maandag 9 september 2013

Overcoming the Natural Man by the Cross

"Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth" Colossians 3:2.

"But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" 1 Corinthians 2:14.

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" 1 Corinthians 1:18.

The natural man cannot see beyond the natural plane of life. He relates everything to the here and now. The gospel message sounds foolish to him because it speaks of dying to this world in order to receive life from above through the power of God. These spiritual truths will sound like a foreign language to his thought processes.

"Everyone who is born of the Spirit overcomes the world" 1 John 5:4. They know that God is real and He is able to work supernaturally within the heart of man. But even these children of faith do not always learn how to walk in the power of the Spirit. Many of them continue to live on a natural plane of life in their own strength.

The Galatians are an example of Christians living on the natural plane. After receiving the gift of the Spirit, we find them attempting to work out their Christian life in the strength of the flesh. Their self-sufficient spirit was actually separating them from the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. They simply did not understand Christ's way of the cross ... the way of perfecting God's power through the weakness of dependent faith.

"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?" {Paul revealed before their eyes Christ's way of being raised by the power of God after being crucified in weakness.} "... Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect {in holy love}by the flesh {by your own strength}? Have you suffered so many things {to break your self-sufficient spirit} in vain ...if indeed it was in vain?" Galatians 3:1-3.

Adam's lineage, from the day that he lost the Spirit, was depraved of the Presence and power of the Spirit. Fallen man was left on his own to live in his own strength. It became natural for him to live in a self-originated form of life based on earthly wisdom. It is a way of life that has been deeply ingrained into everyone's thought processes. Even earnest Christians, like the Galatians, find themselves naturally going back to their old habit of living by the strength of the flesh.

In contrast, the apostle Paul spoke of revealing before their eyes how to live in the Spirit's power. He displayed the way of Christ crucified, which is the way of the cross. It is the way of dying to the strength of the flesh and perfecting God's power through dependent and trusting faith.

Paul came with the same message to the Corinthians. He "preached Christ crucified" 1 Corinthians 1:23. He wanted these Christians to understand the true meaning of the cross. He sought to reveal before their eyes how the power of the Spirit is perfected through the weakness of dependent faith. When he was no longer living out from himself, but was walking by faith in the Son of God, the Spirit was able to manifest the life and works of Christ through Him.

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live {nothing is done through the fleshly strength of the old man},but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God" Galatians 2:20.

"And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" 2 Corinthians 12:9.

The way of "Christ crucified" will not make sense until there has been a very deep change in how we think. It will be necessary to become like dependent little children. "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted {are changed in how you think} and become as {dependent and trusting} little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" Matthew 18:3. This renewing of the mind turns us away from the way of living by fleshly human strength to the way of receiving life from the Son "through faith." Only in this way is it possible to put on His heavenly life.

"That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith...that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" Ephesians 3:16-19.

"If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in renewed in the spirit of your mind...{so you may} put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" Ephesians 4:21, 23-24.

The Wisdom of the Cross and Suffering
The way of the cross depicts suffering and a slow death. The cross is a spiritual type that helps reveal spiritual principles. The Father led the Son through the cross. The Son then instructed everyone to follow Him. Those who choose to follow Him will know from His example that His way of the cross will entail some suffering. The old independent and self-sufficient form of life does not die easily. Dying to the strength of the natural man can be slow and painful.

"Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin {he dies to the old self-originated form of life}, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lust of men, but for the will of God" 1 Peter 4:1-2.

Natural man lives by his own strength according to his own will and desires. He lives independently of God. And wherever there is independence, there is also self-sufficiency. God does away with the independent life by destroying the self-sufficient spirit. This is what Paul was attempting to communicate to the self-sufficient Galatians when he said, "Have you suffered so many things in vain - if indeed it was in vain?" Galatians 3:3. God cannot permit anyone to live by the strength of the flesh in the heavenly realms. He insists that everyone live through His Spirit so "that no flesh should glory in His presence" 1 Corinthians 1:29.

"Not by {fleshly} might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts" Zechariah 4:6.

Those who truly obey Jesus by choosing to follow Him through the cross can expect to be "scourged." Most of the strength was taken out of Jesus by the scourging He received before He ever arrived at the cross. The flesh-life does not die easily. God therefore scourges us beforehand, taking away much of our strength, so we are ready to die to the ways of the flesh when we arrive at the cross. We should also note that He only scourges those who have submitted to His way of the cross. These children of faith who respond to His teachings are the ones He loves.

"He who has My commandments and keeps them {by taking the way of the cross}, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" John 14:21.

"For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives {into His heavenly life}...for our profit {to do away with the old independent and self-sufficient spirit}, that we may be partakers of His holiness {as we live through His Spirit}.Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness {the eternal Kingdom-life} to those who have been trained by it" Hebrews 12:6, 10-11.

"For the kingdom of God is...righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" Romans 14:17.

The earnest soul who has surrendered his whole being to serve the Lord often wonders why he suddenly finds himself going through deep trials and scourgings. But we must remember that this is exactly what occurred to Jesus after He had chosen to go through the cross. Once He had made His decision in the Garden of Gethsemane, everything was taken out of His hands. The providential hand of His Father then worked out the severe trials, the scourging and the final death on the cross.

God knows that this dying to the flesh-life cannot be worked out through the flesh. No one can nail himself to the cross. And so those who truly choose to follow Christ through the cross can expect to go through some fiery trials and scourging to take away their self-sufficient spirit. When their spirit is broken and they have no strength left in themselves they will be prepared to live through the Son by faith and begin enjoying His life in the heavenly realms.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" Matthew 5:3.

As another example, the Lord comes in His holiness as a refiner's fire to do away with the part of the "flesh" that is contrary to His way of life. Even earnest souls will tend to think they have been abandoned by the Lord during this process. The presence of His holiness overwhelms and consumes everything that is contrary to Him. He comes in a special way as a refiner and purifier. Although the believer may not understand what the Lord is working out, those who hold on will come out of this fiery trial in a purified state, which will then enable the Lord to "fill" the temple with His "glory."

"And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple {in this strange work as a consuming fire}... But who can endure {in the flesh} the day of His coming? And who can stand {with a self-sufficient spirit} when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire... He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi {representing those who have fully consecrated themselves to His service}, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness" Malachi 3:1-3.

"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's suffering {while passing through this dark night of the soul}, that when His glory is revealed {when He fills the temple of your body with His glory}, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" 1 Pet. 4:12-13.

"I will come to you.. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you" John 14:18, 20.

Teaching Christ Crucified
We are expected to "make disciples of all the nations" by "teaching them to observe all things" that Christ commanded,(Matthew 28:19-20). But this central truth about following Christ through the cross is seldom taught in this day. It is the reason why there are so few Christians who have found His life in the heavenly realms.

Many of those who are called out by God end up turning back when the Spirit begins to take them through difficult trials. Without anyone to teach them what to expect, and to reveal the heavenly Pearl received on the other side of the cross, they do not endure to the end. What we need is many more witnesses of His resurrection life. Someone needs to show them that this heavenly Pearl is worth the price that must be paid.

"Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you {into His heavenly Kingdom-life} in due time... But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while {in dying out to the flesh-life}, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you" 1 Peter 5:6, 10.

There is a natural tendency to ask God to relieve people of their suffering. He is often asked to "touch" them so they may feel better. But these prayers are being made without any discernment of God's wisdom-the wisdom of the cross. It reveals how most Christians are still living on the natural plane. They think in terms of improving a person's spiritual life by improving their circumstances. Until Christian leaders can begin to understand the way of "Christ crucified," and actually teach these principles of the cross, many will fail to recognize what God is attempting to work out through suffering.

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience{producing a trusting and dependent faith in God}. But let patience have its perfect work {through these continuing trials}, that you may be perfect and complete {learning to live by the Spirit alone}, lacking nothing" James 1:2-4.

"My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord..."James 5:10-11.

Can you begin to see why those who are still living by human wisdom on the natural plane of life have such a difficult time understanding spiritual truths? God has truly turned the ways of this world upside down. The cross will need an opportunity to do a deep work within the heart before the believer will be prepared to live by God's wisdom.

"For the message of the cross {the way of weakness and dependent faith} is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved {from the independent and self-sufficient form of life} it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty...and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence" 1 Corinthians 1:18-19, 27-29.

"So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen" Matthew 20:16.

"For he who is least among you all will be great {in the kingdom of God}" Luke 9:48.

There are only two basic ways to live in this world. One is self-exalting and one is self-emptying. Because these two different ways are so radically different, they are easily distinguished. Unfortunately, the heart is deceitful above all things. And even God's called-out children can remain blinded to the truth. It is the reason why so "few" of the "many" are being "chosen" by God to be lifted into the Son's life in the heavenly realms.

Can you see how needful it is to examine the heart? Do you have a new nature that prefers to be the "least" and the "last"? If the old "pride of life" is still residing within your heart and causing you to enjoy being "first" and "great" in the eyes of men, you are in serious trouble. It will lead you, in spite of what you profess, to live by an earthly and demonic wisdom that is unfit for heaven. (James 3:15-16)

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who...made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant {a slave}...He humbled the point of death... Therefore God also has highly exalted Him..."Philippians 2:5-9.

Today is the day of salvation. Every called-out child of God needs to come to that place where God may lift them spiritually into the heavenly realms. It will entail following Christ in His downward course through the cross. Simply stated, the way up is down.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will remain alone {separated from the life of the Trinity}. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life {the old "psuche" life} in this world will keep it{the soul} for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me {through the cross}; and where I am {in the heavenly realms}there My servant will be also" John 12:24-26.

Paul preached the gospel, but "not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect" 1 Cor. 1:17. He went on to say, "And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" 1 Corinthians 2:4-5.

But there are few today who seem to believe in this same gospel. Much of the preaching consists of wise and persuasive words. It results in a mere "fix-up" religion that can never lift anyone into the heavenly life of God. Very few are ever learning how to follow Christ through the cross and live in the resurrection power of His Spirit.

"For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection"Romans 6:5.

The ultimate triumph of "Christ crucified" was revealed when He was raised to the highest position of power and authority after He had emptied Himself of His own glory, sank to the lowest place of servanthood, and had reached the place of absolute weakness on the cross. He was raised by the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit when He was in a state where all strength in the flesh had died. Do you understand this principle? You will need to learn it, because you cannot live on the natural plane in your own strength and also live in the heavenly realms through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, God has graciously provided a means for being reconciled through the Son's shed blood while seeking out His heavenly life. It is also possible to die "in the faith" while in the early stages of light and go to heaven, not having received the fullness of the promise in this world. (Heb. 11:39-40) But those who choose to live on the natural plane in the strength of the flesh are rejecting both Christ's way of the cross and His resurrection power. It will keep their soul separated from the heavenly life of God. Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it cannot be raised up with Christ and be honored by the Father. (John 12:24-26)

Christians are expected to take this way of the cross. They have the seed of life from heaven planted within their heart. But it cannot be multiplied until the covering of the natural man dies and disintegrates. It must be planted within the ground where everything from the old man is lost before the eternal Kingdom-life of God is able to rise up and begin to multiply itself.

L.E. Maxwell, in his book Born Crucified, has explained why there has been such little growth of the true kingdom of God. In closing this chapter, we ask our readers to seriously pray over these thoughts from a chapter entitled "The Cross and Fruitfulness."

Certainly the great trouble with many of our orthodox churches is that they are like great grain containers, full of unplanted wheat which has become musty, and moldy, and befouled... If only each little grain had been rent asunder from its fellows, cast into the dark, wet earth, buried out of sight, and left alone to endure disintegration and death, what a harvest we would see!...

We appeal to those who are sick of the shallows and the shams, sick of doing dead things, "sick unto death" of a fruitless, barren existence. Oh barren soul, hear the word of the Lord: "That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die." Is the reader trying to live the Christian life?-work for Christ?-bear fruit, etc.? You cannot live until you have died. Death precedes life. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone." J. Hudson Taylor...once said: "We know how the Lord Jesus became fruitful-not by bearing His cross merely, but by dying on it. Do we know much fellowship with Him in this?... There is only one Christ. Are you willing to abide in Him, and thus to bear much fruit?" Death is still the gateway to life, life from the dead, life multiplied, life manifold.

Chapter 5 from: "Living in the Heavenly Realm" by Steve Bray