“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6)
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.” (Gal 6:15)
When we preach Christ, we preach the new creation. When we receive Him, it is the New Creation that we step into. Jesus is King of the New Creation: in His Kingdom, all things are made new. On his first missionary journey, Paul had preached the gospel to the Galatians, and now the “Judaizers” were trying to lead them away from the Life of the Spirit and back under the law. This was the first of Paul’s epistles, and his message rings clear: the life that is ours in Christ comes by the Spirit, and not by the law. Paul stresses that there is just one characteristic, ‘the only thing that avails,’ in the New Creation, and that is faith working through love. This is the hallmark of their new life in Christ. “Faith working through love” is the very DNA of the Kingdom of God.
In the shortest parable that He gave, Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” (Matt 13:33) In the Kingdom of God, the New Man is charged with the same command as was the first Adam: “Go forth and multiply.” We are instructed to go into all the world and make disciples, multiplying this Kingdom that we are part of, as disciples make disciples and pass on the DNA of the new creation until, like the stone that destroys the kingdoms of the world, it becomes “a great mountain and filled the whole Earth” (Daniel 2: 35). The Kingdom of God is like yeast, because yeast multiplies. The yeast that multiplies – this DNA of the Kingdom – is faith working through love.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) The book where I think we can see the Word of God dividing between soul and spirit more than anywhere else in the New Testament is the letter of James, the brother of Jesus and one of the “pillars” of the Jerusalem church. James “divides” heavenly and earthly wisdom, wealth and poverty, trials and perseverance, sensual and spiritual prayer requests, empty faith and fruitful faith, the untamed tongue and “perfect” speech, pride and humility, judgement and grace. He lays out clearly the blueprint of the Kingdom of God, where faith flourishes in the context of a loving, Christ-centred lifestyle, and he succinctly wraps it up in a single verse: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5:16) The “works” of faith that are central to James’s message (James 2:18) are both the supernatural results of Elijah-style prayer that this verse refers to, and the grace-filled lifestyle of the “righteous man” who prays them – faith at work in a setting of love.
James makes it clear that a fruitful Christian life requires full commitment to the Kingdom of God, because a “double-minded man” is “unstable in all his ways” and will “receive nothing from the Lord.” (James 1:8). His epistle progresses from portraying various characteristics of the “carnal Christian” whose faith is fruitless, to the picture of Elijah, who “was a man with a nature like ours” and whose faith both stopped and started the rain. In the new creation, where faith works through love, the prayer of faith raises up the sick person, the hungry are fed, and the needs of “widows and orphans” are met. Elijah is praying in faith, and people are being loved.
The goal of discipleship, as expressed by Paul to Timothy, is “that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” This is a recurring theme in the New Testament, revisited from different angles. Paul prays that the Ephesians will be “filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:19). James exhorts his readers to “let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:4) Paul prays that the Corinthians “may be made complete” (2 Cor 13:9), and his final exhortation to them is, again, “Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete…” (2 Cor 13:11) He tells the Colossians that “Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” (Col 4:12) The writer to the Hebrews prays that his readers “may be made complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. ”
Finally, Jesus tells us “therefore be perfect, just as your father in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Throughout the epistles, the Holy Spirit takes these words of Jesus and makes them known to us (John 16:14) so that we can see the goal of His discipleship programme. If the Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven, then faith working through love should be multiplying “perfect”, “complete” believers in our churches, as double-minded, carnal, babes in Christ learn to “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:24)
This is the trajectory of discipleship: the babe in Christ who walks after the flesh becomes complete, like Elijah, and walks after the Spirit, as the DNA of the Kingdom multiplies in his or her heart. It is the bottom line of what it means to make disciples. It is what God will be seeking to restore in the church when He pours our His Spirit in the coming revival. He has been seeking it since Pentecost.
Paul said to Timothy: “Those things you heard from me, commit to faithful men who are able to teach others also.” (2 Tim 2:2.) In one verse, we see the leaven of the Kingdom multiplying three times: from Paul to Timothy; from Timothy to “faithful men,” and from those faithful men to “others also.” I see three questions arising out of this scripture:
- Are we training up “Timothys?”
- If we are, are they hearing from us the same things as Timothy heard from Paul?
- Does our church model promote multiplication of that leaven as far as the “others also,” who will in turn eventually be reaching Timothys of their own?
The new wine is coming, so that as we drink of it the double-minded babe can become, like Timothy, the complete Elijah. He has poured it out many times before, and every time it has stayed around for a little while, then the wineskin has broken and the wine has drained away. If the next revival is going to be different, it won’t be the wine that has changed; it will be because the wineskins don’t break.
We’ve all had a chance over the last year to inspect our wineskins. Have we got the new ones ready? Or are we going to ask God, yet again, to pour the new wine into our old wineskins? Because we know what will happen if we do.