Hope for the Dying Church
According to Edwards, true spirituality is knowing, tasting, and seeing the beauty of God’s holiness. What sets the saint apart from all others is that he sees the glory or beauty of divine things. The Bible speaks of this glory as the central thing that makes God and His ways attractive—that lures humans in love to Him. This is the light that makes the Person of Christ so ravishingly beautiful, that He has drawn the hearts of millions to Himself for the last two millennia. This is the brightness that all saints see in comparison to which their own hearts appear filthy (Gerald R. McDermott, “Jonathan Edwards on Revival, Spiritual Discernment, and God’s Beauty,” Reformation and Revival 6:1 Winter 1997).
What does the church become when deprived of the regular revelation of Christ’s glory? In the first place; she becomes spiritually malnourished, for she was called into existence to glorify Christ and to commune with the Godhead by feeding upon Christ.
It is by the church’s intake of Christ that she is able to manifest Christ. Without this feasting upon the things of Christ, she will experience spiritual declension.
A decline into cold formalism and institutionalism is not foreign to any of us. For we have witnessed this same tendency toward lukewarm-ness in our own persons. We are all too familiar with the kind of spiritual chill that can come over the soul and numb its operations.
It is Christ who has purchased His church. He owns the church and rules the church by His infallible Word. When believers forget that Christ owns and rules His church—then there is an inescapable pull in the direction of man-centeredness. Form tends to slowly replace function.
What is meant by form replacing function is this—the church settles into religious practices and cultural forms in order to ostensibly fulfill her mission (and to remain culturally relevant). That may not be a problem at first; but when the forms themselves are assumed to be ‘true religion’—then ‘form-al-ism’ may be the result or outcome.
We have all seen it—churches which have hardened their religious forms into ‘cement’ often have a fondness for resting upon the slogan, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ More often than not, the false security of always doing it this way is symptomatic of equating form with function. Forms are negotiable; but the biblical function of the church is not negotiable.
Countless congregations assume they are fulfilling the N.T. purpose of the church by their forms when in reality they have departed from the biblical function of the church.
The classic O.T. phrase that captures dead formalism is, “. . . This people draw near with their words and honor Me with lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote” (Is 29:13).
The church cannot manifest Christ through true community unless she is living out her organic union with Christ. Without radical identification with Christ; she sentences herself to nominal Christianity.
Christ is her source of supernatural power for love, for sacrifice, for service, and for unity. The church cannot fulfill her biblical function apart from utter dependence upon Christ (Jn 15:1-12).
The church is a community of believers called out of the world by Christ. He intends that they function as His ‘visible’ Body on earth. ‘Body life’ is the church functioning as a revolutionary community characterized by supernatural love, sacrifice, giftedness, and unity (1 Cor 12; Eph 4). And, it is to live out this Christ-empowered supernatural community under the eye of the watching world (Jn 17:20-21).
In this author’s opinion it would NOT be redundant to restate the purpose of the Church every Lord’s Day. Just as the saints have an immense capacity to forget the Gospel; so also they have a propensity to forget what the church is—and how it is to function. The true church consists of a ‘new humanity’ joined to, and constructed around, the Person of Christ for the purpose of manifesting the glory of the Godhead.
In formalistic churches, the biblical function of the church (as true community and as Christ’s own Body) suffers from radical reductionism—in other words the true function of the church is shrunken to fit into manageable forms. In the process, God’s purpose for the church is ‘streamlined down’ to a common denominator which matches the abilities of man’s natural strength.
In such cases, the ‘bar is set very low’—a church operating as a social club does not see itself as the actual Body of Christ in the world. It lacks the biblical vision necessary to regard itself as under obligation to fulfill the superhuman commands of Christ by the supernatural power of Christ (commands such as ‘love one another as I have loved you’).
In formalistic (or institutional churches), the vision to manifest Christ by supernatural living and supernatural loving is eviscerated, and all but lost. This is reminiscent of the spiritual condition of the religious establishment in ancient Israel which opposed Christ. (Love for God so clearly taught in Deuteronomy was gradually replaced by religious forms which could be achieved without the Spirit’s help. Even worse, the religious forms came to be equated with orthodoxy; Matthew 23:23.)
In much of Evangelicalism today the Word of Christ is on a collision course with ‘hyper-structural’ institutional pragmatism. Institutionalism is hostile to the life of the church because it constitutes an attempt to carry out the mission of the church without the exercise of utter dependency upon the rule, love, and power of Christ.
God in Christ seeks to impact and transform the lives of the church members by means of His Word. By a Spirit-energized confrontation and interface of the soul with the Word, ongoing repentance is the Spirit’s intent. Christ’s Word invades, captivates, and renews, accomplishing work upon the soul. The maturing saint loves the Christ’s Word and is conformed to more and more as each year goes by.
Institutional pragmatism hangs like a sooty veil, impairing the Word’s interface with the soul. Marketing, hyper-structure, ‘program-itis’, more professionals, and entertainment, all send the message that it is not God’s church ruled by Christ’s Word, much less Christ’s Body on earth. In the process the maturity mandate (to present every man complete in Christ) is obscured, if not lost altogether (Col 1:28-29).
We must never forget that the Authority of the Word of God is in tension with man’s “power.” The greater the submission is to God’s Word (through which Christ is ruling); the more room there is for God’s power to work. Jesus built His Church by only using the Word of God, Biblical principles, and people committed to His Lordship.
The implications of the authority of Christ’s Word are profound for the life of the Church. The Positive Implications are as follows: 1.) The authoritative Word produces right motives in ministry, worship, and service. 2.) The Word defines where the real authority resides; in Christ and His Word. Elders and deacons ought to minister in such a way as to be role models and examples of decision-making that is founded on the Word. 3.) Right motives in worship are the result of authority residing in the Word, not in people—it places God in Christ as making His abode in the Church so that we may ascribe to Him the glory He is due. This is the opposite of self-centered worship which works at entertainment, human recognition, mood, and sentiment. 4.) The Word defines the role and responsibility of elders who answer to Christ and carry out His will.
The situation in the N.T. church of Corinth provides a vivid example of what may happen when the glory of Christ is neglected or concealed. Paul’s letters to Corinth represent a powerful corrective to the ‘Corinthian catastrophe’. It is the problem of divisions in the church that has led Paul to expound the meaning of God’s wisdom. In seeking the wrong kind of wisdom, the Corinthians had split the church into cliques and factions.
Until they realize the scandal of the cross has put an end to human boasting, they will remain carnal babes. Only when believers embrace the scandal of the cross are they ready for the diet of the mature. The message of the cross is an unacceptable diet to those who think in terms of human achievement and glory. (The message of the cross is ‘scandalous’ because it says that nothing less than the humiliation and death of Christ in our place can conquer of sin and restore us to God.)
The focus is to be upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Corinth had forgotten that focus. How they needed the recovery of Christ’s glory in His Church. Spiritualist teachers in Corinth made spiritual experience the integration point and badge of the Christian life.
Paul confronts this error—‘Christ crucified’ must be realized in the Corinthians’ lives—if not, they will continue to operate by means of “earthly score cards” in which ego-driven spiritualism allows the self-life to dominate.
Paul refutes the Corinthians’ false concept of spirituality—the Apostle proclaims that power comes through bearing Christ’s weakness, not through self-assertion. God’s power is perfected through human weakness. The cross is the paradigm for this formula.
Paul boasts of his weakness because it preserves the cross paradigm (then God’s power rests upon him). It is the believer’s weakness that is the ‘staging area’ for God’s power (2 Cor 12:10).
How relevant is this for us today! The Corinthian letters constitute a sustained theology of the cross—which is God’s way of working in the world. It is regarded as a way of weakness scorned by human wisdom; but hidden in the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
A preoccupation with human leaders had taken the Corinthians’ focus off of Christ. Paul’s call to unity was speak the same thing, avoid divisions, be of the same mind. But at Corinth there was speaking different things, there were divisions, men of a different mind (1 Cor 3:4).
Professed believers engaged in ‘upsmanship’, a party spirit, and triumphalism (in their ‘triumphalism’ they looked down on suffering as ‘unspiritual’; they wanted a victorious life now, they did not wish to suffer with Christ—Romans 8:17).
The wisdom of God and the power of God are brought together in one person, our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:24-25). To the extent that we promote God’s wisdom, we exalt God’s power in Christ. Unless Christ is preeminent and central, God’s wisdom is not exalted. Christ is pivotal in God’s wisdom and power.
How has God made foolish the wisdom of the world—He has made it foolish “through the foolishness of the message preached.” Therefore, how foolish to depend on man’s wisdom—and how foolish to exalt it in the church!
Paul did not want the central point of the Gospel to be robbed of its power (neutralized). Paul will exalt God’s power and God’s wisdom. He did not want to empty the cross of its effect on the lives of people (1:17).
It’s a disturbing prospect that by philosophy, eloquence, psychology, tradition, and human wisdom—the power of the cross in peoples’ lives can be emptied. Paul lifts up God’s wisdom and power in the cross, lest the effect of the cross be emptied in peoples’ lives.
Corinth was overturning the whole saving purpose of God—namely that no flesh should glory in God’s presence (1:29). We can learn from the negative example of Corinth. Upsmanship, and its resulting strife, is a byproduct of the assimilation of the world’s wisdom into the church.
Christ is the only source of total, final, absolute wisdom that there is. The whole fulcrum, the whole balance point, the arrow point, the focus of God’s wisdom, the very axis of God’s wisdom is Christ and Him crucified.
We were created to be enthusiastic spectators of God’s excellence. In essence, we were made to ‘glory in’ the Lord. If we are not glorying in the eternal; we will by default—glory in the temporal. If we are not glorying in Christ; we will glory in mortal man.
We are to glory in God and His mercies in Christ alone. In God’s wisdom is infinite wisdom—wisdom which baffles natural reason, wisdom that towers over the human intellect, wisdom that is so infinitely far above man’s greatest efforts.
Every minister of Christ who is ‘worth his salt’ understands that the flesh craves human wisdom. Therefore the godly minister cannot excuse institutionalism as pragmatism—he must expose it for what it is—man’s wisdom warring against God’s wisdom in Christ.
Christ and Him crucified is the divine wisdom which invades the realm of human wisdom. Human wisdom is a feeble wisdom—God’s wisdom invades like a wedge, piercing the impotent realm of human wisdom.
The power of God is manifested in the message of the Gospel. Paul reflects upon his coming to them and calls the Corinthians to think about his coming to them. The content of Paul’s message and his conduct during his message were in kept in absolute harmony. “Whenever he preached Christ and Him crucified, he preached Him in a crucified style” (John Flavel, The Fountain of Life, p. 12).
Paul’s manner, mode, and appearance (humble, loving, trembling, Word of God-cross only, weak, unimpressive, “clay pot”) were in total synchrony with God’s wisdom in Christ and Him crucified (2:1-3). How different was Paul’s demeanor from so many of today’s media evangelists; what a contrast his disposition was from the hucksters who ‘peddle’ the gospel.
The Apostle steered clear of any behavior which is so common among those who wish to build a following around a man’s personality. Paul affirmed that his behavior among the Corinthians was in perfect keeping with his message of Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 1:1-5).
Paul’s preaching of God’s wisdom in Christ set up an antithesis with the human wisdom that was wreaking havoc in Corinth. The Apostle makes it perfectly clear: God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom do not mix!
Paul always starts with Christ. He always takes his readers and converts back to Christ. This is how he deals with man-centeredness. The glory of Christ consistently displayed, exhibited, and feasted upon has the net effect of disintegrating human wisdom.
In his epistle; Paul is single-minded. Whether the issue is immorality (the body is for the Lord), or the “cup of demons” (we don’t share in the cup of—discern the body of Christ – 1 Cor 11), the resurrection etc. Paul runs everything and every problem through Christ and Him crucified.
To know Christ and Him crucified is the point of beginning in the understanding of God’s whole purpose of creation and redemption (2:7). So Paul says this wisdom was foreordained before the ages for our glory. We who behold the glory are being changed from glory into glory (2 Cor 3:18). God’s wisdom leads to our glory. God’s people are destined for glory, not shame—how this contrasts to the rulers of this age who are destined for shame (1 Cor 2:6-8).
The sad irony is that the Corinthians, in their pursuit of human wisdom, are pursuing what belongs to this age and is passing away. This is Paul’s point—the rulers and wisdom of this age is on its way out (2:6-9).
The spirit of the world loves spurious wisdom, but despises the wisdom of God in the cross. By contrast, the Apostle and his co-laborers have a sacred trust. They apprehend and possess these blessed things of God’s wisdom in order to convey them to others (2:12).
Our message—there is one cross, one wisdom of God—but there are different reactions to God’s message. We have one message; Christ and Him crucified. Our whole lives are to be built upon this one message.
The response will vary—even within churches! A Scripture-based, cross-centered ministry is what is called for; if the brethren do not accept this one expression of love—God’s will for them in the Word from the heart, then they must be dealt with in another expression of love—discipline by the church and/or by God.
The Corinthian error represents what happens when believers imbibe the world’s wisdom and make it the basis for values, relations, identity, and church polity. The result is strife and jealousy (3:1-3).
“Be careful how you build” is Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. The evaluation of our work is based upon how it is built, and with what materials. The issue is what lasts and what doesn’t. The FOUNDATION for our building is God’s wisdom in the cross; Christ and Him crucified. Christ and His cross is the cornerstone which sets the pattern for the rest of the building.
Christ and Him crucified is the foundation plan which dictates the nature, shape, and content of the structure. It shapes and dictates the quality and kind of work. Paul laid the foundation of Christ for all that the church does.
This is ought to be our non-negotiable ecclesiology. Without this divine pattern the church dies because it is stuck in deadening forms which cannot fulfill the biblical function of the church.
The foundation of Christ and Him crucified produces an incredible tension here. You are in quality and by quality a temple, the dwelling place of God (3:16).
You must see yourself and the local body in this way as the abode of God. The church is Christ’s abode. This alludes to a huge ecclesiological tension. The pertinent question is, “Whose idea will rule the church?” At the outset, at the beginning, before we do anything for Christ—everyone must park their baggage at the door and abide in Christ (especially the pastors).
Be careful how you build! To most professing Christians, the church is not a holy entity, it is a Christianized YMCA, not a holy of holies. They think they can do whatever they want to churches. To so many people, the church is a Christianized social group or country club. It can be frustrating to preach this section of 1 Corinthians because the above sentiment is so prevalent in Evangelicalism today.
Men who employ the world’s wisdom attempt to run the church as “Evangelical deists,” that is as if God started the Church, then left it to man to run the church in absentia, since “Christ has departed.”
Because people are security-driven, they want structure and tradition and they want a mortal figurehead instead of the liberating principles of Scripture and the rule of Christ. This tendency is in tension with the Word of God—the carnal pull of the flesh (even the ‘religious flesh’ is toward man-centered methods and pragmatism).
The truth is, according to Paul, we are nothing but stewards (1 Cor 4:1-2). If we truly believed this, think how much more we would do things under the eye of Christ. Sadly, in the institutional, or ‘business model’ of the church, the managerial skills of man are put on display.
What a contrast this is with the biblical model in which Christ’s undershepherds are nothing but stewards of the mysteries of God. We carry out Christ’s rules; we do all in His presence; we don’t make the rules.
Paul again erects the narrow gate of God’s wisdom (3:18). He goes back to the theme of God’s wisdom. Like a security check point, he wants his readers to walk through it like a metal detector that they might drop the world’s wisdom like contraband. The wisdom of the world cannot be developed into the wisdom of God—they are mutually exclusive.
When speaking of the “foolishness” of God’s wisdom—Paul’s intent is to show the saints their inheritance. The future is no cause for panic—it’s already theirs. This is another way of saying, “release the world’s values and wisdom.”
It’s remarkable just how eschatologically-driven Paul is. The Apostle lived between the cross and the resurrection. Both defined his life; and both determined his kingdom values. Both determined in what he would glory.
By contrast, the Corinthians’ triumphalism (that we should ‘reign’ now; not suffer now) was an overly realized eschatology that produced irresponsible behavior. But the Apostle’s message is that the triumphal life will have to wait until the final triumph of Christ and the messianic age. The path now is after Christ’s earthly life—it is the path of the cross, self denial, and death to self.
The Corinthians thought they had arrived. They lived a “power life” as above others (Grk. power -- dunamis). They lived a relational life of upsmanship, not servanthood through radical identification with Christ. The Corinthians saw their relationships in an over-under ‘pecking order’ fashion; clearly this was evidence that they were not abiding at the base of the cross; for the cross is the great leveler of men—the great eliminator of manmade distinctions.
Frederick Dale Bruner provides excellent insights into this facet of the Corinthian problem. He notes that the “over-under” theology of the Corinthians exhibited an ego-based sense of spiritual power. Paul’s answer from the cross is that everything must be made low and brought under obedience to Christ.
All the exalted sense of spiritual power and fullness must become a deep sense of spiritual need. Christian spirituality is placing oneself under Christ; it is not going beyond Him (Frederick Dale Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit, Eerdmans, 1974, pp. 285-319 – “Huper: The Relevant Spiritual Problems in Corinth.”) (See also, Communing with Christ at our Points of Poverty, J. Wegter, www.gospelforlife.org).
Bruner goes on to say that the Corinthians possessed a ‘higher life’ theology. “Teachers, being higher, saw their students as being lower. If one feels himself spiritually higher than others, then from this altitude, it must be difficult . . .to look anywhere but down. [T]he Corinthians found a certain fascination in their strong, masterful leaders. . . who bore [a] superior manner. . . Paul must confess, ‘to my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!’” (11:21) (ibid., p 310).
“In a word, Paul wants to turn the eyes of the Corinthians from the spirit of huper (over others) which boasts, to the spirit of agape which builds; from being impressed with one’s own spiritual relevance and power, to being concerned with finding a lowly and patient relevance of quite a different kind to the weaknesses of the church” (ibid., p. 318).
The Corinthian letters are a sustained attempt to formulate what Luther later called a theologia crucis, a theology of the cross. God’s way of working in the world—to men an inefficient way, and thus a proof of its divinity—is the way of weakness. “[Regarding the message of the cross,] men are saved by believing this content and serve by assuming this form in this sphere [of the church]. But hidden in the cross and weakness (corporate and individual) and revealed in the church to faith—is resurrection power. ‘When. . .weak, then. . .strong’” (2 Cor12:10)” (ibid., p. 319).
The wisdom of the world cannot be developed into the wisdom of God. God’s wisdom in the cross of Christ and the world’s wisdom are mutually exclusive. A sharp antithesis exists between them.
When the Corinthians eschewed the way of the cross; they fell into huper theology. They attempted to live a power life above others. In so doing, they demonstrated that they were yet infatuated with human wisdom.
Humility only comes when we make it our purpose to exalt Christ. As Christ is displayed, the desire to know Him, worship Him, and emulate Him increases. It is so liberating to live under the eye of Christ. When we live to make much of Him; He frees us from self-concern.
Thus, Paul reveals how he was set free from the fear of man. By exalting Christ the Apostle was made ever more aware of His preeminence and rule. Thus he could say in effect, “Your estimation of me and my life doesn’t really carry much weight compared to the Judge who is the Lord. It’s not that we don’t care what others say—it is just that it is altogether weightless compared to the gravity of the Lord’s evaluation” (4:3).
Now let’s move from first Century church at Corinth to the present condition of the church. Author David Wells, offers the following assessment of Evangelicalism’s decline: In the last 30 years, there has been an almost complete decline of confessional interest. Evangelicalism exists as an informal religious establishment that derives its power from culture, not theology (David Wells, God in the Wasteland, p. 26). Again we see religious form replacing biblical function.
Modernity has been assimilated by the church to such a degree that God is being marginalized. Wells states what is shocking when he says that the church has replaced God. God has become secondary to the organization and its image. By contrast, the N.T. is clear, the love of God and the love of the world are in competition with each other. If we are to identify and pinpoint our sin, we will have to be honest; our love for the world has grown (ibid. pp. 29-31, 38).
The world of religious modernity prizes techniques, managers, and psychologists (all in “Christ’s name”). Modernity “rearranges” the reality of God so that He rests inconsequentially on the Church. A new man-centered anthropology reigns. Down through history, every society’s problem has been its refusal to bow before God.
Today’s Evangelicals practice a religion wed to worldliness; the proof of which is manifested by a value system that measures results by “successful” entrepreneurship. Biblical truth is dislocated from life. Discernment is gone. The Church’s theological soul is dying as a result. The Church is no longer taking its bearings from God who is centrally holy.
Evangelicalism, having abandoned theology, is running on the high octane fuel of modernity, therefore it cannot see the alien values inside it! In this condition, the Church cannot recognize or dislodge worldliness (ibid. pp. 55-56).
Wells’ response to church marketing is keen: Christ cannot be marketed. Consumers fed on the “new sovereignty” of personal needs have no interest in the cross-centered life. God’s purpose is to have us see our needs in terms of sin having broken our relationship with Him. To repent of sin is to repent of self-centeredness. The Barna view is the reverse; it is inverted—personal needs are sovereign (ibid. pp. 81-82).
Marketers are impatient with the eternal, the absolute, and the transcendent.
Modernity plays to the “sovereignty” of the audience. Os Guinness gives this sobering reminder; it is possible to “win” the world and lose our own souls by ecclesiastical engineering (ibid. pp. 83, 85, 86).
There is trauma in retaining the Scriptural, theocentric God of grandeur. The radical reconstruction of self by God’s revealed doctrine is needed or the knowledge of the Holy One will not sink in. The cost of retaining the knowledge of God is ongoing repentance (ibid. p 115).
The only way to be God-centered is to be Christ-centered. Pluralism dislikes the exclusivity of Christ-centeredness. The glorified Christ of eschatology who returns as Lord of history to judge the earth and consummate all things is assiduously avoided by modernity. Disinterest in God’s holiness always results in a lack of interest in the pursuit of godliness and little interest in the reception of holiness from God through Christ (ibid. pp. 132-134).
The experimental knowledge of God’s holiness should move us to awe, obedience, fervent prayer, ongoing repentance, and submission to His moral authority. The God of holiness is a “lover” with deep passion; He tolerates no rivals. Worldliness is unfaithfulness; it constitutes spiritual adultery. His holiness is high and lofty; it cannot be correlated with anything on earth.
There must be an echo of holiness in those who approach God. That echo manifests itself in separation and consecration unto God. God’s holiness is intrusive to the inner man. To approach God’s holiness is to have the life of the inner man invaded by light that exposes everything (ibid. 142-143).
If holiness slips from a central position, then the centrality of Christ is lost. One cannot enter the knowledge of the Holy as a consumer, ONLY as a sinner. Sin, grace, and faith are emptied of meaning apart from the holiness of God.
The implications of God’s holiness are missing in the Church. God’s authority and power are passé—and in so many cases altogether missing from the pulpit. Self is sovereign; authority now is only a private reference. God’s Word is our only safety from heresy and modernity. Our safety resides in our passion for His holiness and His truth.
To be confronted with Christ is to be confronted with your sin and your heart rebellion because Christ is the manifestation of God’s glorious holiness (Wells, Above All Earthly Powers, p. 222). No wonder men have a preference for the church as an ‘institution’ rather than the church as Christ’s Body and Christ’s holy abode.
Beholding the glory of God in the face of Christ not only saves the soul but also sanctifies (2 Cor 3:18). What is the beauty of Christ? It is God in Him—Christ is the great representative of God’s glory to us. God makes Himself known in the Son—
Christ is the expression of the invisible God. The chief reason faith is given is to see the glory of Christ and to meditate on its effects (John Owen, The Glory of Christ, Grace Pub., p. 17).
The Gospel as the glory of Christ is the indispensable key to ongoing holiness. We must frequently meditate on the glory of Christ to be free from earthly cares and affections. “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
Only the saved see and savor the glory of Christ. God’s glory in the face of Christ ought to be the aim of Gospel preaching. If we conceal the glory of Christ; we cripple the sanctifying work of the Spirit who wishes to exalt Christ and reveal His glory to the saints. Christ as revealed in the Gospel is our worldview; we are to see all of life through Him—all of our purpose, direction, and hope emanates from Him (John Piper, God is the Gospel, p. 92).
Only a continual view of the glory of Christ will stir us up and encourage us to watch and continually fight against the deceitful workings of sin. To experience the things of Christ’s glory has the power to make us want to do the things that please Him.
Seeing Christ’s glory is the only way to obtain holiness, comfort, and preparation for eternal life. The greatest privilege in this life is to ‘see’ the glory of God in all His holiness displayed in Christ (Owen, The Glory of Christ, p. 17).
Our sin, guilt, lust, cravings, insecurities, and desire for happiness—all combine to make the soul restless. Christ has everything the sinner needs. In all things He is perfectly suited to all the needs and cravings of the immortal soul. “All my springs of joy are in Thee” (Ps 87:7) (A. A. Bonar, The Person of Christ, 2).
To believingly ‘see’ God in our nature, dying and bleeding for us, eradicates our sinful fear and suspicion of God. Faith in the Gospel opens up to the understanding Christ’s full sacrifice; for Christ is the essence of the Gospel. “If I see Him who is the atonement to be God-man, then I see an offering so vast, and so extensive in its applications, that every crevice of the conscience must be reached” (Bonar, p. 57).
We have no life in ourselves. The saints are dependent upon God for continual communication of His goodness and power to them. Christ continues to supply spiritual life, grace, and strength to His redeemed people.
The goodness, grace, life, light, mercy, and power which are the origin of the new creation all of God’s origin. It pleased the Father that the fullness of God’s divine nature should be in Christ as Head of the church (Col 1:17-19). These qualities in Christ are communicated from Him to His church—He makes them available to the church (Owen, p. 47).
The power of Christ’s love received has an effect upon our lives of enabling us to bear fruit for the glory of God. We must not be content to think of the love of Christ in a general way. Instead, we must dwell upon God’s wisdom, goodness, and grace shown in eternal acts of His divine nature and pity—all given to us in Christ (ibid, p. 31).
The church cannot maintain its fervency apart from communion with Christ. When He comes and shows Himself amidst our meditation and communion with Him; He brings with Him peace, comfort, joy, and assurance. Christ’s intent is that we ‘feast’ with Him by means of these spiritual refreshments (Rev 3:20).
How are we to receive these things? We are to look on the glory of Christ by faith. Meditate on the glory of His unique nature—His humbling of Himself to come into the world—His present high position in heaven—His love and grace. Our hearts will be spiritually affected in some degree by His constraining love—which is the source of all our spiritual comforts and power. Christ knows perfectly the eternal blessedness which will be enjoyed by those who believe in Him (Jn 10:10) (ibid, p. 66).
The church cannot maintain its fervency apart from communion with Christ. Without the experience of these things (the spiritual comforts Christ brings), our Christianity is heartless, lifeless, and useless. We can say we believe the promises about the eternal glories of heaven; but where is the proof of our faith if we do not experience the enjoyment of these spiritual blessings here and now? (Rom 15:13; 1 Pet 1: 3-9). We must take a steady view of Christ’s glory—and seek Him with all our heart. In this way alone will the believers who collectively make up the church recovery from stagnancy. Christ’s glory alone will bring us back to joy—to love in our hearts; in our souls; and in our relationships.
Only those who are committed to beholding the glory of Christ now are truly pressing on to that perfect view of the glory of Christ in heaven. Those who think of Christ’s glory merely as a magnificent Scriptural idea won’t be changed into His glory.
Those who truly long for the glory of Christ will NOT be satisfied with a ‘generic’ or academic understanding of His glory.
Believers who are delighted to see the glory of Christ experience Christ’s transforming power. Those who make it their full purpose of heart to behold His glory will be changed into His image.
When our trust in Christ is constantly exercised; virtue proceeds from Christ to purify our hearts, increase our holiness, strengthen our graces, and fill us with joy—at times joy inexpressible filled with glory. Christ’s glory beheld quickens the understanding at the same time as His love is communicated to the heart.
Those who content themselves with an academic understanding of Christ stop short of His love quickening the heart. The result is weak views of Christ. In churches where the view of Christ’s glory is weak; there will be a tendency toward formalism.
Satan wants believers to give up seeking the experience of the power, grace, and love of Christ’s Gospel in our souls. Spirit-filled pastors will readily testify that these observations are true.
Our media saturated age has helped produce Christians without spiritual disciplines. In our hi-tech culture most of the daily information we need is but a ‘mouse-click’ away; but the heart knowledge of Christ is gained in a completely different manner. One cannot behold His glory without the labor of prayer, faith, and meditation on His Word.
The church is starved for the glory of Christ; but doesn’t know it. Professing Christians barely stir themselves to labor after Christ. In their unbelief and spiritual sloth; they rob themselves of discovering the glories of Christ that they could know. Institutionalism in the church has contributed to the problem of losing sight of Christ. And what is institutionalism in the church? It is man attempting to control religion; it is man attempting to control what cannot be controlled by mortals. Os Guinness touches on the root of the problem, “As sinful human beings we have an instinctual, compulsive bias toward forms of religion that we ourselves can create and control” (quoted by Wells, Above All Earthly Powers, Christ in a Postmodern Culture, p. 303).
How can we learn to meditate on the glory of Christ?
1.) Consider that seeing Christ’s glory is the only way to obtain holiness, comfort, and preparation for eternal life. It must be your objective to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:18).
2.) Commune with Christ by going to Him for mercy, grace, love, righteousness,
and power. His love received is powerful—it enables us to bear fruit for the glory of God, and it enables us to love others supernaturally (Jn 15:5, 8-12).
3.) Think about the glorious truth that God is putting His love, wisdom, power, and grace on display in our redemption. He is magnifying Himself by bringing us from dust to glory. The glory of Christ reveals to us that God has forever joined together His own glory with our eternal good—they meet eternally in Christ.
4.) Dwell upon all that God is toward you in Christ. God has given the Son so that in Him we have right-standing, sonship, adoption, justification, redemption, acceptance, and favor. In Christ we see God’s heart of love and grace toward us.
5.) Remember how often you are in need of the spiritual comforts that only Christ can bring. Scripture says that ‘Christ in you’ [is] the hope of glory (Col 1:27). Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:13).
6.) Know that Christ takes pleasure in His people in spite of their indwelling sin. He is eager to commune with us. When Christ ‘shows us’ Himself (His glory) He brings with Him peace, comfort, joy, and assurance (Owen). To ‘feast with Him’ means that we will experience these spiritual refreshments in the course of our fellowshipping with Him (Rev 3:20).
7.) Realize that Christ died in order to reveal the glory of God. God was acting graciously toward you in the incarnation, humiliation, death, and resurrection of Christ. God has brought about our salvation by giving us the knowledge of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). God’s eternal wisdom; His love and pity; and His infinite goodness are put on display in the Gospel of Christ (Rev 1:5-6).
“Much more should a Christian judge himself born only to behold and delight in the glory of the Lord Jesus” (John Flavel, The Fountain of Life, p. 13).
“The study of Jesus Christ is the most noble subject that ever a soul spent itself upon. The angels study this doctrine, and stoop down to look into this deep abyss. What are the truths discovered in Christ, but the very secrets that from eternity lay hid in the bosom of God? (Eph 3:8-10). God’s heart is opened to men in Christ, (John 1:18). This makes the Gospel such a glorious dispensation; because Christ is so gloriously revealed therein (2 Cor 3:9). And the studying of Christ in the Gospel, stamps such a heavenly glory upon the contemplating soul” (2 Cor 3:18) (ibid. p. 16).
In human physiology the involuntary movement of muscles (not commanded by the brain) is an indication of serious illness. Body spasms and seizures can take place when the nervous system is compromised. Spasms often precede or accompany death.
So also, when the Body of Christ does not take her directions from Christ her Head it means that she is sick and weak. It is Body under the control of involuntary movements; movements which are not commanded by her Head.
Institutionalism is nothing less than the church moving on its own; without the direction of her divine Head. This is the reason institutionalism is so dangerous; it conceals the fact that we live upon Christ; He is our life. Institutionalism in the church is snatching her life away. We must return to the central truth that Christ is the Author of life and the life of the Body.