In Kingdom 45, I ended with this statement : True spirituality is not an invisible private self-focused thing inside a person, or inside the 4 walls of the church, true spirituality is love. The opposite of love is not hatred. The opposite of love is self. To love is to be centred on others, not on ourselves. As with individuals, so also with church. Christians are so focused on church, church, church and church, and the church is so focused on itself that they cannot see the needs of people around them.
Another thing, so long as the church is focused on church, it will never see the Kingdom, and God’s plan to restore His Kingdom on earth. Instead of church growth, we need to look outside of the 4 walls of the church and step out to work with God for His Kingdom to advance. Here’s something I did not share earlier. There was once I asked some leaders at the end of a Kingdom workshop what they got out of the workshop. They said their eyes had been opened. But they asked, “How is it we have been leaders and pastors for so many years, and we’ve all been through seminary, and some of us even teach in seminary, but how is it that we have never seen all this before?” I told them there’s a Chinese proverb that says, “When you are on the mountain, you cannot see the mountain.” They laughed and one of them said, “So all of us were born on the mountain and we never came down that mountain.” The church not only cannot see the Kingdom, the church cannot see what it has become.
Why are we so self-focused and immersed in ourselves? Well as I’ve said in Kingdom 45 it is because of the sin nature in us that makes us naturally and hopelessly self-centered. Jesus confirmed to the legal expert that unless we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves, we would not have eternal life. If we are honest with ourselves, we know we can’t do that. And if we want to make sure that we do what it takes to qualify, like the legal expert, that’s not loving our neighbours. That’s loving ourselves. So we are in a predicament. We cannot love and yet we know what Jesus said. So what is the solution? How can we truly love? I addressed this question from Kingdom 24–28. The solution is not to try and argue ourselves out of what Jesus plainly told us and try and base our salvation on a wrong understanding of Jn.3:16, nor is it to go the other extreme of trying to force ourselves to love. That would really be going back to the law.
The answer is neither to remain in denial nor to try and save ourselves, but to go back to God. Apart from God, we cannot really love. In fact Jesus said it is impossible and it is only God who can make it possible. But that does not mean there is no responsibility at all on our part. In everything between God and man there are 2 parts – God’s part and man’s part. Man cannot do God’s part and God will not do man’s part. In order for us to be truly reconciled to God and be one with God, we have to do our part. We have to yield and surrender our kingdoms to Jesus. And we need to choose to love. Then we need to learn to receive God’s love. That’s where I shared with you Joe Ozawa’s dream.
Receiving God’s love first of all heals us of our own emptiness, frustration, and brokenness that comes from striving on our own. Second, it enables us to love as He loves. When we do that, when we yield and surrender and ask God to fill us with His love, then God will do His part. He will enable and empower us. In Jn.15 Jesus talked about the vine and branches. Branches cannot bear fruit unless they remain attached. Jesus said if we remain in Him, He will remain in us, and we will bear fruit. Jesus also said that we can ask the Father to do it in us, so that we can bear much fruit, and that will be evidence that we are His disciples.
Salvation by grace we will discover is not just receiving God’s forgiveness but includes God fulfilling His own law by living in us and through us. The purpose of being reconciled and reunited with God is not just so that we can escape hell and be forever with God in heaven. The purpose of being reconciled and reunited with God is so that we can be one with God. When we are one with Him, we can be like Him and we can love as He loves. That was what Jesus prayed in Jn. 17. It is going back to original design. Not to become like God independently of God, which was what the devil suggested to Adam and Eve. But to become like Him through being one with Him.
From the beginning to the end, that is God’s one and only agenda. Christ in us the hope of glory. And that is also what glorifies God. Not big church buildings and big meetings, which is just self-aggrandisement, but people who reflect His character. Of all that God created, nothing glorifies Him more than when man who is made to be like Him, actually becomes like Him. Jesus said it is by this that people will know we are His disciples. Not fantastic preaching. Not even miracles. It is when we love each other as He has loved us.
God is love and He created us to be like Him so that we can love – to love Him and love others. But the full potential of becoming like Him and the ability to love cannot happen unless we are first given the power of choice. Love is not something that can be programmed into us. If God could press a button in us to love Him, that wouldn’t be love. Love is not love unless it comes out of a heart that is free to choose. So God gave us choice. That’s where I shared with you the story of my dog Betsy in Kingdom 28. Remember my dog Betsy? Betsy did not become my dog until I let her go and she came back to me. In the same way, God had to let us go to give us the choice whether to return to Him. But choice means little until it is tested. That is why God not only put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden, He put the devil there.
Contrary to what many Christians believe, the Bible is clear that the fall of man into sin, and Jesus’ coming to earth as saviour was not an afterthought rescue plan, but was pre-planned and ordained by God from the very beginning. Paul says that God Himself subjected the whole of creation to frustration in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. Adam and Eve and all of us would have to be tested. One day the perfect will come. Meanwhile the world would be put to the test, as well as given the opportunity to learn to overcome and to learn to love – what would each of us choose?
I did not say this earlier, but Paul told us in 1 Cor.13 that when the perfect comes, everything will be revealed. But before that happens, it is while we are living in the imperfect, and while our knowledge and understanding is partial, that we are tested, and we can also learn to love. When the perfect comes, there is no need any more for faith, or hope, or learning to love.
As you heard me say in Kingdom 35, if we remained in the garden of Eden where everything is perfect we would never grow and mature. We would never learn to love. It is only when we are put into a situation where we are challenged by the limitations of this 3 dimensional physical world we are in, and the limitations of time, and challenged by our own weaknesses and limitations, and challenged with the needs of others .. ha .. that’s when we are repeatedly faced with a choice whether to love others or to love ourselves, right? Shall we die to self and put others first? Or shall we choose to love ourselves instead, to put ourselves first and save ourselves? I always give this simple illustration whenever I’m teaching in India. It’s lunch time and there’s 20 of us, but only 5 packets of Briyani. Who gets to eat the Briyani and who doesn’t?
That’s why in the present imperfect, there remains faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love. It is when we choose to reach out in love despite being wronged, or despite being falsely accused, or misunderstood, or despised, or when we are in want or suffering lack ourselves, that’s when we unite with God’s desire for us and by His Spirit we are changed to become more like Him. That’s why God subjected the whole of creation to frustration so that through pain and agony, and through trials and suffering He would purify and refine for Himself those who will look like Him, and walk like Him, and think like Him, and feel like Him and even smell like Him. They would have learnt to overcome self, and overcome the devil, and overcome the world. Then they would be ready to reign and rule with Him. Paul says the angels and the whole of creation are waiting in eager expectation to see who in the end will be revealed as the children of God. That’s the “behind the scenes” story I told in Kingdom 29. But, we must remember this. Not trying to become like God apart from Him, but becoming like Him through being one with Him.
I’ll continue in Kingdom 47.
These are transcripts of audio messages so they are better heard than read. If you would like to listen to them, the audio clips can be found here : https://goo.gl/KN4JYL . It’s a folder on googledrive, so you’ll need to sign in with your google account username and password (or sign up for a google account) to be able to access it.