You are here

07. Perfection as Maturity and Inner Strength

Chapter 7

Perfection as Maturity and Inner Strength

What is the Goal of Renewal?

In the process of our being renewed into Christ’s likeness, the goal which the Lord has set before us is succinctly stated in the words, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt.5.48).

Here Jesus specifically speaks of perfection, a problem­atic concept for many Christians. What do we do with this passage? How do we apply it? Do we quietly walk away from perfection? We cannot do that, unless we are willing to disobey the Lord’s explicit call to perfection.

The call in Matthew 5.48 is for us to be like our Father. “Father” conveys, among other things, a picture of maturity, and with it a depth of wisdom, insight, understanding and discernment, which in the case of human beings is acquired through a lifetime of exper­ience. Sadly, in the case of human fathers, wisdom doesn’t always characterize their father­hood and, in many cases, not even at an advanced age.

But God the Father certainly embodies every quality which the name “Father” evokes. Not the least of these is the depth of mature wisdom, and the gracious inner strength, sweet mellowness, genuine warmth, and pure love that flow from that wisdom. In this chapter we purpose to consider perfection from the aspect of spiritual mat­urity and its inner strength or power.

1. The Dangers of Spiritual Infancy

Spiri­tual growth, as we have seen, is vital for survival. People who remain in spiritual infancy are in a precarious and vulnerable position, as Paul says in Ephesians 4.14: “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.”

The Greek word for “tossed” conveys a image of a ship being thrown up and down, and left and right, by powerful waves. The winds and the waves drive the ship ever closer to disaster. Paul is well acquainted with shipwreck. He writes, “three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea” (2Co.11.25). His unforgettable maritime experiences are reflected in the voca­bulary he uses, as when he speaks of people who “have suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1Tim.1.19).

No one deliberately gets himself shipwrecked. The captain and his crew will struggle to keep the ship afloat, avoiding the rocks, and throwing the cargo overboard if necessary. Although no one chooses to get shipwrecked, the turbulent winds and waves of erron­eous teaching are often powerful enough to shipwreck the faith of those who lack discern­ment and spiritual maturity.

Infancy, though it is necessarily the first step towards adulthood, is a dangerous period to be in. We are always concerned for children because we see the dangers lurking around them which they them­selves do not see. Children often cannot discern danger.

The same is true of spiritual children. When faced with a stormy event in life, they are unable to battle the raging waves, let alone discern the treacherous rocks lurking underwater. Being inexperi­enced in the spirit­ual life, they often fail to see the things which, to a spiritually more mature person, are obvious dangers.

Even when you warn them, they may still be unable to see and may refuse to heed the warning. Their eyes gaze longing­ly at the haven on the shoreline, not realizing that the hidden rocks which you warn them of will have smashed their boat to pieces before they could ever reach their destination.

Infancy and Carnality

Another danger in infancy is seen in 1 Corin­thians 3.1: “I, bret­hren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ.” In verse 3 Paul twice describes the Cor­inthians as people of the “flesh” (i.e. carnal people). Spiritual infancy and carnality usually go together. A young Christian cannot help being carnal because he or she is still in the process of learning to break free from the strong yet subtle influences of the flesh.

If in the ensuing struggles with the flesh, a Christian doesn’t gain the victory or doesn’t grow out of his carnality, he will find himself in a precarious situation. He may be genuinely committed to God, but he has not broken free from his old way of life and thinking. So long as he is still under the influence of the flesh, he is in danger, because he is tossed about by his conflicting emotions. He is driven relentlessly by his selfish ambitions, desires, cravings, likes and dislikes, fears and anxieties, self-confidence or self-pity. There is a veritable inner storm that threatens the carnal Christian with shipwreck.

The dangers of spiritual infancy are many. It is a stage that we must all go through, but we must not linger there. Some adults are still childish in their thinking. When counseling people with mar­riage problems, I often observe a lack of maturity in the way they relate to each other. They may be intellectually bright yet remain spirit­ually immature.

Once I was counseling a couple whose marriage was falling apart. The wife was crying through the whole of two hours. There were two adults before me, yet it seemed as if I were dealing with two children. Physically and intellectually they were adults, but morally and spiritually they were still infants.

It was necessary to rebuke this couple because of their wrong attitudes, which if allowed to remain, would destroy their marriage; on the other hand, they also needed gentle encouragement to make a new start. After a difficult two and a half hours, the marriage was finally saved. They had been thinking of separation or divorce. Many marriages are in trouble, or fall apart, because of immaturity.

Outwardly some Christians may appear ma­ture because they have been Christians for a long time. But when you talk with them, you may discover that they are spiritual infants who have little or no spiritual perception, direction, or wisdom. It is a pitiful state to be in, and it leaves one vulnerable to shipwreck.

2. The Importance of Maturity or Perfection

The importance of perfection, understood as spiritual maturity, can be summed up in three points:

The first point is the one we have just stated, namely, that perfection is vital for spiritual survival. We must grow up and press on towards perfection in order to survive.

Secondly, we must press on to perfection as a matter of obedience. Those who don’t press on to perfection are disobeying the Lord’s com­mand. Jesus doesn’t offer perfection as an optional extra that we can accept or decline, as some Christians suppose. It is the very goal of our life in Christ. That God-given goal is that we be conformed to Christ’s perfect image.

Without that goal, our Christian lives would be aimless and without direction. Spiritual aimlessness is evident in the lives of many Christians. Such Christians think that the Christian life is about doing this or that for God, without seeing that it is first and foremost about being what He wants us to be.

Anyone who thinks that salvation doesn’t involve pressing on to perfection, doesn’t understand the Lord’s teaching or what is God’s purpose and goal for our salvation, namely, our trans­formation into a new person in Christ. Perfection is a call we must obey. Christ is “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb.5.9).

Thirdly, the spiritually mature are the spiritually strong. Babies are weak and lack wisdom and strength. Their powerlessness leaves them vulnerable to many spiritual dangers. To press on to perfection is to be on the path to spiritual strength or power. It is on this path that we find “fathers” with the strength of maturity, and “young men” who are strong (1Jo.2.14 and context).

It can be stated categorically that every Christian who has spirit­ual power is a person who is moving towards perfection or maturity in Christ. There is no Christian with spiritual power who is not pressing on wholeheartedly to perfection. These statements can be made without apology or qualification because they are rooted in the word of God.

Shortcuts to Spiritual Power

Many Christians lack spiritual power, so they look for ways to get it quickly and easily. The fact is that there is no quick and easy way. Let no one deceive you about this. You cannot get spiritual power by any gimmick or “quick fix”. If you think you can have a shortcut to power by speaking in tongues, you will be deeply disappointed, as many have discovered for them­selves.

Others go to meetings where they look for a preacher to lay hands on them and impart power to them. That surely, they think, is a quick way to power. When they find that they hadn’t received the desired power, they go back to receive another laying on of hands. Some people do this dozens of times!

Be assured that these momentary experiences won’t give you any long-lasting power. True power comes from a deep, continuous work of God’s Spirit within us, not from a quick and easy “spirit­ual” experience. We must press on with determination towards perfection. The one who does this won’t fail to know what God’s dynamic power is in the Christian life.

Neither is spiritual power a matter of getting one theological degree after another. If power could be obtained that way, we should all dash off right now and spend the rest of our days collecting degrees. Do people with theological degrees have spiritual power? There are those who have some knowledge and some may have eloquence, but power is another matter altogether.

Why do we emphasize spiritual power? Is it because we are power hungry? No, it is because we need power for survival and victory. In the Christian life you either win or lose. There is no middle ground between these two possibilities. If you keep losing the battle, how will you survive? You are for Christ or against him. You are saved or not saved. You are living in victory or defeat. You must choose the one or the other. Is there a third possibility beside victory and defeat?

3. “I Have Overcome the World”

Let us widen our vision of strength and victory for the individual and for the church. The Lord Jesus said to his small band of disciples, “I have overcome the world” (John 16.33). That was a bold statement to make, because only three chapters later he is seen dying on the cross. It is hard to imagine a worse scenario. “I have overcome the world”—those were optimistic words from someone who knew he was going to die in a few days’ time.

Was Jesus being overly optimistic? Had he misread his situation? Well, two thousand years later in the world today, thousands upon thou­sands, even hundreds of thousands are willing to die for Christ if forced to choose between death or denying him. Oppressive governments through the past two millennia have discovered this fact. They eventually realized that they had grossly underestimated the strength of the church, even when the church appeared to be small and they thought it could be easily snuffed out. But they could not overcome it.

A church which lives by God’s power actually grows from strength to strength under persecution. It is the “good” times with little or no persecution or hardship that is bad for the church. In the good times there is often less opportunity to draw upon, and thus to experience, God’s power. But when Christians are given a hard time by the author­ities, when they are imprisoned or thrown into hard-labor camps, the church grows stronger.

Being an “overcomer” implies that there are things to overcome. The greater the difficulties that need to be overcome, the stronger is he who overcomes them. That is why a church living in comfort and ease seldom produces overcomers.

4. “I Give You Power over All the Power of the Enemy”

Let us grasp the force of the Lord’s statement in Luke 10:19: “I give you authority (exousia[22]) over all the power of the enemy.” The “you” is not limited to the apostles. The statement was addressed to the seventy disciples. If we are true disciples of the Lord, these words apply to us.

The word “all” accounts for every weapon the enemy could muster. Does “all” not mean, therefore, that since no power of the enemy can overpower us, we are invincible as long as we live under God’s authority?

God gives us authority to triumphantly carry out His saving work in the world, even in the face of the most determined opposition by hostile powers. The picture of invincibility, through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling us and working through us, is what we need to let God imprint in our hearts and minds today. We can be invincible “because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1Jo.4.4)

The Lord Jesus started out with twelve dis­ciples. They were still under training when he said to them, “I give you authority over all the power of the enemy.” The Lord also had seventy disciples whom we might call “lay” disciples. Not much is known about the Seventy, but we can safely think of them as “lay” disciples, given the fact that they didn’t accompany Jesus everywhere and at all times. Whatever is the case, Jesus spoke those powerful words to the twelve full-time disciples and to the seventy lay disciples alike.

The “enemy” refers to Satan (v.18), who is called the devil and “that old serpent” in Rev.12.9. Satan, together with his other “serpents and scorpions,” schemes restlessly to devise ways to harm God’s people. But the Lord Jesus assures his disciples that not only will he protect them from harm, much more, he will empower them to trample the powers of the enemy under their feet! This is how the whole statement of the Lord’s reads in Luke 10.18,19:

I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. (NIV)

The word “trample” translates a Greek word that is used of the crushing of grapes for wine-making by trampling them. This came to be used as a metaphor for judgment upon the wicked. Thus, “Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow—so great is their wickedness!” (Joel 3.13). Rev.14.19 speaks of “the winepress of God’s wrath,” and of being “trampled in the winepress” (v.20; also Rev.19.15).

But the world is never lacking in skeptics, and one of them might say, “What a joke! This man Jesus is going to shake the world with twelve guys and seventy nobodies? And he’s going to do this by making them invincible?!”

Well, if you look carefully at his words, Jesus actually said more than that! He will not only make them invincible against all the power of the enemy thrown against them but, more than that, he will cause them to subdue and conquer the enemy so overwhelmingly that it will be like crushing grapes in the wine vat!

And because it is the “nobodies” under whose feet the enemy will be crushed, it will be clearly seen that the power and the glory belong to God alone. For it is God Himself who accomplishes His purposes through these nobodies. Let every true disciple rejoice in the fact that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Ro.16.20).

5. Power for Those Who Press Towards Perfection

Happily for us, spiritual power is given to a disciple even before he reaches full maturity, or perfection. If that were not so, we would despair of ever attaining to the needed power, and would be obliged to live in constant defeat. Spiritual power would be unattainable if all we could do is gaze at perfection from afar with a telescope, saying to ourselves, “When I finally get there, I might become invincible!” But this notion is mistaken. The Lord’s disciples were not yet fully trained at that time, and their spiritual perception wasn’t all that impressive, to put it mildly. Yet it was to such people that God gave authority over all the power of the enemy.

As long as we are moving forward in following Jesus, pressing on with determination towards perfection, we will be equipped with the power we need to continue our advance. The power will grow in tandem with our progress towards perfection. Right now we already have power. It may be limited at this stage, but it is a genuine power that will grow as we press on towards the mark.

If we press on, we will discover that perfection is not as remote today as it was a year ago. When we gaze at the distant horizon, the vast gulf between Christ’s perfection and our feeble progress may discourage us. But the fact is that God by His grace equips us with the needed power well before we reach perfection, so long as we are moving forward in obedience to Him. Pressing forward is the attitude we need to maintain persistently. Exactly as the apostle said, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” (Phil.3.14,15).

Are you pressing forward? If you are, you will be sur­prised at the power that God gives you to continue your advance. You can apply that power and, to your surprise, the enemy will fall back. Nothing can stop you from achieving the spiritual excellence, or Christ-likeness, that God has called you to. You move forward and the enemy will retreat. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4.7). That is the power granted to every true child of God.

What was Jesus’ purpose in sending out his disciples on a mission? When they later returned, they hadn’t even shaken Israel, much less the world. The purpose was to give them a first practical lesson, a foretaste, of spiritual warfare and power. He was telling them, “Inade­quate though you are, as you move forward, you will know that I have given you the power you need to be my repre­sentatives, and to accomplish what I sent you out into the world to do.” Sure enough, the disciples came back rejoicing (Lk.10.17). We can hear them saying, “Lord, your word is true! We advanced and the enemy fell back. We pressed forward and they fled”.

6. Dream the Impossible

Let us grasp the Lord’s words and capture this vision: We will be invincible and triumphant in spiritual battle through the authority or power which he delegates to us to fulfill our mission, which is to make him known, so that the world may receive the hope of salvation through him. No enemy on earth can stop the advance of God’s kingdom. Watch and see. Let that be our dream. When God inspires our dreams, they will come to pass. As we press on towards the mark, they will be fulfilled.

A practical example: Many years ago when we first started the full-time training program in our church—a program to prepare people to go into the world to proclaim Christ—people were asking, “Do we have enough money for the training? How can we support so many people in full-time training and still cover the church expenses?”

All that is history. Some may even wonder, “What was the problem in the first place?” But it was a real problem back then. Yet after the completion of the training two years later, the once serious financial concerns evaporated from our collective memory. We advanced, and the problems fell back one by one.

One day the members of one of the teams and I were sitting around a table. We were saying, “Let’s dream a little. One day we’ll go to Israel and visit the geographical and historical settings of the events we read about in the Bible. This way we can gain a fuller perspective of what we have read.” But everyone was aware of the high cost of the airfare and other expenses if the whole team was to go. I still remember that we said we will dream on. And what happened not long afterwards? Our feet were standing in the land of Israel! How wonderful it is to walk with the Lord. When we press forward, the impossible has a remarkable way of coming to pass.

By the time the other full-time trainings started, no one expressed concerns about the finances anymore. Instead they were saying, “Yes, we now have more people to support, but we’ll manage.” The lesson had been learned.

Since then many teams have been trained, two of them with as many as 47 people in them, but we haven’t heard anyone express anxiety about the finances. We have become so well acquainted with overcoming this problem that no one seems concerned about it anymore. Perhaps we are taking too much for granted, and should pray more earnestly about it.

7. Casting Out Demons, Healing the Sick

The Lord gives us power, and we will subdue the opposing forces of darkness. There may be times when it is necess­ary to cast out demons, which is what happened during the mission of the Seventy (Lk.10.17). “Demons? Are you serious? Cast them out? But I’m scared of them!” If you are walking with God, why should you be afraid of demons? Have we not read in James 4.7 that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us? If the devil himself flees, won’t his demons flee too? Certainly they will.

We take for granted that the disciples were able to cast out demons. But it was not so simple for them initially. Have you ever seen an exorcism? Have you ever seen a demon-possessed man acting under the control of a demon? Wait till you see one, and you will know how brave you really are. You may start trem­bling, and the words, “I give you authority over all the power of the enemy,” may suddenly vanish from memory!

The Lord will ask us to do many other things, like praying for a sick person. This, too, was included in the mission of the Seventy (Lk.10.9). “Me, Lord?” you may ask. But if God moves you to pray for that person, do not refuse. Do we think that sickness is too great an obstacle for the Lord’s power? Will we tell Him, “Yes, Lord, I know that the healing of the sick is often mentioned in the Bible, but we’re living in the 21st century!” Does the 21st century somehow constitute some kind of insurmountable obstacle to God’s power?

The first time we pray for a miracle we may be a bit anxious. If we pray for someone and ask him to rise, what if nothing happens? It would be an embar­rassment and a setback. So we start making excuses: “Lord, I don’t want to disgrace Your name, so I had better leave him as he is.” But when the person is actually healed, we are surprised. So much for our faith and confidence in God’s power! How patient is the Lord with us, people of little faith. Of course, by the time a second person is healed, and then a third, we are no longer anxious.

It is most important, however, to understand that we are to exercise the power which God entrusts to us only in accordance with His will. We must therefore always live under His lordship. In the case of healing, for example, it is up to God Himself to lead and direct us in regard to whom He chooses to heal according to His own purposes.

Jesus healed many people during his earthly ministry, but the number healed amounted to a very small fraction of all the sick people in the land of Israel. This show that healing was not the primary purpose of his coming into the world.

Jesus’ acts of healing carried a spiritual purpose and significance. His foremost concern was for man’s salvation rather than his physical healing. The acts of healing were meant to signify that he who had the power to heal them physically is the one who has the power to save them spiritually for all eternity. The Lord affirms this point by asking, “Which is easier: to say, ‘your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” (Mt.9.5; Mk.2.9; Lk.5.23). The point is that only God’s power can do either, or both. It is not more difficult for God to heal, through Jesus Christ, than to forgive. But the cross of Christ demonstrates that it was far costlier for God to forgive our sins than to heal our physical ailments.

We need to understand these things clearly when it comes to praying for the sick or doing any other work by means of God’s power working through us. We must exercise the utmost care in all that we do, to be certain that we are doing it in obedience to His will alone, and never according to our own desires.

Every true child of God always makes it his aim to please Him, and will never misuse the authority that God has entrusted to him. To please the Lord, he will make every effort to press on to maturity or perfection, which is Christ-likeness.

8. God’s Work and Man’s Effort

We must deal briefly with a pitfall along the path to perfection. When we speak of making every effort, some people will find this objectionable. Immediately they would say, “But this is human works and effort,” as if “works” and effort are necessarily bad. I myself was brought up in this kind of thinking.

It is remarkable how many Christians fail to distinguish between two completely different kinds of works, with the result that they “throw out the baby with the bath water”. They talk as though the only works spoken of in the New Testament are the “works of the Law”. The apostle Paul writes with reference to this kind of works in Romans (e.g. 3.20,28) and Galatians (2.16; 3.2,5,10) in the context of man’s justification before God. The conclusion is that no man can be justified before God by means of the “works of the Law”.

But there is another kind of works that Christians not only should do but must do, because God has foreordained that we do them. In Ephesians 2.8-9, having said that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works, the apostle immediately goes on to say, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v.10). Paul is saying we are not saved by our own works but by God’s work in us, making us new persons in Christ.

And why did God make of us a new creation in Christ? “Created in Christ Jesus for good works”! Good works are what God created us for! And He foreordained “that we should walk in them” in order to glorify Him. These works are produced by “His power that is at work within us” (Eph.3.20; Col.1.29). Jesus our Lord “gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every law­less deed and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2.14, NKJV). The good works expected of His people are mentioned specifically in 1Tim.2.10; 5.10; 6.18, and elsewhere.

So there are “the works of the Law” as opposed to the “good works” which the new life in Christ produces in us, and “which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph.2.10). The failure to distin­guish these two entirely different kinds of works is the cause of the misguided rejection of all works and of the very purpose for which God created us as new persons in Christ! This indiscrim­inate rejection of all “works” has resulted in the spiritual disas­ter that will inevitably follow the rejection of what God has purposed for those whom He created anew in Christ.

A vital principle in Scripture is the co-relation­ship between God’s power and man’s effort. First, we must get the order right: God leads; we follow.

Second, we need to get the emphasis right: There is the danger of stressing God’s grace to the exclusion of human effort, but also the danger of stressing human effort to the extent of forgetting that it counts for nothing apart from God’s grace. Both grace and effort are needed; but grace always has the precedence, “for it is God who is at work in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Phil.2.13, NIV).

We think it is more spiritual to stress God’s role to the exclusion of man’s role, but that is false spirituality. If we stress the one to the exclusion of the other, we will fail to fulfill His preordained purposes for us.

The command, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt.5.48) presupposes that we are able to fulfill it. The Lord wouldn’t have commanded it if he didn’t require us to fulfill it. Many Christians think it is up to God to make us perfect. So we can sit back in our arm­chairs and wait for God to make us Christ-like one day.

The pursuit of perfection requires full determi­nation, but at the same time we must not forget that, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15.5). We are prone to destructive pride, so the Lord keeps us mindful of the fact that human effort alone cannot attain perfection. Yet he instructs us to pursue it, always depending on God’s grace. It is a golden balance: Perfection is commanded, so we strive for it. Perfection is beyond human attainment, so we depend on God’s grace for it.

Spiritual Passivity

We must never lose that balance. Some Chris­tians (e.g. the Quietists) promote “spiritual passivity,” believing it is spiritual to say, “God does everything, I do nothing. It is all of God’s power and sovereignty.” We could use this reasoning to absolve ourselves of every responsi­bility. This is dangerous. We might say, “I will say not­hing except what God wants me to say, and do nothing except what God wants me to do.” That may be good or bad depending on what you mean by it.

It would be good if we are always so close to God that we always hear His direct instructions about what we are to say or do every moment of the day. But what if (as is indeed the case with most people) we have not yet reached such intimacy with God, or such a level of perfection or maturity? In this situation, we would be obliged to hardly speak anything at all—which may not be a bad thing! But then we will also end up doing nothing. We would “vegetate” into passivity. We won’t serve God or love our brothers and sisters unless the Lord “inspires” us—as though God hadn’t already given us His commands about it so that we need some other direct communication from Him before we do anything at all. In this case, when you greet me, I will wait for an inspiration before I greet you back!

“Spiritual passivity” is deceptively spiritual-sounding. In the last days, even the elect will be deceived, if possible[23] (Mt.24.24). It is obvious that the elect won’t be deceived unless the teaching is couched in spiritual-sounding language. Only spiritual-sounding statements appeal to the elect. That is why we must press towards spiritual maturity in order to survive, for it is the mature who can discern good and evil (Heb.5.14). If you are not mature, you will be an easy victim of spiritual-sounding false doctrines.

9. Fulfilling God’s Explicit Commands

In actual fact, we don’t need some special “inspiration” before we get on with doing what we have already been called to do, such as to love God and the neighbor. If we fail to do these things, will we then plead that we failed due to lack of “inspiration” from God, and thus “pass the buck” back to Him for our failure? All the grace we needed had already been provided for us through God’s in­dwelling Spirit to accomplish that to which He has called us.

The one who presses on towards perfection will always make it his aim to obey God’s commandments, with or without “inspir­ation,” which in a spiritually immature person usually just means a “feeling”. And what does God command of us? He commands us to love, whether we feel “inspiration” or not. Even if I don’t feel like loving someone, I love because I am commanded to. We do what He commands. We may not have a natural liking for a certain per­son, but we will show him concern because of the Lord’s commands. We often have to disregard our feelings because they can get the better of us and cause us to do wrong.

Some people say they are not following God because they have not felt any “moving” from Him. What moving are they waiting for? Even if you felt an inner moving, would you be able to discern whether it is really from the Spirit of God? You may presume a spiritual discernment that you don’ t have. Only those who are faithfully pressing forward in Christ will be granted insight by the Spirit to discern one feeling from another. Even so, we can always stick to something reliable: faithful obedience to God’s explicit commands.

This is not to say that it is unnecessary to be moved or be led by the Spirit, nor to deny the reality of inspiration and insight from the Lord. These are important. But the question here is whether we are in the kind of spiritual condition in which we are able to discern God’s moving in us or to receive the inspiration He wants to give us. If we are not living in obedience, being ever ready to do what He commands, including what He has already commanded, how will we be able to discern His moving? He doesn’t move in this way in those who don’ t obey Him.

Jesus says, “Make disciples of all nations” (Mt.28.19). Are we going to wait for an inspiration or feeling before obeying that command? The command is clear and unambiguous: Go and make disciples! In our church we train people so that they can go out and make disciples. Are we to wait for some kind of feeling first? But if our response is: “Here I am Lord, I am ready to do as You have commanded. Please lead me to the people You want me to bring Your Word to, so that they can become Your disciples”, then you can be sure that God Himself will lead you in every detail and provide you with the power to accomplish it.

Pressing determinedly towards the mark means doing what God commands us to do. He has already instructed us in His word, there­fore we don’t need any further “inspiration” before we do God’s word. He has told me to love my wife; therefore I will love her even if she does something that displeases me. I aim to love her regardless of my mood. I won’t allow myself to be governed by my feelings, which are unreliable. I will fulfill my duty whether I feel good in the morning or not, knowing that God will give me the grace I need to fulfill it when I get on with being what He wants me to be.

When you are getting on with the job, fulfilling God’s com­mands, the Lord will guide you and empower you while you keep on moving forward in obedience to Him. When Paul went on his miss­ionary journeys, he was faithfully carrying out the command to make disciples of all nations. In the book of Acts we see how the Holy Spirit led him and did wonderful things through him as he moved forward in obedience to God’s com­mands.

What we need to understand is that anything that doesn’t move cannot be steered or guided. You cannot steer a car that is not moving. Likewise, the Holy Spirit cannot guide us if we don’t move in obedience to the explicit commands that God has already given.

On the other hand, there are Christians who are moving indeed, but not in obedience to the Lord. They do things their own way, yet want God to bless what they are doing. What they will inevitably end up with is a crash.

10. Striving With All the Energy That He Inspires in Me

The connection between God’s work and man’s work is seen in Colossians 1.28-29:

We proclaim him (Christ), warning every man and teach­ing every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man ma­ture in Christ. For this I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me. (RSV)

This verse shows the relationship between God’s work and man’s work. Paul strives and God energizes. What an inspiring picture! Paul presses forward, and God’s power empowers him as he moves on. As we obey God’s commands, He supplies us the strength and power. In this way we press towards the mark with all the energy which God mightily inspires within us.

We press on with firm determination in obedience to Him, knowing that God’s power—inward and outward—will be available to us: inwardly energizing us (this has nothing to do with our natural feelings), outward­ly subduing the power of the enemy, so that nothing will be impossible to accomplish. As Jesus says, “Nothing shall be impossible to you” (Mt.17.20).

Capture the vision. We can get the job done in this generation even if we are like grasshop­pers in comparison to the magnitude of the chal­lenges and obstacles before us. The Israelites described themselves as “grasshoppers” in comparison to the giant Nephilim (Num.13.33). They made this comparison after surveying the land that God had promised them, but which they were afraid to enter.

Our situation is similar to that of the Israelites who entered the Land of Promise and saw people who stood head and shoulders above them. It was in this kind of situation that God said to His ser­vant Joshua, “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1.5,6). “Be strong and courageous” is reiterated three times in this short pass­age (vv.6,7,9), which indicates the magnitude of the challenges the Israelites had to face.

11. Holiness and Perfection

The Bible has several synonyms for perfection, one of which is holiness. Perfection is holiness. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt.5.48) is equivalent to, “Be holy for I am holy,” or “You shall be holy for I am holy” (Lev.11.44‑45; 19.2; 20.7; 1Pet.1.16). The command to be perfect as we find it in the Sermon on the Mount is equivalent to the command to be holy given to the Israel­ites. To be perfect is to be holy; conversely, to be holy is to be per­fect.

Several Old and New Testament concepts form an interlocking chain: perfection, holiness, power, and victory. These are different aspects reflecting the one central reality. Therefore, be perfect as God is perfect, means that we are called to be whatever He is, or whatever Christ is. Be Christ-like because Christ is perfect. Be pure because Christ is holy. Be humble be­cause Christ is lowly in heart. Be strong because Christ is mighty. These lead to the same outcome: We can be overcomers because he who is in us is invincible; we can do the impossible because he does the impossible through us. In this way he reveals himself to the world through us his Body.

Our vision is too small. Jesus wants his disciples to widen their vision, and to see beyond the circumstances. We look beyond the enemy who is before us, and by faith take hold of God’s un­limited grace and power. In this way we, as his Body, reveal his life and proclaim his salvation to the ends of the earth.

A Holy Nation—to Proclaim God’s Excellencies

The Bible shows a parallel between Israel and the church. In Exodus 19.5‑6 Yahweh God says, “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This is applied to the church, the Body of Christ, in 1Peter 2.9:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

God calls Israel to be His special possession, a holy nation. How is Israel going to be God’s holy nation? By obeying His voice and keeping His covenant.

Holiness has two aspects: God’s calling and our response. We are called to holiness, but holiness is realized only if we respond to the call to obey His voice. A holy nation is one that obeys God’s voice and responds to His call of grace.

Holiness and obedience are key to the victory of God’s holy nation in a way that reveals Him to the nations. That is why a few chapters later, in Exodus 23.22, Yahweh says, “If you will truly obey that angel’s voice and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.”

A preeminent example of this, which became well-known to the nations of the world, was how Yahweh God dealt with Pharaoh and his hosts, the oppressors of His people Israel.

Another remarkable example is seen in the case of Gideon (Judges chapter 7), when the Israelites were facing a formid­able enemy: Midian and its allies and their armies. To give an idea of the magnitude of the enemy’s numbers, the ancient historian used the familiar hyperbole of sand on the seashore, saying that they were “as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as numerous as the sand on the seashore”.

In the face of an innumerable opposing force as this, Yahweh God purposely instructed Gideon to reduce Israel’s forces from 32,000 to 10,000, and then to 300 men! This was in order that Israel would not exalt herself and boast that, “My own strength has saved me” (verse 2). Yahweh was teaching Israel that they will gain the victory against imposs­ible odds, but only if they are obedient to Him. When Gideon obeyed, and went forth with the three hundred men against the armies of Midian, God secured for them such a resounding victory as would declare His Name to the nations.

Of course, all that we are talking about would be nonsense if God is not real. If God is not real, it would be silly to talk about invincibility because it would be a make-believe invincibility. Invinci­bility is possible only through supernat­ural power. If God is not real, our victory would be a purely human achievement, with perhaps a fifty-fifty chance of winning a battle if your forces and the enemy’s are evenly matched.

Only if God is real would it be sane to talk about invincibility. This means that only when God’s redeeming power is consistently manifested through us, whether individually or as a church—by which power the world can see that what God accomplishes through us is not a matter of chance or coincidence—only then will the world be obliged to acknowledge that God is real. How else will they acknow­ledge Him?

12. God’s Power in Nobodies

The lessons that Yahweh taught Israel in the Old Testament are also the lessons that He wants to teach us in the New Testament. There is so much relevant teaching in the Old Testament that we will just look at one more example of the connection between holi­ness and power and victory. In Deuteronomy 7.6‑7 we read:

You are a people holy to Yahweh your God. He has chosen you to be a people for His own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that Yahweh set His love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples.

God loved Israel not because the Israelites were great or wonder­ful people, but because they were nobodies. The nobodies of the world are eminently qualified to demonstrate God’s power. If God had demonstrated His power through a nation like China with its vast population and advanced culture, what would be impressive about that? Israel was, and still is, one of the smallest countries in the world.

God chose this tiny nation, this nonentity in the midst of several great nations of the world. The Israelites’ insignificance, because they were “the fewest of all peoples,” is precisely the reason given for His choosing them. He demonstrates His power through the weak, and makes known His glory through the lowly. If we are willing to be nobodies, God will be pleased to manifest His power through us. When we overcome impossible odds, everyone will know that the power must have come from God. That is the wisdom and the beauty of it.

When Israel was invaded by the mighty armies of Senna­cherib, king of Assyria, at that time the world’s foremost superpower, what could they do but cry out to Yahweh to save them? The Assyrian armies were strong, ruthless, confident and unequaled in might, and they were about to trample helpless Israel into the dust. But Yahweh dealt Assyria a decisive and crippling blow in which 185,000 Assyrians were killed in one night (2 Kings 19.16-36). God saves the weak and the helpless, and thus the glory belongs to Him alone.

In Deuteronomy 7.19, Yahweh goes on to say, “…the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which Yahweh your God brought you out; so will Yahweh your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.”

What God had done to mighty Egypt—bringing plagues upon them and destroying their armies—He will do to all the peoples who terrify His people. The Israelites may be afraid of their formidable enemies yet they will see God’s power in their midst if they trust in Him.

If you are living in God’s power, what problems in your life can­not be solved? If you are an overcomer in Christ, what relationship problems cannot be solved? Nothing will be impossible to you (Mt.17.20). Those who press towards perfection in the Lord will encounter hindrances, opposition, difficulties, and even suffering, but through Christ they will never encounter an insoluble problem.

In these last days, the church as the Body of Christ must fulfill her God-given role to manifest God’s saving glory to the nations. To carry out this responsibility, we need a profound and evident transformation in Christians everywhere such as will cause people to say, “Look, the living God is in their midst!”

 


[22] This is the same word as in John 1.12, “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right (exousia) to become children of God”. We discussed this verse in chapter 5, under the subheading “First Mark: Authority to Be Children of God,” and there considered the meaning of exousia in the footnote.

[23] Some argue that it is impossible for the elect to be deceived so as to be lost. The “if” in Mt.24.24 is, they claim, purely hypothetical. Others admit that the elect can be deceived, but without any danger of being lost. In that case, what exactly is the danger of being deceived? If there is no real danger, what is the point of the warning? If there is absolutely no possibility for the elect to be deceived or lost, then the prediction is pointless and meaningless—because it cannot happen. Does the Lord give meaningless prophecies? Even as a warning, it is equally pointless if the consequences cannot happen.

What then is the meaning of “if possible” here? “If” indicates something conditional: If this is the case, then that will follow. So the meaning of the Lord’s prediction is not that the elect cannot or will not be deceived, nor is it that the elect will inevitably be deceived in the future, but that under certain con­ditions (such as willfully disobeying the Lord) they can be deceived. For example, the statement, “We’ll go for a walk on Sunday, if possible” does not mean, “It will be impossible for us to go for a walk on Sunday,” nor does it mean, “We’ll certainly go for a walk on Sunday”, but it means, “We’ll go for a walk on Sunday, if the time is available, if the weather is favorable, and if other con­ditions (such as one’s health) make it possible”.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church