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We Need More Lived Experience of Christ – EN

This months Evangelicals Now column – you can get the original here- 

WE NEED MORE LIVED EXPERIENCE OF CHRIST

The church is the bride of Christ. The church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. The church is beautiful, glorious and victorious. Which is why the gates of hell loathe the church and will never cease to rage against her.

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There is a fierce battle which will not be over until the final day. When Paul gathered the Ephesian elders in Miletus he reminded them how valuable the church is – it is the church of God which He bought with His own blood (Acts 20:28), but he also warned them that savage wolves would come amongst them and would not spare the flock. This was so important to Paul that he spent three years day and night warning them with tears. I suspect that today we would regard Paul as a bit odd; we would turn a deaf ear, tell him to lighten up and not to be so negative. We pay lip service to acknowledging sin, spiritual warfare and the dangers of apostasy.

Echoes of Paul’s warning

As I read through Ephesians, I hear echoes of Paul’s warning to the Ephesians applying to us. I believe that the church in the West is in great danger and under severe attack. Sometimes it is subtle, sometimes it is savage, sometimes it is successful – but always it is hellishly destructive.

The threat from within

The biggest threat to the church does not come from outwith the church – but from within. Paul warns the elders that even from their own number men would arise and distort the truth (Acts 20:30). As I read through Ephesians it struck me that our biggest problem is that we have forsaken our first love (Rev. 2:4). We have deeds, hard work, perseverance – but we have largely forgotten the one thing needful. My observation would be that we have much of self, strategies, study and stories in the church – but so little of Christ and of maturity in Him.

Christ or a course?

Is there any greater need than this for us? We want to tell people about Christ – but without a deeper heartfelt and lived experience of Christ, we will end up just offering them a course and not Christ. We are always to be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us for the reason we have hope (1 Peter 3:15), but if we don’t set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, we are wasting our breath. We end up telling of a memory, not a living Lord. We speak to the head, but we cannot bring Christ to the heart, because our own hearts are so shallow, empty and joyless.

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Space permits me only to list some of the subjects Paul covers in Ephesians (can I suggest you sit down and prayerfully read through the whole letter at one go?).

Paul recognises that their greatest need is to know Christ and the love that passes knowledge (1:17-18; 3:14-21). It is only that which will fill us to the measure of all the fullness of God. Because we are not Christ-focussed we, practically speaking, forget that the church is His, not ours. The headship of Christ is a much-neglected doctrine.

Self absorbed and disunited

Although we teach grace – and often misteach it to justify our sin and lack of works – far too many of us think that our ministries are justified by the list of things that we do, the books that we publish and data that we can provide. Salvation by grace for works should be our constant refrain and meditation (2:1-10).

Lack of knowledge of Christ makes us self-absorbed and disunited (2:11-22 and 4:1-16). We focus on what we see and thus we struggle to believe and act upon the fact that we are engaged in a great spiritual warfare. Our lack of heart knowledge of Christ means that we lack depth – we are far too often infants, tossed back and forth by the waves. We need to become the mature body (4:1-16).

Return to our first love

Our lack of knowledge means it is difficult for us to follow Christ (4:17-6:9). We have forgotten the exhortation to no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. Instead we join in the madness of the crowds. We need to relearn mortification – the putting to death of sin – and renewal – the putting on of the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Jesus tells the Ephesian church (and us) to consider how far we have fallen, to repent and return to our first love. A church which remembers its first love is indestructible. They who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen Lord, let it be!

THE SECULARISATION OF THE UK CHURCH – EN

 

5 comments

  1. I do like what you have written David especially the part about Paul with his love for the church with you imagining the church turning a deaf ear and telling him to lighten up. This rings true to me.

    At the same time, since coming to faith 22 years ago I’ve heard this time and time again to the point of ad nauseum. Perhaps it’s God that is turning a deaf ear to the church now and any contemporary prophets would do well to either remain silent or find somewhere else to go lest they find themselves sharing pearls with swine and what is sacred with dogs with the pearls being trampled on and they being devoured in the process.

    Biblical narratives teach of an apostate Israel and a Babylonian empire taking them into captivity with a pagan King Nebuchadnezzar being described as a “servant of the Lord” which may seem strange at first sight.

    I know we do disagree on what I am about to write David but if what you say is true about the church, it is outwith reason for the need for some at least to either leave the church or at least keep the church at arms length in order to be faithful to Christ and to their calling to do good works that God has prepared in advance for them to do in the love, power and sound mind of the Spirit?

  2. Thank you, David – a timely word.
    I am concerned that this season of lockdowns might produce shallow, vacuous faith in churches which lose sight of the practices of spiritual discipline and carrying the cross so essential to knowing Christ.

  3. Is entering the throne room of God a mere theological abstraction, intellectual gymnastics, doctrine devoid of evidence, of experience?
    Is practicing the Presence of God a discipline, a discipline of holiness.
    Is communion with God restricted to bread and wine remembrance?
    Are we in lockdown with God, or is God locked out? As we zoom in to each other is God zoomed out?
    John Owen in his Communion with God is a teacher from experience. It flows from Union with Christ but not as mere doctrine.
    Is enjoyment of God to be a Spiritual reality not solely a cauterised catechism?

  4. Thank you so much for this article, sir!
    It encouraged me focus on love for Christ and His love through me to others. God bless you.

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