Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Christ in You - The Hope of Glory - Part 6


The Afflicted Way

I have but poorly described what awaits the glorified sons of God who attain to the number of the firstborn, and have dimly portrayed the distinctions between the three resurrections of man. I am hindered from providing a clearer picture of the glories of the ages to come by my own limited sight. I have seen these things as through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13:12).

The best I can urge upon any child of God is simply to believe the witness Yahweh has provided for us in His word. He has said that the first resurrection is worthy of our utmost striving.

Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.

I cannot describe the glory to be revealed in us, for I have not seen it. The apostle John confessed that “it has not yet appeared what we shall be,” but he said we would be like the firstborn Son of God in His glory. Such a state is beyond present comprehension.

I Corinthians 2:9
"Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him."

What awaits the overcoming sons of God will be awesome beyond anything in this present age. God has prepared amazing things for those who have toiled and wept and suffered in this time of formation of His sons.

Matthew 25:34-35
Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

I know I must bring some balance to this teaching, for although the future is glorious beyond description for all who attain to that age to come, there is a cost to be borne at this time. In order to enter into the glory of a resurrected son of God one must be conformed first to the image and likeness of God. This image and likeness is one of character. Christ must be fully formed in us before we can reign as members of Christ over the kingdoms of the earth.

This conforming process is difficult. Yahshua described it in the following way:

Matthew 7:13-14
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is afflicted that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”

The most common English translations of the Scriptures say “the way is narrow.” The word rendered “narrow” is the Greek word thlibo, which the KJV has rendered in the following ways: afflict, narrow, throng, suffer tribulation, trouble. The most common rendering of this Greek word is “afflicted,” and it is fitting to translate it this way in the verse quoted above. The way to life is an afflicted path.

II Timothy 3:12
And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Yahshua will be persecuted.

There is no other way to mature a child of God than to subject them to distresses and difficulties. Much sin is bound up in this flesh, and it is with the utmost difficulty that the spiritual creation formed within us by the power of the Holy Spirit comes to a place of ascendancy over the clamoring passions and desires of the flesh. Pride must be humbled. Selfishness must be replaced with a total selflessness. Lust must be crucified. Hatred must give way to love. Irritability must yield to patience. Fear must be conquered by faith and peace.

We can only make the transformation from fleshly beings to spiritual as we are placed in situations where our character is tried. We must be brought into a variety of circumstances where the natural man will always respond with lust, fear, anger, and a host of other unrighteous thoughts and actions. In each instance our Father, by His Holy Spirit, urges us to arise as spiritual beings in His own image and put down the flesh in order to manifest the glory of God’s character within us.

Some years ago I was brought to a particularly difficult trial. I was perplexed, and grieved and discouraged, causing me to cry out to the Lord for some encouragement. At that very moment He had a family member stick a prophetic word in my hand that they had just received in their e-mail. It was a direct and explicit answer to my cry of anguish. This prophetic word contained the following sentence.

And no matter what the circumstances look like, I am able to work My glory  in them, and to make you come forth into the calling and anointing that I have for you.

As I looked at my trial I wondered very much how God’s glory could be manifest in it. There was nothing that appeared glorious to me, for my trial was leading to my being subjected to false accusations and unrighteous judgments resulting in condemnation. In my shortsightedness, the only glory I could envision was for God to end the trial and vindicate me before my detractors.

Since then I have come to understand that God is glorified whenever we manifest His holy and righteous character in the midst of our trials. Although outwardly we may be subjected to shame, God is glorified if we bear up under the trial patiently, crucifying the flesh with its evil passions. When we are slandered and seek to conciliate, when we are reviled and do not revile in return, when we are insulted and speak forth a blessing, then Yahweh is glorified. The greatest glory we can bring to the Father is found in the moments of our most extreme trials.

John 12:27-28
"Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name." There came therefore a voice out of heaven: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again."

Yahshua was faced with two choices when He saw the cross before Him. He could say, “Father, save me from this hour,” or He could say, “Father, glorify Thy name.” Yahshua chose to glorify His Father’s name by going through the trial and manifesting the meek, humble and loving character of God as He was being subjected to terrible abuse and scorn. The Father was glorified beyond measure as His Son was being crucified and He declared, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” This single act was a triumph over the rebellious and self-centered attitude of Satan. By the righteousness, humility, and love of the Son of God all sin was shown to be exceedingly sinful. The nature and character of God was revealed to be infinitely higher and worthy of praise than the fallen nature of man.

In order for you and I to be made ready to receive the glory, power and authority reserved for the glorified sons of God, we must first become mature sons in the image and likeness of our Father. This conformity is proven through many trials that seem grievous at the moment, but they yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Hebrews 12:3-12
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. " It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Our Father will always subject us to the optimum circumstances to produce in us His righteous character. He rarely chooses to subject His sons in training to ease and comfort, riches or worldly acclaim. When life is comfortable, the sons of God tend to be at ease. When men and women have plenty, their tendency is toward pride and careless living. Yahweh knows our frame, and the waywardness of the flesh. He therefore chooses circumstances that are humble and which keep us focused on Him.

In 1999 I surrendered to the Lord to follow Him wherever He would lead me. This was a departure from the manner of my Christian walk prior to that time. I had previously lived according to the manner of all the other Christians with whom I was familiar. I remained in control of many of the decisions of my life, fearing that a total surrender to His will might lead me to experiences my flesh and soul dreaded.

When I crossed through the narrow gate of surrender to His will in all things, I found myself entering an afflicted path. I had known afflictions in earlier days, but they were much less, for I was still directing my way in many decisions. My growth in Christ was also much slower during those former days. When I entered into the path of affliction of God’s choosing, my spiritual growth entered into a greatly accelerated state.

Yahweh directed me to quit my job as a computer professional at a hospital and begin ministering full-time. I had no savings, and I had a wife and two children. I actually anticipated that the Lord would honor my faith and obedience by supplying me with an on-time abundance of provision and allowing me to maintain my former manner and standard of living. This was not to be the case.

Over the course of the next six years I lived day by day in dependence upon my heavenly Father. He supplied our every need, but our provision was very meager in comparison to what we had known when I was working as a computer professional. There were many days when there was no food in the house and we were dependent upon God sending provision that very day or we would not eat. He always sent a provision! We never went hungry, but we did not eat steak either. We were blessed to have a simple meal, a sandwich, or something very basic to fill our bellies. (In hindsight, we could have eaten a much better diet if we had educated ourselves in the preparation of inexpensive wholesome foods such as dried beans and whole grains and vegetables.)

We never suffered hunger, but I felt a kind of suffering in these experiences. I knew I could go out and get a job and buy whatever my heart desired to feed myself and my family. Yet the Spirit of Christ constrained me from doing so. He showed me that He wanted me to write books, minister to others, and trust Him for all things during these years. I knew that taking a job would be a violation of the Father’s will for me, for He was testing me and seeking to teach me many things by keeping me dependent upon Him.

It was not the Father’s will that I have an abundance of money at that time. He could easily have provided it had He chosen to do so. He can open up the windows of heaven and pour forth a blessing at any time. The best environment for my spiritual growth was not one of material prosperity. It was an environment of daily dependence for that day’s need.

I learned something through this experience. I discovered that when I had been making decisions for myself that I was consistently choosing a path that was much more comfortable to the flesh. I didn’t realize how much this was true until I gave the direction of my entire life into the hands of my Father. His choices for my family and I were not nearly as comfortable as what my own soul would have led us unto. This truth is certainly a major portion of what Yahshua was indicating in His words in Matthew chapter 7. Wide is the gate and broad is the way to destruction, and many are on that path. What path does the natural man choose for himself? With little exception, man chooses the easiest way. Few would choose to walk through a thorny hedge if there was a clear way around it. Yet God will lead His sons and daughters through the thorny hedge that rips and tears at their flesh.

This tendency to choose for ourselves a comfortable path, determining what sacrifices we will make, and which ones we will avoid, is a pathway to destruction. The Lord has given us clear examples of people whose lives were ones of ease and comfort, and rather than producing righteous men and women after His image and likeness, the abundance of their situation led them to careless living and sin.

Ezekiel 16:49-50
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.

God knows that it requires a path of affliction to provide an environment for spiritual growth and righteousness. The majority of Christians, failing to allow God to choose their path and to lead them in all decisions, are also failing to gain in conformity to Christ. At best they have greatly slowed their growth to spiritual maturity.

The disciples of Christ were amazed when Yahshua spoke the following words:

Matthew 19:23-24
"Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Many have misunderstood the message of Christ in these words, for they have mistakenly equated “the eye of a needle” with a sewing needle. Camels do not go through the eye of a sewing needle, so this makes little sense. In the days of Christ cities were surrounded by walls for protection against invading enemies. Gates were set in the walls to allow people and materials to come and go. These gates were closed at night and in times of danger, but it was still necessary to allow a limited flow of people in and out. Therefore, built into the large gates was a small door which could be opened to let a man in or out. This small door was called “the eye of the needle.”

Camels at the time were used for transport of goods. They would be piled high with merchandise and goods to be traded. If a man came to the gates after they had been closed and needed to enter, it was possible to go through and take his camel along, but it was very difficult. The master of the camel would have to take all the merchandise off of the camel, and the camel would have to go through the gate on his knees.

This is a picture of how a rich man must enter the kingdom of heaven. Getting on one’s knees speaks of humility, and removing all the goods from the camel’s back speaks of the necessity of a rich man giving up all his possessions.

Matthew 19:21-22
Yahshua said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."  But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property.

The word rendered as “perfect” in this Scripture is the Greek word teleios. This Greek word means “perfect, mature, of full age.” What Yahshua was telling this rich young ruler of the Jews is that if he wanted to come to maturity as a son of God, then he needed to free himself from all his wealth which was making his life very comfortable and easy, and then come follow Christ. Christ would lead this young man down an afflicted path, but it would lead to spiritual maturity. Holding onto his possessions, and clinging to his comfortable lifestyle, would hinder this man from coming to a perfect conformity to the image of Christ.

Most Christians think that the Lord’s words to this young ruler were exceptional. They have been convinced by preachers of prosperity that this young man had an inordinate affection for the world’s goods and therefore he was required to give them up, but not all Christians need do so. What the saints have not understood is that the Lord is revealing a very general principle through these words, a principle with application to the lives of all Yahweh’s sons and daughters. A life of material ease and comfort will hinder all men from coming to maturity in Christ. “The way is afflicted” which leads to life. Comfort and affliction are opposites. We cannot choose to live comfortable lives and expect to find the mature image of Christ formed in us at the end of our journey. It will not happen.

I am convinced that a life of very humble circumstances provides the optimal environment for the maturing of almost all of the children of God. God wants us to be dependent upon Him. He will not lead all men to quit their jobs, as He instructed me to do. I was a minister of the gospel and the Scriptures declare:

I Corinthians 9:14
So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

Yet, God does have a specific plan for every son and daughter. He would have them submit their every decision to Him. Yahweh wants to be the One to choose where you work, where you live, and what you spend your money and time doing. If all saints submitted all these decisions to God I believe that most would find themselves living in daily dependence upon God. When the Lord taught His disciples to pray, He began this way:

Matthew 6:9-11
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. 'Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.

When people came up to Yahshua saying they wanted to be His disciple, it was not unheard of for Him to counsel them to sell all they had, give it to the poor, and then come follow Him. To do so placed a person in a position of complete daily dependence upon the Father. Manifesting a willingness to dispose of one’s possessions and live the life the Lord chose for them was not the requirement of a select few. A willingness to surrender all was required of all who would be Christ’s disciple.

Luke 14:33
So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Luke 5:11
And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.

Luke 18:29-30
And He said to them, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life. "

In this last passage we see a parallel to the afflicted path that leads to life. Yahshua tells His disciples that all who have left the comforts of house and possessions and relatives behind will receive “eternal life.” Because they accepted the afflicted path, these will receive life.

There are few Christians today who have given up all their possessions to God. I am convinced that God would have everyone who would be a disciple of Christ to surrender all things to Him that He might direct them in all their worldly possessions, the choice of where they live, and how they spend their time and money. He may not tell you to dispose of all things, yet if Scriptures provide any pattern at all in God’s dealings with those who would be sons of God, He will require this of many. He laid this requirement on me. He reduced my worldly possessions down to nothing. For a time He led my family and I to live and travel in a 20 year old motorhome, and I am convinced that had the rest of my family stayed the course, this would be our manner of living in this hour.

If we make our life choices for ourselves, we will inevitably choose circumstances and conditions that are comfortable to our flesh. This comfort stands as a hindrance to spiritual growth. Having a home can afford so much comfort and insulation from the trials we need to mature that Yahshua will call us to surrender even this which many find to be an absolute requirement, and non-negotiable with the Lord. Yahshua spoke to a Scribe who wanted to follow Him as a disciple. Scribes in Israel had comfortable lives, and nice homes. He told the Scribe:

Matthew 8:20
"The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

Yahshua, although being the Son of God, was content to live far below the standard of living of the people He dwelt among. Most Jews had a home of some kind, but Yahshua lived as a homeless man. God could have provided a house and a nice ministry center for His Son. Yet He chose that which was optimal to teach Him obedience, and to perfect Him.

Hebrews 5:8-9
Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation...

In order to enter by the narrow gate, and to travel the afflicted way which leads to life, it is mandatory that we allow our Father in heaven to direct our steps. The vast majority of mankind seek to direct their own steps. They have certain desires and requirements that they feel this life should provide for them. Yahshua said that this path of self-direction is wide and it leads to destruction.

I know that to Western Christians, this message is very radical. It was radical in the day of Christ. The rich young ruler went away grieved, probably reasoning that what Christ demanded of him could not possibly be the will of God. Most Scribes in Christ’s day would also have balked at giving up the requirement of having their own home, thinking such a sacrifice was totally unnecessary. The apostle Paul very plainly affirmed the words of Christ, revealing that he was not only willing to accept this afflicted path, but he instructed others that it was right and necessary.

I Timothy 6:6-11
But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things, you man of God...

All the body needs to survive is food and covering. These are the necessities. All beyond this are comforts. A man doesn’t need a house filled with furniture. He doesn’t need televisions, stereos, game consoles, a swimming pool or jacuzzi, a pool table, or other forms of entertainment, two cars in the garage, or walls adorned with decorations, and closets filled with the merchandise of this world. I once had many of these things, back when I lived as most Christians do today, making my own choices concerning the path I would walk. I did not understand that choosing for myself a comfortable life was hindering the maturation of the spiritual man.

Yahweh may provide all of these things to you at some point in your path. At other times He may reduce you to nothing. The key to growth in Christ is being content with whatever Yahweh chooses for us. The apostle Paul did not always know lean times. There were seasons of plenty.

Philippians 4:11-13
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

I have found that the Lord will lead us to experience seasons of material blessing and comfort. These often serve as intermissions in much longer seasons of leanness and difficulty. There are seasons where He places us in the fire of refining, and times when He takes us out of the fire for a period of refreshing. What is certain is that He will not choose for us the uninterrupted comfort and ease that the majority of Christians have chosen for themselves.

II Corinthians 11:27
I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

II Timothy 2:9
I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal...

II Timothy 2:3
Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Yahshua.

II Timothy
But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Lest some should argue that the apostle Paul was giving these instructions to a fellow minister, and they don’t apply to all Christians, I will provide a couple examples of similar instructions to the churches.

Philippians 1:29-30
For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

Romans 8:16-17
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

The apostle makes it quite plain to the saints that being an heir with Christ is inextricably tied together with their willingness to suffer with Christ. There is an afflicted path that leads to life for all the sons of God. It is a sobering truth that the Lord declared when He uttered the words, “and few there are that find it.”

If we fail in conformity to Christ, a conformity that only comes by walking an afflicted path, then we will not attain to the number of the firstborn sons of God. Consider again, the story of Joseph. When all of Joseph’s brothers were living as free men, living as they pleased, Joseph was a slave and a prisoner. Joseph could not choose anything for himself, and he serves as a type of those who are overcomers in Christ.

For the past four years I have lived alone. My children are grown and my wife has chosen to not allow the Lord to order her steps, for there are certain things she desires, even requires in this life. I do not condemn her for this. I know, however, that I must not choose my lifestyle and activities for myself. I must surrender to the Father in all things. After my wife left me, Yahweh chose for me to live at a homeless shelter for a year, then to work as an employee of the homeless shelter for a further two years. I was not paid much, and though I have no debt and live a simple life, I found myself living constantly in dependence upon the Father to meet all of my needs.

Several months ago He directed me to leave the employment of the rescue mission, and to enter into full-time ministry again, trusting Him for every provision. He has been faithful to meet my every need. I am lacking for nothing, but by most American’s standards my life would be appalling. I have no home. I live out of a small camper/van. I have very few possessions. And I am dependent upon the Father for all of my needs.

Though many would not choose to live as the Father has directed me, I am content with what He has chosen. I know it is the optimal environment for me. In times past I have wondered why the Father didn’t pour out a great financial blessing upon me. I now know the answer. Financial wealth leads to independence. If I had much money in times past I would have made decisions that would have led me away from what was best for me. I would have sought to ease my way and make my flesh more comfortable. Comfort was not what I needed to grow, therefore God withheld His abundance.

Having an abundance tends to make men and women less sensitive to God’s leading and direction. They begin to make decisions influenced by the desires of their soul, rather than seeking to know the mind of Yahweh in everything. Perhaps the day will come when I have matured enough spiritually so that the Father can trust me with an abundance, knowing that I have learned the discipline of waiting on Him before I move in any direction. This maturity has to be gained by much discipline at the hands of our Father.

Let me end this chapter by inviting you to look at the Scripture which serves as its basis once more. Consider what the Spirit of Christ is speaking to you, through these words. Ask Him to reveal the application to your own walk.

A day is close at hand when judgment is coming to the church. Many who have had an abundance will be reduced to great poverty. Is it not much better to freely surrender to the Lord’s direction in your life, than to have Him take what you have by force? There is great reward for those who release their possessions of a free will, for as the Lord told the rich young ruler, “and you will have treasure in heaven.” There is no reward if you cling to that which your flesh cries out for until it is suddenly snatched out of your hands.

Matthew 7:13-14
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is afflicted that leads to life, and few are those who find it.

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