It was an eventful August of 1980 when my family and I stepped into our small single-engine Piper Comanche airplane for an adventure into our destiny. As the pilot of the flying machine, I seated myself in the cockpit, followed by five reluctant passengers who uneasily seated themselves beside and behind me. The apprehensive passengers were Martha, my wife, and clinging to her were four faithful offspring (8 to 14 years of age). All were somewhat oblivious about following this adventurous father pilot into a Twilight Zone where none of them had before ventured.
We were all destined by faith out of Opa Locka Airport in Miami, Florida in order to make our way to our new home in Antigua, a place to which Martha had never before ventured, though she had previously tasted the West Indies in Barbados and Grenada on our return from Brazil in 1978. But once the landing gear was safely tucked under the wings, the compass headed us due southeast out over the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. We were on our way.
As I signed off with Opa Locka Air Traffic Control, and while crossing Miami Beach on a heading into the Bermuda Triangle, I remember that all we could see before us was water … water forever. We could see nothing but the glaring sheen of the early eastern sun off the water that morning as we stretched our faith to do God’s work in the West Indies. It was indeed a flight plan of faith, for all of us were doing what faith and mission would demand of us.
We eventually made our way across endless waters to a small speck of an island named Grand Cayman, where I refueled the airplane, as well as gave the now half-airsick passengers a taste of sweet mother earth. From there our registered flight plan and faith directed us on to our new home on the small island of Antigua in the Leeward Islands of the West Indies. At the time of our departure from Grand Cayman, Antigua was still only a small dot on my flight chart. It still is.
What drove us to this daring—some have used the word “delirious”—adventure was the fact that God had better things for us to do just over the horizon. Our incurable optimistic faith had brought us to a point of launching out over the deep while we hung tightly to the hand of Jesus. We had no other options. We could do nothing less.
Yes indeed, you must take a leap of faith in order to grow your faith. This is simply the way . . . [Continued in the complete bookito, VICTORIOUS FAITH. Message for the PDF copy.]
Whenever the Holy Spirit speaks specifically concerning the leadership of the church, it is time to “listen up.” This was true in the first century because of the twisted leadership that prevailed among Jewish leaders in the promotion of their religion (See Gl 1:13,14). Because the leadership of the Jews during the ministry of Jesus held the people captive by their misguided religious ceremonialism and traditions (See Mk 7:1-9), as well as their lust for power over the people, their self-righteous thinking and behavior eventually led to the crucifixion of the Son of God.
We are not over-reactive, therefore, when we are cautious concerning those who would step forward and seek to lead the flock of God. In fact, the Holy Spirit even had Scripture written to alert us to the seriousness by which we should consider this subject: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers [leaders], knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment” (Js 3:1).
It was for this reason that Paul issued a stern warning to the Ephesian elders upon his departure from Mellitus. He warned these leaders that wolves would eventually enter in among the flock in order to draw away the disciples after themselves. The reason why such wolves would come in among the sheep is quite disturbing in view of the mind of Christ that should be characteristic of every member of the body, especially our leaders (See Ph 2:5-8).
Nevertheless, if there arises among us, or one comes in among us, who is unchecked by the gospel of the incarnate Son of God, then the humble behavior of a gospel-responsive body can become the opportunity for lords to arise and dominate. The body, therefore, must always be on guard in these matters.
A. Living among wolves: In the religious world in which we live today, lordship leadership plays itself out as some leaders (wolves) seek to take advantage of humble faith-driven people. Self-promoting, political-minded wolves, therefore, become opportunists who seek to lord over a flock of innocent sheep. Peter mentioned this very behavior when he addressed some who were elders (See 1 Pt 5:1-3). Therefore, if such behavior existed among some elders of the church in the first century when Peter wrote, then certainly we are not over cautious to assume that such behavior in leadership can also exist among us today.
In the Mellitus meeting, Paul warned elders about the coming wolves (At 20:29-30). And sure enough, only a few years after his warning, Peter wrote that the lords (wolves) had already showed up among the sheep in the behavior of some elders. Diotrephes was around when the apostle John wrote concerning these matters. Diotrephes was a wolf who had already taken captive some sheep (See 3 Jn 9,10).
There are always a few who behave as Diotrephes who love to be first among the body of members (3 Jn 9,10). One may be this way as a young disciple, but he must spiritually grow up in Christ in order to reflect the aroma of the incarnate Son of God (See 2 Co 2:14-16). And the only way one can grow out of the worldly desire for lordship is to understand and follow the Son of God on His incarnational journey into this world, and eventually to the humiliation of the cross. The Son of God lowered Himself for us. If we would follow His example—having the mind of Christ—then we must lower ourselves for others. If we reverse this order by exalting ourselves, then we have become a wolf.
B. In the presence of opportunists: In the first century, Diotrephes took advantage of some gospel-responsive disciples to whom John wrote in his latter years. Just as then, there are Diotrephes-minded people today who are out there looking around for a body of humble gospel-driven disciples that they can likewise invade and dominate. For this reason, Paul prepared the leaders of the church in Ephesus, as well as ourselves, with the following warning:
“I know this, that after my departure grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from your own selves will men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore, watch …” (At 20:29-31).
Unfortunately, we have often misunderstood what Paul meant in this warning. We have commonly taught that he was discussing false teachers; those who would teach something contrary to the truth. Indeed, the belief and behavior of wolves is contrary to gospel behavior. This thought is indeed inherent in the warning, but such an exclusive interpretation misses the main point of why Paul gave the warning. The key to understanding that to which Paul was specifically referring is in the phrase, “to draw away the disciples after themselves.”
Wolves can teach the truth of the gospel. But they are not living the gospel by the very fact that they are wolves. This is the thrust of what Paul warned the elders of Ephesus. From among themselves lords (wolves) would arise in order to lead the sheep away after themselves. This is what lords do. Paul’s focus, therefore, was on those who had no idea of how to allow the mind of the Son of God to be in them, and thus behave accordingly. They are wolves, therefore, and thus lords who would arise to produce a following; they would steal the sheep of Jesus through their desire to rule and dominate. This is why Paul labeled these wolves as “grievous.”
C. Gospel-based protection: We must also consider another understanding of Paul’s preceding warning in reference to the truth of the gospel. If a gospel preacher comes into a religious group that has long forgotten the truth of the gospel, or even been ignorant of the gospel, then he is not drawing away disciples after himself by preaching the gospel. On the contrary, when Paul went from synagogue to synagogue, he preached the gospel (At 17:1,2). People responded to the gospel that Paul preached, not to the person of Paul. He did not, therefore, draw away the people after himself. The people were drawn away to Jesus. But in reference to wolves, they draw away disciples to themselves. A wolf is always made known by that, or to whom, he seeks to draw the sheep.
We must not misunderstand this very important point. We must know that lords draw away people of faith by dominating their consciences with the bondage of religious traditions and ceremonies, just as the scribes and Pharisees did during the ministry of Jesus. In contrast to this, those who are preaching the gospel are drawing people away from such religiosity in order that the people obey and follow the Son of God. Jesus said something about this during His earthly ministry: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Me” (Jn 12:32). The drawing power of the “lifted up” Son of God is that He brings freedom from the bondage of sin and religion (See Gl 5:1).
In view of the fact that there are wolves out there in the religious world drawing away sincere disciples after themselves is enough for us to take seriously the incarnational discipleship that Jesus lived and left with us in order that we be drawn to Him. Therefore, we must not be unaware of the fact that there are wolves standing at church house doors, seeking to draw people away after themselves. But these lords must never forget that when they draw people away after themselves, they are drawing people of faith away from the one Lord to whom we must give our total allegiance. Wolves always stand in competition with King Jesus.
D. Wolves fighting among themselves: Since the time Paul warned the Ephesian elders, there have always been wolves roaming around seeking an opportunity to capture innocent sheep. But according to Peter, we must not become a wolf in order to keep the wolves (lords) out of the flock of God (1 Pt 5:2,3). On the contrary, we must live after the mind of Christ. The power to keep the lords out is to fully understand the nature of the servanthood that was taught and lived by Jesus, and refined by the instruction letters that were written by the Holy Spirit.
In the ominous presence of wolves (lords), we must caution ourselves, as well as those we would seek to lead. It is certainly easy to keep the wolves out by becoming lords ourselves over the flock. But this is not a gospel response to the presence of wolves, nor is such behavior living the mind of Christ. Before even considering oneself as a spiritual leader of the flock, he must first make his way to the foot of the cross. It is there that one discovers the significance of the power of leading with the mind of Christ who submitted to the needs of the people. It is in this manner that leaders lead in order to protect the sheep. If we become a wolf in order to keep other wolves away from the flock, then chaotic debate rages. Each seemingly autonomous pack of wolves thinks they are the “saviors” of the church, when in reality it is always the innocent sheep who suffer when two wolf packs engage.
If we are incarnational in our own behavior, then it will be easy to find and identify others who are also at the foot of the cross. Incarnational leaders live with the blessing of the continual flow of blood from the cross of Jesus. Therefore, those who would be pompous wolves among us should be careful about finding some robe to dress themselves before an audience, and thus set themselves apart from or exalt, therefore, over the sheep. In contrast to such behavior, incarnational leaders lead with the burden of the needs of the people on their backs. It is this example that the sheep crave to follow.
E. An incarnational leader: The flock must be led by the example of incarnational behavior (See 1 Pt 5:3). This all involves an incarnational repentance before we come forth from the waters of baptism. It took Saul (Paul) three days to go through the process of incarnational repentance before he responded to the mandate to be baptized for remission of his sins (At 9:1-19; 22:16). And after his baptism, it took him at least five years before he was ready to lead new disciples in wolf protection. It is for this reason that when the church designates leaders, they must follow the mandate of the Holy Spirit: “Lay hands hastily on no man” (1 Tm 5:22).
Unfortunately, lordship leaders are so common among many religious groups today that these leaders find it quite difficult to think and behave outside the paradigm of lording over a particular church or religious organization. However, in such a religious environment today, we do not blame entirely the leaders themselves. The religious groups among which some labor as leaders often pressure the leaders into being the center of reference for all work and decisions. This is especially a problem in smaller churches. Since leaders are often very energetic people who seek to serve the Lord with all their hearts, the local members sometimes become somewhat indifferent, if not lazy. As a result, the members lay back and urge the preacher on to do everything, and thus, make decisions about everything. In this way, unfortunately, local churches often push their preachers into being lords over the flock.
Nevertheless, taking advantage of such situations as leaders is often based squarely on our lack of understanding of the incarnate Son of God. Those who understand the gospel journey of the Son of God are cautious about becoming lords over the flock, even though the members do little to take ownership of their responsibility to work together as an organic body under the lordship of Jesus.
Add to the preceding scenario the fact that we now live in a religious world of corporate nonprofit religious organizations, with controlling presidents, chairmen, and governing bodies of board members. This system of religious function seems to be the norm of the day in many places of the world in order to carry out the mission that should be the business of the church. Since there is rank and file organization within these religious corporate nonprofit bodies that are controlled by government laws, then we can assume that the same organizational thinking can sometimes find its way into the organic function of the body of Christ.
But in reference to leadership in the church, we would conclude that corporate organizationalism is foreign to the very definition of the incarnational leadership by which the church is to be led. The church is not a government legal organization that is controlled by presidents, chairmen and government laws. It is an organic body that functions directly under the authority of King Jesus (Mt 28:18). On earth, the members follow those who have given themselves as examples of humble service just as the Son of God gave Himself in service to us in reference to our sin problem. Leadership among the disciples, therefore, is by the example of sacrificial servanthood, just as Jesus left us an example of leaving ourselves in order to serve others (See 1 Pt 5:3).
F. The “hidden Pharisee”: A lordship leader often seeks to be somebody in his religious behavior in reference to others. Because we all have a desire to be recognized, maybe there is a little Pharisee hidden within each of us that we fail to recognize, and subsequently, we fail to bury in the tomb of water from which we came in baptism. Regardless, if we finally discover this hidden Pharisee in our spiritual character after the water, then it is time to crucify him (Gl 2:20).
And then, the case may be that in our obedience to the gospel, we simply succumbed to a legal obedience of law without experiencing a truly repentant response to the incarnate Son of God with whom we assigned our allegiance. The curse of legalism is that we outwardly obey law, while at the same time we leave our hearts unchanged, that is, unchecked by the gospel.
When it comes to incarnational living, we must certainly obey the commandments. But just as important is our response to the heart of God that was revealed through the incarnate Son of God. Obedience to law with an unrepentant heart is the definition of hypocrisy. Therefore, we must dig out of our souls the “little Pharisee” who is in us, and crucify him on a cross.
It is in response to the heart of God that was revealed through His Son that our hearts and behavior are transformed. Obedience to law, “getting baptized,” may bring a sense of accomplishment, but baptism must be more than obedience to legal commands. Baptism is an outward immersion to reveal an inward cleansing of our souls by the incarnate blood of Jesus.
Unfortunately, we do not hear enough lessons preached or taught today on the subject of the gospel of the incarnation. If the subject were preached and taught regularly, the people would be better prepared to be sacrificial slaves of Jesus who live with characters that are continuously checked by the gospel. Not only would they prevent themselves from becoming a wolf, they would also be better prepared to check for possible wolves in our midst. We must never forget that wolves flee from crosses.
JESUS WILL NEVER STEP FOOT ON THIS EARTH AGAIN (Extract from the new bookito.)
We must keep in mind that no matter what happens in our world today, or whatever incorrect prophetic interpretations may come forth from theologically fertile minds, one thing will always be true. Jesus Christ, as the resurrected and ascended Son of God, still reigns over all things. This is just as it was prophesied in the Old Testament. This is exactly what He promised His disciples during His earthly ministry. And this is exactly what we believe. Jesus is now in control of all the physical world and all the worlds throughout the universe. This truth is at the heart of Old Testament prophecies concerning King Jesus and His present kingdom reign.
The universe is under the galactic sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even Satan and demons are within His realm of authority. Regardless of what may happen on earth, or things in the spiritual world, we can be assured that Jesus reigns as the supreme authority over all things in the heavens and on earth.
Now this short bookito contains some exciting facts about this present reign of King Jesus that are revealed in Old Testament prophecies. Among the approximately three hundred Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah (Greek, “Christ”), the prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7 refer specifically to the present kingdom reign of King Jesus and the time in history when this reign began. These two fundamental prophecies are sufficient in reference to understanding the present kingdom and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ.
[Go to my facebook page in order to receive directions to download the complete bookito.]
We were once watching the late news on TV one evening when a televised report was made of a meeting of religious leaders in South Africa who were called together by the government. The political-oriented religious leaders who came together represented some of the largest institutional churches of the country. These were the pastors, bishops, and leading pundits of churches from which the government wanted some opinions on matters that affected the people.
From where the reporter stationed his camera for some interviews, the focus of the camera was pointed down on the herd of competing religious leaders who scrambled for front role recognition. Once the camera was positioned, the TV news reporter then stepped into the hoard of shoulder-shoving competitors in order to interview some chosen representative of the religious world for the nightly news.
This was certainly a curious sight to behold. These religious leaders were pushing and shoving one another in order to get to the reporter. It was as if all dignity was thrown aside in order that the lucky pastor or bishop could have the camera focused exclusively on him for a nationwide interview that would be broadcast on the evening news.
It was indeed an incredible sight. The pomp and self-promotion of some of the more politically oriented religious leaders of South Africa was clearly revealed. These particular leaders, and the churches they led, had allowed a century of political struggle for the right to vote in a free and fair election, to influence their behavior as supposed leaders of the people of faith of the nation. Fortunately, there are presently a host of humble church leaders who simply stayed home in order not to be a part of such self-promotion. These dedicated religious leaders desired to continue on with their dedicated ministry to help the struggling souls of their communities.
If Saul of Tarsus were here today, and at such a meeting, he too would assume that as a “Pharisee of Pharisees,” he would have been right there in the midst of all those religious leaders. That was the world in which he lived as a young Jewish leader. He had all the pomp and prestige of the religious establishment of the day behind him. He could even have ushered in his Jewish miliary police and orchestrated some order out of the chaos in order that he should be the televised religious leader who was interviewed for the “late night news of Jerusalem.”
However, many years later after Saul transformed into Paul, and after a life that was driven by the gospel of One who threw him off his horse on a Damascus road, Saul, now Paul, was ironically ushered out of a city in Asia for His faith in Jesus. In the midst of a hysterically stirred mob, he was stoned for his faith that he had once persecuted in his youth (At 14:19). Even later on his last trip to Jerusalem, he was again seized by religious fanatics who would have torn him asunder if it were not for a Roman commander who rescued him out of the hands of a mob (At 21:31,32). All this upheaval reveals the true nature of religious leaders who have no concept of the transformational nature of the gospel. However, in view of the extreme change from Saul to Paul, the transformational power of the gospel is also revealed. This is something to behold!
In view of his transformation from religious fanatic to gospel-driven servant, we now know why God called into servanthood a man like Saul of Tarsus. He had all the pomp and prestige in the religious organization of Judaism (Gl 1:13,14). He was a Pharisee of Pharisees—a renowned religious leader and exalted above all those fellow opportunists who would compete with him in religious leadership for an interview on the nightly news (Ph 3:4-6). He even had a ticket to imprison those who would speak out against the predominant religious establishment of Judaism of the day (At 9:1,2). He thus had position, pomp, and certainly, pride that carried him from one city to another persecuting those who had signed up with the humiliated “criminal” who was executed outside Jerusalem about seven or eight years before.
So what must one do to repent of being such an attention-seeking, lordship-craving religious leader as Saul? To what extent must such a person go in order to reveal in his own life that he has truly repented of a life that was so obsessively driven by fanatical religiosity? A humble response to the gospel can be the only motivation to accomplish such a feat in transforming one’s heart. It was certainly not easy for Saul to repent of his life-style of commanding a team of persecutors into the servant leader Paul who gave his life as a living sacrifice for the Jesus he had formerly persecuted (At 22:8).
However, it was not an instantaneous life-style transformation from Saul to Paul. From the day Saul met the Lord on the Damascus road, to the time Barnabas went many years later from Antioch to Tarsus in order to fetch Paul for the mission of proclaiming the gospel, it was at least five years (See At 11:25,26). It took that much time, including three years in an Arabian desert, for Saul to dig out of his inner soul his former misguided religiosity, and especially his lust for notoriety among religious people. He came from the extreme of religiosity in this matter because he had formerly assigned himself to be the “savior of Judaism.” And today, we are not unaware of those who step up to be some “savior of the church” (See Gl 1:13,14). Those who involve themselves in being such are forgetting that the church has only one Savior.
In Paul’s response to the gospel in Damascus, he knew that he had to radically change his heart, thinking and behavior in order to emulate the gospel of the incarnate God who appeared to him in a vision on the Damascus road. So over time, Saul transformed. He transformed into the humble Paul we all know best. He transformed so much that he certainly practiced what he preached in Romans 12:2: “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
After his years of repentant transformation in Damascus, the Arabian desert, and Troas of Cilicia, Paul was worthy and ready to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He was ready to accomplish his Christ-given mission as an evangelist of the living Jesus to the Gentiles, Kings, and the household of Israel (At 9:15). He was transformed even to the extent of willingly being humiliated for Jesus for the rest of his life, sometimes being stoned, and continuing on in his mission trips with the threat of death hanging over him as he struggled from one city to another in his mission to both live and preach the gospel. He did all this in order to preach the good news of the crucified Galilean whom he had once considered a condemned religious criminal (See At 14:19; 2 Co 11:16-29; Gl 2:20).
On one occasion, Paul essentially upbraided some disciples who were fearful of his possible murder in Jerusalem. He responded to their concerns, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (At 21:13). This is certainly the extent to which a true gospel response will take us in our thinking and living. It is as John also explained, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rv 2:10).
Since it took the Lord Jesus unto death to bring us into His realm of the redeemed, then it should be no surprise that it will take us, as Paul and John, unto death to be redeemed into eternal glory. In fact, Jesus would remind all of us of the following: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:27).
From the pomp of notoriety in a religious system that encouraged such, to poverty and death in the shadow of a cross, Paul was driven to transform. Only because he was eventually transformed to be a servant of Jesus could he have been qualified to write the following remarkable statement in reference to his transformational repentance from pompous persecuting Pharisee to a gospel-preaching suffering servant of Jesus who would die for the gospel message he preached:
“I [Paul] say the truth in Christ, I do not lie, my conscience also bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rm 9:1-3).
As leaders of God’s people, we must continue to pray as David: “Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins. Do not let them have dominion over me” (Ps 19:13; see Nm 15:30). We need to cease presuming to be somewhat in view of the One who emptied Himself from being God in the spirit to being Jesus in the flesh on a cross (See Ph 2:5-8). The more we grow in our knowledge of the extent to which the Son of God went in His incarnation, the more we are overwhelmingly stirred to transform ourselves into being a humble servant of our reigning King.
We must admit that we are often everything but what the Holy Spirit revealed that our relationships should be with one another in the body of Christ and with our King. We struggle to live “the mind of Christ” since we have joined with Him on His incarnational journey to the cross. The mind of the incarnate Son of God often seems beyond our reach. We even think that sometimes we are on the wrong road. We are like Peter when Jesus had turned His face toward Jerusalem, knowing that He was now on the final road to the cross. Peter earnestly tried to dissuade Jesus from His destiny, and thus implore Him to make a U-turn. But Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan?” (Mt 16:23).
Peter had just assumed the mind of Satan in order to turn Jesus from doing that for which He was incarnate in the flesh. At that time, Jesus reprimanded Peter, “You do not have in mind the things of God” (Mt 16:23). And so we also often harbor in our minds the ways of the world on a road that incurs a cross that leads to our humiliation with Jesus. Nevertheless, we must not despair in knowing that we are still not what we want to be, or where we will eventually find our own destiny. We are walking in life with the mind of Christ that we know we should have (Ph 2:5). So we struggle on in appreciation for God’s grace and the profound example that Jesus has already passed down this road.
There is encouragement in the midst of our struggle in knowing that our Lord Jesus knows our predicament. He went down this road of struggle long before we signed up for the journey. Therefore, the gospel example that the incarnate Son of God left with us must be the road map by which we are motivated and directed to transform our own lives. In our case, we must thank God that the Son was not detoured by the plea of Peter. He continued on His journey, not only to Jerusalem, but also to the humiliation of the cross.
Unfortunately, the influence of the world—and Jesus knows this—often hinders us from following His example. His bar sometimes seems to be too high. He gave up being in spirit, and in the form of God, in order to incarnate into flesh through which nails would eventually be driven (Jn 1:1,2,14). This is an extreme example. Nevertheless, we must confess that we would not for one moment sacrifice His extreme example for anything less. After everything was eventually revealed to Peter by the Holy Spirit, neither would he. We fully understand that the Son of God had to take this extreme journey from spirit to flesh, and then to the cross, for us. His journey, therefore, was a necessary suffering for us because it involved all our sins at His expense.
A. Following the options:
If we believe that God is asking too much for us to go on this incarnational journey with His Son, or if we fail to allow Him to motivate us to transform our own lives, then we will often do one of two options: First, we will simply ignore Jesus and move on and enjoy the things of the world. Or second, we will begin the process of transforming into that which we believe He wants us to be. If we choose the second option, then hang on. The road is filled with the potholes of trials and suffering. The transformational journey with Jesus will not be easy. As in the words of Jesus in reference to His own incarnational journey, suffering will be involved along the entire journey (See Mk 8:31).
If our faith moves us to take the road of the second option, then we will allow ourselves to be transformed into the image of Jesus. If we do not want to go down this road, then we will often seek out or establish some religious group of like-minded “faith only” people who have resigned themselves from the incarnational journey (See Js 2:14-26). Such people usually establish a convenient fellowship for their superficial religiosity, which fellowship will accept all non-transformed religionists who want to masquerade as Christians.
It is simply the spirit of idolatry, that if one feels frustrated emotionally concerning his faith, he will often create a god in his mind who is pleased with his existing behavior. He will then establish a ceremonialized religion of rites and rituals that will give him some emotional relief that he is doing just fine as he is.
This is also the curse of legalized religiosity. The non-transformed have contented themselves to believe that if they have meritoriously performed certain legal ceremonies on Sunday morning, whether biblical or traditional, then they are good before God. Such is the belief and behavior of one who truly does not comprehend or appreciate the incarnational offering of the Son of God. Such folks do not realize that they are on a road that will eventually take them into an eternal destruction from the presence of God (See 2 Th 1:6-9).
But if we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus’ incarnate feet, then we are headed down a road of metaphorical cross-bearing, and sometimes to a literal cross in our end. This is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He admonished Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Mt 16:23). Peter was rebuked by Jesus because he did not understand the destiny of his friend Jesus. But when he eventually understood all the truth of the gospel, he was willing to follow his friend in suffering until the end of his own life. And as tradition reveals, Peter suffered death by crucifixion at the end of his journey.
B. A voice out of heaven:
But the preceding option of creating a god and religion after our own desires is no option at all. It is not if we seek a better existence in what the Bible describes as an abundant life along our present journey and in heaven at our final destination (Jn 10:10). The price that Jesus paid in order to come from heaven in order to take us back there is simply overwhelming. We are compelled to follow Him. We cannot, therefore, ignore Him or the price He paid.
Here’s why. If we would view the incarnation of the Son of God from the perspective of God the Father in heaven, then the incarnation into the flesh of a baby in a barn in Bethlehem would be a humiliation, not simply an act of humility. But this is difficult for human minds to comprehend. What God would willingly transform Himself into the carnal flesh of those He created (Cl 1:16)? And as if that were not enough, this God would allow His incarnate body to be humiliated publicly on a cross at the hands of pompous religionists who cried out for His crucifixion.
Living incarnationally, therefore, assumes that we also would be willing to be publicly humiliated for being in fellowship with this God. It was this public humiliation about which Jesus spoke to His disciples in Mark 9 on His way to Jerusalem. It was this subject that repulsed Peter. At that time during His earthly ministry, Jesus was bearing a cross in His preaching and teaching. This ministry began at least three years before He was eventually nailed to a literal cross. It was only on His final journey to Jerusalem that He spoke of His suffering and final humiliating end, which end Peter had a difficult time accepting.
It is the cross of living the incarnation throughout our lives that is in Jesus warning to His disciples: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mt 16:24). Is this not that about which Jesus also warned those who would dare take up this life-bearing cross in order to follow Jesus unto our own end? “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).
The hate of the world is inherit in bearing the cross of the mind of Christ. If one cannot live with this, but at the same time live with some “level” of faith that soothes his conscience, then he will create a god in his mind that he is convinced will allow him to live in a world that does not hate him for his beliefs and behavior. He can thus live with peace of mind, knowing that all his worldly friends will not criticize him for living out his mediocre faith. But in reference to having in us the mind of Christ, it is worth the cross-bearing in order to life with the incredible hope that comes with the cross.
C. The Divine humiliation:
Nevertheless, before we would reach for that cross in order to follow Jesus on a road that ends at the corner of cross and humiliation, there is one historical statement we must first seriously consider. We must consider the Divine humiliation that Jesus had to undergo during His arrest, and then during His trials as He stood before the worldly-minded Jewish Sanhedrin.
The following historical statement was written by Luke. It was written in reference to the maltreatment that Jesus received while He stood before some religionists who presumptuously assumed that they were representatives for God: “The men who held Jesus began mocking and beating Him” (Lk 22:63).
The Greek verb tense in this verse is not brought out fully in the English translation. The verb tense in Greek is past participle. Properly translated, the past participle would justifiably be translated, “they kept on beating Him.” It was not just one slap on the face of Jesus, but a continuous beating of His face, His head and His back. And this was all done by religious people who presumed to be righteous before God, and thus behaving as the supposed their god wanted them to behave (See Rm 10:1-3).
The men who constrained Jesus simply kept on striking Him, one strike after another. Not only did they brutalize His body with one merciless strike after another, they also humiliated Him by spitting in His face (Mt 26:67; Mk 14:65). Therefore, are we willing to take up the same cross that Jesus had to bear on His road to His own execution? We need to seriously consider this before we claim the name “Christian.”
All of us might reconsider why we are disciples of such a One who was willing to give up being in spirit that could not be beaten with human hands, in order to incarnate into this world of flesh that could be spit upon and continuously beaten. Therefore, before we jump up and down on Sunday morning crying out, “Jesus, Jesus,” we should probably be falling on our faces, prostrate on the floor in tearful worship of thanksgiving.
As previously stated, unless we comprehend the extent of His incarnation, we will have little motivation to proceed further in our own struggle to transform our inner souls. We will often go to a comfortable limit in our own transformation, to a spiritual plateau with which we can live, on which there is no inherit hate by the world. We can then find solace within ourselves throughout the rest of our lives with our own self-satisfying religiosity. So do we really want to follow the mandate of the Holy Spirit, who said, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Rm 12:1)? Or, is this too much for which to ask? Would God really expect us to emulate the mind of His Son to the point that it would stir up the hate of the world?
D. A necessary elimination:
Since through His incarnational behavior Jesus lived in a manner that drew multitudes to Himself, those of the religious establishment of that day came to the conclusion that they had to rid the religious community of such a person. His influence was at the time becoming quite overpowering. Multitudes were starting to follow Him (Mt 4:23-25).
And besides this, the common people could see a stark difference between the behavior of Jesus and the arrogant behavior of their own self-righteous religious leaders. Therefore, the religious leaders determined that it was necessary to humiliate Jesus publicly because He lived so much in conflict with them in their own self-righteous behavior. In fact, they determined to go beyond humiliation, to a scheme of murder: “Then from that day forth they took counsel together to kill Him” (Jn 11:53).
The religious leaders actually identified themselves as wolves among the people. They did so because they came to the conclusion that they had to extract from the religious community the One they considered to be in competition with their positions. This Radical Rabbi exposed the very core nature of the religion of Judaism, of which they were the leader. Subsequently, the “theological police” (the Pharisees) cried out before Pontus Pilate that this Jesus, this rebel against their religion, must be extracted from society through execution.
Would we join such a gang of pompous religionists who would cry out that nails be driven through the flesh of this incarnate God (Mt 27:23)? Would we even join in with just one slap on His face? If we seek to live after a self-constructed religiosity as the Pharisees, then we have already joined in with this “church” of humiliators. We have already delivered our first slap. And with every willful sin against Him, we keep on beating away.
If fact, if we have joined in with a manufactured religiosity after our own desires that is contrary to incarnational membership after Jesus, then our slaps on the face of Jesus happen every Sunday morning when we come together with one another for some concert of self-entertainment, or to meritoriously perform some system of ceremonies that renders us with self-righteousness until next Sunday morning.
E. Inherent criticism of incarnational discipleship:
Sometimes we are spiritual humbugs who have little comprehension of the good news of the actual incarnation of the Son of God. Those disciples who truly seek to live incarnationally as Jesus are often the object of unjust criticism. The “Pharisees” who lead among us are quick to criticize incarnational servants because these disciples are often the only ones who are doing anything in response to Jesus. So we must not forget that cross-bearing inherently induces criticism. It is as Jesus alerted His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).
Many of the critics, on the other hand, are just sitting idly by warming some bench on Sunday morning. The saying is still true that if you are criticized as a true disciple of Jesus, then you are probably doing something right, or at least doing something, which makes you a disciple, that is, a follower of Jesus. Those who suppose themselves to be Christians, but are not criticized, are usually not doing anything, though they claim to be disciples of the incarnate Son of God.
We must not forget that incarnational living embarrasses those who suppose themselves to be Christians, but have contented themselves with a nominal life of faith, or are consumed with thinking and behavior that is more self-righteous than incarnational.
We must not forget that the Pharisees were very religious people. Nevertheless, in their religiosity they kept on beating on the flesh of the incarnate God at the time of His trials. Sometimes we ourselves beat on this incarnate God by the dysfunctional conduct of our own lives. We must constantly remind ourselves, therefore, that every willful sin we commit is a strike against the incarnate body of the Son of God. Nevertheless, because of God’s grace, we must understand that He had to be spit upon for our sins (Rm 5:8).
We simply forget that when the Father possibly called from heaven to His Son on earth on the first Sunday morning after the Son’s resurrection, the Son was not able to give a glowing report of numbers in attendance at “His local church.”
The Father could have inquired from heaven, “What now is the first Sunday attendance of Your church for which You have worked so hard for over three years to establish, and finally humiliate Yourself on a cross?”
The Son could only have replied, “Just Me. Everyone else has fled.”
Now consider the fact that some are so audacious as to claim that in their arrogance and self-righteous religiosity they are disciples of this humiliated Church Leader from whom an entire membership fled (See Mt 26:56). The membership fled regardless of the fact that the Leader lived out the very gospel for which He came into the world to reveal. This may answer the question as to why some preachers preach little on the subject of the incarnation. The subject does not produce a church house full of contributors who are willing to take up a cross and follow a humiliated Founder.
Living the gospel of Jesus inherently conflicts with our desire to have a great following, or have others focus their attention on us. Being Christian and being narcissistic are at the extreme ends of the behavioral continuum. The first disciples fled because at the time they did not understand fully the implications of the crucifixional humiliation of the incarnate Son of God. But we do. We have in our hands the Textbook that explains in graphic detail the entirety of the incarnational journey of the Son of God. When the Son of God returned to heaven after His incarnational journey, the Holy Spirit took away all our excuses that were based on ignorance. We could never again claim ignorance if we possessed a copy of this Textbook that explains the incarnational journey of the Son of God in detail.
Please keep in mind that in the past we have generally focused on the cross, making the cross of Jesus all about ourselves. We proclaim, “Jesus died for our sins!” And He did. We add, “We are redeemed by the cross!” And we are. We continue, “Because He was crucified for us, we are destined for heaven!” And WE are! The sacrificial crucifixion was for us, and thus the cross was about us.
But hang on. The incarnation was all about Him giving up being God and coming in the flesh of man. In our faith, it is where we place the most emphasis: on the cross or on the incarnation. In placing so much emphasis on ourselves and our sins, we must not forget that the cross was made possible because the incarnation was first about Him giving up being God in order to be flesh for us (Jn 1:1,2,14).
And so, we will not flee from our responsibility to be changed by what the Son of God personally did for us in giving up being in the form of God in order to be humiliated on a cross for us. We will thus continually remind ourselves that if we behave arrogantly, then we have already fled from the gospel nature of the incarnate Son of God who humiliated Himself in order that we be as He did.
In order that we prepare ourselves for eternal dwelling, God knew that we needed an extreme example that would motivate us to turn our minds from the ways of this temporary world, to an existence beyond this world. So in order for us to make this mental transformation, God wanted us to be driven to transform our characters for eternal existence in a heavenly paradise.
The serendipity of this process of transformation would be an inner power that would enable us to endure this present world. For this reason, it was necessary that in the grand plan of eternal redemption that an example be revealed from heaven alone that would compel us to turn our minds to heavenly thinking and behavior.
A. The powerful example: In His eternal plan of redemption, God knew that there had to be a powerful example that would motivate us to make a very difficult life transformation. In order for this example to be convincing, only God could produce such an example. Any example that might have been provided by the most faithful person on earth could never have been sufficient to warrant our own transformation. Therefore, the example to motivate us to make life changes was the incarnational journey of the Son of God Himself from spirit to flesh. Not only into flesh was He incarnate, but also into a fleshly body that could be sacrificially nailed to a cross, which cross would allow us to crossover into an eternal paradise.
In order to justify us of our sins, the Son had to make an incredible sacrifice. He had to make a redemptive payment for all those who would sign up to be His disciples. Such an incarnational sacrifice is certainly beyond our finite minds to fully comprehend. Nevertheless, we do know enough about His sacrificial coming into this world to be stirred into an “incarnational” transformation in our own lives. If such an incarnation of Deity is true—and it certainly is—then its reality should penetrate to the very heart of our humanity.
B. The power to transform: Since the Son of God would make this incredible journey into this world on our behalf, then there is nothing we would hold back in our own personal transformation in order to be eternally with Him in the presence of so much love (Jn 3:16). We cannot but respond with eternal gratitude. The motivation that is reaped from His loving and sacrificial example is simply overwhelming. This is a reality about which tears are inspired. John, the apostle of love, said the same in the following statement:
“In this the love of God was manifested to us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9,10).
It was love on the part of the Father that necessitated the sending of His Son into this world of flesh and pain. That which inspired such an extreme action on the part of God was God’s unending love for us (Jn 3:16). His love was accentuated in the fact that we were so unloving when the incarnational example was made. So just in case we might forget this, we need to read again the words of the Holy Spirit: “God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). His love reigned regardless of the fact that we were so unloving. Our unloving spirit, therefore, accentuated the extreme incarnation of God in spirit becoming as man in the flesh.
C. The church of the transformed: While still on this earth, Jesus promised His immediate disciples that they would eventually be established as His assembly of the transformed. They would be established on the foundation of their belief in the fact that He was the Christ, and thus the incarnate Son of God (See Mt 16:16-18).
While He was with His disciples in the flesh, Jesus wanted them to understand clearly that He was not establishing some sort of religious legal organization that would be identified by earthly bylaws. Neither would it be founded on a legal obedience to any laws, and certainly not on some system of assembly that the disciples might ceremonially orchestrate on Sunday morning. It would be established firmly on the fact of the Son’s fulfillment of all prophecy, and that He indeed was the incarnate Son of God. We must be very cautious, therefore, about defining the church of our Lord on any other foundation, especially on some meritorious legal performance of ceremonial ordinances.
The disciples would be established as the church of Christ because of their belief and behavior in reference to the example of the Son’s journey into and out of this world in order that they make the same journey. Jesus’ assembly of disciples, therefore, would be the “church of the incarnationally transformed” (See 1 Jn 4:1-8).
And since it was love that offered to us the Divine incarnational road map into eternal glory, then it can only be our love for one another that would identify us to be on that road. It was for this reason that Jesus stated,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34,35).
D. The incarnational mind of Christ: Many years after the Son of God’s incarnational journey into and out of this world, the Holy Spirit had to remind some early disciples through Paul, that the prime motivation for their gospel journey was to emulate the mind of Christ Jesus in their lives:
“Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. But He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in the appearance of man, He humbled Himself …” (Ph 2:5-8).
This is the revealed road map for our own transformation. For this reason, therefore, the Holy Spirit can make the following mandate in reference to us taking ownership of our own transformation, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rm 12:2). This is not an option, but an imperative.
Since the transformation of the mind of Christ into our thinking and behavior can be accomplished, then John was right: “In this the love of God was manifested to us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him” (1 Jn 4:9).
We are certain that John had in mind more than salvational matters when he said “that we might live through Him.” We would assert that his statement in 1 John 4:9 was a reflection on what Jesus promised: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).
It is only through incarnationally living the mind of Christ that we can, in this world, enjoy the abundant life that Jesus promised. If one is not spiritually experiencing this abundant life, then it is time to check our souls with the mind that was in the Son of God when He came into this world. It is because of His thinking and behavior that He was willing to leave the environment of heaven and the form of God in Spirit, in order to transition into our earthly environment. He sacrificed to be as we are in order that we become as He now is—“We know that when He appears, we will be like Him” (1 Jn 3:2).
E. The road map to be like Him: In the gospel journey of the Son of God into this world, the Son established the only spiritual road map for us to live in order to transition out of this world and right on into heaven. As the Son of God gave up being on an equality with God in order to show the way, then all those who would claim to be His disciples must likewise go through a similar incarnational transformation in order to be assured that we are on the gospel road. As the Son could not have provided the road map without giving up something, then we also must give up something to get on this road to heaven.
We must never forget that this gospel journey could never have been revealed by words alone. It had to be demonstrated.
The behavior of the incarnate Son of God is our road map demonstration for incarnational transformation. Therefore, the true identity of the church of Jesus’ disciples is demonstrated by their love for one another as they were loved from heaven. This is why Peter encouraged some disciples in the early church to stay the course on the road map to heaven: “Grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18). The more we understand the grace of God that was extended to us through the Son of God, the more we are encouraged to live in thanksgiving for that grace (See 2 Co 4:15).
F. Looking unto Jesus: We endure living on this incarnational road because of the destination to which it will eventually bring us. We thus, the Hebrew writer encouraged, “lay aside every weight [of sin] … and run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hb 12:1,2). Jesus would never have asked us to do something that He would not do Himself. He is thus the author of our faith because He paved the incarnational road for us into eternal glory. If we follow His introduction to the gospel way, then He will lead us down this road right on into the arms of God.
We are certainly not at the end of our incarnational journey. As the Son of God, the initial incarnation was only the beginning of His journey to the cross. So in baptism, our incarnational journey begins. Our incarnational transformation will end only when we, as Jesus, are faithful unto death (Rv 2:10).
During our earthly journey we know that at any one time along the way we are not yet incarnationally transformed as we know we should be. We must simply confess that we have not yet allowed the mind of Christ to control totally our every thought and action (See 1 Jn 1:7-9). It is for this reason that we walk by faith in the grace of God (See Ep 2:4-10)
G. The beginning of our journey: John reminded some disciples, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). It was because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16). Though we are not there in loving one another perfectly as He loved us, we are zealously striving to be so transformed.
This was the deeply spiritual meaning behind Paul’s supposedly contradictory statement—so say some—in 1 Corinthians 1:17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” What Paul was emphasizing was the fact that the good news of the love of God that was poured out through the Son was his priority message. Baptism, on the other hand, was the natural response to this gospel. He, as we, know that the proclamation of the love of God that was revealed through the good news (gospel), is the primary motivation that will encourage people to respond to God’s love in being baptized into His Son.
Baptism can be marginalized by simply being baptized in obedience to a command. However, gospel is in reference to the powerful motivation of love that was poured out upon us through the gospel of the incarnation. It is the gospel that gives substance to baptism. Connect gospel and baptism and salvational magic happens.
Baptism, therefore, is not simply some legal act of obedience wherein one can proclaim his own salvation that is based on a meritorious act of obedience to law. On the contrary, those who would refuse to be baptized in response to the gospel are simply saying to God the Father, and His incarnate Son, “We do not love You enough.” Baptism, therefore, finds its full meaning in the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (See Rm 6:3-6).
John would add, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments [baptism]” (1 Jn 5:3). Therefore, “everyone who loves is born from God and knows God” (1 Jn 4:7). This is why Jesus stated to Nicodemus in reference to baptism, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5).
In other words, if one does not respond to the gospel of God’s love in baptism, then he or she cannot get on the gospel road that will eventually bring one into eternal glory. It is only reasonable to make this conclusion. It is for this reason that we are so ardent in preaching the gospel. We want to give others a piece of this glorious conclusion. We can do so by giving them the opportunity to be touched by the incarnate blood of the Son of God that was poured out on the cross for the remission of sins (See Gl 3:26-28).
H. Staying focused: Baptism is a signal to Jesus and others that we have made a decision to respond to and follow the incarnational road map of Jesus. It is through baptism that we get started down the road that will eventually end in eternal glory. And thus, in being baptized into the incarnate and crucified Son of God, we are signaling to the Son that His journey was not fruitless. Because we seek to respond to His love, we are committing ourselves to follow all His signposts right to the destination for which He incarnationally sacrificed Himself. We will do this in order that we eventually enjoy being one with Him in eternity (See Rm 6:3-6).
This is why the journey of Jesus into and out of this world is good news. It is good news (gospel) because it was initiated by His personal incarnation into the flesh of man in order that a redemptive payment be made to get us to where He now is. It is this powerful example of love that motivates us to first get on the “gospel way” through baptism, and then stay on that way by continually transforming our minds and behavior into the character of the One we follow.