Depth Studies in Ephesians

from the fourth Good News Convocation at Lake Junaluska

Condensed from a series of four lectures by Roy Putnam, Pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, Greensboro, North Carolina
Member, Good News Board of Directors

I-The Hope of His Calling

The theme for this morning is set forth in what I conceive to be the subtitle of Ephesians: The High Calling of God, or the Hope of His Calling. It’s my conviction that the church needs today more than anything else not a new efficiency, but a new Ephesians-cy. A new concept, if you please. A new sense of the calling of God. Something to enhance us, to elevate us, to envision us and to energize us. If we allow the impulse of this call of God to stir within us … if we allow the concept of this call to master our thinking, then God will again clothe His divine activity in our failing flesh and breathe again His sanctity through the heat of our desire. Then the Church will march under a fresh anointing and a full mandate, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, and glorious as an army with banners.

I could commend Ephesians to you with many words. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it the divinest composition of man. But a more discerning theological tribute has been paid this book by Dr. John Mackay, president emeritus of Princeton Theological Seminary. He suggests that Ephesians is the most contemporary book ever written, for three reasons. First, it proclaims the essential image. Second, it presents the true basis for the communal life of mankind. And third, it provides us with life with a lilt.

I should like to suggest to you, first of all, the essential image that we have in the Book of Ephesians. We all realize that man has abandoned the original image and has become himself an image maker and image creator.

A group of soldiers came back from a Saturday night spree, got in late and then very languidly made their way to the chapel services on Sunday morning. The chaplain was speaking on the Ten Commandments, and one of the soldiers was heard to remark as he left the service, “Well, at least I haven’t made any graven images lately.”

But I wonder. Have you talked with Mr. Average Church Member lately about his ideas of the Bible and God and eternity? The average man holds in his mind a concept of God that is quite alien to the Scriptures. That concept has nothing to do with the God who is Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, the more that people talk to me about their ideas of God, the more I am convinced that their God exists only in their imagination. Certainly He’s not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[Here was read Ephesians 1 :3- 8;15-20. To conserve space these verses are not printed.]

When I am asked to exchange the thoughts, the concepts of the Bible for some contemporary thinking such as God being “the ground of being,” I see no advance on the idea of God as Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Heaven and earth. And I’m reminded of the drunk who complained late one afternoon, “All day long,” he said, “I keep asking the time, and all day long, people keep giving me different answers.”

I like the definitions of our Christian faith that we find in the Scriptures. God is defined in terms of Jesus Christ.

When Simeon held this little Child in his arms in the Temple, he said, “This Child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel ” (Luke 2:34). This child is set. That is, everything is predestined in terms of Jesus Christ.

E. Stanley Jones was fond of saying that Jesus Christ is not only written into the text, He is written into the texture of things. Not only written in the Bible, but written into biology. For He is the Source and the Center and the Sanction of all life. And when we talk of Christus Victor, our Christ victorious in the cross and the resurrection, this is not just a pious hope—it is an irrevocable fact! This is not something that is superimposed on mankind and on our world, but something that is exposed out of life itself. Jesus is the essential Image of the universe, [a reality] not written on pages of some archaic book, but plowed into life as we live it.

Christ is the essential Image. Everything is predestined in terms of Him. This is the reason why the Christian faith begins with what God has already done in raising Christ from the dead and setting Him at the Father’s right hand, far above all principalities and power and might and dominion and every name.

When we understand our Gospel we understand that it is more than an exhortation to do this or be that. When I was growing up, swinging my legs under the pew of a Methodist Church, I was listening to the pulpit speaking. Maybe I was not getting the right communication. The broadcast may have been clear, and the receiver set may have been very inadequate—but this is what I thought and I was getting: you can and you must! The message that came through was that if I would discipline myself, take hold of myself, and live a good life, then eventually, when I died, I would get to Heaven.

To me, Heaven was synonymous with that kind of Sunday preaching. And I thought that going to Heaven would mean sitting on some damp cloud and plucking some ectoplasmic harp while I was preached to, through all eternity. I was like a little girl Brother Rufus Mosely used to tell about. She said she wouldn’t mind going to Heaven if only she could go down to the other place and play with the children on Saturday afternoon.

But the real point of the Gospel is the proclamation of what God has already done. God has already blessed us. Paul says in Eph.1:30. Already lifted us into the heaven lies in Christ Jesus. Therefore we are to walk on earth worthy of our vocation into which we’ve been called.

In the opening three chapters, Paul gives us our definitive theology about the Church. Without this truth can be revised to suit the consensus of the community.

We cannot worship acceptably without knowledge of the One whom we seek to worship. And that personal knowledge of God is our creed, whether it be formalized or not. Faith is not some cognitive wand that we wave; faith is a solid historical resting place. When we say [that God is] Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then we have brought our Gospel down to history. That’s the reason Paul says we’re to hold fast our confession of faith.

We’re to come boldly to the throne of grace, but we cannot do this until, first of all, we hold to our confession. If I’m going to hold to something, I’ve got to have something solid. (One can’t harpoon a jellyfish). You’ve got to get hold of the truth that is defined in Scripture.

The Gospel is the good news of what God has done; telling men to come to Christ is not good news. Coming to Christ is the necessary implication of the Gospel, but to proclaim Christ is to create the faith which precipitates the crisis of response—the coming to Christ.

God has set for Himself a purpose that has been defined for us in terms of Jesus Christ. In this opening chapter of Ephesians, Paul says that all of life is predestined to be interpreted in terms of His Son. When I speak the word “predestination, ” I’m treading ground that has been strewn with the scalps of many theological gladiators. As a Methodist I used to read the words “predestination ” and “election ” and I’d cough and go on to the next verse. I thought the Presbyterians could handle that, so I’d leave it.

But this doctrine has become for me the substance, the solace upon which I pillow my head at night, and to which I awaken in every new dawn, knowing that my steps are ordered of the Lord and I’m not the doomed plaything of accident and chance and futility.

In this opening chapter of Ephesians, Paul is not talking about some arbitrary selection by which a few are chosen to be saved and others are fated to be lost.

A.M. Hunter of Scotland says that predestination means, in simple terms, that God chose us before we chose Him … that God does not choose us because we deserve it … and that God does not choose us to be His favorites but to be His servants. God did not choose Abraham to be a separatist, but to invest him back into the world in order that in him and his seed “shall all the nations of the earth be blessed (Gen. 12:3). “Ye have not chosen me, ” Jesus said (John 15:16). He was meaning, you have not chosen Me for your purpose, but I have chosen you for My purpose. Predestination really means that I’m in business with God this morning to achieve His ends.

That’s the reason Paul prays that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened—so that you may know what is the hope of His calling. God’s calling is much greater than my understanding of it; my concepts are much too small. C.S. Lewis says the high calling of God is not only beyond our deserving, it is often beyond our desiring. It’s beyond our desiring because we have never been stimulated by getting into the Word of God and seeing there what God has in mind for His people.

Of course the idea of God’s choosing arbitrarily stultifies human responsibility, and strangles the gospel; It cuts the nerve of ethical behavior. And I know that there is a school of theology that talks about election and predestination in this very narrow concept. Simply stated, predestination is grace traced to its earliest source. And its earliest source is the love of God. For He says we were chosen, in Him, before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love. We are chosen in Him because we are loved by Him and that means every person is made for the Kingdom of God. Every person is chosen. Every fact about you is woven on the loom of God’s predestining purpose. You can tangle the threads and you can tear the fabric by self-will but you’re still made for God.

Never say that a man’s misfit until you find what he’s fit for. You see, we’re made to fit the Kingdom. The most basic fact about us is not our sinnerhood, but our predestination, which is God’s design and purpose. To me, original righteousness is more profound than original sin. One man objected some time ago and said to me, “but preacher, does not Jeremiah teach us that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked? ” .

I said, “Deceitful yes, that’s right. But what’s the heart trying to deceive? ” The heart is trying to deceive a God who Francis Schaeffer says, is there. He is there! That’s the reason the Psalmist says, I want to flee from His presence … where can I go? I’II take the wings of the morning and I’II take my flight into the uttermost parts of the earth. I’ll make my bed in hell, but he says, even if I make my bed in hell, thou art there (Psalm 139).

The devil doesn’t run hell; he’s a victim when he gets there. The thing that makes hell, hell is the fact that I am made for God, and I am running counter to my predestination. This affronts the holiness of God, and that’s why the world’s so miserable. They’re going against their true destiny.

Why do all the rebel poets and the existential philosophers and the sick dramatists keep bringing God into their themes? They’re caught in a destiny. They are desperately attempting to escape God but they cannot!

A young lady came to our church several years ago. I had not heard from her across the years until just a few weeks ago. Her husband phoned and said, “We must see you immediately.”

They sat in my study and I asked what the problem was. She said “The problem is, I need to get up from this study immediately and go to the altar of this sanctuary and give my heart to Jesus Christ.”

I was confounded.

She said, “You see, three or four years ago I sat in this sanctuary and God’s call came to my life. I went out not responding. Subsequently I was married, moved to the west, and I have been rebelling in my own heart against God’s will. I have been totally frustrated and futile since that time and I know that I need to be saved now.”

I said, “Well, you can be saved right where you are now, because no place is sacrosanct.”

She said, “I know I can, but God called me to that altar and I want to go to that altar, and I must be saved there.”

So we went to the altar, and we opened the Word of God and prayed together. She came up with an assurance that Christ had forgiven her and received her in the Beloved, and that His call was upon her. That divine calling wouldn’t let her go. It wouldn’t let her off. And I thank God it wouldn’t let her down.

Jesus is our predestination, and so we do not have to resign to feeble fatalism, as hapless and hopeless victims of outside forces. Too many people believe the script of life has already been written, it needs only to be acted out. Why is it that we see ourselves as prisoners of our genes, of our times, of our environment? Why do we live dreading that the next blow is going to fall upon us? It always chills me to recall that pessimistic epitaph which says, “I expected this and here I am.”

Jesus wouldn’t even acknowledge death; they had to wring it out of Him. When He went to Lazarus’ tomb they said, “He’s dead. ” But Jesus insisted, “He’s asleep.” Jesus wouldn’t allow death to dominate His thinking; His thoughts were dominated by life. Death could not prevail when the Author of life was presiding. The Scripture says we have been raised together with Him, all things have been put under our feet … principalities, powers, might, dominions, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but that which is to come. And the Father has made Jesus to be the Head of all things to His Church which is His Body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. God has driven into this life an image, the essential image of Jesus Christ.

We live in a time of Nihilism. People are desperately trying to make sure of their existence in a world where many gamble on false gods and stake their destiny on speculative theologies and philosophies. The hallmark of our time is agonizing disillusionment with scientism and status and sex. In the midst of all this, how grand and enticing it is to learn of a destiny written into our natures which can free us from the captivity of the temporal and the seduction of the sensual! Predestined to the adoption of Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of His will! This is a part of the hope of His calling.

But there’s something else. God’s Word presents the basic structure which humanity needs for the true expression of its communal life. For “He is our peace,” Paul says in Ephesians 2:14, “who has made both one and has broken the dividing wall of hostility.” An amazing concept!

I’ve just been reading the 19th chapter of Acts and I am impressed with the heterogeneity of the Ephesian congregation to which Paul was writing. Here was a group of followers of the Lord who had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul came preaching the Holy Spirit, and when they heard it, they jumped up for joy—and some of them jumped too far. In verses 18 and 19 you can see a bunch of anxious Christians. Then there were people from the world of magic, the occult. There were some heady intellectuals. Paul encountered them in the school of Tyrannus. The church also contained those who had been healed by a handkerchief ministry. Pentecostals were there, ex-idol worshippers, and new babes in Christ.

God took that crowd of diverse people and blended them into a brotherhood and fashioned them into a fellowship. Paul could write them and say, “I know of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and your love unto all the saints (Eph. 1:15).

I tell you, this is an achievement! And this unity that we’re seeking in the world today can only be achieved in and through the Church of Jesus Christ. Nowhere else. The dark incorrigibility of human defiance has been brought to an end in Jesus Christ, Who gathers all things together unto Himself, as He says in Eph. 1:10. This is God’s purpose. This is the whole plan of redemption.

But history stands over against this unity. Interference broke out in the heavenlies when the angels kept not their first estate. This rebellion caused an atmosphere of strife, conflict and disruption. It began in Heaven and its repercussions came down to earth in the first family. Cain murdered Abel and the whole human race experienced this deceitful current of rebellion cutting its keen and uncoverable way right through the human life.

The Gospel presents a plan whereby God is able to take all the divergent elements [including the hostile, disruptive ones] … gather them up and focus them in Himself … and permeate all these divergencies, presiding over them as Lord.

In John 17 we have the basis of this unity, which is oneness with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Psalm 133: 1 we have also the beauty of this unity: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity!” And in Ephesians 4 we have the bond of this unity; it is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. There are seven unities listed in Ephesians 4, and right in the middle is the Lord. And it’s on the basis of His Lordship and our coming under the control of that Lordship that life is brought into unity. No other way.

When we proclaim that Jesus is Lord and get men to bow the knee to Him, then I tell you, the Church begins to form, and it’s a spontaneous thing. We become baptized into one Body, and are controlled by one Spirit. And you can’t have unity any other way. You can try to put it together organizationally and you’ll always fail. (I have a friend who says, “The ecumenical movement reminds me of a religious hash. I don’t eat hash away from home because I don’t know what they put in it. I don’t eat hash at home because I do know what’s in it).

I came up in a liberal tradition. All my educational exposure had been on that wise. But I was converted when I was 17. Theologically I was destitute; I just didn’t know a thing. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even suspect anything. But I did know to Whom I belonged. And I found myself brought right into the context of evangelical Christianity. A good conversion experience will make you an evangelical Christian right quickly. When you’re baptized into the Body, and then you begin to partake of the life, begin to obey the Head, and when you do, your life is ordered. This is the unity.

The Ephesian letter provides “life with a lilt.”

Let me suggest one closing thought. These early Christians, said Major Ian Thomas, were utterly committed, divinely unafraid, incorrigibly happy, and always in trouble.” Incorrigibly happy! You find them without comfort, friends, money, but you never find them without a song. Thanksgiving and praise were the alternate heartbeat of their lives.

Much of the New Testament is a song. Life is made to sing. When I come to the New Testament it bears me along on the wings of song. Even the Scripture I memorize is not labor. It sings its way into my heart.

The Book of Job tells us that on the morning of creation, the sons of God shouted for joy and the stars sang together. It’s my conviction that this great universe is like an organ. Every star has its radio frequency, perfectly tuned. No discordant notes. And they’re all singing together the praises of God. All life is made to sing; this universe has a musical soul.

I used to wonder why the mosquito was made. I just couldn’t see any purpose in it. One day I read that the mosquito’s wing beat is 35,220 times a minute. That rate of vibration produces the perfect tone to stimulate the growth of corn! Scientists have discovered that corn planted in an environment where such a tone is constant, grows twice the normal rate. Some scientists are inclined to believe that there is an insect wing beat geared to each plant. Bananas are now grown with a certain tune played constantly in the plantation to stimulate their growth.

God has made us to be free and spontaneous creatures to live our lives with a lilt. We can go through this world with a song. Listen …

The saints in all this glorious war

Shall conquer tho they die.

They see the triumph from afar,

By faith they bring it nigh.

We get into the heavenlies and participate in a victory that has cosmic dimensions. There’s no problem that you will ever have, that’s not already been met and conquered in Jesus Christ. Everything over your head is under His feet. So let us rejoice!

II-You who were Dead He Hath Quickened

Those of you who are familiar with this particular section of Ephesians have noticed that the words But God come as a kind of transition point in which the Apostle passes from what he has been saying in the first three verses, to what he is going to say. My proposition this morning is that the whole of the Christian life turns on that phrase, but God. I suggest that these words should be on our lips more frequently than any other these days.

We live in a world where Christians face the same problems as non-Christians. We are not afforded preferential treatment. God simply won’t split human existence and give us the upper floor.

Everywhere people are discussing the human dilemma; never has this concern been more vocalized than today. Especially with the present political stimuli. We’re talking about what’s wrong. We’re looking to the left and we’re looking to the right. But most of us who have assessed the situation in the light of God’s word know that the answer is not in either the left wing or the right wing, because both wings are on the same old,sick bird.

History, from one perspective at least, is a sordid, squalid record of man’s inhumanity to man, his insatiable greed, his incurable pugnacity, his devilish sadism and his suicidal urge to destroy civilization. And the problems keep mounting. We have now reached that impasse that H.G. Wells spoke of as “the mind at the end of its tether.”

The problem, on the human dimension, is intractable. But when we have finished listening to the voices of despair and pessimism, and when the world has said its last word, then Christians must take up where they leave off. Where other religions and philosophies finish, we begin. For God introduces the only hope of mankind.

It is well for us to recognize that ours is not the first problem that God has ever faced. In the beginning this world was in a very distorted shape. The Scriptures say that all was void, and without form. Darkness was upon the face of the deep. “But God!” But God stood forth, spoke His Word, “Let there be light,” and lo the lightning shafts of a thousand suns set flaming brilliance in the darkest recesses of infinite gloom. And this world began to take form and revolve along its ethereal circle.

There came a time in the history of mankind when confusion reigned. People worshipped false gods. In Ur of the Chaldees a man by the name of Abram heard the voice of God and there was born within him the conviction that God was one and indivisible. And if he would obey the voice of this God, then he would somehow find the hope of his calling. Thus Abram put his hand upon subsequent centuries and moved them up into new zones of light and glory. You can drop whole nations into oblivion today and it would not make as much difference as dropping that one solitary figure from history.

And you can go right on through history. But God … just as the situation became so intensely dark and dismal and desperate the historian was able to turn a page and on the top write, “But God.”

 I believe that but God is the only answer to the human dilemma today. I can hear somebody say, “You’re overstating your case. That’s pulpit exaggeration. Are you literally saying that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope?”

I am. He is our only hope because He alone understands the real causes of our trouble. The 20th Century has been heralded as the greatest Century of Progress. And yet a man like Albert Camus, representing the philosophy of our era, says the only serious philosophical problem in our generation is whether or not to commit suicide! Problems mount that overwhelm our intellectuals; the ecologists have become the eschatologists of our day.

What is the cause of it all? If we fail in the proper diagnosis we fail in the cure. We’ve got a lot of diagnosticians today, offering answers, but they’ve never found the problem. They say we can cure our problem if we have enough education and enough medication and enough ventilation and enough sanitation.

Some weeks ago a man told me about the economic situation but I couldn’t understand all this complexity. After he got through, I told him, “I think what you’re saying is, if our outgo exceeds our income, our upkeep’s going to be our downfall.” But one wonders who understands.

Once I heard about an Annapolis graduate who was out on his first sea voyage. The skipper asked him to figure out the latitude and longitude. The young man made his calculations and then brought them to the skipper. He looked, read, and then said, “Young man, stand at attention. Stand in a state of reverence. Remove your hat.”

The young sailor was somewhat perplexed but obeyed. “If your calculations are correct,” the skipper continued, “we are at this very moment in the middle of Westminster Abbey.”

My dear friends, the Word of God locates us precisely. Much better than does man’s fallible calculations. Paul says, “but God” is the answer to the human dilemma first of all because “ye were dead, and you hath he quickened who were dead.” That’s the problem: animated corpses circulating in our society, having lost the true content of their humanity because they have fallen out of moral correspondence with God, the Source of life and the Source of being.

Man was created to experience true humanity, which is God in him. Man is built, created to have a mind that’s God-taught, to have a will that’s God-directed, to have emotions that are God-satisfied. But Paul declares that man is in a state of deadness because he has fallen out of fellowship with the living God. Today man is trying terribly hard to be morally adult without being spiritually alive. That constitutes the human dilemma. We’re trying to have a self-sustained ethic, which reminds me of the woman who was asked “Which is more important, the sun or the moon?” She replied, “Why, the moon is more important. It shines at night when we need it. But the sun shines in the daytime when it’s light anyhow.”

God says man is dead toward God. In this state of deadness, man follows the course of this world. Why? Because he’s living as if there were no God at all, governed entirely by the thing to do. Swept by the currents of the age, whatever is the good thing. He thinks he’s free, but he’s not.

A woman goes to the grocery store. She reaches for this particular item—why does she do it? She’s been brainwashed by the public media. Her mind is in captivity—not in obedience of Christ, but to public opinion. This current is a frightening drift.

“A number of logs floating on the surface of a river may point in apparently random directions. The casual observer might regard them as being directionless pieces of timber. But the penetrating eye discerns that in spite of these divergent directions they’re all being borne in one direction by the current.

Everything not anchored in the heavenlies is going to drift. I care not if it’s a majestic liner or a canoe—unless that anchor passes through the uncertainty of the water and fastens itself onto something solid, the boat is going to drift. The writer of Hebrews says we have an anchor that’s cast within the veil. This is the realm where Jesus is recognized as Lord.

While people follow the course of this world, what determines this course? Not the proprietors of the newspapers and entertainment media. They’re but the dupes and instruments of something far more serious. The real controlling force, Paul says, is the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”

Man’s will does not operate in a vacuum; it attaches itself to some center of value which dictates the content of the will ‘s decision.

Man is a spirit being, and so people will find identification with some spirit-if not the Holy Spirit, then the spirit of this age … the spirit of the anti-Christ. He now presides over the darkness of this world, this spiritual wickedness in heavenly (high) places. This means that behind the visible scene, the basic issues of life are decided. He, the evil one, is in control of these media and the course of this world.

We all once lived in the lust of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the mind. This describes the egalitarian society we have today, in which everything must be made available at all times to everyone. Failing to be human in the idealistic sense of the word, we lapse into a barbaric animalism. We clothe our defeats in high-sounding phraseology such as “alienation,” “cult of the unpleasure,” “realism” and so forth. But all of this fashionable phraseology cannot conceal the fact that the emperor has no clothes. All of this is the lust of the flesh.

What about the lust of the mind? John calls it the pride of life. People are perfectly affable and absolutely delightful—as long as they’re allowed to do whatever they want. So we have the new morality, simply an attempt to rationalize and allow us to give vent to our passions like animals do. And all the while man is trying to be impressively brilliant, tremendously erudite, persuading himself that it’s all right to behave like an animal. He calls lying, “smartness;” adultery, “sex experience;” smut and obscenity parade under the false dignity of “frankness.”

Man is spiritually dead, and while he’s dead he’s swept by the currents controlled by satanic forces expressing themselves in the lust of the flesh and of the mind. While this condition prevails man is living under the wrath of God. Wrath is the totality of the divine reaction to sin.

Wrath is that essential nature of God that puts the mark of disagreement upon man’s sin. Wrath is the “No” of God up on all the perversion, all that’s not true, all that’s not real.

G. Campbell Morgan once made a supposition that the fires of hell and the fires of heaven might be the same fires … in which the saint would be energized and elevated and blessed and fulfilled and the sinner would be tormented. The very same thing: the love of God which is a consuming fire.

What I am sure of is that the wrath of God is not something arbitrary and impulsive, like a provoked driver when someone crosses him.

Once I was in a meeting in a little country church. I came out of a driveway and there was a big tractor trailer bearing down behind me. I thought I had plenty of time. I pulled out and heard the horn blowing and sensed the displeasure of the dear man. We got to a stop light and pulled up side by side. He rolled down his window, and he was wrothful!

The stop light changed and we went on to the next stoplight. I rolled my window down. He was ready for the fray but I said, ” My dear brother, please forgive me for being so thoughtless as to go out in front of you like that. I do trust you ‘ll forgive me. God loves you, and may the Lord bless you.” You should have seen that man’s face change gears!

Don’t ever let anybody curse you without you blessing them. God can’t do anything but bless and He wants us to bless. That’s the supreme purpose of God. He’s chosen us in Christ to bless us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies.

Some time ago I was at a filling station getting my wheels balanced for a long trip. The fellow that was balancing the wheels was getting exasperated and he was damning the wheels. I said to him, “Now, my dear brother, you know I’ve got a long trip, and really, I need some blessed wheels. Listen, I don’t want cursed wheels. Let’s stop and bless these wheels. I take it that you’ve damned everything in your shop. These tools, they need to be blessed. Let’s bless everything.”

So I proceeded to bless the wheels, bless his tools, bless him, an d bless the station employees. When we got into the car for a road test he said, “You know, I really appreciate that. My father is a Church of God preacher, and he’s been praying for me.”

The wrath of God is just there for those who are outside of Jesus Christ, who are kicking against the goad. Our generation is living under the wrath of God, and this present world is under His righteous judgment. What do I mean by that? Well for one thing there is withheld wisdom—that is one of the ways in which God’s wrath is revealed. By withholding wisdom from the leadership of the nation. How can we explain otherwise, the tragic mistakes at Yalta, Potsdam, Cuba, Formosa, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and more recently, Watergate? Learned men … brilliant men …  erudite men making such tragic blunders? Withheld wisdom. Under the wrath of God. Outside of Christ, life gets muddled. You can’t live progressively because you’re going against your destiny, against your predestination. The only way you can have destiny fulfilled is to get into Christ.

Actually, predestination has to do with the Church, those who are in Christ. Not with the world outside of Christ. When I step into Christ, I step into my true destiny. But if I step out of Christ, then I’m under the wrath of Christ. That ‘s just the nature of things, as water is wet, and growing grass is green.

That’s the reason God commands us to pray for our rulers. They don’t need our condemnation and criticism. “I exhort you therefore that first of all supplication, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all those that are in authority that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty (I Tim. 2:1, 2). They need our prayers that peace may prevail in order that the Gospel may have free access.

The wrath of God rests up on every new achievement, and every new discovery is marked with perilous and sadistic designs as the nations cast up their mire and dirt. But God … that’ s the background. “But God who is rich in mercy out of the great love with which He loved us , even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4- 6).

This but God follows some very excited and tumultuous Greek sentences. I want to take you back to this sentence in verse 18. When the apostle starts a sentence it comes like a torrent. Notice now, there’s no full stop. Just commas. It’s all one great sentence. It comes like a hallelujah chorus. Paul seems not to be able to stop it. It cascades. He strains at the leash of language as he puts an immense vocabulary under tribute to his scintillating mind.

I want you to read it. I want you to get it. The first verse of chapter two says, “You hath he quickened.” That’s in italics, which means that these words are not in the original Greek. They have been put there by the translators to give the sense of the text. They thought they’d better bring us to earth after Paul’s tumultuous ending of chapter one. I think they did us a good service. But I want you to notice what Paul wrote in verse 20 … “which He accomplished in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and made Him sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named , not only in this age , but also in that which is to come.”

Verse 1 of chapter 2: “and you he made alive.” He raised Christ and you. I want you to get hold of that. Christ was dead; God raised Him from the dead. You were dead; God raised you from the dead. God seated Him at His own right hand above all principalities and powers, mights, dominions and powers and every name that is named. And now God has seated you with Him. Together! Him and you!

If you ever get the idea that He’s up yonder somewhere in a dimension far removed, and you’re down here trying to get your prayers through, you’ve lost the meaning of Christian prayer. He raised Christ and you, and now you’re sitting together in heavenly places.

Heavenly means here a new order, over which Jesus Christ presides. The Father has set Him above all principalities and powers. And everything over your head this morning is under His feet. He is reigning.

I cannot tell you how this transformed my ministry, when it came to me. I recited the Apostles Creed, “He ascended into Heaven” … but you know how we quote these things by rote. I had said it, I had known it, but I hadn’t realized it.

Jesus is reigning now!

Arise, ye saints, exalt your strains.

Your God is King, your Father reigns.

He is at the Father’s side, the man of love, the crucified.

Don’t you want to say “Hallelujah”?

Jesus was crucified 1900 years ago as the Sin-bearer, Substitute and Savior. Now, at this present moment of time, He is the top Man of this universe, supreme in Heaven, supreme over earth, supreme over hell.

“Jesus the Name high over all,
In earth, in Heaven and sky.
Angels and men before Him fall,
And demons fear and fly.”

Do you believe this? Listen—when Jesus Christ returns, He will not come to do something that He has not already done. He’s already finished everything. He’s triumphed. When He comes back, it will be to unveil what’s already been done. That’s the hope of the Church, not of the world. Calvary is the hope of the world, but the second coming of Jesus Christ is the hope of His Church.

Now, He reigns. If you don’t believe that, read Ephesians 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1, and Revelation 1. He reigns in you. He reigns in the heavenlies. The heavenlies are not some ethereal world of the might-be, nor ideal world of the should be, but the nuclear world of the now-is. “Thine IS the kingdom,” not going to be. It is!

Two things turn on this truth as we close this message. First, when Christ came out of the grave, a whole new humanity came out with Him. This is the meaning of the Church. Paul exhausts the vocabulary of power to describe the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. You can see it in four of the biggest power words of the Greek language used here: “power,” “working,” “strength” and “might,” in that order. They express the greatest output of energy in the whole Bible. And as if that were not enough, Paul adds “the exceeding greatness” of His power. All this to raise Jesus from the dead. It took power to do that, more power than it took to create all the galaxies, to roll back the waters of the Red Sea, to bring down the bastions of Jericho. It took power to raise Jesus from the dead and this is the power given to us who believe. This was the power that converted Saul of Tarsus, and it’s the power that can convert this world and bring it back to God. I know the situation today is desperate and dark and dismal. A man said to me some time ago, “Why don’t you get out of the United Methodist Church? It’s dead.”

I said, ‘That may be, but God hasn’t appointed me as the undertaker.”

The second thing is this: there were those who opposed Christ. You see this in the 4th chapter in Ephesians. It says when God raised Him from the dead, He led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men. The Bible teaches that Jesus passed right through the headquarters of the powers of darkness. Al I the serried ranks of hell’s forces opposed Him, but Jesus passed right through them and took them into paradise with Him. He led captivity captive.

What happened historically also happens experientially. Him and you. When He ascended He took every believer from righteous Abel to the penitent thief with Him. He took the whole lot of them right through Satan’s headquarters, and got every one of them safely to Heaven with exceeding joy.

He crushed beneath His rod
This earth’s proud rebel King,
He plunged with His imperial strength
The gulfs of darkness down.
He brought His trophy up at length,
The foiled usurper’s crown.

A friend told me about a man he had met in a camp. The man came from Kansas where he owned a considerable number of wheat farms. This fellow had so many exposed nerves that he would register everything that happened. If the stock market went down, his blood pressure went up. He just reflected the environment in which he lived.

At this camp meeting he came under the teaching of the Lordship of Christ. The man from Kansas capitulated completely to His indwelling Lordship and the Lord lifted him with Him into the heavenlies.

The next day he got a telegram that the grasshoppers were eating up his wheat fields. The friends with him thought, he’ll get so panicky and jittery that he’ll take the next plane home. So they asked, “Aren’t you going back?”

This Kansas fellow exclaimed, “Go back? Of course not! When I yielded up to Christ, I gave Him everything that I am and ever hope to be. It’s all His. If God wants to stop His own grasshoppers on His own farm, that’s His business! ”

Now you tell me if this truth is not practical. It’s right down to earth.

Here is the proposition of the Gospel: Christ by His atoning death shall reconcile us as guilty sinners to a Holy God. On the basis of that reconciliation, He restores to us a true content of our humanity which is Christ in us. Christ comes down to our level, brings His throne and asks us to rule with Him. God says, I want to come down to where you are. I want you to get on the throne with Me and I want us together, you and Me, to reign together over your personality. And I want us together to reign over life’s situations. This is the message of the Gospel.

Ill -The Call to Unity

Here was read Ephesians 3.

Life unlimited, which is the theme of this conference, and the unity of the Church, is rooted in a mystery. G. K. Chesterton has said that there is one great mystery in nature, something too bright for us to look at: the sun. There it hangs in the sky and in the light of that sun, everything else is made clear.

That’s what we have in the revelation of God’s Word. Down through the ages men have been blinded by its brilliance, by its light and glory. But in the light of His Word, everything else about God, about man, about destiny, has been made clear.

No one has seen the sun at any time. We see the photosphere, I believe they call it, the bursting gasses around the sun. But no one has seen the sun. You can’t stand to look at it. It’s too bright. But in the sun’s light everything else is made clear.

That’s the revelation of God, the Word of God by the Holy Spirit. And the Church needs this revelation today more than anything else.

Paul prays in Ephesians 1:15-18, “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and your love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ the Father of glory may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened.”

And Paul says, I commend you because you’ve got faith and you’ve got love. Now I pray that God will get your eyes opened. You need to see. What? A mystery-the mystery of the Gospel. It is this revelation that has to touch the Church again before we can know the exceeding greatness of His power operating through us. Touching our understanding because we’re dull and because we need our natural faculties heightened and elevated. Because we need a new vision.

I’m convinced we can go no further without revelation which doesn’t affront our reason but fulfills it. The mind was not given to make us brilliant any more than the Law was given to make the Jews just. The Law was given to take the Jews by the hand and lead them to grace. But they made the Law an end.

The human mind was given to lead us to revelation. Or to realize the necessity of revelation as God’s ultimate. But instead, we make the mind to be ultimate. Romans says that when man saw God in the created order, he glorified Him not as God. Instead, man became vain in his imagination; his foolish heart was darkened. Professing himself to be wise he became a fool. Why? Because man elevated the. mind to be the ultimate arbiter of all things, instead of God.

We think we can understand God with the mind, but the mind is an instrument of guidance, not the guide. It is the great sorting house but it is not the sorter. It is given to us that we might be given illumination by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. We need both: revelation is objective-it relates to truth. Wisdom is subjective-it relates to life. Wisdom is an understanding of how to make the revelation apply in life’s situations. And revelation is given so that the Church might live in the heavenlies while walking on earth.

Samuel Chadwick, that inestimable Methodist of England, former principal of Cliff College, once prayed, “Lord, make me intensely spiritual, thoroughly practical, and perfectly natural.” God ‘s revelation enables us to walk worthily and fulfill the ethical content of our Gospel.

Now my dear friends, the end to which God has called us is not to get to Heaven when we die. He calls us to be the Church right now … to be the medium whereby the Kingdom of God might come on earth as it is in Heaven … right, now.

Plato once said, “What God was, He is. What God said He says. What God did, He does.”

A dear brother preaching down South said, “God’s no was’er. He’s an is’ser. ”

Much of the inheritance God has for us now we have pushed on up ahead of us to the shadow-land of death and into the glory-land of Heaven. The goal is not to get man to Heaven but to get the God of Heaven into man, to produce Christian character; and restore the true content of our humanity, which is Christ in us, the hope of glory. This is a mystery. That word “mystery ” is not the false spirituality of the gnostic[1]; not some esoteric quality in which only the spiritually elite can participate. No, it’s a mystery for all mankind—that the same God who became man in Jesus has come to live that perfect life all over again through His Church.

I like to think of the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Trinity, God without a body, seeking a body, clothing Himself in divine activity, in the failing flesh of the Church, raising it up, and implementing the eternal purpose for which we were born again.

The divine Person of the Godhead has already lived out this perfect life, met every temptation, every exigency, contingency, extremity and adversity. I ‘II never have to meet an experience which He has not already mastered. Now He offers that same life to be lived all over again in me and through me.

Someone said, ” I don’t believe that Jesus Christ can possibly understand my tribulation. After all, Jesus lived in a different day. Jesus never knew what it was to be married. He never had a flat tire. He never got caught in an airplane in a snowstorm.”

My answer is that all those things are but varying forms of human frustration, and Jesus indeed met human frustration. He met it in the adequacy of the Holy Spirit, and He says, ” I want to give to you the same Holy Spirit.”

It’s no hidden secret that Christ would come … would bear the sins of many … and would become a Prince and a Savior. Nor that the Holy Spirit would be outpoured. Nor that the remission of sins would be preached. The mystery was that God would take both Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female, and make them one new Body, the Church of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament didn’t see this Church. It hinted at it, but it’s not explicit.

Wesley saw this in what I think is the greatest hymn ever written in the English language:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood,
Died He for me who caused His pain,
Who Him to death pursued.
Amazing love, how can it be,
That Thou, My God should die for me?”

And then that stanza when he says the angels are looking into this mystery, and he says something like this:

‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore
And angel minds inquire no more.”

God’s will for the unity of the Church, the bringing together of the Body through which He can manifest and express Himself, is the most central thing in cosmic and human history. For God’s big idea in this world is the Church. Therefore the world moves in the context of Church history, Church history does not move in the context of world affairs. God’s big idea is the Church, and therefore He’s going to bring all its divisions to an end. The Bible says in Ephesians 1:10 that He will bring all things together in Jesus Christ. And in the 10th verse of the 3rd chapter, Paul says God’s going to show to all principalities and powers His immutable wisdom in choosing His Church. This is something wonderful!

We hear about churches failing but the Church is not failing. On every battlefield this Church is winning out. I like the aggressiveness of the New Testament, not one paragraph is reserved for defeat. Bethlehem’s morn is God’s answer to this world ‘s scorn. God has fleshed it out in Jesus Christ. I thank God that He’s fleshing it out again in the Church which is His Body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. Christ in you the hope of glory. The mystery is that He would go back to Heaven, become a King incognito, preside over His Church, gather up His Body, and through that Body put all things under His feet. Thus He is redeeming the world, not apart from us but through us.

Finally, He will appear with His Church to smite the anti-Christ with the brightness of His coming. As Sidlow Baxter says, “Excuse me, but Hallelujah! ”

When we say, “Christ in you,” what do we mean? What part of the anatomy? When you say, “Christ dwells in my heart,” a lot of folks point to this physical cardiac. They mean the blood pump. We talk about the center of our emotions being the heart. But one of these missionaries tells me that in Africa there’s a tribe that thinks the liver is the center of life. They wouldn’t say, ” I love you with all my heart,” they’d say, ” I love you with all my liver.”

What’s Paul talking about, “that Christ may dwell in your heart?” About Christ dwelling in the human nature. You and I, alone in all of God’s creation, have the capacity to receive God in our human nature. That’s why the incarnation was possible-because man is made in the image of God and God has an affinity with humanity.

And didst Thou love a race that loved not Thee?
Didst Thou take to Heaven a human brow?
Dost plead with man ‘s voice by the marvelous sea?
Art Thou his kinsman now?”

Yes, thank God, He is our kinsman! Our Kinsman-redeemer. The universal God who fills all things came down in the scandal of the particular, the incarnation. I n so doing He did not lay aside His deity. He took our humanity, the particular, back up to the universal, and now there’s a Man on the throne of the universe this morning. He did not lay aside our humanity when He went back into Heaven. Heaven and earth are married in the incarnation and resurrection and ascension glory.

We have the capacity to receive God in our human nature. When the Word of God is preached it’s quick and powerful and sharp; it divides soul and spirit, and restores the true spiritual nature of man. It revives man’s spirit; God infuses his life. This is what the new birth is about. And when we’re preaching the Word of God, faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word. Faith releases the activity of God, the life of God is released in the human spirit, and man lives again.

John Henry Jowett tells about an old reprobate who was converted. His eye was shot out in a drunken brawl but this man now has the life of Christ in him. Jowett described him as looking like “a half-ruined old cathedral lit up for evening services.”

Christ in you, in your human spirit. Bringing you to life.

As a boy of 17, I had this quickening. I was just droning along in complacency, vagabonding · among half-loyalties, loitering through life. I didn’t have any particular purpose. And then, the Word of God came!

As John Masefield wrote, “I knew I knew that Christ had given me birth, To brother every man on earth.”

Christ in you. This is the mystery. And when this happens, He baptizes us into one Body, we’re made to drink of one Spirit. We come alive to God and we become conscious that we are in a fellowship which is supra-national and extraterrestrial.

I thank God for the United Methodist Church. We have a rich heritage. But let me tell you I ‘m thankful for this Gospel that’s transcendent. Stanley Jones was once asked, ” Do you belong to the Methodists?” And he said, “No, they belong to me. For all things are mine in Christ.”

I don’t want us to get in a little puddle this week. I want us to explore the great ocean. God has put us in the Body. And I see in the world today the Body of Christ coming to life, transcending all denominations. Thank God that He has used The United Methodist Church as a launching pad to get some of us off. But I’m a true ecumenist. I believe in showing the multifaceted comprehensive love of God which not any one of us can do separately. “I bow my knee unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ from whom the whole family in Heaven and earth is named.” The whole family! Heaven and earth!

What a wonderful fellowship I’ve found since I came into Jesus Christ. It is a world-wide, globe-circling entity. I can go to any city, go to any country. I don’t meet strangers, just members of the family.

This is a glorious truth. It keeps us humble because truth, you see,i s angular. I don’t have all the truth; I have an angle on it. I look at it from this perspective. And here, thank God, comes another from this other angle. And here’s another fellow looking at it from another angle. Together we comprehend what is the depth and length and height so that we come to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. That’s the mystery.

In conversion there is an infusion of life. God intends this to result in a suffusion, whereby all this earthly part of us is filled with the Iife of God. That’s what sanctification is all about. Justification sets me free from guilt and gives me a right standing before God—makes me fit for Heaven. But sanctification releases the life of God in me and makes me fit for earth. I ‘m not fit for earth until I’m filled with all the fullness of the Holy Spirit exalting Christ as Lord in my life.

If you could take my arm and detach it from my body, and then graft it back, that would be the baptism of the arm into the body. But after that arm is grafted back, the life of the whole body has to flow in its fullness into this arm, so it partakes of the same life as the whole body.

That’s what we commonly refer to as the baptism with the Holy Spirit, but I like to refer to it as the fullness of the Holy Spirit because I think that’s more Scriptural. Fullness. “That ye might be filled.” And this is the fullness that God’s giving the Church today, taking our personalities and integrating them around a new center, taking the life of Christ and making Him available to us and making us adequate in that life, gathering up all conflicting loyalties, and putting life under the control of the Holy Spirit. That’s a very practical thing.

I have a friend who told me about a man who was seeking the deeper experience of holiness in his life. He said he and his wife were questing for God’s best, and finally they came to the place where there was released in them and in their innermost being the fullness of the Holy Spirit. It just began to flow. He said, “I know my wife received the Holy Spirit last week.”

“How do you know?” my friend asked.

“Because she now puts the top back on the toothpaste, that’s how I know.”

My friends, that is both sensible and Scriptural. This woman was scattered and fragmented, but now she’s integrated. And that’s what the Holy Spirit had accomplished in the deep recesses of her being. Being full of God, the conflicting loyalties are gone.

Fullness means that we have the same mind as Christ, we have His gracious influence. The Holy Spirit releases in you the fullness of Christ. It’s something like a marriage. There’s a time when you meet your bride-to-be and you fall in love. Then there’s a period when you become acquainted with one another. But that’s not fullness.

I remember very well when I was standing at the altar of a church in 1949 and looking for my wife-to-be to come down the aisle. I stood there waiting, had 12 preachers with me to support me. Soon I was saying, “Yes” to her, and, ” No” to everybody that was not her. At that moment of time, I could say I was full of her life as I had never been before. It was a crucial moment of filling.

The Holy Spirit comes to unite us in union with Jesus Christ so that His gracious life may fill our lives. He does not destroy our true humanity, our true selfhood—he heightens it, cleanses it, purges it of selfishness, selfmindedness, doublemindedness. He brings it into a center of authority where Jesus is Lord, and He breathes His gracious influence into our lives and He puts life under the benign theocracy of a new order, The Kingdom of God.

The measure of fullness has to get into every part of us. It’s absolutely necessary, because we don’t have control over our subliminal depths. Over our actions, yes, but not over our reactions. Fullness … that Christ may dwell … take settled residence, come in a moment and touch your emotional life. Listen … man’s soul is emotion. Sure it is. And we should not minimize emotion. But God does not do His deepest work in the shallowest part of man. He does His deepest work in the depths of man’s personality … in the mind realm. And that’s the reason Paul says in the 4th chapter of Ephesians that ye might have your minds renewed.

IV-The Call to Mastery

We need to bring the Word of God with us in our church services. I go to United Methodist churches and I say, “Turn to Ephesians, ” and I don’t hear anything. When I’m in my congregation back home, I hear paper rattling when I say, “Turn to Ephesians. ” I get homesick when I don’t hear this. So always bring the Word of God.

Think of it prayerfully, study it carefully.
Deep in thine heart let its oracles dwell.
Ponder its mystery, slight not its history,
None can e’er love it too fondly or well.

Here was read Ephesians 3.

We come now to consideration of the mastery by which we are controlled. In Ephesians 3:16 is the prayer that “He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. ” The divine Spirit merges with the human spirit, as the water is in the sponge and the sponge is in the water … as the fire is in the poker and the poker is in the fire. So is Christ in you, not destroying your personality but cleansing, coordinating it, putting it under a new control and giving you the authentic expression of your true identity.

We can’t even know ourselves until we get in Christ because our true identity is in Christ. We were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. And then we died with Him and were raised with Him, and seated with Him, and coming again with Him. That is why we can’t know ourselves apart from Him.

Christ in you, the hope of glory. That is the basic proposition of the Christian faith. John Wesley quoted William Law and said, “This is the whole Gospel: the birth of the lowly Lord Jesus Christ in you, His overcoming life conquering your inward death.”

I relinquish myself; He releases what He is, in me. He doesn’t destroy; He strengthens with might by His Spirit in the inner man. that … (now watch the transition) …  “in order that Christ may dwell.” That means take up His settled residence, not just as a visitor for the night, not just coming to a Good News Convocation, not getting on the mountain top with an emotional lift.

Now I do not want to minimize emotion. We’ve starved people’s emotions too long, and I’m glad that we’re having a release of some emotions these days. I don’t want to go on feeling, but I sure want to feel what I’m going on. We are not cold fish—we are warm-blooded mammals.

But listen: Feelings come and feelings go.
And feelings are deceiving.
My warrant is the Word of God,
None else is worth believing.

I’m absolutely convinced that the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of this Word. You say, “We all assumed that.” But there have been times when I haven’t assumed that. I have been through theological studies that have wrested my mind and there have been times I have felt like Blaise Pascal when he said, “The heart has reasons that reasons know nothing about. ” There was something that transcended my reason but I’ve laid aside these problems and later I have found them resolved as I have taken a devotional disposition toward the Word of God.

I am absolutely convinced that the Holy Spirit was guiding the translation and the transmission of the Bible text so that we have the right words. You call that verbal inspiration or you can call it what you want to. I believe that we’ve got the words into this Book that God wanted us to have. If we didn’t, it would be tragic.

I heard of a company that put out a letter to their constituency. They said, “We take a personal interest in all our customers. ” But the typist made a mistake and instead of a T there was an F. “We Fake an interest in all our customers.”

I do not believe God allowed that kind of error to happen in these original manuscripts. I know there are variations in translations. I’ve had a bit of education along these lines, but I am convinced that God has given us an inerrant translation of His Word so that pertaining to essential doctrine we have in the Bible the truth of God upon which we can depend, inscripturated.

In Ephesians, God says that Christ may dwell in your hearts. Christ! Not the Lord, not Jesus, but Christ. Why that word? Because Christos means the Anointed One, the One who was born to be King, the One who has a right to be King. And the business of the Holy Spirit, in strengthening us with might in the inner man, is that Christ, the anointed One, might be enthroned in totalitarian sovereignty in our lives. For you see, fullness and mastery go hand in hand. That’s the message of the 4th chapter of Ephesians. It says that Christ ascended up on high and led captivity captive; He went down into the depths and brought up a multitude of captives. What He did historically, empirically, He does today experientially. He goes down into the depths of the human personality and releases whatever is captive. Our minds have been held captive by false ideas, false impressions. A multitude of captives exist in the subliminal depths of our personality. When the Holy Spirit comes, He releases us from this captivity and we become our true selves. We are bound to Him, and He gives us His gifts so that the Body may be completed and come to full stature—so that we might have a Church that expresses the totality of His being. We’re put under His authority. That’s the reason He sets us free, to put us back under the proper Authority.

In the 7th chapter of Luke a Centurion came to Jesus wanting his servant healed (Luke 7:1-10). He said to Jesus, ” I’m not worthy that you should come under my roof. But say in a word …”

That Centurion says to Jesus, “Your Word is as good as Your presence. You say in a word, and my servant will be healed.”

This Centurion knew what authority meant. There was a time when he knelt before Caesar and kissed the scepter. He rose to his feet and his life was no longer his own. ·He was a man under authority; he would go where Caesar appointed him. He had no more options as far as the clothes he would wear or the people he would meet, or the circumstances under which he would live—he was a slave to Caesar.

Being under such authority, the Centurion had authority. He could say to soldiers, “Come,” and they’d come … “Go,” and they would go … “Do this,” and they’d do it. “But,” the Centurion says, “my authority is limited. I also am a man under authority. I am an also man, but You, Jesus, are an absolute Man. Your authority is unlimited.”

We bring ourselves to Jesus Christ and limit ourselves to Him as our ultimate authority. Thus we are limited to the Unlimited. That’s the theme of this Good News Convocation, “The Call to Life Unlimited.” You can’t have life unlimited until you are limited to Jesus Christ. Until every other consideration is gone, until you’ve become His, His only.

My dear friends, herein lies the serious problem in our organizational church today. We’re trying to exercise authority without being under Christ’s authority. When Jesus is Lord, when we capitulate to His indwelling Lordship, then we become men and women of true authority. Then we can say to men, “Come,” and they come.

In the New Testament, evangelism was not something you had to implore people to do. Like today we sit in our conferences and we say, “Now we’ve got to get mobilized … we’ve got to win people to Christ … and we set our goals and make our plans.”

In the New Testament I see a Church getting in touch with its exalted Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. They’re not asking people, “Are you saved?” people are asking them, “What must we do to be saved?”

That was true in Jesus’ ministry. When the rich young ruler came to Him, Jesus didn’t say, “Now look, you don’t have what I have. You lack something. Let Me tell you what you lack.”

That rich young ruler had everything. He was moral. He was mannerly. He had endowments that are greatly to be desired. But he saw in Jesus authority that he didn’t have. And so the rich young ruler asked, “What lack I yet?”

Consider Paul and Silas in jail. They were not passing out tracts nor attempting to convert the jailor. They were in touch with their exalted Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. They entered into a state of praise and adoration-praise for what God had done and adoration for what He is. They were “lost in wonder, love and praise,” as Wesley phrased it. At that moment the Lord manifested Himself and that jailor asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Philip, joining that chariot, intercepted the Ethiopian eunuch. The man capitulated to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and what happened? Philip didn’t say, “Now, my brother, you have made a confession and you’ve got to be baptized.”

The Ethiopian saw some water and he said, “What doth hinder me?”

Evangelism is not something that’s mandatory or voluntary; it is inevitable.

What we’ve seen and heard,
With confidence we tell,
And publish to the sons of men,
The signs infallible.

You and I are the heirs of a heritage that is predicated upon the experience of one man. This clergyman conducted himself properly before the altar of the Church of England, but his heart was crying out for the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel. He came to America to convert the Indians, but John Wesley had no authority to put them under authority. So he went back to England a disillusioned man.

John Wesley felt that the shrine of the great invitation had been the established Church of England. He thought it a vile thing to go outside the Church, to witness or to preach. A vile thing!

But George Whitefield was preaching all over the place, laying people under the claim of Christ, and reducing them to submission before the invisible Throne. Whitefield was preaching to 10,000 people in the open air. He had only one lung and Sangster says he was so cross-eyed that he could say, “that man,” and two men would come under conviction. But I tell you they were coming under conviction!

Here is John Wesley, May the 24th, 1 738, at a quarter-of-nine. We debate what happened to him at Aldersgate, his conversion or sanctification. I t matters not. What counts is that there came to his heart a new certainty about Jesus Christ. And John Wesley emerged from that rendezvous with God, put one foot over his horse and rode off to the conquest of England. Later he wrote in his journal, ” I consented to become more vile and to preach the Gospel in the open air.”

What happened to John Wesley? The Evangel, the Lord Jesus Christ, had been elevated to ascendency in his heart. That Evangel was going to preach whether John Wesley the cleric wanted to or not!

If, in our churches, we will get people under God’s authority we can just turn them loose. We don’t have to bother about preaching little mini-issues. (When we can’t get them on the big issues we say, “Will you come and promise to start tithing? Will you promise to come back to church in September? Promise to attend service during Lent? Promise to start prayer in your home?”)

Oh, we get them on all kinds of mini-issues. Listen—this is THE ONE issue, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”

When I went to my present appointment 18 years ago, (I’m in my 19th conference year) God was working in the fellowship. We moved into a new community and there were folks from all directions who wanted to join our church. Someone has said that Americans are notorious joiners—give them a red button and a certificate and they’ll join anything.

Here were these folks wanting to move their membership to our church. They wanted to get from the Baptist graveyard and move to the Methodist mausoleum. These dear people needed the concept of the Church that is given in the Ephesian epistle, so we began to teach membership classes on what the Church is when the church is the Church. We delineated the Biblical concept.

I’ll never forget one fellow who called me up and wanted to join the church. I put him off for a spell, and I asked him to come and expose himself to this teaching. He was under very deep conviction and in my study he surrendered his life to Christ. When he got up from his knees he looked out the window and said, “My, everything looks brand new! ”

I said, “It is brand new … you’re in the Kingdom of God.” Then he reached for his pocketbook, right in his hip pocket. He took out some money and thrust it at me. I ‘d never had that to happen before and I didn’t know whether to take it or not.

I learned something that day—there’s a nerve that goes from the heart, right down to the wallet. And ever since that time, I’ve been trying to hit that nerve. Well, let me tell you something, this will hit that nerve: Jesus is Lord … that Christ may dwell in your hearts, by faith. The mystery of it, yes, but the mastery of it: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts. ” The manner of it: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.

What is faith? Faith is pure receptivity. The law of faith is, “What I take takes me.” If I take food into my body, what happens? it takes me. If it’s poison, too bad … you’ve got it. No, you haven’t, it’s got you.

I take a seat, the seat takes me. I take an idea into my mind, an idea takes me. That’s the reason it’s absolutely imperative that we preach sound doctrine. Paul says that evil communications corrupt good manners. If our teaching is wrong, then our acting will be wrong.

It’s tragic that we’ve allowed this generation to think the Ten Commandments are something superimposed on the social order. These Commandments were never meant to be given just in a negative vein. Read the preamble to the Ten Commandments and you will find, “I am the Lord who delivered thee,” … therefore, this is · the way delivered people will act. That’s what God is saying in the preamble. He’s saying, “Be what you are, “God’s redeemed people.”

When we respond to that, then God releases the Divine energy.

Jesus said to that man with the withered hand, “Stretch forth your hand.” The man couldn’t do it, but when he began to obey, the Word of Christ was like a bridge over which the power of Christ traveled, enabling that man to do what he was commanded to do.

Augustine said it this way: “Lord, give what Thou commandest and then command what Thou wilt.”

When God says to us, “Be not drunk with wine, but be ye filled with the Spirit ” … when God says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might,” as He does in the 6th chapter, He’s saying, “Be what you really are in Christ.”

To whom is he addressing these words? To weak people. And on what authority are we to be strong? The authority of the Word of the Living God. That is, when He asks you to do something, He’s already done it. That’s the reason He says, “Before they call upon Me, I will answer.” For every need you have, the supply is already there—even before you have the need. And by faith we receive. By faith we enter into it. By faith we are what God ordained us to be in the present, continuous sense. For He says, keep on being filled. The just shall live by faith. Not believe by faith, but live by faith. Reginald Wallace once said the greatest discovery he ever made was that he could not live the Christian life and that God never expected him to! What God really expected was for him to respond to the Living Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Samuel Chadwick said, “I never knew my need of the Holy Spirit until I was flung up against impossible circumstances, and God exposed my utter, absolute bankruptcy. When He did, I cried out to God and was filled.”

You see, our fullness is based on our receptivity, and our receptivity is based on our sense of need. All the fitness God requires is to feel our need of Him.

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.” The promise is to the hungry, to the thirsty.

I saw a cartoon showing two camels out in the desert. One turned to the other and said, “I don’t care what anybody says, I’m thirsty.”

The whole purpose of the preaching of the Gospel is to incite that thirst. As we preach, people begin to say, “Why, I didn’t even know God had that to offer.” And they begin to get excited. Hunger begins to rise within them and they cry out to God for fullness.

One of the great saints of the church, Andrew Bonar said, “To never thirst is to ever thirst. ” Because as I ever thirst, I ever receive. I take. And as I take, He takes me. It’s a continual process of traveling between my weakness and His strength and appropriating Him in a daily walk.

It is wonderful to wake up every morning and to greet every dawn saying, “Lord Jesus, I don’t know what will happen to me today, but I know that whatever happens has to be for the best because my life is ordered of You. And every demand upon me today is a demand on You in me. And I thank you, Lord Jesus, that You have raised me from the dead today. I’m a resurrected personality.”

That’s what happened to you last night—you died. For all practical purposes you were dead, but God has raised you to a new dawn. He says, “I want to send you out into this dawn with a total adequacy, and mastery and victory, of My life in you.”

The only time you and I have any business worrying and fretting and becoming anxious is when we meet a problem that’s bigger than the one God solved when He raised His Son from the dead. If you get into that kind of situation, you should worry! But otherwise, “be ye filled with the Spirit.” The other self of our Risen Lord.

This is not meant to convey to you that we can have a perfect apprehension of God’s will but we can have a perfect disposition to· ward that will. The Lord Jesus wants this morning to send us back into our churches taking out of us the bungling and failure and foibles and putting into us His mastery, His adequacy and His victory. To Him be praise! He is able to “do exceeding abundantly, above all that we ask or think, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.”

[1] Gnostic—A heresy of the first Christian centuries. It taught that knowledge was the way of salvation, and that the spiritual was separate from and superior to the realm of physical reality


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