The Antiochians – Again! (Part 1)

25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:

26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. Acts 11:25-26

Let us read that last line once again.

“And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”

Now, please don’t tell me, “Oh, Mwita, you just wrote on this a few days ago.”

Actually, I am surprised we do not talk much on this particular scripture. No. On the contrary, this scripture needs to be turned into a mantra that every believer should be chanting every minute of their lives.

The disciples were called Christians. Oh. I cannot imagine the price that these believers in Antioch paid to be called so. When I see the defeat in the church today, I just cannot imagine what kind of people these believers were. Once again, I salute them.

Today, Christianity is, to a large degree, just a label, for there is everything in church except victory over sin and over the flesh. There is very little victory in church over these things. But there is so much of everything else: knowledge, signs and wonders, high class sermons, music. The church today is very much like the Corinthian church was in Paul’s day, for Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 writes them:

“4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; 5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; 6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: 7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The Corinthians had all the wonderful things listed here but they lacked the singular thing that would make then Christians. They lacked the cross in their lives. They had lost the revelation to deny themselves and living a life of daily crucifying their flesh. And therefore the Apostle Paul told them pointblank,

“1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ… 3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Cor. 3:1-3)

You could not possibly call such people Christians, for a Christian is one who reflects the character of Christ in their lives.

But, in Peter 2:21-23 we read of the example that Christ left us.

“21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously”

What exactly is verse 23 trying to tell us?

It is telling us that Jesus did not do anything to defend Himself. On the contrary, He allowed His flesh to be crucified.

The word “reviled” means “insulted”. When people insult us, it hurts. Our gut reaction therefore is to insult back; or, at the very least, answer back. We want to hit back!

But Jesus stood still and let the wave of insults ride out its full strength on Him. He did the same with all the other sufferings that were meted out on Him.

And the Bible says that this was the example that He left us. This is one of the most difficult things for us to do, our religious exterior notwithstanding.

The believers at Antioch portrayed this same resilience in the face of the opposition against their faith.

But they did more than that. They lived the life of Christ to the full. Verse 22 says of Jesus:

“Who did no sin”.

This means that Jesus lived a perfectly holy life. He did not give in to the unclean lusts of the flesh but, on the contrary, He crucified them.

The believers at Antioch depicted this same sacrificial character of Christ in their lives. They saw the believers sacrificing their bodies. And all who saw them saw Christ revealed in them. And they said of them, “There are of Christ. These be Christians.”

In our second part we shall see what it was that the Antiochian believers proved to be such a testimony of the life of Christ in them.

[“And be ye kind one to another…” Eph. 4:32]

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The Gospel vs The Flesh

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers… 1 Pet. 1:18

The story goes that an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Ghanaian were flying on a plane and they were required to jump out when they arrived in their respective countries. When the Englishman saw the Wembley Stadium, he jumped out. When the Frenchman saw the Eiffel Tower or the Seine River (can’t remember which), he also strapped himself and jumped out.

The plane crossed the Mediterranean Sea and, upon sighting land, the Ghanaian put out his hand. A short while later, he announced to the pilot that he had reached his country. The pilot asked him what he had seen.

The Ghanaian replied that he had seen nothing; but his wristwatch had just disappeared from his hand.

Sadly, it is true that you can have your watch popped off your hand or your pocket picked at any minute in darkest Africa; and you should be thoroughly shocked.

In a related issue – to put the icing on that story –  the U.S. president, President Donald Trump, has directed that only 15% of aid will go to African countries because they don’t know how to manage resources.

Is he rrrrrrrrright on that one? Of course he is right. The African’s ingenuity in some arenas of life excels even himself.

These are not just stereotypes about the African; these are facts. Broad generalizations, given; but facts nonetheless. I know there are people who will burst a vein when they hear such things. But everything we are hearing from Trump & co. about the African is hardly news.

Notice that in our story there is nothing unbecoming written about the two white men. If you are thinking they are angels, you couldn’t be more wrong! I have never been outside Africa, but I do not need to travel beyond my house to know that the white man is as rotten as the African is. Indeed, in God’s eyes, every race under the sun is equally rotten. The Bible tells me so.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

The only difference between the white man, the black man, the Chinese, the Indian, the Arab and any other race that might be on this earth is the diversity, or variety of rot. But it is all rot nonetheless. Whether they are white, black, brown or yellow, we all know what man is capable of. Since this is not a competition, I am not going to write down a list of the evils these other races excel in.  But, given the genetic factors that they possess, it is a given that, in their particular realms, some of these races are infinitely much more dangerous than the African.

These racial and tribal tendencies in men the Bible calls “vain conversation”. This “vain conversation” is who we are. And when the Bible says that we have received it by tradition from our fathers, it means that we have inherited them from our fathers’ gene pools.

Scripture makes it clear that each race/tribe has its own peculiar brand of rot. When the Apostle Paul left Titus in Crete, he warned him,

“12 One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. 13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Tit. 1:12-13).

The spiritual language for culture is flesh. Man is a product of the flesh. I see “vain conversation” all around me – in my own life, in the lives of my wife and children and in the lives of those who surround me.

Man in his intelligence has tried various methods to try and suppress his cultural tendencies and in most cases it appears as if he has won the battle. But “vain conversation” runs deep. Deep in our subterranean consciousnesses, the flesh reigns supreme.

But I love what the Bible says in Colossians 3:9-11:

“9 … seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; 10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: 11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col. 3:9-11)

That ought to suffice. There is only one weapon that can defeat the flesh: it is the cross. We cannot undo the flesh in us; only Jesus can, through the cross.

Through “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23), the Bible says we have put off our old man and put on Christ. That means we have put on Christ’s character. That’s why it is not enough to say “I am saved”. We need to go ahead and realize the mystery of “Christ crucified” in our lives.

Putting on the character of Jesus is the greatest miracle that can happen to a man. May we (the church) humble ourselves under the cross of Christ and allow it to break us and to form Christ in us. That way, we will not exhibit the works of the flesh. Instead we will bear and show off in our lives the fruit of the Spirit.

“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 meekness, temperance…” (Gal. 5:22-23)

[We reveal the character of Christ in us when we crucify the flesh]

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Grasping The Eternal – Part 2

5 And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.

6 Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.

8 Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?

9 Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?

10 Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?

11 How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?

12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. Mat. 16:5-12

Jesus was always thinking and talking in the Spirit. At no one time did Jesus think to talk to His disciples (as a teaching) about earthly bread. But His disciples were on an altogether different algorithm. They thought, talked and acted in the flesh. Just like us. Ever noticed how worldly situations get us down so quickly? When we are short of something like money, food or clothing, we carry that long face. Bur these things are temporal.

But we are to walk in the Spirit! That is which is eternal. And herein we are going to see what the spiritual life is.

Verse 12 establishes that Jesus’s disciples finally caught on to what He was trying to tell them, thank God. He was warning them to beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Now, that word, “doctrine”, is central to Jesus’s teaching here. Was He talking of a teaching per se? A teaching without the Spirit produces form. Form is what we portray on the outside. Without the life of the Spirit in you, you appear holy, but you are not holy. In fact, you do everything on the outside to appear holy. But you are not so on the inside. You build spiritual castles in the air, so to speak. And many great Christian denominations in the world are that way. So, unfortunately, are the majority of Christian lives.

So, was Jesus talking about a teaching? Hardly. On the contrary, Jesus was talking about a way of life. He was warning His disciples to beware of living an empty ‘Christian’ life. In fact, St. Luke put it more clearly in Luke 12:1-5:

“1 In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. 3 Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. 4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”

Form is what we portray before men; reality is what we carry before God. And, with God, without reality is hypocrisy. But reality is repentance. And living a life of repentance is living a life where I am daily desiring and striving to put off the works of the flesh in my life. The Pharisees had the best form of worship, but they harbored every kind of evil in their hearts, including murder.

True repentance means living a life that fears God more than men. It does not really matter what form I worship God in. What counts with regard to eternal life is the heart life that I live before God.

Jesus said, “Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell”.

[“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” – 2 Chron. 7:14]

Grasping The Eternal – Part 1

5 And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.

6 Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.

8 Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?

9 Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?

10 Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?

11 How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?

12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. Mat. 16:5-12

The disciples of Jesus (if they had any wits about them) must have thought that Jesus was about to start a cult – THE CULT OF UNLEAVENED BREAD, it would have been called. Yes, it appeared that was the direction Jesus was headed. Now, if it had turned out to be so – which, bless the Lord, it turned out not to be the case – that would have been an Old Testament cult. Unfortunately, today, in Christianity, there are so many such cults, cults that are embedded in the Old Testament. There are people today who will defend the old covenant to their death at the expense of the new covenant. Well-meaning men, but who have no idea of the work of grace that the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished at the cross. Such men, such churches, are steeped in law.

I heard one ‘apostle’ from Philadelphia, in the U.S., claim he bars men in his church from sitting together with women in the pews for the sake of discipline. Yep, those were his very words. He doesn’t want the men in his church, he said, looking down strange women’s exposed cleavages, or have them dropping their pens every now and then in a desperate attempt to look at their female counterparts’ beautifully-formed ankles and leg calves!

The Old Testament law, under which many churches today are entrenched, is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. With the gospel of Jesus Christ, law works; but it works the exact opposite of Godliness. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:3:

“But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.”

All law does is to remind one of sin. Or, to put it more clearly, it makes you aware of sin. That is what it says also, very clearly, in Romans 7:7-11:

“7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. 8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.”

It couldn’t be stated clearer than that.

I love this preacher from Philly, he is a well-meaning man, but he has got it all wrong. He does not have the revelation of the gospel of grace. By doing what he is doing, he is putting law on God’s people. And you cannot lead people into God’s righteousness by harnessing them under Old Testament law. By his own admission, all the men seated in his church are unrepentant sinners who need the law to keep them from committing sin! His ‘church’ therefore ceases to be the church, but a cult.

On the other hand, the gospel of “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23) – which the Apostle Paul preached, glory to God! – is solid gold. It is the power of God. God’s grace, that comes through the working of the cross, breaks the power of sin in our lives. If, say, a short-skirted woman were to sit next to me, a man, who is being ministered to under the new covenant (the true gospel of Jesus Christ, whereby I am crucifying my flesh daily) that short-skirted lady would not make the slightest difference to me in the natural. If she had the most visible cleavage, still it wouldn’t make any difference. The likely scenario is that I would yearn for her in a Godly manner. On the other hand, when you are under the ministry of law, in such a situation you would not be free. You would be under pressure. Your un-crucified flesh would give you problems. The very thought of looking at that woman would have you beginning to fret. That is the difference between law and grace. Grace sets people free; law binds them. Preachers are stunting and ultimately killing God’s people spiritually by preaching law instead of grace to them. The law cannot set anyone free from sin.

Anyways, back to Jesus and His disciples…

[To know Christ is to understand grace]

Grace Only In The Cross

This post is based on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5 through 7. Imagine Jesus was speaking these words to people who did not know anything but law! What hope did He have that His words would change them? Could the law they were under change them even by hearing such beautiful words?

But Jesus was speaking of a time that would come, after His crucifixion, when there would be a revelation of the cross in the hearts of God’s people through the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember, before the Holy Spirit was shed forth on the day of Pentecost, the risen Jesus spent forty days with His disciples talking to them the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. But after the Holy Spirit had come, Jesus left the scene.

The gospel can never be about law. Just because you tell someone not to do something does not give them the ability not to do the thing you told them not to. Just tell a man not to look at a woman lustfully and all you end up doing is to make him aware that there is a woman around. And once he becomes aware of the woman’s presence, his carnal nature kicks in. Without the revelation of the cross in our hearts, we can only fulfill the letter of the law. But the law is powerless to defeat sin.

On the contrary, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a revelation; the Holy Spirit revealing to our born-again spirits the incredible power in the cross of Jesus Christ – power over sin and death. That is the grace of God.

That is why, when we are people of law, we easily get angry at people who are not changing. We short-charge and quickly get impatient with them. Which, of course, is an indication that we ourselves have not changed one iota!

Grace, on the other hand, can wait it out. It can give all the rope to a man.

Jesus would not have expected the people in His time to change instantly because back then, grace was given only in a measure. In other words, during the era of law, grace was scarce! That is difficult to comprehend today with all that we know about the abundance of God’s grace. But before Jesus died on the cross, it was all law; but God, because He is merciful, still gave measures of grace to His people.

After Jesus had come, though, grace was given without measure. The Bible declares that even before Jesus was crucified, He Himself was given grace without measure (John 3:34)!

In our present time, therefore, we do not need law to teach us how to worship God in true holiness. In the first place, as we have said, law cannot perfect us. On the contrary, today, what we need is a revelation of the cross in our hearts. This was the revelation that was given to the Apostle Paul as an Apostle of Jesus Christ (1Cor. 2:2 and elsewhere).

This revelation makes available to us the abundance of God’s grace in our lives. We can therefore live a life that is pleasing to God, and to men because our spirits have grasped the power in living a crucified life. The Apostle Paul said,

“I am crucified with Christ…”

Let us also read about the life of Jesus who, during His life here on earth, had grace without measure:

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Lk. 2:52)

As a result of the grace of God upon His life, Jesus gained in wisdom and in favour with both God and man. That is our calling as children of God.

Grace and Sin

3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. Jn. 8:3-11

Grace and sin. It is like David and Goliath, David being the grace and Goliath sin. But remember, David defeated Goliath.

Grace is infinitely far more powerful than any other force as far as relationships go. That is why the Bible says that “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”. (Jn. 1: 17) Even Moses could not bring the grace of God into the world!

When it comes to sin, we have a knee-jerk reaction to crucify the perp. It is the hardest thing to carry grace against a sinner. And it becomes doubly difficult when the said sinner has committed what in our eyes is one of the ‘unforgivable’ sins: adultery, theft, lying, etc. Such sins appear too big for us to handle!

But that is law. Such reactions are born of the law in us! But grace always has a way to deliver the sinner, whatever the sin they might have committed.

When a man in the Corinthian church was found committing a type of fornication that is unheard of even in the world, the Apostle Paul ordered that the man be thrown out of church (1 Cor. 5). But notice that Paul did so for a reason: it was

“… To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (v.5)

Now, that is grace. That is love! Paul did not give the order out of a spirit of law, no. He did so out of love, not just for the man, but for the entire church. And in his second letter to the Corinthians, he bares his heart for the man.

“6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. 7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. 8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.” (2 Cor. 2:6-8)

In the same manner, Jesus – who did not carry a heart of law in His heart – did not condemn the woman. The scribes and Pharisees, driven by the law in their hearts, would have stoned the woman without a second thought. And they would have felt a sense of justice in doing so.

But Jesus carried grace, not law. Instead, He told her,

“Neither do I condemn thee…”

Jesus set the woman free! He freed her in her spirit. When you do not carry a heart of law, we also do not carry a heart of condemnation. And people can feel the difference. They can feel the freedom emanating from your spirit. And it makes it so much easier for them to reciprocate that love.

It was so much easier, therefore, for Jesus to tell the woman,

“… go, and sin no more.”

Notice Jesus did not say, “Neither do I condemn thee; go”. No. He said, “Go, and sin no more”.

I have a strong conviction that the woman did not sin any more. And why would she sin no more? Because she had met the grace of God. The reason we destroy people is because we do not have God’s grace in our hearts. All they can feel is this oppressive hardness or inflexibility emanating from us. We try and smile and tell them that we love them; but the spirit of a man can feel and connect to the law or grace in our hearts, whichever one we are carrying.

But what if this woman went and sinned again? Still, Jesus  would have let her go. Still, Jesus would not have condened her, even if she came to Him a thousand times. Why? The answer is simple and clear: Jesus carried grace, and not law. It was through grace alone that He could fulfill His sole responsibility, which was to set people free, not to bind them, praise the Lord!

Grace has a way of working that sets the sinner free and I am sure this woman went away free from sin.

Thank God for His grace in us. Yes, we can confront every type of sin and come out with victory, both for the sinner and for ourselves. Every time! But that is as long as we carry grace in our hearts. And this grace is our inheritance as children of God.

Where can weak sinners in church run to? It is into the arms of grace. Not the arms of law.

How can we give people victory over sin in their lives? It is by carrying grace, and not law, in our hearts. May God give us this grace, that we might be able to heal, and to revive, and not to destroy, souls.

[Grace brings spiritual freedom]

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God’s Protection

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil… Mat. 6:13

The world is an incredibly evil place. People undergo all sorts of tragedies every day, perpetrated upon them either by fellow men or by nature. Every day an incredibly large number of people suffer unspeakable horror and suffering the likes of which many of us would never dream of. But for we believers, the threat is double-edged: the devil would love to see us not just suffer in our bodies; but, even more importantly to him, he would absolutely love it for us to become lost spiritually. It is my firm conviction that the devil would even be willing to forgo harming us physically if that action would lead to our spiritual downfall. For this reason, therefore, the real place we should keep our eyes peeled really hard is in the spiritual realm. We should not be deceived when calamities and other forms of suffering appear to be visiting other people and not us. In the spirit, Satan is as close to us as our skin. That is why the Bible says in 1 Peter 5:8:

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…”

Satan is a relentless foe. The Bible likens him to a roaring lion who is walking about, seeking someone to devour.

This is why Jesus’ words in this prayer are so important. That God can – and does – deliver us from such an enemy is such a grace.

One time a brother was describing to me how the Lord delivered him from the sin of adultery. This man was an army man and on this particular occasion, he had agreed to rendezvous with a strange woman in a certain location. It was his first time to attempt such a thing and he expected it would go smoothly.

But when the woman arrived, she was dressed from head to toe in a black hijab, the traditional garb for Muslim women here. The man had never seen this woman dressed in such clothes before and when he saw her, his heart was struck with mortal fear. He got so scared that he ran away. Literally. The minute he realized it was her he quickly walked away from the scene and left the woman standing there alone. In our country, many women wear hijabs and this brother told me he could never comprehend why he got so scared of this particular woman.

When I heard that I said to him, “Brother, that was not ordinary fear. That was the Lord. The Lord personally appeared to you and rebuked that sin in the Spirit and His rebuke was what caused that fear in you.”

The Lord works over-time to protect and preserve us against the many different forms of attacks from the devil. We should be constantly praising and thanking God for this inexpressible gift.