by Gina Lynnes
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To begin an article with such divine words, the same words used by men like the Apostle Paul and recorded in the Word of God itself, is a humbling and uncomfortable thing to do. Quite honestly, I’ve been sitting here for a good while trying to find other words that would work as well.
I didn’t come up with any, of course, because those words are the Standard. They were given by the Holy Spirit in the beginning to establish the heavenly tone God desires for believers to use in their communications to each other.
Certainly, I thought of other phrases more original and more contemporary but they all left me cold. I’m tired of “original and contemporary.” It is the Standard my heart is hungry for these days.
Especially in times of prayer, I sense a craving for it. I find my spirit longing for something deeper, richer, purer and higher than what we often find in Christian circles today. My heart calls out, not for something new but for something old. And no matter how I try to pacify it with other, seemingly good and scriptural things, it keeps calling…and calling…and calling.
Shocked…and Inspired by the Bible
Over the years I’ve learned there’s only one thing to do with a heart cry like that. Lift it to the Lord. So that is what I’ve done. As He often does, God has responded not by satisfying that cry but by intensifying it.
And amazingly enough, He did that simply by taking me back to the Book I thought I knew so well. He did it by taking me back to the Bible.
About a year ago, He began leading me to read the book of Acts and the Epistles in a way I’ve never read them before. Instead of focusing on my favorite verses, He directed me to read entire sections as if I were seeing them for the first time. As I did, He helped me to look not at the scriptural principles for success we so often emphasize today, but to examine instead the spirit in which those passages were originally written.
I’ve also been prompted to read historical accounts of the first century saints who followed most closely in the footsteps of those New Testament writers. I wanted to see how the truths they received directly from those first Apostles influenced their attitudes and lives.
In the process, I have been both shocked…and inspired.
Shocked to see how many times I have read and quoted New Testament scriptures and still missed their primary meaning. Shocked to realize just how far American charismatic Christianity has drifted from the New Testament standard. But inspired to realize that despite that deviation, the Spirit of God is reawakening me (and, no doubt, many other believers) to His original design.
During the past year as that design has emerged before my eyes, I’ve marveled at the unearthly beauty of those first believers who were so dead to the world they could honestly say, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I’ve breathed the fragrance of saints whose passionate desire was not to live richer and more comfortable lives…but to lay down their lives for the Lord.
And I have heard the Holy Spirit say, “This, dear daughter, is the Standard I have put within you. This is the true spirit of My Church. Try as you may to satisfy yourself with lesser things, your heart will never stop calling for it. It is the way you were re-created to live.”
Missing the Obvious
It alarms me that it has taken me so long to seriously consider some of the things I am seeing in the New Testament now. After all, they are not hidden truths. They are not little-known spiritual secrets that must be discerned by those especially gifted or wise.
They are the obvious truths. How did I miss them?
I think I made a mistake that’s common in our circles. I fell into the habit of finding in scripture that which I was looking for…while overlooking what the Lord primarily intended me to see.
I read the Bible with eyes clouded by my contemporary perspective and I didn’t faithfully stop to ask myself what the original New Testament writer was saying. I didn’t stop to consider the major point he was making or the spirit behind it.
Take for example, the often quoted words of the Apostle Paul from the fourth and fifth chapters of Second Corinthians, “I believe, therefore I speak!…I look not at things which are seen but at the things which are not seen…I walk by faith and not by sight!”
Are We Really Saying what Paul Said?
Think about it. What are we usually doing when we declare those words? Most of the time, we’re endeavoring to lay hold of some natural, earthly blessing we desire. We often rely on those scriptures to call into being that new house…that better job…or that new car we want. Or we use them when we’re believing to be delivered from some uncomfortable situation, some negative circumstance that is threatening us.
I am not criticizing that. I believe God delights in blessing and delivering His obedient people. And, certainly, we can use those verses to confess our faith in that fact. I have done it before and will, no doubt, do it again myself.
With that said, however, I want you to notice something.
When Paul wrote those phrases, he was not referring at all to natural blessings. In fact, earthly blessings were the farthest thing from his mind. He was totally focused upon his eternal reward.
Paul was boldly confessing his faith in the face of eventual martyrdom. He was describing how totally he had given up his temporal life for the sake of the Lord Jesus and for the sake of those to whom he preached the gospel. Read it in context for yourself. You’ll see that, in essence, he was saying:
I face death every day. I am under constant pressure. Outwardly, I am perishing for the sake of the Gospel. But that doesn’t stop me because I have a spirit of faith within me. I BELIEVE THEREFORE I SPEAK and say that even if I die in these afflictions, the Lord Jesus will one day resurrect me along with all the believers I have preached to!
I consider these persecutions and afflictions I am facing to be nothing compared to the eternal reward I’ll receive for enduring them! So I keep right on obeying God and doing what He has called me to do despite all the hardships and natural losses I suffer. I keep serving God BECAUSE I DON’T LOOK AT THE THINGS THAT ARE SEEN BUT AT THE THINGS THAT ARE UNSEEN!
“Even if my very body is destroyed in the process of obeying God—so what?! It’s just a temporary tent anyway. My eternal dwelling place is in heaven with the Lord. In fact, I groan everyday wishing I were already there.
“And though I can’t see that place right now, I’m confident it’s there because I WALK BY FAITH AND NOT BY SIGHT. So dead or alive—it makes no difference to me— all I care about is pleasing the Lord because I know we will all appear before His judgment seat and receive recompense for what we did in the body—whether good or bad.
Selah. (Pause and think about that.)
A Dangerous Deviation
Now, consider again how we usually use Paul’s words as a means of obtaining earthly blessings by faith. Although there is nothing wrong with that, I believe it would help us greatly to consider this.
Paul used those phrases to confess his detachment from the comforts and pleasures of this temporal world. He was saying, “They mean nothing to me in the light of serving Jesus. My faith is focused on eternity.”
We have used those phrases to confess our attachment to the comforts and pleasures of this temporal world. We are usually saying, “They are very important to me and I’m going to use my faith to get them.”
The spirit in which we most often confess those words is totally contrary to the spirit in which they were originally said. As a result, we have—without even realizing it—deviated from the Standard.
How could such a thing happen to good people like us?
It could happen because, as good as our intentions are, we’ve slipped into some bad spiritual habits. We’ve spent more time listening to what our contemporaries have to say about the Bible, for example, than we’ve spent reading it for ourselves. We’ve compared our attitudes and lifestyles more to “successful” Christians in our day than to people like the Apostle Paul or the early Church members.
What’s more, we’ve developed the dangerous habit of focusing on individual scriptures from the Bible (scriptures which support our contemporary ideas and lifestyles) without taking the time to study those scriptures in context. We haven’t disciplined ourselves to search the entire passage to see what the original author was truly saying. We haven’t been diligent to discern the primary point and spirit of their message.
If we had, we would have noticed that the book of Acts speaks very little about what the early Church had naturally and materially, but it says a lot about what they became spiritually. The Epistles teach comparatively little about how we can get the stuff we want from God, but they say a great deal about the life we should be living for Him.
Somehow, in our modern day American charismatic circles, we’ve managed to turn that around. We’ve lost the balance the Bible gives us. We’ve slipped away from the Standard.
No wonder when people ask me about prayer, what they usually want to know is how to use it to get God to give them some temporal blessing or meet some earthly need. They think the most important thing they can learn in prayer is how to go about getting things from God so they can be happy and successful in this life.
But the kind of prayer we need most is not the kind that focuses on getting. It’s the kind that focuses on becoming. It’s the kind that cries out to God to give us the grace to mortify the selfishness of our flesh and cleanse ourselves of every thought, attitude and action that doesn’t bring glory to God.
The kind of prayer we need most is that which arises from our hearts when we compare ourselves to the Standard of Jesus and of those disciples who were given to us as examples in the scripture. It’s the kind that’s fueled by the faith that comes when we look at those examples and say, “The same Jesus who made them what they were is the Jesus who lives in me! And by the power of His life, I WILL follow in their footsteps!”
What Really Matters
Don’t worry. I’m not saying that because we’re Christians we should never have (or ask God for) natural stuff.
That’s not my point at all. My point is that if we are living according to the Standard Jesus gave us, stuff won’t matter much to us. What will matter to us is pleasing the Lord. In the light of all He has done for us, we’ll be so grateful that we’ll kneel before Him every day, not so we can give Him our latest list of earthly desires but so we can lift our hearts in love before Him and say:
“I delight to do Your will, O God. I care not what that will is or where it takes me. I care not whether it be difficult or easy. I care not whether it adds to me great earthly possessions or calls for me to lay them down. I care only that at the end of each day, I can look into My Savior’s eyes, see Him smile and hear Him say, ‘Well, done, My good and faithful servant.’”
That confession measures up to the New Testament standard. It reflects the spirit God has put in the heart of every true believer. It is a spirit of detachment from self and total dedication to the Person and the cause of the Lord Jesus whose love for us compels us to live no longer for ourselves but for Him who died for us (2 Cor. 5:14).
Beloved, that is the true spirit of Christianity. Let’s join together and pray continually to God for the grace that will bring us all back to it.
Let’s pray for the day when the vast majority of our books, tapes and messages are not about how we can get the most out of God in the here and now…but how we can give the most to Him in the light of eternity.
Let’s pray for the day when we can preach on holiness without having to add a “personal benefit” angle to it. Right now it seems we have to show people how living holy lives will bring them more earthly blessings. Otherwise, they aren’t interested.
Dear heavens, what has happened to us?
Have we grown so distant from the Master we no longer shrink in horror from sin just because it dishonors His holy Name and grieves His loving heart? Have we so lost our love for Him that we find no joy in making sacrifices simply to bless Him and further the cause for which He died?
Have we become so spiritually near-sighted that we have forgotten that temporal sacrifice, the denial of fleshly lusts, the giving of our life and our resources on behalf of others brings eternal reward? Or have we just ceased to value that reward very highly?
Can We Really Have Heaven on Earth?
I realize that at one time the Church was stuck in a theological ditch believing that God would do nothing for His people during this life, that He was saving all their blessings for the next life. That was wrong. But we must pray fervently now for it seems that having been delivered from that ditch, we are in danger of digging an even deeper one on the other side of the road.
So much of our focus these days is upon how we can use the principles of God to make this tiny, temporal existence as comfortable and pleasant as possible.
We focus on our bank accounts being full. We focus on getting all our emotional needs met. We focus on being successful according to worldly standards. We focus on having a marriage that perfectly meets all our needs. We focus on feeling “fulfilled” in every area of our little lives. We are constantly using our faith to create our own personal, heaven on earth.
Actually, there’s nothing wrong with wanting heaven on earth. Deuteronomy 11:12 says we should have it. But there is only one way to get it—
•By getting our hearts and minds so set on Jesus and so deeply in fellowship with Him that absolutely nothing on earth can disturb our peace.
•By dying so completely to the world that nothing in it can hurt us.
•By giving ourselves over so totally to the Lord Jesus that we can say, “…for me to live is Christ and to die is gain!”
Now that’s the New Testament Standard of heaven on earth.
“Yeah, but I can’t just live on relationship with God,” you might say. “As long as I’m on this earth, I need material stuff. I can’t be a blessing to anyone else if I’m broke myself.”
I know that and so does God. But He said, “Don’t worry about your own needs. Just seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.”
No More “Blessing Bait”
Sometimes our modern, western minds have interpreted that verse to mean we should use God’s principles to get what we want. So we’ve set our hearts on having a great temporal life and then tried to get it by obeying God.
That’s not the New Testament way! That’s the way God dealt with His Old Covenant people. He had to work with them that way because they were not born again. They were totally incapable of keeping that first and greatest commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matt. 22:37).
God had to use “blessing bait,” to get them to obey Him. Even then, they couldn’t do it for long periods of time. The sin principle working in them ensnared them.
But in the New Covenant, we have new hearts. Because we’ve been born again through faith in Jesus, we can finally love God the way He deserves to be loved. We can finally obey Him not so we can get something from Him…but so that we can give something to Him!
That’s the attitude we find as we look back at the original Standard. It is the attitude we find in those first believers who followed it most closely. They considered it an honor and a joy not only to give up their personal possessions and desires for Jesus but to lay down their very lives for Him!
Carry the Torch High
Recently, I’ve been reading historical accounts of the first century Church and the original runners who first carried the heavenly torch of real Christianity. One of those who caught my attention was a first century disciple named Justin Martyr. A scholar and philosopher of his day, he was once a confirmed cynic who totally rejected the Christian faith. Believing the lies he was told about the Christians’ wickedness and cruelty, he had no interest in such barbaric people.
But those were the days when Christians were being fed to the lions. And as Justin sat in the Roman coliseums and watched them die his heart was changed. “…I found them fearless in the face of death and all that men think terrible,” he wrote. “It dawned on me that they could not possibly be living in wickedness and self-indulgence. For how could [such a person]…greet death with a smile, as if he wanted to be deprived of the things he loved most?”
No doubt, Justin eventually learned the answer to that question. He found out that in the life of a true Christian, that which he loves most lies not on this side of the eternal veil…but on the other.
Eventually, Justin too fell in love with the Master who had inspired in these heavenly-minded believers such unworldly devotion. He also followed in their footsteps—not only in life but in death.
Dear heavens! you may be thinking. I could never lay down my life like that. I just don’t have that kind of selfless devotion to God in my heart.
Yes, you do!
You have the same Spirit living in you that lived in those early believers. You are born of the same spiritual nature. You have access by faith to the same grace. The same selfless love that was shed abroad in their hearts has been shed abroad in yours and mine—and all who believe in Jesus. It’s just been obscured by the carnal weights and trappings of our worldly Christian culture.
Beneath the ash and soot of fleshly selfishness that’s not only been condoned but cultivated by much of the church in recent years, there smolders within us all the same spiritual fire that burned in the hearts of men like Paul, Peter, John…and Justin Martyr. May God help us clear away the debris and rekindle that eternal flame so we can carry it as honorably and as high as they did.
By God’s grace, may it shine as brightly in our hands and it did in theirs as we take up our cross daily and follow Jesus. May we set our hearts once again on Him alone…and rise to meet the Standard.