“Proofing” the Pastor for Ministry
God’s man needs “proofing” for ministry by means of Galatians 2:20
In order to “proof” God’s man for godly endurance in the face of adversity, popularity, personal attacks, and suffering, he must be prepared in the ‘school of Christ.’
Much of that preparation involves learning to live upon Christ as He is set forth in the Gospel formula of Galatians 2:20.
The pervasive truth of Galatians 2:20 applies to the entire continent of the soul; for Christ is displayed as the godly man’s source of confidence, co-crucifixion, control by love, andcompleteness.
Radical identification with Christ is the Father’s solution to the flesh’s craving for adequacy in self. The flesh longs for personal adequacy in ministry. After all, when it’s my adequacy, then it must be my victory – but also when it’s my inadequacy, then it’s my defeat.
Only co-crucifixion can produce the exchanged life. Galatians 2:20 is the graveyard of narcissism. We rest in Christ to labor for Christ. We are to BE a son in order to LABOR as a son.
Our hearts are deceitful; just below the surface is a legal spirit that wishes to personalize every victory and every defeat. Only the cross applied keeps the flesh from usurping glory. The cross applied keeps Christ established as “Source Person.”
Christ weans us from the “drug” called human recognition
The pastor faces a daily choice – he goes one of two places for love; he goes either to the Lord for love or to human recognition for love. The ability to go to the Lord for love each day is not an option. Here is the reason why – if Christ is not his Source Person (for love), then the flesh will assert itself by running to human recognition.
A true friend of the Bridegroom nurtures to the best of his ability strong attachments among his people and between his people and Christ. By contrast, a man feeding upon recognition cultivates strong attachments to himself.
The human recognition route blocks the selfless love of Christ from passing through the pastor-shepherd BECAUSE the pastor’s worth (which is a function of love) is too closely tied to human recognition he is receiving.
Like the slow drip of an intravenous needle, recognition gets mixed into the blood. The recognition-driven pastor is not truly free to be a channel of Christ’s love because he is inadvertently cultivating an unhealthy dependency of the flock upon himself. He’s “mainlining” recognition (see Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pp. 32-39 is a ‘must read’ on the tendency of pastors to foster dependency).
His self concept is so tied to recognition that it has become the mirror he gazes into to find out who he is. Galatians 2:20 is the way out of an all too common co-dependency between earthly shepherd and flock.
The growth needed involves a paradigm shift wherein the shepherd learns to live upon the love of the Son of God. This shift can be traumatic because source and control are such close bedfellows. The old way of managing the needs of the soul must be moved to the periphery. There’s trauma in that because you are no longer in charge of your love; Christ is.
To live upon God’s heart toward you in Christ involves trauma if one is used to living upon human recognition. There may be withdrawal symptoms. To be totally leveraged upon the grace and mercy of Christ is to live outside the arena of control, merit, and performance.
Men prefer an Adamic “spreadsheet,” a way of measuring how we are doing in the dominion mandate (man subduing the earth). But co-crucifixion tears up our scorecards. It kicks out our ego props. It puts us in the dust before our Savior and tells us that in this Gospel age overcoming through dependency upon Christ has replaced subduing the earth as our number one priority.
The cross doesn’t just mortify the flesh’s desire for honor and recognition. The cross makes us willing to receive Christ’s love on His terms. The cross makes us willing to be conquered by Christ’s love. It flushes us out of every narcissistic hiding place.
Every personal index and exponent we take pride in is touched by the cross; for it is our inner recognition of these exponents that inflates us above our fellows. When we stand on imagined high ground, we are in a narcissistic posture that makes us unable to receive Christ’s love.
Praise God for the school of Christ – it is there the pastor learns to consolidate all of his love and worth issues in the Person of Christ. It is there that he learns to expose the world’s most subtle lie. All our lives the world has told us that it is our right, even our duty, to turn every person exponent into personal worth. Like a huge hopper at a textile factory, our longing for personal adequacy gobbles up every speck of our achievement and weaves it into a bogus covering for the nakedness of the soul.
Galatians 2:20 is about who will be in charge of your love and worth. The pastor schooled by Christ has learned not distribute his source of love over a wide field of supports. But he has learned this lesson through pain.
To the eye of sense only, these lessons are not inviting. Some of Christ’s best gifts come wrapped only in “plain butcher paper.” The wrapping seems to say the gift has little value. Thorns in the flesh appear to be poor gifts.
But thorns are the way the pastor learns the error of his initial presumption – namely that he could be successful in ministry without having learned to live upon Christ’s love as it is revealed in the Gospel.
Only by learning to live upon Christ’s love will the pastor be fitted to labor in all seasons. Only by living upon Christ’s love will he model true discipleship. (We can only pass on to others what we are in the habit of receiving from the Lord in our own spirits.)
The Pride of Life crucified
What we love reveals our spiritual state. God cares deeply about who His human eternal companions will be. Those who love Him will live with Him forever. In both testaments the call has been come out of the Egypt of this world, come to Zion. God has no fellowship with Belial, darkness, and idols. Come out from their midst and be separate says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you (2Cor 6:17).
We preach frequently to natural men who have an idolatrous marriage to the world; an unholy ‘covenant’ originally hatched in the heart of Satan and initially offered in the forbidden fruit.
The child of wrath still entertains the devil’s impossible dream that sin and self-determination create a new reality in which the creature is autonomous, self-directed, free from eternal condemnation, and out from under the moral government of God.
The world is the “fantasyland” of self love. Every possible form of self idolatry is there; from the enormities of immoral perversion to the subtleties of personal refinement.
In its most subtle form, the pride of life has to do with lust for law. Lust for law gives self a scorecard by which it may measure its adequacy. This form of pride of life thrives in religion.
Do to be is the pride of life in a religious context. It is a mindset that is at war with God’s verdict upon Adamic man. Lust for law says that Adam can be patched up; his moribund state can be made to look vigorous and ravishing.
We’re often going to be preaching to folks who want Adam patched up. From the gym to the Lexus to the Armani suit to the charity to the mansion to the Rolex, there are countless indexes offered by the world that “prove” that Adam is thriving and in fine shape – the idea that he must be crucified is therefore regarded as foolishness.
The antipathy the flesh has to the news that Adam must be crucified and slain is beyond calculation. We can read that statement and find nothing shocking in it because we assume that it is only the unbeliever who hates the verdict of death by co-crucifixion.
It is at this juncture that the school of Christ has lessons for us that probe nerve centers deep within the saint’s soul. The Lord is showing us just how much we hate co-crucifixion. It is a disturbing revelation. Though we are redeemed, we maintain a secret war against the immutable truth that Christ is our only adequacy.
The flesh, like weed seeds or fungus spores, lays dormant but always ready to burst into a new phase of runaway growth at the first sign of moisture. We face a paradox; unregenerate flesh can build a metropolis, put a man on the moon, find a vaccine to prevent polio, yet Christ says of Kingdom work, “Apart from Me you can do nothing;” nothing that counts for eternity (Jn 15:5).
In religion, where the cross is not central, the flesh will fill in every gap. The flesh is ready in an instant to plant all of its ontological personhood needs on human recognition. Like Balaam, the flesh wants a reward for its efforts and perceived virtues. Wise is the pastor who knows this about himself.
Galatians 2:20 applied in the school of Christ imbues the pastor with the truth that whatever virtues are evident in me must be credited to the life of Christ in me, for it is not I who live, but Christ lives in me. But the flesh, in its insatiable thirst for recognition, would take for itself what is due Christ.
The battle has always been about source. From Eden to Sinai to Canaan to Babylon, the contest is always the same, where shall I go with my needs; the world or the Lord; self or the Lord? Who shall have the credit when my needs are met?
When man takes it upon himself to manage his SOURCE; it is the pride of life at work. Galatians 2:20 runs a spear through the pride of life. The man of God instructed in the school of Christ becomes centered by the Lord into a settled, faith-based, daily posture and conviction that Christ is his sole Source Person.
The cross applied produces the exchanged life
We’ve established that even in the holy pursuits of the ministry the flesh sets itself against the Spirit and actually “competes” with the Lord in an attempt to prove that it can be a source for spiritual production.
As such the flesh is an enemy of living by faith in Christ’s love. For when the flesh makes an attempt to prove, win, or earn favor and love, then our focus terminates upon self love instead of Christ. The flesh has an endless set of strategies aimed at transaction rather than grace. It’s a covert ploy to steal glory.
The flesh wants to live in an earning mode, not a grace mode. The flesh seeks to block the new man’s faith-based consent to receive Christ’s unconditional love each day. The flesh is so addicted to measuring up and to performance; it prefers the life of a slave over that of a son. The slave’s status rises or falls each day by virtue of the quality of his labor.
But sonship is not based upon graceless legal working but upon an immutable relationship. Consciousness of sonship is a function of Gospel reasoning. Bargaining and bartering are antagonistic to the faith reception of Christ’s love.
The flesh is imperious in its demand to earn favor and status. It is secretly insulted at the verdict that it must remain pinioned to the cross. God has condemned it as deplorable, beyond renovation, selfishly ambitious, filled with self-righteous defilement – it is therefore sentenced to the cross that the life of Christ may dwell in us.
The school of Christ is designed to make God’s man “unlearn” erroneous lessons. We’ve had a lifetime of experience relying upon carnal strength. We believe that this strength has served us well on countless occasions. As a consequence, we do not welcome God’s touch of atrophy upon our carnal strengths.
We would rather wish that He would salvage all of our natural strength and sanctify it and mix it with His power that He might bless our ministry endeavors mightily. This approach makes perfect sense to our natural wisdom.
(After all, didn’t Paul say that he labored even more than all of them (1 Cor 15:10)? Yes, he did, but he was careful to say that it was the grace of God with him, and “yet not I,” who did it.)
God does touch the sinew of our thigh – He afflicts the areas of natural strength that we might become dependent enough to be blessed by Him. We would rather leap upon the mountains, but he causes us to walk with a limp in our hour of greatest need.
In the school of Christ we learn to make peace with the limps and the thorns God has sent. These “mercy messengers” of humility and reliance teach us that our strengths cause more trouble than our weaknesses. They teach us that the earthen vessel and its golden treasure must not be mingled or confused (2 Cor 4:7).
In this age of the fellowship of His sufferings, glory and honor must wait for the revealing of the sons of God. For now we walk by a sincere faith that looks away from self to Christ’s constraining love.
Without a thorn or a limp, we would be resisters of God’s grace in the Christian life. We would balk at the high privilege of being satisfied in God; for the flesh longs to be satisfied in itself. Therefore it is a hostile enemy of the comforting work of the Paraclete (Rom 15:13).
God’s Spirit works for our satisfaction in Christ and our flesh works against this. Radical identification with Christ is a product of faith apprehending all we have and share in the Son of God.
But it is always the Gospel order – first a vivid view of the impotence and corruption and pride of the flesh; then an exercise of faith which looks wholly away from self to Christ. Gospel faith is amazingly filled with self-renunciation because it has abandoned all hope in self as source. From the habit of Gospel faith each day comes the exchanged life.
A checklist for radical identification with Christ
1.) Is the object of my faith Christianity? Or is it Christ Himself? If He is to be my first love; He must “infatuate” me more than ministry.
2.) Am I reckoning myself one with Christ? Am I defining Christ as Paul defines Him – as my life; am I attributing to Him every spiritual virtue and ability in my life, including effectiveness in ministry?
3.) Am I reckoning my co-crucifixion with Christ? Through Him am I considering myself dead to sin and alive to God? Am I drawing life from Him by faith so that my weakness is exchanged for His strength?
4.) Am I controlled and constrained by His “Gethsemene love;” the love which caused Him to give Himself for me? Is this my argument to no longer live for self (2 Cor 5:14)?
5.) Do I exalt Christ’s Mediatorial Kingship in the area of providence; do I give Him the “vote of confidence” each day to run my life? Does my faith gladly and trustingly submit to His sovereign control over my life?