The Eminence Of The Cross – Part 2

Firstly, in 1 Cor. 1:17-18, Paul states,

“17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

Notice what verse 18 is telling us. It is making a difference between being saved and taking up your cross and following Christ. These are two completely different things. In other words, you could be saved but not be under “the preaching of the cross”. You could be a believer who panders to his or her carnal lusts. One who is not fulfilling the righteousness of God in their lives. But the Bible declares that to those who have accepted salvation, the cross is “the power of God”!

In other words, when we are allowing the cross to work in us, the power of God is revealed in us! The power to do what? To defeat sin and to work the righteousness of God in our lives.

The Apostle Paul feared lest the cross of Christ should be made of “none effect” in the lives of believers.

Wow! What a mighty revelation!! But Paul goes even further and writes similar words in Philippians 1:29:

“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake”.

The believer has two mandates. Actually, one – salvation – is not our mandate. The work of salvation has been wrought by God Himself; we were dead in sin, and God resurrected us in Christ Jesus. A dead person cannot resurrect himself, so we were not involved in any way in our salvation. Salvation is all of God’s grace (Eph. 2:5).

The singular mandate that we have been given is to crucify our flesh. God calls us, by the Holy Spirit that He has given to us, to crucify our fleshly lusts and desires. Galatians 5:24 puts it thus:

“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”

Again, this is of grace. According to His great mercies and love, God has decided to make us co-workers with Him. He makes us co-workers with Him in His fight against His enemies. And, pray, how do we fight God’s enemies?

It is not by screaming at the devil, as most believers have been taught. Nor is the believer’s victory in the thousand and one “steps” that fill most charismatic teachings.

On the contrary, there is only one way to defeat the enemy. It is by crucifying the flesh! God gives us His Holy Spirit for the express purpose of crucifying the flesh. Once we have crucified the flesh, we are done. Done, I said. That is what it says in Ephesians 6:10-20. Here, it is well documented how our spiritual warfare is waged solely on the battleground of the flesh. Just look at our armor (vss 14-18).

Truth. Righteousness. Peace. Faith. Salvation. The Word of God. Prayer. All these things require a denial of self.

It is all about crucifying the flesh! Once we crucify the flesh, the devil has nothing in us (Jn. 14:30). The devil fears a dead Christian! But when he meets a ‘live’ believer (i.e., one who is living for himself), the devil has a powerful weapon. We do the devil’s work when we fulfill the desires of the flesh.

Hence the cross. This mandate that we have from God – to crucify our flesh – was the reason the Apostle Paul held the cross in such esteem. You can see in his epistles that the singular thing that the Apostle Paul defended was the cross. Unlike many preachers in his time (but more so today), Paul did not boast in the great works that were done through him; nor in visions and heavenly visitations, all of which he had in abundance. On the contrary, Paul boasted

“in mine infirmities” (2 Cor. 12:5)

What does Paul mean by “infirmities”?

We shall see that in the next chapter of this series.

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The Apostle And Unity In The Church – Part 2

And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. Col. 4:16

That is the voice of the father – a spiritual father. There are many more instances in the apostolic epistles of a spiritual father addressing his children. And here we see the Apostle Paul addressing the same thing to two different churches simultaneously: “When you read this letter, cause it to be read by the Laodeceans; and you likewise read my letter to the Laodiceans.”

How could this be? Was Paul addressing his denomination, or his ministry? By no means. A denomination is a dead thing because it is man-made; but Paul was addressing the church of the Living God. Paul was addressing a living Body. And this Body was one. Whichever church Paul had a relationship with was similar to the other for the simple reason that they were being conformed to the image of Christ. They were not being conformed to the image of Paul, but of Christ, who died and rose again.

One of the gravest dangers in the church today is conformationism. The church is being conformed all right, but to whom is it being conformed? Even in churches that confess the revelation of the cross, the question must be asked, to whom are they being conformed? Yes, they are being conformed to their pastor, but is the pastor conformed after Christ?

You cannot have a church in Tanzania that carries its own peculiar image (read its pastor’s image) and one in Europe that carries a different image (its pastor’s). If it is so, then this speaks of churches that are not under the ministry of an apostle, for there cannot be two different images of Christ. There is only one image of Christ, which the apostle brings into the church. Where the apostle is ministering, throughout, you will find only one image amongst the people:

“Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)

That is so simple and clear. And it ought to be very, very clear to the church. The church cannot be said to be like Christ because it worships in a certain way or prays in certain manner.

This is the reason for God bringing the apostle to the church. A true apostle is a man who has died, that Christ may live in him. In this way, he reveals the crucified Christ. Therefore, wherever and whatever he touches or ministers, it is no longer him, but Christ who will be seen and known. And there is no other Christ that can be revealed to the church apart from

“Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

The issue of Christ being formed in the church is no light thing. It is something that requires a total death to the body of the one chosen by God to carry this ministry. Recall what God told Ananias about Paul:

“15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16 For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:15-16

Paul would suffer. He would suffer just as Christ suffered, until he put away his carnal body.

An apostle who has suffered in the body will reveal the cross; he will reveal the crucified Christ. Hence the Apostle Paul writes:

“From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” (Gal. 6:17)

The Body of Christ. It must be one. The church cannot be like So-and-So. It must be like Christ. It must have the image of Christ, not the image of a man. Throughout the entire world. Through conforming to the image of the crucified Christ, who it is who rose again.

Then the church will be one, showing off the character and riches of Christ in the Spirit.

My final thought is that the church should be extremely wary of anyone who calls themselves an apostle. This is not someone you can invite lightly into your life or church. He must be someone whose life you have examined in the light of Christ and found to fulfill the criteria that the early apostles carried. And we can find them only if we have a heart for God in truth and in the Spirit.

[The great Mara River bridge]

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Naomi pt.1

Some days ago my fellow pastor Joshua and I went to visit a couple who had recently been blessed with a baby girl. When we inquired what the new baby’s name was, the mother replied, “Naomi!” I looked at Joshua and we exchanged broad smiles. The story of Naomi had been featuring prominently in our conversations lately, and we were both struck by the coincidence of it all.

When we told the couple the source of our rejoicing, they were exceedingly happy. We took time to thank God for His grace, for we felt His hand was upon this child.

We are living in a time when the Book of Ruth, and particularly the life of Naomi, is so very relevant for the Church. I would like to take some time this week to meditate on some of the lessons that we learn from this great book. To begin with, let me point out that the Biblical Book of Ruth is actually the story of Naomi. Without Naomi there would have been no Ruth. It is also a story about perseverance. Through her perseverance Naomi caused Ruth to live another life and come into the line of bringing our Savior Jesus Christ into the world.

Naomi lost her husband and her two only children in the land of Moab. She was left with nothing. There is nothing remarkable about Naomi losing her entire family. Misfortunes of this sort affect people in every generation. But, you see, when we take up our cross in circumstances that God allows into our lives, God is able to move on many different fronts. Nothing is written about Naomi’s lifestyle, but I am convinced the Godly life that she lived in the sight of her two Moabite daughters-in-law is central to the message in the Book of Ruth.

Ruth must have watched closely Naomi’s lifestyle. She must have watched as she lost, first her husband, then her two sons, one after the other. During these times of tragedy, many things must have happened. Maybe words were discreetly spoken behind her back. Questioning glances thrown her way. After each burial, her Moabite neighbors would no doubt go back home wondering about this “cursed” woman.

The pain and sorrow in Naomi’s life must have been plain for Orpah and Ruth to see.

And yet, Ruth must have seen something else in Naomi’s life as she struggled with her misfortunes: faith in a living God. Most likely Naomi did not react in the natural, like other people. She probably sang songs of praise to God like Paul and Silas would do much later in prison. She probably called in her two daughters-in-laws after every tragedy, and consoled them, and told them of hope in God, and of life after death.

Through her resoluteness Naomi proved her faith in a living God. Her beautiful faith was clear to all. Probably Orpah did not look hard enough, and when the opportunity came to separate from Naomi, she quickly exited the scene.

For Ruth, however, when that moment arrived, her decision was firm. She would follow Naomi. “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (1:16-17). 

When we take up our Cross and follow Jesus, God works miracles. Through that living faith we allow others into God’s Kingdom. Evangelizing, preaching and witnessing for Jesus are all vital components in bringing people to Christ, but what will get people firmly rooted and attain to the full realization of God’s purpose in their Christian lives is the divine power that can only come from lives that are totally surrendered to the Lord; lives that are suffering and dying daily with Christ.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way: “So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:12). We all have our share of worldly tribulations, tests, trials and temptations. But these all occur so we may learn to take up our cross and follow Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 4:12-13 Paul says: “…being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat.” Why would the early apostles go into all this trouble? The answer is: to bring life to others. There is no other means to achieve this other than to lose our lives through the revelation of the Cross. Had there been an easier way, Jesus would most definitely have taken it.

Are we living for ourselves, or for others? We cannot have our cake and eat it. If we are to live for others then we must die; and when we die, we reap a glorious, heavenly reward far beyond our wildest dreams.

The Magnificence of God’s Grace

“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to everlasting life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16

My favorite animated movie is Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”. A once-spoilt, selfish prince was turned into a hideous beast by an enchantress after turning her away from his castle, and only if a beautiful damsel were found to love him would he be set free from this curse. But who could possibly ever love this ugly Beast, and undo the sad fate that had befallen the once-proud prince? The odds seemed irrevocably stacked against him, and he resigned himself into inconsolable despair… until Belle came along.

The real-life version of this fantasy, more than any, is the story of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul. As sinners go Paul, once known as Saul, was the worst of them all. Not so much because of what he did, but because of who he did it to. He mercilessly persecuted God’s people, and in the process became God’s foremost enemy. There is no greater sin in the world than to hurt someone for whom Christ’s blood was shed on the Cross. Jesus Himself said it were a far bearable punishment for such a person if a milling stone were tied around their neck and they were thrown into the ocean! Paul deserved the worst possible punishment.

And yet, again, it might well be that Paul received a far greater revelation of how gross his sin (any man’s sin) was before a holy God…. Whatever the case, Paul knew he deserved nothing but the worst form of judgement from God.

But God took this man, His most virulent opponent, and made him his closest ally in revealing the grand plan that His Son Jesus Christ had come to fulfill on earth for the salvation of mankind. Having freely forgiven him of his sins, God transformed him and invested in him all the wisdom of His revelation – Paul knew the Lord Jesus in a way the other apostles did not. God also used him to spread the Good News on a scale none of the others would.

But God would do even more through Paul…

God chose Paul for a very specific reason. By saving this ‘chief’ of sinners God purposed to show the abundance of His mercy to all who would believe on Him. Through the grace that He would bestow upon such a man in freely saving him and cleansing him of his sins, God wanted to make known that He is able and willing to do just that to anyone who comes to Him.

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ (by grace you are saved)… that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” Eph. 2:4-7

When we think of the word ‘mercy’ we have the idea of this mushy, cuddly, loving, fatherly care and concern coming to us from God. And, indeed, that is the reception we get from Him right from the start. The minute we receive Jesus into our lives, God instantly sets us free from the power of sin, He heals our diseases, and does many other wonderful things to confirm to us that He is indeed our loving, caring Father.

More importantly, He gives us His Holy Spirit who brands this all-important truth onto our hearts.

Many Christians wish – and many more assume – that the story of our salvation should end there, and all we need to do is just hang around and await the rapture. And probably as we are waiting for Jesus to come and take us to Heaven, we could enjoy a bit of life here on earth as the King’s Kids?

In this kind of scenario, the most that we could expect God to bother us with as His sons and daughters would be for Him to assign us a simple task which we could happily fulfill while munching a hamburger. We might even be tempted to contemplate taking on a great responsibility like the one He was about to give Paul through Ananias: “For he a chosen vessel to me, to bear my Name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15), as long as no real suffering is involved. We could get noticed!

The above scenario might have become the happy ending to Paul’s encounter with Jesus were it not for the fateful words that Jesus added as He was giving Ananias instructions concerning Paul: “For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my Name’s sake” (Acts 9:16).

This, and Jesus’ many references to losing our lives painfully brings us to face the truth that the reality of our calling is not so simplistic. In the spiritual kingdom, you cannot have your cake and eat it. We cannot live for both the heavenly and this world.

Jesus’ words to Ananias henceforth shaped the character of Paul’s mission and ministry. Only through the suffering that God put him to would Paul become a vessel of honor to carry the life of Christ wherever he went. God made Paul to understand in his spirit that without the working of the Cross in his life, the life of Christ would not be manifested in him. As Paul allowed the hand of God to mold and shape him through the sufferings he endured, he was able to spread the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ – the Good News – throughout the entirety of his ministry.

It is no wonder, therefore, that his letters are replete with references to the Cross of Jesus Christ: but not in the traditional sense that the Cross is understood by many Christians today. The Cross that Paul talks of in his epistles is something beyond Jesus simply dying for our salvation. The revelation of that Cross in our hearts is the power that will bring death to the carnal nature residing in us. And when that carnal nature dies in us, we will bear fruit in the spirit and please God, no matter the nature or size of our ministry to Him. God is not so much interested in what we do as in what we become through the working of the Cross in our lives.

Dying with Jesus (by the power of the Cross) is what we need if we are to become true ambassadors of Christ here on earth. “For the preaching of the Cross… is the power of God” 1 Cor. 1:18.

“But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumblingblock, and to the Greeks foolishness; but to them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” vv 23, 24.

It is interesting that, although the apostles did many and mighty miracles during their ministry here on earth, yet nowhere do we see them talking or writing about these things. They wanted to represent something spiritually far more superior, the inner transformation that only the revelation of the Cross can effect in a man. To them, this changed life represented the true power of the gospel.

The Apostle Paul worked miracles, yet he would not boast in that. Rather, he boasted in the grace that enabled him to identify his life with the life of Christ in His sufferings and death: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.” Gal.6:14

Jesus was not simply a mighty man of signs and wonders. He was, in the final analysis, “the bread that came down from heaven.” He did miracles all right, but in Himself He carried something infinitely more important which He desired to give to mortal man: the very life and nature of God. He did that by dying on the Cross.

Man also would only be able to appropriate this new, Godly nature by dying to the old, carnal nature through the Cross. 

Miracles do not make us spiritual. Nor does material or physical well-being. The Cross, working in us, does. That is what God meant when he told Ananias: “For I will show him (Paul) how great things he must suffer for my Name’s sake.”

Many preachers who work miracles today will be rejected by Jesus at His return simply because they did not allow their lives to be touched and transformed by the mighty hand of God. They did not align their lives with the Cross of Jesus in the spiritual sense, where their lives, crushed by the Cross, would unveil the riches of Christ to a spiritually dying world. They did not allow the Cross to deal with their pride, the lusts of their flesh, their idolatry, etc. On the contrary, these preachers gloated in the miracles that God would do through them and they became proud, vain men. Their very lives would testify to that: “By their fruits you shall know them” Mat. 7:10

The power of God’s grace in the life of Paul is summarized in his own words to Timothy: “But you have fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions…” (1 Tim. 1:16). The power of the gospel brings this kind of lifestyle and fruit in a Christian’s life.

I am blessed to be a member of CTMI where the undiluted revelation of the message of the Cross, the power of God, is preached and lived, wherever this gospel has been proclaimed. Along with hundreds of other pastors in so many countries, I know that I am also a direct beneficiary of God’s powerful, magnificent, and matchless grace.

A Merry Christmas to all who visit this blog! May God’s grace warm your hearts during this holiday season.