For many years I took great pride in my knowledge of the Bible. I was proud to be able to explain some of the more complicated issues. I relied heavily upon this knowledge, believing that it could, in part, ensure my access to the Kingdom of God. However, in recent months, not only has God showed me that I was wrong to think that way, but also that much of what I thought I understood, I had simply intellectualised to the point of completely missing the point. This was a metaphoric body blow that left me winded, to say the least. But, to be fair to God, I had asked for it.
This is very difficult to articulate, but I am going to try. For the past few years I have been seeking the kind of experience with God that we see written in the pages of the New Testament. Nothing less will do. I have, in the past, always settled for the less – for the experience that appeared to be supernatural, but turned out to be little more than euphoria. I have felt for a long time that we are missing something very basic, and simple. But, I have never been able to put my finger on quite what we are missing. What I am certain of is that, regardless of what modern churches might claim, we are definitely missing something. How do I know? Simple, really. The evidence of signs and wonders isn’t there.
Last autumn I started to seek God in a way that I can only describe as being deeper than before. I was looking for some real answers. And, to my suprise, I found some of them. I felt challenged by God (and still do) to think differently. He challenged me to start looking at the world, and everything I understood about the Kingdom of God from the point of view that the Hebrews might have done in the 1st century AD. I had this wealth of knowledge which I thought had good solid foundations in the Bible, but when I started to look more closely, the things I thought I understood turned out to be built upon sand and not rock.
I came to realise that much of what I thought or believed wasn’t based in God’s Word, but rather in the words of others. I had spent nearly thirty years reading books of other men and women’s perspective on certain passages or concepts. Just about everything I thought to be true has very little substance to it. Or, has no real importance when it comes to a personal relationship with the Son of the Living God.
One day, not so very long ago, I came to the conclusion that everything I had learned was in fact a complete waste; that in the learning of it I had failed the most basic of principles of all that God had taught – to just believe. But, instead of just believing, I had purposed to know the whys and the hows too. It was hard to face this fact because what we believe is part of who we are. But, like I said earlier, I had asked for it.
In the asking for it, I had given God my full permission to show me all the things that were preventing me seeing things as He saw them. I had asked Him to strip me bare so that I could truly follow Him. At the time, I hadn’t seen what knowledge I did have as a hindrance. In fact, I was certain it was a help. But it wasn’t. It had never helped with anything other than making me appear more spiritual than I truly am to other people. It enhanced a fraudulent lifestyle. And more than that, it served to promote a very subtle arrogance in me. Perhaps, to some, that wasn’t as subtle as I’d care to believe.
On this occasion, however, rather than leaving me censored and smarting, the conviction of the Holy Spirit was to become most welcome. For in the understanding that all I knew was worthless there blew a refreshing wind of change. I said earlier that this is difficult to articulate – and this is the hardest part of that. I felt oddly satisfied at the notion of forgetting everything; at no longer relying upon a single belief. It felt like a whole new world. And the thought of exploring it actually thrilled me.
Now, recently my dad cautioned me against throwing the baby out with the bathwater during a correspondence about the state of the modern day church. I would like to state here, for the record, that just because I no longer see any worth in the ideas and concepts that I came to rely upon, it doesn’t mean that they are worthless. But, what I am saying is that I needed to throw it all out because it was hindering my vision. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you“. I think that is what happened to me, for I gradually started to see things differently. As I have relieved myself of these intellectual concepts and notions of how God works, I started to see with a new clarity. I saw, for the first time, how little conventional wisdom mattered to God. I saw that He could take twelve men from amongst the ordinary people of Judea and teach them how to see properly. They didn’t need intellectual arguments or belief systems. They simply learned to trust their master.
Although it is not recorded, what happened to each of them, and what must happen to all who would come after them, was surrender. During that three years or so with Y’shua (Jesus) they all learned that everything they knew was unimportant. They leaned to trust in Y’shua for everything. To do that, they had to concede. Not only did the fishermen of them have to leave their nets behind, they had to leave everything behind – everything they had learned and understood. Behold, I do all things anew.
Paul says this:
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” [2nd Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV]
And, in the blink of an eye, I understood that the knowledge I possessed was like a stronghold that stopped me believing as freely as the disciples did. It all had to go.
For a while, I wasn’t sure how to do this; how to rid myself of thirty years worth of self-inflicted indoctrination. But, I realised that when you ask God to show you The Way, He leads you to Y’shua. And that was the thing that made it easy for me, probably the same thing that made it easy for the disciples too. Some of the strongholds will need their arguments to be demolished, just as Paul says. And, afterwards, I will have to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. what does that mean? I am starting to understand that if a thought doesn’t reflect the qualities of Y’shua, the Christ, then I shouldn’t allow it to become a stronghold in my head.
The disciples spent all that time with Y’shua, living with Him every day; eating with Him; watching Him; and everything else. That is our model too. Simple stuff when you stop trying to analyse it. I need to spend more time in the presence of Y’shua. That last sentence will never move from present to past tense. It is an ongoing requirement. It takes time to shake off the world, and our old ways of thinking. It took the disciples three years and they still weren’t done. But, somehow, in those three years, the penny must have dropped for them. Blind faith, you might call it. Just believe everything He teaches you, and turn not either to the left or to the right.
And a few days ago, I realised that God isn’t singling just me out for this. He does it with all whom He chooses. I saw something in Paul’s letters that confirms this. I mean, this man Paul had it all didn’t he? A Hebrew of Hebrews. He knew Torah, AND saw the Christ revealed in it. And yet, it counted it all as loss and rubbish compared with simply knowing Y’shua. Nothing else mattered to him. Nothing. At the start of his letter to the Galatians, Paul speaks about after his conversion that he went down into Arabia. It was three years before he went back to Jerusalem to meet with Peter. Those three years were spent with the Holy Spirit, in exactly the same way that the disciples spent three years living with Y’shua. Paul was being stripped of all the knowledge that he no longer needed and it was being replaced with wisdom and understanding from the Holy Spirit. It had to happen BEFORE he began his ministry. It simple had to.
I am going to leave this post here because I have such a long way to go in the stripping down of all the intellectual claptrap I have built up. If you read Paul’s letters in the order which he probably wrote them (see Ken Brown’s work on the chronology of the New Testament here), you will notice that it is a gradual change. This is the process of sanctification. God’s purpose is to conform each of us into the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:29). This takes time. But a good place to start, I have found, is to forget everything you already know; and to start asking the Holy Spirit for the things you really need to know. He will show you. Here’s Paul on his sanctification:
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I might gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
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 towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 3:7-14 NIV]