Christ the Power of God
by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 4 - Christ Crucified, the Wisdom of God and the Power of God
Reading: John 4:20,21,23,24; Ephesians 4:23,24; Hebrews 12:9.
Just link these passages together. “God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” “The new man, which is after God created in righteousness and holiness of truth.” “The Father of our spirits.”
In our former issue [chapter 3] we were dwelling upon the great counterfeit system which has been launched into this universe by him who is called the Deceiver, and we were seeing how that he has counterfeited the whole heavenly system, from the Godhead through all orders of spiritual beings and all forms of spiritual work, and that there is not a thing which is true of God and in relation to God, but has been imitated by the Deceiver; so that there are two great systems: there is the Divine system and there is the counterfeit, the satanic system. We have also seen that God created man suitable to His own system, that He made man in a way which was perfectly adapted to His own Divine government and method; and man made according to God’s mind was supremely and essentially a spiritual being having a soul and a body, but primarily spiritual, because his spirit was his essential self by which he was joined to God, Who is a Spirit, and that therefore, the communication of God to man was by his spirit: everything Divinely spiritual was apprehended by man through his spirit.
The Deceiver, in order to capture man and secure the success of his system - the counterfeit of God’s system - must of necessity make man suitable to his ends; so that in the garden there was, so to speak, an interference with man which, because of man’s sanction, resulted in man becoming another being than that which God had created; a soul-man with spirit severed from God, and on the Godward side, in death; the soul in ascendency, and man a man of soul instead of spirit. Everything in the fallen man is on the soul-level of life and operates along the line of the soul instead of the spirit. This whole world is constituted and organised and run upon a soul-level, “and the whole world lieth in the wicked one.”
What we have been aiming at seeing in the main is two things. One, that all deceptions, delusions, errors, have their seat and their ground of success in the very nature of man, in what he is as adapted to the work of the Deceiver. The soul is the seat and the ground of all deception. And the other thing, that in His work on the Cross, the Lord Jesus carried that whole race away under the judgment of God, to death, when He poured out His soul unto death; that race was finished with, and in doing that He cut the ground from under the feet of the Deceiver for any further work of deception for those who by faith take their place in all Calvary’s meaning. Hence the issue is the tremendous importance of our rightly apprehending and becoming obedient unto the truth that when Christ died - we died, and from the time of our taking that position in Christ crucified we know that we may not, we dare not, we cannot live after the flesh, or walk after the flesh, or live merely upon a soul-level of life, but that henceforth it is after the spirit in the power of the Holy Spirit. Wherein will you find greater wisdom than this? The universe is full of one big question: how can you destroy the power of this whole counterfeit system and the Deceiver back of it? Find the wisdom that will outwit that, find the wisdom that will outplan that. See all the cunning, all the wit, all the craftiness, all the diabolical subtlety of this system of deception, of counterfeit, of error, from this one known as the Deceiver, who has deceived the whole race and all the nations, and where will you find a wisdom to meet that and successfully triumph over it and break its power, and rid the universe eventually of it? The answer is “Christ crucified, the wisdom of God.” And in what way does that supreme, transcendent wisdom work as by the Cross of the Lord Jesus? In this way, that in Christ crucified the whole race in its fallen nature is carried out in death and the ground of the Deceiver is removed. Therein is the wisdom of God manifested in Christ crucified. Oh, that we should be able to grasp that more fully, the wonder of the Cross, the matchless wonder of the Cross. May we use such words as the transcendent "ingenuity" of God in the Cross; one would almost say the cleverness of God. It is the wrong word to use of Him, but therein is the wisdom of God displayed.
The Bedrock Truth for the People of God
Now for days of growing deception, even amongst the people of God, the bedrock truth is the truth of our death, burial, and resurrection union with Christ. We just want to pass over for a minute to see the resurrection side of this. We have seen the mighty power and the mighty wisdom of God in the death side in putting away the race, the man, the nature which is in essence Satan indwelt. That does not mean that people are devils incarnate. That is not what I am talking about. There is a difference between that and there being something of Satan in the very nature of the race. We have pointed out one thing before, that there is such a thing as deception in the very nature of this fallen race. The Word of God says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” and believers who walk nearest to God, know best how desperately wicked the natural heart is. The nearer we get to God the more we loathe ourselves.
Now deceit was never in man unfallen. That is not of God. There is no deceit in the Divine nature and there is no deceit in man who is made after God. One of those superlative features of the New Jerusalem, which after all is only the designation of the Church, is its transparency, it is said to be clear as crystal. That means that everything filmy, deceptive, subtle, double, cunning, crafty, will have been absolutely rooted and purged out from the people of God, and they will be absolutely transparent, clear as crystal; there will be nothing dark, sinister, untrue, insincere about them. It is the root of Satan, and that is in the natural man, a nature which is in essence Satan-indwelt, and God is not going to pluck that out of us, He is going to put us out, and have a new creation. It is of tremendous importance for us to see the significance of death union with Christ; not only what we call our sins, but ourselves. But on the resurrection side, the wisdom and the power of God are wonderfully displayed. What happened again at the beginning when Satan interfered and man assented? The spirit by which man was joined to the Lord one spirit fell out of that functioning union, and on the Godward side became dead. That was Satan’s triumph. Now upon that fact the whole system of satanic government encamped and was constructed - severance from God in spirit. When the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, He rose, beloved, in the same representative capacity for a new order, a new creation, as in His representative capacity for the old order. That is, on the death-side He represented by voluntary acceptance of our sin and taking on Himself this sinful creation in His Cross, He accepted representatively the position of the fallen race and went out carrying it in His inclusive person to death. In resurrection He is the Firstborn among many brethren, and in resurrection He is representative of God’s new order. You see what has happened? In the Cross of the Lord Jesus, at a given moment, Christ as representing the old order was severed from God, He entered into that place, that position, that state of being cut off from God, God-forsaken. That is because of what He is doing. He is taking the place of a race severed from God; He has entered the depths, the awful depths of the state of man severed from God. In the power of resurrection, all the satanic might, all the satanic wisdom was broken in bringing back Christ from among the dead, bringing back one representing a race from a place of separation from God, and that new fellowship with God carried with it, and implied the fact that all the work of Satan was destroyed. A tremendous thing that.
The power of God, “the exceeding greatness of His power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand far above all...” He has brought Him back into closest fellowship and union; but He had been severed from God. It may only have been in the matter of time a moment, but if you knew anything about separation from God, real separation from God, though it might be for a moment it would be like a lifetime, beloved, for one who had known fellowship with God to have, for an instant, separation from God - it would have aged you so that your hair would be white; and the Lord Jesus tasted that. He did meet this. He as man, had gone into the place of that spirit-separation from God, for the moment He lost God, but when God brought Him back from the dead into fellowship right into His presence it meant that all which was responsible for lost fellowship with God was destroyed. Now resurrection union with Christ, in Christ, is just that “the exceeding greatness of His power which is to usward who believe, according to that energy of His might which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” - “To usward who believe.”
What Lies Behind our Union with Christ
Now, many Christians ask the question, and might well ask the question, “What does that mean?” “I do not know that I am conscious of that having been true in my case. Is that something future when we are going to be raised from the dead in the resurrection? Is that Scripture then going to be fulfilled?” “The exceeding greatness of His power to usward, according to the energy of His might... when He raised Him from the dead,” “is that when it will be?” No, you may not have had the consciousness of the exceeding greatness of His power in proportion to that energy of His might which He energised in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, but I ask you this question, “Do you know spiritual fellowship with God? Do you know what union with the Lord is?” If you do, beloved, that has called forth the exercise of the exceeding greatness of God’s power. You never came into union with God only on the ground of the whole power of Satan being broken, and all the result of Satan’s work being set aside. Our fellowship with God is an enormous thing. The spiritual life, beloved, is no small thing. Resurrection union with the Lord Jesus, to walk in newness of life, means that God in Christ by the Cross has done an enormous thing. Oh, for a right estimate of the work of Calvary. Oh, that we should come with our eyes open as were those of the Apostle, so that our chief glorying and our one determination is to know nothing save “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” and the “Cross of our Lord Jesus, by which the world is crucified to us, and we to the world.” That is why Paul gloried in the Cross. That is why Paul determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified, because he saw the momentous thing that Calvary represented on the death side and on the resurrection side. Now the Lord would have us spiritually in that position. The power of Satan is destroyed when once a believer stands on resurrection ground, and keeps there, and refuses to come down on to the lower level of soul-life, self life.
The battle of the believer’s life thenceforth is not to attain unto some spiritual position, but to maintain a spiritual position which has been given in Christ: “He hath made us to sit in the heavenlies in Christ”; not something to be struggled after, but the whole object of the enemy is to bring the believer down out of that place on to a lower level, and that is why the Apostle says “Our warfare is in the heavenlies” and that we have got to “Stand, withstand and having done all remain victor on the field.” That is, in other words - keep your position, the position which is yours by resurrection union with Christ. So the enemy is out with a down-drag, or an on-pressure, or a subtle device, snare, trap, by any one of his many methods to get the believer out of position. But the Cross represents for us a spiritual life in the heavenlies where Satan’s power is broken. Now this is again very largely general, and we want to get, before we close, from the general to the more specific; that is, to bring this whole thing, this great truth, into touch with practical matters. Not that what we have said is not practical, but I mean the things with which we are more closely associated in our lives; the truth must be applied there.
The Foundation and Nature of Fellowship with God
Where does everything begin in relation to God, and therefore, in relation to the enemy in his counterfeit? It begins in the realm of worship. The beginning of everything is worship, in relation to God. That is, God having the central and supreme place of recognition, acknowledgment, of government: in our complete obedience, surrender, in every part and phase of our being, God having supreme right; worship begins there. It is a relationship not only an exercise. It is not something that we do in specified ways and methods. It is some attitude of the life, some place which God has in the entire consciousness, that is worship.
Now if Satan is to counterfeit and take God’s place, worship is his objective. With the first Adam that was his objective; to draw man away from giving God the supreme place, that he might take God’s place, he supplanted God in the reverence and the acknowledgment and the obedience of man and captured worship and became “the god of this age”. When the last Adam, the Second Man, came and entered officially, publicly upon the great work that He had come to do, the one thing that the adversary sought to capture was His worship. “All these will I give thee if thou wilt worship me.” He has betrayed himself; he has shown his hand; if he could do the same with the last Adam as he did with the first, he has defeated the object of a new race.
Now it is just here that we have got to have light. We have read John 4 from the 20th verse. The woman is saying “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain and ye say that in Jerusalem men ought to worship.” Jesus said unto her, “Woman, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem will men worship the Father; believe Me, the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” In spirit - a small “s” not a capital “S”. Oh, what is this? This represents a new regime, a new order. This is the crisis of the Cross in the realm of worship, the basic thing. But what has happened? Jerusalem was definitely, divinely ordained as the seat of honour and worship. The Samaritans imitated with temple and mountain the system which was at Jerusalem, worshipped the same God; but God had brought into the world that system of worship at Jerusalem, He had projected that. It was a temple, a building, a piece of elaborate ecclesiastical architecture with priests, with robes and vestments, burning incense, offering sacrifices, making prayers, reading Scriptures, and many other things; yes, God had brought that in, and now the Lord Jesus was setting the whole thing aside, and in so doing, implying as clearly as anything could be implied, that this is not true worship. It is a comparison which is almost invidious. “Neither in this mountain, nor at Jerusalem, will men worship the Father, but true worshippers shall worship in spirit and in truth.” “God is a spirit.”
Where Christendom is Astray
What has happened, then, if this is not the truth, what is the truth? That is where Christendom has gone astray. That is the divide between soul and spirit. Not something which was but a type, an illustration, a set of symbols. God never intended that to be the final thing, never intended man to make that a thing in itself, never intended that that thing should go on indefinitely. It was brought in to illustrate and represent something else and its time for duration was until the Lord Jesus came; it all pointed towards Him, led up to Him, spoke of Him and His Cross in which that which was merely of the soul would pass, and that which was of the spirit would come in. What is the spiritual life in the matter of worship? Oh, it is not ecclesiastical architecture, it is not vestments, it is not ordinances, it is not rites. They pass out with Calvary; the perpetuating of anything like that is a contradiction of Calvary. See where we are today. The maintenance of that sort of thing, beloved, is because of a failure to perceive what the Lord Jesus has brought in.
What, then, is spiritual worship? It is getting back of all that and seeing the spiritual meaning. Those sacrifices which were brought and sacrificed were looked into and most carefully turned over, if peradventure there might be a flaw, a blemish, a taint, an inconsistency, a double element, two colours, two kinds; and if any such mark could be found the whole thing was rejected, but when after careful inquiry and investigation not a flaw or a blemish could be found, and God’s representative with the keen eyes of an expert could pronounce over them the familiar “Tetelestai” - “It is perfect”, then they were offered to God. And the truth embodied in the type was this, that the only fellowship with God is on the basis of the spiritual perfections of the Lord Jesus, and worship is no longer bringing of animal sacrifices but bringing up from the heart an appreciation of the perfection of Christ. That is worship. The vestments of old were only types and figures and illustrations; the priestly apparel was speaking all the time in type of a righteousness and beauty and glory which is the nature of the God-Man, the Lord Jesus, and which is given, imputed and imparted to the one who by faith apprehends Christ; and that we who are in Christ, in the sight of God, are wearing garments of beauty and glory and holiness. Why, then, perpetuate a system. The Lord Jesus put all that away in His Cross, it is all gone. That is what He means by worshipping in spirit and in truth. The temple again, or the tabernacle; these were only types, speaking of that spiritual fellowship of the saints as joined to an Exalted Head, one Body, the Temple of God. The boards of the tabernacle tied together by the bands only speak of saints with the imputed righteousness and holiness and glory of God laid upon them, bound together in one Spirit, one Body, with the “joints and the bands”. The fitting together of the stones of the temple wrought in the quarry and brought together without the sound of hammer or axe, silently fitted in, only speaks in foreshadowing of the living stones built together for a spiritual habitation, and that God now indwelling, not temples made with hands but a spiritual body, the members of Christ joined to Him.
Why, then, perpetuate a thing which God has dismissed in the Cross, and keep to the lower, fail to reach the higher, the fact that “we who are many are one body”? Do you see where things are astray today? I know how sweeping this is but all this has to do with worship.
Now note that when there is a failure to recognise, to know the spiritual meaning of all this and to enter into it, and a maintaining of the old thing, you are still on a soul-level and you are open to deception, and the whole thing may be a ghastly deception. And how does that deception work? (I know you have to be very patient with me and are probably suffering a good deal, some of you, but I must be faithful.) How does that deception work? In this way, that so many good Christian people are absolutely in bondage to a traditional system which is cutting clean across Divine revelation for them. It is their traditional system which is simply barring the way to spiritual revelation, and the Cross of the Lord Jesus represents the liberty in the spirit for God to lead into the fulness of His life and light. That is the whole purpose of the letter to the Hebrews. It was for that very purpose; that here was a people that had received light concerning the true nature of fellowship with God in Christ, and that the Lord Jesus had taken the place of the temple and the priesthood and the sacrifices and the ordinances, and even the Sabbath, and the Sabbath was no longer merely a point of time but related to a Person; God had reached His rest in Christ. All God’s works were finished in Christ. God has entered into His rest when Christ perfected the work of God in redemption on the Cross.
Now that is no longer a matter of form, ceremony, external rites, buildings, priests, sacrifices; it is all Christ. They had seen that; He had called upon them to go outside the religious, formal, historic, traditional camp, and that brought persecution, ostracism, isolation, loneliness and all manner of things. The official religious people made it very hard for them because of that. The price to be paid for what is truly spiritual and heavenly was, and is great, and they were dangerously in peril of going back to the old thing, and the letter to the Hebrews was just written to save them from that peril, and to more fully tell them about the great change that had come about in the Cross, the work of the Lord Jesus; that one system had passed, the earthly representation, and the other, the heavenly reality had come in, and you know how that letter speaks about the “pattern of things in the heavenlies” and “the heavenly things themselves” - and the letter comes to the great conclusion in “We are come to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the blood of sprinkling, to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant,” come to that in Him.
Now you see historic Christianity as such, traditional Christianity as such, may still keep us on a soul-level of worship where we must have a certain kind of building with certain kind of windows, with a certain kind of music, and certain kinds of prayers, certain kinds of people and certain kinds of dress, and all this to “aid” our worship: all this to make real our fellowship with God, and it is living back on pre-Calvary ground and it may be all soulish, and it may just be obstructing the path to a full personal inward spiritual life with God.
To Know the Lord in Life We Must Be Free from the Grave Clothes of Outward Systems
Beloved, it is as true as anything I have said, that if you want to know the Lord livingly in greater fulness you have to be free from every external control of religion, you have got to be free and open to the Lord, you have to be free in the spirit. Formalism has got to go and reality and life have got to come in. There must be a personal life in God, and that is not dependent upon place or anything outside and round us; that is dependent entirely upon our spiritual fellowship with Him. It can be as real, as blessed in a dingy rat-infested Bedford jail as it can be in the most gorgeous ornate cathedral. Oh, yes, some of the most wonderful fellowship with God has been in the most unlikely places. You need no “helps” of that kind when you know God. Your life is with God.
Now remember, that letter to the Hebrews was written in anticipation of something. The Apostle knew that before very long the whole of that Jewish system would be in ruins. The Lord Jesus had prophesied it, that there should not be left one stone upon another. It would be scattered to the four winds. There would be no temple, no altar, no sacrifice, no festivals, no priests; the whole thing would cease and be smashed in fulfilment of the Divine prediction. What would happen to these people if their fellowship with God was bound up with that? It would go. It would go with the system, and He wanted to save them from that thing which, being bound to earth, would go, and to bring them into a new thing which belonged to salvation. Fellowship with God must be of that kind, that whether we can go to meetings or not we have still got the Lord; whether we have nice soulish music or not, we have still got the Lord. We are not in that realm. “Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father.”
Bricks and mortar cannot communicate with spirit. Man’s soul can communicate with God only through the vehicle of his spirit in union with God. That is what Calvary has done. Of course, you can understand now why the message of the Cross is unacceptable, and if you are going to proclaim and stand for it, you will be outside the camp because of this strong cleaving to a historic traditional inheritance, and too, the awful thing is this, that Satan has taken hold of the Divine representation or typical system to appropriate it, when God has done away with it, and that which God has brought in for a temporary purpose he has captured for himself to obscure the real nature of fellowship with God.
Now no one will think that I am saying that there are no spiritual people in that system of things. I am not saying that, but I am saying that if that represents for them their spiritual life, and if they must have that, and if that is the realm in which they live, that they do not see beyond that and are not free from that as a thing in itself, then they have missed the meaning of Calvary, and they are bound to miss all the meaning of Christ crucified, the wisdom and the power of God. Wrestling with principalities and powers demands something more than a system of external things.
You see we are up against a terrific business, we are up against a spiritual position which is colossal and only a spiritual position is adequate to that, nothing less. I trust you have received enough light to see that what has been said is justified. We do not want to be in any position less than the Lord’s first best for us. I am sure we are prepared to pay the greatest price to be in God’s first place for us, by His grace. May He enable us to be willing to go on with Him, “leaving the things which are behind and pressing on,” or to come to the Hebrews again, “Let us go on unto full growth”. The toys, the picture books, the illustrations, the symbols, the types are for children who have little intelligence; they are taken away at a certain time when God is out - not to have children - but to have sons, and there is all the difference between the two. And so Calvary dismisses the kindergarten of external things in relation to God and brings in the fulness of heavenly order to make of us full-grown sons of God. May we be so.