The Revolutionary Christ

My attention was drawn recently to a very profound truth which I’d ignored so often, but which for some reason made a lot of sense to me now. I’ve been studying Jesus Christ’s ministry in recent time in the context of the times in which he was on earth, and I can’t cease to be amazed. There is no doubt that Christ was a revolutionary, but in a way that borders on the “other” way, a way which most reasonable men in their comfort zones will not accept, or can only accept at some cost to them. But let’s press on to the issue at hand and it will become more apparent.

It is often mistakenly held that the key concept of Jesus’ ethic is the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. This is stated by Jesus, however, not as the sum of his own teaching but as the center of the law [i.e. – “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”]. Jesus’ own “fulfillment” of this thrust of the law, which thereby becomes through his own work a “new commandment” (Jn 13:34-35) is different, “Do as I have done to you”. It is striking how great the mass of writings on religious ethics … which still fails to note this very evident structural change.” (The Politics of Jesus – John Howard Yoder).

I have had conversations with many people, some who are not Christian. Out of the many things I have learnt, two of them are of immediate relevance to the above statement, and they are

  1. A lot of people choose the Jesus of dogma, and leave the Jesus of history.
  2. A second batch of people prefer Jesus the wise teacher, but not his claim to being divine.

In the light of Jn 13:34 and Mt 5:43-45( “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father I heaven.”) – none of these stances are true to Christ, and we will examine why.

Choosing the Jesus of Dogma over the Jesus of History

Much of Protestant Christianity has made a strong emphasis on the metaphysical benefits that Jesus’s life and death brought to we who believe in him. They’ve emphasized the grace of God in bringing his Son to bring forgiveness of sins, redemption, justification, sanctification etc. As it stands today, Christians are claiming their “in-Christness” now more than ever, relishing who Christ has made them. However, this emphasis has in effect abandoned the fact that Jesus Christ lived in a certain historical, socio-cultural background. Whether out of ignorance or intentionally, we have de-emphasized the context within which he did what he did and said what he said for the three years of his ministry. In effect, if all Jesus Christ came to do for us was to die for our sins, he might as well have died when he was born – when he was an innocent baby and knew no sin. He still would have achieved the purpose, wouldn’t he? Or some would say that he had to fulfill some of the things written about him by the prophets, and so he stayed on for thirty three years to fulfill them and then die. This being the case then, everything that he said and did within those years were not important to his mission, only to provide a source of evidence of his claim to being the Messiah.

I don’t believe that is the case, however, this is the impression that much of Christendom seeks to portray. Because the moment that I confront most Christians with the evidence of the Gospels and Christ’s demands on us his followers, the impression I get is that those are not important, they are too utopian. They were meant to be personal guidelines by which we can choose to live our lives, but they are not important to our foundation as a group of people called the church. In effect, Christ has become too “personal” a saviour.

However, there is no doubt that Christ’s life was a thorn in the flesh to the establishment. He pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in creating a million and one laws that everyone was supposed to obey but for which they never lifted a finger to practice. They placed more emphasis on sacrifice, than they did on mercy. His demand? “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees”. But of course, that is too difficult to achieve. Again Christ denounced the power of the rulers of the earth to truly dispense justice, by forcing the government of the day to release a treasonous criminal Barabbas for an innocent man, showing how governments of the day are fallen for their pandering to the whims of the popular vote.

So to most of us, the only reason that Jesus Christ came was to transform us to be like him, and then being made like him, all we have to do then is now use that gift he has given us to pursue our own agenda – seeking miracles, financial success, successful marriages, political power etc. We’ve provided a blank cheque, and we expect Jesus to sign so we can write any amount we want. Because we have refused to accept the community forming actions and attributes of Christ as the norm in our corporate lives – which should make us a people free from the prejudices and trappings of tribe, social standing, class distinctions and personal resources to a self-sacrificing, always loving, non-discriminating society – we have ignored the fact that the reason Christ lives in us is so that we can now live a life of love for one another, without fear of tomorrow. And this alternative society is what Christ calls his body, the church and as Paul states in Eph 3:10, the manifold wisdom of God is not to be made know in “me”, but in “us”, the church. It is part of this wisdom, that Paul again speaks of in 1 Co 1:20-25.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles … for the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

To the Greek Corinthian, Stocism taught him that man’s pursuit of their own happiness was their highest purpose. To the Jew, man’s obedience to the written down laws of God was man’s highest purpose. But Paul, following in the footsteps of Christ, shows us that the nature of God is given to us so that we can now turn our life and love towards each other, and not rather for our personal gain. It is this wisdom that was the stumbling-block, and is still the stumbling-block to most of Christianity today.

Choosing Jesus The Wise Teacher, But Not Divine Son of God

The other end of the scale relates mostly to those who don’t believe in the existence of God and/or of Christ being a divine person sent from God. When I have a deeper chat with such people however, they see a lot of wisdom in what Christ taught, especially his values on how we relate to each other. They also fall into the same error that the church has fallen into – that Christ’s most important teaching was to “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. However there is no way that without accepting Jesus Christ’s claim to being the Son of God, one could fully understand the message of Christ.

There are many reasons why Christ died and resurrected for us, but one that I’ve come to fully understand and whose dimensions affect this discourse is the fact that Christ gives us victory over death. By virtue of his victory, we are free from the fear of death. The end of this is to make us bold to take the actions that a world which is saturated in self-preservation cannot take – a decision to love no matter the cost. Christ tells us that we are supposed to be on earth to show how communities of love can exist amongst all the fallenness that surrounds us. That’s why he says that a city on a hill cannot be hidden, because we are that city, we are the light that cannot be hidden (Mt 5:14-16). A light does not have to do anything else but shine – it will draw men unto itself.

By we being true to ourselves as the church of Christ – the community within which we exhibit the traits of Christ – we automatically become a society that is counter-cultural. When we move from a people who are always pursuing our own agendas to be come a people who are watching over each other, we become different. We become a people living on a higher set of laws, who do not need a “constitution” or “bye-law” of their country, town or cities to tell them how to live with each other. We do not need homosexuality to be “criminalized” in the constitution for us not to tolerate it in our community. We do not need abortion to be “criminalized” to enforce that our members do not participate in it. We do not need to go fund-raising from the world, because what we have is enough to meet our essential needs. We do not need divorce to be “criminalized” before our Archbishops know that they have to love their wives with all their faults, just like Christ loved us even before we acknowledged him. We do not need to follow the model of leadership model of the world, where all our leaders fight for is how to please their superiors, not how to meet the needs of their brethren. In effect, nobody teaches us to know God, for we will all know him.

In becoming a counter-cultural society, we will definitely make enemies, most likely enemies with power, and their attempts to frustrate us is what Christ and the NT apostles calls our “suffering”. Without a hope that we have a better place to go when we are persecuted, we cannot be empowered to live like Christ expects us to. That’s why Christ encourages us not to fear for losing our lives, for we will gain it in the end. His resurrection is our hope of the same.

Let me give an example. Imagine a country in which slavery is the norm. However, the Christian communities in this country do not recognize amongst themselves this man-made class distinction. As a result, a slave has full rights of participation and activity in this alternate community. To Christ, the important thing is not gaining your freedom from slavery in the general society, but having those distinctions blurred when you come into the Christian community, granted all the full rights of membership. They do not need to fight for the laws in that country to be changed, because to them in their communities, their slave status makes no difference. In any case, Christ does not care about who you are in the general society whether slave, free, circumcised, woman or man, but rather what you have become in the Christian community. Does this sound familiar? Well, this was exactly the state of affairs in Corinth, and is the premise of Paul’s advice in 1 Cor 7:17-19.

Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him … Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised …Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s command is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation in which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so.”

This passage has been used before in the history of Protestant Christianity to support all sorts of abuses by the political elite in telling everyone else to “stay in their situation” – but that is another topic for another day. If early Christianity did not spend it’s effort fighting slavery, racial and gender discrimination publicly using political means, it’s not because they supported it. It was because what you are in the body of Christ is what counts. And once you begin to take your part in the body of Christ as a full citizen, you are denying the power that the society’s laws have over you. You are telling the society that even though you are a slave in your midst, yet when you come to Christ and his community, you’re treasured. And that is all that matters. If I can gain my freedom, I will. But that’s not what’s important. Something else (or rather Someone else) matters more, something for which you are ready to die.

By means of the cross, Christ and his church declare their victory over sin, the world and all it’s prejudices. “And disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:15). Not by political intrigue, not by violent machination, but by the cross. The Corinthian church was ready to bear the cross of being “slave lovers” and by so doing, declare the victory of God over the politico-socioeconomic conditions of their time. This again, is wisdom that the world cannot understand.

Observations

Interestingly, even though the second issue is something which should be addressed more to the unbeliever or realist, I find that increasingly Christians themselves have lost this understanding. And therefore we continuously fight battles which Christ himself never fought. We continue to not only support but actually propagate religious intolerance and xenophobia, and use Christianity to set an agenda of binding our societies with our religious laws. We forget that when the law is applied, it has no room for forgiveness. It’s punishment will have to be exacted, even when the criminal shows remorse. So first and foremost, when we agitate for what we consider to be a sin to be criminalized, and we fall into it ourselves (And I tell you, we are not perfect. Some of us will by all means fall), two things happen.

  1. We are shown to be hypocrites who cannot obey our own laws.
  2. The sinner (in this case now a “criminal”), even if they repent of their sin as a result of the abundant mercy of Christ to always forgive, will still have to face the penalty of the legal system.

However if it’s only a sin amongst us and not a criminal offense, we have recourse to the hope of Christ’s mercy for such a person, and will only have to cast them out after continuous unrepentant behavior. We also don’t need to make a public fuss of it, but can help our fallen brother on the quiet.

As for the first, it’s a problem that 500 years of Protestant Christianity from Evangelical to Pentecostal and Charismatic has not addressed itself to adequately. The focus has been so much on “spiritualizing” and “personalizing” the faith – on “salvation”, “Holy Spirit” and more recently “in-Christ” –  that the community forming purposes for all these things that Christ has made us or given us have paled in comparison to what we personally will gain from him or how we can use Christ to achieve some other agenda.

With the advancements of technology, the 20th century has given birth to an enormous amount of research on the New Testament contexts of Jesus’s and the early apostle’s times and ministry, which should help us to correct these impressions. Unfortunately, this is also the age in which most Christians are acting with much abundant zeal and very little knowledge, with ears ready only to listen to what suits our agenda, and a penchant only for more deception. Are we going anywhere fast?

Advertisements

Rediscovering NT Christianity – A Purpose Driven God

This is the first in a series I’m writing on Rediscovering NT Christianity. This article is available for download here

Many of us have read the popular title by Rick Warren, “Purpose Drive Life”. Unfortunately I am yet to read it, but I’ll like to tweak his title to apply to this writing. I have heard many people say “God will reveal what he has purposed for me” or “What God has purposed for me will surely come to pass”. We seem to think that God is yet to reveal that purpose, and that some special time will come when we will be made aware of it. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint a lot of us, but God’s purpose for us has already been revealed. We are only meant to conform to that purpose, and I’ll explain why by touching on one of the facets of that purpose – the body of Christ.

Let us start off by asking ourselves these questions. If the God we believe is really an omniscient God, how come he didn’t know that Adam could fall to the temptation of the devil? Or did he? If he did, then if Adam had passed the test, what would God have done? Would there have been the need for Jesus Christ at all? Did Christ only exist for the purpose of saving us from our sins, or God had a purpose for Christ far greater than we can all imagine. These for me are about the most important questions that we as Christians must answer to be able to truly understand the purpose of man on this earth, and by extension the purpose of our faith.

God’s Mysteries Revealed

This is why the epistle of Ephesians is such an important one (and part of the reason why we should spend more of our time reading the NT than the OT). Like I mentioned in a previous post, its the only letter Paul wrote to a church which didn’t attempt to deal with any particular problem that the recipient church was facing. It is full of such theological weight that many of us read it without fully assimilating it’s implications for our faith. I encourage you to take the time to read that book again, alongside Colossians and Hebrews. It is the epistle that explores God’s purpose for our redemption, a purpose which existed before the foundation of the earth.

Paul always spoke of certain mysteries. Of these, he often said though it had been given directly to him by revelation, other apostles and prophets of his time had also received these same mysteries. These then became the vision that drove Paul’s ministry. However, he states clearly that these mysteries were totally hidden from the prophets of old, who wished they could look into them as well. These mysteries were hidden nowhere else but in God himself, and obviously it will only take God to reaveal them.

And he made known unto us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment, to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Eph 1:9-10)

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 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 (Eph 3:2-5)

Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me; to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 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 which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph 3:8-11)

Paul here mentions 3 mysteries hidden to the prophets of old.

  1. When the times have been fulfilled, everything will be brought under one head, Jesus Christ our Lord.

  2. The promises of Abraham are available to both Gentiles and Jews through a living body called the church, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  3. The world, spiritual and physical is intended to see the many-sided wisdom of God through the same living body called the church. This ETERNAL PURPOSE was again achieved in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You can see the amazing plan of God. Christ and his church are everything. When God sought to achieve his purpose on this earth, he made that purpose happen through Christ, and that to make that purpose clearly visible to the earthly and heavenly places, he chose the church to display that purpose. From the three above, it is obvious that because everything is IN CHRIST, THROUGH CHRIST and UNDER CHRIST, the church is nothing without Christ. However, what is even more shocking to me is that God’s wisdom can only be displayed in the church.

Let me use this example to display the implications of these mysteries. We know scientifically that decisions are taken by the brain, and communicated to the rest of the body for action to take place. In the same way, God’s intention and design is that when Christ being the head thinks of something to do, his Church will act it out. This is what we mean when we say that Christ is the head of the church. We don’t only mean that he is the say “General Overseer” of the church, but that he is the source of direction for the rest of the body to act.

And this is exactly what the Ephesian epistle seeks to communicate to us – our relationship to Christ as his body (Colossians talks about the supremacy and headship of Christ over his body amongst other things). That we are in a very privileged and powerful position, being the body of Christ. Our role is to seek out what the head wills, and do it. However, no part of the body acts alone, but always in coordination with certain other parts. To grasp something, the arm must move toward the object, and the nerves and muscles exerted for the fingers to clasp the object. The biceps and triceps are then flexed to lift the object up, and the purpose is achieved. I hope the doctors will excuse my ignorance of human anatomy, but I believe this is basically what the human body does, and the church is no exception.

The Manifold Wisdom of God

But what exactly is the manifold wisdom of God? Hmm, that will take me a whole book to delve into, but I’ll summarise it in three ways, though they are actually more than three.

  1. God intends the Church to be the bride of Christ, spotless and holy as Christ himself. (Eph 5:27; Rev 19:7-9). Just as Abraham sent his servant to bring a wife to Isaac, so has God sent his Holy Spirit to bring the Church to Christ.

  2. God intended and has created a new family, in which he is the Father, Christ the eldest son, and the church his younger brothers. (Ro 8:29;Heb 2:10,19;5:8). We have a direct relationship with him, again possible only through Christ. That is why both Gentiles and Jews have to come under the church. Check out what Paul said “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Cor 10:32). In fact, the world even awaits our revelation as the sons of God, and until then will continue to groan in the pain that it does. (Ro 8:19-23).

  3. God has always intended to dwell within and among men. It’s the reason why we individually and corporately are his temple (1 Co 6:19;3:16). This conforms to the new Jerusalem, where the writer of Revelation writes “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them’” (Rev 21:3). When you continue reading, there it is stated clearly that there no temple in that city: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev 21:22). Can you guess why? Because the church which is part of Christ will be with Christ then. Christ will be joined with the church, which will in turn be joined with God. No temples needed. Hallelujah!

Purposed Before Creation

Liberating and empowering as this purpose is for us – a purpose which became Paul’s burning passion – it was a purpose that existed before man was created. The apostle calls it an eternal purpose, and that is why he says it was hidden. That is even more amazing to me. That means that even if Adam had not sinned, the church will still have come into being somehow, existing in, under and by Christ solely for the purpose of displaying God’s wisdom. Oh, and Paul cannot be accused of introducing teaching that Jesus did not teach. Christ himself said that his kingdom was prepared “since the creation of the world”. Let me show you some places where this “before/since creation” concept exists.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world‘” (Mt 25:34)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be adopted as his sons …” (Eph 1:4)

This purpose was given us in Christ before the beginning of time …” (1 Ti 1:9)

If Adam Hadn’t Sinned

So now, we come back to answer the million dollar question. What if Adam & Eve hadn’t sinned? How does Christ and the church fit into the picture? Do you remember that apart from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, there was also the tree of life in the garden? Well, what did Jesus Christ say about that same tree of life in Revelations 2?

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7)

Well, a tree of life can only give eternal life. And therefore when man had fallen to sin, God had to prevent access to that tree, so they don’t stick to their sinful nature for eternity. Therefore they would have been given eternal life from that tree. Now note who is making the promise here. Jesus Christ himself. He is the one who will give it to them – again salvation in, through and by Christ. They would then have become the founding members of the church.

Implications of God’s Purpose

We can see that God had already determined his purpose for our creation and inclusion into the body of Christ. His overriding concern is for Christ and his body, the church. And therefore, it is obvious then that God’s purpose is intensely a corporate one. God is not going to reveal a separate purpose for you, apart from a purpose that fits within his eternal plan, a purpose centered around the church. The church is the reason why Christ came. If this is so, then the following observations can be made.

  1. Salvation is not about us the individuals who are saved by Christ. I know that our gospel and everything else that we teach today is so individualistic, but trust me, you were not saved for your own salvation’s sake. You are saved to take an active part in building up that body alongside others to make manifest God’s wisdom.

  2. Because of the unfortunately individualistic twist which church scholars trace from the D.L. Moody line of preaching, most Christians see the church not as the end itself, but just a point for gathering Christians who have been saved. We see our main mission as saving the whole world, which has shown evidence historically of producing very weak Christians. We don’t realize that it is within the church that transformation really happens, and every avenue must be explored to make that transformation be visible to the world. That is how the world will see the wisdom of God. Christianity has always been about “calling out from among the Gentiles a people for himself” (Act 15:14). Its the same thing God told the Israelites when he saved them from Egypt – “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles wings and brought you to myselfout of all nations, you will be my treasured possession” (Ex 19:4-5).

  3. It is because of the truth that God wants to dwell within his people that it’s painful to observe the mindset of Christians regarding the church building, as if God still dwells in buildings (this is exactly what Stephen tried to tell the Jews which incited their anger to kill him – “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men.” (Acts 7:48) ). The 1st century Christians understood this so well through Paul’s ministry, that it has been established historically and archaeologically that they never built for themselves church buildings, but simply used their homes or any available meeting spaces (a natural consequence of this was that they met in small groups, allowing them to also pay more attention to individual maturity). It’s only when a Roman emperor (Constantine) decided to nationalize Christianity that he commandeered existing temples for the Christians and built new ones as well, that set us on this path of decline.

  4. Because everyone is to be actively involved in building up Christ’s body, simply because that is the eternal purpose of God, it’s again painful to observe the separation between clergy and laity. We have created an artificial split between those who may serve God, and those who may just watch the show. It is a natural consequence that once you put some people in charge and not just give them guidance roles, but tell them that they are supposed to do all the important work in the church, then everyone else will relax. If there is one thing we all agree with, growth comes from directly experiencing an activity. No matter how many lessons you give a student, if they do not have the opportunity to practice it (and I mean practice it in the most important organism to any Christian – the church), they will never be a well-rounded student. The same is true of the church. If we only sit on the pews everyday and only a handful of us do any spiritually related activity, we are not displaying the wisdom of God – that he lives in everyone and is capable of using everyone.

I’ll leave you to ponder the rest of the implications of adopting such a mindset towards God and his purpose for you. However, I hear people say very often that where there is no vision, my people perish. The problem with contemporary Christianity is not that we don’t have a vision. Au contraire, there is an abundance of vision. The only question is whether this vision is defined by ourselves, or its the eternal purpose that God had designed before the foundation of the world.

Understanding that the church is God’s central eternal purpose on this earth made me see why Christ said this:

I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them”(Mat 18:19-20)

When a group of people gather under Christ’s headship (i.e. where he is the brain and they are the body) and are focused on his already predetermined purpose, they are walking in the mind of God. Therefore, whatever they as a group (not individuals) wish for concerning that purpose WILL BE DONE, because it already is in line with God’s vision. No wonder Paul said that “WE have the mind of God” (1 Cor 2:16), not “I have the mind of God”.

Our vision must not be individual, but corporate. It must not be from us, but from God. And finally, we must understand that God’s vision was predetermined before the foundation of the earth, and we can only conform to it, not dictate new terms to him. Or else we will heal the sick, raise the dead and do more than Mother Theresa did, but God will tell us he doesn’t know us because we pursued our own purpose.

** For an indepth discussion of the eternal purpose of God, refer to “From Eternity to Here” by Frank Viola, “So Beautiful” by Leonard Sweet, or “The Stewardship of the Mystery” by Theodore Austin-Sparks, which is available chapter by chapter at http://www.austin-sparks.net.

The Importance of Purpose & Process

I talked with a friend about the Gospel of the Kingdom the other day, explaining what it was and how our preaching of the gospel had deviated from what the apostles preached. However one argument of hers was that people should not come to God with the idea that he will reward them with co-heirship in the kingdom, but should just serve him because he is God who created us and who has forgiven our sins and therefore demands our service. I disagreed though and attempted to articulate the importance of Purpose and Process in everything that God does (though I’d never fully though of this separation before this discussion). Finally we came to a consensus that the gospel of today was fundamentally flawed and that Christians needed to take a second look at what we preach to avoid what I call a “heavenly disappointment”.

I’m currently reading the book of Exodus, and I find it interesting the exact measurements that God gives for the building of the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Testimony etc. all the way down to the way the priests should be dressed. I’m a New Testament Christian and definitely do not live according to the Law. But from Heb 8:1-2; 9:24, God was really mirroring the tabernacle above. He knew what he was seeing above and his purpose was to replicate that here on earth, though in a less perfect way.

Heb 8:1-2 The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.

Heb 9:24 For Christ did not enter a man made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

And if we believe in an unchanging God then we’ll understand that He is very purposeful about whatever He wants. And to conform to that purpose God always gives the process to attain it. But when a people begin to revere the process more than the purpose, we get legalistic righteousness – this is on the Pharisaic side of things. On the other hand when people totally ignore the process, then I wonder if they even know what the purpose is in the first place – and I believe modern Christianity is on this side. No wonder we’ll end up with disappointment when our work is tested against the purpose for it.

Much of Christianity today has become of two extremes; either of institutionalisation or emotional sentimentality. The former demands a by rote obedience to certain principles, a lot of them man-made and unscriptural. The latter an unrestrained display of ignorance all in the name of “Holy Spirit” guidance. Although principles and emotions definitely have their place in a Christian life, the important thing is whether that is what God really wants us to be doing.

To understand my argument with this friend, lets look at who Jesus is. I think that this is the most important characteristic of Jesus Christ – he is a King, a Priest, and a Prophet. Some other terms that could apply is “righteous ruler” or “royal priest” (1 Pe 2:9). Note Heb 6:20.

Heb 6:20 … He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Ge 14:18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High.

Lk 1:33 And he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end.

Next who are Christians destined to be?

Ro 8:17 Now if we are children, the we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Lk 22:29-30 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Eph 1:4-5 For he chose us in him before creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

By Romans 8: 29, Christ is our senior brother and a pattern that we are to conform to. If He is king, priest and prophet, what will you his disciple be?

For His promises on our kingdom kingship, check out Mt 19:27-28 and 2 Pe 1:10-11 as well.

The destiny of Christians is to be the people of God, sharing in the nature of Christ – as kings and priests. Simple. That is the purpose of Christianity. The process is what we call discipleship (a transformation process beginning with the new birth). From hearing the gospel of the Kingdom and submitting to it’s message for salvation, to baptism by water and Holy Spirit to bearing fruit in service to God till the end of our physical life or till Christ comes for His church. Therefore in all the examples that the New Testament gives about how the apostles preached (eg. Ac 2:14-40 and Ac 13:13-48  )  the fact was always mentioned that Christ was coming to rule over the world as promised to David and reiterated by the prophets. In fact it forms the central part of these messages, with the call to repentance and faith as describing the first step of the process. And if whoever is preaching really knows what he’s doing, he will go on after people have repented and believed to teach the foundation messages (Heb 6:1-2).

The Gospel is the entry point into the purpose of God. And I believe in all sincerity that every unbeliever must know right from the start what they are getting themselves into, the rewards of it and the righteous requirements (Ro 8:4) that need to be fulfilled for that reward. Then the preaching of the gospel becomes purposeful. This is not about motivating people to become Christians because of a certain promise of a kingdom, as my friend had a problem with. God’s covenants with people of the bible have always been purposeful and motivating. When God called Abraham, the first statements out of God’s mouth after he told him to leave his father’s land were promises to make him into a great nation. He didn’t just tell him to leave his father’s house because “I’m God” or because “I have forgiven your sins”. Even Abraham with these promises, faltered along the way by going for Hagar to get a child. Even he with the greatest motivation to serve God in the world failed along the line to be faithful to God. That is why when God calls you, he gives you hope. And this hope has been the foundation of the Israeli nation over all these generations. If we are children of a better covenant, will God not do the same?

Col 1:4-5 Because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel.

Col 1:12 Giving thanks to the father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

This is the hope on which the Colossian’s faith and love was based. This is my analogy between hope, faith and love. Hope keeps where we are going in mind. Faith is the walking stick with which we take each step towards that place of hope. Love is the test of whether we really are on track to achieve that hope. When the disciples in Antioch were despairing because of their persecutions, what did the Apostle Paul say to them? How did he encourage them to go on?

Ac 14:22 Strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”.

He reminded them of the hope of a kingdom, stressing that there is no easy way to get there. If there was no real hope in being a disciple of Christ, then what is the whole point of it?

1 Co 15:19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

Certainly the preaching of the gospel today is an explicit example of not following the process – examples of preaching the gospel in the Bible – because most of us don’t even know the purpose of our Christianity. This confusion of purpose is the same reason that most of us don’t understand why God called us into a world visible unified church and why a denominational stance is against the will of God and is simple disobedience. And so we think however we do it does not matter.

Let me give this scenario to put a point across. While in Kumasi, I noticed that so many Methodist churches were named after John Wesley, and this was the case even on most of the Methodist churches I saw on my 5 hour journey back to Accra. My stance against denominationalism aside, I’m here just considering the purpose of the church – the body of Christ. We are called into a family where God is the Father, and Jesus Christ the first born brother. As we have established already, conforming to Christ is the purpose of a true Christian. He (Christ) alone is our purpose and every respect and honour is to be given to Him.

Ro 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Eph 3:14-15 For this reason I kneel before the father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

Heb 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

In every endeavour the purpose must always supersede the process. But as human as we are we have classically focused on the processes – what they are and how they are brought about. And this is truly a testament to how carnal we’ve become as Christians of today when Paul recognised the same tendency in the Corinthian church, rebuking them for aligning themselves with people who are only part of the process or who are a means to bring about this purpose.

1 Co 3:1-4 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul”, and another “I follow Apollos” are you not mere men?

So I ask the Methodists (and not just them but Christianity in general). Why have they paid more attention and respect to the process or means rather than the purpose? Why have they revered John Wesley more than the word of God? If you don’t believe me speak to a Methodist and he will tell you how proud they are to be followers of the Wesleyan tradition – whatever that is. (Oh by the way, another example is the International Central Gospel Church branches I’ve seen nationwide, who put the picture of their “founder” on all their signboards. I could give a million and one of these.)

John Wesley came to achieve a set purpose for a set time. The word of God is revealed in portions and continues to be additional to what has previously been revealed. Do they mean to tell me that since his time centuries ago, God hasn’t given any other direction/revelation concerning the Christian life that they may live by them as well?

If there is one thing I’ve come to believe, it’s enshrined in 2 Ti 4:2: The word of God is complete.

2 Ti 4:2 Preach the word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.

(By the way I have a lot to say about “correct, rebuke and encourage” and I’ll do that by God’s grace in my next post.)

  1. We cannot preach it better than it was preached and written down for us in the Bible. It behoves us to ask for the Spirit’s leading to know the purpose of every word written the way it is so we can preach it the way it is.

  2. We must teach it with the 2 ingredients above – great patience and careful instruction. There shall be no haste about it’s preaching or it’s desired effect will not be realised. It is very easy for us to think that we can preach or teach the word of God anyhow and still get the same results. But the end result of such haste and disregard is recorded in the next verse.

2 Ti 4:3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

I hope none of us become either one of the “great number of teachers” or those who are eager to listen to “what their itching ears want to hear”.