. The Real Christ...
I observe in many new converts something which was also in me for far too long: a perception of the Lord Jesus as somehow passive, sitting dutifully at the Father's right hand until the day on the calendar comes when He will return to take us unto Himself. This really couldn't be further from the truth. The Spirit of Jesus is so active. All power has been given to Him; He it is who opens the seals so that world history can progress (Rev. 6). The essence of our belief, our being 'in the Truth', being Christians, Bible students (however you want to term it)- is a personal relationship with the Father and Son. It really isn't enough to see the Lord Jesus as a theological concept called 'Christ', a black box in our brain marked 'Jesus', who of necessity had our nature, who overcame it as our representative, and therefore opened up the way of salvation for those who identify themselves with Him. This is all vitally true; but just as cold theology, it won't save anyone. It must be so deeply believed, that the saving power of the Lord's character and the great salvation He is achieving is known now in our humbled souls, and reflected in our thinking and being. The idea of a relationship with Him, of Him actually doing things for us now, seems to be something we shy away from. The recognition that we do not now possess the miraculous Spirit gifts has perhaps made us go too far the other way: to a position where the Lord Jesus is only a passive onlooker in our struggles, and the Spirit of Jesus and God is effectively dead. Of course, we must ever remember that the Lord will not make us do something which is quite against our will: otherwise we would be but spiritual robots. And we must be aware of the 'cheap grace' in this area peddled by the 'evangelical' movement and their happy-clappy songs. On the other hand, if our spirituality and final redemption is left down to our unaided freewill, we won't get very far. The self-analysis of any honest Christian will soon make that apparent. We simply don't rise up to the call of true spirituality as we ought to. In our own strength, we will take the wrong turning, make the carnal choice, five times out of ten. There must be the Lord's hand and strength in our struggles for spiritual mastery. Otherwise our salvation, if ever we could achieve it, would be by human works rather than God's work and grace.
The Work Of The Spirit Of Jesus
The Greek and Hebrew words translated 'spirit' don't only mean 'power'. They frequently refer to the mind / heart. We read of God giving men a new heart, a new spirit; of Him working on men's hearts to make them do His will. He gives them a new spirit. This doesn't mean that they of their own volition have the power of the Holy Spirit gifts, as, e.g., some in the early church did. God will strengthen the heart / spirit of those who try to be strong (Ps. 27:14; 31:24). He can even, somehow, withhold men from sinning (Gen. 20:6), and keep us from falling (Jude 24). We should therefore have no essential objection to the idea of the Lord granting us His Spirit, in the sense of His thinking, His heart / mind. The word of God is the essential medium through which the Spirit now moves; but whether this is the only method, and how God's word is used by the Father and Son to effect their purposes: of these things we cannot speak. The NT emphasizes, time and again, that after baptism, the Spirit operates upon us in this sense. How it operates is another question. The full force of this emphasis is only apparent when it is catalogued. Notice that none of these passages can be read with reference to miraculous possession of Spirit gifts; rather do they refer to the work of God on men's hearts. We perhaps tend to assume that " the Holy Spirit" refers to miraculous gifts far more often than it does. The Corinthians possessed the gifts, but were in a more fundamental sense Spirit-less (1 Cor. 3:1). “John did no miracle”, but was filled with the Spirit from his birth. Even the Comforter, which does refer to the miraculous gifts in its primary context, was, in perhaps another sense, to be unseen by the world, and to be within the believers (Jn. 14:17). It could well be that the Lord’s discourse with Nicodemus concerning the need to be born both of water and Spirit must be read in the context of John’s baptism; his was a birth of water, but Christian baptism is being described with an almost technical term: birth of the Spirit, in that baptism into the Spirit of Jesus brings the believer into the realm of the operation of God’s Spirit. Consider the following selection of passages:
" The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Rom. 5:5)
" The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he that in these things (i.e. now, in this life) serveth Christ is acceptable" (Rom. 14:17)
" The God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another" (Rom. 15:5)
" Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:13)
" Eye (the natural eye) hath not seen, nor (the natural) ear heard, neither have entered into the (unregenerate) heart of (the natural) man, the things which God hath prepared...but God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit...for what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. For we have received...the spirit which is of God: that we might freely know the things that are freely given to us (of the Spirit) of God. Which things also we speak...in the words...which the Holy Spirit teacheth" (1 Cor. 2:9-13)
" Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have (been given) of God" (1 Cor. 6:19)
" He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts" (2 Cor. 1:21,22)
" He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 5:5)
" Thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus" (2 Cor. 8:16)
" The communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Cor. 13:14)
" That we might receive the promise of the Spirit (a reference to the Comforter?) through faith...that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ (what Jesus Christ promised: the Comforter?) might be given to them that believe" (Gal. 3:14,22)
" After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that (i.e. the specific, promised) holy Spirit of promise (the Comforter? when else was the Spirit promised?), which is the earnest of our inheritance (which we possess) until the redemption of the purchased possession...the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power" (Eph. 1:13,14,19)
" For through him we both have access by one Spirit [of Jesus] unto the Father" (Eph. 2:18)
" I bow my knees...that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith: that ye, being rooted and grounded (by Him) in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth (human, unaided) knowledge, that ye might be filled with the fullness (the characteristics, Ex. 34:5,6 RV) of God...him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Eph. 3:16-21).
" Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30)
" Be (let yourselves be) filled with the Spirit [of Jesus]" (Eph. 5:18)
" This shall turn to my salvation, through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:19)
" (I) do not cease to pray for you, that ye may be filled (by him) with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding: that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing...strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience" (Col. 1:9-11)
" Ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction with joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 1:6)
" ...God, who hath also given us his holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 4:8)
" God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the Truth...now our Lord Jesus Christ himself...comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work" (2 Thess. 2:13,17)
" God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7)
" That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us" (2 Tim. 1:14)
" God peradventure will give them repentance...God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life...renew them unto repentance" (2 Tim. 2:25; Acts 11:18; Heb. 6:6- note that God gave repentance, not just forgiveness)
" Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ...that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Tit. 3:5-7)
" I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts" (Heb. 8:10; this is a condition of the new covenant which we are now in)
" The God of peace...make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ" (Heb. 13:20,21)
" If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally...and it shall be given him" (James 1:5)
" Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience...who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation" (1 Pet. 1:2,5).
This catena of passages could be easily extended. There can be no doubt that the operation of God's Spirit upon men is a major N.T. theme. How exactly it is achieved is beyond my present comment- save to say, that without a true love of and response to God's word, we are frustrating the evident enthusiasm and will of the Father and Son for our redemption.
" The Lord the Spirit"
The Lord Jesus is " the Lord the spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18 RV); and " the Spirit" is one of Jesus' titles in Revelation, so closely is He identified with the work of the Spirit. The Lord calls men and women to Him, having first prepared their way to Him, guiding the preachers of His word. He brings people to baptism, enters into a husband-wife relationship with them (Eph. 5:24), has children by them (i.e. spirituality develops in our characters, Rom. 7:4), strengthens them afterwards, keeps them in Him, " in everything...co-operates for good with those that love God" (Rom. 8:28 NEB), saves them in an ongoing sense, develops them spiritually, and then finally presents them perfect at His return. He is actively subduing " all things" , even in the natural creation, unto Himself (1 Cor. 15:27,28 Gk.). However, the NT focuses on His work amongst us, the ecclesia. Where two or three are gathered, He manifests Himself in the midst of them (Mt. 18:20). He is like a priest constantly on duty, bringing His people to the Father (Mt. 26:29 cp. Lev. 11:9).
The lampstand is a symbol of the ecclesia; the lamps are us. The oil is the spirit of Jesus. Aaron was as Jesus. He daily ‘orders’ us, enabling us to shine (Lev. 24:4). Jesus understood this to be so in saying that He came to fan mens’ lamps into brighter light, to mend smoking flax, not give up on it. And He is actively about this work on a daily basis as were the priests.
The Lord The Preacher
The Lord Jesus has compassion upon those who are ignorant of His Gospel, just as He does upon those who fall out of the way to life (Heb. 5:2, alluding to Christ as the good Samaritan who comes to stricken men). It is He who brings men to faith in God (1 Pet. 1:21; 3:18), revealing the Father to men (Lk. 10:22; Jn. 14:21), calling and inviting them to the Kingdom (1 Pet. 5:10; Rev. 22:17), going out into the market place and calling labourers (Mt. 20:3-7), almost compelling men to come in to the ecclesia (Mt. 22:8-10), receiving them when they are baptized (Rom. 15:7). He is the sower who sows the word in men's hearts, working night and day in the tending of the seed after it has take root (Mk. 4:27); the one who lights the candle in men's spirituality so that it might give light to others (Mk. 4:21). He permits and sometimes blocks preaching (1 Cor. 16:7,4,19; 2 Cor. 2:12; Phil. 2:24; 1 Thess. 3:11). When a preaching effort yields a much lower or higher response than anticipated: this is nothing else but the Lord Jesus working with us. He desires to manifest His meekness and gentleness through those who preach Him (2 Cor. 10:1). This very fact that He is working through His preachers ought to instil a far greater attention as to what manner of persons we are, as we reflect Him to this world. The Lord Jesus works through men like us (Heb. 13:21), He comes and preaches to men through those who preach Him (Eph. 2:17; 4:21). He works in the lives of His people so that they witness about Him to others (Col. 1:29), strengthening those who preach Him (2 Tim. 4:17 and often in the Acts record), with them in their witness to the end of the world, figuratively and geographically (Mt. 28:20), working with the preachers (Mk. 16:20), and by their preaching, He reveals Himself to men (Eph. 1:7-9), taking hold of them by the Gospel (Phil. 3:12). He is like the boy who brings the ship's line to shore (AV " forerunner" , Heb. 6:20), and then guides the ship to dock; or, to use a different figure, the author (beginner) and developer of our faith (Heb. 12:3).
The Lord Who Blesses
Baptism is to be associated with the ancient rite of circumcision. The Lord Jesus Himself as it were circumcises men at their baptism, cutting off the flesh of their past lives, and thereby inviting them to live in a manner appropriate to what He has done for them (Col. 2:11-13). He wishes us to be like Him, to have His Spirit. In this sense, through having the spirit of Jesus, He comes and lives in the hearts of those who accept Him (Rom. 8:1-26; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20). There is a resultant joy in the heart of the convert after baptism, as a result of the Lord's work (1 Thess. 1:6). To this end, He blesses us with all the varied blessings of His Spirit (Eph. 1:3 Gk.). Not only does He expect us to develop His Spirit within us, but in response to this, He sheds His Spirit upon us at baptism (Tit. 3:5,6). This statement is not to be taken as many an evangelical would read it. The Lord Jesus sheds His Spirit in the sense of an outpouring of His work and involvement in the lives of the man who has accepted the Lord as his saviour in baptism. After that act of commitment to Him, He builds us up (Col. 2:6,7; 2 Thess. 3:3-5), using other brethren to do so (1 Thess. 3:2). Every visit, every letter, the Lord graciously uses. He does, of course, work Himself on the mind of men, but never totally separate from the word of the Spirit, and never forcing a man against his own will. The Lord Jesus writes on men's hearts (2 Cor. 3:3), He personally gives grace and peace (Eph. 2:7; 2 Thess. 3:16; 2 Cor. 1:2 etc.- a major theme in Paul's salutations), and thereby changes men from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18)- all done by the Spirit of Jesus. As brethren and sisters strive to fellowship His sufferings in their self-control and self-sacrifice, so He bestows His gracious power and comfort, as part of the relationship He has with us (2 Cor. 1:5; 12:9). By doing this, He brings glory to God (the manifestation of God's characteristics) in the ecclesia (Eph. 3:21). He strengthens brethren to have spiritual attitudes, for example, to be able to accept situations (Phil. 4:11-13); He succours us in temptation (Heb. 2:18; 2 Pet. 2:9), and guides our experiences so that we grow in true love for each other (1 Thess. 3:12). He comforts our hearts and establishes our words and works (2 Thess. 2:16,17). He directs the development of our thinking towards an appreciation of the Father's matchless love (2 Thess. 3:5). In all this, He establishes the minds of believers as they should be (1 Cor. 1:8; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 2:16,17; 3:3), He is with our spirit (2 Tim. 4:22; Philemon 25), and preserves us in Him (Jude 1,24). In all these things, the Lord is stronger than man and human flesh. Ultimately, at the end of the days of every man and woman who has remained in Him, He will have achieved His ends. The Lord Jesus is with us in the sense that the spirit of Jesus is in and with us. He wishes to live in our hearts. He has come to us, through the preaching of the Gospel. The parables which suggest that He is now absent are mainly in the context of describing His return and judgment. The actual material reality of being with Him will be of such an exalted nature that relatively speaking, it is as if He were absent- but in essence, He is with us. He tries to make the whole ecclesia, His body, cohere and grow together (Mt. 16:18; Col. 2:19 cp. Eph. 4:15,16)- although how often do we thwart His work.
He walks among the ecclesias He is building up (Rev. 2:1), opening up the hearts of individual members for examination (Heb. 4:13), searching our motives (2 Cor. 8:21; 10:18) by the spirit of Jesus, noting the good and bad points (Rev. 2:3,4), measuring their growth (Rev. 2:5,19), washing and pruning the vine so that it gives more fruit (Jn. 15), chastening so that the fruit of spirituality improves (Rev. 3:19), giving space to repent (Rev. 2:21) and punishing the apostate (Rev. 2:5). He even works with parents, nurturing and admonishing their children in spiritual growth (Eph. 6:4). Pause to reflect- that this is what He is doing with you, and the brethren with whom you meet and mix regularly. I would go so far as to suggest that as the Lord hung on the cross, He was motivated by the thought of all this future work which His sacrifice would enable Him to do. " He gave himself for us, that (so that) he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Tit. 2:14). So, let's do the works- for the Lord imagined us, in our paltry zeal, responding to His cross. " For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3:18). That last clause covers all His work- the calling and guiding of men to baptism, the blessing of them and intercession for them... And He died as He did in order to be able to accomplish all this work for us. The final outbreathing of the spirit of Jesus was made toward that small body of representatives of His faithful people gathered around the cross.
The Saviour Lord
The Lord Jesus both was and is the saviour of the body (Eph. 5:23,26,27); He nourishes and cherishes us through our response to His word, as a faithful husband (Eph. 5:27). The salvation He achieves for us is being worked out in an ongoing sense. Atonement and justification are expressed to us in courtroom language, but this must not take away from the passion and ongoing nature of the salvation which has and is being achieved for us by our active Lord. We receive abundance of grace and righteousness in an ongoing sense (Rom. 5:17). He saved us in His perfect life and death; but through the spirit of Jesus He is our Saviour now, day by day, we are saved because of what He does for us now that He is alive again (Rom. 5:5,10): and finally He will save us into His Kingdom when He returns. To that end, He keeps hearts and minds in peace (Phil. 4:7), and supplies our spiritual needs (Phil. 4:19). He cleanses and justifies us in an ongoing sense (Gal. 2:17; 1 Jn. 1:7), He is our Heavenly advocate for our every sin (1 Jn. 2:1), constantly praying for us, perhaps even after our death (Heb. 7:24-27 may imply); it is almost as if He lives through His sacrifice again, as He cleanses our consciences of sin (Heb. 9:14). We go forth to Him day by day, without the camp, bearing our stake- as if the cross is still there. On the cross, the Lord Jesus resigned His riches, that we through His poverty might be rich (2 Cor. 8:8). And yet Rom. 10:12; Col. 1:27; 2:2 and Eph. 3:8 tell us that the Lord's riches are now bestowed upon us, the riches of the spirit of Jesus, in our experience of His grace and salvation. The point is, the essence of the Lord's love on the cross, that devotion and victory which He rose to and obtained, is all still poured out upon us now. The cross is still there. If we reject Him, we crucify Him afresh, making Him actively re-live the shame of the cross (Heb. 6:6). He intercedes for us now as He did on the cross (Rom. 8:26 cp. Heb. 5:7-9), not only in support of our prayers, but also praying for us on His own agenda (as He did for Lazarus to be raised). The Lord praying in the mountain whilst the disciples, in their unspirituality, struggled on the lake...this is a cameo of the Lord's present work for us.
The Lord Jesus is truly alive and active amongst us and within us. Paul saw the Lord Jesus always before his face in ecclesial life. He recognized that we can sin against Him (1 Cor. 8:12), tempt Him (1 Cor. 10:9), provoke Him to jealousy (1 Cor. 10:22). In his final writings, Paul charges his brethren before the Lord Jesus (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:21; 6:13; 2 Tim. 2:14; 4:1). This may suggest that at the end of his life, Paul felt ever more strongly the real presence of the Lord. It is one thing to believe that Jesus of Nazareth rose again and was exalted; it is quite another to know Him as an ever-present, ever-working reality in our lives; the man, the more-than-man, whom we should see as our Lord and Master, our Captain, the One who leads by example hour by hour, the One who died for us and rose again: the One whom we are dedicated to serving (2 Cor. 8:5; Eph. 6:6). The language of serving, ministering to, attending upon the Lord Jesus simply fills the New Testament. He is a real, living Master and Lord, and according to our realization of this, our grasping of the spirit of Jesus, so will our service be.
Footnote: The Lord Jesus In Acts
The Gospel records, Luke tells us, were a record of all the Lord Jesus began to do; the implication is that Acts is a continued account of the Lord's work (Acts 1:1). Acts is, therefore, an account of the sort of work which we have detailed above. The risen Lord lead thousands in Israel to repentance (5:31), and did the same among the Gentiles (cp. 14:27), opening hearts to His Gospel (16:14), controlling the areas preached in (16:6,10; 22:21), adding to His church (2:47), almost giving faith to men (3:16), turning them from their sins (3:26), pricking their consciences (9:5), converting them (11:20,21), revealing Himself to them (9:16), His Angel arranging conversions (8:26; 12:11,23). The Lord's preachers are described as " preaching through Jesus" ; their words were on His behalf (4:2). " Through this man is preached unto you..." , Paul emphasized (13:38). Even a Messianic prophecy about Christ as light of the world is applied to His preachers (13:47). Yet He had to strengthen, deliver and encourage His weak preachers, than He might work through them the more (13:52; 18:9; 23:11; 26:17). The healings done by the apostles were effectively done by Him working through them (4:10; 9:34; 13:11). He justifies them throughout their lives (13:39 Gk.), caring for those He has converted all their days (14:23), and at the end of their lives, receives the spirit of His followers (7:56,59). Given this intense activity of the Lord Jesus, it’s not surprising to find examples of believers praying to Him as well as to the Father. And this should be part of our experience of Him too- after all, do we expect to meet a much loved Lord and Saviour at judgment day with whom we’ve never spoken before? Speaking of “the Son of God”, John comments that “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 Jn. 5:14). That alone is proof enough that prayer to Jesus, including requests to Him, was the norm in the first century church.
Another related theme of Acts is that the work of the Father and Son are paralleled (e.g. 16:31 cp. 34; 15:12; 26:17 cp. 22). They are working together to achieve our final redemption. The concept is wondrous.
Duncan Heaster has written over 20 books, some of which contain material relevant to The Real Christ. And there is a host of other relevant material...