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7. 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 Jesus sets 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 to 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 discard Jesus’ 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, 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, not even at an advanced age.

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

The dangers of spiritual infancy

Spiri­tual growth is vital for survival. People who remain in spiritual infancy are in a precarious and vulnerable situation, 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 an image of a ship being thrown up and down, left and right, by powerful waves. The winds and the waves drive the ship ever closer to disaster. Paul is acquainted with shipwreck. He writes, “three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea” (2Cor.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 the 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.

Although infancy is the necessary first step towards adulthood, it is a dan­gerous period to be in. We are constantly worried for children because we see the dangers lurking around them which they do not see. Children often cannot discern danger.

The same is true of children in the spiritual sense. When hit by a stormy event in life, they struggle to fight the raging waves, unable to discern the treach­erous rocks lurking beneath the surface. Being inex­perienced in the spirit­ual life, they often fail to see the things which, to a spiritually mature person, are obvious dangers.

Even if you warn them, they may still be unable to see the danger below and might not heed your warning. Their eyes gaze longing­ly at the hav­en on the shore­lines, not realizing that the hidden rocks will smash 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” (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 struggle 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, yet 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 peril because he is being 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 are spirit­ually immature.

I once counselled 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 for me to rebuke this couple because of their wrong attitudes, which if allowed to remain, would destroy their marriage. But 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 turmoil, or are falling apart, because of immaturity.

Outwardly some Christians 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.

The importance of maturity or perfection

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

Firstly, as we have seen, perfection is vital for spiritual survival. To survive, we must grow up and press on towards perfection.

Secondly, we must press on to perfection as a matter of obedience. Those who don’t press on to perfection are disobeying the Lord Jesus’ com­mand. He doesn’t offer perfection as an option that we accept or decline, as some Christians suppose. Perfection is the very goal of our life in Christ, by which we are conformed to Christ’s perfect image.

Without that goal, our Christian lives would be aimless and direct­ionless, as seen in the lives of many Christians. Many think that the Christian life is about doing this or that for God, not real­izing that the first and foremost aspect is to be what God wants us to be.

Anyone who thinks that salvation doesn’t involve pressing on to perfection, doesn’t understand the Lord’s teaching. It is a failure to see God’s goal and purpose for our salvation: transform­ation into a new person in Christ. He is “the source of eternal salvat­ion for all who obey him” (Heb.5:9).

Thirdly, whereas the spiritually mature are the spiritually strong, babies are weak and lack wisdom. 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 (1 John 2:14 and context).

It can be stated categorically that every Christian who has spirit­ual power is one who is moving towards perfection or maturity in Christ. There is no Christian with spiritual power who is not pressing on wholeheartedly to perfection.

Shortcuts to spiritual power

Many Christians lack spiritual power, so they seek a quick way to get it. But there is no quick and easy way. You cannot get spiritual power by any gimmick or quick fix. If you think you have a shortcut to power by speaking in tongues, you will be deeply disappointed, as many have discovered for them­selves.

Others go to meetings in search of a preacher who will lay hands on them and impart power to them. When they find that they hadn’t received the power, they go to another meeting to receive another laying on of hands. Some have done this dozens of times.

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 to perfection with utmost determination. Then we will not fail to experience God’s dynamic power in the Christian life.

Neither is spiritual power gained by 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? Some have knowledge and some have eloquence, but whether they have power is another matter.

Why do we stress spiritual power? Is it because we are power hungry? No, it is because we need spiritual power for survival and victory. In the Christian life you either win or lose, with no middle ground between them. 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?

“I have overcome the world”

Let us widen our vision of strength and victory in the church. The Lord Jesus said to his small band of disciples, “I have overcome the world” (Jn.16:33). That was a bold statement to make because only three chapters later, he was dying on the cross. It is hard to imagine a worse scenario. “I have overcome the world” — such 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, thousands upon thou­sands are willing to die for him if forced to choose between death or denying him. Oppressive govern­ments in the past two millennia have discovered this. They underestimated the strength of the church even where it seemed insignificant. They thought they could snuff it out, yet they could not overcome it.

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

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

“I give you power over all the power of the enemy”

Let us grasp the force of Jesus’ statement in Luke 10:19: “I give you authority (exousia[1]) over all the power of the enemy.” The “you” is not limited to the apostles. The statement is addressed to the seventy disciples, but also to us if we are true disciples of the Lord.

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

God gives us power and authority to carry out His saving work in the world, even in the face of the most determined of hostile powers. The picture of invincibility, through the Spirit’s work and indwelling, is what we need to let God imprint in our hearts and minds. We can be invincible “because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1Jn.4:4)

The Lord Jesus started with twelve dis­ciples, who were still under training when he said to them, “I give you authority over all the power of the enemy.” He also had seventy disciples whom we might call “lay” disciples. Not much is known about the Seventy, but we can think of them as “lay” disciples, given the fact that they didn’t accompany Jesus everywhere and at all times. In any 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 the devil and the old serpent (Rev.12:9). Satan, together with his “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 Jesus’ statement 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 often used in the context of the crushing and trampling of grapes for wine making. This came to be used as a meta­phor for the judgment of the wicked: “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 mockers: “Jesus is going to shake the world with twelve guys and seventy nobodies? And do this by making them invinci­ble?!”

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 but more than that, he will help them 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, the power and glory belong to God alone. Let every true disciple rejoice in the fact that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).

Power for those who press towards perfection

Happily for us, spiritual power is given to a disciple even before he or she reaches full maturity, or perfection. If that were not so, we would despair of ever attaining to the needed power, and would be resigned to living 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. Yet it was to such people that God gave authority over all the power of the enemy.

So 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.

Then 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 the Lord equips us with the needed power well before we reach perfection, so long as we are moving forward in obed­ience. Pressing forward is the attitude we need to maintain consistently. As Paul says, “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. Use that power, and 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’ goal in sending his disciples out on a mission? When they returned, they hadn’t yet 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, “Though you are inade­quate, 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 (Luke 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”.

Dream the impossible

Let us grasp Jesus’ words and capture his vision: We will be invincible and triumphant in spiritual battle through the authority or power which he confers on us to fulfill our mission. That mission is to make him known, to declare the hope of salvation in Christ. No enemy on earth can stop the advance of God’s kingdom. Watch and see, and let that be our dream. When our dreams are inspired by God, they will come to pass as we press on towards the mark.

Many years ago, when we first started the full-time training program in our church — which is 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?” Well, it was a real problem back then. But with the completion of the training two years later, the earlier financial concerns evaporated from our collective memory. We advanced, and the problems fell back one by one.

One day the full-time ministry trainees 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, so that we may gain a fuller perspective of what we have read.” But everyone was aware of the high cost of the trip for an entire team, with airfare and other expenses to cover. But we said we would 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.

When later full-time trainings were established, no one expressed concerns about the finances any more. 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, yet we haven’t heard anyone express anxiety about the finances. We have become so acquainted with over­coming this problem that no one is worried about it anymore. We may be taking too much for granted, and ought to pray more earnestly about it.

Casting out demons, healing the sick

The Lord gives us power, and we will subdue the forces of darkness. There may be times when we will have to cast out demons, which is what happened during the mission of the Seventy (Luke 10:17). “Demons? Are you serious? Cast them out? 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?

We often 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,” will be forgotten.

The Lord will ask us to do other things such as praying for a sick person. This too was part of the mission of the Seventy (Luke 10:9). You might ask, “Me, Lord?” But if God moves you to pray for a 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 heal­ing the sick is mentioned in the Bible, but we’re living in the 21st century!” Is the 21st century somehow an 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 a setback and embar­rassment. 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, then a third, we are no longer anxious.

It is crucial, however, to realize that we are to exercise that power only in accordance with God’s will. We must therefore always live under His lordship. In the case of healing, for example, it is up to God to lead us to the one He chooses to heal according to His own purposes.

Jesus healed many during his earthly ministry, but the number healed amounted to only a small fraction of all the sick peo­ple in the land of Israel. Hence healing was not the main purpose of his ministry.

His acts of healing had a spiritual purpose. His foremost concern was for man’s salvation rather than his physical healing. The acts of healing signified that he who has the power to heal physically is the one who has the power to save people spiritually for all eternity. Jesus affirms this 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). Only God’s power can do either, or both. It is not more difficult for God to heal through Jesus Christ than to forgive. The cross of Jesus demon­strates that it was far costlier for God to forgive our sins than to heal our physical ailments.

We need to understand these things when we pray for the sick or do any other work through God’s power working in us. We must exercise the utmost care in all that we do, to be sure that we are doing it in accordance with His will and never according to our own desires.

Every true child of God will always strive to please Him, and will never misuse the authority that God has entrusted him. Such a per­son will make every effort to press on to maturity or perfection, which is Christ-likeness.

God’s work and man’s effort

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

Many Christians fail to distinguish between two totally different kinds of works, with the result that they “throw out the baby with the bath water”. They talk as if the only works spoken of in the New Testament are the “works of the Law”. The apostle Paul refers to this type 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, such that no man can be justified before God by the “works of the Law”.

But there is another kind of works that Christians ought to do, for God has foreordained that we do them. In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul, having said that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works, 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).

Why did God make of us a new creation in Christ? So that we may be “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 among His people are mentioned in 1Tim. 2:10; 5:10; 6:18, and elsewhere.

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 different types 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 led to spiritual disas­ter; it is a 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, then 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 the oppo­site is equally dangerous: stressing human effort but forgetting that it counts for nothing without 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 dichotomy is spiritually false. If we stress the one to the exclusion of the other, we will be unable to fulfill His preordained purposes for us.

The command “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt.5:48) presupposes our ability to fulfill it. The Lord would not have given this command if he didn’t require us to fulfill it. Many Christians think it is up to God to make us perfect, so we sit back and wait for God to make us Christ-like one day.

The pursuit of perfection requires determi­nation, yet at the same time we must not forget that, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We are prone to pride, so the Lord keeps us mindful of the fact that human effort alone cannot attain perfection. Yet he commands 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, including some Quiet­ists, pro­mote “spiritual passivity,” believing that it is spiritual to say, “God does every­thing, I do nothing, for all is of God’s power and sover­eign­ty.” We could follow this reasoning to absolve ourselves of every respon­si­bility: “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 is a good thing if we are so close to God that we always hear His direct instruction on what we are to say or do every moment of the day. But what if we have not reached such intimacy with God, or this level of maturity? In this case, we would be obliged to barely speak anything at all — which may not be a bad thing! But it also means that we will end up doing nothing, languishing in passivity. We won’t serve God or love our brothers and sisters unless the Lord “inspires” us — as if God hadn’t already given us His commands about it, such that we need direct communication from Him before doing anything.

“Spiritual passivity” is deceptively spiritual-sounding. In the last days, even the elect will be deceived, “if possible” [2] (Mt.24:24). The elect won’t be deceived unless the teaching is couched in spiritual-sounding language. Only spiritual-sounding statements appeal to the elect. We must press towards spiritual maturity to survive, for it is the mature who can discern good and evil (Heb.5:14). The spiritually immature will be easy victims of spiritual-sounding false doctrines.

Fulfilling God’s explicit commands

In fact we don’t need special “inspiration” before we get on with doing what we have already been called to do, such as to love God and love the neighbor. If we fail to do these things, will we then plead that we failed because of a lack of “inspiration” from God, and then “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 towards perfection will make it his aim to obey God’s commandments, with or without “inspir­ation,” which to a spirit­ually immature person usually just means a feeling. And what does God command of us? He commands us to love, whether we feel the inspiration or not. Even if I don’t feel like loving someone, I love because I am commanded to. We may not have a natural liking for a cer­tain per­son, yet we will show him concern because of what the Lord commands. We often have to disregard our feelings because they can get the better of us.

Some say that 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 that 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: obedience to God’s explicit commands in the Bible.

This is not to rule out being moved or led by the Spirit, or to deny the reality of inspiration from the Lord. These are important. But the question is whether we are in the right spiritual condition to discern God’s moving in us or to receive the inspiration He wants to give us. If we are not living in obedience, or are not ready to fulfill what He has already commanded, how will we discern His moving?

Jesus says, “Make disciples of all nations” (Mt.28:19). Are we going to wait for an inspiration or feeling before fulfilling that com­mand? It 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, 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 the Lord will lead you and provide you with the power to accomplish it.

When Paul went on his miss­ionary journeys, he faithfully carried out the command to make disciples of all nations. In the book of Acts we see how the Holy Spirit led him and did amazing things through him as he moved forward in obedience to the Lord’s com­mand.

Pressing determinedly towards the mark means doing what God commands us to do. He has already instructed us in His word, so we don’t need any further “inspiration”. He has told me to love my wife, so I will love her even if she does something that displeases me. I will love her irrespective 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 to fulfill it.

If something doesn’t move, it 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, 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 end up with is a crash, again to use the picture of driving.

Striving with all the energy that he inspires in me

The connection between God’s work and man’s 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, He gives us strength and power. We press towards the mark with all the energy that God mightily inspires within us.

We press on with determination and obedience to God, know­ing that His power — inward and outward — will be granted to us: inward­ly energizing us, outward­ly subduing the power of the enemy, so that not­hing will be impossible to achieve: “Nothing shall be impossible to you” (Mt.17:20).

Capture the vision. We will get the job done in this generation even if we are like grasshop­pers in the face of gigantic chal­lenges and obsta­cles. The Israelites described them­selves as grasshop­pers in comparison to the giant Nephilim (Num.13:33). They made the comparison after surveying the land that God had promised them, yet which they were afraid to enter.

Our situation is like that of the Israelites who entered the Land of Promise and saw people who stood head and shoulders above them. It was in this 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” occurs three times in this short pass­age (vv.6,7,9), indicating the magnitude of the challenges the Israelites had to face.

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 parallel 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, victory. These are various aspects of the one central reality. To be perfect as God is per­fect means that we are to put on His character, or the character of His Son Jesus Christ. 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.

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

A holy nation to proclaim God’s excellencies

The Bible has a parallel between Israel and the church. 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.” (Exodus 19:5-6)

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, just as a holy nation obeys God’s voice and responds to His call.

Holiness and obedience are crucial for the victory of God’s holy nation by which He is revealed to all nations. 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 Israel.

Another remarkable example is seen in the case of Gideon (Judges 7) when Israel was facing a formid­able enemy in the form of Midian, its allies, and their armies. To convey the magnitude of the enemy’s numbers, the ancient historian used the familiar hyperbole of sand on the seashore: “their camels were without number, as numer­ous as the sand on the seashore”.

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

All that we are talking about would be nonsense if God is not real. If He is not real, it would be silly to talk about invincibi­lity because it would be a make-believe invincibility. Invinci­bility is possible only with 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 our forces are evenly matched with the enemy’s.

Only if God is real would it be rational to talk about invincibility. Only when God’s power is consistently manifested through us, either individually or as a church, will the world be obliged to acknowledge that God is real.

God’s power in nobodies

The lessons that Yahweh taught Israel in the Old Testament are 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 specially loved Israel not because the Israelites were great 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 the great nations of the world. The insignificance of the Israelites — they were “the fewest of all peoples” — is precisely the reason 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 too. 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, which was then the world’s foremost superpower, what could they do but cry out to Yahweh to save them? The Assyrian armies were ruth­less, confident, and unrivalled in strength, and were about to trample helpless Israel into the dust. But Yahweh dealt Assyria a crippling blow in which 185,000 Assyrians were killed in one night (2Kings 19:16-36). God saves the weak and the helpless, so the glory belongs to Him alone.

In Deuteronomy 7:19, Yahweh says,

“… 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 those 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 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 on towards perfection will encounter hindrances, opposition, diffi­culties, and even suffering, but by God’s grace, 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. We need a deep transformation in Christians as will cause people to say, “Look, the living God is in their midst!”

[1] 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 and the meaning of exousia in chapter 5 of this book, under the subheading “First Mark: Authority to Be Children of God”.

[2] Some have argued 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, where exactly is the dan­ger of being deceived? If there is no real danger, what is the point of the warning? If there is no possibility for the elect to be deceived or lost, the predict­ion would be pointless. 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”? “If” indicates something condit­ional: If this is the case, then that will follow. The meaning of Jesus’ 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. 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 will 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 make it possible”.


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