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Monday, April 24, 2017

What It Means To Be A Christian # 8

What It Means To Be A Christian # 8

(f) A New Set of Capacities

Further, we have a new set of capacities. This is a wonderful thing about the new creation life, this "born anew' life, this true Christian life. We get a new set of mental capacities, something different from, and additional to, and altogether transcending natural mental capacity. It is a new understanding of things, and it is one of the wonders of the Christian life. You may find a person who has had no great advantages academically, educationally, or in any other realm, a very ordinary person: and yet, when they come into a real experience of the Christian life, it is remarkable how they acquire an entirely new understanding and intelligence. They have an insight into the things that a man of the highest education and the biggest brain is - by these means alone - entirely incapable of grasping or understanding.

This is something that the Christian knows to be so true. Very often we may think that a certain person, because of such academic achievements and qualifications, is bound to be able to understand, we are bound to have good interchange and fellowship with them: yet, when we begin to speak about the things of the Lord, we meet a blank - they do not know what we are talking about. But here is this simple man or woman who knows. They have a new mental faculty, a new set of capacities and powers for understanding the things of the Spirit of God, for knowing what no natural man can know - not by the way of study, but by the way of communion with God.

And these wonderful new capacities grow and develop as the Christian goes on. We find that we have new powers of transaction and inaction - of 'doing.' The Christian has the power of doing things that other people cannot do: a power of endurance, a power of overcoming, and a power of working. Many of my readers will understand me when I say that sometimes - indeed very often - it seems that the Lord takes pains to undercut our natural ability for doing, in order to lead us into a life where we can do without abilities, without any natural explanation at all. If you look at much that has been done through true Christians, in this world's history, you will not be able to account for it at all on natural grounds. They were weak things, frail things, things at a discount in this world. But just see what God has done through the "weak things" and the "thing that are not!"

(g) A New Hope

A new hope - that is characteristic of the true Christian. An altogether new prospect has leapt into view; we shall see more of that later. But here it must be stated that the Christian, if a true Christian, is not one characterized by despair, by hopelessness, by a sense of final frustration and disappointment. A Christian is one, deep down in whose very being there is rooted the consciousness that there is something wonderful ahead, something beyond. The final argument for the afterward is not in any system of teaching about Heaven or its alternative. It is found in the heart, in the life - it is found in a mighty dynamic. What is it that has kept Christians going in the face of unspeakable difficulties and sufferings and opposition? What is it? Others capitulate, give up, let go, fall into despair. The Christian just goes on. And it is not because the Christian is of any better natural caliber than others, with more tenacity and doggedness. Not at all. So often they are the weak ones, as counted by men; but there is this going on. They are gripped by an inward conviction that this is not the end, this is not all, there is something beyond. There is this "hope," which has come from the "God of hope."

The Secret of the "All Things New"

Now what is the explanation of it all - a new life, a new consciousness, new relationships, all things new? We are not exaggerating the Christian life. What does it amount to? What is the inclusive secret of it? You see, it is not just that the Christian receives some abstract things. You may call it life, you may call it understanding, you may call it hope, you may call it power, but these are not merely abstract things. The true, born-anew Christian has received, not abstractions, but a PERSON. The inclusive explanation of it all is the gift of the Holy Spirit. God gives His Spirit to them that obey Him (Acts 5:32).

Now, the Holy Spirit is God, no less than God, and the Holy Spirit has all the intelligence and knowledge of God, all the eternal prospect of God; the elements of eternity, timelessness. All that is true of God is true of the Holy Spirit. If, then, God gives the Holy Spirit to become resident inside a person, and that person learns from the beginning, like a babe, day by day, year by year, to walk in fellowship with the indwelling Holy Spirit, that person is bound to grow in all these characteristics that we have mentioned.

In the first place, they are bound to know Divine life - God's own life within. This is a most wonderful thing, when you think of it. We have not just an "IT," but Himself, God in Christ by the Holy Spirit, as our very life. I love the way the Bible puts that about God: "He is... the length of thy days" (Deut. 30:20). Think about that. It means that if God really is our portion, resident within, then our duration, our spell, is not dictated by natural things. He is the length of our days. We shall die when He says that the time has come, and not before. You see, all things are in His hand, and until that time comes the threats may be many, but His life persists, and we rise again and rise again and rise again. We thought the end had come, but we rise again and rise again and go on - because He is our life. The Holy Spirit is called "the Spirit of life" (Rom. 8:2). To have such a Person resident within is a very wonderful thing.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 9)

Friday, April 21, 2017

What It Means To Be A Christian # 7

What It Means To Be A Christian # 7

What Happens When We Become Christians?

That brings us to a very practical point in approaching this question: What exactly happens when we become Christians? There are two fragments of New Testament Scripture which I think sum this up for us very concisely and very fully. The one is that statement, so familiar and yet so little understood even by Christians, the statement made to the man to whom I referred just now, who came with his big question - his multiple "How ...?" Jesus simply looked at him, and did not try to answer his question at all, because He knew how hopeless a thing it is to talk to a dead man. He looked at him, and said: "Ye must be born anew," or "Ye must be born from above" (John 3:7). The other passage, from one of Paul's letters, is also very well known: "Wherefore if any man is in Christ, there is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those two words sum up what happens: "born anew", "a new creation."

I said I would keep off negative ground and on positive, but let me say here in parenthesis that it is NOT becoming a Christian just to accept, or give a mental assent to, the tenets of the Christian religion, or to join some society which has the name of being a Christian institution, even though it may go by the name of 'church.' That is NOT becoming a Christian in the New Testament sense. The only true 'becoming a Christian' is by way of being born anew, becoming a new creation: which means you become a different species from what you were before, and from what all other people are who have not had that experience.

But when we so become Christians, what happens? Our state of death gives place to a state of life. This other life, this resurrection life, which no man by nature has ever yet had, excepting Jesus Christ; this life - which we will not even refer to in the New Testament terminology - is given in the day of our faith-exercise toward the Lord Jesus as Lord and Saviour. A new aliveness takes place. It is the first wonderful basic experience of the Christian. The Christian at that time leaps into life: he immediately begins to talk a new language about now knowing what it is to live, knowing the meaning of life, and so on. What happens when we become Christians? Well, we are alive from the dead! We become alive.

But it is not just the resuscitation of something. It is the impartation of what was never there before - a new life, belonging to a new creation: that is, a new order, which is a heavenly order. For this is birth "from above." Jesus never said a truer thing than that. "Ye must be born again." If there is someone reading these lines who has not had that experience, you know, after what we have said about the natural condition, that, if you are going to see God and hear God and feel and sense God, in the way of which we have spoken, something has got to happen to you which is as radical as being born all over again in another realm. Jesus is right at any rate on that, is He not? It is true. "You must ..." - it is not just an imperative of command, it is not just a declaration that you have got to become a Christian to be accepted with God. It is the statement of a fundamental and inescapable fact: that you can never, never know God in a real way,far less have living fellowship with God, until something has happened in you that is absolutely constitutional. You have got to have a new life, which, is God's own life, to enable you to understand what God is, to know Him.

(b) A New Consciousness of God

This new life immediately introduces a new consciousness of God. Immediately you are alive to God - you sense God. God becomes a reality, a living reality: no longer remote, far off, indefinite, but now very dear, very real, very wonderful, indeed the greatest reality in your whole life. You know God in a new way, you have a new consciousness of God.

(c) A New Consciousness of the Meaning of Our Existence

And then you find you have a new consciousness of the meaning of your own existence. Every Christian who is truly founded upon this basis of beginning, of resurrection, almost immediately leaps into this consciousness: 'Now I have got the explanation of life, I have got the key to life. I know that I was born for something! I never before knew that I was really born for something, but I know now. There is a sense of meaning in my being here, and of destiny, wrapped up with this new experience. It gives an explanation to my own life.' Is that not true, Christians? It is - it is just like that. 'Now we know why we are here!'

(d) A New Consciousness of Purpose and Vocation

And to carry that one step further - it is a new consciousness of purpose and vocation. It is not only that there is a meaning in our being alive, but that a purpose has come in with this new life, a sense of vocation. We are called for something. You do not have to have a lot of instruction about that. You do not even have to wait for it. The truly born again child of God spontaneously, instinctively, begins to talk to other people about it. You can test your Christian life by that. You just must tell them, you must talk about it, you must let them know. That is vocation coming out. You feel you are called for something, that there is business on hand. And that can develop, as we know, to specific vocations. But this consciousness of purpose, meaning and vocation springs up with new life.

(e) A New Set of Relationships, Interests, and Desires

And then we find we have a new set of relationships, of interests, of desires. We know that; it happens. It is no use talking to anybody who has not had the experience about these things. They have their relationships, their interests, their desires, and they just despise you for not doing what they do and going where they go and engaging in the things which are everything to them. They do not understand you. They think you have missed the way, that you have lost everything that is worth having. But you know quite well that it is just the other way round. You do not despise them, but you pity them, are sorry for them. This is a transcendent, superlative set of relationships. Christians know the meaning of a little phrase that was used about some early servants of God who were arrested because they were doing this very thing - fulfilling, expressing, the sense of vocation, and not keeping it in and keeping it to themselves. They were arrested and brought before the authorities and threatened. 'And being let go, they went to their own company' - instinctively to their own company' (Acts 4:23). We know what that means. There is a new "company" - a new relationship, a new fellowship, a new set of desires and interests. No one else can understand or appreciate it, but the Christian knows.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 8)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What It Means Be a Christian # 6

What It Means Be a Christian # 6

What Happens When We Become Christians

But that is more or less neutral or negative. In most cases the situation is much worse than that - it is positively antagonistic. Man is in a state of antagonism to God in his nature, and often in his mind, in his attitude, and in his reference to God; there is a state of conflict, there is suspicion in man's mind as to God. A great deal of resentment exists in many human hearts. And we can go further - for the Bible goes this far - and say that in some cases, perhaps in not a few, there is even hatred in the human heart for God. We meet that sometimes. So that is the first fact - the relationship between man and God is chaotic, broken-down, dislocated or disrupted.

Spiritual Faculties Which Are Not Functioning

That is not all. We need to get inside of that and go further. Man has a set of senses belonging to his spiritual being which are not functioning - a set of senses which correspond to his physical senses. The physical senses, as we know, are seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling. But man has another set of five senses which are not physical, but which belong to his inner man. They are the counterpart of those five physical senses, and in man by nature these other senses are not functioning. The Bible speaks of all these senses in a spiritual way in relation to God.

The Bible speaks of a seeing of God, which is not physical at all; it is not with the natural eye. There is that little fragment known to most: "The pure in heart ... shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). That is certainly not a physical matter.

Again, hearing. There is a spiritual hearing of God which is not audition through the natural or physical ear. It is something in the heart. It is not the hearing of an audible voice, but it corresponds to that in a spiritual way. People are able to say they have heard the Lord speak to them, but they never heard anything with their natural ear.

Tasting? Yes, the Bible says: "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8), and no one thinks that that is a physical matter.

Smelling? - that seems to be difficult, perhaps. But we know what we mean, without any physical factor coming in, when we say that we are 'scenting' something. We go into a room, and somehow we detect that there is 'something in the air.' People have been talking, and when we go in we see embarrassment on their faces, and they suddenly become quiet and look at one another, and we 'scent' something. In an analogous way, we know that it is possible to sense the presence of God. There are thus a whole set of spiritual faculties which, when they are in proper order and function, serve to relate us to God; and in the natural man, the unregenerate man, those senses are not functioning at all. There is no seeing God, in that way; there is no hearing God speak to him; there in no sensing or feeling God - it is a tremendous thing to feel God, not with your hands, but in an inward way. There is no 'tasting that the Lord is good' in the natural man. All these things are out of order - and yet the Bible speaks of them a very great deal. The Bible teaches, and man's condition corroborates, that, where God is concerned, man is blind, man is deaf, man is numbed, has no feelings, is insensitive to God. Is that not so? That is a true description of anyone - it may be you who are reading these lines - who has not had a definite Christian experience. You do not see God in this way, you do not hear God, you do not feel God, you do not sense God; God is unreal, remote, far away, if He is at all. You do not know Him.

It is not real contradiction of the above and of what follows when we say that in most cases - very, very few exceptions exist - there is a consciousness of the existence of some supreme Object demanding recognition. Our point is that there is no fellowship, understanding, knowledge, or living relationship with God.

Man By Nature Dead to God

But the Bible goes further still. It says that man by natural birth is lacking in yet another thing, which corresponds to his - may I use the phrase? - biological existence, his life. We have a biological existence which we call life. Now it is a very significant thing that the New Testament puts two different words over two different classes of people. It uses one word (bios) for natural life, but it never uses that word of the life of the Christian. For that it uses an entirely different word, with an altogether different meaning. What the Bible says is that man by nature not only lacks the functions of his spiritual senses, but even lacks that which corresponds to his natural existence - life. In a word, the Bible says that man is dead; not only blind and deaf and insensitive to God, but dead. "Death passed upon all men" (Romans 5:12), says the Word of God. By nature man is dead to God.

Dead to the Meaning of His Own Existence

And he is dead to the true meaning of his own existence. Man by nature does not know why he was born, why he has a being. We have all sorts of accounts of his being - wild explanations and excuses, shelving responsibility, and so on, all proving that he is entirely dead to the real meaning of his own existence. He makes the best of it - and sometimes it is quite a good best that a man makes of his life; but, after all, when set in relation to God and in relation to eternity, he does not know why he is alive, why he has a being. He is dead to that. He is dead to eternal and heavenly things and values. What a futile and hopeless thing it is  to talk to man by nature about the things of Heaven and the things of God! He looks at you, he gapes at you, he does not know what you are talking about. That belongs to a world with which he is just not acquainted. It is something foreign, far off, and he is utterly bored.

He may be a very good man from certain standpoints, a very educated man. He may be occupying a position of high esteem and respect among men - he may even be a very religious man. There was such a man who came to Jesus, an outstanding specimen of the best product of humanity outside of Christ; but over him was suspended one big question mark. He was full of interrogations - "How...? How...? And Jesus said, in effect: 'Well, it is no use talking to you about heavenly things at all. You do not belong to that realm; you are just dead to that.'

Now, is that true? I said at the beginning that you can put everything to the test. This is not a statement of abstract Christian doctrine. This is a statement of fact which is verifiable. Some of you may be actually knowing the truth of it now, in your own experience. Many of you did know it in time past, but, thank God, you know it no longer. According to the Bible, man is dead. It is useless to speak to a corpse - you will get nothing back. As far as the things of God are concerned, man makes no response. There is no correspondence, no interchange, no communion, no fellowship possible. That is what the Bible and human experience say as to man's condition by nature.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 7)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What It Means to Be A Christian # 5

What It Means to Be A Christian # 5

The Incarnation of the Lord Jesus - continued

Well, all this is the setting of the Christian life; this is the background of a Christian. Is it not immense? We struggle for words in order to try to set it forth, it is so great. All I can hope to do is to leave an impression on you. I cannot explain, I cannot define, I cannot set it out, I cannot convey it; but all this, which is so poor an expression, surely, surely, should leave at least an impression upon us. We should at least grasp this - that a Christian is set in an eternal background. It is a wonderful thing to be converted and to become a Christian; it is blessed to be saved; but oh! our conception and experience of the Christian life is such a little thing compared with God's thought. We need to get the eternal dimensions of the significance of Jesus Christ as the setting of a Christian life.

Christianity does not begin when we accept Christ. By accepting Christ we are placed right back there in the eternity of God's thought concerning man. We are brought into something that has been from all eternity in the intention of God, and, as we shall see later, linked on with a realization unspeakably wonderful in the ages to come. To become a child of God, to be born again, however you may define or explain it, is to come right into something that is first of all not of time at all - it is of eternity - it is not just this little life here on earth; it is of Heaven, it is universal in its significance. It is a wonderful thing, beyond all our powers of grasping, to be a Christian. If we could only get some conception of the cost of our salvation, the cost of redemption, the cost of recovering the lost inheritance; the cost to God, the cost to God's Son - the awful depths of that Cross; if only we could get some idea of this, we should see that it is no little thing to be a Christian. It is something immense.

What I have said has not been outside the Word of God; I have been keeping closely to the Book. I have not turned you from passage to passage, but there is a vast amount of Scripture behind what I have said. All that I have given you, and more, is in the Word of God. And the important thing is that what I have said can be put to the test - it can be made true in experience, now, in this life. That is just the wonder of it: a truly born-from-above child of God knows within himself or herself, 'This is true; this is why I have a being; now I have the explanation, and much more.'

Now if this is true, if all that is the meaning of being in Christ - and I put the "if" by way of argument - what an immense challenge it is to be a Christian, and what a terrible thing it will be not to be in Christ. What an immense thing it will prove to be, not only in this life, but more, infinitely more, in the ages to come, to be in Christ!

If there is one reading these lines who is not yet in Christ, it is a challenge to you. You are not dealing merely with your father's or your mother's beliefs or faith. You are not dealing with something that you call "Christianity," or with your own conception of a Christian, which may be all wrong, faulty, or  at most inadequate. You are dealing with a vast thing, an immense thing. May God help you, from this contemplation of the setting of the Christian life, to reach out, if you have never yet done so, to embrace God's gift. If we know what it is to be in Christ, let us make sure that we are set upon knowing all that the Christian life means, that we are not going to be content with a little Christian life, with anything less than God's fullness for us; and if we have a lot of experience and knowledge, let this all lead us to a new determination that we shall not stop short anywhere of God's full and ultimate intention in apprehending us in His Son.

What Happens When We Become Christians?

We are seeking to be preeminently practical. That is, we are not occupied with the presentation of Christian doctrine in itself. Christian doctrine will be here, but we are not interested in presenting the doctrines of Christianity in the abstract, important as they are. What we are concerned with is that everything shall be practical and experimental, and capable of being immediately put to the test.

There is, of course, a difference between the facts and truths of the Christian life, and the explanation of them. That is, it is possible for all the facts to be present in the life without the person concerned being able to explain the facts, and to challenge as to the facts. Now, any explanation of the Christian life should be corroborated by the experience. That is, it ought to be possible for you to say, 'Well, I could not have explained it like that, but I know exactly in my experience what you mean - that does just express my own life.' So that the explanation must be borne out by the experience: the experience must corroborate the explanation.

Let us, then, consider what happens when we become Christians. We shall spend some of our time in seeking to get behind this matter of becoming a Christian, to get to certain other facts - facts stated or revealed in the Bible, and true to human experience.

When we come to consider man as we know him, man by nature, the first thing we find is that his relationship with God is completely dislocated. We say 'dislocated,' because we believe what the Bible teaches that things were all right once, and they have gone wrong. If for the time being you prefer to waive the word 'dislocated' and substitute 'severed,' you may do so. We shall probably at least agree that things are not in order between man and God. The relationship between man and God is in a broken-down condition. That is the fundamental fact. The relationship is disjointed; it is in a state of strain. There is distance between man and God. The relationship, or perhaps we should say 'non-relationship', is a very unhappy thing: it is altogether unproductive; there is nothing coming from it. It is barren and desolate, quite unfruitful. With many God does not seem to matter, and is quite ignored.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 6)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What It Means To Be A Christian # 4

What It Means To Be A Christian # 4

The Incarnation of the Lord Jesus

We come now to the next phase of things - the incarnation of our Lord Jesus: for it is just at that point - the incarnation - that all that was appointed for Him, all the Divine design and conception of God's Son in this universe, all the creative activity through Him by Him and unto Him, and all the meaning of man's creation, as we have been trying to show, is taken up in a definite way for realization.

This incarnation, the coming of the Lord Jesus into this world, is a far, far greater thing than any of us has yet appreciated. The Word of God makes a great deal of this coming into the world. You know that, at a certain season of the year, we are talking all the time about the birth of Jesus - about Jesus being born in Bethlehem. There is much about that in our carols and in our talk. It is all about the birth of Jesus. But the Word of God, while it uses that phrase, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem ..." says far, far more than that about His coming. That was not the beginning of Jesus: that was the coming of Jesus. He definitely and deliberately and consciously, in that full form of His eternal existence with God, made a decision about this matter, a deliberate decision to come. Coming in baby form had its own particular meaning - we cannot now stay with all the details of this - but it was a coming.

And what the Word of God says first of all about that coming is that it was a mighty, mighty renunciation on His part. Listen again. "Who existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the Cross" (Philippians 2:6-8). And there is a clear implication in that sentence in His great prayer: "Father, glorify Thou Me... with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was" (John 17:5). He has let it go. He has given it up. That was the mighty renunciation by God's Son of His heavenly, eternal glory, of His position of equality - down to what? Servanthood. The word is "bond-servant": a bond-slave, the form of a bond-slave. You and I cannot grasp all that, because we cannot grasp what it meant for Him to be equal with God. We cannot understand all that He was and had in the eternity past. We know so little about that; we understand less. But here it is: it has all been renounced, and He is now here in incarnation, not as a master, but as a bond-slave. "The Son of Man," said He, "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (Matthew 20:28). "I am in the midst of you as He that serveth" (Luke 22:27). "He took a towel, and girded Himself. Then He poured water into the bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet" (John 13:4, 5). That was the job of the slave, the bond-slave.

The next part of the statement as to this cycle from glory to glory is - "being found in fashion as a man." This just relates to the central feature and inclusive meaning of the Incarnation: i.e., to all that is meant by the fact that everything was done by Man - as man - for man. There were many theophanies in Old Testament times (theos = God; phaino = to show), manifestations of God to man by actual appearances (some believe that these were the Second Person of the Trinity, but that need not be discussed here). But the Incarnation is something different, and its essential point is that the great work of redemption was not committed to angels, but, as the hymn goes:

"O generous love! that He, who smote
In man for man the foe,
the double agony in man
For man should undergo."

It was Man for man assuming responsibility for this state of things, and for the recovery of what was lost and the reinstating of what had been forfeited, the redeeming of man and creation. For that He became incarnate, and then straight to the Cross. He had no illusions about that. He had come for that. One of His great imperatives was always related to the Cross. "The Son of man must be delivered up ... and be crucified" (Luke 24:7). That imperative was in His heart as over-ruling and overriding everything else. He knew it, and that is why He repudiated and rejected the cheap offer of the kingdoms of this world at the hands of the devil: because He had come, not to have them as they were, but to have them as God ever intended them to be, and that could only be by the Cross.

So the Cross was the great repudiation of the world as it was and is, the great repudiation of man as he had become, whom God could not accept, in whose heart was found this pride. For, representatively, in the judgment  and death of Jesus Christ God was saying concerning the whole race, 'I have finished with that,' and turning His face away. The heart of the Son was broken as He cried, "Thou hast forsaken Me!" Why? Because He was there as man's representative, the world's representative as it was, and He had to die as it. He "tasted death for every man," which meant experiencing God-forsakenness, repudiation, and the closed door of Heaven, God's eternal 'No' to that fallen creation. By that means He redeemed man, He redeemed the creation, and in His resurrection-ascension to the right hand of God He reinstated man, representatively, in the place that God ever intended man to have. This is not all isolated action on the part of Jesus Christ. This is related all the time. He is the inclusive One, and what happens to Him is what God means to happen to man. Until man is in Christ he is repudiated by God, 'There is no way through. "No one cometh unto the Father, but by Me" (John 14:6). But in Christ the inheritance which was lost is recovered. In Christ, personally at God's right hand as His representative, man is reinstated. Christ is there as the earnest of what we shall be and where we shall be, by the grace of God. But, mark you, the Christ risen is not now the Christ made sin in our place, but with sin put away, and a new creation instated, though still man.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 5)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

What It Means to Be A Christian # 3

What It Means to Be A Christian # 3

The Failure of Man

Before we can follow that through into the Christian life, we have to look at that tragic interlude, as we may call it - the failure of man. We know the story, how it is written and how it is put. If you have difficulty in accepting the form in which the story is given, that is, either the actual way in which the test was set before Adam, as to the tree, the fruit, etc., or all this as symbolism, you should be helped in such difficulty by remembering that behind any form of presentation there are spiritual principles, and these are the essential and vital things. It is the meaning that matters, not so much the form of conveyance.

We want to get behind that man's failure. The Bible tells us what the source of that failure was. Here again, marvelously, we are taken right back before the creation. The veil is drawn aside and we are shown something happening outside of this world, somewhere where those counsels of God have become known. His counsels concerning His Son and the appointment of His Son as Lord of creation, as Heir of all things. It have become known among the angels, the hierarchy of Heaven., and there is one there, the greatest created being of all, lucifer, son of the morning, who becomes acquainted with this Divine intention. How - this is the mystery - how into that realm iniquity could enter we do not know: we cannot fathom the origin of sin; but what we are told is that "unrighteousness was found" in him (Ezekiel 28:15). Pride was found in his heart.

Pride immediately works out in jealousy, does it not? Think of pride again. It always immediately shows itself in jealousy, rivalry. Pride cannot endure even an equal. Pride will always lead to a trying to 'go one better' in whatever realm it is. And so all the jealousy and all the rivalry sprang into that heart. We are told in the Scripture that that one said: "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; ... I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:13, 14). He was jealous of God's Heir, and a rival to His appointment; Heaven was rent. But that one was cast out (Ezekiel 28:16-18). We are told that he was cast out of his estate together with all those who entered into that conspiracy with him against God's Son. Those "angels which kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation" (Jude 6), were cast out.

The next thing we see is the appearance of this one in beautiful guise - not with horns and tail and pitchfork! - but in beautiful guise to deceive; we see him coming into the realm of God's creation, to man and his partner. Now, what was his method? We shall never understand the meaning of the Christian life until we grasp these things. What was the method, what was the focal point, of the great arch-enemy's attack upon the man - this man whom God had created to come into fellowship with His Son in the great purpose of the ages?

The focal point was man's SELF-HOOD. I doubt whether the man had any consciousness of selfhood until satan touched him on that point and said, "Hath God said?" The insinuation was - 'God is keeping something from you that you might have; He is limiting you. God knows that, if you do this thing which He has forbidden, you yourself will have the root of the matter in yourself, you will have the capacity and faculty in yourself for knowing, knowing, knowing. At present, under this embarge of God, you have to depend entirely upon Him: you have to depend entirely upon Him: you have to consult Him, refer to Him, defer to Him; you have got to get everything from Him. And all the time you can have it in yourself, and God knows that. You see, God is withholding something from you that you might have, and you are less of a being than you might be - so God is not really favorable to you and your interests.'

It was a maligning of God. But the focal point was this: 'You, you - you can be something, you can do something, you can be "in the know" about things' -self-centerdness, self-interest, self- realization, and all the other host of "self" aspects. The "I" awoke, that "I" which had brought the enemy out of his first estate. "I will be exalted above the stars, I will be equal with the Most High.'  To awaken the "I" in man - so that, instead of man having his center in himself; instead of being God-centered, he was self-centered - that was the focal point. And man was enticed into the same pride as had brought about satan's downfall, leading to the same act of independence - nothing less than a bid for personal freedom from God.

As to the results, well, we know them. The older this world becomes, and the greater the development of this race, the more and more terrible is the manifestation of this original thing. We see a picture of man trying to get on without God, man saying that he can get on without God; man seeking to realize himself, fulfill himself, and to draw everything to himself; seeking to be himself the center of everything, not only individually but collectively. That is the story, that is the history. The results? Look at the world - all the terrible, terrible suffering, all the misery, all the horror. We should never have believed, had it not become an actuality in recent years, what man is capable of doing - all because of his break with God. We will not dwell upon it; it is too awful! If we ask, Why, why should all this suffering and misery and wretchedness go on in the world? - surely the answer is this. God can never remove from man the consequences of this act of pride and disobedience, independence and complicity with His arch-enemy, without letting man go on in his independence. All this is God's way of saying - the way in which He is compelled to say - It is an awful, awful thing, to be without God, to be in a state of breach with God.

Now suppose you come into the Christian life. That does not remove all the misery and suffering in the creation, and it does not remove the suffering from yourself, but there is a difference. The mighty between one who is outside of Christ and one who is in Christ is this: both suffer, but whereas the one suffers unto despair and hopelessness, in the sufferings of the other there is the grace of God turning it all to account to make him or her Godlike again. The others suffer without hope, die without hope, but the sufferings of a Christian are to make that one like their Lord. It is a marvelous thing to see the likeness of Christ coming out in His own through their sufferings.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 4 - The Incarnation of the Lord Jesus)

Friday, April 7, 2017

What It Means to Be A Christian # 2

What It Means to Be A Christian # 2

Christ The Object and Integrator of Creation

He is the object of creation. "In Him were all things created." "All things have been created through Him, and unto Him." And yet another statement: "For of Him, and through Him, and unto Him, are all things" (Romans 11:36). And then a further movement, or a further constituent of this creative activity and purpose, is indicated. It is found in the little clause which completes that wonderful statement that we have read earlier. "He is before all things, and in Him all things consist" (Colossians 1:17). The agent, the object, the integrated. "In Him all things hold together" - are integrated. He is therefore the very reason for the creation. Remove Him, and the creation will disintegrate. When they crucified Him and He committed His Spirit to God, saying: "Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit," there was a great earthquake, and the sun was hidden, and darkness was over the face of the earth. The very Object of the creation has been put out of His place by man. The creation knows that its very Integrator has been rejected. These are but tokens of a great fact. Jesus Christ is the very meaning of this creation: without Him the creation has no meaning.

Perhaps, if you are a thinking person, you are saying, 'Well, these are tremendous statements; they may be a wonderful theory, a system of teaching, wonderful ideas; but are they facts? How can you prove them?' My dear friend, you are yourself a proof of them. In these talks we are seeking to discover the meaning of the Christian life. Until you find Jesus Christ YOU have NO meaning  at all in your own creation. The first thing that is livingly true about one who finds Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour is that they are conscious of having found the meaning of their very being! - they have discovered why they are alive! Life then takes on its true meaning, and these are no longer just great wonderful truths, suspended in an abstract way for our contemplation, acceptance or rejection. They are borne out in the creation, and you and I are a part of it. There is no unification of our own individual lives; we are divided, scattered people; life is not an order at all - it is a chaos - until Jesus becomes the center. But when that happens, there is a marvelous integration.

We shall have to come back to that presently. At the moment we are occupied with Jesus Christ, firstly away back before the world was, and then as the Agent, Object, and Integrator of the creation. Out of this, three wonderful, though simple, things quite clearly arise. Firstly, His likeness to God - He was the very image, or impress, as the word is, of God's substance; secondly, His oneness with God; and thirdly, that aspect of His Person as the agency of God. I want you to keep those things in mind, because they are carried over and they come very much into this matter of the Christian life. With all this, however, we have to recognize a uniqueness and exclusiveness about Him, and I want to underline that as many times as I can, lest presently it might look as though I were on very dangerous ground. But I want you to extract those three things: likeness to God, oneness with God, and agency of God's purpose and God's work - in the case of Christ something unique and absolutely exclusive, gathered into the word "deity," 'very God of very God.' That, in brief - but oh, what a comprehensiveness, what a profundity, what a fullness! - that is brief is what we are told about Jesus Christ before He came into this world. Let us now pass on to what the Bible has to say about man.

Man Made to Represent God

What is the very first thing that the Bible says about man? "And God said, 'Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness' " (Genesis 1:26). That is the Divine conception, that is the Divine idea. And what does that amount to? Surely it amounts to representation of God. Any image of a thing is supposed to be the representation of that thing, and the idea or conception of man in the Divine mind was that man should represent God. Not, of course, in that exclusive sense - Deity - of which I have just spoken: that does not come into it with man at all; but in this matter of being an expression of God, bearing the likeness of God: so that if you should meet a man who answers to the Divine idea you have a very good idea of what God is like. If only that were more true! - but in a very limited way we do know something of it, when we sometimes meet what we call a 'godly' man (and 'godly' is only 'God-like' abbreviated), and we say to one another, 'When you meet that man, you seem to meet the Lord, you seem to find something of the Lord - you seem to touch what you think the Lord would be like.'

Now, that was the Divine intention, conception, idea, as to man; but the intention was that the representation should be a full one, that the existence of man should convey the knowledge of what God is like in His moral character, in the beauty of His personality, that in touching man you should touch an expression of God, and be led back to God. And therein is a principle, mark you, a principle that we ought to take up, and that is to be carried into this matter of what it means to be a Christian. All our talking about God or Christ is utterly worthless unless we convey God and Christ - unless our Lord is found in us. That is the best thing, and sometimes that does its work without any talking, whereas a vast amount of talking will do nothing unless there is a touch of the Lord there. The conception of man in the heart of God is just that He should be found in a creation.

You see, the Lord Jesus when He was here was always trying to convey, by different means, sometimes by stories or parables, an impression of what God is like. He was speaking to people of very small spiritual apprehension. He could not go beyond illustrations, pictures and figures such as, for instance, the parable - or was it a life-story? - known as "The Prodigal Son.' I think it is a misnomer. It would be better to call the story 'A Father's Love,' and you would get to the heart of what the Lord Jesus was after. What He was saying was that when you have contemplated that father, his broken heart and his marvelous forgiveness and restoration, even smothering confession before it is finished, and lavishing upon that renegade son all that he had, you have got a faint idea of what God is like. And man was intended to be endowed and endued with the Divine nature. Peter even uses those words. "He hath granted unto us His precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). Once again, let me emphasize that we leave Deity out. It is enough that we may bear the Divine likeness - a likeness in nature - without aspiring to Deity.

Oneness In Life

It was God's thought, moreover, that man should become an inheritor of the very uncreated life of God. He was put on test, on probation, and missed it. It was there in the symbolic form of the tree of life, to be had on condition, but he missed it: and so man by nature - all the children of Adam right up to our own time and ourselves - has never possessed that Divine life outside of Jesus Christ. But that is the gift. As we shall see later, that is one of the great things that happen when we become Christians: we become partakers of God's own, Divine, eternal, uncreated life.

Fellowship In Purpose

Then again, God's idea for man was not only likeness and oneness, but fellowship in purpose: that man should be brought into a working relationship with God in His great, His vast, purposes in this universe. The statement of Scripture is: "Thou madest Him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands" (Psalm 8:6) - fellowship with God. Here again we have a vast amount in the New Testament. I think we could probably say that ninety percent of the New Testament is occupied with this cooperation with God in His great purposes on the part of Christians. The Apostle Paul is so fond of using that phrase, 'according to His purpose.' Fellowship in the purpose of God - that was in God's mind in creating man.

But note, that all this likeness in nature, oneness in life, and fellowship in purpose, is related inseparably to God's Son, Jesus Christ: there can be none of it apart from the appointed Heir. We are said to be "joint heirs"; that is, we come into things by union with Christ. So the Apostle Paul has as his abundant phrase, found everywhere (two hundred times) in his writings ' "in Christ", "in Christ": nothing apart from Christ, nothing outside of Christ. It is all in Christ, inseparably bound up with God's eternally appointed Heir of all things.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 3 - The Failure of Man