Article by James W. Johnson
At last! My certificate has just arrived by special
delivery. It’s now
official. This is what it says:
This is to certify
satisfied the examiners that
he knows a lot of
big religious words and
meaning of many obscure
ancient Hebrew and
Therefore, by the
powers invested in me,
I declare that the
above named is entitled
to all the rights
and privileges of a
Signed by me,
World Council of
on Friday, the 18th
September in the year
of our Lord, two
thousand and fifteen.
This certificate may sound impressive
to some people, but are you thinking what I’m
thinking? When I stand before Christ,
will it impress HIM? Of course not. For one thing, I won’t
be able to take my certificate, or anything else with me, only myself. Ultimately, the good works, prepared for us
by God, are not our works, but Christ’s work.
I be able to say to Christ, “I understood some very difficult words
- justification, redemption, reconciliation, atonement, and transubstantiation.” Will Christ be happy and reply, “Well
done, good and faithful slave. Come and
share your master’s happiness.”?
No, knowledge by itself will be useless
Perhaps I won’t
bother to frame my certificate, after all!
I have begun in a light-hearted way, but I
have a serious point to make.
Apostle Paul told the saints at Corinth that not many of them were wise
by human standards, or influential, or of noble birth. God mainly calls ordinary, weak,
foolish people. Paul also said that he
didn’t come with eloquence or superior
wisdom. But he did come with a
demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that their faith might
not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
went on to say that he spoke, not in words taught by human wisdom, but
in words taught by the spirit, expressing truths in spiritual
words. Then Paul makes a surprising
statement. The man without the
spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they
are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because
they are spiritually discerned.
diploma based on human knowledge and philosophy is a waste of time and paper. Not only that, we can read all the books in
the world, for example about swimming, but if we don’t
jump into the water we will never learn to swim. We have to put into practice what we learn.
God tells us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ. But there is a real danger that we would seek that knowledge outside
of the Scriptures. There is also a
danger that we will seek ‘spiritual feelings’,
to judge whether we are growing spiritually.
We do not have to feel new.
We are a new creation. We just need to believe Ephesians 1:3: “God
has blessed us in Christ with EVERY spiritual blessing.” And Colossians 2:10: “We
are COMPLETE in Him ...”
When you received information about this
fellowship weekend, you did not receive a questionnaire with it, which read
is a list of teachings. Tick the boxes
you believe. Please note that if you do
not tick the correct answers, you will
not be allowed to attend.”
a scale of 0 to 5 (0 being ‘immature’
and 5 being ‘perfect
and mature’) what stage do you consider you are
I will explain later the reason no such
foolishness is done.
But first, I want to focus on some
deceptive philosophies about maturing as a believer.
One is that of asceticism. In order to grow it is considered necessary
to observe certain physical regulations: fasts, diets, religious festivals, and
beating ones body. Then there are
regulations about the mind - yoga,
transcendental meditation, tarot cards, angel readings and many more like
it. And there are plenty like it - introversion, inward silence, dreams,
The thinking behind it is, “If
I can control my body by subjecting it to a rigorous diet, by treating it
harshly, by observing set times and days for prayer and religious observance,
then my spirit will be free from the passions and lusts of the body, free from
the controlling power of sin, able to be truly mature as a Christian. I will be on a higher plane, unaffected by
the normal demands of life and the various temptations to sin.”
No such nonsense is found in the
Scriptures. In fact, it is the opposite;
for example in Colossians 2:8 Paul warns:
“Beware that no one shall be despoiling
you through philosophy and empty seduction, in accord with the elements of the world, and not in accord
with Christ, for in Him the entire complement of the Deity is dwelling bodily.” He goes on in verse 16, “Let
no one, then, be judging you in food or drink or in the particulars of a
festival, or of a new moon, or of sabbaths, which are a shadow of those things
which are impending - yet the body is
Paul states that the teachers of these
philosophies only do this to puff up
their fleshly mind.
To grow spiritually we must “hold
the Head out of Whom the entire body is supplied and united through the
assimilation and ligaments” as it says in Colossians 2:19. If we died together with Christ, why are we
living in accord with the directions and teachings of men? These things may have an appearance of wisdom
in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of
no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
So, Paul continues, “If, then, you were aroused together
with Christ, be seeking that which is above, where Christ is ..... Be disposed
to that which is above, not to that on the earth ...”
So there is the answer - Get you mind off
your body, don’t
be continually introspective - look to Christ, to things above. In any case, these things are all for
corruption from use - in other words, they will not last for ever.
But why would anyone think that by beating
their body they could prevent sinning?
Because the teaching of Plato and others was that the body was evil, and
it needed to be in subjection. The body
was supposedly the source of all evil.
This concept permeated Christendom but it is not Scriptural. God calls His physical creation “very
That includes the human body and mind.
The worldly teaching is that human experience is divided between spiritual
and non-spiritual. Paul tells the
Colossians in 3:17, “And everything, whatsoever
you may be doing, in word or in act, do all in the name of the Lord
Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God, the Father, through Him.” So all that we do is to be done
under the lordship of Christ, even scrubbing floors! There is no separation between sacred and
Spirituality is expressed primarily in the
everyday affairs and relationships in our lives. You want Scriptural proof? Look at Colossians 3:23: “All,
whatsoever you may be doing, work from the soul, as to the Lord and
not to men, being aware that from the Lord you will be getting the compensation
of the enjoyment of an allotment: for
the Lord Christ are you slaving.”
We don’t need to get into a trance to reach God. We already have a relationship with God
through Jesus Christ. We don’t
have to do anything to get into God’s presence, or to make Him present. There is no higher spiritual
experience. No higher plane to
reach by drugs, meditation, or anything else.
Christ’s work on the cross is the necessary and sufficient
basis for Christian maturity.
There is no warrant in Scripture to devalue the human or the
natural. Yes, the whole of mankind does
sin and fall short of the glory of God.
Humanly speaking, we are no different.
But this is what Christ said to His disciples in John 15:3-4: “Already you are clean because of the word
which I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, I also am in you. According as the
branch can not be bringing forth fruit from itself, if it should not be
remaining in the grapevine, thus neither you, if you should not be remaining in
also said in John 13:15 and 17: “For an example have I given you, that,
according as I do to you, you also may be doing. If you are aware of these
things, happy are you if you should be doing them.”
We can be so set in rigidly thinking that
we are living under grace, that we think we must forsake any works. Yes, we
should rightly divide the word, but we should not ignore the rest of Scripture
that is not in the Prison Letters. At
the 2008 fellowship weekend, I gave a talk entitled, “The
I started off by saying, “This is
an old Bible.
All the pages
of Paul’s letters
have been removed.
From a distance
you might not
see any difference.
Someone unfamiliar with
it, could read
THIS Bible from
Genesis to Revelation
and not know
that there was
anything missing.” I
do need the
whole book, even
though not all
of it is
written TO us
or FOR us,
because we cannot
understand the so-called ‘Christian’ Bible
without it.” But please do not think that it is
only the “Prison Epistles” that
we should read. 2 Timothy 3:16 is clear:
“ALL Scripture is inspired by God, and
is beneficial for teaching, for exposure, for correction, for discipline in
righteousness, that the man of God may be equipped, fitted out for every good
keep not just Paul’s letters in our bibles, keep the
Nevertheless, Paul wrote these words in
Ephesians 2:8: “For
in grace, through faith, are you saved, and this is not out of you; it is God’s
approach present, not of works, lest anyone should be boasting.” And the very next verse reads: “For
His achievement are we, being created in Christ Jesus FOR GOOD WORKS, which God
makes ready beforehand, that we should be walking in them.” “For
good works” - in other words, fruit.
One way we can tell who is a true follower of Christ is by their
fruits. Matthew 7:15 reads, “Beware of false prophets, which come
to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are
ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by
Only as we come
to Christ believing all He has done for us, is there any possibility of
growing into His likeness. God tells us
through the Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “Now we all,
with uncovered face, mirroring the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into the same image,
from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the spirit.” How much more mature and glorious do you want
to get? This is the climax of glory for
believers - transformed into the same image as the Lord.
Yet some believers feel they are insignificant. The danger then, is that they will fall for
one or more of these false teachings.
But they are just the people whom God can use.
The Lord knows those who are His. This is made plain in 2 Timothy 2:19. But before that, Paul writes that we are to
endeavour to present ourselves to God qualified, an unashamed worker, correctly
cutting the word of truth. And to stand
aloof from profane prattlings. Why?
Because they lead to irreverence which spreads like gangrene.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul discusses idol
sacrifices. Although we don’t concern ourselves today with whether
we should eat meat offered to idols, the principle is relevant for us. Mature believers know that there is no
difference between food offered to idols and any other. They know that they may
freely eat, but not before ‘babes in Christ’.
So it is possible to do many things with a clear conscience before God, but
which might offend some of our brethren and cause them to stumble. What we do or say must be done with
love, rather than flaunting our so called superior knowledge.
voluntarily limits itself for the sake of the immature. Maturity does not demand that the immature
grow up. The greatest practical
example of this, is Christ Himself. Do
you think He was was surrounded by mature believers? Yet this is one of the reasons He chose His
disciples: Mark 3:14:
He makes twelve, whom He also names apostles, that they may be with Him,
and that He may be commissioning them to herald ....”
Paul warns that knowledge puffs up, yet
love builds up. And if someone thinks he
has all the answers, all the correct doctrines, Paul warns, he knows nothing.
I saying, then, that we shouldn’t read our Bibles? That education is a waste of time? NO, because that is NOT what the Scriptures
teach. I repeat what Paul wrote to Timothy:
“Endeavour to present yourself to God
qualified, an unashamed workman correctly cutting the word of truth.”
Word is ONE of the ways God communicates to us.
Without studying the Scriptures, it would be like being completely deaf
in one ear, and only faintly hearing the odd word in the other.
It is probably
best, if we don’t know how far
along the road to maturity we are. Where on a scale of 0 to 5 we are. We might
well feel superior or inferior. Might feel superior or inferior?
No ‘perhaps’ about it. We would
feel one or the other, and either would be wrong! Another way that God communicates to us, is
through fellowship with believers.
Why has God brought
into His ecclesia so many different people? We are a right mixture! Young and
old, male and female, black, white, yellow, rich and poor, bright and not so
bright. One reason of course, is so that no one could boast that God had
to call them because they were so clever and spiritual. God has placed the members, each one of
us, in His body according as He
wills. Paul makes an astounding
statement in 1 Corinthians 12:22: “Nay, much
rather, those members of the body supposed to be inherently weaker are
NECESSARY.” Yes, necessary. God blends the body together. Why?
One reason is that we then have an opportunity to be mutually solicitous
for one another. It goes against our
natural inclination to love one another.
If it were natural we wouldn’t be urged to love one another.
The next chapter leads on to LOVE. I can have all the knowledge, all the
prophecies, all the secrets, all the FAITH, yes, all the faith, but if I do
not have LOVE, I am NOTHING. That is
straight talking. No ifs, buts or maybes, I am nothing.
“If we should be
saying that we are having fellowship with Him and should be walking in darkness,
we are lying and are not doing the truth.
Yet if we should be walking in the light as He is in the light, we
are having fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, is
cleansing us from every sin” (1 John 1:6-8). In verses
3-4, John reports what he had seen and heard, so “that you too
may be having fellowship with us, and yet this fellowship of ours is with
the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” Don’t think that
just because it is the Apostle John writing this, that it has no relevance to
Paul wrote to the Roman ecclesia (15:4): “For whatever
was written before, was written for this teaching of ours ...”
John continues in his first letter
(3:13-14) “Marvel not, brethren, if the world is hating you. We are aware that we have proceeded out of
death into life, for we are loving our brethren.” Love of the brethren continues in 4:7-8, “Beloved, we
should be loving one another, for love is of God.... He who is not loving, knew
not God, for God is love.” Verse 11, “Beloved if thus
God loves us, we also ought to be loving one another.”
John’s evangel records what Christ Himself told His
disciples (in 13:34), “A new precept am I giving to you, that you be
loving one another; according as I love you, that you also be loving one
another.” In loving the brethren, we bring glory to God.
How? Verse 35, “By this, all shall be knowing that you
are My disciples, if you should be having love for another.” The evangel is being preached by loving the
But how can we love the brethren, how can
we know the brethren, if we are never in contact with
each other? That is the beauty of these
fellowship meetings, and others like it. What is the alternative? The Corinthian ecclesia were warned not to be
yoked with unbelievers. But that does
not mean we cannot have an occasional meal or chat with unbelievers. Nevertheless, true fellowship is with other
believers, so that we might also have fellowship with the Father and His Son.
Yes, but other like-minded believers might
be on the other side of the country or the world. What then? We could do what Paul and the other apostles
did - write letters. The modern
equivalent might also include cards, telephone calls, emails, Skype, FaceTime.
have been greatly blessed in the past year by the support of brethren. How many of them, do you think live in my
village of 350 residents? Yes, I have
wonderful neighbours, but I have learnt that true fellowship is vital to our
growth as believers. Letters, cards,
phone calls and emails have been a lifeline.
I am not going to embarrass anyone here by naming those who have done
this for Pauline and me, but you know who you are. Thank you.
We are never too old or mature or steeped
in the Scriptures, that we don’t need other people. Especially with those Paul describes as “supposed to be inherently weaker.” ‘Inherently
weaker’ according to
how some people may view them. But they
are still in the body of Christ. We know
what Paul thought about this because we have it in Romans 14:1 and 4: “Now the infirm in the faith be taking to
yourselves, but not for discriminations of reasonings.” And “Who are you who are judging Another’s
domestic? Now he will be made to stand,
for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
Christ can and does use ALL the members of
His body. 1 Corinthians12:12-14 tells us plainly that the body is not just ONE
member, but many. “For even as the
body is one and has many members, yet all the members of the one body, being
many, are one body, thus also is the Christ. For in one spirit also we all are
baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and all
are made to imbibe one spirit. For the body also is not one member, but
many....” Verse 19 continues: “Yet now God
placed the members, each one of them, in the body according as He wills. Now if
it were all one member, where were the body?”
Corinthians 12:20-26 is important to enable us to understand what the position
the inherently weaker members is: “Yet
now there are, indeed, many members, yet one body. Yet the eye can not say to
the hand, ‘I have no need of you’
or, again, the head to the feet, ‘I
have not need of you.’ Nay,
much rather, those members of the body supposed to be inherently
weaker are necessary, and which we suppose to be a more dishonoured part of
the body, these we are investing with more exceeding honour, and our
indecent members have more exceeding respectability. Now our respectable
members have not need, but God blends the body together, giving to that which
is deficient more exceeding honour, that there may be no schism in the body,
but the members may be mutually solicitous for one another. And whether one
member is suffering, all the members are sympathising, or one member
is being esteemed, all the members are rejoicing with it.”
Why does God do it like this? Well, we have just read it - “that
there may be no schism in the body and that we will love each other” Ephesians 4:15-16: “Now, being true, in love we should be
making all grow into Him, Who is the Head - Christ - out of Whom the entire
body, being articulated together and united through every assimilation of the
supply, in accord with the operation in measure of each one’s
part, is making for the growth of the body, for the upbuilding of itself in
other words - all the members by speaking the truth in love, grow by being
united with each other and with Christ by each part doing its share.
IT IS DIFFICULT, IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE, TO
REALLY GROW SPIRITUALLY WITHOUT FELLOWSHIP OF SOME SORT. I don’t have a
Scripture that uses that exact phrase, but a basic Scripture which applies
universally is Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the
acumen of his associate.” No-one knows or
understands everything. We can learn
things that we never knew before even from so called ‘babes in Christ’. We are all ‘rough diamonds’ in some
respect. We need the edges to be
I started this talk by quoting Paul in
1 Corinthians 1:19 “.. that not many wise, powerful, noble, are
chosen, but it is the stupidity of this world that God chooses....” Included in that number will be people, that if
we were honest, we would prefer not to be with.
While we may not hate them positively, we certainly like them less. To say or pretend that we do love them, when
in fact we do not, is sheer hypocrisy.
Perhaps in this life we can never like them, but before the bema,
we most certainly will. We
need to remember that we are all members of the Body of Christ, chosen
by God Himself. We often see the faults
in others that we have in ourselves. Who
are we to criticise the individuals whom God has seen fit to call to Him, in
this eon? It is a fact that we are ALL
blessed with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, in Christ, as He
chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world. We have ALL been designated for the place of
a son for Him through Christ Jesus.
So perhaps now, we can see what I meant
earlier when I said that it would foolishness to send a questionnaire to us
before we were allowed to attend this weekend. I remember David, our Secretary, telling me
years ago, that the trustees never decide what the theme of a weekend should
be. It is left to the individual
speakers to be directed by the Spirit to choose. We have seen
during these weekends that ALL have benefited from the same talk, perhaps in
different ways, whatever our maturity.
I have emphasised not to be so worried
about whether we are growing or not. God
is more than capable of getting the message through to us. But it is encouraging to
occasionally notice improvement.
How can we tell whether we are
growing? We will become aware, sometimes
painfully aware, that in some things we do not measure up
to our calling. We are then forced to
put our trust in the living God. Instead
of getting upset because things haven’t gone the way we wanted, we will rest
in the Lord. We will recognise that it
is not our righteousness that counts, it is God’s righteousness which saves us by GRACE, not by
us keeping man-made regulations. We will
be “testing what things are of consequence” (Philippians 1:10). Why? Because we will be sincere and no
stumbling block, for the day of Christ fitted with the fruit of righteousness
that is through Jesus Christ for the glory and laud of God.
There it is again, God’s righteousness
for HIS glory and praise. Not for our
glory and praise. How? By not being configured to this eon, but by
being transformed by the renewing of our mind. God’s spirit
operating in us to be growing in maturity.
All this without murmurings and reasonings (Philippians 2:16).
Perhaps we wouldn’t be so keen to
grow in maturity, if we knew that maturity only comes with suffering!
shall end by quoting the last verses of Ecclesiastes 12 (9-14):
furthermore, because the Assembler was wise, he still taught the people
knowledge, and he listened and investigated and set in order many proverbs. The
Assembler sought to find words of delight and what was written is uprightness
and words of truth. The words of the
wise are like goad points, and like imbedded bolts is the possessing of
gathered sayings. They are given by one shepherd. Yet furthermore, my son,
beyond these, be warned; ‘Of the making of many scrolls there is no
end, and much study is weariness
to the flesh’.
“The terminus of the
whole matter has been heard: Fear the One, Elohim, and keep His instructions,
for this is the whole duty of humanity. For the One, Elohim, shall bring every deed into
judgment on concerning all that is obscured, whether good or whether evil.”