“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” [Ephesians 2:1-2 NIV]
I have been, for some time, thinking about the notion of two kingdoms, and what it might actually mean. It is there everywhere you look (when you are looking for it), in the pages of the Tanakh (the Old Testament). It is there in the parables of Y’shua (Jesus) when He speaks of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew chapter 13.
But, it appears as one of those subjects to which we speak little of. Perhaps it is a lack of understanding to which Y’shua and the scribes of the Tanakh were all pointing to? Or, which appears to me to be more likely, perhaps it is because, like the Hebrews of the 1st century AD, we look through the eyes of the world, and not through the eyes of God, who is spirit.
Let me explain what I am talking more clearly. The text above is from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, whom Paul describes as ‘the faithful in Christ Jesus‘ (Ephesians 1:1b).
He tells them that before they had become believers in Christ, they were dead in the sins that they had no control of, and the transgressions – the deliberate acts of disobedience towards God, that they did have control of. This means that the consequences of both were continued spiritual death. He tells them that it was like that because they were part of a kingdom other than God’s. They simply didn’t know any better. They just did what came naturally. Paul continues by saying that the spirit who runs this other kingdom, is still controlling and influencing those who don’t follow God’s law, or Torah.
It is worth noting that whilst the NIV uses the phrase ‘those who are disobedient‘, many earlier translations adopt a different phrase – ‘the sons (or children) of disobedience‘. Now, whilst this goes some way to describe those still caught in the ways of the world, I suspect the translation has been a little misinterpreted. Here’s why:
The word in the Greek that is rendered as either disobedient or disobedience, is apeitheia. According to Strong’s apeitheia should have more accurately been rendered as disbelief or unbelief. And just looking at the word, it is easy to figure that we get the word apathy from the same source. Apathy, you will know, describes a lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. You often hear phrases like ‘voter apathy‘ around the time of elections, which describe people’s lack of interest in voting, often because they have little or no faith in the system. This too happens to the people of God. We can, if we allow ourselves, become disinterested in the message and stop believing in the power of that message. This isn’t a new phenomena – it has been going on since Moses led the Hebrews out of the captivity of Egyptian rule and into the desert, where they stop believing in God’s promises. This isn’t a symptom of the modern church’s sickness. This is simply summed up in a single word – unbelief. And it was a single word, apeitheia, that God used to show me something so wonderfully simple that I almost missed it.
I have spent a great deal of time seeking God. I mean, people often say that they are seeking God, but rarely do. I should know; I used to do that all of the time – usually in a vain attempt to convince people that I was more spiritual than I really was. But, for the past couple of years or so I have purposed to be like the proverbial dog with the proverbial bone. I wouldn’t let go until I started to get some answers. One of the things that worried me the most was about hearing God. I was aware just how subtle my own imagination was; I could be seeking God about something and my mind could throw up a passage of scripture that suited the answer I was looking for. However, I have learnt to be very, very cautious. I have been training myself to recognise when God actually speaks through His Holy Spirit (or Ruach HaKodesh to give Him His true title in Hebrew); and when it is my own wishful thinking…or worse still; when another spirit is trying to influence me.
Now, I am sure that Ruach HaKodesh still speaks. I know He does. His purpose is entirely devoted to pointing us to the life, death, and resurrection of Y’shua, who is the Mashiyach (Messiah). However, I am as equally convinced that many times when people claim that God has told them to say or do something, they may have been influenced by something other than Ruach HaKodesh. I have covered this topic before in a post entitled ‘Thus Said The Lord‘, but I am gaining a deeper understanding of the process, so I want to share it. I am not trying to run down anyone who speaks in the name of God without necessarily having heard from Him first. I am trying to help people recognise the difference between the voice of Ruach HaKodesh, our own imaginations, and spirits of the other kingdom I mentioned earlier. Let me explain by way of examples.
Firstly, in around 2007, after spending many years wandering around in a wilderness of my own creation, and, as a result of my first marriage imploding, I found myself attending a large Megachurch. I was convinced that the time was ‘now’ and that God was calling me back into full time ministry. I felt God, through His Ruach HaKodesh, had been really clear with me and I started pushing at doors in order to find my way back into ministry. It really didn’t matter what door I pushed at – I would have been happy at whichever one opened, such was my need to ‘feel’ right with God. But none did. Not one. I was so sure that I had heard from God that I became angry and frustrated at the situation. I blamed whoever I could, but never stopped to consider for a moment that I might have got it wrong. Of course, if God had have spoken, whatever He said would have come to pass, but I wasn’t prepared to think in the way I do now. I wanted what I wanted. I started wrestling with God. I tried everything I could think of, including some real foolish attempts to get myself noticed at the Megachurch – surely they would see just how great I was, and how much they needed someone like me? The doors remained firmly closed. Then, over the course of around a week or so, four or five Christians of good repute, all said exactly the same thing to me, and they all said it seemingly out of the blue. That the phrase was exactly the same from each of them makes me know that it was God speaking to me through them. The phrase they used was “Phil, God says ‘You have to wait.’ ” This example is typical of my own wishful thinking masquerading as the Holy Spirit, followed by God using the actual Holy Spirit to speak through other people to me.
Secondly, something that happened fairly recently, which took a little discernment before we both (Caz and I) realised what was going on. The Holy Spirit had spoken very clearly to us about the way we had done something to do with Cornerstone, and in the process of rectifying our mistake, we suddenly found ourselves being contacted by a few different people that we hadn’t heard from in a while. One, in particular, came over and told us that God had spoken to them and told that person to come and tell us what He had said. The only thing was that when He told us, it simply didn’t sit right. Not only was it contra to what we felt God had been saying to us, but when we asked God to reveal what the real purpose was, it turned out to be exactly the same distraction that we have previously been dazzled with by someone else. Of course, we are always prepared to seek God and make sure that we haven’t misunderstood His purposes or will, and we did. But when we did, it became clear that this distraction was another attempt by spirits in that other kingdom to throw us off the track. Now, here’s the big issue – this guy didn’t intentionally come to distract us. He genuinely felt that he had heard from God. But it wasn’t God. It was a spirit other than Ruach HaKodesh who tickled his ears with something that appealed to him and his own need to extend his ministry. And here is a very important lesson. Don’t take it personally when it happens. The guy who had had his ears tickled we both really like but, in this instance, he was deceived into thinking that God was speaking to him about us. God used the situation to our good – as a test of our obedience to His word to us. The guy spoke in good faith, but he had failed his own test. He didn’t test what had been said to him. Now, we have learnt not to blame the guy or hold it against him. He just needs our blessing and our prayers. Y’shua tells us this. And, of course, if the distraction failed, the spirit of this other kingdom was banking on us having nothing more to do with the guy and running him down. But we won’t. Whilst he may well have been deceived and even deceived himself, we know he truly loves God. The apostle Paul says this:
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” [Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV]
We have to remember, especially in situations like the one I have just described, that our battle isn’t with people; it is with spiritual forces that we cannot see. We have to accept that sometimes people claim to hear from God because they really want to. Wanting to isn’t enough however, only in actually talking to God can we ever expect for Him to talk back.
My third example is my own experience of when God speaks to me. I don’t hear any detectable voice. Ruach HaKodesh doesn’t have an accent, nor does He speak like I do. His voice is too quiet to hear but He speaks loudly into our own lives. It is as if the words He is speaking to me just appear in my head, or the idea He wants me to grasp is quietly integrated into my thoughts. But, here is some very good advice, because I wanted to be able to recognise what was of God and what was not, when I knew it was God I wrote down everything about the whole experience – how I felt; what I experienced; everything. This was so that I could learn to recognise it when it happened again.
There are many examples that I could use when I am sure it was Ruach HaKodesh speaking to me, but the one I want to use happened around a year ago. God had provided for us a sizeable amount of money through some very unusual circumstances. We had lots of bills to pay because we live by faith and it is often famine or feast. This provision had come in the middle of a severe famine and we had often been short of food and other basics. I was in the kitchen counting out the money into different piles of debts we must pay. I was praying and asking God to show me how to distribute it. There wasn’t enough to pay all that we owed and I said to God, “I wish we could keep hold of this for a while.”
Then, out of nowhere, I heard a phrase inside my head. But I didn’t actually hear it. It was simply just there:
“Why would you want to keep it?”
And I just knew it was the Holy Spirit speaking. How? Well, the simple rule is that it was completely opposed to what my flesh wanted – I wanted not to pay the bills, but instead keep the money in order to feed ourselves. It was also contra to the worldly view that the accumulation of wealth or money is part of our purpose. And, it was completely in line with the way that Y’shua lived His life – everything His Father gave Him, He gave away. Now, that is quite a simple test but if you would like a more detailed description on how to tell if it is God who is speaking then I can recommend an article by a guy called Ken Brown entitled How To Know It’s God.
At the start of this post I quoted from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians regarding how we used to live, when we lived according to the way of the world. You can find this theme throughout Paul’s writing. He wrote these things because they are vitally important. Don’t simply take my word for it. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the importance of why we should stop living according to the way of the world or the prince of the air. Once you have heard the message of salvation and believed that Y’shua died for your sins and rose from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, you should no longer live according to the pattern of this world. You should live according to how God’s Kingdom works. Read Matthew 5-7 for a detailed lesson from Y’shua Himself on how to change not only your behaviour but also the way you think.
I also mentioned that a single word revealed to me something so simple that I almost missed it. The mistranslation of apeitheia to mean disobedience instead of disbelief turned my attention to a simple idea. All God asks of us is to believe. Nothing else. Just believe. Faithful trust in what He has said either through His written word or through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Y’shua. That is all. But the moment we stop looking at our situation through God’s words, we come under the influence of the other kingdom – the kingdom of the world, or the air, or darkness.
Learn to discern between your own imagination, the Holy Spirit or other spirits. Ask God for wisdom and understanding of these matters and He will give it to you. When you think God has spoken to you, write down everything about it. Test what was said. Make sure it is not your own imagination. Make sure it lines up in scripture with the will and purpose of God. Remember that God’s will for all of us is to be made more like His Son, Y’shua (Romans 8:29).
Anything that comes to you that you cannot identify as being of God, then you must ignore it. It is as simple as that. Paul says that we should take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). The moment you stop trusting faithfully in what God has already said and start to listen to anything else, you are no different from Eve, who trusted what the serpent was saying over what God had already said.
There are two kingdoms currently at work in this world – the Kingdom of Heaven where those who believe God’s message exist; and the kingdom of the air in which those who stop believing, or have never believed in God’s message exist. Only one kingdom will guarantee such an inheritance as you will never comprehend until you receive it. The other kingdom leads only to death. This is a simple thing that will save your life. Learn to recognise the voice of God in your life. His is the voice of the Good Shepherd. Believe in His message with everything you have, even when the world tells you that the situation is hopeless. God is in charge. He has given all authority in heaven and on the earth to Y’shua, and if you are in His Kingdom, then He will never leave nor forsake you.
Don’t be like the Hebrews were in the desert when they stopped believing.
“Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” [Hebrews 4:7b NIV]