Two Opposing Principles
The New Testament speaks of two opposing approaches to leading a victorious Christian life. The first approach is described by the following cluster of words: law/works/flesh/death. These four terms are found together repeatedly in the epistles. (Gal.2:16; 3:2,5,10; Rom. 7:5; 9:32; etc.). This is the principle by which most believers attempt to live in their early days of being saved (myself included). We all seem to start off that way.
Even the apostle Paul attempted to live this way shortly after he was saved (Romans 7). It is the method that seems so normal to the natural man. It is an attempt (with the best of intentions) to live up to the requirements of the law; a sincere attempt to DO good things for God, to BE righteous, and to demonstrate our dedication to Him by trying to produce good fruit. The flesh puts in its best effort and struggles to produce good fruit, but is defeated repeatedly. The result is sin – cut off from fellowship with God. The flesh contains NO spiritual life. The more the flesh struggles to live FOR God, the more the man discovers the utter weakness of the flesh to produce anything good. He spins his spiritual tires in the mud and can never get out of that rut – regardless of how much human effort and energy he exerts. The arm of flesh will fail you. The flesh never changes: flesh is flesh. Law, works, and flesh CANNOT produce life in the sinner or good fruit in the saint.
The second principle is described in the New Testament by another cluster of words: grace/faith/Spirit/life. The growing, maturing, spiritually minded believer lives according to the principle of life in Christ Jesus, by grace through faith. In fact, the whole salvation package, from start to finish, is by grace through faith: justification, positional sanctification, and ultimately, glorification. The growing believer recognizes that he died with Christ to sin, to the world, and to the law. He realizes that he also rose with Christ to NEW LIFE and now has a much higher rule of life. Instead of attempting to produce righteousness under the law, he rests in his position in Christ as an overcomer. By faith his old fleshly self life is left on the cross and therefore the Spirit of God is free to rule within and to manifest the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus! All the sanctification models theologians have invented can be boiled down to these two: law/works/flesh/death or grace/faith/Spirit/life
“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal.5:16-17). This passage tells us that these two principles are in constant opposition to each other. As we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. These principles lust against each other in an unending conflict. But only ONE can be in control of a believer at any given moment. If the flesh is in control, then we will not bear the fruit of the Spirit. It is one or the other.
The flesh, when in control, produces nothing but fruit unto death – works that are NOT sourced in the resurrected life of Christ, and thus cannot please God. Flesh results in death: when the flesh is in control, the believer is cut off from experiencing the power of indwelling LIFE. When the flesh is in control, the believer is behaving as if he were spiritually dead, though he still possesses eternal life. He is NOT manifesting the indwelling life of Christ. He is instead manifesting the character of the old man, whose old nature still dwells within.
But when the Spirit is in control, the believer will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Instead, the Spirit manifests Christ in him… the mind and heart of Christ… the love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness – the resurrection life of Christ. One principle manifests the fruits of death; the other principle manifests life. These two principles are in constant battle and the flesh often prevents us from doing what we WOULD (what we want to do)… namely, experience a victorious Christian life.
The true believer naturally DELIGHTS in God’s law after the inward man (Rom. 7:22). He WANTS to do good in God’s sight Rom.7:21. He is a regenerated new creature in Christ with a new heart that LOVES the Lord and genuinely desires to please Him. But he finds anotherprinciple operating within the members of his body – the law of sin and death (Rom. 7:23). The law stirs up the flesh and brings forth fruit unto death (Rom. 7:5). If only we could be delivered from the principle of sin and death (law/works/flesh/death), then we would be free to serve God in newness of the Spirit and walk in newness of LIFE. Every believer faces this internal conflict between law and grace… between works and faith… between the flesh and the Spirit… and between the dead, rotten fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit of LIFE in Christ Jesus.
“But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:23). Paul was saved at this point in his life (and was thus positionally delivered from the law of sin and death), but he was unaware of his new position in Christ. He was ignorant of the fact that he was now more than a conqueror in Christ… that Christ had defeated the world, the flesh, and the devil on the cross of Calvary, and that Christ’s victory was HIS victory. And during that period of ignorance, Paul (like so many believers today) struggled to do good and to be good, but he discovered that even though his regenerated mind and heart genuinely desired to do what was right, in practical terms, he found himself battling against a principle of sin and death in his members – a principle that was much more powerful than he was. It repeatedly brought him into horrible captivity to the law of sin and death.
In his misery, Paul cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). His life in this terrible condition could only be described as wretched and in desperate need of deliverance from his body which was not manifesting resurrection life, but rather death. He attempted to produce righteousness and discovered that he dwelt in a “body of sin” – a body that was characterized by sin (Rom.6:6). He attempted to produce a Christlike life and discovered that he dwelt in a “body of death” (Rom.7:24). Sin results in death.
He had to acknowledge that his body was still conditionally under the reign of sin and death, though positionally he had been delivered (Rom.6:6-7). He came to the place where he realized that deliverance could never come from within. In my flesh dwells NO good thing (Rom.7:18). He looked once again to the Deliverer, the Lord Jesus – His Savior not only from the condemnation of sin, but also from the daily power of sin. Through repeated defeats and failures, Paul was brought to the place where he realized he would never be able to subdue the law of sin and death that had enslaved him for so long. He finally learned to have NO confidence in the flesh. He realized his old self life belonged on the cross.
One Victorious Principle
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus FREES the believer from bondage to indwelling sin.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom.8:2).
Paul gave his personal testimony of struggle and failure in Romans chapter seven to segue into the way of victory in chapter eight. At his lowest point of failure, he was ready – he was in just the right condition for God to introduce to him the law of the Spirit of LIFE in Christ Jesus… a principle (law) that was even more powerful than the law of sin and death that brought him into captivity.
The “law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2) is not a law in the legal sense. It is the principle of the old sinful nature that once dominated the believer. It stands parallel to the “law of sin” (which results in death) that Paul mentioned in the previous chapter (7:23). The law of sin and death is a spiritual principle that Paul observed: whenever he wanted to do good, he ended up doing evil (Rom.7:21). It happened time and time again. It is like gravity: if you drop a ball 1000 times and observe that the ball falls down every time, you have discovered a scientific law or principle: things fall down, not up.
The law of sin and death continually reveals the enslaving power of the old Adamic life. Before we were saved we were slaves to sin – to this sinful Adamic nature. It had mastery over us. But once regenerated, we are positionally set FREE and are no more slaves. The chains have been torn asunder! The emancipation proclamation was signed in blood at the cross, and we are no longer slaves to the law of sin and death. Of course we can still yield ourselves over to that old master if we choose to (Rom.6:16), but the difference is that now we don’t HAVE to because we have been positionally set free.
The believer in Christ is able to experience victory over the principle of sin and death because now we have a HIGHER, more powerful principle operating in our bodies: the law of the Spirit of LIFE! The law of sin and death is still present in our members as Christians; it is still powerful; it is more powerful than we are. But it is not more powerful than the Spirit of Life. The law of the Spirit of LIFE can overwhelm and overpower the principle of sin in our members in an instant. And it doesn’t take a 40 day program or a 12 step program. The Spirit of LIFE can work in us in the time it takes to repent and yield! Thus, there is another law that operates in the yielded believer: the law of the Spirit. The law of the Spirit IS life in Christ Jesus: new resurrection life empowered by the Spirit. It is a new principle of LIFE, a principle that enables us to walk in newness of life.
The believer shall REIGN in life.
“For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ)” (Rom. 5:17).
In Adam, death reigned. The principle of sin and death affected all those in Adam. It dominated the lives of all those in Adam. It ruled in their thoughts, their hearts, their emotions, their motives, the intentions of the heart, and in their choices. Paul’s argument here is that since death reigned in the first Adam, there must be a corresponding reign of LIFE in the Second Adam. This reign of life begins with regeneration and continues to reign in the yielded believer. It REIGNS in our thoughts, emotions, motives, and our choices. The law of the Spirit of life results in a reign of life in the believer and can be experienced by faith, moment by moment.
And don’t miss the royal nature of the word “reign”. The verb is βασιλεύω. The term literally means to reign as a king. Strongs Concordance defines this in a metaphorical sense as “to exercise the highest influence, or to control. The principle of life in Christ Jesus ought to reign as king in the life of every blood bought child of God. The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us FREE from bondage to the old principle of sin and death which used to reign as king… not because the old principle of sin and death was annihilated or removed, but because the new principle is much more powerful!
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” (Rom. 6:12). Let not sin reign – what a command! No true believer WANTS sin to reign in his/her body, but too often it does (Rom.7:21-23). The good news is that we don’t haveto let sin and death reign in our mortal bodies any more. We can now say NO to the old principle of sin and death, and experience victorious resurrection LIFE in its place. We don’t have to obey that old master any more. We died to sin and the old master has no jurisdiction over dead men.
“Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:13). We don’t have to yield the members of our body to that old master any more either. This is because we now have a new Master and a new principle reigning within: the law of the Spirit of LIFE in Christ Jesus. As we yield to God, as those who are alive from the dead, resurrection life reigns where once death reigned. Victory!
Note (Rom.5:17) that the passage states that DEATH reigned by one, namely, Adam. But conversely, Paul does not say that in Christ, LIFE reigns.
Rather, he states that WE reign in life BY Jesus Christ: Christ in you… by His indwelling life. In the first scenario we were under the reign of sin – an evil monarch; in the second scenario, we are the rulers… more than conquerors.
We reign victoriously BY the principle of indwelling life. That is our new position.
And note also the “much more.” The reign of life is much more powerful than the reign of sin and death.
Commentators have illustrated this by comparing the law of gravity and the law of aerodynamics. The law of gravity states that a Boeing 747 (weighing in at a mere 358,000 pounds – empty!) ought to fall to the earth; but the law of aerodynamics overpowers the principle of gravity, and keeps the plane soaring in the heavenlies! Gravity is still there and it is still just as powerful, but another more powerfulprinciple REIGNED OVER it. The victorious Christian is one whose life is dominated – overwhelmed by the much MORE powerful law of the indwelling LIFE of Christ… and he is thus able to walk in newness of life. The old Adamic nature is still there and just as powerful – it is much more powerful than we are. But it is easily overpowered and overwhelmed by the infinite power of the Spirit of LIFE! Death is powerful, but resurrection LIFE is much more powerful.
The sin of the First Adam unleashed the principle of sin and death – the fallen Adamic sin nature – a cruel tyrant who ruled and reigned over us as an evil master and brought forth fruit unto death. But the resurrection of the Second Adam, unleashed another principle: the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus: the power of indwelling resurrection life.
The pilot who wants his plane to soar into the heavenlies does not spend his time trying to eradicate the principle of gravity… or tying to lift up the heavy plane himself. That would be futile, frustrating, and would always result in failure. Instead, he turns his back on gravity and concentrates instead on the law of aerodynamics that enables his plane to soar. BELIEVING that the superior law is true and that it works, and therefore he acts on that belief by climbing into the plane; he can then comfortably REST in the law of aerodynamics which causes him to soar into the heavenlies. Likewise, the believer who wants to lead a victorious Christian life is not to waste time vainly attempting to defeat the law of sin and death. Rather, he is to reckon himself dead to that old law (Rom. 6:11) and trust in the law of the Spirit of LIFE in Christ Jesus. By yielding himself to God he too will soar and be enabled to walk in newness of life! He is simply to BELIEVE what God said: (1) the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus FREES us from bondage to the law of sin and death (Rom.8:2), (2) that life REIGNS in the yielded believer (Rom. 5:17), and (3) that God has already defeated and condemned sin (the nature) in the flesh (Rom.8:3). By simply trusting in the superior principle, and acting on it (taking a step of faith – like climbing in the plane) he is ABLE to experience the victorious resurrection LIFE of Christ and soar into the heavenlies!
We reign in life IN Christ: risen with Him we have a perfect, unchangeable position of victory and life (Col.3:1-4). As we by faith abide in that glorious position, it has a dramatic effect on our earthly life. Our earthly condition is gradually transformed more and more into HIS likeness. We find in Him all we need for LIFE and godliness. We find in Him the power of a resurrected life. And when the storms of life are raging, and friends have forsaken you, and the mountains around you seem to be falling into the sea, the power of HIS indwelling LIFE invigorates us… quickens us… keeps us strong… safe… stable… steadfast… solid… fruitful… enabling us to face the deepest discouragement and adversity. Then we can be still and enjoy our living relationship with the Living God, hidden away with Him (Col.3:3). We can thus reign in life – but not by our own efforts, or wisdom, or ingenuity, but BY Christ Jesus… by His indwelling life. He is all we need. You see, when the branch is resting comfortably in the Vine, and enjoying the life and vitality of the Vine – that branch isn’t worried about HOW it will resist disease and insects and other enemies. It isn’t even worried about the storm raging outside. The branch simply rests where it was positioned – in the Vine – and enjoys the healthy, refreshing, invigorating, indwelling life that naturally flows from the Vine to the branch… moment by moment.
Even a brand new babe in Christ has all he needs to rest in Christ by faith, enjoy His indwelling new life, and bear good fruit. He too is complete in Christ (Col. 2:10). He may be immature and untaught, but if he’s resting and abiding in Christ, he can be spiritually healthyand experience the power of indwelling life. Yes the principle of resurrection LIFE can and should reign in every yielded, surrendered child of God.
There are two opposing principles are in every born again believer: the law of sin and death and the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. Both are vying for the preeminent position and control. As Paul wrote: “To whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey” (Rom.6:16b). At any given moment, one principle or the other reigns supreme. But one principle is far more powerful: the principle of LIFE… the law of the Spirit of LIFE in Christ Jesus. As powerful and menacing as death is, there is something far more powerful: resurrection life!
The Life of Christ in the INDIVIDUAL Believer
The Spirit of LIFE reproduces the LIFE of Christ in us.
This is the Spirit’s ministry: to manifest the LIFE of Christ in our mortal bodies (II Cor. 4:10-11). “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal.4:19). The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is forming Christ in us. Kenneth Wuest noted that the word formed is from (μορφοω) which refers to “the act of giving outward expression of one’s inner nature.” Christ dwells within every believer, but it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to give outward expression of Christ’s indwelling life. This is the work of the Spirit of life in each believer today. We are being “transformed” into HIS image… from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord (II Cor. 3:18). What a glorious thought! Christ is being “formed” in us and manifested through us!
The LIFE of Christ is the operating principle IN the individual believer. This truth is found throughout the epistles. Consider the following passages:
- “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
- It is God who will “make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ” who dwells within. (Heb.13:21).
- “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).
- “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” (Gal.2:20)
- “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col.1:27).
Consider Paul’s illustrations in II Corinthians:
- II Cor. 2:14-16 – “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ.” [We should smell like Christ.]
- II Cor. 3:2-3a – “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us.” [Others should read Christ on us.]
- II Cor. 3:18 – “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” [His image is seen in us.]
- “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (II Cor. 4:10-11). [Christ is manifested in our mortal bodies.]
- II Cor. 5:20 – “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us.” [Christ is heard through us.]
According to Paul’s imagery, the world ought to be able to smell Christ around us, read Christ on us, see His image reflected through us, see Christ’s life manifested through us, and hear Christ in our words. This is just ONE epistle. “Christ in you” is not a second shelf doctrine as some have called it. It is not based on one obscure passage. Our adversaries can use whatever labels or pejoratives they want, but you can’t get around the fact that it is a clear and pervasive theme of the New Testament. It is Biblical Christianity. Christian living is Christ living in us. Paul wrote: “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil.1:21a).
But is this true in our lives? We would all like to THINK that it is so, but God puts us to the test from time to time… not so that HE might know if it is so, but that WE might know. Our hearts deceive us all too often. We might say that Christ is our life, but deep down inside, we are really saying, “For to me to live is my job, my kids, my family, my brethren, my ministry, my health, etc. These are the things that move me… things that make me tick… the things around which my life revolves… the things of which my life consists. These are the things that have preeminence.” But those are all earthly, temporal, and changeable – not a very solid foundation. And when my life consists of that which is earthly, temporal, and changeable, then life will go up and down like a roller coaster – and sometimes, roller coasters can make you sick. Circumstances change. People change. Family and even brethren can turn against us.
But if Christ is our LIFE, then all things earthly and temporal need to be left in ashes at the foot of the cross. Christ never changes. He is seated comfortably in the heavenlies – untouched by the commotion of earth. He is always gracious, holy, true, faithful, and compassionate. He never forsakes us. We all like to SAY “Christ is my life” and “He is all I need” but those words will eventually be put to the test. Is He REALLY all we need? Sometimes God has to wrench away from us some of those things we hold as dear – to FORCE us to re-adjust our hearts so that Christ and Christ alone is once again our all in all. Then we can genuinely say, “For to me to live is Christ.” We can lose all else and be eternally satisfied with Him. Can you say that? Can I say that?
The Life of Christ in the LOCAL ASSEMBLY
Organization vs. Organism
“And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” (Eph. 1:22-23)
The local church is described and defined in the Scriptures as a Body – a living organism. The church is Christ’s Body. His Body is to be FULL of those qualities that characterize the Lord Jesus. God’s purpose is that the church be full of “the fullness of Him”, the One who fills the whole body (and every member in particular) with the holy character of Jesus Christ. Christ IS life (John 1:4; 14:6), and thus, the Body is to manifest His life.
In the passage above (Eph. 1:20-23), the apostle Paul makes it clear that Christ’s present position as Head of the Body is directly linked to His resurrection, glorification, and exaltation to God’s right hand in heavenly places. The Head, being exalted to glory, enjoys a heavenly position and resurrection life which He shares with His Body, the church.
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13)
The body is to be growing into the fullness of Christ. Kenneth Wuest noted that the expression “the fulness of Christ” refers to “the sum of the qualities which make Christ who He is.” The Body makes progress in the direction of the fullness of Christ… more of His LIFE and character manifested through the Body. God’s purpose for the local church is that the Body and each member in particular would participate in the LIFE of the Body and thus manifest the LIFE of the Person, whose Body it is.
Elaborate details are given of the church’s nature as an organism. I Corinthians chapter 12 gives us a lengthy description of the various living members of the Body and their interrelationship to each other and to the Head… just like any other living organism. By far the predominate power in any organism is LIFE.
Our human body operates on the principle of LIFE. Without life, our body is nothing more than a pile of body parts – unable to function. Sometimes a member of my body no longer wants to cooperate. (Usually my knees) Well, when one member refuses to cooperate, the Body CAN still function, though it may limp for a while. The same is true in the local church. But don’t ever forget that the principle of lifeis incredibly resilient and adaptable to various situations the Body is called to endure. The body heals, strengthens, and increases itself in love (Eph. 4:16c). And as long as the members of His body cooperate with the Head (yield), then Christ is able to carry out His will on earth IN and through His Body. The manifestation of the indwelling LIFE of Christ through His Body, the church, is unique to this age.
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh…” (I Tim.3:16a) Here, Paul refers to themystery of godliness. The method of godly living revealed in the epistles was a mystery, not revealed in ages past. God’s plan was to reveal His beloved Son IN human flesh. This was accomplished in the Person of Jesus Christ through incarnation. The LIFE of His Beloved Son continues to be manifested in this age through Christ’s Body, the church, for the church is FULL of Christ – the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. He dwells in that Body. His LIFE flows through that Body. In the context of I Tim.3:16, Paul speaks of how believers are to “behave” in the church – the assembly of believers. In other words, he reveals how to live a godly life as members of His Body… the church. The new relationship to Christ was a mystery: “Ye in Me and I in you.” Colossians 1:27 states that it was the riches part of the mystery: “Christ in you.”
However, in many circles any talk about the mystery or deeper life themes is almost automatically rejected as a waste of time. In those circles, the emphasis is NOT on LIFE. They have another emphasis… which is always one variation or another of the principle of law/works/flesh… in which there is no life.
Right from the very beginning of the church, there has been a tendency to replace God’s concept of the church as a living organism with man’s concept of organization. Church history is full of examples. The candlestick at Ephesus was about to be blown out… the last flicker of life was barely seen in Sardis… Laodicea’s church organizations were busily functioning inside, but Christ was not in it. The life of Christ was on the verge of dying out in these churches; yet strangely, the organization seemed to be doing just fine… busily doing their thing.
The organization can outlive the organism. We know what happened to the church in Rome: long after its life died out, the organization continued as powerful as ever in the eyes of men. Darby wrote: “Man has organized, and he has wholly set aside… God’s order and arrangements as to the assembly.” Darby saw a subtle tendency among evangelical churches in the 1800’s to replace God’s simple organism with a complicated organization.
Today, it is anything but subtle. It is now “in your face.” Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and other darlings of the neo evangelical crowd unashamedly proclaim their reliance on business techniques to make their church organizations successful. They aggressively promote these organizational skills too. Here is a scenario that happens all the time: A man is shepherding a small church and trying to emphasize the local church as an organism filled with indwelling LIFE; and yet the people are going to conferences and reading books, and visiting schools that operate on a different principle. Then they come back and seek to change their local church into conformity to the pattern they learned at the latest “how to” seminar… introducing a whole new “mindset” into the Body: organization over organism. These two systems oppose one another. Organization and organism are not the same. The Law and the Spirit of life are not the same. If a church does not function as an organism operating on the principle of indwelling life, then there is only one alternative: the principle of law/works/flesh.
And don’t think that this is the mindset only found in the rank neo-evangelical crowd. Even in many fundamental circles, the church is treated as an organization rather than a living organism manifesting the indwelling life of Christ. People become numbers on an organizational chart. Ministries become jobs. Pastors use churches or other ministries as steppingstones in their careers. Pastors function more like CEOs than shepherds. They are busily engaged in promoting all kinds of activities, plans, programs, performances, games, entertainment, youth groups, singles’ group, grief therapy group, anger management groups, counseling ministries, day schools, day care centers, camp ministries, dramas, etc. They seem to be unaware of the fact that all of the plans and programs of men have a tendency to suffocate the very life of God right out of the local church!
The business organization model to the local church is not just on the outer fringes of the neo evangelical world. I’m afraid that it is also deeply entrenched in fundamental circles too. Some years ago I was enrolled in a seminary online. Some of the courses were great. One course in particular stuck out. It was entitled, “The Local Church.” I was excited to get my new textbooks. I was sure we would be studying the Pastoral Epistles, and other passages dealing with the functioning of the Body. However, I read half way through the book before I ever came across one Bible verse, and when I did, it was from Proverbs. (And although he was a very wise man, Solomon was not well versed on the functioning of the local church.) Let me share some of the chapter titles:
- How to select new employees
- How to organize the church staff
- How to prepare job descriptions
- How to establish a formal salary plan
- How to help workers develop on the job
- How to be a better supervisor
I thought I was reading an IBM business manual. While I was disappointed in that the course did not help much in my understanding of the Pastoral Epistles… but I did get a real good education. I learned how these people think! I learned what their concept was of the local church, of ministry, and the Christian life. It was a real eye opener.
One thing I know for sure now: Those whose concept of the local assembly is an “organization” do not operate on the principle of indwelling LIFE. It is a foreign concept to them. Some “other” principle is energizing that machine.
Using the business model, if the right buttons are pressed, the right people are put into the right cubby holes, and all the cogs are in place, then the widgets will continue to flow from the assembly line and all is assumed to be well. And if the folks have good managerial skills, and a good PR man, and if they have their mission statement, their annual goals, their five year plans, and they work their fingers to the bone to accomplish those goals…. they will be effective & successful – and maybe even profitable.
No one doubts that business techniques when applied to the church WORK… if by work we mean draw in many customers. But when a local church functions according to business principles, the spiritual principle that is REALLY in effect is the same old principle of law/works/flesh … attempting to DO, DO, DO… staying busy, busy, busy… spitting out as many widgets as they can. Their motives are good; but there is a big difference between “attempting to do great things for God” and… “allowing God to do great things through us.” Those are two very different operating systems.
Church leaders who function as religious business managers learn to plug church employees into their corporate cubby holes and plug personnel into their organizational charts, and keep them busy working in the myriad of programs – in order to keep the machine running. And if the people work hard and keep the machine running, they are told that that is the way to become spiritual… being busy is the way to grow. They are told that being busy is a sign of spiritual life; that activity equals fruit. Sorry, but that was not true for Martha! Being busy serving Jesus was not an expression of indwelling life for which she was praised. It was an expression of flesh for which she was rebuked. And as one author wrote, there can be a real BARRENNESS to a busy life. Busy-ness and activity are cheap substitutes for resurrection life.
The church that operates on the principle of life functions differently from the business model; it marches to the beat of a different drummer. The goal of that church isn’t to plug believers into their programs, but to plug believers into Christ the Vine – into an abiding relationship to Him so that HIS life is the operating principle in their daily walk AND in the local assembly – the organism… the Body.
I would like to encourage some of the men here who are ministering in smaller works… (most of us!) We may not have all the programs the big rock and roll church down the street has to keep all their customers happy. We may not have the things that the fleshly crowd demands, but we do have what serious believers need: CHRIST! We can encourage them to abide in the Vine, where they will discover that Christ is sufficient for all.
The church at Sardis
Jesus rebuked the church at Sardis with these words: “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” (Rev.3:1b) Sardis APPEARED to have life. They had a reputation for life. They were busily engaged in works for God; no doubt they accomplished much in His name.
They had all the programs everybody wanted. People were flocking to Sardis because it had a big name – and had a reputation for life. Because Sardis still had a good doctrinal statement and was busy doing great things for God, nobody seemed to notice that it was no longer operating on the principle of indwelling life! The church had a reputation for life – but no reality. That’s what the Lord Jesus laments here and why He rebukes the church at Sardis.
Things are not always as they appear from earth’s vantage point. What men admired, the Lord rebuked! Men saw the outward organization and it seemed to function smoothly and efficiently, like well greased machine. But the Lord saw the inner workings; it was not functioning according the law of the Spirit of LIFE. Clearly the emphasis in Sardis was NOT on LIFE. The ruling principle in the church at Sardis was not resurrection LIFE of Christ, but rather, the old Adamic life, clothed in orthodoxy, but nobody knew it; OR nobody cared because things seemed to be going so well.
The people in Sardis were talented, intelligent, hard working, diligent, business minded, studious, gifted, ambitious, motivated, experienced, zealous, go-getters. They got a lot done. But let’s keep in mind that all of those qualities can also be manifested through the old Adamic life. But without LIFE it is nothing of any value to God. Apart from the principle of indwelling, resurrection life, it is nothing but gifted, talented, FLESH! And everybody assumed that the outward form of success must be an expression of God’s blessing. So why change? Other churches admired them, and said, “Wow. That church is alive! Just look at all the people… all the activity… look at all the money they give to missions… look at the great things THEY are doing for God. God certainly must be impressed.” But no, God was not impressed. The Lord Jesus is rebuking this church.
Which do you think would be more impressive to men? A church organization run by a board of motivated and skilled administrators, talented financial advisors, gifted in media, and men with their finger right on the pulse of today’s culture, making wise business decisions and because of their skills, are in the midst of a multi-million dollar building program… giving two hundred thousand a year to missions… OR a church with leaders who are less savvy in business, who operate on the principle of indwelling life… and were overseers of a small flock of believers who function as an organism in tune with Christ the Head, and a body which manifests His life and will… and yet they struggle to pay the oil bill. Honestly what church would have the reputation for life?
I shudder to think of how much preaching, church planting, missions work, and works of charity are done in Christ’s name but in reality are not expressions of the life and resurrection power of Christ. God’s judgment is not based upon how much we accomplish in His name. It is based upon what sort of work was done (I Cor. 3:13). What was the SOURCE of all the activity: fallen human flesh or the Spirit of life? Was it a manifestation of human ingenuity and exceptional business skills, or was it a manifestation of the indwelling LIFE of Christ? Who really gets the glory?
Perhaps we should examine our OWN hearts and contemplate how much of OUR life and service is a manifestation of indwelling life. How much of the activity of the local church where we serve is the religious energy of the flesh and how much is truly sourced in resurrection life?