The good news for everyone is that God has overcome evil, and has defeated sin and death at the cross. At Calvary, the Lamb was slain for the world and took upon Himself all of our iniquities–“But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.” Hebrews 9:26-28 (ESV).
The promises that find their yes in Christ Jesus are received when we utter our Amen to God, through Christ, for His glory. God has said Yes to all the good things we could ask Him for–which is Himself; He is the greatest gift that can be given, and the promise that has been kept. The Living God has removed every single barrier for us to access Him, and His arms are wide open to us, saying, “Come to Me, and I will show you what life really means.” Because Jesus is alive and has overcome sin and death, God’s great transaction of grace for our shame is available to all. Christ made Himself the sacrificial Lamb so that we could become the conquering Lion.
Sanctified to be Bold
Yet, at the same time, what is our authority worth if Christ is not in it? “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” Proverbs 28:1 (ESV). Lions in the wild are carnal beasts that seek nothing but the satisfaction of their appetites and domination of territory. Only with God can this Proverb be walked out in truth. Are we to be bold as lions while also walking in the likeness of their carnality? It is written that the righteous are as bold as a lion; the first requirement to being bold in the Kingdom of God is being righteous. If one is not righteous, yet is walking as bold as a lion, what is the foundation of their confidence? A person without righteousness trying to fulfill the Proverb will not only mimic the lion in its boldness, but will also partake of the wild lion's nature: a desire to satisfy their appetite and dominion of territory. Without the humble persevering of dying to the cross, boldness can easily lead to the idolatry of self.
Who is the Lion seated on the throne? Is there not but One in the end? “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” Revelation 5:5 (ESV). If I am walking boldly out of a desire only to witness miracles, displays of power, gifts, and changed minds, but do not have love, what profit do such things have, and what glory am I giving to God? God uses even our sin for His purpose–what makes us think that just because we acknowledge God’s ability to work through us that we are fulfilling the desire of His heart? Are not even the demons of the world being used by God to fulfill His purpose, and are subject to His sovereign plan? The demon trembles because he knows his fate, but the rebellious lion puts himself at risk of the same judgment. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’” Matthew 7:21-23 (BSB).
What is the fruit that I bear? Can the question be asked enough? If I speak in the tongues of angels or walk in all the authority of heaven, if I witness countless miracles or cast out innumerable demons, but do not have love, then, truly, my sonship is not of God. Our mortal portion in Christ is to die and nothing else. What can my flesh add to the glory of God? If I boast in anything that I bring to Christ’s dining table, am I not attempting to move eyes away from the Almighty? Christ commands us to honor one another above ourselves–with all that is in me, Amen! But if I seek to honor others so that I may be honored, I am simply glorying in my flesh. How can one’s sole portion be to die in Christ and yet overflow with joy at the success and triumph of the Body? As I am removed, I gain Christ. God is love, and His Spirit that dwells in believers leads us into all truth, and His truth builds up and edifies the Church. God’s Spirit within us has one purpose: deepen our love for God while also building love with one another.
The Firm Foundation
By our fruits we will be identified, but also by the foundations that we lay. No other foundation can be laid except for that which is Christ Jesus, and the fruit of one’s words will bear witness of itself–are my words of the Spirit, or of the flesh? If I speak from myself and seek to boast in anything of the flesh, I reap a worldly reward. It is written, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10 (ESV). To not seek honor from man and yet outdo one another in showing honor–this path can only be traversed through the denial of self and the carrying of our cross. Jesus is the path of humility and perseverance, and He does His work within the heart. Does not the fruit simply reflect the inner working of the Holy Spirit?
If one does not have fruit or lacks thereof, then the perfect work of perseverance is not being fully realized because faith is not being tested. We know that faith always entails testing: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” and, “For the desire of the flesh is against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV; Galatians 5:17 NASB). If the testing of one’s faith is not growing fruit, then truth is being neglected or is non-existent within such faith. The fruits of the Spirit are a law unto themselves, as it is written, “against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:23 ESV). There is no place in the Bible or parable of Christ that speaks against the fruit of the Spirit. Why is that not the case with gifts, authority, and miracles? It is because the latter leaves room for the flesh and can be seen by the world, but the former is a treasure seen only through the eyes of Christ. Where the eyes of the world can see, the opportunity for distortion lurks nearby.
The Sign of Jonah
What is not being said is that miracles and giftings shouldn’t be something we desire–we are told by Scripture to contend and seek after such things, and cherish them as gifts from God to be honored and valued. It is written that the church overcame satan by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony (Revelation 12:11). Our testimonies are our lives woven into the fabric of God’s story and are most certainly something God wants us to share. But, God wants us to share our witness for His glory. Thus, the Blood of Christ comes first and then the word of our testimony. It is Christ who gives the testimony, and it is He who must remain at the forefront. Every member of the Body is like a facet upon the same diamond, all centered on the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection, but reflecting His light in their own God-ordained way.
Nonetheless, what is being said is that signs, wonders, miracles, and giftings are not the foundation of our faith. We cannot seek every good gift without first seeking the One from whom all good gifts come. One can witness a miracle with their own eyes and still be far from Christ, but to bear fruit requires a heart change that only God can bring. Jesus fed the five thousand, and yet, when His words no longer served the selfish interests of the people, the same passage says that “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” (John 6:66 ESV). The sanctification of the Holy Spirit is the evidence of Christ within us, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:13-14 BSB). Those who abide in Christ have freely chosen to become slaves of God, and, “the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22 ESV).
The Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ time sought after signs and wonders, and Christ told them, “‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’” (Matthew 16:4 ESV). The only sign that our faith should be founded on is Christ’s death and resurrection. If we detach ourselves from that anchor of the soul or seek a foundation upon anything else, then we have departed from the truth and are not walking by faith. Are such things helpful? Yes; it can strengthen one’s faith to see powerful moves of God. But, if we require such things from God to continue our walk of perseverance, then we have made an idol out of creation and turned God into a liar. First and foremost, people of the Way walk by faith, and if God chose to never show us another sign or wonder outside of the cross, then our relationship with Him should remain unhindered.
The King Made Slave
Yet, this is the good news: where Christ is, so are God’s blessings. Since we who believe in Christ are dead, it is no longer our life that is living. We have put on the Lord Jesus and His righteousness, and are therefore walking by faith under His provision and not our own. Because it is no longer our life within us, we are continually being transformed into the likeness of Christ, and therefore, the way in which He walked. Thus, the call of the cross is not boldly walking where and how we desire unbridledly, but emptying ourselves and submitting to God in holy obedience. We see Christ’s example clearly: “who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8 NASB). Jesus, one of the three Persons of the invincible and holy triune God, emptied Himself and took on the form of a slave. God humbled Himself despite having full and perfect justification to do otherwise. The imperative is clear: follow Christ just as He follows the Father; in doing so, one’s walk will naturally encompass boldness and power, while also maintaining the foundation of humility and obedience that God seeks.
The sacrifice of the Lamb of God at the cross, and His resurrection overcoming sin and death, has purchased us a destiny and a life hidden within Christ for those who believe, establishing for us a holy and glorious inheritance as co-heirs with Him. God has done everything He can to return us to Himself and empower us to rule creation with Him–a very present promise, but also a greater one that we wait for. Nonetheless, we see how the authority of God is to be administered by Christ’s example, and it involves stepping down from our thrones. I know my authority in Christ and the gift He has given me, but why remain on the throne when I can sit at His feet? Christ–the Word made flesh, by whom, for whom, and through whom all things were made–did not count His equality with God as something to be taken advantage of. If God Himself, who holds all authority, humbled Himself to such a degree, then, truly, there is more humility to be had in me by God’s careful tending than what is currently present.
Nothing But the Blood
But, does the fruit of humility grow out of one’s authority in Christ, or their relationship of love with Him? Is it in the authority itself that I now have in Christ that I take comfort or refuge? Did not Christ say, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20 ESV). Do not rejoice over the power that is witnessed through the eyes of the flesh, but rejoice in the inner upward gaze of heaven, from which all good gifts flow–that we are loved as children of God. This is why it is written, “Look at the proud one; his soul is not upright—but the righteous will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV). When our focus is centered upon the world and the things of the world, we walk according to the flesh, but when our focus remains on Christ and Him crucified, we walk according to the Spirit. To know the path of Christ as the way of salvation is faith, but each step taken can only be made through perseverance and weakness.
If I glory in the authority given to me by Christ but fail to pay homage to the King, what glory have I given to God? Have I not just elevated myself to a platform equivalent to Christ, forsaking the reverence and exaltation that His sacrifice is due? In doing so, I receive a worldly reward, because God does not honor the deeds we do before men, but honors what is done within the secret place, that is, the heart of faith. This, then, gives us the imperative that Paul addresses, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:2 ESV). I can boast in nothing but the Blood of Christ. Therefore, a Christian’s walk is the active, vigilant, and persistent mission of destroying pride, which is achieved through a persevering faith that answers “yes” to God’s constant desire to provide us with His strength.
The Upward Call
People of the Way then rejoice at Christ’s upward call, which looks at everything in life as an opportunity to meet with God and share in heaven’s resources. Receive James and Paul’s words with all the more gladness: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you encounter trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 BSB); “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV).
Paul is directly interweaving hope–a product of sanctification by the Holy Spirit–with suffering. If we are being tested in all things, then we are being sanctified in all things, and thereby growing the fruit of hope in all things; may God open our eyes to the work of His hand. The way God uses suffering for His glory produces hope within us and is ultimately an illustration that points to Jesus. The picture of Christ and Him crucified is God making His home in us; perfection entering imperfection; peace entering unrest; life entering death. But, we are not put to shame, because our sanctification reaffirms what the cross of Christ has already established in our hearts through faith: Jesus is alive. Our labors in Christ, therefore, are not in vain, but rather, are producing treasures in heaven that would put to shame even the greatest of diamonds and make them look utterly worthless in comparison.
Our Living Hope
Because of Christ who dwells within us, we can walk as boldly as a lion, for it is the Lion of Judah who carries us. Jehovah Shalom; God Himself is our peace, and the joy of the Lord is our strength (Judges 6:24; Nehemiah 8:10). And this strength is not of the world, which seeks worldly dominion and fleshly glory, but is a conquest won by Blood and reaped through the steady hum of time. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11 ESV).
The Christian walk is a cross-bearing, trench-climbing, barbed-wire-ridden, fiery-dart-blocking, armor-bearing, flesh-crucifying, dirt-tilling, root-pulling, stronghold-crushing, dust-eating, war march of utter victory, and those who dare to embark on it find life, and life abundantly. I have required all grace, therefore I know my assignment is extending the same. Help us, O God, love others as You have loved us! Who can know the depths of Your mercy, and the breadth of Your thoughts toward us? My mind shrinks back–I place my hand over my mouth; who can compare to You, O God, and the method of Your ways? How my soul longs for the day of revealing, when unknowing becomes knowing; darkness becomes light; vapor enters eternity. God is Immanuel, and He has given us His heart, mind, and Spirit through Christ–yet, despite having access to all truth, there is no end to the holy labyrinth that is God! Nonetheless, for those who abide in Christ, the Lion is your identity; but, at the same time, so too is the Lamb–may we pursue both in Spirit and in truth, and in accordance with God’s word.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14 (BSB).
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him.” 1 Peter 1:6-8 (ESV).