Restoring the Centrality & Supremacy of God to the Gospel
Restoring the Centrality & Supremacy of God to the Gospel
by Lonnie Lane
Times they are a’changin’ If they were a’changing when Bob Dylan wrote that song, he’d have more to sing about now. We’re hearing so much about what changes need to happen today, we surely need wisdom and discernment to sort it all out, as well as to know how to pray intelligently. Another title comes to mind, this one a book written by Francis Schaeffer: How Shall We Then Live? That’s a valid question when we may possibly be faced with circumstances most of us have never experienced, or at least not as a nation.
The changes are attempts to restore our country to economic stability. But the issues aren’t just economic, they’re spiritually based. Problems always are, just as blessings always are. When I think of restoring, I think of Peter’s words about restoration and the return of Yeshua “whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (Acts3:21). Ultimately there are things that can only be fully restored upon the return of Yeshua, but if Peter thought there was much to be restored then, how much more needs restoring today? He was speaking about the restoration of a sovereign self-governing Israel coming out from under Roman rule to once again being under God’s rule as a unified people. He expected Messiah Yeshua to return imminently and establish the Kingdom of God. Peter’s expectations were national, even if they were spiritual. The link that exists between the political and the spiritual is also a reality. There are spiritual
“BeforeYeshua returns, there are some fundamental truths that must be restored to the Body of Messiah.“
kingdoms and dominions behind what goes on in the natural. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces… against the spiritual forces… in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). (Selah.)
Peter spoke prophetically beyond his understanding in his Pentecostal message. (See Acts 3:14-40). He never envisioned a “church” worldwide being primarily Gentile and certainly he never envisioned it being so “unJewish.” But such was the case and the needed restoration has been slowly taking place over centuries following the Reformation. This restoration has been accelerating since Israel is again in her God-given Land although not without opposition again the political and the spiritual are linked; the opposition looks like it’s political on the surface but it is spiritual opposition. With the onset of Jewish believers maintaining their Jewishness as believers and the move of the Holy Spirit (Charismatic movement) again in the church, all of which is tied in timing to Israel’s return to the Land, restoration is indeed taking place. The emphasis on “one new man” (Eph 2:14-15) is a God-inspired move in that direction.
We expect we’re living in the end of the age, yes? The check off list of what needs to happen according to God’s word is certainly showing signs of being completed. So what is it that God has yet to restore? The answer is undoubtedly manifold and beyond our ability to fully grasp, but I’d like to suggest that as “people of the Book” (Bible) we have inherited some significant misinterpretations of said Book. Before Yeshua returns, there are some fundamental truths that must be restored to the Body of Messiah.
Foundational to paramount truths being restored to God’s people is the centrality and supremacy of God in our gospel. No doubt you are well aware that the Bible begins with “In the beginning God….” (Gen 1:1). And it ends with an unparalleled majestic picture of the throne of God and of the Lamb in a city indescribable in its glory, along with a stating of criteria determined by the sovereign Almighty rule and reign of God for entrance to this city. (See Rev. 22.) From A to Z, the Bible is about God. Greek translations record Yeshua saying He was the Alpha and Omega. (Rev. 1:8). In Hebrew He would have said the Aleph and the Tav. In other words, the “beginning and the ending” (1:8b KJV) and everything in between. The Bible is about Him first and foremost. It is about us only as we fit into what He is doing and who He is.
It brings a great rest to our souls to know that God is fully in control in our lives and in the world. With all that is going on in America, Israel and globally right now, I admit I was doing some worrying. Lying in bed one morning recently, I wasn’t really thinking specifically about the world situation but I just felt I wanted to hear something from the Lord that would soothe my soul. I said, “Lord, would you please just say something to me that I know is from You? I just want to hear from You.” I just wanted to know He’s there, even though I know He’s there. Quietly I heard Him whisper back to me, “I’ve got the whole world in My hands.” Happy smile. Big sigh of release. Thank you, Abba. You’re wonderful. He does have the whole world and all that’s going on in His hands. For those of us who are living according to His Word, we can trust that He is looking out for us no matter what happens. But not everyone knows that.
Many trials have come about because the church has reinterpreted the Word. Shortly after the first century, the church began to see the Bible as a book primarily about mankind rather than primarily about God. Israel’s God-centeredness was lost and reinterpreted (or misinterpreted) according to a Greek mindset. To make clear the difference between Hebrew thinking and Greek thinking, a Hebrew follower of God hears and obeys His Word; they respond to God for who He is. Greek thinkers on the other hand, discuss it, dissect it, and analyze it, but don’t necessarily let it become internalized so that they are intrinsically changed by it. The western Church even today tends to be more Greek in thought than Hebrew. Even committed Believers may be involved in Bible study after Bible study, analyzing, dissecting, discussing, and even after having heard hundreds of sermons still struggle with being fully surrendered to God. Or am I the only one who’s ever had that trouble?
God isn’t to be deliberated about, He’s to be loved and revered and trusted and obeyed. We need to be restored to a reverential fear and awe of God in His holiness. It’s something He must do, but we must desire to know Him that way. What an immeasurable privilege to be chosen by Him to be His own! The blessings God has for us are as high as the heavens: His protection, His provisions, His lovingkindness in so many practical ways, and His eternal salvation! God taught the Hebrews through centuries of experiencing Him to be God-aware and to respond to Him according to His holiness. The Greeks reflect the best of man’s intellectual capabilities without God. But the two don’t mix. They are antithetic to one another. At least from God’s perspective. He doesn’t like mixture. He likes it all done His way. It’s one of the privileges He can claim as Lord of the Universe!! (See Lev 19:19; Deut 22:11).
God created a God-centered world. He didn’t send Yeshua for our benefit primarily. He sent Him for Himself, to bring us to Himself, for His good pleasure and His will and purpose. Read through Ephesians 1:1-14 to begin with and see how many pronouns there are that refer to God (He, His, Him) and what they tell us about God. Ask the Lord to help you learn of Him as you read. Then give some thought to what He was desiring, what His motive and goal was, what satisfaction He gained from all this, how it served God’s good pleasure and purpose, how it satisfied His heart. Then consider what He has done for us. In other words, see if you can get your thoughts up to where “He has raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in heavenly places in Messiah Yeshua” (Eph 2:6) and then look down on what He has done for us. Read it through God-centered eyes and heart. In time, that will change the way you read the Bible and relate to God.
Creation is to satisfy His Father heart first and foremost. As God is not needy, proud, demanding or prideful, we can trust that His desire for a family is to express His absolute goodness to those who will love Him back in purity and like-goodness. He wants to share His absolute joy with us. That’s His motive. Mixtures dilute what He is able to impart to us and eventually remove us from the reach of His embrace so that we lose the sense of His nearness and His goodness so that we devolve into religion that is rules and consequences without His joy, peace or a right sense of righteousness.
When we are without the powerful sense of God’s presence we become insecure and self-focused, even if we don’t think God has anything to do with it. When people don’t know that He is Lord and in control, even in areas where we as Believers haven’t come to fully trust Him, we look for control within ourselves in some manner. (Even drugs or alcohol, or compulsion to keep things neat may be a way to try to quiet the chaos inside even if it creates more chaos.) Or we acquiesce to control outside of ourselves. Again, the spiritual and the political often meet at just this point. Societies that are without God have the most control. Atheist countries (think Albania or USSR, for instance) have evidenced the most control. On the other hand entirely, “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (2 Cor 3:17).
What happened in the Garden of Eden was a fall from God-centeredness to self-centeredness and self-consciousness. Even though God’s paramount goodness was present at creation, when unbelief and rebellion entered in through what we refer to as the Fall, this separation from trust in God’s goodness manifested in fear, guilt, and shame. These characteristics became the hallmarks of mankind’s existence. History tells the story over and over again. But the greatest of all stories is that Yeshua took our sin, fear, guilt and shame upon Himself so that we could be “restored” to be God focused again! Wasn’t that your experience if you have been “born again” (John 3:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:3, 23)? Suddenly you were aware of God as you had never been before. Life with God is a continual unfolding of Who He is.
Those who trust and believe that Yeshua cleansed us of our sin are freed from self-consciousness that keeps us forever trying to somehow “be okay.” Yeshua’s disciples were with Him for 3 1/2 years and witnessed how He lived and how He faced death. They knew first hand the reality of the resurrection. The transfer from this life to
“We need to be restored to a reverential fear and awe of God in His holiness.“
eternal life even in the here and now was very real to them. They were no longer living out of the Fall. They were living in Kingdom ways. They learned humility and obedience, reverence and holiness, love and deferring to one another in their time with Yeshua. So much so that they were able to impart these same qualities to the early community of believers so that “they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:45,46) “And the congregation of these who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were common property to them…there was not a needy person among them” (4:32, 34). They seemed to be “selfless,” didn’t they? They learned it being with Yeshua those few years. They were so changed that they were able to impart that same surrendered heart, by the power of the Spirit of God, to thousands. Being so fully immersed in awareness of God and His Kingdom, they lived by its ways, not by the way of self-centered mankind.
These first believers knew that they were weak in the natural but empowered by His Spirit, and so they were fearless in following the leading of the Lord. Just as Yeshua has modeled with His life true humility unto His Father, they lived for Him as He lived for God, and loved Him more than they loved even their own lives. They gave God the highest place in their lives and lived, not for their own, but for His honor, His glory, and His reputation. They were entirely God-focused. And God changed the world around them through them!
To back up a little in history, God had chosen Israel to be a witness of Him, to let the world know that God exists. It was His call to Abraham and subsequently to his sons and their sons. Israel was chosen to show the world around them what He is like by the way they lived unto Him and the way they lived together with one another, as families and as a community. God’s calling upon Israel was to reveal Himself to the world; it still is. Whether the world is presently aware of it or not, to tie the political and the spiritual together again, their dealing with Israel is their dealing with God. One day that will become evident.
Israel often failed as His followers and God dealt with them severely when they abandoned Him and His ways after many years of patience and long suffering. Both the patience and the judgment both revealed His character and nature as both powerfully loving and fearfully holy. When they followed Him, His presence was with them in profound manifestations of the supernatural. These manifestations always related to the practicalities of life and in their worship.
Yeshua worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. No other. There was no expectation of anything other than worship of YHWH for Yeshua or any of the Jewish followers of Messiah Yeshua. They were among the Jews as Jews. There was never any thought of it being otherwise. As there were numerous sects within a rather diverse Judaism at that time the Believers were another expression of Judaism, not viewed as separate from it in any way.
Any distinction between the followers of Yeshua and any other Jews was the “anointing” of the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit came upon them, what they experienced was the personal presence and power and anointing of God which had previously only been upon prophet, priest or king. But what a difference it was! “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe” (Acts 2:43). “The people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number” (Acts 5:13, 14). The expectation of the growing numbers of Believers was that all Israel would become Believers in Messiah Yeshua and come under the same anointing. And always, without exception, any followers of Messiah Yeshua would worship the Holy One of Israel, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. In other words, the Hebrew God as He had revealed Himself to Israel, the God whom Yeshua Himself worshipped.
It was not long after the death of John, who lived the longest of the disciples, that Gnostic influences led to a mixture of Scripture and the Gnostic philosophy that Paul warned against with Scripture: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Messiah (Col 2:8). Gnosticism has to do with “knowledge” – special or higher knowledge. The premise is that there is mystical information that one can learn about God to bring them to a higher spiritual level. This thinking is entirely contrary to God’s ways and unbiblical. They also came up with assumptions about God that are unbiblical.
The 2nd and 3rd centuries when much of this dialog was going on, society was so saturated with Greek philosophy they absorbed and interpreted many aspects of Scripture in accordance with Greek thinking. They introduced ideas that were far more heaven-focused than earthly-focused. God’s ways are to regard every aspect of our lives as holy. But the Greeks thought of the physical realm and the things of the body as inferior to the spiritual realm. With its emphasis on day-to-day living in our natural bodies, the Old Testament was seen as less ‘spiritual’ than the New Testament. The emphasis of their concerns were more to “get to heaven” and of less concern was living out this life in all its aspects in holiness unto the Lord. Any of this sound familiar to anyone? How many of us are holding on to the end, just to get to heaven and yet missing the fullness of Spirit-filled joy in the day-to-day gifts of life that God gives to us? If you’re not experiencing them, ask God to make you aware of them and look for Him and His thoughtful gifts to you each day. And I do mean each day. Regardless of your circumstances, God is still there to show you His goodness.
Greek philosophy is based upon the premise that man is the center of all things. This horizontal approach to the Scriptures that resulted caused the church to often be near-sighted and self-focused. This kind of thinking bleeds into concepts of God. To the Hebrews God had said, “You shall not make for yourself an idol or any likeness of what is in heaven above…You shall not worship them or serve them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate me” (Ex. 20:4,5). He meant it! God sees the worship of created images even when they were supposed to be objects of worship of God Himself, as hating Him! That means, hating Who He is, the “I am” who is indefinable, unmanageable, eternal and infinite.
Any images or attempts to portray God visually so limits our concepts of God that we cannot possibly worship Him in Spirit and in truth if we are relying on visual images to stir us to worship. But we know that there were lots of images created to represent God and Yeshua. And, God help us, even Yeshua’s earthly mother. Having disregarded Torah and the Old Testament, they were not aware of God’s commandments against idolatry or the consequences of worshipping them. They were not seeing from God’s perspective. There was not awareness of His Person and how idolatry hurts God; how He takes it as rejection. He loves us so much that our eyes elsewhere incites jealousy for us. They didn’t have the kind of love for Him that wants never to cause His Spirit to grieve so that He withdraws. Beautiful as the art work may be and many are extraordinarily magnificent – think the Sistine Chapel, for instance, or the myriad of Renaissance painters depicting Biblical scenes – they all distort our views of God and limit them to what we can imagine.
The Hebrews, on the other hand, see God as transcendent and beyond defining or our ability to grasp with our finite senses Who our infinite God is. He is so far beyond the extremes of our imaginations or concepts. That’s why Jews have trouble believing God could come as a finite man. Until, of course, we come to a G od-imparted revelation of Who Messiah is! When He shows the truth to us by His Spirit, it becomes immediately clear that “God has made Him both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). The Hebrews had no images of God, but the Greeks and the Romans produced many. As we know, the Roman Catholic church still uses statuary as part of their worship. And it is still unbiblical.
The folks who have been influenced over the centuries by this limited view of God were not able to avail themselves, nor even know to have faith for, the abounding blessings available in God for those who “worship Him in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). By discounting the Old Testament, such violation against Scripture and the intentional disregard for God’s Self-disclosure to Israel, God withdrew and was found no longer in the church as He had been even a century or two earlier. If there’s no presence, there’s no conviction, without conviction there’s no fear of God, if there’s no fear of God there’s no repentance, and therefore no salvation! It is possible to lose the presence of God if we become so distracted, even with ministry, that we are not loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Ephesus was a thriving church in the first century. The book of Acts testifies to that. But by the time John received his Revelation of Yeshua before the end of the first century, though Yeshua commended them for numerous things, those things did not protect them from possible judgment. He warned them sternly: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen and repent and do the deeds you did at first, or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent” (Acts 2:4,5).
A lampstand represents His presence and the power of His Spirit to be a testimony and a witness for Him. The gifts are certainly beneficial for us, but their highest purpose is to let the world know that God is good and He cares for His people. Yeshua warned the church at Ephesus that He would withdraw His Spirit, remove His lampstand, if they didn’t return to their first love. That the church in Ephesus did not continue is a sobering fact. I’m not sure how long they lasted, but there is no more church in Ephesus. The sad thing is that when the lampstand in our congregations is removed, we are rarely aware of it. When we have programs that we can handle without dependency on the Lord or man-inspired things that we are doing to stir up worship using our senses rather than yielding to His Spirit so that God is “at home” in our worship, we may be with out a lampstand, without an anointing, and not even know it. We’re so horizontally focused and busy that we don’t know it (He) is gone. It makes me want to cry. Not only for us, but for Him. How that must hurt His heart, that we would be more satisfied with our man-centered ways than with Him and still call ourselves His.
If there is one thing to cherish and protect, to desire and pray for, it is the anointing of God that we may dwell in His presence. Last night in my Kosher Gospel Bible study we were talking about how those who follow God have to deal with the same realities as those who don’t. Today, for
“We can go through anything when we know we are God’s chosen ones and we know that our lives and our times are in His hands.”
instance, the whole country is in economic stress — not because of the sin of us all, but of some of us. In Israel when there was sin in the camp, the whole nation came to a stand-still until it was revealed and dealt with. So we see that those who follow God might have to live through circumstances that are brought on by those who are not following God. However, we live by a higher law and we can be financially blessed in the midst of an economic downturn. “Seeing that His divine power has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). That doesn’t change because the economy or anything else changes. That’s why we can be the light in the darkness, the truth in the midst of confusion. Because we have the “true knowledge of Him” who is the answer to all questions, the resolution to all dilemmas and even the safety in any chaos or danger. We can go through anything when we know we are God’s chosen ones and we know that our lives and our times are in His hands. We’re the people with hope. We’re the people with insight from the Holy Spirit. But best of all, we know God!!! When Abba is central in all aspects of our lives and supreme in our trust and our choices, we can be the light the first disciples were in critical times.
In references to the end of days, Daniel prophesied, “the people who know their God will display strength and take action. And those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many” (Daniel 11:32, 33). I want that to be my job description in the Lord. How about you? May it be unto us according to this word as we keep our focus God-centered, in Yeshua’s name, Amen.
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Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.