Dying with the invisible God


“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, and the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25)


If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:20-25).

When God created man and put him in the Garden of Eden he gave him this  command;

“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16-17). However, the deceiver downplayed the real threat of death by suggesting to Eve, “You will not certainly die,” (Genesis 3:4). After man sinned and death became a reality, the deceiver took mankind captive through their fear of death. Yet to this day, sinners still often try to ignore the death sentence that hangs over their heads.

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:32).

Jesus came to break the stronghold of death over humanity.

Since the children have flesh and blood, Jesus too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil — 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

The truth is that people are already dead in their sins and transgressions in that they are cut off from fellowship with the living God. Only through faith in Jesus, by which we are counted as having died to sin, are we set free and reconciled to God.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:5-11).

While most people cling to this sinful life in the flesh, they might actually long to die if they could perceive the unimaginable glory that awaits those who have died in Christ.  However, it was revealed to the apostle John that when man’s frustration and suffering in this fallen world reaches an unbearable peak, quite mysteriously people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them (Revelation 9:6)

If people are not able to die then nor will they be able to be raised from the dead to new life in Christ. It can be compared to a caterpillar who refuses to give up its life as a caterpillar by spinning a cocoon: it would not be transformed into a butterfly but would die as a worm.  Either we count ourselves as having died with Christ, which sets us free from sin and raises us to new life, or we die in our sins and remain cut off from the Lord for eternity.

Jesus said,  “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:23-24)

The gospel is foolishness to the minds of unbelievers but it is the glorious truth that sets the believers free from sin. What is man, O Lord, that you are mindful of him? We are as a worm. But in Christ though we die yet shall we live and be raised in glory. From the womb, to the tomb – and from the tomb to glory, we will never be shamed and never die again, for through faith in Jesus we have seen the invisible God, we walk with him – and we die with him through his death on our behalf.

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living (Romans 14:7-8).

His great strength is indeed made perfect in our weakness. God is not a man that he should lie. But God became a man that he should die. He lowered himself and became like a worthless worm to die for our sins. He, who is the exalted King of glory, endured the mocking of evil men and gladly went to the cross naked and humiliated to bear our sins. Are we prepared to live for him who died for us? Are we prepared to die for him who lives for us at the Father’s Right Hand?

Mockers sneered at him while he hung on the cross, dying for their sin:  “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the king of Israel! If he comes down now from the cross, we will believe in him! He trusts in God – let God, if he wants to, deliver him now because he said, ‘I am God’s Son’!” (Matthew 27:42)

If it was up to sinners, they would refuse to die. Jesus prayed for the cup of his suffering to be removed if possible but he learned obedience through suffering and was obedient even to that of dying on the cross. The one criminal while dying on the cross next to Jesus, admitted his own guilt and that he was deserving of the sentence of death. If we don’t die to sin – through faith in Christ – then neither can we be raised to new life by the Holy Spirit. Are we prepared to take up our crosses, to know him, to see him as he really is in his glory, to walk with him as Enoch did – and to die with him as Peter eventually did?

Those who try to find their lives in this world – and who cling to their miserable sinful lives, will lose their lives in the world to come. But those who take up their cross and demonstrate genuine faith in which they are prepared to die with Christ are already counted as having died with him and they will be spared the second death – and will be raised to eternal life and their bodies will be transformed into his glorious, immortal body. 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God (Romans 8:18-21).

Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him;  if we endure, we will also reign with him (2 Timothy 2:11-12).

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants (Psalm 116:15).

Indeed, the death of the righteous is precious in God’s sight. But the one who tries to exalt himself and justify his sinful life, will be brought down low in death and will be put to shame. Be exalted my God and Saviour.


Walking with the invisible God


Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9).

Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Genesis 5:24).

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.  Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-7).

Although we inhabit a physical body through which we express ourselves, our speech and gestures are controlled by our thoughts which originate within our minds. It is extremely complex how thoughts form and are lodged in our minds before they can be expressed through actions and speech. (Not everyone is rational – and not everyone acts in harmony with the truth).

However, as Christians we may offer our minds and bodies to be fully possessed by the invisible God through His Spirit – so that His thoughts and desires become our own. We can learn to renew our minds with the knowledge of the word of God, which includes taking our own thoughts captive as a discipline of bringing our minds under the control of the Holy Spirit rather than the spirit of the age in which we live.

Jesus gave them this answer:”Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. (John 5:19).

Is it conceivable that we, like Jesus, may eventually say that we only do that which has been inspired by our invisible Father in heaven – in other words, that we only do that which we see our Father in heaven doing? Or, to put it another way, we only do that which we perceive to be the perfect, pleasing will of God, trusting that he has prepared specific good works for us to do in his name in the confident knowledge that he perfectly equips us to do his will. It is only our own neglect, that stands in the way.

Such perfect obedience is desirable but is it really possible? Is such obedience something that we can really attain through discipline and obedience? Can we really completely surrender our own will and mind to the Holy Spirit who lives in us?  Of course there will be many teachers who would not like to set such a lofty goal which they perceive to be too high and unattainable either for themselves or for those whom they presume to instruct in the way of holiness. The reluctance to pursue perfect holiness is perhaps because it may lead to discouragement and despair since we are prone to become so easily entangled in sin. A creature that is born into – and accustomed to – captivity, is not easily set free. Those who frequently stumble and give in to temptation may prefer to settle for mediocrity and compromise than to pursue a life of holiness and faithful obedience, excusing themselves on the grounds that we are all only human and that we remain sinners “saved by grace”. However, the more we realize our human weakness, the more we begin to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit working within us.

“I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:27).

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…  25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:16-25).

I will suggest that even our stumbling may be the very thing that provides learning and discipline for us as we grow in the knowledge of our Saviour and learn to keep in step with his Spirit. He disciplines those whom he loves and if we are loved by him, we will learn to respond quickly to his discipline which is intended to produce righteousness in us. The accuser, who accuses God’s children night and day, will always try to convince us that to live a holy life is impossible while we live in this body of flesh.

But if we are led by the Holy Spirit then it means that we are already walking on the perfect path of righteousness – so perfect that he will even use our weakness and stumbling to work even more perfectly for his good and purpose – because our own weakness will also keep us from becoming proud and self-righteous, so that in turn, we show patience and grace with others who are also learning to keep in step with the Spirit.

Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time (Daniel 11:35).

The only absolute obstacle on the path of holiness would be our own stubborn or slothful disobedience, our own neglect, our own unwillingness to repent and get up whenever we may stumble. We are assured that in all things, God will work for the good of those who are called according to his purpose and who humbly obey him.

We often think that there are other hurdles in the way and that it is all the external hindrances that get in our way, but God makes a straight path and calls us to walk on it. Jesus said his burden is light and his yoke is easy. The trials we may face are not obstacles, on the contrary, they are designed to bring us to maturity. God is sovereign and in perfect control of all of our circumstances. We may think that the distance is just too far to go- but how far could ever be too far when the goal is eternal life and glory in Christ? And death is not the end of the road, on the contrary, it is the gateway to immortality and greater glory. To live is Christ and to die is gain – so we are assured that we cannot lose the fight of faith.


Hearing the invisible God


This cartoon illustrates in a humourous way the prevalent condition of many in the church whose minds are so conformed to the pattern of the world and so preoccupied with an information overload that they cannot hear the still, quiet voice of the Lord. It requires spiritual discipline to be able to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants— but let them not turn to folly (Psalm 85:8).

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18).

How do we hear the inaudible voice of the invisible God? How do we train our spiritual ear to hear what the Spirit is saying? Our minds are bombarded with so much information, much of it trivial and meaningless – and even much which is evil and misleading.  How does God speak and how can we hear?

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that many people are carnal-minded do not really want to hear the Lord speak because their sinful lives are at enmity with his Spirit. They pretend to seek God but they only want to know him as a benefactor who will remove all their hardships and grant them success and prosperity.

For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them (Isaiah 58:2).

The people of Israel were often inclined to listen to false prophets who would say exactly what they wanted to hear rather than the truth that the Lord was trying to tell them. Long before the coming of the Messiah the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah of how the people would be inclined to harden their hearts so that they would not (and could not) hear God speaking to them through Jesus the Messiah.

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 9 He said, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed” (Isaiah 6:9-10).

Even among those who have come to believe in Jesus, the apostle Paul prophesied that many would depart from the truth and sound teaching. When people harden their hearts through compromise with sin and the unbelieving world it is impossible to remain faithful and to hear the Lord.

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

The evidence that people are genuinely hearing and listening to God with humble, penitent hearts is when they heed the word of Jesus the Messiah through whom God is calling people out of darkness and religious pretense into the light and the truth.

The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Matthew 13:10-16).

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?  (Hebrews 2:1-3).

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. 10 That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ 11 So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” 12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:7-13).

As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” 16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief (Hebrews 3:15-19).

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Many people, like King Saul, delude themselves into thinking that they do hear the Lord and that they also respond in faithfulness, when in fact they are so reckless in their self-confidence, pride and self-righteousness that they do not respond in true faithfulness, but in presumption. They may indeed be hearers of the word but they are not doers of the word. Genuine faithfulness is proven through obedience in response to the word of God.

We must see to it that we do not have a sinful unbelieving heart like those who, although delivered from their slavery in Egypt, yet did not believe the good news by combining it with faithfulness and they perished in the desert without entering the Promised Land.

Listen to the Lord and you will draw near to Jesus. The gospel message is a two-edged sword bringing both salvation and condemnation – salvation to those who believe and eventual condemnation to those who hear but still stubbornly refuse to believe.

The Lord said through Moses that when the Messiah comes he will speak the very words of God after which the people would be held accountable for their unbelief. Neglectful ignorance of the truth is not innocence – many people choose not to listen and not to hear. After God raised Jesus from the dead and the gospel has been proclaimed throughout the world all people are without excuse.

In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject” (Acts 17:30-32).

Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason’” (John 15:22-25).

God has spoken through Jesus Christ – and all people will be held accountable.  Therefore, we must listen, hear and respond in repentance and obedience.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Those who hear and obey are also called to be faithful ambassadors of Jesus Christ, therefore, let us not add to the meaningless noise and confusion in this world by uttering idle words, but let us be still, hear from God and speak according to his word. God still speaks through his faithful, redeemed people who are the light of the world.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:19-22).

Jesus said, “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (John 8:47).

Jesus’ words have the power to impart eternal life and to raise the dead: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:24-25).

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27).

God hides himself from the proud, arrogant and sinful minded people who choose to remain in darkness and who deliberately block their ears to his word. They are the kind who will easily be led astray by false prophets who presume to speak in the Name of the Lord. But whoever confesses their sins and seeks God in humility – will intuitively hear God speaking to them and they will be drawn to Jesus through whom they will find life and be set free from sin and death. As Jesus said, “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.” (John 6:45-51).

When the LORD spoke to the people at Mount Sinai they were overcome with fear and asked that God would not speak directly to them again but rather to speak through Moses as a mediator. “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Exodus 20:18-19).

And Moses told the people how God would speak to them through the Messiah, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, ‘Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.’ 17 The Lord said to me: ‘What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).

God again spoke audibly when he told the people to listen to his Word spoken through Jesus his son.

Jesus took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) 34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen (Luke 9:28-36).

On another occasion, shortly before the crucifixion, God, the Father, spoke in an audible voice testifying to the glory he had given to Jesus, who is the very Word of God among us in the flesh:

Jesus said, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die (John 12:25-33).

Although Jesus the Messiah came at the appointed time, fulfilling all the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, many Jews who reject him, still claim that they are waiting for the Messiah to come. The fact that they have missed his coming is evidence of God’s judgment against them – they have failed to believe in him on account of self-righteousness and national and religious pride even though they have been scattered throughout the world.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” 4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me” (Matthew 11:3-6).

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” 16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Romans 10:14-18).

We have an awesome responsibility to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many may hear the good news, but not all listen and obey and combine it with the faithfulness it requires and offers.

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. 2 For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed (Hebrews 4:1-2).

(Some translations say, “because they did not combine the message with faith”. In other words, as James taught, they did not demonstrate genuine faith by responding with obedient actions.)

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:7).

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:11).

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:17).

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:29).


Seeing the invisible God

Four-part series by Peter Cohen

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy (Isaiah 35:5).


By faith Moses left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible (Hebrews 11:27).

How is it possible to see him who is invisible?

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known (John 1:18).

We see God in the exact representation of his being in Jesus Christ.

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” 19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen” (Exodus 33:18-23).

Everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:13-14).

The perfectly designed creation testifies to a purposeful creation by a powerful creative being who remains invisible and unknown to those who, ironically, do not want to know him – nevertheless creation itself still testifies that he exists.

To deny that God exists, (because all will have to give account to him even whether they believe it or not), is a wicked insult to his great and powerful intelligence – and such contempt certainly deserves his wrath. Furthermore, the Lord has made known his character through his love and mercy by which he extends his grace to a sinful people whom he wants to be reconciled to himself. Those who spurn God’s love invite his wrath, judgment and ultimate condemnation. God’s own verdict is: “They don’t know me because they don’t want to know me” (see John 3:19).

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles (Romans 1:18-23).

Not only has the invisible God revealed his divine nature through his majestic creation, he has also revealed himself through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the exact image of the invisible God.

Show us the Father and that will be enough for us”, to which Jesus answered, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father”.

Jesus, the Word through whom God created all things, is the very radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word (see Hebrews 1:2).

Jesus the Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 (Colossians 1:15-21).

Many people claim to believe in “God”, but if they do not believe in Jesus then they do not know the true God in whom they claim to believe. It is idolatry for man to claim to believe in a god of his own making – in other words, ascribing to God characteristics after their own imaginations according to how they would like him to be.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” (John 14:1 -11).

Those who say, “seeing is believing”, might think that it is a “blind” leap of faith to believe in an invisible God.

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:24-29).

We demonstrate faith by seeking to somehow know the invisible God, firmly believing that he exists – and that he rewards such faith by making himself known to those who humbly seek him. Enoch was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6). At the same time he intentionally hides himself from the proud. An expression of true and sincere faith in seeking God is not an altogether “blind” leap of faith, because God has indeed made himself and his majestic glory known through his intelligent and ordered creation. He has also revealed himself through the testimony of those who have indeed seen the invisible God – who made himself visible in the person of Jesus, his Son.

We cannot prove to the sceptics nor to the arrogant that the invisible God indeed exists and that he is the Creator of all things that are seen. However, we may pray: “Lord open our eyes that we may see, perceive with our whole being, him who is invisible – and know him in the face and glory of Jesus Christ our risen Lord and King – Amen.”

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).


Be Holy (Part five)


In part four, I suggested that the call to be holy was to come out and to be separated from the world. In this final part 5, I will also show that the call is to be gathered as a heavenly people, as one assembly of a united new humanity, the body of Christ, called to be holy and united by the Holy Spirit.

It should be obvious by now that the only way to be holy is through being filled with the Holy Spirit. As people may lose their moral inhibitions when under the influence of much alcohol, we will become sensitive to the holy prompting of the Holy Spirit the more that we are filled with and subject to the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-19).

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:15).

How can we become more and more filled with the Holy Spirit and to what extent may we be filled?

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).

By God’s grace and mercy I experienced being filled with the Holy Spirit at my conversion to the extent that I was decisively set free from a sinful and wretched life. Paul wrote to the believers at Galatia posing the question, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2). However, many who received the Holy Spirit, were deceived and led astray into trying to conform to the call to be holy, by observing external rules and regulations, including that of the Old Covenant Law. This was a regression in the call to be holy.

The Spirit is given to those who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit is not earned or received by a person through observing the Law nor by first attaining a level of righteousness through their own self control and discipline. The Spirit is freely given to us in order to set us free from sin so that we may become holy and righteous as he sanctifies us from within. It may sound too easy, but we receive the Holy Spirit by believing in Jesus and by asking and desiring to be filled with the Spirit.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13).

That being said, I believe that the Spirit is given to also unite us as one body with one purpose and not for our own individual pleasure or indulgence – so that the world may see us as a community of redeemed people walking in the light and love of God so that they may know that we are Jesus’ disciples.

In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:21-22).

However, unfortunately, there is a counterfeit spirit which creates an impression of spiritual empowerment and unity, but the emphasis is placed on signs and wonders, rather than upon the genuine fruit of holiness which is only produced by the Holy Spirit.

“I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” (2 Corinthians 11:2-4).

Many people want to be spiritual. If there is a different spirit from the genuine Holy Spirit, how do we discern between the Holy Spirit and a counterfeit spirit?

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:43-45).

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God” (Acts 8:9-11;14-21).

It is by the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and not necessarily by apparent miracles and gifts, that genuine believers will be sanctified and recognized by the world as being true, pure and sanctified disciples of Jesus Christ.

This is where I will introduce a new thread and line of study, namely that of us being gathered in the name of Jesus, united by one true Spirit, called to be a holy assembly. Many vain and ambitious people have been prepared to masquerade as apostles of Christ because, like Simon the sorcerer, they have coveted spiritual power for the purposes of promoting themselves and their own “ministries”, rather than Christ and the unadulterated gospel that is indeed intended to set us free from sin.

In part four of this series on the call to be holy, I referred to Haggai chapter 2, where an illustration is given that suggests that when something holy comes into close contact with something defiled, that which is holy does not make that which is defiled holy. On the contrary, that which is holy becomes defiled. Likewise, I referred to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, whereby the elders in the holy assembly of Christ’s church, had an obligation and responsibility to excommunicate from the assembly those who blatantly continued sinning, lest they defile the entire assembly leading others astray.

In the next series I will begin to explore the call to be holy as it applies more specifically to the call to be gathered into a consecrated, holy assembly united by the one true Holy Spirit. It is often said, sometimes quite flippantly, that if we ever find the perfect church don’t join it because then it will no longer be perfect. The inference, of course, is that no one has yet attained perfection. But if we sincerely  and reverently expect Jesus to be in our midst in his majestic power when we gather in His name we should all examine our own hearts and repent and be cleansed. Have we not been called to unity with the perfect saviour? The church is indeed the perfect body of Christ and our being joined to it is for the purpose that he may make us holy, and perfect us, which is his ministry as our High Priest.

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises” (Hebrews 2:10-12).

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife.  And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:1-8).

So yes it is indeed true, if you gather in a holy assembly, called to bring praise and glory to Jesus – and you casually and irreverently stroll into fellowship among the saints while remaining defiled by unconfessed sin in which you continue to indulge, then you will certainly bring your defilement upon that which is holy.


Be Holy (Part four)


In view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:1-2), As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14).

It is indeed a great and humbling privilege to be called to be God’s holy, treasured people. The Holy Spirit is given to transform us and make us holy. To be holy is to humbly submit to the Holy Spirit. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). In parts 1 to 3 in this series on the call to be holy, I have assumed that almost intuitively you will know what it means to be holy. But now let’s consider this calling more carefully. What does it really mean to be holy?

I think we may safely say that to be holy means to be consecrated, i.e. set apart from the world and from everything common, sinful, impure and unclean which threatens to defile us in our bodies, minds and souls and to separate us from close and intimate fellowship with the Lord who is himself perfectly holy.

The Lord’s eyes are too pure to look on evil; he cannot tolerate wrongdoing (Habakkuk 1:13).

I have often heard the popular saying, “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship with Jesus Christ.” I think this is because many people don’t want to be associated with a strict and prudish religion which is based upon stifling rules and regulations which may give an outward and superficial appearance of holiness, but which is judgmental and all too often false and hypocritical.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:  “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self- imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence (Colossians 2:20-23).

To be holy, through a close, living relationship with Jesus Christ, being filled with and led by the Holy Spirit, may indeed give the impression of being a very religious person separated and called out from the world – and there is actually nothing undesirable about that. (We should not have an aversion to true religion.) Pure and faultless religion is indeed a discipline of keeping oneself from being polluted by the world – but it is through the inner sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and not by trying to observe a bunch of outward rules.  

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:26-27).

Jesus described people’s error in wrongly judging others and their misconceptions of what it means to be religious, obedient to God and holy:

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds” (Matthew 11:18-19).

There cannot be partial holiness. Separation is complete separation from everything that defiles. Sin defiles completely.

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted (Titus 1:15).  Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).

“Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins” (Revelation 18:4). Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:11-17).

We are indeed called to be separate from the world in order to be joined with the Lord. However, the strict Jewish sect, the Pharisees, disapprovingly separated themselves from sinners and criticized Jesus for his association with tax collectors and prostitutes. But Jesus’ association with sinners was to show mercy, to offer salvation and to call people to repentance, appealing to them to be reconciled with God through his mercy and atoning sacrifice for sin. We may choose not to love the world nor to conform to the pattern of the world of reckless sinners who blatantly rebel against God – and yet we must associate with them as a light shining in a dark place bearing the good news of salvation.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Ask the priests what the law says: ‘If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’” The priests answered, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?” “Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.” Then Haggai said, “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled’” (Haggai 2:11-14).

I believe the lesson contained in the above account is that if we want to be holy, but approvingly gather together in close fellowship with impenitent and corrupt sinners, instead of us making them holy, they will defile us. You cannot be holy if you’re in an unholy alliance. As living stones we are being built together to become a temple of the Lord. This concept is explored further in my commentary of Haggai and in my article on the church as a holy assembly.

Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

We are called to be a light in the world, however, if we have fellowship with false believers who only have an outward appearance of godliness, we would share in their sins and hypocrisy and become defiled. Although we must be discerning as to our fellowship with those who call themselves fellow-believers, that does not mean that we should avoid any interaction with unbelievers.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).


Be Holy (part three)


Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:18-20).

God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen (1 Timothy 6:15-16).

Can we see God? How can we see God and how do we see God?

There are many teachers who suggest that even as Christians we remain enslaved to sin until we finally die – only then will we be freed from this body of sin and we will then be holy and see the Lord face to face. In other words, that suggests that we will only truly be made holy when we die.

If that is the case there would be no real incentive to be holy while we live in this body of flesh. I believe this view demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the gospel. We are to count ourselves as crucified with Christ and raised to new life by the Holy Spirit. However, if we become complacent and resigned to sin, thinking that holiness is impossible until we die, then we do not really count ourselves as having already died to sin. While we continue to live according to the flesh, we cannot effectually live according to the Spirit.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:16-21).

Some teachers believe that we undermine the grace of God if we suggest that believers must be holy, but I contend that we abuse God’s grace if we allow ourselves to become complacent with regard to sin and and make no effort to be led by the Spirit.

Those who still live according to the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. So why give assurance to sinners that they will inherit the kingdom of God regardless of how they live? If people misinterpret this teaching, they might think that I am suggesting that we must become holy in order to be saved. However, on the contrary, I am suggesting that if people are saved it will become evident that they are no longer living according to the flesh, but that they are being led by the Holy Spirit.

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).

When Adam disobeyed God and realised his nakedness, he tried, in his shame, to hide from God. People who resist the Lord’s call to be holy, likewise do not walk in the light and cannot, therefore, claim to love and worship the Lord.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God (John 3:19-21).

Under the Old Covenant, the worshippers did not dare to be so bold as to enter the Most Holy Place of the temple. Even the high priests feared that they may be struck dead if they entered the Most Holy Place in an unworthy manner. Yet now, through Christ, we have the means to be sanctified, not only ceremonially and externally, but cleansed from within so that we may enter God’s holy presence. Why would anyone resist the call to be holy and choose to rather hide from God’s holy presence?

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:19-22).

I could say the following at any point in this series, but I have decided to say it now: It would not surprise me that many of you may find the call to be holy, especially when compared to walking on water, far too daunting and unrealistic while you live in this body of flesh which is so prone to sin.

But what you need to understand is that it is the Lord who makes us holy by giving us the Holy Spirit through which we are born again and become a new creation. We do not become holy by our own endeavour – He makes us holy, – we are his workmanship.

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11).

God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

The call to be holy is the wonderful privilege to participate in God’s holy nature – to become one with him.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:3-4).

In part four of this study we will consider what it actually means to be holy.


Be Holy (part two)


This is part two in this series on the call to: “Be Holy.” (I encourage you to start at part one if you have the faith to pursue the goal of holiness and righteousness and to get into the flow of this teaching series).

If you have seen the epic movie, “Born Free” about Elsa the lion’s journey to freedom, you may better appreciate the well known phenomena that it is not all that easy to set free a creature that was born into captivity.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36).

Please take special note: The context in which Jesus spoke of (Jewish) believers being set free,  is very clearly in context to being set free from their bondage to sin. To this day, as it was back then, many Jews believe that they are not like “gentile sinners” for they have the Law of Moses through which they believe that they can attain righteousness.

But as Paul taught in his letter to Timothy: We know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me (1 Timothy 1:9-11).

The law was not given to set sinners free from their bondage to sin, it was given because they are enslaved to sin and they need to be restrained and convicted of their sinfulness so that they would want to be set free.

All too often, as happened with the believers at Galatia, believers who have been truly set free from the power of sin through the Holy Spirit, suddenly feel an obligation to come under the Old Covenant Law – or under a long list of many similar external rules and regulations, thus becoming enslaved all over again.

In part one I compared the “impossible” goal of achieving holiness in Christ to that of walking on water. We know that in Peter’s experience of walking on water, he began to sink the minute he took his eyes off Jesus and looked around at his “impossible” situation. Jesus lifted him from the water and once again he sat safely in the boat. While we learn to “walk on water”, we are also extremely thankful for God’s grace which, I may add, is not a license to continue sinning.

Jesus came to set us free, not not only from sin, but also from the Law which was given for sinners. However, we cannot be set free from the safety net and supervision of the Law if we remain in bondage to sin – but neither can we be effectively set free  from the Law if we have not learnt to keep in step with the Holy Spirit, which is like walking on water. Like creatures born in captivity, we always want to go back to our familiar place of apparent safety, even in captivity. It is perhaps indeed in many ways “easier” to observe hard and fast rules and laws, than to do the “impossible” and “walk on water”.

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3).

I trust that if you are seeking the truth that sets sinners free, that the Holy Spirit has already given you a glimmer of the glorious freedom available to those in Christ.

It is neither a freedom to return to sin, nor to the safety of the “boat” of strict legalism. In order to respond to the call to be holy, we need to have faith to “walk on water”. For creatures born into, and familiar with bondage, it is is indeed hard to stand firm in our faith when we are learning to “walk on water”.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:1; 13-16).


Be Holy (Part one)


I recently watched a series of teaching videos by a rabbi from Jerusalem who gave the impression of being a very humble, holy and righteous teacher of the Law. We  may judge by appearances but God judges the heart. Many religious Jews think that Christians are unholy, lawless sinners.

Jesus said, “I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20) .

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

The so-called “charismatic movement” placed great emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but throughout my 39 years experience as a Christian, I believe that far too little emphasis has been placed upon the call to be Holy. Many Christians are afraid of being called to holiness and shun such teaching because they fear that it sets a goal of perfection which they believe is impossible to attain. Instead they become complacent in God’s grace rejoicing that they are “sinners saved by grace” – and unfortunately sinners they shall remain.

This is a short exhortation in a series on holiness, so please read Romans chapter 7. Paul spoke in the present tense saying, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”  Numerous Christian teachers have suggested that Paul, speaking in the present tense, was describing himself as a saved and Spirit-filled Christian while yet remaining a wretched man enslaved to sin.

However, in this series I will contend, from the Scriptures, that Paul was describing himself as a wretched man in context to trying to attain the “impossible” goal of holy righteousness by observing the Law of Moses. Yes, the Law is comparable even to the laws of nature. It is indeed impossible for men to walk on water, but if they really keep their eyes on Jesus they will be able to do what is otherwise impossible for those who live according to the flesh.


Question: What is your take on the Jews being beloved for the fathers’ sakes?

What about Rom 11:28:  As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.


It is evident to me from the Scriptures that our salvation does not depend only upon God’s love or his election alone, (as implied by Calvinism), but also upon our faithful and obedient response to his love and his word revealed in Jesus. If salvation depended only on God’s love and sovereign election, then all Israel, i.e. every natural born descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be saved and even all the nations, for we know that God so loved the world – and we know that God chose Israel as the nation through whom his purpose would be revealed and from whom would come the Messiah and Saviour of the world. Neither does our salvation depend entirely upon God’s will alone, but also upon our response – for the Scriptures make very clear that God is not willing that any should perish but that all men be saved.

I believe, contrary to the teaching of Calvinism, that God’s atonement is unlimited in that he died for the sins of the whole world, which means that there remains only one sin for which people will be condemned and that is the sin of treating the Spirit of grace with contempt and for arrogantly and deliberately rejecting the atoning blood of Jesus by which we may be saved (see Hebrews 10:29 and 1 John 2:2).

The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing (wanting or willing) that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:16-18).

Having contended that our salvation is not only on account of God’s love or election, it remains therefore, that it is by faith that we are justified – and as the apostle James taught, faith is evident through our actions (i.e. obedience to the word of God).

It is also evident that God’s election of Israel was to illustrate his faithfulness to his promises and to his warnings – and this was the case even when his covenant people became unfaithful. In other words, because God remains faithful to his word, his love and mercy cannot negate the harsh and stern warnings concerning the curses that would befall Israel on account of their unfaithfulness and rebellion.

If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself (2 timothy 2:12-13).

Consider the following example in which it says that Jesus loved a pious Jew who was indeed mindful of the Law of Moses, but remained spiritually blind and did not follow Jesus because of his own sense of security in his wealth and his love for the things of this world. It is undeniable that Jesus loved him, but it is also undeniable that he did not forsake everything in order to follow Jesus. The man had asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus gave him the answer but the man was not willing to respond in faith:

“Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mark 10:20-22).

God indeed loves Israel on account of the patriarchs, as he also so loved the world that he gave his only Son to die for our sins even while we were yet sinners, but that does not assure that all Israel – or the whole world will come to him in faith and be saved. The following passage of Scripture affirms God’s election of Israel, but as we shall also note, (below), God’s election does not only ensure his blessings for their obedience, but also the certainty of his curses for their unfaithfulness and disobedience that his dealing with Israel may serve as a testimony to all nations that God is holy and to be feared.

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.  You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today” (Deuteronomy 7:6-11).

Preceding this very passage quoted above, in which the Lord affirms his election of Israel, the Lord also said through Moses:

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire”

God’s election of Israel is unconditional and his call is irrevocable, but it is not the called and chosen who are saved, it is the called, chosen and faithful who will be saved (see Revelation 17:14). Judas Iscariot was called and chosen, but he did not remain faithful – and this should confirm that salvation is not by election.

…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him (John 6:66-71).

From the above we may now begin to appreciate and understand Paul’s teaching: God made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob concerning Abraham’s descendants – and God is indeed faithful to his promises. However, not all of the (natural) descendants of Abraham are faithful and God will prune Israel for his Name’s sake – and indeed the unfaithful, disobedient and wicked people will be cut off (as also taught in Romans 11). The Lord also said through Moses that he would provoke Israel to envy by inviting people from other nations, who were previously cut off from Israel, to be engrafted and fully included among his people – as was Caleb, the Kenizzite, who received his inheritance with the tribe of Judah.

They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. For a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains
(Deuteronomy 32:21-22 [see Romans 10:19])

The Lord has chosen Israel, but not unconditionally and not without expecting from them faithfulness, obedience and repentance – all of which is measured by their response to Jesus – by which the secrets of their hearts are also exposed. (If they really incline their ear to what God is saying, they will come to Jesus – but if they claim to worship God but hate Jesus, it reveals an insincerity and actual hatred towards God because God is making himself and his purpose known in and through Jesus). Jesus said if they reject him then it is one and the same as rejecting the Father who sent him.

Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—…” (John 6:43-45).

“Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause’” (John 15:23-25).

And his father and his mother marvelled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…” (Luke 2:33-34).

Israel, having been chosen by God for his purposes, was not only elected for salvation, but many in Israel were destined to stumble. Judgement and wrath was destined to come upon the Jew first as a warning to all nations – (as indeed happened with the fall of Jerusalem within the very generation of Jesus’ coming – see Romans 2:9).

The fact that many were destined to stumble and fall, was not only to show the extent of God’s stern judgement but also his mercy in that none fell beyond recovery – and the gospel was proclaimed throughout Israel giving many the opportunity to repent and to believe and thereby be restored to the holy nation from which they were cut off on account of their unbelief. This is why, in the passage under consideration ((Romans 11:28-32), Paul wrote that all were handed over to disobedience so that all may be restored by freely responding to God’s mercy:

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all (Romans 11:28-32).

However, having been handed over to disobedience, if they are too proud to admit and to confess their sin of unbelief then unfortunately they remain cut off and will die in their sin. This is why Paul rebuked Peter in the way that he did by saying, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:15-16).