Self-examination is vital when it comes to walking with God. To those who aspire to be true disciples, without regular self-examination, we risk becoming proud and arrogant. It is very easy to do. Trust me, I know what I am talking about. My own pride and arrogance have led me down a path from which the only way out is one of humility. As a result, I like to keep ‘short accounts’ with both myself and God. Of course, we can examine ourselves regularly and convince ourselves that all is fine and dandy. Self-delusion is a common problem amongst today’s church. Paul encourages us in his 2nd letter to the church at Corinth that we should examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith. Sounds a little vague doesn’t it? We’ll come on to actually what he meant shortly, but first, before we consider how, let us consider why.
Without self-examination it is very easy for us to wander from the path. Once we are off the Narrow Path and doing our own thing, you will find, that God simply lets us get on with it. He will never interfere with our free will. Some preachers like to teach that God will never let us wander from the path in the first place, but He has no choice. These same preachers like to teach such heresy because it suits their own desires – we all like to think that we have heard from God and that we know what He wants us to do. This is generally an excuse to pursue whatever people think is the best option, providing the end is reached, the means by which it is attained matters not. I’m here to tell you that I don’t believe that God works like that. His plan might have a start and an end, but how it unfolds is chosen entirely by Him, and never by us. All of the evidence, both Scriptural and anecdotal, all points to the fact that God guides us in His plan, a single step at a time, and in His time. That is why it is so important to constantly listen to what He is saying.
Much of what is happening in today’s church is a symptom of just this. God will call someone to do something – perhaps He will give them a vision for something in the future, or maybe call them to do something now. Unless the person whom God calls is prepared to listen out for His voice and act upon it when he hears it, it is very easy to get caught up in thinking we know best on how God wants to achieve this. We assume that God has given us a green light to make our own way to where we think He wants us to be. The net result is always the same with people that run off ahead – God departs from them until they come back to Him in humility asking for help. I know this to be true because it has happened to us. God told us to do something, and in our human understanding of things, we got on a did what we thought He wanted beyond the initial act. Now, He has made us wait. He has decided to teach us all about patience. This is a good thing (I see it now – it was more difficult to accept before), for we are being disciplined. He is teaching us what it means to live by faith – and I’m not just talking about trusting in Him for provision. It’s a whole lot more than that.
The point I am trying to make is that everyone He calls all start off well until, after a while, they start getting too big for their boots. Self-importance for all whom God calls is ever crouching at the door waiting for an opportunity to derail God’s plan. Of course, His plan can’t be derailed. God already has the victory in this. But we can be derailed. We can fall from the path and slide into the pit. Every single one of the heroes of old which we find in the Bible have all fallen at some point. It always happens when they stop listening to God and start following their own desires. These desires are always fleshy in nature, and because we are fallen and are often deceived by the subtle nature of what the flesh desires, we are often dragged away and enticed into not following God’s plan to the letter. This is the mixing of the seed.
In the Old Testament, there is a small book of just two chapters called Haggai. This ‘minor’ prophet was one of two prophets whom God had raised up (or called) for a specific purpose. Haggai’s story begins sometime after the Hebrews are returned from exile in Babylon. God had instructed them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple which had been burnt to the ground by Nebuchadnezzar, some seventy years before. When they were first returned to Isra’el things went well. They got on with the job at hand. But, after a while, they became discouraged by the opposition they were facing. So much so, that they stopped work on the Temple and concentrated on their own houses. The lesson is a simple one – God had told them to rebuild the Temple. They should have accepted that as part of His unstoppable plan, but when faced with difficulties and opposition they allowed their flesh to dictate what happened, instead of simply trusting that because God had spoken, it would be done. Now, it is easy for anyone to criticise the Hebrews involved – we would all like to think that we wouldn’t have done the same. We would have stuck at it. However, if we are honest with ourselves, that would be a lie – we’re no different from the Hebrews of the 6th century BC. We are even more easily distracted than them. I’m talking to myself here, by the way.
If you want to know what actually transpired, you will need to read both chapters of Haggai, certain chapters in the book of Zechariah, and all of Ezra. I’m not going to tell you here. That would be too easy. But let me say this: The story of the Hebrews rebuilding the Temple is much more than an historical account of the nation of Isra’el. For us today, the Temple represents our hearts – the soil upon which God wants to sow and grow His seed. If we want to produce the kind of harvest in our own lives which He expects, we need to follow His instructions to the very letter. Freelancing is little more than unbelief – if we think we know better than what God has already said, then we are deluded. It is the same as not trusting in Him. God calls this being unfaithful – like an unfaithful wife. And, because we are fallen, because our sinful, fleshy nature has very subtle ways of persuading us to do it our way instead of God’s way, we should always look to ensure that we are, as Paul says, in the faith. Being ‘in the faith’ literally means that we are living our lives totally reliant upon God’s every word; not just in finances, but in every single aspect of our lives, until our hearts, our temples, are built to His specification.
With all things when God calls people, they inevitably wander off the reservation. It is apparent that this is the case throughout the history of God’s plan. We are unreliable servants. The question is, how do we keep on the right path? How do we prevent ourselves from going astray? Some do manage it. The likes of Paul, and Peter, and John, as well as the other apostles appeared to have managed it, all giving their entire lives to the cause of preaching the resurrection of Yeshua. All bar one were martyred for their faith in what God had said. But, sadly, their testimonies are rarities, especially today. The problem is that many of today’s church who have gone astray simply don’t even realise that they have. They genuinely believe that what they are doing, what they are teaching, is the will of God. But many are deluded. Few remain faithful to His word. The example found in Haggai shows how people justify their own positions, firstly to themselves, and then before God. I know from our own experiences that God simply allows you to get on with it when you stop listening to Him. Throughout that time, I still firmly believed that God was with us. He was in one sense – He would never leave us or forsake us. But He wasn’t supporting what we were doing. What we were doing was entirely under our own steam. Fortunately for us we ran out of money pretty quickly and could see something was wrong. But imagine that you have a large congregation with plenty of money – at what point would you question if you were still on the right path? You would probably wait, like us, until the money runs out. Providing the money keeps coming in, providing the people keep filling the seats, people will always take it that God is with them in what they are doing. Man’s wisdom is so shallow that it will always measure success in numbers and quantity. God never measures success like that. He measures it in obedience. Everything else is delusion.
It is possible that the only real measure which we have at our disposal of God being ‘in’ what we are doing, are that of signs and wonders. If they are not present, then something is wrong.
I know many great preachers have come up with every reason under the sun for why we don’t see signs and wonders – usually blaming the people they are preaching at for unbelief or sin. This kind of critique of congregations is popular these days. But, what if the truth was really that we are no longer doing God’s will? Instead we had each turned to their own way, and not God’s.
I think it is clear that at Pentecost, we are safe to say that the disciples were doing it right. That is evidenced by both signs and wonders, as well as the way in which God worked amongst them. Let’s take a look at what they were doing and see how we compare.
Perhaps a good place to start is where we left off in Part Fourteen, with Peter and John and the man born lame, whom God healed. We see that it caused quite a stir among the people in the Temple courtyard (Acts 3:11). Now, here’s a little background to set the scene. We know that Peter and John were going up to the Temple at the time for prayer, which was 3pm in our money, but the ninth hour to them. You might well ask yourselves why they, knowing the truth, still felt the need to attend the prayer service at the Temple? You might have thought that they would know better. The truth is, as with all of us, habits are hard to break, and the revelation of God comes to us at His pace, and not ours. Despite Yeshua being the Truth (and the Way, and the Life, for that matter too), you will note that He still attended synagogue on the Sabbath. He also attended Temple for the set feasts. For Yeshua, it wasn’t about habit or religious observance, but to show the people that everything they did and said in those places all pointed to Him. For the disciples, we know that they continued with some of these practices for some time after Pentecost. But, as the revelation of Yeshua became more apparent, and deeper to them, they would have ceased these things, knowing that the righteousness which the law brought was no good to them. Only righteousness which came from God as a free gift was of any value. And that kind of righteousness only comes to us as we practice trusting in God.
The daily prayer service would have been quite an event for the likes of us to witness. From what I have managed to glean from sources who specialise in Hebrew culture of the 1st century AD, it would have started with a blast of the shofar. Sadly, the Bible translators often put trumpet when it should be shofar. The shofar is a long horn from a ram through which a member of the Priesthood would have sounded, firstly, the Call to Prayer, and then at different parts of the service, which all lead up to the daily sacrifice at dusk. The way in which Jerusalem would have been laid out back then meant that the entrances to the courts of the Temple were all at the top of great sloped pathways. You may have noticed that some of the Psalms have titles such as ‘A Song of Ascents’. This is because these songs were sung by the pilgrims as they climbed towards the Temple for feasts. At the daily prayer service, the Priests would have stood on the stairs which rose up from the courtyard towards the Temple. The Altar stood in front of the Temple entrance and as the High Priest made his way up to perform the sacrifice, the preistly choir would have sung out. By the time the High Priest neared the top of the stairs, one slow step at a time, the entire courtyard would have been filled with Hebrew men all joining in with the service at certain stages. The shofar would have sounded two long blasts as the sacrifice was made. The smell of the burnt offering would have filled the air.
Can you imagine then what effect upon procedures the events described in Acts 3 would have had? Verse 11 says:
“Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed.” [Acts 3:11 NKJV]
This would have disrupted the service. The priest would have been furious, for nothing should have interrupted their work. When they turned to see the commotion, they would have seen that a young man from Galilee had started to preach to the crowd who had, only moments before, been at the prayer service. It would have been the equivalent to a preacher at his megachurch being upstaged by some stranger at the back with a healing and then a sermon of their own. Can you imagine? I suspect that if that happened today, security would have to be called.
None of this deterred Peter. He was so overwhelmed by witnessing the power of Yeshua’s resurrection working through him to heal the man born lame, that he just started telling everyone. And whilst he was still speaking, the Priests, the Temple Guard, and the Sadducees turned up. They weren’t happy. And because Peter was preaching about the resurrection of Yeshua, they arrested Peter and John!
We take things like this for granted here in the UK. We don’t get arrested for preaching about the resurrection of Yeshua. Not anymore. But people once did. People like John Bunyan. It is easy to read right across the top of this passage and not take in what had happened. We have no appreciation of what it means to be arrested for what we believe. And yet, in countries across the globe, believers are being persecuted every day. And when I say persecuted, I don’t mean that people are calling them names. I mean that they are being arrested for believing in the resurrection of Yeshua, which happened almost 2,000 years ago. There is a time coming soon in which true believers will be hunted down and killed. Many of those who claim to be believers will be deceived into a counterfeit religion and swear allegiance to the beast. Those that resist will be hunted down. The true church, the invisible church, needs to learn how to stand under persecution. It is coming whether we like it or not. Please do not take your freedom of belief for granted. Use it before it’s too late.
So, with Peter and John arrested and kept in the cells overnight, we see this new church facing its first real test of its faith. Whenever we profess from our mouths about what we believe, we should expect our resolve to be tested. In the morning, Peter and John are brought before everyone who mattered. Well, everyone who mattered to themselves. They must have been worried. I guess they thought that things might be getting back to normal after the events of Passover. They had killed the ring-leader after all. But now, here were two of His disciples not only preaching about Him coming back to life, but also performing the same kind of signs and wonders which He was renowned for.
They asked them, “By what power, or by what name have you done this?” You might expect Peter and John to shy away, to seek a way out. Instead, Peter is still empty of his own fleshy desires (which would have probably try to convince him to find an escape), so much so that the Holy Spirit simply fills him again. This time the words flow from him. He even quotes their own Scripture at them and accuses them of murder. They didn’t know what to do with these two uneducated men from the north. They decided to ban them from speaking about or in the name of Yeshua. Peter simply told them that they could not help but speak of what they had seen and heard. Confounded by all of this, they let Peter and John go.
You might be forgiven if at this point you decided to keep a low profile after such a reprimand. But such was the boldness at what they had seen and heard that they simply couldn’t contain themselves. Thousands had been added to their number. The same signs and wonders which Yeshua had performed, He was now performing through them. They rushed back to the Upper Room, filled with excitement. No fear anymore.
And then we have an account of what church should look like, what it should really look like. When Peter and John returned and told them what had happened, they all raised their voices to God, with one accord, praising Him. And instead of what might happen in today’s church; instead of demanding that God act against those who oppose them, they asked God to give them the boldness to continue speaking out His message. They asked Him to stretch out His hand and work signs and wonders through them. What happened next? The entire building shook and they were, once more, filled with His Holy Spirit, and continued to speak God’s word with boldness. No fear. Boldness. Notice that they didn’t ask to be filled with His Holy Spirit. That happened because they were empty of themselves and purposed only to fulfil God’s plan.
To get back to how to tell if we are in the faith, Paul’s self-examination test, we have to ask ourselves if we are prepared to ask God to lead our lives for us? Are we prepared to ask God to truly teach us what trusting Him actually means? Yeshua said, when speaking of day to day provisions, that we should seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and then everything else will be given. I am just starting to see what that means – To seek His Kingdom is to surrender to His authority and become His servant. His righteousness is only given to us when we practice having faith in Him. I’m not talking about simply believing that God sent His Son to die for us. I’m talking about real faith. I’m talking about believing that the very same power which rose Him from the dead is alive and well and living in me, for the sole purpose of forwarding God’s plan. I’m talking about trusting in God even when all the evidence around you makes you wonder if He’s even there. I’m talking about believing that He will do what He has said He will do, and sticking by that like a blood oath, regardless of what it means to your personal safety or wellbeing or prosperity or anything else you hold dear. I’m talking about believing Him to be just and true and able to do much more than you can ever imagine.
That should be our test of whether we are ‘in the faith’. To the early church, we can see plainly, that they lived ‘in the faith’ all their days.
Another minor prophet said this of how we should live:
“Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.” [Habakkuk 2:4]
It is our faith by which we shall live. It is by faith we are made alive. And it is our faith which will justify us before our God, Yehovah.
Next time, we shall look at what happens when the fullness of God’s Spirit is amongst His people.