Celestial Glory and Terrestrial Glory – Part 2

God does not call us to the glory of this world (terrestrial glory). He calls us to a different glory. It is a glory that in the worldly sense is no glory at all. It is a glory that does not seek after anything of this world.

Verse 43 tells us that the resurrection of the dead “is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power”.

To put it out in screaming headlines: THERE IS NO WORLDLY GLORY OR HONOR ASSOCIATED WITH A SPIRITUAL MAN OR WOMAN. There is only disgrace, tough times, lack, scorn, sometimes insults and beatings, and such like things.

And this state of affairs is to be borne in a spirit of love and humility.

Notice the scripture also says, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (v.44).

The term ‘spiritual body’ here is not referring to ghosts or the spectral beings that the world associates with the word ‘spirit’. Rather, it is referring to the character of God. In other words, when we crucify our carnal lusts at the cross with Jesus, we are raised up with the spiritual life or character of God in us. We become spiritual as opposed to carnal. We die to our natural man. Someone can slap me on the right cheek and I can turn the left one for him to slap, in perfect peace.

The bottom line is that the heavenly glory is tied up with suffering – and death – in the flesh. In Romans 8:16-17 we read: “16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

Shouldn’t we be rejoicing here? The Bible says right there that when we are suffering with Christ, the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are being conformed to the nature of God – being made heirs of God’s promise in the Spirit.

I love the fact that the Holy Spirit can bear witness with my spirit that I am doing something right.

When I mention the word ‘promise’ I am not talking about those 365 promises that my charismatic friends have dug up in the Bible (“a promise for each day”, they say, which probably is not a bad thing).

But I am talking about God’s promise to make us spiritual men and women. That is our true inheritance. That is the spiritual promise. That is the celestial glory.

And who is sufficient for these things? Only the revelation of the cross in our hearts can bring this sufficiency. That is why the Apostle Paul would not preach the early churches any other gospel except Christ and Him crucified. And when the churches reneged on their first love, he went back and reminded them of this same gospel. He did not change his message. For he knew that if they would not suffer with Christ by taking up their cross and following Him, they would remain carnal, worldly – and defeated – churches.

We need to ask ourselves, and each other: what glory are we seeking after?

[Below: The sun setting over Singida]

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Celestial Glory and Terrestrial Glory – Part 1

40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.

41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:

43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 1 Corinthians 15:40-44

There is something extremely powerful about heavenly bodies – the stars, the planets and galaxies that we know in the natural. They have a magnetic pull to them that has drawn men to seek after them at great cost both to life and in material terms.

But these physical heavenly wonders are merely terrestrial bodies and their glory is terrestrial. “Terrestrial” means “of this world, earthly”. We could add “momentary, temporal”.

With due respect to the great men and women at NASA and elsewhere who sacrifice so much to chart the universe on our behalf, I cannot but say in view of what the Bible teaches that would that we spent all that money, energy, time – yes, even the lives lost – for the true glory, the celestial glory!

There are “stars” also of another kind. These are the icons and celebrities of this world; the people we love to idolize. Our hearts melt in the presence of the great men and women of this world.

A man of God once said, however, “Do not look at the stars.” He was talking about these people. They are mere men and women, he said.

There are many believers today, especially young people, who are drawn to the celebrities of this world. Because they have not grasped well the gospel of Jesus Christ, they experience a spiritual vacuum in their hearts. This makes their young, impressionable minds to be easily drawn to the things of this world, chief of which are its celebrities and ‘idols’.

In recent times also, Christianity has slowly but surely veered off into the realm of ‘iconism’. Men of God have allowed themselves to be deified and idolized. As a result, many Christians are increasingly being led to seek after the glory of this world in its various forms.

But I believe that when we catch the true gospel in our hearts, worldly “stardom” loses its glimmer for us. It becomes dull and it dies a natural death in our hearts.

I believe that the dying stars that astronomers are discovering today are a metaphor for this.

We already noted in an earlier post that Paul was no astronomer. We can also add here that nor would he have been a fan of the “USA for Africa – We Are the World” band. So when Paul talks about terrestrial and celestial glory, he is neither referring to this incredibly awe-inspiring endless physical universe, nor even of the people in it whom we idolize.

Actually, Paul at no single time talked about earth and stones or anything material. Reading some portions of his letters, you might think he did. But he never did. Today we have born-again believers who have all the time in the world to talk about these things, to advocate for this and that worldly agenda, and even to pioneer new ones of their own. There are even Bibles which carry commentaries on every topic under the earth!

But here Paul is talking about something entirely different. Notice in verse  42 that he is talking about “the resurrection of the dead”. And when he says “dead” he is not referring to the dead stars that astronomers talk about. He is talking about human beings.

Paul had only one agenda, and it came out unmistakeably in every letter he wrote. We see him here clearly juxtaposing the great struggle that is going on in the spirit world between the forces of evil and the Spirit of God for our souls’ sakes. The forces of evil use the carnal desires of our flesh to wage their war against us; the Holy Spirit uses our surrendered spirits to conform us to Christ.

When we answer to the flesh and its lusts, we are seeking after terrestrial glory.

The True Manifestation of God’s Power

1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. 1 Cor. 2:1-5

Scientists have finally admitted that the universe is infinite. They have come to the conclusion that there is no end to space.

They believe that with all the scientific advancement at their disposal and with all the astounding “light year” discoveries they have made so far, they have barely scraped at the outer frontiers of the known universe!

I am saying this because there may be some readers who might have come to the conclusion that I have harped on 1 Corinthians 2:2 almost to tatters. But I am of the opinion that we probably have not even scratched at its surface! Such is the richness of God’s Word that we cannot claim to have studied any one scripture “enough”.

So, let us have another go at 1 Corinthians 2…

There are Christians, especially among Pentecostals, who have a wrong perception of the words “power of God”. Many Pentecostals especially associate these words with the hype that is generally to be found in many charismatic churches.

I am convinced that God can and He does move in many ways. In other words, there are aunthentic external manifestations of God’s power, in miracles, in healings, in His provision to us and in countless other ways that God chooses to manifest His power.

But ever since the days of the apostles there have always been false manipulations of the power of God as well within the church, manipulations which Paul in his epistles associated with the forces of darkness. We can clearly see this in 2 Cor. 11:13-15 where he warned the church against the practitioners of these manipulations: “13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”

Today, in particular, the ante has been upped on the hype and manipulations, and there is little spiritual discernment of what is and what is not of God.The church, lacking in such discernment and desiring to gratify the flesh more than God, follows after the glamour and hype that these men offer. In Africa in particular, many charismatic churches have turned into circuses which the devil himself would envy.

But in the context of 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul is not talking about any physical manifestation of God’s power, real or imagined. Indeed, nothing he says there has anything to do with the outer working of the gifts of the Holy Spirit nor, more so, with the empty, carnal emotionalism that is associated with the phrase “power of God” today.

In the context of this scripture Paul is talking about the ability of God’s power to change people’s hearts and to bring them into a resemblance in character with the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, power to change us into the image of Jesus Christ.

The most powerful demonstration of God’s power, Paul is saying, can only be found in its ability to make a person to live a holy life. Paul was so concerned with this that he “determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified”!

In other words, Paul bound himself to this one purpose, the effecting of that change in men and women’s lives where men and women are set free from the power of sin to live a holy, sinless life. This goal – being set free from the power of sin – must have been very, very important, for someone of the spiritual (and even mental and physical!) calibre of Paul to purpose to “not know anything” else!!

In 2 Corinthians 13:2-3 he writes the Corinthians: “2 I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare: 3 Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you.”

In other words, he was telling the Corinthians that the power of the gospel that he carried was in its ability to deal with sin. If the gospel someone was carrying encouraged them to sin, then Paul would deal with the person and his ‘gospel’. Paul was a man who carried the power and authority of the gospel because he lived a crucified life. And here he was warning the Corinthians that they better straighten their act, before he arrived. Apparently, he had warned them severally, but the self-styled ‘apostles and prophets’ in that church continued living in sin while hiding beneath their ‘powerful ministries’.

Paul was warning everyone to stop sinning. Period.

I repeat here: there is no greater demonstration of God’s power in a Christian’s life than for him to stop sinning and reflect the totality of the character of Jesus Christ in his or her life.

[Below: As I waited for the bus in Shinyanga, I struggled to get a clear shot of an African queen]

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The Wickedness of Man’s Heart – Part 1

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jer 17:9

Many people, when they wake up, want to have a cup of strong coffee or something, to kick-start their day. For us spiritual people, I believe we should have a cup of ‘heart talk’ every morning. What I mean is, we should hear something about our hearts. There is nothing as important as the heart as far as the believer is concerned.

And right here we dive into the heart of this post. Have you ever stopped to think about the above scripture? It says that the heart is deceitful above all things. Above all things! That’s pretty far, if we were to measure it in terms of distance. It is, in fact, very, very, very far.

Let us take this a bit further and ask, What is the longest distance that we can visualize? If we are to seriously think about distances then we must think of space; and scientists have helped us to know something about space distances. There is what is called the ‘known universe’. Now, this is vast, and the outer edges of this hemisphere are really, really far from our small planet earth. They are hundreds of trillions of miles from earth and it would take billions of years to reach them, even travelling by the fastest super-jet that man has made to date.

Beyond this ‘known’ hemisphere there is the ‘unknown universe’. Scientists have not yet wandered into this region; but as far as distances go, those within the known universe pale into near-nothingness when compared to the unknown universe. The ‘known’ universe would probably appear as a blip if placed alongside the ‘unknown’ universe!

I want to apply this analogy to the human heart. There is a world in our hearts that is greater in scope than both the ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ spheres we just discussed above, combined. And if we were to take the distances we just discussed and convert them into the state of the human heart, the word ‘rotten’ could hardly suffice to describe the horrific condition of our hearts. There are many, many things in a man’s heart that are wrong and which need to be addressed by the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The quantity and depth of these things in the human heart is simply astounding; in fact, so much so that the Bible uses the phrase “desperately wicked” to describe the human heart.

Acknowledging the incredible scale of the rot in our hearts is the only way we can hope to do justice to the phrase “above all things”. I have to say it again: ‘above all things’ is pretty far. But there sits the truth; and we can do nothing but accept it.

We have heard or read of the many wicked men (and women) throughout history who have terrorized people through acts of unspeakable wickedness and cruelty. Men like Hitler and his Nazis, or Stalin.

Today, we have many more doing the same cruel things to fellow human beings. You hear about stabbings, rapes, killings, and every kind of cruelty carried out against innocent people.

All these come from the human heart – the same heart that you and I carry. The truth, really, is that we are all capable of doing exactly these very same things. All human hearts are desperately wicked. You see all those good, smiling people out there and you have no idea what they are carrying within them. By His grace alone, God withholds the evil from men’s hearts from fully expressing itself (2 The. 2:6), otherwise the world would become uninhabitable.