Saturday, September 20, 2014

Where is the Lord God of Elijah?

And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.
2 Kings 2:14

What a scene that must have been—to have been Elisha, watching the works of Elijah, and seeing the handiwork of God himself interceding on behalf of the faithful in Israel! His cry in taking up the mantle of Elijah has echoed through the halls of history. It is perhaps the most ardent rallying cry of believers, that we should live to see the visible and tangible proof of God in our lives. I think it to be a haunting cry of our day—with our arrogance and pride of the many things we have accomplished—but entirely forgetting that we are the created, and that which we have accomplished, if there be any good in it, ought to be laid at the feet of our creator. Instead, a thoughtful Christian, measuring the “progress” of our culture might shudder in despair over the huge movement away from God. Properly speaking, this cry ought to be the cry of modern Christians everywhere. Where is the Lord God of Elijah?

Elisha smote the waters, and walked over the Jordan on dry land. A large river was no impediment to beginning his own journey with the Lord—the Lord took the opportunity of the impediment to produce his glory, and so Elisha begins a ministry in answer to his prayer. God answered his prayers, giving him a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, and giving him exactly double the miracles of his mentor. What a privilege it must have been to be so blessed of God, and so used as Elisha was! And perhaps there is precisely the problem—we cannot have the ministry of Elijah unless we have the heart of Elisha. It seems to me that the one must precede the other. As Elisha took on the mirror image of his master, and was ready to step into his shoes of ministry, so we ought to be becoming mirror images of our Lord, ready for the great ministries that he beckons us toward. No less than the day of Elisha, we have skepticism everywhere. In the days of his mentor, Elijah, the prophets of the Lord were hidden in two caves by Obadiah, who fed them, and protected them from the very society that sorely needed their witness. True believers in our world often find themselves thrust into figurative caves, even as happened in Elijah’s day, and so we are “hidden” from our society. In America, it is a grand thing that state and church are separated, for that separation makes the church work to establish its own validity, and we must stand or fall by the power of God, but that separation comes with a high cost. Everywhere the Christian turns, he finds the truth of God difficult to announce, since the state trivializes the message of Christ, placing no more emphasis on the message of Christ than on Confucius or Mohammed. The message of the state to Christians thus becomes one that presses us into the insignificance. Messages, the state presses us, must be limited to the churches, and never the general society which is protected under the umbrella of the state. Thus, even the state seems to herd us into those figurative caves, where we are allowed to exist, but never to flourish.

Jesus would have us to be the salt of the earth, and thus we have a problem. How are we to become the faithful Elisha’s of our time, and present the truth that can free so many? So our question has changed from where is the Lord God of Elijah to where is the Elisha who sought the Lord so fervently? Just how might we approach gaining the heart of Elisha?

In a sense, the problem was the same in Elisha’s time, that is, Israel was forced to compete with religions. God had adopted Israel, but Israel had rejected that adoption, choosing instead to develop another state religion, one which all people everywhere were forced to participate in. Baal was the God in vogue then; we have the absence of God, and religion, to be the vogue now, and in the eyes of many, living without acknowledging God in any way is their preferred choice. Our schools, our courts, and even our politicians carefully cloak themselves with political correctness, insisting that no message is better than any other. So, in a very real sense, the challenge to be like an Elisha includes facing a similar problem—how do we reach a nation on the road to Hell?

So, if the job is the same, that we have to reach a lost generation, perhaps we do need to seek the image of Elisha, that we might be more like Elijah. Of course, Elijah is a type of Christ, loosely speaking, and when I say to emulate Elisha, I mean really that we should model ourselves after Christ.
One thing which Christ seemed to do that should challenge us; Christ did not hide in a cave, either literal or figurative, from the hostile society which eventually was to crucify him. Instead he met that society head on and when his disciples asked him not to go back into Judea, for fear of the Jews’ hostility, he would not be dissuaded (John 11:9). He pointedly said that those who would be his disciples should take up their cross and follow him.

Thus we should expect hostility to the message from heaven of peace from God. If they crucified our Lord when he brought the message, what will they do to his servants? Expecting opposition should not slow us though; he also gave us his own Spirit to live within us, telling us that if he did not go away from us, the Comforter would not come to us, but since he was going away this marvelous Comforter did indeed come to us, bringing all kinds of gifts to his saints who love him. Those gifts Paul enumerates as being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control. Those are ours, not for the purpose of hiding in caves, metaphorical or otherwise, but to equip us in carrying the message of Christ to a lost world.

Pray ye the Lord, that he might send this laborers into the harvest. God has commanded us to pray, and he fully intends to send us into the thickest of the fray. Not alone. Not defenseless, but with all of his perfect presence in us, holding us up as stars in the night skies, testifying to men everywhere to turn from their dark deeds to the living light. In a way, our eyes have been opened, as when Elisha prayed for the eyes of his servant to be opened, and the servant suddenly saw all the chariots of fire around him. Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. Even in losing our mortal flesh, yet we win because God is greater than our flesh, and has given us his word that he will raise again our mortal bodies. Nothing. Shall. Separate. Us. From. The. Love. Of. God. Ever.

So let us cry, and let us cry fervently, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” Who knows what His Spirit might use us to do? Where is the Lord God of Elijah?

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Can a Christian live perfectly?

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Matthew 5:48

During the past couple of hundred years, there has been lots of disagreement over this doctrine of perfection. I want you to know that I assumed when I first became a Christian, that because I now knew righteousness, and that in God, that I would be able to thereafter choose righteousness. Never was I more wrong, and I quickly found out, that even with all my best intentions, my efforts at being perfect were so far off so as to be termed absurd. There is no way that I can, even for a moment be righteous in my own power, and I do remember experiencing great frustration at my inability to “make” this new Christian thing work.

I was so enthusiastic about the God who was in me, who I now knew, and was known of Him, that I was sure by trying harder I would be able to show others His righteousness. Of course, it was all rather a muddle, as I had much doctrine to absorb, but the one thing I did quickly learn: my efforts were doomed to failure. Having declared the side that I am on, I do want to make clear that there is a sense in which we are all called to live holy and blamelessly, a sense, though, that was completely in opposition to my efforts. It is this doctrine that I believe John Wesley tried so poorly to get at, and yet, was so richly ensampled in his lifestyle. I have read quotes at one time and another attributed to both George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon, that remark on John Wesley’s place in heaven being so much closer to Christ than you and I that we might see him just as a distant speck. He truly lived a remarkable Christian life, and one that ought to be a model for us who desire a close walk with Christ.

John Wesley is rightly conceived of as the one who introduced the doctrine of personal perfection. Yet, he did not go as far as some accuse him, and held to the idea that the Christian was to be pressing toward perfection all of his life, by living and walking in the very power of God. “He did not contend for "sinless perfection"; rather, he contended that a Christian could be made "perfect in love". . . . This love would mean, first of all, that a believer's motives, rather than being self-centred, would be guided by the deep desire to please God. One would be able to keep from committing what Wesley called, "sin rightly so-called." By this he meant a conscious or intentional breach of God's will or laws. A person could still be able to sin, but intentional or wilful sin could be avoided.”1

I do not wish to be dragged into an explanation of Wesley’s belief; rather I do want to talk about this idea of perfection. That it seems to be an oft repeated command in scripture is fairly obvious, and I shall repeat a few of the passages here. The most famous is the one quoted at the top of the page, but it does not stand alone. Peter admonishes us, “Be ye holy in all that you do” (1 Peter 1:16 NIV). And again, Peter says, “Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:14 NIV). Paul tells us that we should “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky” (Phil. 2:14, 15 NIV). There are countless more passages, and the idea of holiness and living a blameless life is presented again and again.

John the apostle actually presents us with what I call the other side of the coin. He does say, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:6). Thus he urges us to walk circumspectly, “ But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1:7). But then John states, “ If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1:8). So we are to walk in righteousness, to be blameless and holy but we are never to suggest that we do not sin. Fortunately, John also gives us the prescription for forgiveness. He says, “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). Confession is thus revealed to be the path to holy living. But not all of the path.

And this is where error might creep in. Wesley, when asked if he was that perfect man of whom he presented in his sermons, vehemently denied that he ever considered himself perfect. When asked if he could provide an example of a perfect man, Wesley, by his own account, could not provide even one name. Whatever he believed then, seems more as an ideal than an actual fact. But those in history who came after him went much further than Wesley in developing an errant doctrine of holiness. “Another folly may be identified in the rationalistic notion that the Adamic nature may be eradicated through some so-called second work of grace.”2 There is no evidence of a second work of grace—the first work of grace is, and should be, forever sufficient for every saint of God.

Perhaps it is best to remember the writing of Paul in Romans. In the seventh chapter, he exclaims, oh wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death. For, he tells us, that which he would do, he cannot, and that which he would not do, the very same thing he finds himself doing. In another passage, he famously tells us that he is the chief of sinners. Romans seven is written to tell us of the absolute uselessness of living lives in our power. We cannot be as we ought.

But thank God for the next chapter, Romans eight! In Romans eight, through the power of the spirit we are told of victory upon victory in living and becoming Christlike. So then, living toward perfection is a Biblical doctrine, but we must never forget that we are sinful, capable of errant wandering even when we think that we are right. Confession and humility must mark our walk with God, and being filled with his Spirit ought to be our daily compulsion. It is altogether good and right that we should expect to see older and practiced saints doing a better job of being Christlike, for they have had a whole lifetime of practice. But the holy walk that we are called to begins the day that we have been called to follow Christ; the Christian is assumed to be walking and becoming more Christlike all of his life.

1. John Wesley. (n.d.). Retrieved September 7, 2014, from
2. Chafer, L. (1993). The Transmitted Sin Nature. In Systematic theology, vols 1 & 2 (Vol. 2, p. P. 284). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.