Space: A Vision of Total Discipleship
by Guest Author
Written by John Yates
In the midst of a conversation dealing with the contemporary discipleship crisis, I sensed forcefully the Spirit saying that every space is holy and created for the making of disciples. This teaching is a call for disciple-making in a global context, for this is where the wisdom of God has confronted Western Christianity with two movements that expose its impotency. The first of these is radical Islam.
The power of Islam is that it offers a unified vision of all of life: religion, politics, culture, economics, family and so on are a seamless whole. An Islamic theocracy sees no need to allow its citizens “space to choose”1; the all embracing requirements of Allah require only submission. Lacking the power of genuine religion (2 Tim 3:5) most Western Christians either pretend that true Islam is a “peaceful religion” or resort to political rhetoric. This is because mainstream affluent Christian culture has succumbed to foundational influences emanating from the other global movement of today, postmodernism.
Postmodernism is a complete socio-cultural phenomenon2 which absolutises the place of the individual. A postmodern worldview3 is deeply suspicious of any ideology or institution that impinges upon their personal right to choose. Others can live how they wish, as long as it does not impinge upon my chosen lifestyle4. In the postmodern view God is reduced to a means to a more comfortable lifestyle.
Without a new and total vision of reality, free from both the constraints of exterior authoritarianism, as in Islam, and rampant individualism, as in postmodernism, the Western church is doomed to continuing powerlessness. This paper is an attempt to outline such a vision.
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:10). The Father, Son and Spirit have no private space but only interpersonal space. Each member of the Godhead exists only in(side) their relationships with the others. God’s own “space” is completely full of himself, filled to the full with mutual love (1 John 4:8). The presence of God is the life of God. Scripture attempts to communicate these ineffable truths by stretching our imaginations beyond constraint.
The revelation of the divine name to Moses, ““I AM WHO I AM.”“ (Ex 3:14)5, is virtually imponderable. It does however signify that the LORD is not subject to the restrictions of space-time which define his creatures. Similarly, when the heavenly beings closest to the throne of God ceaselessly cry aloud, ““Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”“ (Rev 4:8), we are in the same realm of illimitability over space and time. Such immeasurable sovereignty can be perceived as either a threat or a promise.
The mystery of the beginning of creation (Gen 1:1) is incomprehensible in the language of physics or mathematics because it is fully personal. Space-time came into being as the coordinated loving will of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit was extended to include creatures in the divine life. God is the source of the space in which we live and the time in which we travel, “‘in him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28). If God was to withdraw his upholding presence from the world (Heb 1:3) it would immediately collapse back into non existence.
The ultimate meaning of all space-time is that it exists for loving fellowship. This is conveyed in the saying, “covenant is the internal basis of creation.” (Barth). There is a creation because God willed to have a covenant partner in love with him as he is with us.
The biblical creation story is filled out in the history of Israel whose deepest identity is that of God’s beloved son (Ex 4:23; Jer 31:20). The Old Testament teaches us through the law and the prophets that the world is a training school in the way of God. The inner purpose of existence is the disciplining of the sons of God. This was a lesson that God’s first son Adam (Luke 3:38) was called to learn.
As a covenant son (Hos 6:7) Adam was called to grow both inwardly and outwardly. The outward movement of filling the earth with the Lord’s presence (Gen 1:26) would flow from his inner transformation. The key to inner growth was “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, for “knowledge” means insight6. Access to this tree was however specifically prohibited by God (Gen 2:17).
Satan’s great temptation to induce Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge for the seemingly noble purpose “to make one wise” (Gen 3:6). This would mean the personal ability to see into the moral structure of the universe of good-and-evil. To “become like God” would grant sovereign moral autonomy; whatever I decide is good is good for me, and whatever I decide is evil is evil for me. Such individualistic aspirations however totally fail to understand the relational power of holiness.
Holiness means separation from all that would separate us from the presence of God7. God is supremely holy because Father, Son and Spirit are fully bonded to one another as they share the one goodness, righteousness, wisdom and so on. The three Persons of the Trinity are fully aware of each other’s inner world. For a creature to be fully holy would involve a decision of the will to attach itself to God’s presence and activity in all things, and so to see God as he sees himself in everything. If Adam and Eve had obeyed God in holy fear8 concerning the tree of knowledge the eyes of their heart would have been enlightened (Ps 19:8; Eph 1:18) to see the intensity of the divine presence in everything9. In immediately seeing the tree of knowledge they would have hated evil as God hates it and loved good as God loves it. The discipline of God would have reached its goal for his first sons would have been perfected in love.
Adam and Eve chose however their own self-interest and self importance. They suddenly saw in themselves shame and guilt, and perceived God as harsh Judge whose holiness must be avoided at all costs. God avoidance comes through idolatry, attributing ultimate status to entities that are not God (Gal 4:8). This may be the religious idol called “Allah”, or the postmodern idol that goes by the name “self”. Only God himself can re-teach us who he truly is. It is Jesus who must reclaim human space for God.
In Jesus divine and human space is one, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily“ (Col 2:9). Every place in his life was filled with “the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34). Jesus had no consciousness of a private space; neither was he constrained by social pressures to conform to any values or behaviours outside his Father. Being completely set apart he was the Holy One of God (Mark 1:24; John 6:69) an as the Son of God (Luke 1:35) all things were open to his discernment. “He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” (John 2:25). Seeing the presence and moving direction of the Father in everything his prayers for the action of the kingdom of God were always heard (John 11:42).
The one great exception to this is the cry of dereliction, ““there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” … “at the ninth hour Jesus cried with aloud voice…“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”“ (Mark 15:33-34). The darkness which engulfs Jesus is the darkness of the Day of Judgement (Joel 2:31; Amos 5:8, 18; Acts 2:20). Christ has been plunged into the “outer darkness” (Matt 8:12), where the purposes of God cannot be discerned and one is left only with self-consciousness. This is the ultimate private space, and it is hell. This is how Jesus carries away the old fallen sphere of space-time
The resurrection means a whole new creation where “the knowledge of the glory of God” (Hab 2:14) is accessible to the redeemed. Since “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things“ (Col 1:19-20) it is now possible for the saints to see, understand and share in God’s universal purpose in everything. This is how we can fulfil Jesus’ great commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).
Sacred Space Everywhere
A Christian is someone who has received the Spirit of the glorified Lord (John 7:39; Rom 8:9)10 who is sovereign Lord (Acts 10:36) of every element of space time. It is the glorious commission of the church is God’s to make this presence known everywhere, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:22-23)11. The grand destiny of the people of God is to participate with Christ in the Father’s plan, “his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:9-10). Our vision is not more or larger churches but that the whole of space-time is filled with the grandeur of Christ.
This supreme destiny becomes truly real as we become conscious of our Bridal status. In the covenant of marriage no private space belongs to one partner alone – the total, permanent and exclusive12 nature of husband-wife sharing is the very essence of matrimony. As such, the Bride of Christ has no space independent of her Lord and Bridegroom. Our life in Christ means all space is a holy space consecrated by him for our discipleship (John 17:19).
With such insights a whole panorama opens up. Firstly and foundationally, Christian husbands and wives recognise their earthly spouse is God’s primary human agent to disciple us13, we also recognise that “our” family time is a discipleship space, work likewise is a discipleship sphere, our recreation exists within the pattern of discipleship and so on for finance, health… The disciplining work of God is over the entirety of our existence.
Freed from seeing religion as tied to limited practices and places, we suddenly become aware of the illimitability of the divine love, mercy, grace, wisdom, power…in all things. We recognise Jesus’ presence in all aspects of culture and society and begin to actively share in his plan “for the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21). We are drawn by the Spirit to take the sacred space which dwells intensely in us (Col 1:27) into every space/place where Christ is not yet confessed as Lord. Discerning what is the movement of the Spirit in any particular space-time we cooperate with him in bringing in the kingdom of God with power.
The church begins to enter more deeply into Jesus’ penetrating insight into the personal, social and political realms14. Through the prayers and presence of the people of God the light of Christ can penetrate into even the darkest realms (Matt 5:14), nothing remains hidden. Whatever the response, all the spheres of social and cultural life will know they have been encountered by the presence of the living God. This is not the case in our nations today, for Western nations do not look, act or speak like disciples of Jesus. The reason for this is not hard to find.
“Private Space” and Disciple Making
Westerners characteristically treasure their “private space”, a place deep inside where not even God has the right to intrude except with their permission and on their terms. The central tragedy of Western Christian spirituality is that it has embraced this myth of “private space” as valid. In practice we have denied that Jesus is Lord of every space. Until we repent and allow God the right that is his as Creator and Redeemer to indwell every fibre of our being consistent Christian discipleship will prove impossible15.
Human beings desperately need a vision of existence, but this cannot be the vision of totalitarian Islam or the all embracing individualism of Western thought. The authentic vision is the one opened up by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The proclamation of these gospel events reveal that space-time belongs to Christ as Lord of all (Acts 10:36). The one who commands us to disciple nations (Matt 28:19) is calling us to be open to his holy presence in every dimension of existence. In Christ, every space is holy.
The crisis of impotent Western Christianity moves us to ponder an old proverb, “If Christ is not Lord of all he is not Lord at all.” If we struggle to discern the Lord’s presence in all things it can only be because we are still exercising personal lordship in many areas of our own lives—the myth of “private space” holds on tenaciously. The choice before us is simple, ““If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”“ (John 8:31-32).
1 In many countries if you a born into a Muslim family e.g. Malaysia, this is legally your status for life, conversion at this level is prohibited by statute.
2 A change of society and culture, not a change in society and culture. In this case a change of “worldview” where the individual rather than God is placed at the centre of all things.
3 Held by roughly anyone under 40 years old.
4 A simple example appears in today’s local newspaper concerning a bill before state parliament allowing voluntary euthanasia. A respondent is quoted in favour because she “wants ownership of her death.” The West Australian, Tuesday, September 21, 2010, p.11
5 Or I AM WHAT I AM, or I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.
6 E.g. “‘Job speaks without knowledge; his words are without insight.’” (Job 34:35; Prov 9:10).
7 The root words for holiness in the Bible, Hebrew qadosh and Greek hagiazo mean to be separate.
8 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Prov 9:10).
9 They would have seen what the holy angels see, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”“ (Isa 6:3).
10 The Spirit who transformed Jesus’ resurrection body and who will transform the universe when he returns.
11 Compare, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Col 2:9-10).
12 I.e. exclusive of intimate third parties.
13 This is a truth of divine order independent of spousal maturity, or even if they are regenerate.
14 This relates to prophecy, but is much wider than a special gift reserved for a few e.g. see Rev 19:10.
15 Whoever has asked Jesus into their life has implicitly asked the Father to be as fully present to us as he is to his Son (1 John 4:17).