The Appearings of Christ

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[A response to an email]  

I’ve thought a lot about your email, especially where you said, “I’m just feeling like a lost, misguided deceived sheep. And if what you’re saying is true, there’s a ton of us out here.” I think what I wrote to you IS true (otherwise I wouldn’t have written it); and sadly, I believe you’re right, there ARE a whole lot of people that walk in great darkness, assuming they are in a better condition than they really are. I have most certainly been guilty of the same, at least for a great portion of my life. 

But tell me, can you think of a time in biblical history where this wasn’t the case? Didn’t God lead a couple million people (600,000 adult males) out of Egypt in order to bring them into His rest? And didn’t the great majority of these quickly assume they knew God, understood His ways, and walked with Him just like Moses and Joshua, even when they were creating golden calves and bringing down plagues upon themselves? “But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” (1 Cor 10:5). What about in the times of the judges? Or the kings? Wasn’t God continually calling to them by His prophets, and lamenting over the fact that nearly all of them “turned to his own course”, (Jer. 8:6) “following the dictates of his own evil heart, so that no one listens to Me” (Jer. 16:12) This is the continual language of the prophets and messengers of God for hundreds of years, not with reference to the unbelieving gentiles, but to Israel, the people who had received God’s covenant and believed His words.

Things were no different after the coming of Christ. There was certainly an extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit, and a great awakening for a time, but even before the original apostles died out, we read of the beginning of a great apostasy that soon overtook the newly born church. John says, “Many antichrists have already gone into the world.” Paul speaks of seducing spirits and doctrines of devils that would cause a departure in the faith. Peter laments the many “false teachers,” and “damnable heresies” that were coming. We read that many who had begun in the Spirit turned back to the flesh, others were already “bewitched” with false gospels and false apostles, and still others were turning the grace of God into license for the flesh. Near the end of his life, Paul wrote things like, “This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me,” and, “For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world. Only Luke is with me.” And I think it is fair to say that the last 2000 years of church history have only manifested the same lamentable situation.

This is not at all a reflection on the goodness, will, or love of God, nor on the gracious way that He has made Himself available to all mankind. This is a reflection on the heart of man, who wilfully (eagerly!) pursues the love of self, follows the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life, and “always resists the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 7:51) It is nothing new to have huge quantities of people walk in the stubbornness of their own religious imaginations. This is as old as the Tower of Babel. The psalmist speaks of “nations that have forgotten God,” and elsewhere says, “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, Against the Lord and against His Anointed.” And yet, there have always been some, in every generation, who are unwilling to swallow down the formal, lifeless, and powerless religion of the masses, and who turn in desperation and humility to be awakened, corrected and taught by the Spirit of Truth.

And this, my friend, is exactly what you need to do. You said, “Assuming I have it all wrong, now what?” I answer: Now you must find and follow your Teacher. I am not talking about learning more Bible verses, reading another book, or finding a new pastor. I’m talking about becoming familiar with the God of your life, the One who is close to every man, but generally far away from their affections and experience. Perhaps you are now saying, “Ok, that’s obvious. But how?” Yes, THIS is the great question, and this is where so many get off track by taking someone or something else for their guide.

You say, “by definition nobody can know when they are deceived.” I agree. And as long as man trusts in his own understanding, perspective, opinion, reason, and learning, he is unable to escape from this hopeless state of blindness and weakness. Neither man’s strength nor his intellect can chase away the darkness that he has become. BUT, there is something ELSE (I mean, something that does not originate in man) that comes to man in order to undeceive him. There is something that appears in the darkness, exposes the darkness, makes a division or contrast, and invites man to follow it out into the light. 

What is this “something”? It has many names, but it is one thing. 

It is called grace:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, TEACHING US that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”—Titus 2:11-12

It is called Light:

That was the true Light, which enlightens every man that comes into the world.”John 1:9 Or, “But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever makes manifest is light.”Eph. 5:13

It is called the living Word of God:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”—Heb. 4:11The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the Word of faith which we preach)”—Rom. 10:8

It is called the “seed of the kingdom,” the “Spirit of Truth,” the “anointing that teaches” all things. It is a gift or measure of the Spirit of God that is given to man to MANIFEST deception, and to LEAD man out of it. 

Now perhaps you will say that everyone says they have this gift, and yet they still disagree with each other and produce obvious fruits of deception and darkness. This is very true. But there is a very simple reason for this, and one that becomes more apparent the more we walk in light. This reason is perfectly stated by Christ in these words: “Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)

The simple truth is that people remain blind and deceived because they don’t love the light in its first or lowest manifestations (or judgments), and therefore they never grow in spiritual discernment; they never truly wake up. People read verses about the light of Christ, or the grace that teaches, or the anointing that leads into all truth, and they foolishly expect it to be an outward or undeniable demonstration of God’s will and way—very much like the Jews who thought they couldn’t possibly miss the coming of the promised Messiah. They assume that they are already willing, able and ready to recognize any communication that might come from God. “If God ever speaks to me, I’ll be listening!” But what they don’t realize is that, because the natural man lives in and for the nature of flesh, his heart and eyes are already zealously running in a contrary direction. The will and nature of flesh (i.e. the natural man or first birth) is like a dirty river flowing in the wrong direction. God can’t fix things by just simply appearing with words and telling fallen man what to do. His first work is to show man what he is, and where he is going. 

For this reason, the appearings of Christ (both outwardly and inwardly) have always been different than what the natural man expects. As I mentioned in a blog post called Why Christians Don’t Change, the first appearances of Christ in the heart are normally inward manifestations of His NATURE, and these are always felt to be judgments against the nature of flesh. I mean, when God wants to show us who He is, and who and what we are in relation to Him, He doesn’t just whisper some words in our ear. Words are much weaker communicators than light, because they leave you as the one needing to hear, interpret and apply them. So (as Paul explains in 1 Cor. 2, and 2 Cor. 4), instead of only putting a few words in your ear, God puts a measure of His Spirit in your inner man, and then “shines in the heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” He gives a measure of His light, and then lets you see with it. “In His light, we see light.” He gives a measure of His Spirit, and lets you feel its stirrings, movings, convictions, and teachings. This is the only way that fallen man can get a true sense, or a living knowledge, of who and what God is. And this form of teaching always has the following two effects: 1) It gives a person (in some measure) an ability to see, feel, and recognize that God is good, pure, and entirely right; and 2) it thereby causes them to realize (in some measure) that they are evil, impure, and entirely wrong. 

So, returning to the analogy of the river… God does just not appear and say, “Although your heart is like a dirty river, heading in the wrong direction, nevertheless,here are the three things that I would like you to accomplish for me today.” Or, “Though you are entirely contrary to me in nature and purpose, nevertheless, here are the cardinal points of doctrine that you must accept as true.” Very much to the contrary, the Lord appears in a flash of inward light, which, for at least a moment, forces us to see something of His truth, and something of our lie; something of His life, and something our death; something of His purity, and something of our vileness; something of His will, and something of our own that is totally conflicting. And this is His love, because nothing can be done to help man until we are willing to see what we are, and where we are going. 

Most people are quick to dismiss these experiences, to justify or overlook them, or to call such convictions “trivial things, that God doesn’t really care about.” I mean, the times when the Spirit of God makes us feel uncomfortable or ashamed about our vain words, selfish attitudes, proud hearts, or manipulative ways. Or when grace causes a sting of conscience for bickering with our spouse, for wasting hours on Facebook or Instagram, for entertaining ourselves with lightness and vanity, or viewing shameful things on the internet. We feel something testifying that our deeds are evil, but then we say, “This can’t be the voice of the Messiah whom I have read about!” There are times when something causes us to see and abhor our true motives, our real desires, our hidden fantasies, our suppressed anger and bitterness—but do we really love the light that shows us these things? Do we listen to this voice? Generally the answer is no. Instead we say, “These little things are not the real substance of Christianity!” That may be true; but your love for them, and your unwillingness to leave them, shows that they are the real substance of your heart. 

The Lord says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” But most Christians are quick to complain that they cannot hear His voice, or that He simply doesn’t speak. But what I’m trying to tell you is that the beginning of His “speaking,” or the first working of His undeceiving power in the heart, comes by a variety of inescapable convictionthat something in our life, our words, our pursuits, our will, our goals, our HEART, itotally contrary to the nature of the God that we claim to be following. When the Spirit of Truth has come, “He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” Do we believe this Scripture? Can we claim we’ve never experienced it? Surely we have felt something of this Spirit when, in times of stillness, we cannot help but see that we want a new smartphone more than a new heart. Or that we spend far more time seeking laughter and levity than seeking acquaintance with the living God. Yes, I know that these little checks and reproofs hardly seem like the thunderous voice of Almighty God. But, my friend, you can be sure of this: If we do not love the light that shows us these “little” things, if we do not agree with it, submit to it, and take its side against ourselves, we will only grow further and further into spiritual numbness and insensibility. And then,having “insulted the Spirit of grace,” (Heb. 10:29), having “turned away from Him who speaks from heaven,” (Heb. 12:25) we may cry out loudly that things are unfair, and that man is hopelessly blind, deceived and fallen. But one day many will have to stand before the God who so often tried to reach them, and face the incontestable fact that they continued in ignorance and enmity with God because they “despised the day of small things”, (Zec 4:10) “were unfaithful with very little,” (Luk 19:17) and refused to “turn at His reproof.” (Prov. 1:23)

Now I’m not suggesting to you that these convictions and reproofs are the greatest or highest manifestations of God’s communications with man, but I am saying that if we dismiss or ignore them (while expecting something greater), we will remain in the very fallen nature that His light exposes and reproves. It is an immutable truth, that man can never be undeceived until he listens to the One who testifies against him. “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7)