INITIATIVE—GOD'S OR OURS?
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
In terms of the Kingdom of God, there are two “cities” that are of significance. The first city is Jerusalem. Jerusalem represents that which is brought about by God’s initiative. The second city is Babylon. Babylon represents that which is brought about by our initiative.
If I am not mistaken, most religious activity, including Christian religious activity, is brought about by our initiative, although we may apply the name of Jesus Christ to our efforts. This is Babylon, and it always will murder God’s saints, apostles, and prophets.
INITIATIVE—GOD’S OR OURS?
Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the LORD himself will dwell forever? (Psalms 68:16)
Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, “I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.” Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. (Revelation 18:7,8)
The new Jerusalem has been chosen by the Lord to governs the nations on the earth. Babylon, the kingdom built by the initiative of people, is destined to be destroyed by fire.
I think this issue of God’s initiative versus our initiative has troubled me all my Christian life—some sixty years at this point.
I was converted to Christ while in the Marine Corps, in about 1944. Immediately I was challenged to “testify” and “win souls for Christ.” This exhortation continued in Bible school.
I attempted to “win others to Christ” but it did not work for me. I had a friend in Bible school who really was gifted as a personal worker. I admired him but was unable to copy his ministry.
After I became a pastor, many years later, the hounds of evangelism still, pursued me. I reacted against this pressure, to change from my teaching ministry to going out and “winning souls to Christ,” until I gained a reputation for being against evangelism.
But I had promised the Lord in Bible school that I would do His will if He would show it to me and give me the necessary grace. I am still doing what I promised in 1948, and Christ has never showed me I was to leave what I am doing and go out and “save souls.” Who knows? Maybe I am saving souls and do not realize it!
I have been hospitalized several times. On each occasion, to the best of my remembrance, I have found myself speaking to patients, doctors, nurses, chaplains, whoever, about things Christ has done for me. But these little talks came about naturally, springing forth in a conversation with a friend. I never once attempted to “win souls for Christ” or “bring someone to a decision.” These expressions still bother me! I think they come from dead religious efforts.
Well, this morning (12/6/2004) when I woke up my thoughts began to clarify. They resolved into God’s initiative and our initiative. Somehow I was able to penetrate the root of the problem. It is so simple, actually. Either we are obeying what God is telling us, or else we are attempting to do something that we think will build the Kingdom of God, or bring us or someone else to Heaven, or enlarge our church, or plant churches, or accomplish some other worthy goal.
As I meditate on this, I suppose the same would be true in the secular arena Either we are working according to our own understanding, experience, and talents, or else we are inviting Christ into all our decisions so that we actually are obeying Christ, even though we are not involved in a religious enterprise.
Thus all of life can be boiled down into that of listening to Christ and obeying Him, or else living according to our own understanding and strength. The expression “the just shall live by faith” means the righteous live by walking with Christ and obeying Him, as opposed to living according to our own understanding and strength.
I believe every Christian would like to be fruitful and to rule with Christ. But we do not know how to go about it.
Before I point out in the Bible that God is to have the initiative in all we think, say, and do, let me mention four conditions that must be met if we are to be fruitful and govern with Christ now and in the eternal ages to come.
We absolutely must lead a righteous, holy life. God will not participate in any enterprise if there is unrighteousness and spiritual uncleanness present.
Second, we must pray. It is well that we give thanks to God and then let our requests be made known.
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:13,14)
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9,10)
You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. (James 4:2)
But there is more to prayer than this. We must learn to live in the Presence of God and listen continually for His directions throughout the day and night. We may not always hear clearly; but if we commit all our ways to the Lord He shall direct our paths
Third, we must be absolutely obedient to God, keeping the commandments of Christ and His Apostles found in the New Testament; and then, as we come to maturity and are aware of the prompting of the Spirit, obeying instantly His will for us in all matters great and small. We cannot expect to be fruitful and to govern with Christ unless we are totally obedient to God. The slightest disobedience is unacceptable.
Fourth, we must maintain an attitude of hope and expectancy.
- Lead an uncompromising righteous, holy life.
- Pray without ceasing.
- Obey Christ fully in all matters.
- Maintain an attitude of hope and expectancy.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:22-26)
If these four factors are not true of us, then we must seek the Lord until they are. They are the prerequisites to fruitfulness and rulership.
Where do faith and the Lordship of Christ fit into this picture?
Our faith is revealed as we lead a righteous life; pray; and obey Christ fully. This is the only kind of saving faith there is. What we term faith today is either imagination, mental assent to statements of theology, or magic.
We currently have numerous plans of action, some designed to help us lead a more successful Christian life; some directed toward the development of a more fruitful ministry; some that include management techniques that have as their goal the planting and nurturing of local churches.
I have glanced at a few of these seminars that have come in the mail. None have as their underlying thesis that God is to take the initiative. In each one that I have seen, a plan of action on our part is set forth. There are brochures in which the name of Jesus does not appear even one time, only the names of outstanding seminar speakers.
I do not think the stress on humans taking the initiative is peculiar to our century. My impression is that man has operated the Christian program throughout the Christian Era.
One time Audrey and I were attending a pastors’ meeting. Various programs were announced. The Lord spoke to Audrey and said, “Will you also leave Me?
I myself have had the impression during a meeting of Christian leaders that if Christ were to appear they would resist Him.
As I have pondered the difference between God taking the initiative and I taking the initiative, I have determined that from this hour forth I will redouble my resolve to follow God and seek His approval alone.
But let us think about the accounts in the Scriptures. Are they records of man doing things for God, or of God communicating His will to His servants.
A corollary of this question is: are we supposed to go forth and “bring people in” apart from the specific directions of Christ, or are we to wait until we know what we are doing? Because Christ charged His eleven Apostles with going into all the world and making disciples, are we to assume that by so doing He charged us also to go into all the world, as is commonly taught; or are we to follow Christ as they did and wait until He charges us as an individual? Are we or are we not to lay our hands on the Ark? This is an important, pertinent question, isn’t it? And there is only one correct answer.
Are we to wait until Christ directs us, or are we to assume we are supposed to go forth according to our own understanding and do what we can to build the Kingdom of God?
We must have faith if we are to wait for direction while the whole Christian world, it seems, is marching to the beat of its own drum? What if we waited on Christ and nothing happened; we waited our whole lifetime, wasting the precious minutes, and then died having accomplished nothing. Others took hold and built a large church, or went to the mission field, or won a thousand souls to Christ. What about that?
It takes faith, courage and strength to wait for Christ when the church world continually exhorts us to “do big things for God.”
Where are you with this question? Where am I? What to the Scriptures teach us? Can they be trusted? Can we bet our life on their statements and examples, or should we join the religious crowd of the ages?
Perhaps a helpful concept can be found in the following verses:
The mountains of Bashan are majestic mountains; rugged are the mountains of Bashan. Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the LORD himself will dwell forever? The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary. When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious—that you, O LORD God, might dwell there. (Psalms 68:15-18)
The above is one of my favorite passages. The mountains of Bashan represent the religious striving of mankind. But God has chosen to dwell in Zion. The chariots of God are the saints who have found contentment in allowing God to be God. He can travel wherever He desires, using them as vehicles. He does not have to worry that they will choose to go in their own direction.
God has given the gifts of the Spirit for the purpose of perfecting a resting place for Himself.
When you consider the four verses above you can get a sense of the sovereignty of God in the plan of salvation. The Christian salvation is God’s plan and operates primarily for His benefit—that He might construct a living temple through which He can exercise His will throughout His creation.
The “faith” chapter, the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, provides several examples of God taking the initiative. I do not find one instance of man exercising his own initiative or creativity.
In fact, the Book of Hebrews commences with God taking the initiative.
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1,2)
And then in the eleventh chapter we find that:
Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than that of Cain, revealing that the condition of the heart is more important than the act of sacrifice itself. Abel did not try to build a tabernacle for God, he brought some fat portions from his flock as a burnt or fellowship offering. It is always proper and acceptable to offer our worship to God through Christ. This is of “Jerusalem.”
Enoch was taken from this life, apparently because he sought God continually and walked with God. Enoch did not attempt to build a religion or make proselytes to his faith. It always is of “Jerusalem,” of truth, that a person walk with God.
The problem arises, not when we are worshiping or walking with God but when we decide to build a religious institution of some kind. Peter decided to build three shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Jesus ignored Peter’s statement.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mark 9:5)
“Babylon” attempts to build and to please God on its own terms. It does not worship God in the Spirit and in truth nor does it walk with God.
- Noah is an example of God’s initiative, and man responding with obedience.
- The same is true of Abraham.
- The lives of Isaac and Jacob are examples of God’s intervention.
- God spoke to Joseph when he was a young man, and then prepared him to be a deliverer.
- The life and ministry of Moses portrays the initiative of God. “See that you make the Tabernacle according to the pattern showed to you while you were in the holy mountain.”
- The journey of Israel from Egypt to Canaan was of God from its beginning until God led the Israelites under Joshua in the conquest of the land of promise.
- A study of the incidents in the careers of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the Prophets reveal clearly that it was God who initiated the events.
So a review of the “faith” chapter show us that true Bible faith is not a case of people deciding how they should please God, but of God intervening in the lives of chosen men and women, and their obedience to their calling.
We need to think seriously about the events in this chapter. Think of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Samson. Isn’t it true that these are examples of God reaching down to people and commanding them to do His will? How different from the programs I am receiving in the mail that desire to teach me how to do God’s work for Him.
But would God intervene in our lives like this today? Why not? Has God suddenly decided that man should step in and build the Kingdom of God? I don’t think so. I believe God will show us what to do if we are willing to look to Him constantly for every detail of our life and work.
The Lord called specific men to Himself. He said that no one could come to Him unless the Father drew that individual to Christ. The Lord said further that we do not choose Him, He chooses us. In addition He spoke in parables so that only chosen people could understand Him.
I was taught in Bible school that Christ spoke in parables so we would remember what He taught. But Jesus said He taught in parables so only those whom He chose could understand Him and be saved.
Can you see from the difference between what I was taught, and what Jesus said, how intent we are to center the work of the Gospel on the efforts of people, removing the sovereignty of God in the plan of salvation?
The Book of Acts tells of several instances in which God acted sovereignly, intervening in the lives of chosen men who then obeyed God.
I was taught in Bible school that the Apostles selected strategic locations and from these places spread the Gospel throughout the world. The Book of Acts says nothing of the kind. Christ called certain people by name and sent them forth. Then the Spirit of God showed them where to go. As many as were ordained to eternal life believed what was spoken to them. It was God all the way.
We cannot understand how it can be true that specific individuals are ordained to eternal life, and yet we understand from the New Testament that whoever chooses to believe and be baptized shall be saved. Both situations are true whether or not we understand that they are not contradictory.
Notice God’s sovereignty in adding people to the Church”
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, Praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46,47)
Allowing God to take the initiative does not mean that evangelists should not go forth. This is not what we are emphasizing. God having the initiative does not mean that we do not do anything. Rather it means we look to the Lord continually for guidance and strength.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)
As far as the ministries and gifts of the Spirit are concerned, God takes the initiative.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (I Corinthians 12:4-6)
All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (I Corinthians 12:11)
However, as in all aspects of our salvation, we are to pray diligently for all that God lays on our heart.
But eagerly desire the greater gifts. (I Corinthians 12:31)
There is no place in the Kingdom of God for a spirit of passivity or inevitability. All things are possible with God, and we are to pray with this in mind. God has a part to play and we have a part to play. It is the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.
However, as in the case of Gideon, God took the initiative from the beginning.
The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. (Judges 6:11)
Before Peter went to the house of Cornelius, God gave him a vision. It must be kept in mind, however, that Peter was praying. It is necessary that we pray if God’s sovereign work is to be performed. It is God and man working together.
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. (Acts 10:9-11)
The Book of Acts shows us that God wants the emphasis to be on prayer and righteous living, and on repentance. When this was the case, God sent out the ministry. The problem today seems to be that of concentrating on how to set up the ministry rather than on prayer and righteousness. I think we have the cart ahead of the horse.
When God sends out an evangelist he is to go where God directs and preach as God leads. Then it is up to God to decide who has been ordained to life.
In no manner is the Book of Acts a record of believers building the Kingdom of God according to their own wisdom and strength. These are not the acts of the believers or even of the Apostles. These are the acts of the Spirit of God, using people as He will.
The Lord Jesus told us He shall build His Church. Do we dare believe Him.
Whenever we attempt to build the Kingdom of God without God taking the initiative we create Babylon—confusion—the murderer of the saints, prophets, and apostles.
The Great Commission was given to eleven men who had been with Jesus for a period of time. He told them to go into all the world and make disciples from the nations, commanding them to obey the teachings of the Lord.
Today we say that everyone is to go into all the world and build churches, telling the peoples of the nations that they do not have to keep the commandments of Christ because they are saved by grace. This confusion is due to our willingness to try to help God out without listening to what He wants.
One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18:9,10)
We of today would say that everyone in Corinth belonged to Christ and should be saved. Christ said He had many people in Corinth, indicating clearly that not everyone in Corinth belonged to Him, was given to Him by the Father. Can you see the difference between obeying Christ, and acting according to our own notions?
I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. (John 17:6)
The whole concept of Israel, and then the Christian Church (which is a continuation of the Israel of the Old Testament) is that of people whom God has called to Himself to be more holy than other people; to be closer to God than is true of the rest of the world.
I suppose this concept is repugnant to us today. How could God favor some people over others? Surely Israel, God’s elect of both covenants, must have done something to earn their position.
But we know from the Scriptures this is not the case. God chooses whom He will. He is the Potter. We are the clay. If God wants to make some people unto honor, and some to dishonor, then that is what God will do. And there is nothing we can do about it except act like fools and challenge the Creator.
God saves whom He will and exalts whom He will.
But do our actions count? Absolutely! There is no place in the Kingdom of God for a spirit of inevitability.
It is up to each one of us to choose to serve God. We serve God by reading the New Testament and obeying the commands found there. We serve God by praying without ceasing. We serve God by listening carefully to the Spirit, looking for God at every point of decision throughout the day and night.
There is a reward for seeking God. Those who seek God continually will be blessed continually. We find God when we seek Him with all our strength.
We give thanks to God, as I stated previously, and tell Him our desires. We ask in Jesus’ name believing we have the answer. But then we look to God for the answer. We do not “put feet on our prayers,” as someone said who does not understand God’s ways.
Our part is to pray, to keep ourselves holy and righteous To walk humbly with God. God’s part is to build His Kingdom. “On this rock I will build my church.” “No one comes to me except the Father who has sent Me draws him.”
It is time today for God’s saints to turn their attention to Him. God is moving from the spiritual fulfillment of the feast of Pentecost to the remaining three feasts of the Jewish calendar.
When God announced the feasts (see Leviticus, Chapter Twenty-three) He commanded the Israelites to cease working when they came to a new feast, to stop what they were doing and pay attention to the Lord. This we are to do today. We are to continue with all necessary responsibilities, but cease making new plans and programs. We are to listen! listen! listen! because we have come to a new phase of the construction of the Kingdom of God.
I wonder how many of us will cease from our own ambitions and listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
(“Initiative—God’s or Ours?”, 3836-1)