• God's Representatives
God’s Representatives
Outreach Letters

God’s Representatives

  • God's Representatives

God's Representatives

Ever since God entrusted the future of His kingdom into the hands of men, He has asked of them one simple thing: to represent Him. Hardly an unreasonable request, and one which many claim to be obeying. But is God really being represented by those who make such claims, or is He being grossly misrepresented?

Man was made in God’s image, by God to live inseparably with God. That was God’s intention, but we know how Adam and Eve so quickly lost their unique relationship with God. We also know the trouble God went to so that Man could regain what Adam had lost. Many of us have read in the Bible the saga of how, after centuries of seeking to win back His people, God finally sent them His own Son.

When Jesus came it was not merely to bring a message. Nor was He just the unfortunate scapegoat of God’s redeeming plan – destined to die for the sins of mankind because there was no one else fit for the job. Yes, He was God’s messenger. Yes, He was the sacrificial Lamb of God. But, more than that, He came because He was His Father’s son in the truest sense of the word.

Jesus’ life – not merely His message or His ministry – was a true representation of God. That’s what made Him a true son and that’s why He could say: “He that has seen me has seen the Father.”

He was what His Father was, and not because He had to be but because He wanted to be.

Jesus represented God by His own choice. He was called to it, yes, but had He not chosen to love His Father, to live for Him and to embody His very heart and nature, Jesus would not have represented Him – however valid His calling. He did not take that calling for granted but accepted full responsibility for it …all the way to the cross.

That Jesus so faithfully represented God is wonderful in itself. Yet it is not enough because He was never meant to be a “lone ranger” standing unique and apart in history. It was God’s intention that Jesus should be both the forerunner and the first-born of a whole new race. The forerunner because He was to be the first of many. The first-born because the many are also His brothers.

This new race, then, is a multiplication of Jesus. Its members must not only be like Him, they must also live like Him. “Whoever claims to live in Him,” wrote John, “must walk as Jesus did.”

Seen in that light, the term Christian – “follower of Christ”- has an awesome connotation, which does away decisively with the oft-quoted Christian assertion: “Christians aren’t perfect – just forgiven.” What if Jesus had hidden behind statements like that? But then He had to be perfect, didn’t He? After all, our redemption depended on it. And our redemption is very important; to us at least.

But what is important to God? What does He want? Why has He called us in Jesus Christ? And I emphasize called rather than saved, because we all know why He saved us. Self-interest dictates that. The doctrine of salvation is dear to every Christian’s heart but, when it comes to the realities of our calling, convenient ignorance abounds.

Ever since He made man in His own image God has longed for a total relationship with Him – a relationship in which He could unreservedly invest Himself. The incredible price God paid over the centuries, reaching out again and again to His wayward people and culminating in the greatest sacrifice of all, bears powerful testimony to this. How ugly, then, that self-centered men have distorted those expressions of God’s heart – interpreting them to mean that God exists for their benefit. Yes, we are objects of God’s love and beneficiaries of His goodness, but that is only part of the story, for none of God’s blessings are ends in themselves. God is the centre of all things, and the highest, ultimate purpose behind all that He bestows upon us is to make us His people – for His sake. This is the very reason for which we were created. And it is also the highest of callings.

It has always been God’s desire to have a people for Himself. He never set out to create a religion of any kind. He certainly did not create Christianity, in its many and varied forms. All He has ever sought is to have a body of people who live only for Him.

But the Christian religion has railroaded that. Men have seized upon that beautiful work of God’s Spirit which was once rightly called the Church of Jesus Christ and have made it, not according to the desire of God’s heart but according to their own desires. They have substituted that which is important to them for that which is important to God, putting a man-made system in the place of God’s New Creation.

The English word church is a translation of the Greek ekklesia, which simply means called out. Like other such words, however, its simple meaning has been obscured beneath a shroud of holy religiosity. To the early believers ekklesia was not a religious term at all. it was just an apt way of describing themselves. They knew they were the Ekklesia of God-called out from the world and its ways (often the religious world and its ways) and into relationship with Him.

In those early days the Church was easily defined and easy to identify. It consisted of those who had responded to God’s invitation to be His people. And invitation it was, for ekklesia can be more literally translated invited out. Which serves to clarify even further the way in which God calls us. He invites us – lovingly, personally – to be His people. He never compels. Yet, once we have responded to his call, He expects us to live only for Him. As God himself once said: “…I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you and you will be my sons and daughters.”

History, though, has not been kind to God’s intention. Once the Church degenerated from a divinely called-out people into a huge man-made system it ceased to be the true church of Jesus Christ. It also ceased to represent God.

What, then, of all that is said and done in the name of Jesus? What of the many – individuals, churches, organizations –  who claim to represent Him? Can so many of them not be representing Him?  Worse, many are misrepresenting Him. Instead of God being seen and known it is manman’s ways, man’s knowledge, man’s ego, man’s ambition. From tradition-steeped “old” Christianity to free form new; from stuffy sacramentalism to demonstrative pentecostalism; it is man, not God, who is being exalted.

Given Christianity’s record, it is hardly surprising that the word gospel has also suffered at the hands of religious men. Its English origin is the Saxon godspell which simply meant good story. The Greek word in the New Testament is euaggelion which, equally simply, means good news. Most Christians know that, but do they realise its implications?

Jesus himself was good news. His life in its entire expression, right through to His death and resurrection, was literally a gospel. He was a true representation of God in every way. For those seeking God, Jesus was good news embodied. For others He was bad news. So they killed him.

The contradiction which looms large in Christianity is that many who claim to preach the “Good News” are themselves bad news. Whatever their message they are unable to represent God because what they are is different to what He is.

There can be no true Gospel unless the message of that Gospel is first embodied in human flesh. It must be incarnate just as it was with Jesus, who was literally “the Word in the flesh.” His gospel was valid because He was valid. His life was His message. Men could argue with His words but His life represented God so powerfully, His detractors were put to shame.

Christianity places great store on the content of the message, whereas God is concerned with the content of the messenger. From Christianity’s view point, so long as the message is “scriptural,” the doctrine “sound” and the theology “solid,” little else is ever questioned. Not so in God’s kingdom where men are validated – or invalidated – not by what they proclaim but by what they are. Unless those who claim to be God’s people are what He is, unless as a body they embody Him, they cannot represent Him – regardless of their message, doctrine or theology. And if God is not represented, there is no good news – no gospel.

The apostle Paul knew this well. He wholeheartedly embraced his calling and allowed it to change his life. Not only did he preach his message – he embodied it. As a result, his reputation reached far and wide – and downwards as well as-upwards.

One day the seven sons of a Jewish priest called Sceva decided to emulate Paul. Having seen him casting out evil spirits in the name of Jesus, they decided to do likewise using the same formula. After all, it worked for Paul, surely it would work for them. But they overlooked one vital difference: Paul was a true representative of God, they were not.

Confronting a demon-possessed man, the sons of Sceva issued their command: “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches we command you to come out!” The evil spirit was not impressed. “Jesus I know,” he acknowledged, “and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on the unfortunate seven and gave them such a beating they ran out of the house naked and bleeding!

God’s authority is not automatically applied to a situation just because the name of Jesus is invoked, the Gospel of Jesus proclaimed or some verses of scripture recited. Far from it, for in God’s kingdom authority is always vested in relationship. Only those who are first called by God and who then live up to the terms of that calling can ever represent him. All others are no more God’s representatives than were the sons of Sceva – no matter how scriptural their message or correct their doctrine.

Am I being uncharitable in likening sincere, devoted Christians to Sceva’s sons? The contrast is not as great as you may think. There is, after all, nothing to indicate those men were anything but devoted and sincere. They were the sons of a priest trying to help a demon-possessed man. There is no suggestion they were wrongly motivated or evil. Just misguided.

“But,” you may protest, “they weren’t Christians and that makes all the difference!” Does it? Here we have one of Christianity’s greatest misconceptions: that being a Christian is what really matters. Being born again, having a testimony, possessing the right spiritual credentials.

Such was the mentality of the proud Jews who opposed Jesus. They were Abraham’s descendants – the very ones called by God to be His special people – and how they traded on that, seeing it as something which gave them favour with God. Yet when those proud, pious Jews were confronted by Jesus’ forerunner John the Baptist, he swept aside their smugness with these cutting words: “And do not think you can say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham!”

In proudly boasting of their descent from Abraham and of their “special” status with God, those vain Jews had placed themselves in a far worse position than the Gentiles who never claimed to be God’s people in the first place. Like so many of today’s Christians, those “children of Abraham” self-centeredly saw God’s blessings and promises as a means of achieving not His ends but their own.

God’s calling is freely given but its implications are extremely costly, and few are prepared to pay the price. Which is why “many are called but few are chosen.” To be called by God and then fail to live up to that calling is to do far worse than Sceva’s sons. They had neither the means nor the knowledge with which to represent God. We have. If we neglect to represent Him, while at the same time claiming to be His people, our guilt is truly great.

Yet that is the state of much of today’s Christianity. While claiming to represent God it is flagrantly misrepresenting Him. Many who claim to be called by Him are unwilling to live on His terms. While loudly proclaiming the name of Jesus, it is they, not He, who are in control. To their eternal shame, they have turned God’s Church into a system which offers gifts without demanding Godliness.

So we have Man’s Church masquerading as God’s Ekklesia, and the difference is fundamental. Instead of substance it offers structure. Instead of truth, dogma. Instead of love, sentiment. Instead of faith, knowledge. Instead of self-giving there is self-interest. Instead of rest there is striving and guilt-ridden, self-justifying activity. And all of it in the name of Jesus. But is God represented? About as much as He was by the religious system of Jesus’ day.

While ever there is a religion called Christianity usurping the place of the Church of Jesus Christ, while ever God’s love and grace are used and abused by self-centered humanity, how can God be represented? Yet not only can He be represented – He must be represented. And He will be, but not by the Christian system. And certainly not by self-centered, self-seeking “Christians.”

God will be represented by those who choose to be His people, on His terms. He has called us to walk the way of Jesus and just as Jesus had to choose, so those who claim to follow him must choose. It is a choice I made long ago, and it is the choice I continue to make today. It is also the choice of those who walk with me in that body called Outreach International, for we know there is no other way for us than the way of Jesus.

You too must choose whether or not you will walk the way of Jesus. For God’s kingdom can only be established by God’s people, when they embrace their calling, embody their message and represent their God.