldn’t so that,” and then some little something happens and, BANG, they do it. There it is! [33:04]
I mean, take any of the awful situations that you find in families or cities, between the races or between classes or between owners and workers; terrible things have happened, and you ask the people that do them in a cool moment, would you do that?” And nearly 100% of them would say, “Oh no I wouldn’t do that.” But yet, when that awful stuff that is in their members is triggered, they are off and gone—off and gone and then they say, “Why did I do it? They are in an abnormal condition. They are in a condition of death and corruption. [33:42]
You see, when you remove the high principle in the life of any type of entity—whether it’s a cabbage or a dog—when you remove the highest principle in their life from them, they begin to die and soon they are dead. If you take a dog and you don’t let it move; you absolutely make it impossible for that dog to move, how long do you think it will live? Not very long—not very long. If you take a cabbage or a plant and you cut light off from it altogether and it can’t respond and take in light; well, it may live for awhile but it won’t live long, will it? And it certainly will not be able to reproduce itself and turn into what it is supposed to be as a cabbage. [34:30]
When you take the Son of God away from the individual, they are dead. They may still exist but they are dead. The cabbage, which is dead, still exists; the dead dog still exists; they exist while they are on the way to death, but they are corrupted.
Corruption means to come apart. They are coming apart. You have to associate co-rrupt with e-rupt and rupture and terms like that. There is a breaking up. That’s what you see in human life; is the corruption of human life because the high principle is lost—the principle of connection to God and His Kingdom. [35:17]
Now, I think I’d better turn to my second topic and that is Mission. Time is moving on but I wanted to get these initial concepts about the Spirit before you and ask you to prayerfully think about them and read the sheet, which I refer because we will be returning to these concepts as we go on through our series this week. But, these are the basic concepts of the Spirit and we need to challenge ourselves with the thought, do I really believe in the Spirit? I believe in the Spirit of God. Do I believe in God as a spiritual being? Do I understand that indeed this Spirit is the very foundation of all reality? We in this world tend to think the material things are the real things. If we can see it, it must exist. If we can’t see it, it doesn’t.
But, Paul rightfully corrects that balance in 1 Corinthians—or is it 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 where he talks about how we look at the things which are not seen for the things which are not see are the things that are enteral. (2 Corinthians 4:18) The things that are seen are not eternal. We look at the spiritual realm. We are aware of it. God has given us the capacity to be aware of that realm and it is in our faith in this realm and the openness of our life before it that we come to enjoy the life, which is the spiritual life. [36:51]
Now, let’s talk about Mission. Here again, there are so many different ideas, which we might want to deal with. We could relate mission to our church activity, the activity of getting people to join our church; we could relate mission to the activity of simply getting people to believe some doctrine or teaching which, we think is important. But what I want to say to you is that in the mission of Christ, there is one and one aim only and you will immediately, I think see it’s relationship to the discussion which we’ve just had of life and of the spiritual life; and that aim is to create new persons. It is to create new persons to give them new life. [37:40]
We read in 1 Corinthians 2:17 (This is the scripture Dallas said but it’s the wrong scripture reference; the correct one is 2 Corinthians 5:17)—that familiar verse which we all know—“If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation”—a new creation; and when we go out in mission for Christ, we are going to create new people. And what that means in terms of what I’ve just said—it is to go find people who are indeed biologically alive—they are still functioning. They walk around and they eat and they carry on but they have no relationship to God and because they have no relationship to God, their life is in a state of corruption. It is a process, which is going on. It will end in biological death. It will end in all sorts of evil and pain and suffering around them and from them to others which God never intended and so we go to those people to make them new persons. [38:37]
The aim is something we don’t want to forget and we are apt to forget it because much that we hear in our services, I am afraid and in our teaching as a body of Christian believers, at least in the sense, which could be identified by the world is not directed towards this. It simply is not. [39:07]
And now I am going to say something that may make you believe that I am right out there on the cutting edge of heresy and God help me if I am and I trust you will speak to me sternly.
Too much of what we hear by the way of the Christian gospel has to do simply with the forgiveness of sins. Instead of saying as it should be said, that forgiveness of sins is made available to us by the life and death of Christ, free of any work we might do, instead of saying that and then going on to add, as we live the new life imparted to us in Christ, in His Kingdom, we stop here and put a period. The whole focus is on merely the forgiveness of sins; and I want to say to you that that is not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s a part of it. That’s an essential part of it but that is not the whole Gospel. [40:06]
Indeed, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is simply life in the present Kingdom of God, available to all; anyone who will turn in can have this life. They can be a new person. Really, be a new person. They can be given a new principle, which will rejuvenate and regenerate and bring into new organization and purpose—everything that they are. From their physical level of being to their social and emotional life, to their intellectual life to their work in society—all of those things can be brought to an absolutely new character and quality because they have walked into the Kingdom of God at the invitation, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Whosever will may come. (Matthew 3:2) [40:53]
Jesus Christ never preached His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. He called people to trust Him and follow Him in the Kingdom of God and in that reality, the forgiveness of sins is secure and of course, it may well be that the person who finds themselves in a state of spiritual death, the thing that is uppermost in their mind is the forgiveness of their sins and that’s understandable indeed. It makes good sense. [41:20]
But to stay merely at that level is to miss the fundamental point that when we go on the mission for Christ, we are going to make new persons. That is the aim of the mission. The way in which we do that—the mode of operation—which we follow in order to make new persons, is the impartation of the new life. We have the new life in ourselves and as we go forth living in the Kingdom of God, in the fellowship of Christ, we are in a position to impart life to others.
I think sometimes it’s very hard for our faith to rise to this and we continually think in terms of getting God to do something to others and thank God, He does something to others. Very often, though we have no sense of anything in us to give. God will still work with us and again, I want to say, the important thing for us to understand is not just what God WILL do or what He can do but what He prefers to do. And the model of ministry of the new life in Christ, in the New Testament is for us to impart what is in us to others as we live with God. [42:38]
Listen to these words taken from the 10th chapter of Matthew. This was the first time that the Apostles were sent out to do the work of Jesus. They had been living with Him now for some time—perhaps a couple of years—they had been watching Him carry on His ministry and He says to them, “ . . . Go (rather) to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heaven is at hand.’ ” (Matthew 10:6 & 7)
Now, that was the message, which was preached by John the Baptist—it was preached by Jesus, and now He says, “This is the message for you.” And what does it mean? We must understand something here. The language here is not that something is about to happen. And one of the most grievous afflictions which has fallen upon the church is the teaching that the Kingdom of God almost came when Jesus was here but someone did something to stop it and God went off and it’s not available. The language here is very simple. The Kingdom of God is at hand. It has drawn nigh. It is available. It’s as if I were walking through my house with you and I said, “Turn for the dining room is at hand. Turn for the dining room is at hand.” I’m not saying that the dining room is about to get here and might come if we are good; it’s here. Walk into it. We must understand that. The language there is very strong and it gives no indication that something is about to happen. [44:05]
When John the Baptist in prison in his trouble and sorrow, in the 11th chapter of Matthew, sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was really the one; Jesus gave him a set of signs which I am sure they had had opportunity to discuss as signs of the reality that the King was indeed present. And Jesus answered in Matthew 11:4 and said, “ . . . Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see . . .” And what are they? “ . . . the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” (Matthew 11:5-6) [44:49]
And then He goes on to say some interesting things about John. John was a great prophet and nevertheless, he says in verse 11 of Matthew 11—“he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (John the Baptist).” I wonder if you have ever thought of yourself as greater than John the Baptist. Certainly, He didn’t mean that we are greater than John the Baptist because somehow we are inherently greater but you see, our location in the Kingdom of Heaven is what gives us greater powers and a greater range of powers because we are integrated in to this spiritual life which brings us back into the order which we are to have under God and not only so but we are so in the body of Christ—the body of believers—in which we supplement and strengthen and nourish and encourage one another in such a way that he that is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. [45:50]
Notice the next words—“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” (Matthew 11:12 & 13) But now, something very different has happened.
You know, we theologians and preachers have a hard time with this verse and you can find Heinz 57 varieties of interpretations of just exactly what this means—that the Kingdom of God suffereth violence and the violence take it by force. Most recently, I read an interpretation, according to which, what is really what is being talked about here is that demons are attacking the Kingdom of God. [46:29]
I want to tell you, I think there is a very simple meaning here and it is just the following—that since John the Baptist—and that means since Jesus came and brought the Kingdom in His own person among men and women, ordinary people without standing on proprieties can simply get up and walk into the Kingdom of God. You don’t need to be a Jew. You don’t need to be proper. You don’t need to be wise or smart. You don’t need to be informed about the law and you see that’s exactly what Jesus was constantly reproached for. He not only received sinners; he ate with them. Can you imagine it? He ate with them and all of the improper people and he said in Matthew 21, the harlots and the publicans go into the Kingdom of God before those who thought themselves to be righteous. (Matthew 21:31) [47:26]
Look at Luke 16:16 just to supplement that reading—Luke 16:16 simply puts it this way—“The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” Whosoever will may come. The meaning of many of His parables—the parable of the prodigal—the prodigal comes home proposing in his mind what wonderful things he might do in order to approach his father but the father runs down the road and takes him in his arms and says, “Son, the bath comes later.” Whosoever will may come. [48:05]
People press into the Kingdom of God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the availability of the Kingdom of God to every person, wherever they may be. The Beatitudes and all of His teaching is repeated teaching that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. (Matthew 20:16) It is a way of saying, “Come, come, enter the Kingdom of God.” That was the faith of Jesus Christ. That was His Gospel and it’s unfortunate that in our confusion and as a result of many controversies that have plagued the church in recent centuries. It is very unfortunate that we have come to substitute the Gospel of Jesus Christ for a Gospel about Jesus Christ and we have come to substitute for faith of Jesus Christ—faith in Jesus Christ. And faith in Jesus Christ is intended to lead us to the faith, which He had. [49:00]
Let me try to illustrate briefly the difference. You remember the story of how one night He was in a boat going across the ocean or the Sea of Galilee and as He went, He was asleep and a big storm came up and how beautifully He illustrated His faith in the Kingdom of God because He just slept on. And here down at the other end of the boat are all of these disciples who were just screaming and hollering, “What are we going to do?” They were expecting to die any minute.
Finally, they woke Him up. You see they had faith IN Him. Do something, Master! They had faith in Him and that’s wonderful and that’s good but that’s not enough because they did not have His faith. And when He calmed the sea, then they wondered what kind of man He was which you see, they had not understood that they were to enter into the life, which He has to have the faith that He had. “The faith which I now live,” Paul said, “I live by the faith OF the Son of God.” (Galatians 2:20) Now, we don’t want to make a lot of weight rest upon the nature of the grammar in those passages, like in Galatians 2 but there is a great difference between believing IN Christ and having the faith OF Christ. [50:12]
The faith OF Christ was what He preached and He preached the Kingdom of God and that is the unitary Gospel of the New Testament. The Kingdom of God which places the meritorious, vicarious suffering life and death of Jesus Christ at the center of the Kingdom of God and in the cross and in the resurrection and in the appearances afterwards in the church, bringing it to the place where it could function as His body on earth when He returned to heaven as it’s living head. In all of that, we see the full gospel of Jesus Christ. [50:47]
The aim is to create new persons. The mode is the impartation of life. The instrument is the Word of the Kingdom. The Word of the Kingdom is the instrument we use to impart new life. When we preach the Kingdom of God, when we teach it, when we show forth its power by the actions we take and the words, which we use of blessing, of mastery over evil, we are expressing the Kingdom of God in such a way as to impart life and create new persons.
The parable of the sower is a focal presentation of the role of the Word. I just want to emphasize once again that when we see the word in this form, we are seeing it in a model, which is to be associated with the nature of life, see? We sow the road and the word acts like a seed and a seed of course acts like it does because it has a life. [52:09]
Look at Matthew 13 with me for just a moment at this parable. I’ll not read the parable itself but the interpretation, beginning in verse 18 of Matthew 13—“Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the Kingdom . . .”—now, the word which imparts life is “the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one . . . This is he that received the seed by the way side.” (Matthew 13: 18 & 19) He loses it because Satan is on the watch out for the word.
It’s just like trying to keep weeds out of your yard. You just have to be out there and get those seeds out if you can before they take on life and grow. It’s very easy to remove a little weed when it’s young but when it gets it’s roots down, its’ very hard to remove and Satan knows that and when this word of the Kingdom comes in to the mind of a human being, and begins to grow, Satan is soon beyond all hope. He can’t do a thing about it. [53:12]
“ . . .he that received the seen into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth . . .” (Matthew 13:20) and yet, he doesn’t have a deep root in him and when persecution comes or tribulation, the word loses its power. He that received the seed among the thorns is he that hearth the word . . . ” (Matthew 13:21 & 22) Again you see, the word, the word, the word—and that’s what I am emphasizing. The way we impart the life to create new persons is the word of the Kingdom. [53:43]
Now, I am going to conclude this first hour on what I want to take up and develop in the second hour because the life that is generated through the Word develops in the form of discipleship, and so I’ve given you the aim of the mission of Christ, the mode of its operation through the impartation of life, the instrument which is the word of the Kingdom and then finally, the form of the new life and the form of the new life is precisely discipleship to Christ.
Someone comes to me and says, “Well, I have life in another way.” I sometimes don’t know what to say to such people but I can say at least this, “The only way that I know in which this overwhelming life of God can come safely and securely and confidently to the fullness of its power in the human life is through discipleship with Christ.” [54:53]
I want to just tell you in closing what the disciple is and we will come back to that and develop it in the next hour. The disciple is the person who, more than anything else wants to be like Christ. The disciple is the person, who more than anything else, wants to be like Christ.
Jesus teaches this in His parables of the pearl of great price and His parable of the field with the hidden treasure. This also is in Matthew 13—“the Kingdom of Heaven,”—verse 44—“is like unto a treasure hid in a field, the which when a man has found it, he hideth for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he had and buyeth the field.” Everything that he has, he is prepared to give to claim this Kingdom of Christ. [55:42]
See, that’s what Jesus means when He says, “ . . . Seek ye first the Kingdom of God. . . ” (Matthew 6:33) Put it at the top of the list and “everything else will be added to it.” That’s what He means when He says, “Unless you forsake everything that you have, you cannot be my disciple.” To put it at the top of the list—the most important thing in this world, that’s what discipleship is and a person who has decided that the most important thing in this world, the greatest opportunity they will ever have in their life, is to be like Christ is also the person who then arranges their affairs and rearranges them and reorders them as is necessary in such a way that they will really do what they hope to do in the Kingdom of God and that is, conform to the image of Christ in that Kingdom. [56:34]