It’s important to understand the reason why the Lord begins to manifest Himself to us in our darkness. He doesn’t appear to us in our fallen, rebellious, dead, contrary, blind, carnal, enslaved condition (which is called Egypt, spiritually speaking) merely to comfort or console us. He appears in our dark land of Egypt to show us what we are, where we are, how contrary we are to Him, and in order to show us a way out of that condition.
Now when the Lord begins to appear to man, or manifest Himself in man, there is indeed usually an emotional response on our part. There is often a measure of excitement, or peace, or joy, or conviction, or love, a feeling of being touched by the power of God, or even healed of some inward or outward ailments.This is wonderful, because it means that the Lord has begun to reach to us, to call us, to touch us, but we must understand that this does not mean that we have any real spiritual understanding, or that we have yet grown or been changed very much by the Spirit of God.
One of the biggest problems in the church today, my friend, is that we speak as if the beginning were the end; or as though the birth of spiritual life is the same as the growth and reign of spiritual life in man. We feel something of God’s truth or power or presence, we feel a measure of peace or joy or conviction, and then we often quickly say “I’m saved!” Or it is common to hear people say, “I was saved 30 years ago at such-n-such revival meeting…” etc. We speak of salvation as though it were an instantaneous event, an outward transaction, or a legal decree, and we often speak with great confidence because we really DID experience something of His life and power in our hearts, our bodies, or our emotions. But it is so important for us to understand that these touches, callings, convictions, awakenings, etc. (though wonderful) are just the BEGINNING of a work that God desires to do in us and to us.
Now, when God’s reason for reaching to man is not understood, it is very common for people (who have been genuinely touched, convicted, or awakened by the Lord) to begin to meet together; and when they come together they often simply want to continue feeling the same thing that they felt at first. They want to feel that same touch, that some conviction, that same power, or whatever it was… very much like the multitudes who followed Christ because of the miracles, healings, and food.
I mean, many people experience a touch of God’s power, a conviction of His righteousness, an inward awareness of His reality, and so they begin to regularly attend church or a Bible study. But sadly, (as Paul mentions in Galatians chapter 3) they often “begin in the Spirit and try to continue growing in the flesh.” They begin by being touched by the power or grace or light of Christ, but then they rapidly start to learn things, study things, read things, serve leaders, perform traditions and ceremonies, etc. And the problem with this is that the PURPOSE for which God appeared to them was not primarily that they would commit to a belief system or join a local gathering, but rather that they would begin to know and experience His Spirit as their leader, guide, teacher, judge, light and transformer. That they would find His light or grace or Spirit to be that very lost treasure or precious pearl that Jesus speaks about in His parables—that talent or mina, that grain of mustard seed or heavenly leaven, that they are to turn to continually, to submit to it continually, and be changed by. Because the manifestation of the Lord’s power in man begins with a very specific design, a very specific purpose. He desires to carry on a work in us, putting to death a nature that has been reigning in us, and forming in us the life of His Son. He gives an anointing to teach us all things, to show us what it means to put off the old man and put on the new. The Bible is FILLED with descriptions of this reality and this necessity, but very often we don’t hear or think much about these things. We think that the Lord touched us, convinced us, healed us, or awakened us, simply so that we can say “We’re saved!” rather than to allow Him to BEGIN a work in our heart.
Think about the story of Israel when they were enslaved in Egypt. What if a large group of Israelites who had lived in Egypt their entire lives, began to hear the words of Moses, began to experience the power, the plagues, and miracles of God, but then, instead of actually leaving Egypt, they just began to form churches and small study groups that acted and talked like they were already in the promised land. This is a great problem in the church today, and this is what I am trying to suggest to you. We have so many who have not even begun to leave the land of Egypt (I mean leave the flesh, the first birth, the natural man), and yet they talk and sing of and celebrate the blessings the Promised Land. They haven’t left that dark, dead, enslaved, and contrary nature, but they consider themselves safe and secure just because the Lord has BEGUN to manifest Himself to them, and call them out.
Now I hope you can see that this causes an enormous amount of problems in the church today. Why? Because the flesh or the first birth continues to reign in these people, even though their minds may have been convinced, and their bodies may have been touched by God. Egyptian appetites continue reigning in these people. They continue holding on to all of their own ideas about God—who He is, what He wants, what it means to follow Him, serve Him, etc., but the truth is that they can’t rightly or truly understand any of this as long as they remain in Egypt. In fact, at one point Pharaoh asked Moses why they cannot simply worship their God in Egypt, and Moses responded by saying, ‘We don’t even know how to serve the Lord until we leave this place arrive there.’ (See Exodus 10:26).
This is something the Lord has had to show me about my own heart. He showed me that I was reading, seeing, and celebrating some realities of the Promised Land, when I had barely taken any real steps out of Egypt. Again, we have this common idea in the church that the salvation of God is automatic, just by repeating some words, or agreeing with some doctrines. We think of it like an external transaction, a legal status, or like God waving a magic wand and declaring us to be something and somewhere that we are not. But this is not the nature of God’s salvation. And when I say that, I do NOT mean that God has not really touched these people, or appeared to them, because we see that God most certainly DID appear in Egypt. But He didn’t appear in Egypt to remain there, nor to establish His church there. No. He appeared in Egypt to manifest His power, presence, and His many judgments against that land and nature and slavery, and to call a people out from it.
This is what the Lord has done in the heart of every believer. He has appeared in one way or another. He has manifested Himself. Sometimes these experiences are very emotional. Sometimes they are felt to be a deep sight and conviction for sin. Sometimes people feel something like spiritual sight, or suddenly the Bible comes alive, or they somehow inwardly realize that God is righteous and that they are sinners. These things are real, they are good, and they are necessary, but they are the manifestations of God to a people who are still living in Egypt, in the flesh, in the first birth, in the fallen nature, in the vanity of their own thoughts, in the carnal mind that is enmity with God. They are the manifestations of God to call us OUT from what we are, and from where we are.
Imagine a group of Israelites, after seeing a bunch of God’s plagues in Egypt, beginning to congregate together on Sundays without ever leaving Egypt. They gather together, appoint leaders, perform ceremonies, and begin to share what they saw, what they felt, they also begin to teach what they think they know, according to their own understandings and experiences, often reciting the stories of God’s plagues or His manifest judgments against Pharaoh. My friend, this is exactly what much of what the church does today. We meet in the flesh, in the first birth, oftentimes having experienced something real of God’s power, or a real conviction from God, or some shining of His light in our dwelling… but we still meet together in the wrong man, in the wrong land, sharing our own ideas and opinions.
The Israelites did precisely the same thing when, having left Egypt, they could not hear or see Moses for forty days. They didn’t meet together and decide that they wanted a new God. They just got together and tried to define the “God who brought them out of Egypt” according to their own imaginations, desires, and opinions. They sought to define who He was, what He wanted, and appointed new feasts and ways of worshipping him. Aaron arbitrarily “made a proclamation and said ‘Tomorrow is a feast unto the Lord!” (Exodus 32:5) But you see, though they all believed in God, and had all experienced something of His power, their Egyptian hearts still wanted to define who He was, what He wanted, and what it meant to worship Him. And almost every time God made known to them His true desire, His true purpose, His true way (the way of the cross to the first birth) they grumbled and murmured and declared their desire to return to Egypt. Why? Because the natural man has his own ideas of God, his own expectations of the journey, his own opinions about God’s nature and way, about what God should do for man, and what man should do for God.
And it is for this very reason that God manifests Himself in Egypt in plagues and judgments. He doesn’t first appear in Egypt with praise, affirmation and encouragement. He appears in Egypt and convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He shows them the reality of His righteousness, His power, manifesting a division between those who are willing to leave and those who are not. Remember, there was a time during the plagues when God began to make a division between Egypt and Goshen. Egypt was covered with thick darkness, but Israel had light in their dwellings.
So the judgments of the Lord appear in our hearts as a division. The light shines and a sword cuts between two lives or natures, making a distinction between things that are of a different birth, origin, and nature. And this isn’t so that we can immediately jump up and say “I’m saved!”, or “I’ve arrived at the Promised Land!” This is so that we truly and deeply understand that there is something in man that God rejects (the flesh, the first birth, the natural man), and there is something in man (the soul) that He is mercifully trying to save by filling it with Himself. There is something that God is inviting us to leave behind, and something else that God is trying to form in our hearts. And my friend, if we stop here, with these first experiences of God, then the rest of our lives, and the remainder of our Christianity, will be 99% imaginations. Why? Because the natural mind is enmity with God; the natural man cannot know the things of God. Because there is a fallen, corrupted, animal-like man (that the Bible calls the old man) which reigns in fallen man, and which we must put off. And because there is a seed of God, a heavenly seed, that God desires to grow, increase, conquer, reign in you, and save you. You see, to save us, there is something that God must crucify, and something else that must rise up to reign in us. And if we don’t start here with this understanding, we are never going to understand the wilderness. We will never understand what God is trying to do with us there, but will continue in our grumbling and murmuring against God’s way, inventing our own worship, making our own golden calves, and though we call them by the name of Jesus or Jehovah, they will still be idols that we have formed in the image and likeness of things below.
So the most important thing is that this POWER that visits us, and convinces us of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and sometimes touches our heart or even heals our body… the most important thing is that we learn to take this power or grace to be our leader, our teacher, and our guide in all things. And if we truly submit ourselves to this, then the Lord is going to show us what it means to cross the wilderness, enter in and possess the land, conquer all enemies, and abide in His kingdom. But if we do not humble ourselves so as to bow before even the smallest manifestation of this new Guide, then we are going to continue meeting together, teaching, singing, and celebrating our own imaginations. And this can easily last a lifetime.
Now the idea that the work of God in man is instantaneous and automatic is, in my opinion, one of the most successful lies of the enemy in our day. Why? Because it makes people stop their journey before they’ve even begun to travel. It makes people celebrate victory when they are still living in Egypt. It makes people boast of what God has done for them, when they have experienced almost nothing besides the beginnings of conviction and drawing. Why is it dangerous? Because it makes us call God our Savior when we haven’t yet allowed Him to save us from anything—not from the power of sin that reigns in us, not from our vanity, selfishness, pride, our carnal mind, love of the world, ambition, bitterness, etc. My friend, every believer should stop and seriously ask themselves the question WHAT HAS GOD SAVED ME FROM? That is a very important question. Have you left Egypt, the first, fleshy nature? Have you crossed the wilderness? Do you feel a new nature beginning to reign in your heart?
And this is the reason why the Lord had to deal with Israel in the manner that He did, and why we ALL have to pass through the wilderness. Because the wilderness, so to speak, is us. I mean the wilderness represents an exodus from ourselves. It is the individual’s experience of the cross. It’s an exodus from our own Egyptian imaginations, appetites, false religion, murmuring, darkness, deadness, etc. The Lord will not just give push us into the Promised Land and pretend that these things don’t exist.
Look at Deuteronomy chapter 8:2-3
And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.
Or look at Exodus 19:4-6. We often stop reading (or at least stop paying attention after verse 4).
You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.
Do you see what Moses is saying here? The Lord has done something remarkable, merciful, powerful to bring us to Himself, to bring us into a covenant with Him. He has manifested His judgments in Egypt, shown a great division between flesh and Spirit, parted the Red Sea, entered into covenant with His people, etc. But then he says, “NOW THEREFORE, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant…”.
My friend, why do so many Christians fail to grow? After 30 years of attending church, why are they the same, if not worse? Why are they still committing the same sins, using the same vain words, loving the same things of the world, living in the same natural desires, having more and more desires and aspirations in the earth? Why do they have the same old vices, the same habits, the same nature, the same dissatisfaction? They’ve heard so many sermons, they’ve memorized verses, but their heart hasn’t changed. Why? I believe one of the principle reasons is because so many think they have already arrived, when they haven’t ever truly taken one step out of Egypt. In other words, they haven’t even BEGUN to understand what it means to lose their life, to be crucified to the life and land of their first birth.
What were God’s first words to Abram in Genesis 12? “Get out!” Get out of what? Get out of everything you are, everything you have, and everything you know, and I will give you something completely new! This is what the Lord says to every human being in one way or another. Get out! Leave it all behind! And yet, we don’t want to! We want to remain in Egypt, gather together on Sundays, and talk about God’s words. But what I’m trying to tell you is that the REASON that God begins to manifest in our hearts, showing us His power, or love, or judgment, distinguishing between the light and darkness in our dwelling place, is in order to bring us OUT of Egypt, out of the flesh, out of the first birth, the fallen natural man. “Therefore behold,” says the Lord, “I will allure her. I will bring her into the wilderness.” (Hos 2.14).
God promises us to bring us through the wilderness into a new land, to “give us vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor (i.e. trouble) as a door of hope.” (vs. 15) But this doesn’t align with our expectations. This doesn’t correspond with our appetites. This doesn’t fit with our definition of love. The Israelites said, “This isn’t what I expected Moses would do in the wilderness!” Christians today say, “This isn’t what I expected Christ would do with me when He first touched me and opened my eyes.” We are disappointed, confused, stiff-necked, and end up doing circles in the wilderness for years, murmuring against the way and wisdom of God.
And let me just say one more thing as clearly as I can. WHAT IS THE WAY OF GOD? My friend, the Bible says it so often and so clearly, but so few are willing to listen. How many times did Christ tell us that we had to lose what we call life to gain true life? How many times did Paul say that we had to put off the old man, become dead to sin, crucified to the world, carry about in our body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus could be manifested in our mortal bodies. The entire Old Testament is a picture of this in types and shadows. The entire New Testament declares this way in clear affirmations and doctrines. What is the way? It is the cross. It is the death of the first birth, the first man that reigns in the fallen heart of man. It is a complete submission to the Spirit of God, so that (as Peter says) “we are judged according to men in the flesh, and live according to God in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6). And this begins with an exodus from the life and nature of Egypt.
Now, this is obviously not something that we can just decide to do. But what we can do is subject ourselves completely to the One who appears and leads us out of Egypt. We can subject ourselves to His grace, His light, the seed of His kingdom, the talent or mina or heavenly leaven that is given in love to man. We can present ourselves as slaves to obey the righteousness of God. We can offer our bodies as living sacrifices. We can flee from youthful lusts, and resist the devil in the power that the Lord gives. No, we can’t change ourselves. We can’t do anything spiritual. But we can sincerely, humbly, and willingly subject ourselves to the Spirit and power that visits us in Egypt and leads us out. This is the gospel. It is power given by God to make an exodus. It is a way out, and a way into something else. “He has brought us out from there, that He might bring us in.” (Deut 6:23) It is leaving behind something that is totally contrary to God, and experiencing the divine nature formed in the human soul.
Have you ever considered how much Christ could have told us when He walked as a man? He could have explained every mystery of the universe. But what did He continually talk about? He kept talking about a righteousness that man did not have, but needed in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. He continually identified the problem on the inside of the cup and platter, saying the heart of man was the source of all evil, speaking over and over again about the need to lose our life, to be born again, born from above. How strange is it that so many people can congregate every Sunday and talk about Christ without ever mentioning this absolutely necessary change? Again, this is like meeting every Sunday in Egypt and speaking week after week about anything and everything except the necessity to leave. We gather in Egypt, in the flesh, and tell stories of what God did with the plagues, and we sing about God’s power, and we tell stories of how He has manifested Himself to us. But we won’t actually leave Egypt. We won’t die to ourselves. We won’t pick up our cross daily and follow Him out.
And sometimes, when somebody with a little bit of spiritual experience or discernment enters into a large church building and sees so many people smiling and celebrating, they cannot help but feel this question burning in their heart, “What are we really celebrating? Are we celebrating words that we have read? Are we singing with great emotion about things we have never experienced? Are we thanking God for what we haven’t allowed Him to do in our hearts? What are these words we are saying and hearing and repeating? Are they our own experiences?”
I don’t say any of this to be critical. You know my heart. My flesh is just as wicked as the flesh of any other person, and I have been a big part of the problem. But my friend, to answer your question about the church, we need to be willing to ask ourselves some serious questions, starting with, “have I ever even begun to leave Egypt?” “Have let God teach me the necessity of dying to the flesh so that I can live in the Spirit?” “What has God saved me from?” “What is truly reigning in my heart and desires?” “What am I celebrating?” I’m not against celebrating, but it makes much more sense to celebrate something that is real. I’m not against singing, but it makes much more sense to sing of what God has truly done for our souls.