The kinds of Christians that exist in the world occupy two camps: carnal, and spiritual. I will venture to say that we would all be surprised to find that neither could be found where we would probably think, and doing the things we probably guess. If mind and emotion can not fathom the things of God, then it would not be a stretch to say that God’s communication with us is not what we probably imagine. If we cannot communicate with God we can be sure that we are not experiencing the power of God. It is my contention that almost all of what is called “Christian” is the carnality of men trying to trick their minds into believing that they have experienced God, when it was nothing more than entertaining the spirits of this world. If we are able, T. Austin Sparks has some useful insights that may put us on the right path, in pursuit of Christ, the Power of God.
by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Matthew 27:38-50,54.
“But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:24).
“For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
In this message we will be considering two phrases from these passages: “Christ the power of God” and “Jesus Christ and Him crucified”. These two phrases are closely linked together and the latter is to a great extent an explanation of the first.
Two Kinds of Christians
There are two kinds of Christian life which seem to me to very largely divide the Lord’s people into two kinds of Christians. One, perhaps the more common, is that of an almost continuous struggle to live up to something which has been objectively presented, objectively seen. It is Christianity as a system, as a kind of life, as composed of a great many rules, laws and regulations. It comprises things which ought to be, and ought not to be: something as apart from the individual, called The Christian Life. The individual has seen that, had that presented to him and in a way apprehended it, and then from that time there has commenced and developed a great effort, endeavour, and struggle to live up to it; to carry it out objectively. It is Christian endeavour: it is a striving, a putting forth of effort to attain unto a conceived level of life which would be the Christian life. Very largely it is a matter of conscience; very largely, therefore, it is a matter of fear, and therefore it is not always a matter of joy. It is a strenuous business, fraught with much disappointment and much failure. It is rather an existence than a life, characterised by up and down experiences. There may be from time to time a sense of having succeeded, and feeling very pleased and very happy, very joyful, very glad, but then by all the strange changes of our soul-life we do not always feel like that. Feelings change, conditions change, there are failures, there are collapses, there are mistakes, and we come down, and come down badly. Then a fresh effort has to be put forth to get up and to go on a bit more.
That kind of Christian life is a somewhat burdensome one; and we find so many of the Lord’s children in that realm, just longing to know something about real victory, something about real overcoming, something about the abiding joy of the Lord, deliverance from the strenuousness of being Christians. Do you understand what I mean? It is the experience of a very great many. The struggle life, the up and down life, and for the most part, the sense that this Christian life which is presented in the New Testament is something different from that which is experienced by these children of God, and either they have misapprehended the whole thing, or else the thing does not really work. And the enemy is never slow to pounce upon such and harass them and tell them Christianity is not a success, the Christian life is not what it is presented to be.
Well, that is one kind; we are all too familiar with it. It is the Christian life which is according to something objectively presented and accepted. But there is another kind and that is, the entering into something already completed in Christ. Not something to be attained unto, but something already accomplished; not something at all to be lived up to, but Someone to be lived with. The vast difference between those two things in the outworking can hardly be measured. It is “Christ, the power of God”. Now when we have said that, we have opened the way to see just what the Lord Jesus is, and we can never get outside of that and we never want to. But it is very important that we should see exactly what that means.
The Peril in “Advanced Teaching”
Now there is no such thing as teaching which is an advanced system as such. Teaching is not departmental or sectional. What I mean is this. You hear of people talking about truth which has to do with the “more advanced stages of Christian life”, as though it were something in a watertight compartment by itself, sectionalised. You can accept it or you can leave it; “that line of things”, that particular teaching, regarded as something extra, something different, something that is more than the normal Christian life, something by itself. You take it or you reject it, and it does not matter very much. If you are going to live the “higher life” then you must have the “higher teaching”. If you are not going in for that sort of thing well you must remain, as you say, “simple Christians” and believers and abide by the simplicities of the Gospel of Christ. It does not matter very much. It is just a matter of your interest in teaching and in truth. Now I want very emphatically to undermine and undercut all such notions, because there is no such thing as “advanced teaching” as a separate system. It does not matter with what you deal in the New Testament, you will never find it as a thing by itself, departmentalised, sectionalised, in a watertight compartment, to be taken or left at your own will. Never can you come to the New Testament in that way!
We have spoken much of the “Overcomer” for instance. The Overcomer of the book of the Revelation and the Overcomer company coming at length to the throne. Now it is quite easy to begin to take that as advanced teaching, as something which is for certain people and not for others. That is for some who care to pursue it. It is not for all, and it is quite optional after all whether you do pursue it. Now what is the Overcomer individually, and collectively? The Overcomer of the book of the Revelation is only the ripe and full product of the work of Christ in His cross; it is only Christ in His fuller manifestation and expression. The Overcomer is still a matter of Christ the power of God. Just exactly as in salvation at its commencement, so in full triumph at its consummation. The most advanced point is vitally connected with the most elementary point. We are constantly brought back from the ultimate to the initial in the Word of God. You get to Revelation and you get to the throne, and you get to the triumphant Overcomer company, but even there you are immediately linked with the blood of the Lamb, and the Lamb slain, and that is initial and fundamental, basic. The two things, the end and the beginning are brought together, they are not separated, and you cannot take “Overcomer” teaching and departmentalise it and make a system of it and say that it is an advanced teaching for certain believers. No, beloved, it is the normal outcome of your initial faith in Christ. It is to be what God intended Calvary to be for every believer. It is simply the realisation of God’s thought in forgiving us our sins right at the beginning. It is only the development, the normal development according to God’s mind, of the elementary things of our salvation, and there is a very great peril in becoming taken up with, and fascinated by, advanced teaching, as though it were something in itself. A very great peril, for this reason, that very often that fascination causes an overlooking of the steps of advance. It is something out there, objectively, and people get into it with their heads mentally and take it up and are fascinated by it, and are always talking about it. However, they have not advanced progressively into it in experience and spiritual development. There is a failure to recognise that you cannot get anywhere by definite steps of spiritual advance. Those steps are always in relation to the Cross of Christ, for there is not one step forward in the spiritual life which is not first a step backward.
What I mean is this, that there has to be some undoing before there can be some updoing. There has got to be some application of the Cross in some fuller way before we can go one step further. All advance into the fuller things is by reason of the Cross being progressively applied and wrought to release us from that which holds us back; that in the flesh which holds us back from that which is in the Spirit. So then we cannot come to anything by a mental process. There is that peril of fascination with advanced things which overlooks the steps of advance to the higher, or deeper things of the Lord. That is the peril, and we can never reach the highest, or the ultimate, unless the beginnings are properly wrought in us, and in this sense we never do depart from the beginnings. It is a point which has often been noted, but which we do well never to forget, that when Israel went over the Jordan, (a type of the Lord’s people coming through identification union with Christ in death and burial and resurrection, and coming on to Ephesian and Colossian ground, that is, the heavenlies) the base of all their operations from that moment was Gilgal. They never went out to battle, to an undertaking, to possess any fresh territory, except after returning to their base immediately after, and moving back from their base again for the next bit of conquest. Gilgal is the place of the Cross, the cutting away, the circumcision of the flesh, and every bit of advance into new spiritual territory, apprehension, inheritance, is on the ground of coming back to a recognition of that fact. That is, we never move from our base finally. The beginnings of our faith, the first ground, which is the Cross of our Lord Jesus, governs every bit of progress. Therefore when you get to the end, the consummation, and the Overcomer company in the throne, and the great cry from heaven, “Rejoice O heavens”, the end of God realised in that company, it is still in relation to the blood of the Lamb, still in relation to the Lamb slain. Never have you got away from that, not for an instant.
Not “Teaching”, But a Person
Now then, that being true we must recognise that everything is bound up with the Person and must never be regarded as just truth. That is the thing. We must never look at things as truth, doctrine or teaching as such. Everything is bound up with the Person. It is Christ the power of God. It is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The Person, though in the glory, though exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high, though having ascended far above all principality and power, though now in the power of His mighty resurrection, the Person is still Christ as crucified. And beloved, you and I will advance spiritually just in the measure in which that is a practical reality in our hearts, in our lives, every day that we live. It is still a Person and the Person is still Christ crucified, in all the virtue of that. That has yet to be more fully explained, of course. The Person is Christ crucified, that is Christ in relation to His Cross. Now what is the Gospel then? Well, Paul tells us what the Gospel was, and is, so far as he was concerned. You look over the Galatian letter, chapter one, verse eleven. “For I make known to you brethren as touching the Gospel which was preached by me” — now you notice what he is saying — “As touching the Gospel which was preached by me, I make known to you brethren, that it is not after man, for neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11,12). Verses 15 and 16: “When it was the good pleasure of God to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.” You see the two things, the one note. “The Gospel which was preached by me was by revelation of Jesus Christ.” “It was the good pleasure of God to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him.”
What is the Gospel?
What is the Gospel? The Gospel is Christ crucified, as revealed in the heart. The Gospel is not only attesting objective facts, even the fact of Christ crucified, but what constitutes the Gospel is that, that which was true in the Lord Jesus, has been revealed by God in the heart. We are not constituted Gospel preachers because we have read somewhere that Christ was crucified, raised from the dead and ascended, and all those historic facts, but because God has revealed in us, not facts but a Person in relation to the facts, and the facts in relation to the Person. There has come to our hearts by revelation of the Spirit of God Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and that has constituted us preachers; that has constituted the Gospel. There is no Gospel apart from that. Now you see how that brings us back to our initial position. It means this, that a struggling to reach, to attain, unto something conceived as Christianity, is a failure to see Christ. Christ has not been seen, He has not been revealed. Immediately the Holy Spirit reveals the Lord Jesus in us, we have come into the place where the work is done, and what we are doing now is to live out from a perfected position, instead of striving to reach a perfected position.
I will explain this. What happens is that the Holy Spirit brings Christ in His completed work into our hearts, and then proceeds to conform us to Him as we co-operate and go on. Do we realise that if Christ is in us, He is not an imperfect Christ? He is not only the Christ Who has dealt with our sins. He has covered the whole ground of our perfection in the work of His Cross. When the Lord Jesus wrought His Calvary work, beloved, He not only dealt with the matter of forgiveness or remission of sins, so that when we come to the Cross that is all we get. The Lord Jesus went right on by His Cross, right on to the perfection of redemption until He reached the throne of the absolute Overcomer. He swept the whole ground, everything and anything that ever believers will encounter in the course of their Christian experience as an obstruction, resistance, difficulty, as a temptation, as something intended and calculated to hinder them reaching God’s end. He met it all. There is no experience that can ever come to you or to me in the course of our Christian life which creates difficulty in our reaching God’s end, except that which Christ has already met. In Him, the Person, from the remission of sins to the absolute victory over the dragon and all his hosts. In Him, the Person, the whole ground is covered, is finished, is completed. It is not something we have to struggle on to, it is done. Now the Holy Spirit brings that Christ into our hearts with all that He contains in His Person by reason of His Cross. Then, being brought into vital union with Christ indwelling the next thing is the Holy Spirit proceeds, as we let Him, co-operate with Him, as we consent and as we go on, to conform us to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and to bring us into the fulness of Christ. Therefore overcoming is not something to be struggled unto, it is something to be wrought in us as we consent to the work of the Cross. You see the difference. Oh, such a difference! “Christ in you the hope of glory”, and some people seem to think that their struggle is the hope of glory. It works out as the despair of glory. They have soon come to discover that there is not much hope of glory left along that line! So then the Christian life, according to God’s thought, is Christ having His way in us and us going on in living fellowship with Him. There are enough tests in that because it is there that Christ and Him crucified is applied.
Now we are going to see what that means. Going on with the Lord is the application of Christ crucified. It is the daily “bearing about the dying of the Lord Jesus that the life also of Jesus may be manifest.” The dying of the Lord Jesus; and one very important aspect of the dying of the Lord Jesus was a dying to everything but the will of God. He took up that dying at Jordan, when the tempter came and tried to get Him to act in His own spiritual interests, in the interests of His great life-work, to act out of harmony with the will of God. He died every time to everything but the will of God. That is Christ crucified and that is the dying of the Lord Jesus. There is enough room you see, in going on with the Lord for testing, for trying, and that is what makes the thing so real. It is progress by death. It is life out of death. It is gain out of loss. But blessed be God — and we must keep our eyes on this — Christ is there with the whole fulness, as it were, in His hand, and as we go on “of His fulness we receive, grace upon grace”. So what we have first of all to see is the meaning of Christ’s death. I feel the Lord wants us to see at this time perhaps more than we have ever seen, with spiritual eyes, not mental eyes. Please do not say, Oh we know all about that, we have heard so much about that. You have not heard more about it than I have, at least I do not think you have, and yet if there is one thing that is more real to me today than ever, it is the conscious need of knowing more of the meaning of the death of Christ. Oh, may the Lord open that to us in these days. Just hints of what is in the death of Christ are sufficient to make us desire to look into this thing afresh. There is something in the death of Christ that you and I have never seen, and my heart is just reaching out to get that at which the Lord has hinted.
Finally I want to remind you that the Holy Spirit has been charged with, and has accepted the full responsibility for all this. That is, His work is to reveal Christ in us and to produce Christ in us. Now that, on the one hand, is a blessed thing for our hearts. If that is not done, the Holy Spirit’s work is not done. And the only reason why it will not be done is found in our own attitude towards Christ. The Holy Spirit will never fail in Himself because He cannot in Himself do the thing for lack of resource, lack of power, lack of ability, lack of patience and persistence, and all that is needed to do this. He will never fail on His own side. If He fails the cause of the failure will be with us, because we do not let Him, we do not co-operate. But we may rest assured that if the Lord, the Spirit, has His way He will make every one of us overcomers, and not just a little select company, sitting in the throne. That is for you, simplest believer in the Lord Jesus, you who delight and glory in the great initial fact that you are saved from sin and hell and judgment. The Lord in that saving of you has bound up His throne, if you will let Him work it out. Of course, while this fact of the Holy Spirit’s mission and work is a great and blessed thing to bank upon, it is a test also on the other hand. It is a test as to whether the Holy Spirit is having His way. It may be a test as to whether we have received the Holy Spirit. At least it is a test for believers as to whether He is having His way.
That is, are you living the up and down life, the struggle life? There is something all wrong with that. That is not the life of the Holy Spirit. That is not the life of the indwelling reigning Lord Jesus. So we must recognise this, that power in relation to the Holy Spirit is not some thing to be sought, to be had as an abstract force. It is related to the Person of Christ, especially in connection with His Cross. When we speak about the Holy Spirit we usually get ideas of power, and when we are talking about power we usually think of the Holy Spirit. But so often in effect the thought of the Holy Spirit is without the article, it is “Holy Spirit” in a kind of power, element, force, some thing that comes and takes you up and does extraordinary things and effects certain issues. It is the working just of an element, a mighty element. That is foreign to the New Testament. Power in connection with the Holy Spirit is inseparably bound up with the Person of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and the Holy Spirit working as power only does so by revealing Christ and Him crucified. That has always been so, in New Testament times and ever since. The power of the Holy Spirit was manifested in the revelation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, so that Christ was the power of God, and is the power of God. What we need to see is the need for the Holy Spirit to make each part of Christ crucified, real in us. And that must be daily. Each part, that is how I put it to simplify it. There are many parts of Christ crucified. There is the death of course, there is the resurrection, there is the exaltation; and the Holy Spirit has got to make the spiritual meaning of each one of these parts of Christ crucified real in us. But we have to recognise the need for the Holy Spirit to do it. We have to come to the place where we count on the Holy Spirit to do it, where we definitely have an understanding with the Holy Spirit. Now it is understood that He makes all the meaning of Christ’s death real in me, and all that is implied and involved in Christ’s resurrection and ascension, real in me.
And so now the way is open for us to go forward to see something more of what is in the death of Christ, in the resurrection of Christ, in the exaltation, in the enthronement. But these are only different parts of the one Person and one work, Christ and His Cross. Beloved, I want this thing to be gathered up in one practical word that you can grasp, and I want to say this as the closing sentence. Everything for a life of fulness, of victory is bound up with the fact that this Christ Who has accomplished and perfected all, is in our hearts and is having His full way and full sway in our hearts. That is very different from struggling to live the Christian life. It is the Christian life being lived by Christ, through the Spirit, in us as we obey, comply, co-operate, actively and not merely passively.