Communing with Christ at our Point of Poverty – Part One
Is Christ “your Life,” or has He been added to your life?
In the context of Christ’s pointed letter of correction to the Laodicean church, our Lord states that He reproves and disciplines those whom He loves (Rev 3:19). The required response of the believer to the Lord’s discipline is zeal in the matter of repentance (see also 2 Cor 7:11).
In the previous chapter of Revelation Christ was dealing with another church the Ephesian church. In spite of her works, patience, labor, and orthodoxy, she was also in need of repentance. Repentance for her would involve returning to her first works. And it would involve remembering from where she had fallen; for she has left Christ her first love (2:5).
In the case of both of these churches, there had been a departure from Christ. Through neglect there had been a gradual, but radical move away from devotion to Him. The duties and trappings of Christianity had been allowed to overshadow the reality of Christ’s presence, majesty, preeminence, and supremacy.
Individual believers contented themselves spiritually in their labor and apparent faithfulness. All the while, they had been drifting from the Savior. Their sense of spiritual wholeness, life, andcompleteness was being drawn from somewhere other than their organic union with the Lord of glory.
The spiritual condition in the first century churches of Ephesus and Laodicea closely matches the symptoms that are so commonplace in the 21st century Evangelical church. Just as Christ was gradually edged to the periphery in those two Asia Minor churches; so also, modern believers tend to “add” Christ to their lives rather than radically identifying with Him and submitting to Him.
Amidst this vast number of present day professors of faith in Christ are true saints who will most assuredly be disciplined by the Lord for their departure from Christ. The Father’s discipline is a powerful tool which humbles the child of God and moves him from self-deception to repentance and from apathy to alert realism regarding personal sin and need of divine grace.
The church of Laodicea provides a model for the Lord’s discipline of the believer. Laodicea boasted of wisdom (sight), net worth (wealth), and wholeness (they boasted that they were in need of nothing). The Lord overturns their self-perception; exposing it as self-deception.
Instead of having wisdom, they were blind. Instead of having worth by wealth, they were poor. Instead of having wholeness and needing nothing, they were shamefully naked. God disciplines us to show us our true condition.
The Father disciplines us for our good that we may share His holiness (Heb 12:10).Discipline comes by way of revelation. The Father points to the immensity of difference between what we think of ourselves and what Christ thinks of our condition. Understanding this disparity between our perception and Christ’s perception of us is vital in our recoveries from spiritual declension. Christ is sovereign in these loving recoveries of His own.
God’s discipline moves us from personal claims of wisdom and sight to admissions of blindness and dullness in self. God’s correction moves us from claims of personal worth and wealth to understanding our poverty. And His discipline moves us from claims of wholeness and self-sufficiency to views of our nakedness and shame.
Contrition, poverty of spirit, mourning over sin are each dependent upon receiving Christ’s perception of us. It is impossible to be poor in spirit if we do not abandon ourselves to Christ’s wisdom. We must consent to it.
There is definitely trauma in being ratcheted down to the place of humiliation wherein we reject our inflated view of self and receive Christ’s diagnosis of self. When the Lord scrapes away our bogus coverings and unravels our false garments; pain is involved – for we have to admit that we have turned to false sources of wisdom, worth, and wholeness. And as Christ lays out our case before us, we are faced with the unnerving fact that we have taken our thirsty souls to the world’s cisterns.
Added to this trauma of exposure is the ostracism that often comes from our fellow man; for worldlings rate one another by carnal concepts of wisdom, worth, and wholeness and not by kingdom values. The natural man has little use for a man whose exponents are “low” in the three “w’s” (note how the Corinthians applied the “w’s” test to the Apostle Paul and nearly failed him for being so unimpressive – 2 Cor 10:7-12).
In His humanity, Christ was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Is 53:3b). He was ostracized; He was the ‘stone’ choice in the Father’s sight; but when examined by the builders, He was rejected. He was discarded and deemed unworthy to build upon (1 Pet 2:7). The saint must come to terms with the fact that the world hates the wisdom of the cross.
As the Lord weans us from the world there are degrees of devastation; believers are being “scraped” down to bedrock. The Father is carefully removing all false foundations. Under His faithful discipline, we make new discoveries of what we are in self; we are not as wise and self-sufficient as we thought. Trauma hits us between the eyes; God is reducing us to nothing in ourselves that He might fully rebuild us upon Christ alone as our life; this is how in our faith and practice, Christ becomes our life.
At times, the trauma of discovering the blindness, poverty, and naked shame of self is too much for us. We rage at the prospect of having our false coverings removed. As God scrapes away and polishes us, a deep layer of our depravity comes to the light of day. It’s an oily, stinking stratum of foul fetid muck. We protest that God should let the light of day strike this layer of our corruption. We panic and grasp for the false coverings that used to conceal our vileness from our own eyes.
But God has always seen that layer; He loved us and redeemed us in spite of our vileness. All we can think is that this horrid branch of our innate corruption must be concealed as soon as possible. Spiritual blindness and poverty seem more tolerable than nakedness and shame. We’re offended by the exposure of our shame; we bounce from pillar to post, striving for some sort of covering to conceal it from our own eyes.
We protest, “Why can’t we be like other worldlings who enjoy respectability?” But God is patiently boxing us in; He is hedging us in, cornering us until we agree with Him that the world’s coverings are impotent to deal with the problem of innate evil – Christ alone is our life and completeness, our purity, our righteousness.
But we must have our flesh crucified in order to realize this truth in our spirits. How totally our nature is opposed to Christ. For the world seeks to rule by means of the 3 “w’s.” The natural man, if he could, would totally reclaim Adam’s broken scepter by means of the world’s wisdom. But the world’s way was condemned at Calvary; God is destroying the world’s wisdom by means of the cross (1 Cor 1:18-25).
When we take up the cross, we cast out the world’s wisdom. The priests and kings who will reign with Christ over a restored earth will have all come to the throne by way of the cross.
Christ sees how much of the world remains in us. He knows how much we depend upon the world to pronounce ourselves superficially “whole.” By the world’s gauge we long to pronounce ourselves seeing, wealthy, and whole. But our Lord knows at what junctures we are yet foolish children who depend upon the world to carry our wisdom, worth, and wholeness. So the Savior takes us to His school and begins scraping us down to bedrock so that our reliance may be wholly upon our Substitute.
There is a legal craving to be complete in ourselves
The Word of God is filled with examples of men and women who excelled in the world but came to final ruin. The wicked Haman in the book of Esther surprises us with his commonness and humanity when he calls his family together to recall his blessings. Haman ran a verbal inventory of his wisdom, worth, and wholeness. He recounted his riches, the number of his sons, every promotion, advancement, and honor he had received from the king (Esther 5:11ff.). In this regard Haman is so much like us – he leverages his personal value upon his accomplishments, his worth is the sum total of what he has and what he has done (doesn’t that sound familiar?).
Haman made a log of his exponents in every area; not only was he healthy and wealthy and in possession of a prosperous family, he was a prominent man in a world empire. But Haman admits to all those gathered in his home that none of his achievements (“w’s”) gave him satisfaction because of one grand obstacle; Mordecai the Jew would not bow down to him.
You see Haman is a type of every worldling who will suddenly on Judgment Day be exposed as an imposter; a thief of God’s glory and an enemy of the cross. On the last day those who love of the world, like Haman, will forever be hung on the gallows of God’s justice and will be displayed as objects of God’s eternal wrath (Is 66:24).
Consider Haman’s response to Mordecai’s refusal to bow: 1.) Haman engages in rage, 2.) he indulges in self-pity, 3.) he reviews his personal exponents of wisdom, wealth, and wholeness, 4.) he expresses extreme dissatisfaction, 5.) and then he plans the genocide of an entire nation.
The story of Haman teaches us a great deal about our natures. Haman’s “slow burn” gestated into murderous rage; for Mordecai’s refusal to bow in effect had pulled back the veneer to expose a tiny section of Haman’s rotten core.
Mordecai’s spiritual integrity in refusing to bow to Haman was a prophetic act; it preached to Haman that God alone is ultimately and absolutely worthy of man’s honor. Haman was a thief of God’s glory like Lucifer. He was not jealous for God’s honor; he had no sentiment for God’s glory, his heart thought only of his own honor.
Haman’s jealousy was wanton; he would have gladly murdered God’s chosen nation in order to retain his own sense of wisdom, worth, and wholeness. What a terrifying picture of fallen human nature. Our “wedded-ness” to the world is no small matter. Only the cross can dislodge it.
The world’s magnetic pull is subtle; the pride of life has many disguises. The letter to the church at Laodicea teaches us that when we seek to see without Christ as our whole wisdom in all His offices, we leave wisdom and become blind. When we seek to enrich ourselves without Christ as our true wealth, we impoverish ourselves. When we seek to clothe and cover ourselves without Christ, we expose ourselves to destitution, nakedness, and shame.
Our proud, legal natures are prone to weave our own coverings and then sew initialed monograms upon our work. God in His faithfulness unravels these structures; for He knows how ready we are to burn incense to the work of our hands.
The flesh and the Spirit are at odds (Gal 5:17). The flesh says, “Let me weave something special to cover this part!” “Let me generate just a little merit in the name of zeal for God.” But the motive does not come from a subjection to the righteousness of God. The Lord sees our covert war against the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
At times our fruitfulness and the growth of our graces and virtues tempt us to pride. God sends the caterpillars of affliction to knock down the weeds. Sometimes the humbling comes by way of our flesh asserting itself. We are surprised, even horrified that sins we thought we had mortified long ago have re-emerged and found new forms of expression.
The pendulum swings back the other way; our pride turns to self-loathing. We start spending time attacking the fleshly lusts that have tripped us up. But usually we do not go any deeper than railing against these flesh outbursts. But fleshly sins are actually telling symptoms of our unbelief. After all, it was unbelief that brought us to a place where laxity, anger, impatience, lust, resentment, and discontentment could gain a foothold.
The truest response to our fleshly failures would be to not only confess and forsake them, but also to abominate the unbelief that gave birth to them. In all honesty we have to admit we are holding more loosely to our Head than we ought.
The cross of Christ for cleansing of sins of flesh and spirit (2 Cor 7:1)
Charles Hodge refers to sins of the flesh as those which defile the body; and sins of the spirit as those which affect the soul such as pride and malice (Hodge, 1 & II Corinthians, p. 550).
Sins of flesh and sins of spirit each have their own particular “vortex” which pulls at us and tries to keep us in a state of compromised fellowship with the Lord. Sins of the flesh spin off shame and guilt. We feel defiled – shame screams into the conscience that we are disqualified for Christ’s love and favor, we are disqualified for service, and we are ineligible for the Father’s acceptance.
As a consequence, we depart from the sonship mentality and retreat into the grey castle of self. We feel distant and alienated from the Father. Our only comfort is miserable self and the old libidinal lust gallery of sensual images.
Sins of the flesh raise disputes in the conscience about our eligibility for God’s love and favor. The guilt and defilement that issues from flesh sins make us feel more like beasts than citizens of heaven. In that state, we run the risk of seeking comfort by another bout of sensual indulgence, another swill from the world’s hog trough.
The answer is cleansing by the cross and a renewed enjoyment of fellowship. The power of Christ’s blood breaks into the rotating flesh vortex of shame; it blasts light onto our true status as sons of God and our justified status in Christ. It illuminates the object of our faith so that we enjoy Christ’s love again and take comfort in the fact that we are held in our Heavenly Father’s heart.
Faith in the Gospel is the key. For the message of the cross gives us renewed confidence to vacate the grey castle of self and step out into the warmth and comfort of His presence and fellowship again.
The cross is also necessary in our dealing with sins of the spirit. Bitterness, spiritual pride, self-righteousness, resentment, discontent, grumbling are not easily dislodged. The mind inflated by a false sense of its own importance keeps “building a case” for self-vindication, self-promotion, and self-assertion.
The cross is necessary to bring down this pride. For the legal bent of our lower natures longs to move off of grace ground to a strict cause and effect system of moral reward and penalty. This “lust for law” gives the vortex its spinning momentum.
Once in the vortex, we have moved from the breast-beating publican to the proud Pharisee. We resist the humbling disciplinary work of God. In order to move us back to “grace ground,” He will have to apply the rod to us to make us empty out our imagined coffers of personal merit.
But we are caught up in the vortex; we resist His disciplinary intent because we can’t imagine that we are no more advanced spiritually than the publican whose only hope was divine pity and mercy. We’re bounty hunters who want justice poured out on those who have diminished us.
In our merit basket we have gathered personal graces, spiritual frames, fruit-bearing, and faithful Christian service. We desperately want these to commend us to God and to give us rank above our less faithful brethren. But all these fruits must be thrown overboard so that we have both arms free again to hang onto the plank of His free grace. Only then can we can wrap both arms around the neck of our Savior, recline in His bosom and be melted again by His love.
The cross is needed to take us off of ourselves. The humiliation of Christ breaks into our pride cycle. It releases us from the pull of that vortex that demands we carry a portion of our worth, personhood, and standing before God and our fellow man.
By His gracious dealings with us, we contemplate again the manifold sufferings of Christ on our behalf. We see by faith again that His agony, separation, ignominy, weakness, and dereliction were necessary to wash us and clothe our evil natures. We are humbled and look away from ourselves as the source of anything; we are willing to gratefully stand in Him alone – this is the cross at work in us.
How different it is when we are far from the cross. During those times, the vortex of spiritual pride generates a secret antipathy to the passion of Christ. We are inwardly scandalized at the thought that in His body, the holy Son of God exposed our shame and nakedness and pollution to the piercing nails and jeering crowds. But when we adore again at the base of the cross, we bear His reproach with gratitude and regard His shame on Golgotha to be our glory (Heb 13:12-13).
The cross alone can break the bondage of our pride, complacency, shame, unbelief, and laxity. But we must consent to be His beloved child on His terms; the terms of blood-bought grace. When we consent, pride falls down.
It’s a time for realism. For all of us have sins of flesh and spirit. To refuse the divine remedy of God’s exposing discipline and to refuse renewed adoration of Christ and His cross is to live as a Laodicean. Let us consent to be clothed by Christ alone and sanctified by His cross; for that is our safety and that is our joy.