Sunday, January 20, 2019

Overcoming Unbelief

While God is all-powerful, he choses to use his power within the confines of the plan of redemption. That plan operates by his will and through our willing participation which works by our faith in him. Because of this, and based upon our response, either of the following scenarios can be true:
“Anything is possible for him who believes” (Mk 9:23), 
“He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mk 6:5-6  ESV). 
Faith is the avenue which completes the circuit and allows God’s power to bring positive change. And, it doesn’t take great faith for things to happen! 

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:20 NIV). 

That said, nothing can thwart God’s intentions and desire to intervene more than the power of unbelief. Unbelief acts like a grounding agent attached to a lightning rod. Outside of God's graciousness, any positive effect of God’s power is absorbed, or dispelled when affected by unbelief.

According to Jesus, Peter was enabled to walk on the water by using this “little faith,” but when Peter began to doubt, the power to continue walking was thwarted. As Jesus said, “‘You of little faith…why did you doubt?’” (Mt 14:31 NIV).

So while we may have sought to do great things for God, survive the sin which so easily besets, and/or to overcome the works of the enemy,  we have come to feel or have reasoned that we needed more faith, what we likely required was that we nullify our doubt and unbelief.
“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’ ‘If you can’?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mk 9:22-24 NIV).
Belief creates possibility, but possibility is diffused and shielded from us until unbelief can be overcome. Only overcoming faith can overcome unbelief—as long as that faith is in Jesus. Formulas have been tried and doctrines have been instituted which allow Jesus to flow in varying degrees within our situations, but ultimately, many of these methods have focused upon themselves instead of upon the true object of our faith, and that’s Jesus himself. Faith must always be in him and not in our faith.

Jesus is the name above all names! His name embodies his character, his goodness, and willingness to bring redemption to every area of our lives. Unbelief is the force which challenges these truths concerning the nature of God. Unbelief says that the world was more than a match for Jesus and that Christ’s character, power, and willingness to bring breakthrough in our lives is not available to us. The only way to overcome this unbelief is to take heart that Jesus has overcome the world.
"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33 NIV).
“This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 Jn 5:4-5 NIV).
Now it is one thing to say that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but it’s another thing to believe that he is the Son of God over our situation. Unbelief may on one hand acknowledge Jesus’ power and authority, but on the other hand, it won’t recognize that his power and authority have dominion in our situation. 

Unbelief is not actually the lack of belief; it is the belief that everything we experience, the world in all its turmoil, has more power and authority than Jesus does. It is a transfer of faith (and sometimes even our default belief) that the world is more powerful than Jesus. Isn’t that what happened to Peter on the water? Peter's fear motivated his belief that the lie was more powerful than what Jesus had told him. 
“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (Mt 13:30-31 NIV).
The lie that Peter believed was that the world around him had power over the word Jesus had given him to come towards him on the water. Despite popular belief, Jesus did not rebuke Peter for his “little faith.” Instead, he asked Peter why he had shifted his faith towards the circumstances around him. Doubt and unbelief say that what we know and are familiar with is more powerful than what God has said. In that case, our faith is in what we know or can see, not in him. 

Faith, after all, is the substance of the things we hope for and the evidence of what is unseen (Heb 11:1), but this can only be true if our hope is in the character of God as expressed through the promises he has given. But if our hope is based upon, or gives way to what we see or "the way things are," we deny that the unseen Kingdom has dominion over our circumstances. While this seems to put us in a rather dire position, we can take heart that stepping out in faith is always rewarded, and when we start to sink, Jesus is only a call away—more than willing to reach down and pick us up. That too is part of his character. 

We need to be reminded of who he is, but also, we need to be reminded of who he is in us.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro 8:28-39 NIV).
We must remember that we are “those who have been called according to his purpose.” We are the “us” Paul says that God loves, justifies, and makes more than conquerors. 

He is worthy to be believed, he is the trustworthy God who loves us. He is worthy of our belief which completes the circuit and allows those things to be true in our lives and circumstances. And, it only takes faith the size of mustard seed to receive it.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Jesus Christ…In the Flesh!

I’ve often heard people say that their faith would be strengthened and they would feel more comforted if Jesus were actually standing in the room with them, here in the flesh. While Jesus did come to earth to live in the flesh over two thousand years ago, that seems little comfort to some now. 

Yet, the idea of Jesus coming in the flesh is more than a hope and desire, it is an established fact and has become a matter of theological interest, particularly for those who focus upon the end times—mainly due to the following found in 1 John. But are those concerns really the focus of what John is saying in the following passage?
“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 Jn 4:2,3 NIV)
I propose that this passage has less to do with identifying some sort of false messiah as it has in defining who we are in Christ…or more directly, who he is in us. Christ in us, after all, is the hope of glory. Before we go there, we should first establish that Christ has indeed come in the flesh (Heb 2:15, Phil 2:8). This truth is fundamental to our faith.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14 NIV).
This truth is not in contention and it is evident that this sentiment is reflected in John’s statement concerning Jesus Christ having come in the flesh. But John is concerned about more than recognizing or denying the incarnation two thousand years ago. We don’t worship a historical Jesus who once came in the flesh and left us to our own devices; we worship the one who is the same, yesterday, and today, and forever (Heb 13:8).

We worship the one, as translated in the King James, who “is come” in the flesh. The word translated as is means I exist, or I am and is used elsewhere in passages such as, “I am the way the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6 NIV). Jesus has not stopped coming in the flesh for he has come for that very purpose, to set up an eternal Kingdom—not one that is merely historical or futuristic. Now, I understand with so many passages decrying the flesh as evil and in opposition to the Spirit of God, that the idea that Jesus has come to dwell in our flesh might be difficult to accept at first. The fact is that no good things lies within my flesh (Ro 7:18), but fortunately, this problem was remedied:
“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” (Ro 8:3-4 NIV).
God condemned the sin that resided in the flesh so that his Spirit had a place to dwell. Paul, throughout all his writings on this subject, repeatedly decried the flesh as an inferior and evil source of existence. We are not to follow its ways, but instead, overcome the flesh by the Spirit.
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16 NIV).
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25-26 NIV).
 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20 ESV).

All this is to say what is already readily apparent, our flesh is still here, but it must be dealt with by the power of the Spirit. As believers, the Spirit lives within our flesh and was sent that we might overcome the flesh. Does this sound like a new concept to you? It is not new. Ezekiel knew all about it thousands of years ago when through him, God promised (twice) that this would be so.
“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ez 11:19 NIV).
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36:26 NIV).
If our flesh is unworthy, why would God give us a heart made of flesh so that his Spirit could reside there? Because, that is how God's unlikely plan of redemption was meant to unfold.  Christ in us is the fruit of that redemption. Because of what he accomplished, he lives in our flesh just as he lived in his own flesh. We are not worthy of this, except for the fact that he makes us worthy. The spirit of the antichrist is any force or influence which denies that Jesus Christ has come in our flesh to carry on the ministry of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. All we can ever be for Christ is only by what he has accomplished within us that we may be enabled to co-labor with him. As Michael Card wrote in his song, To The Mystery, "He was made like us, so we could be like him." If this were not true, these Scriptures would not have been so clear otherwise:
“Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV)
“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus” (1 Jn 4:17 NIV).
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12 NIV).
“You are the light of the world. …let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:14,16 NIV).
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (Jn 14:12 NIV).
I especially like the fact that Jesus tells us that he is the light of the world, and then turns around and tells us that we are the light of the world. This was not written as poetry to be admired, but as a truth to be lived. Any voice that purposes to buffet the work of Christ in us is from the Spirit of the antichrist—the spirit of the world. John tells us that false prophets have gone into the world, but these are not necessarily those who take on some sort of grandiose position or public platform! This warning speaks more to the tone and source of their voice than their position or status. John tells us that the spirit of the antichrist was already in the world back then as the voice of how the world thinks and speaks. We are to test those voices to determine their source. Those who deny that Christ has come in our flesh, exist to deter the work of Christ within us.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 Jn 4:1-4 NIV).
These voices are in the world and are from the world. But John tells us that the good news is that we have already overcome the world! How could we manage such a thing? There is nothing good that resides in our flesh, right? That is true, except for the fact that the Spirit of Christ has come to reside within the flesh of the believer and guess what…he overcame the forces of the world and the voice by which they speak so that through him, we have done the same:
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:13-15 NIV).
Again, Paul spells it all out. Our flesh was dead because of sin...sin was dealt with along with the principalities and powers connected with it. These contrary voices of influence have been defeated. Paul goes on to connect the dots by defining our mission:
“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:6,10 NIV).
That is why Christ in us is the hope of glory. He has given us his heart of redeemed flesh that he can carry on his mission through us. That’s why we’re called The Body of Christ! It is his body, made up of his flesh. Any voice that denies this truth is trying to usurp our place and thwart God’s plan. That’s what a false prophet does. They speak a false humility that says that we’re not worthy to carry the cause of Christ. True humility, on the other hand, says that we will lay down our own way of thinking and listen to what the Spirit says:
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Co 2:14-16 NIV).
We have been given hearts of flesh so that the Spirit can give us the mind of Christ. Any voice that denies this fact comes from the spirit of the antichrist which has gone into the world where human judgments are born. Jesus has come in the flesh of the Body of Christ with the same mission he’s always had, to destroy the works of the evil one (1 Jn 3:8). That includes these contrary voices which deny that Jesus has come in the flesh. We take these voices captive, just like Jesus did in the wilderness.
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Co 10:3-5 NIV)
I suggest we stop searching for some kind of personification of the spirit of the antichrist and acknowledge that John was merely pointing out the influence already embedded in the way the world works. Individuals who speak these words will come and go, just as John told us they would, “…as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come.” Many means…many. But he also tells us to take heart because we have already overcome them.

So while many people, even believers have pined for a physical manifestation of Christ that they can hold onto, the truth is that the Church is that physical manifestation. As we express him, he lives more vitally through us. If that idea feels foreign to us, than we need simply to ask for a greater revelation of our place in the Kingdom and the purpose for which we were called.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph 2:19-22 NIV).
Or flesh is the dwelling place where God lives by his Spirit. It could not be presented more plainly than that.