The damage caused by the rejection of the first-hand government of God is first and foremost spiritual and therefore invisible until it becomes manifest in our behaviour. It can only be properly understood when we consider how a human spirit, our innermost being, should be.
Historically, just as ancient Israel did, we as the church of God have often missed the whole point of God’s eternal purpose. We have sometimes thought and acted as if it’s about us becoming morally perfect, obedient in every way, forgetting that it’s first and foremost about us becoming a loving family. We are:
called according to His purpose… to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.1
We are not to become conformists, clones as produced by totalitarian regimes such as Stalin’s or Mao’s – Jesus became like us so that anyone who’s willing can become like Him, to be the delight of the Father’s heart forever. Accordingly, as Keith Green sings, “my one and only goal, His image in my soul”.
Instead, we have aimed at creating an outward obedience, a memorising of creeds and prayers and repeating rituals rather than at developing true spirituality, as led and taught by the Holy Spirit within us. 2
This transformation has two distinct phases: the first, partial and growing, and the second, perfect and complete.3 John, ‘the beloved disciple’, described it like this:
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.4
This perfect and complete likeness will not be achieved in us until Jesus returns and His kingdom is the only thing left standing. Meanwhile, until He returns, the Holy Spirit is at work within every believer, changing whatever can be changed now:
(We) are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.5
However, the extent to which the Holy Spirit can do this is, astonishingly, limited to our cooperation with Him right now.6
Looking again at Israel’s mistake, remember they could see four short-term and natural benefits of having a king:
(i) They could relate more easily to someone they can see
(ii) “that we also may be like all the nations”
(iii) “that our king may judge us”
(iv) “and go out before us and fight our battles”
Our churches today often use the same arguments for us having authority figures lead us. However, each of these causes a directly corresponding ‘leanness’ or retardation in developing the adult human spirit, i.e. prevents us becoming like Jesus, so let’s carefully consider each one.
(i) DAMAGE FROM HAVING A VISIBLE, CENTRAL AUTHORITY FIGURE
Firstly, we are told of Moses:
By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.7
What gave Moses his endurance, his persistence against such vast odds? He kept his eyes on ‘Him who is unseen’; Moses challenged the powerful and contrary but mortal and visible king of Egypt because his faith was in ‘the King of the ages, immortal, invisible’.8 He knew to ‘look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen’.9 In other words, he trusted in God.
Is this too high an expectation to have of the rest of us as the people of God, that we should ‘see Him who is unseen’? Paul thought not. He wrote that we now have a better covenant than Moses, with better access to God:
But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.10
We saw above that the Holy Spirit changes us but here we see how. Paul reveals that it is in ‘seeing Him who is unseen’ that the eternal purpose of God is accomplished. As we behold Him, face to face, we are transformed by the Spirit of God into what we see. But the corollary is also true: if we do not ‘see Him who is unseen’, we are not ‘transformed into the same image’. Like Moses, we must see the King, the only One we are allowed to serve in the spiritual realm.11
Secondly, consider the whole Corinthian church. Paul rebuked them for their carnality in their quest for Christian authority figures and the consequences to them:
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ… for you are still fleshly.. and are you not walking according to man? For when one says `I am of Paul’, and another `I am of Apollos’, are you not mere men?12
The desire to have as our authority even godly, visible, Christian leaders instead of listening for the commands of the invisible Holy Spirit is an evidence of ‘leanness of soul’, of retarded spiritual growth: “Are you not mere men?”, “not.. spiritual men but men of flesh, ..babes in Christ… walking according to man“. Paul urged the Corinthians, and us, to see the invisible King, Christ Himself, and grow up:
So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas… ; all things belong to you and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.13
He went on to explain that, instead of seeing their leaders as authority figures, they should recognise them as ‘servants through whom you believed’ 16 Just as Jesus taught, Paul taught that all true leaders are servants who don’t have and don’t need authority.
My friend James Doak often quoted to me the words of Jesus:
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master.”17
He points out from these that if we allow anyone other than Jesus to become our teacher or our master, we will necessarily stunt our growth – we will become like them, with their failings and weaknesses, instead of like Jesus. Of course, the Lord often uses people to teach or to give us His commands but they never to become more than servants or stewards as we listen for His voice through them.18
Jesus being our Teacher and the Master19 means we must ‘see Him who is unseen’, ‘the King of the ages, immortal, invisible’, and become like Him. We are to have leaders and to learn from them, but to search for any kind of spiritual authority figure is a natural and carnal desire that should never be encouraged in the church of God since its consequence is long-term ‘leanness of soul’.
(ii) DAMAGE FROM THE WORLD’S WAY
This way is very easy to find and walk in because it’s the way the whole world operates – the whole world, but not God:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”20
The way the world does things, including the way their leaders lead, is “broad” and easy to walk in and offers us “many” companions, examples, and role models, but in the plainest words of the Lord Himself, it also “leads to destruction”.
What exactly is destroyed by the natural realm’s leadership roles? There are two destructive effects, one towards each other and the second towards God.
(a) Towards each other
For leaders to exercise authority, to be lords or kings, requires an unnecessary self-abasement of every other adult believer. It requires that the majority of the people of God abandon their calling as kings and priests for the sake of the few who are called to be leaders. Paul warns us:
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement…21
Of course, this self-abasement must not be confused with humility. Humility is accepting our true worth and for Christians that can only be defined by God. Self-abasement, however, is false humility which insists on a lower personal worth than God’s estimation, thus allowing us to be defrauded of our prize.
As unbelievers, we are sinners deserving only condemnation; in Christ, however, we are called by God Himself to be His children and ‘a royal priesthood’22 – we must resist any temptation to abandon our calling. We must hold onto ‘the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints’.23 David, the leader God called “a man after My heart, who will do all My will”,24 revealed his personal attitude to the saints:
As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.25
So how do leaders fit in? Since all believers are the ‘royal priesthood’, leaders are, again in the plain words of the Lord Jesus Himself, to be servants to them. Leaders who are not servants are actually defrauding their people by encouraging them to self-abasement rather than humility, introducing ‘leanness to their soul’.
(b) Towards God
The ways of the world can be easily learned from the world. In deliberate contrast, the way of God is spiritual and a mystery:
“I will lead the blind by a way they do not know,
In paths they do not know I will guide them.”26
A completely unknown way requires the presence of a guide who becomes the way. Sound familiar? Since we can’t see the paths of the Spirit, we “do not know where the wind comes from and where it is going”,27 so the only possible solution is for us to commit ourselves to Him to get anywhere. We even have to be “born again”, to become as little children and learn new ways from the start.
The worst obstacles to this unknown way are therefore known ways, since they cause us to rely on ourselves and not on Him. I remember so well what a hard lesson it was to learn to ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding’.28 How easy to forget! This ‘leanness’ comes by simply conforming to the ways of the world through familiarity. No wonder Paul had to say:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.29
(iii) DAMAGE FROM NOT MAKING THE HARD DECISIONS
Some decisions can be arrived at easily. It doesn’t require a great deal of personal judgement to decide what is the will of God on black and white issues, such as “Should I steal money from a bank, crash this car, murder my neighbour, cheat on my wife?” The Scriptures are clear if we are in any doubt but what about “Should I take this job, marry that person, go to another church, or city?” The Scriptures can only give general guidelines on these issues and do not mention the particular job, person, church, or city. And what about issues that are right for some believers and wrong for others? Should a recovered alcoholic drink alcohol? Should anyone drink alcohol, eat some foods, listen to certain kinds of music, wear their hair long or short, dress in a particular way?
These decisions cannot be arrived at easily, must be decided on an individual basis, and should actually vary on different occasions,30 so who should accept the responsibility for these judgments? Every individual, adult believer, of course. Paul’s answer to these kinds of issues is clear:
The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.31
In His kingdom, we must do whatever is righteous ‘in the Holy Spirit’ as confirmed by the peace and joy that only He can give, and that’s necessarily subjective. It also requires a great dealing of learning, some by trial and error, but this continual practice is essential to our spiritual growth. Consider the rebuke by the writer to the Hebrews regarding their failure to grow in this way:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil 32
If maturity is reached by bearing that responsibility and by ‘practice’, if our senses are ‘trained’ by practice so we can discern God’s definitions of ‘good and evil’, what is the predictable, indeed inevitable, effect of not accepting or being allowed that responsibility or practice? Lack of discernment and lack of maturity. We will be delayed or retarded in ‘growing up in all aspects into Him’.33
This applies not just to decisions of whom to marry and where to live, but also to many doctrinal issues where often conformity to the group view is held to be essential for fellowship. Unfortunately, many churches and all cults make far too many decisions on behalf of their people. In keeping this ungodly and unscriptural control, they ensure their people are, at best, ‘children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men’. 34
We need to be as crystal clear on this as Paul:
Let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day… Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize…35
As leaders, we must resist the urge to over-protect our people by making all their hard decisions and instead, seek to equip them to make their own. Like Jesus the Leader, we should on occasion be saying:
“Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter after you? …Why do you not on your own initiative judge what is right?”36
This insistence on people making their own decisions before God, to do what is right ‘in the Holy Spirit’ and to “seek first the kingdom”, actively promotes their spiritual growth and maturity, as Jesus well knew.
(iv) DAMAGE FROM NOT FIGHTING OUR OWN BATTLES
In Saul’s and ancient Israel’s time, their battles were national wars. They wanted a king to go out before their armies against their enemies, often the Philistines. Our battles, however, are spiritual battles, are on three different fronts, and can only be fought by individuals.
(a) The first battlefront
It’s the one we had before we became believers, every individual’s war against God.
As we saw in the section in ‘Elders’ on ‘Counselling A New Testament King’,37 even in our unbelieving rebellion against His righteous government, God still regards every human being as made in the image of God and “a king with ten thousand men”.38 That strength of “ten thousand men” is at war with Him, “a king with with twenty thousand men”, and He requires of us that we take careful note of His terms of peace: unconditional surrender to His will. Those who won’t face this battle but strive to avoid the issue eventually pay the ultimate cost to their souls. Instead of becoming like Him, they are doomed to remaining unlike Him on the Last Day.39 No one can fight this battle for another.
Happily, after we lose this war against God who loves us, we actually win.
Put on the full armour of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 40
What if we don’t? If we leave it for someone else to fight on our behalf, will we really remain undamaged by the devil? This does not mean we are not alone in this battle. We have God with us and in us, and we have each other:
Resist him [your adversary, the devil], firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.41
But we must each one of us ‘resist him’. Judas didn’t, and the rest of the Twelve couldn’t fight that battle for him any more than Jesus could.42
(c) The third battle front
We must each fight our own wrong desires:
Beloved, I urge you… to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.43
Even now as Christians, our own fleshly desires wage an unceasing war that is entirely internal and can only be entered into individually. We each have to accept responsibility for the state of our hearts and lives. How do we win in this war?
If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.44
It is only as we are led by the Holy Spirit to cut off the old life that we find our new life and we become like Him. It is learning to find His strength for ourselves rather than always trusting in someone else’s strength, or even someone else’s faith for His strength.45 If we remain passive and try to leave our battles for others to fight, we damage our own souls. Only if we accept and do our part in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, can we ‘grow up in all aspects into Him’.
Coming soon: Leadership in the Kingdom – Appendix B Answering Apparently Biblical Objections Read more >>
- Keith Green: By Original uploader was Eseymour at en.wikipedia – The original source of this image is the Last Days Ministries website: http://www.lastdaysministries.org/keith/photos/13.jpgLast Days Ministries has released this image according to the email copied below:Subject: Re: Permission to use Keith Green photoFrom: XXXXXXXX@aol.comDate: Tue, 25 Sep 2007 15:01:54 -0400 (EDT)To: XXXXXXXX@verizon.netDear [Eseymour],Hopefully the following will be sufficient for you to post Keith’s picture atWikipedia.We own the copyright to the image mentioned in your email letter and found at http://www.lastdaysministries.org/keith/photos/13.jpgWe grant permission to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with noInvariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.In Christ,Betty Daffin Last Days Ministries, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3528705
- Thutmosis: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0c/Stone_block_with_relief_at_Karnak_Temple_Thutmosis_II.jpg
- Rom 8:28-29, emphasis added
- Rom 12:1-2, Phil 2:13, Gal 4:19
- 1 Cor 13:9-12
- 1 John 3:2. See also 1 Cor 15:50-52
- 2 Cor 3:18
- Phil 2:12-13, Rom 8:1
- Heb 11:27
- 1 Tim 1:17
- 2 Cor 4:18
- 2 Cor 3:18
- Matt 4:10
- 1 Cor 3:1-4
- 1 Cor 3:21-23
- 1 Cor 3:514 or ‘stewards of the mysteries of God’.151 Cor 4:1
- Matt 10:24-25
- John 10:27 cf. John 10:5
- Matt 23:8-10
- Matt 7:13-14
- Col 2:18
- 1 Pet 2:9
- Eph 1:18
- Acts 13:22
- Psa 16:3
- Isa 42:16
- John 3:8
- Prov 3:5
- Rom 12:2
- Rom 14:13-23
- Rom 14:17
- Heb 5:12-14, emphasis added
- Eph 4:15
- Eph 4:14
- Col 2:16-18
- Luke 12:14 & 57
- To be published asap
- Luke 14:31-33
- 1 John 3:2, 2 Thess 1:9
- Eph 6:11-12
- 1 Pet 5:8-9
- John 13:27
- 1 Pet 2:11
- Rom 8:13
- Isa 45:24