Tie-in with Sunday, April 19 set readings Isaiah 44:6; Matthew 13:24-26, 37-40; Romans 8:14-17
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- With so many religions claiming to be paths to the truth, do we know that the God of the Bible is unique?
- With so many strands of Christian religion, who would Jesus recognise as His true disciples?
- Why is there so much conflict around Christian faith?
Counterfeits in everyday life
In my youth, there were some dishonest car dealers who ‘clocked back’ the mileage showing on used cars to make them appear less long in the tooth. Now, it’s counterfeit goods on line, and emails attempting to get your bank details, or pretending to be Microsoft alerting you about a problem with your computer. I thought I was wise to all this, but I recently made a small kitchen purchase on a Facebook ad (it didn’t seem too good to be true, just good) and when nothing turned up after several weeks I reflected that I should have asked my wife’s opinion first!
The Bible talks about counterfeit man-made gods (usually called idols), counterfeit beliefs and counterfeit believers, and it tells us that if we are the Lord’s we should be led by the Spirit, not according to the flesh — or a dodgy ad.
God who shows Himself to be true
“Who is like Me?” God asks through the prophet ((Isaiah 44:7)), and goes on to speak of events which have now come to pass, foretold long beforehand. He challenges the man-created gods, or idols, to do that – or to speak anything meaningful at all.
Other religions have their deities and their holy people of past eras, but none that I am aware of, has the equivalent of major events foretold and reflected on, especially in such a personal way.
We make gods and religions out of all kinds of things – activities and ’empty philosophies’ ((Colossians 2:8)). And, sad to say and never intended by the Lord, from the essential simplicity of Christian faith in Jesus, we construct all sorts of complexities of religious form and legalism.
That’s why we need to hear “Who is like Me?” to bring us back to believing and receiving.
No religion is anything like heart faith in Jesus which reveals a loving, personal God who speaks, through His word and through other believers, and also into our spirit.
And we have confirmation — what God says, He has said before. He will never go against His record, the Bible, because He is constant and completely reliable in His truth. So we can check what we are understanding, against what He has already said.
Jesus the true representation
Jesus came as the exact representation of God in human form ((Hebrews 1:3)). He came to be “God with us”, showing us in human demonstration what God’s love, God’s power and God’s reach was like. The Jews of that time knew they had been called out of other nations to be God’s covenant people, His own possession – the children of God ((Deut. 14:1)). So they didn’t have much regard for people who were not “chosen”. They were shocked, and angry, when Jesus proclaimed His mission at Nazareth and referred to Elijah ministering to a Canaanite woman and Elisha, to Naaman the Syrian ((Luke 4:26-27)). Jesus was clear that his priority was “the lost sheep of Israel” ((Matthew 15:26)) but he also knew His wider mission and went beyond what conservative Jews considered to be the boundaries, by healing and delivering non-Jewish people on numerous occasions.
Disciples who show themselves to be true
Jesus told the story about the wheat and the weeds growing up together ((Matthew 13:28-30)). He brought out in the story how “an enemy” had plotted to destroy the harvest. That’s a big clue as to why we all contend with ‘spoiling attacks’ in our lives – as the saying goes, ‘Know your enemy’.
The point of the story is that the weeds, representing those who claimed to follow God but were not fruitful, looked pretty much the same as the true disciples. That is, until the fruit or the seed heads began to form. The black darnel heads were meagre but poisonous, while the pale ears of wheat were full and nutritious. It’s easy to put on an appearance of godliness — that’s what the religious mindset does for us — but as Jesus said in another place, ((Matthew 7:16,20)) it is the fruit that shows who are true and who are not.
We have an enemy, the devil or Satan, who is presented through the gospels and letters as being entirely real and present, preying upon believers and their thought-life and keeping unbelievers spiritually blind ((2 Cor. 4:4)). He has a few much-repeated strategies such as fear and unbelief — we all know those ones — but a ploy we often miss is deception. He puts up something which is nearly the same as the truth, a counterfeit, as a tempting alternative. The Bible is crystal clear that salvation comes by personal faith and trust in Jesus: it’s a big decision ((John 3:16-18, Eph. 2:8)). So the counterfeit and ‘easier way’ is that salvation can come by proxy through the church, or sacraments, or by the merit of religious or other good works. Anything to distract us from actually asking Jesus into our lives. The weeds and wheat look similar enough, but only one kind multiplies in a life-giving, fruitful way. Salvation is found in no one else but Jesus, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved… through godly sorrow that brings repentance and leads to salvation ((Acts 4:12, 2 Corinthians 7:10)).
The witness of the Spirit about who we truly are
God speaks to us about who He is. We relate to Him as true disciples of Jesus by belonging to Jesus – receiving Jesus into our hearts ((John 3:16-18)), acknowledging Him as our Saviour without any works on our part, and submitting to Him as Lord. And we ask His Holy Spirit not just to enter us but to fill us ((Ephesians 3:19, 5:18)) and lead us – and speak to us.
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our [human] spirit that we are God’s children… heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” ((Romans 8:16-17)). This is an extraordinary truth and not something that can be grasped intellectually. We were given brains, knowledge and experience to use but to rely on these externals is limiting. Information is not the same as revelation and both are needed. This perspective, that we who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God, doesn’t come externally (although the words are plain enough). We need the inner witness of the Spirit ((Proverbs 20:27)) so that we just…. know that it is true. This changes how we live, how we pray and how we are. It changes our faith from tentative to confident. When the enemy comes visiting — the same one who scattered weed seeds in the crop, ((Matt. 13:28)) — we are children of God with an authority to say ‘no’ and we are children of God with access to a strategy to overturn the spoiling action ((Romans 8:14, 1 John 3:1)). And we have the intimacy of God’s children: Jesus taught, “When you pray, say ‘Father…’” ((Luke 11:2)).
Now, no longer is this simply a familiar form of words to follow. It is our heart-cry.
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