By John Yates
An article headed Joe Dakuitoga well-versed in ways of miracles, underscored by the citation, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) recently appeared in our national newspaper1.
Joe is the national coach of the Fiji rugby team, he is quoted, “”We believe God is going to give us the strength. We pray to the almighty God that he will give us the spirit and courage to play against Australia.””I said we have a lot of prayers – everyone in Fiji is praying for us.” Big Joe then refers to Philippians 4:13….Its message is one of faith and belief that with God’s help, anything can be achieved at any given time in any given circumstance.”
Fiji is not a Western nation, but why can’t such a God- consciousness be our portion? Is the Lord prejudiced against affluent folk in general and whites in particular? Or is there a message that will grip church and culture like justification by faith did in the sixteenth century, holiness in the time of Wesley, kingdom care for the poor when the Salvation Army was born, or power from on high at the onset of Pentecostalism. God has a particular message for different times and seasons in history that somehow impacts the spirit of the age and ignites a reviving work. This is the focus of the present teaching.
Crying Out for Presence
Sometimes the best way to sense where the Lord is going is to work backwards. You look at the keyhole to see the shape of the key2. The hedonism of our society with its insatiable search for “sex, drugs and rock n roll” and the increasing focus on extreme phenomena in the church3 have sensationalism in common. By “sensation – alism” I mean sensuality or sensual experience. This preoccupation with feeling is best interpreted as a substitute for a lack of intimacy. The old science saying, “nature abhors (hates) a vacuum” is as true of relational space as it is of physical space. MySpace, You Tube, Facebook, endless blogs, SMSing and so on are all inwardly motivated by the goal of filling up the inner life. Put most simply, people who know that they are loved do not become addicted to substances and material consumption. They are too inwardly content to need these destructive behaviours.
Transformation in church and society today can only come about through a living experience of the personal presence of Christ. Not a presence promoted by a privatised spirituality or the heightened atmosphere that is cultivated in some church meetings. It is the realisation of a presence that already exists and in which “we live, move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Death as the Absence of Presence
Scripture speaks of humanity existing in a chronic state of the fear of death. Christ came “to destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Heb 2:14 – 15). People in Western societies are not visibly anxious over physical death, most expect to live long lives. Our addicted, driven, pleasure crazy lifestyles however witness infallibly to an enormous fear of permanent separation from the objects that are desired most (comfort, happiness, pleasure, “a good time”. This fear is fundamentally the fear of death. The importance of the current economic crisis is that it brings such fears of loss close to the surface.
Today’s popular society no longer has any care about God himself, only about the good things he may have the power to distribute or withhold. We are in the depths of idolatry because the prevailing spiritual atmosphere equates who God is with what he gives. The origin of this fundamental confusion – evil.
James says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (1:15). Peter is even more explicit, “corruption4 …is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Pet 1:4b). The reality of death in the world did not commence when the first human being expired, but when the first human being thought of themselves before they thought of God5. Sinners “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) by separating themselves from the unity of the fellowship of the Trinity. To turn one’s will against the holy will of God is to lose connection with the eternal. Evil desire is the ultimate basis for death and dying6.
Since capitalist societies function by stimulating greed and lusts, they are always in the shadow of death. Their state of intoxicated blindness7 is so deep that the only suggested remedy for the present economic chaos is to stimulate even more consumption! God help us. Sadly, the mainstream of church life in Western countries seeks to satisfy the ego’s desires, promising both a comfortable present lifestyle as well as eternal security. Such a consumer oriented “”gospel” lacks the power to deliver men and women from their fear of death. Only a participation in the glory of God can save us.
Victory over Death
When Jesus took on our flesh8 he also took on a will that was subject to temptation and the possibility of evil desire9. The place where Jesus seems to struggle to align his will with the will of the Father is Gethsemane. “he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:35 – 36). This is a very difficult text to fathom, but here is my sense of things.
For his will to be in union with the holy will of God, Jesus must will to receive the “cup” of the divine wrath10. This is to will separation from the Father, who is however the sole object of the Son of God’s desire from eternity. In choosing separation he is choosing to endure the pain of eternal death (hell) on the cross. It means choosing the suffering of exclusion “from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess 2:9) on our behalf. This is the absolutely perfect God – centred act of Christ that makes the once corrupted human will has been made completely whole.
The manifestation of this most powerful of all healings, the healing of human will/desire, comes in the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is the full expression of God’s joy as a Father11. In Christ, humanity now dwells in the perfect unity of God12. Dwelling in the unity of the fellowship of the divine trinity, death, in its eternal sense, is an impossibility for believers. “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life…. everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 5:24; 11:26). Only the manifest presence of the risen Christ bathed in God’s resurrection favour and joy can convert our society. Here is an example shared by a friend of what that looks like.
A devout Christian mother was recently dying from cancer in a hospital bed in Perth. As she passed her final days “there was singing and praying in that room”, “when the staff felt under pressure with their work they would come and stand in that room” (to absorb the atmosphere) because “something different was there”. Since the dying woman was “born again, not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet 1:23), what enveloped the room was the presence of the resurrection life of Jesus in its fear destroying power.
Recently I was deeply impacted by the words of a classic hymn13 about the experience of a Christian at death:
“When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee;
I will ever give to Thee.”
Great as this truth about our conquest of physical death, the Spirit is speaking about the manifestation of the glory of the resurrection NOW.
Christ’s Presence in All things
“He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” (Eph 4:10) Jesus’ aim is to fill every created space – in the home, workplace and recreation etc – with his presence. This is the vocation of the church as “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:23). Since “all things” were created for Jesus (Col 1:16) it is their destiny to receive him – at their deepest level of being, family, government, arts, media, education, law, business and all the spheres of human life are crying out for the manifestation of the Son of God. In Paul’s thinking, creation will only be fully free from its bondage to corruption14 when all the sons of God put on their resurrection bodies (Rom 8:19 – 23). Yet a potential exists for a vital manifestation of the future glory of all things NOW15.
The key to a bold manifestation of the presence of Jesus in every living space is the revelation that our intimacy with the Lord is indestructible. All who “cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Rom 8:15) have had their cry for closeness satisfied beyond imaginings. Since we know nothing “…in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord…” (Rom 8:39) that fallen human sense of separation from the object of desire that stimulates the fear of death has been defeated in us16.
This is a real experience, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27)17. In Christ, we are covered with resurrection life. “If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom 8:10)18. Even whilst our physical bodies remain in a state of death, the Spirit envelops those recreated in God’s likeness with the power of the saving life of Jesus. We are “clothed with (resurrection) power from on high” (Luke 24:49). We live and move and have our being in a state beyond eternal death.
Societies go through a change of “spiritual atmosphere”19 when men and women become aware of the resurrection life of Jesus permeating “all things” through the church. Sinners sense not only the Spirit convicting them, but beyond this the presence of “the power of an indestructible life” (Heb 7:16) inviting them to share with him eternal intimacy. In the light of this unsurpassable revelation the choice between “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” and Jesus becomes unbearably clear. If this is God’s pleasing will for our times, why are we not sensing and seeing it?
Glory from men
Our chief problem is idolatry, and the most potent sort of idol is another human being20. In The Fall, humanity “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Rom 1:23). Wherever we are men – pleasers, we substitute our sense of Christ “”the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15)” for a likeness that speaks of death, “mortal man”. To exalt any other human being than Jesus is to lose the presence and power of the eternal. As Jesus said, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).
I continue to come across websites of churches, denominations and prayer movements, and hear sermons and prayers where the name of Jesus is marginalised. Speaking of “such and such’s” church/ministry/gifting has become normal amongst us. As long as the people of God succumb to this atmosphere, they can never be free from subjection to idolatry and fear of death21. They remain powerless to free the culture from its deepest bondages.
Do you believe that you are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4) and so bear God’s “eternal power” (Rom 1:20)? If we “have escaped the corruption in the world due to sinful passions” (2 Pet 1:4,) how is it that our lifestyles and priorities are not noticeably different from those who are perishing? If we are clothed with Christ for whom “all things were made” (Col 1:16) how can there be places in our everyday lives where we live as if there were no creator?
It is death to idolatry that quickens the resurrection life in which we dwell and which dwells in us. When this happens, the future glorification of all things in the image of the resurrected Lord becomes crystal clear to our spirits. We are then inwardly compelled to see all things move towards this goal – this is how a great missionary movement will commence amongst us. Resurrection power for mission will be the subject of my next prophetic word from the Spirit.
- The Weekend Australian 15- 16 November 17, 2008 p.53 [↩]
- Similar to the argument for the existence of God by the famous Christian scientist and Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662. All human beings have a “God- shaped gap” in their lives that only God can satisfy. [↩]
- Such as the growing interest in things like gold dust, gem stones, fragrant anointing oils, dental miracles. [↩]
- The word means that which brings decay and so destruction e.g. Rom 8:21; Gal 6:8; 1 Cor 15:42. [↩]
- Compare, “she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives”. (1 Tim 5:6) [↩]
- All great teachers (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin etc.) have understood that the locus of destruction is in a perverted will. [↩]
- Babylon is drunk with the blood of the martyrs (Rev 17). [↩]
- John 1:14; Rom 1:3; 8:3; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 2:14; 1 John 4:2 etc. [↩]
- The Early Church declared heretical the view that Jesus lacked a genuine human will (monotheletism). [↩]
- E.g. “you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath” (Isa 51:17. Cf. 51:22; Jer 25:15; Ezek 23:33 etc.) [↩]
- “Jesus…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb 12:2) [↩]
- “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3) [↩]
- Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah [↩]
- That is, the corruption caused by evil desire (see above). [↩]
- This truth is deeply embedded in the structure of Romans 8. [↩]
- “Jesus… abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10) [↩]
- Compare Rom 13:14; Eph 4:24; Col 3:10. [↩]
- In Paul’s thought the righteousness here is Christ’s for us, obtained by his death (2 Cor 5:21) and released in his resurrection (Rom 4:25; 1 Tim 3:16). [↩]
- I experienced this in Argentina, where “my” sensitivity to the Holy Spirit dramatically intensified as soon as I stepped off the plane. [↩]
- Hence the antichrist is a human being making divine claims reinforced by his apparent resurrection from the dead (2 Thess 2:3 – 4; Rev 13:3 – 4). [↩]
- Signs and wonders cannot free humans from the fear of death unless they explicitly point to the resurrection of Jesus. An examination of scripture will reveal this is the apostolic paradigm. [↩]