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I want to deal tonight with the theme of approval. A word that’s probably not used very much in religious circles but it’s an important word and I personally believe the desire for approval is born in every human heart. It’s one of the things we all desire, is approval. I believe the desire is a good desire, I believe it’s a healthy desire, a desire that God has placed in us. But like other desires that God has placed in us, it can become perverted and misdirected. And, the devil can use it to manipulate us and enslave us and divert us from God’s purposes. So, I want to talk tonight about the New Testament way to approval.
Those of you that were here two nights ago, you’ll recall I spoke about total security. I said that I believe security depends primarily on right relationships. I think for many years in the church we haven’t really sufficiently appreciated the importance of relationships. Christianity is not primarily a religion of right doctrine, it’s a religion of right relationships. But, I use the cross as a little pattern of how to have secure and stable relationships. The cross has two beams, we all know, the vertical and the horizontal. The vertical beam, I believe, represents our relationship toward God. And the horizontal beam represents our relationship to our fellow men.
The important point that I want to emphasize again tonight is it’s the vertical that supports the horizontal. In other words, our primary relationship is to God. Only out of that relationship can we build secure and stable relationships with our fellow human beings. If we put the horizontal relationships before the vertical, we will never have real stability or security.
I also pointed out on that occasion that we have to view the things of time in the light of eternity. The Christian faith really doesn’t make any sense if you view it only in the perspective of time. In fact, the apostle Paul said something rather shaking when he said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most to be pitied.” In other words, if we think that everything begins and ends in this world and in this life here in time, we are under a tragic delusion and we’re headed for tremendous disillusionment at some point in our lives.
With regard to relationships, I’ve seen many, many Christians—and I could give you names—who put their primary confidence in horizontal relationships and usually look to some human leader. And, when some human being failed them, betrayed them, let them down, their faith was shipwrecked. I believe if you put your faith primarily in human relationships, God will arrange it that you’ll be disappointed because God does not want you to put any human relationship before your relationship with him. In fact, any human relationship that takes precedence over our relationship with God is a form of idolatry. You know what God does with idols? He smashes them.
You see, we can bring tremendous problems on the ones we love the most. As parents we can bring problems on our children if we make idols of our children. If we put our children before our relationship with God we’re making idols out of them and God is committed to break idols. We can bring problems on the ones we love the most if we don’t get the order established right—the vertical before the horizontal. God is a jealous God. I think it’s remarkable that he’s so concerned about us that he’s jealous about us. He will not, in the long run, tolerate anything that takes his place in our life.
Now, tonight I want to speak about the desire for approval, as I said. The principles really are the same as those I’ve outlined. I’ve said already I believe every person is born into the world with a desire for approval. And, when society’s functioning right and family relationships are in order, that desire for approval is very, very often supplied in the family. Particularly, I think, the approval that matters most is the approval of a father. Also of a mother. And then other relatives. Then we go to school and we desire the approval of our teachers. Then we go to work and we desire the approval of our employers. There’s a natural desire in us for approval which is right.
But, as I’ve said already, let’s take other natural desires like the desire for food or sexual desires. They’re natural, they’re given by God. But if they become perverted and distorted, the devil uses them to manipulate us and get us out of God’s purpose for our life. I believe the same is true about the desire for approval. If we don’t get it on a right foundation, if we don’t build according to God’s pattern, we’re going to find ourselves being twisted, manipulated by people.
I teach many times on the nature of witchcraft. I don’t want to give into it tonight because if I do, I won’t get out. But, I tell people there are three dirty words. Manipulate, intimidate, dominate. One of the commonest ways that people try to manipulate us is by either giving or withholding approval. If you do what I want, I’ll approve you. But, if you don’t, I’ll sulk, I won’t smile at you. Mothers can do it, fathers can do it, wives can do it, husbands can do it. There’s a tremendous amount of manipulation in family life and one of the basic tools is approval.
When I get to this subject I always mention a book that was published in the United States in the l960s by a Jewish man. It was a best seller at the time, it’s called How to be a Jewish Mother. The introduction is written by the author’s mother in which she says, “I know this is a good book. I haven’t read it but my son wrote it.” It really is a masterpiece of this theme of manipulation. There’s one lesson in the book, “How to Get Your Son to Play the Violin in Public, Using No Motivation but Guilt.” There’s another part about the mother that buys two T-shirts for her son and gives them to him. So, he comes down to breakfast the next morning wearing one T-shirt and she says, “I see you didn’t like the other shirt I gave you.” Well, he ends up by taking them both back and buying his mother a dress!
When people begin to indicate that if you do something they’ll approve of you, and if you don’t they won’t, you better ask yourself is that person’s approval really worth as much as they think it is. Because, many times it isn’t.
So, I want to talk about the secure way to enjoy approval. Again, the principle is the same. Begin with the vertical and the horizontal will take its place.
In connection with this theme that I’ve been meditating on now for some years, there’s just a very brief text in Romans 16 that I’d like to use as a basis. Romans 16, and it’s only part of the 10th verse. This last chapter of Romans contains a whole list of greetings that Paul sent to various people. One of them was called Apelles. Apelles is only mentioned here, there’s no other mention of him in the New Testament. We only know one thing about him. But as I’ve meditated on this it seems to become more and more important. Paul says here:
“Greet Apelles approved in Christ...”
I believe that’s the absolute key to approval. It’s finding your approval from God in Christ.
See, I think we are very slow to appreciate as Christians what it means for God that we are in Christ. See, because we are in Christ, God approves us—more than on any other basis we could ever seek to gain his approval. This is very simple but I want to say it clearly. You will never be more approved by God on any basis than the basis that you’re in Christ. Nothing else you can ever be or do will gain you even a small fraction of the approval that you have through being in Christ. Because, when you are in Christ God’s approval of Christ becomes his approval of you. We receive the approval that God has for his Son, Jesus. It becomes ours. I think the problem with countless Christians—and often it’s people in what we call full time ministry—we are trying to earn God’s approval on some other basis. If I work hard enough and pray long enough and give enough, then I’ll have God’s approval. If I rightly understand the revelation of scripture, that’s a mistake. Nothing you can ever do in service will come near to earning you the approval you already have if you can realize that you’re in Christ. That’s the highest approval that’s possible. And it’s possible for every one of us.
But, I think if we begin to seek approval in other directions and on other grounds, my impression is that God will always permit us to be frustrated. Because, he doesn’t want to meet us on that basis, he wants us to appreciate the fact that being in Christ is all we need for his approval. In most cases, if your childhood was disastrous, we can’t altogether change that. We can’t guarantee you that the whole thing will be put together right. What we can do is offer you an alternative. There is a way to approval which is secure and permanent and fulfilling. It’s the approval that God gives to his children in Christ. You’ve lacked, some of you here, the approval of a father. There’s a certain gap in your whole make up. We can’t put you back in your childhood and arrange for you to have a different childhood. What we can tell you is there’s another source of approval which is much more important, which is permanent, which is secure. And, that’s the approval of God the Father. The key to that approval is stated in that verse I quoted.
“Apelles approved in Christ.”
The key is to be in Christ.
You see, I don’t know if I’m communicating because it’s very simple and it’s very basic. Your motive for Christian living should not be to gain approval from your fellow believers—or from anybody. Your motive should be to be in Christ. Make that your priority and the rest will follow. Jesus never worked for the Father’s approval. He worked because he had the Father’s approval. That’s how it should be with us. We should not be serving God to gain his approval, we should now we are approved in Christ and serve him with security out of that approval. Have I communicated something to you? It’s very, very simple. The two things are very much alike but they’re actually totally unlike.
What I want to speak to you tonight about briefly is being in Christ because that’s the only place of real approval and security. In the long run, security and approval meet. I’ve got certain simple, practical statements to make. You can call it “How to Be in Christ.”
The first is that it comes about initially by a sovereign act of God. You can’t manufacture it, you can’t produce it; only God can do it. One of my favorite scriptures—and I’m sure it’s a favorite with many of you—is 2Corinthians 5:17.
“Therefore if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation...”
The word “he is” are put in by the translators. I think it would be more effective if we left them out.
“...if any one is in Christ a new creation!”
See? Something tremendously exciting has taken place if anyone is in Christ. Then Paul goes on to say:
“...old things have passed away...”
As far as God’s concerned, that’s finished. The past is finished. Unfortunately, many of us go on living in the past years after it’s finished with God.
“...old things have passed away; behold...”
And that word “behold” introduces something dramatic.
“...all things have become new...”
And don’t stop there.
“...and all things are of God...”
You see, the new creation which comes about when we receive Jesus as our savior and Lord, and commit our lives without reservation to him, the new creation is entirely of God. There’s nothing of the old creation in it. Old things are passed away, all things are new, and all things are of God. I think it would be good if you were to say those words after me. I’ll say them, you say them after me. “Old things are passed away, all things are become new, and all things are of God.” Wonderful, you see. The new creation is not a patchwork, it’s not a little bit of the old and some of the new. The old is totally done away with and it’s because it’s corrupt. The key word to describe our old, unregenerate, carnal nature is the word corrupt. It’s used in Ephesians 4, “The old man who is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts.” Corruptible.
I made the realization some years ago which is profound. Corruption is irreversible. I’ll say that again. Corruption is irreversible. There’s no way to reverse the process of corruption. You can slow it down but you cannot reverse it. God doesn’t try. God doesn’t mess around with the old man. You know God’s solution for the old man in one simple word? Execution, that’s right. God’s solution is execution. The mercy of God is the execution took place 19 centuries ago. When Jesus died on the cross our old man was crucified with him. That’s true whether you now it or whether you believe it. Knowing and believing it is going to make a lot of difference in your life.
So Paul says in Romans 6:6:
“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him...”
And then he says in Romans 6:11:
“Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God.”
First of all, you’ve got to know it. Then when you know it you have to reckon it true by faith in your life. That’s God’s solution to the problem of the old man. Old things are passed away, all that has come to an end, everything has become new and everything is from God. There is nothing in the new creation that is from the old. There is nothing in the new creation that is from human effort or ability. Everything in the new creation is from God. God said later on right at the end of the New Testament, “Behold, I make all things new.” Not some things but all things. That’s the new creation.
It’s true whether we understand it, whether we believe it. But understanding it and believing it is going to make all the difference in our experience. To be in Christ takes a new creation, a sovereign act of God. You can’t work it up, you can’t achieve it by effort. You achieve it simply by receiving Christ, by yielding your heart and life to Christ, by letting the Spirit of God do his work in you.
That’s the entrance into Christ. That’s how we take our place in Christ. I want to emphasize all your struggles and all your effort make no difference whatever. It’s not a matter of effort, it’s a matter of faith. You have to believe it.
The next thing is what I call identification. This is really part of the same. I think if you want to understand what took place when Jesus died on the cross in one word, the word I would use would be identification. Which means making yourself one with something. At the cross there was a two way identification. First of all, Jesus identified himself with each of us as a sinner. Jesus became identified with our guilt and he paid our penalty and he died our death. That’s the divine side of identification. If that hadn’t happened there would be nothing we could do.
Now, our response is to identify ourselves with Jesus. We do it this way. We say when Jesus died, I died. Paul says in Galatians 2:20:
“I have been crucified with Christ.”
That’s his response of personal identification to what God did generally and collectively for the whole Adamic race through Christ.
“I have been crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.”
And then he says:
“The life which I now live in the flesh...”
Not in the next world but now.
“...I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The modern translations will say “by faith in the Son of God” which is all right but it doesn’t say it all because when Jesus comes in to be our Lord he brings his faith with him. I don’t live by my own faith, I live by the faith of the Son of God. That’s the initial identification, is in the death of Jesus on the cross. We see our death in his death.
What happens after a person dies? What’s the next step? Burial. And that’s extremely important. This is the outward identification. What is it that makes us identified with Jesus in burial? Buried with him in baptism. Okay? I don’t want to be controversial but I want to tell you that most Charismatics and Pentecostals do not appreciate the importance of water baptism. It’s not a little ceremony that you go through to get into the church. It’s a part of the total provision of God for your wholeness. It’s your public identification with Jesus in his death. And, personally, I believe that it’s improper to leave a body lying around for any length of time unburied.
I was in a service just recently, I won’t say where. I think 6 people came to the Lord and then the leader of the service said, “In three weeks times we’re having a baptism service. Put your name down.” I wasn’t going to stand up and protest but everything in me rose up against that. Why leave that body lying around unburied for three weeks? I have very strong views about this. I believe when you meet Jesus the next thing you do is get baptized. The believers of the New Testament treated it as urgent. Paul didn’t wait for dawn to baptize the Philippian jailer and his wife and family. The people, 3,000 of whom met Jesus on the day of Pentecost, were baptized the same day. I don’t know whether you ever thought about that. Think of the impact it made on the city of Jerusalem seeing 3,000 people immersed on one day. Think of the length of time it took. If the 12 apostles all did the baptizing, 12 into 3,000 goes 250. So, every apostle baptized 250 people. You can’t do that in less than a few hours.
See, we don’t appreciate the impact on the consciousness of the Jewish people from that baptismal service. Thank God he’s still doing the same.
I have a dear brother who is a close associate of mine, Mahesh Chavda. He was in Zaire last year and through his ministry thousands of people came to the Lord. He’s a good—I would say a pupil of mine, in a way. He said that’s not enough, they need to be baptized. They actually had a baptismal service like the day of Pentecost. 3,000 were baptized in the river there. The soldiers of Zaire were there with their rifles to keep away the crocodiles.
I’ve seen people come to the Lord. Let me tell you, I didn’t intend to get into this. I think God, in a way, wants to emphasize baptism on a totally different level. Some good many years ago I was the banquet speaker for the Full Gospel Businessmen in St. Louis, Missouri. I was the speaker the last night. You know in the Full Gospel Businessmen you never get on before 9:30 at the earliest. I ended up by calling forward three groups of people. Those that needed to repent, those that needed to be baptized, those that wanted to receive the Holy Spirit. By far the largest group, numbering several hundred, were those that wanted to be baptized. We were in a very fine hotel, The Chase Park Plaza, and I thought this is easy, we’ll just get the use of the swimming pool. I sent out a message to the manager and he sent back a message, “Unfortunately, the city regulations of St. Louis do not permit the use of swimming pools in hotels for such purposes.” So there I was, it was well after 11 o’clock, I had these hundreds of people standing in front of me and I told them how urgent it was. A man stood up at the back and he said, “If you’re interested, I have a house in the suburbs with a large swimming pool. You can use that.” I said, “Okay. Give everybody your address and your phone number out loud and then all of you who have cars, drive up to the front of the hotel and take as many as you can to that address.” Being the speaker it took me quite awhile to get away so I was one of the last. I got into somebody’s car with my first wife. We drove out. About two blocks away you could hear the sounds of baptism. When we got there there was this large swimming pool, there were six local ministers in it all in their regular clothes, and people were just jumping in and getting baptized. It was a hilarious scene. I mean, the glory of God was on it. People were just drunk with excitement.
But the thing that I enjoyed, I found myself standing next to a rather elegant young lady in a full length evening dress in two minds, what was she going to do? I didn’t say a thing to her, I just waited. After awhile she said, “I guess it’s wash and wear” and she jumped in!
Coming back to our theme, all of this is part of it. We are identified with Jesus by baptism into his death. This is our public identification with Jesus. In non Christianized countries this is where the parting of the ways come. In a Moslem or a Jewish community, if you say “I believe in Jesus” there’ll be opposition. But when you get baptized, believe me, all hell breaks loose. And in a Hindu community, likewise, to a certain extent. So, you’re buried with him by baptism into death. Once you’re buried with him you have the right to go through everything that he went through after burial. Understand?
Let me read for a moment in Ephesians 2, beginning at verse 4.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you have been saved;) and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus...”
So, once we have been identified with Jesus in his death and burial we have the right to go through the next three stages with him. We are made alive, we’re resurrected—and don’t stop there—what’s the next stage? We are enthroned with him. The New English Bible says God has enthroned us with Christ. Because we’re sitting with him, what is he sitting on? A throne, that’s right. Understand? So, to be in Christ gives you the right to be made alive, to be resurrected and to be enthroned.
I love to teach on the tabernacle of Moses. And, again, if I get into that I’ll never get out. But, let me suggest to you just one thought which can be fruitful if you’re interested. When you go through the first veil into the holy place, that’s resurrection. But when you go through the second veil, that’s ascension. After that you’re sharing the throne with Jesus. That’s our destination. We shouldn’t stop short of that. It’s the Holy of Holies.
Now, how do we continue in Christ? Understand the theme of what I’m saying? It’s how to be in Christ. I think the answer is simple. At least, it’s simple to give. John 15, Jesus said in verses 9–10:
“As the Father loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
How do we abide in him? By obedience. You see again, I think sometimes we strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. In other words, we’re all anxious to do great things for God but all he asks is obedience.
When God spoke to me audibly—I didn’t intend to say this—and promised a great revival in the United States and Great Britain, he then told me something personal about my own ministry. But, he ended with these words. “But the condition is obedience in small things and in great things. For the small things are as great as the great things.” I always like to check on anything I believe God has said. I went through the Bible and I checked. Almost invariably—there are a few exceptions—God always puts the small things before the great. He that is faithful in least is faithful also in much. He that is unrighteous in little things is unrighteous also in much. If you have been unfaithful in the material riches God will never commit to you the spiritual riches. What’s the key to remaining in Christ? Say it with me. Obedience in small things and in great things.
We meet many people who say, “If God asked me to do something big, I’d do it.” The truth of the matter is God has been asking them to do little things and they haven’t been doing it. God will never ask them to do something big because that’s not his way. I would take a poll of the ministers on the platform but I won’t embarrass them. I’ll guarantee every one of them could think of somebody who said, “I’ll really serve you. I’ll do anything” until you ask them to do a small thing. And they won’t do it. I have learned by experience Jesus was exactly right. People who are not reliable in the little things will never be reliable in the big things.
So, how do we remain in Christ? Very simple, just do what he says. Whether it seems little or big, it’s unimportant. What’s important is obedience.
I’ll tell you something else in my experience. I never really knew what were the important things and what were the unimportant things. Some of the things I thought very important, I fasted and prayed and sought God, they turned out to be relatively unimportant. Other things I did almost by accident determined my destiny. I’m one of the few people that have immigrated to the United States by accident. I never intended to. A lot of people would like to, I wasn’t even trying to. I said to myself if there’s one nation that has enough preachers, it’s America. I’ll tell you how I got there.
I was invited for a six month by an Assemblies of God pastor in Minneapolis who had been a friend of mine in the Middle East when we served there together as soldiers. He said come and be associate pastor with me for six months. So, I was in Canada with my first wife and our little African daughter that I mentioned the other night who was about 5 at the time. All I had was her name on my passport, I didn’t have any documents for her. We set out from Canada, arrived at the border in North Dakota—my dear wife was born in South Dakota—and the immigration people said, “What are you coming for?” I said a visit. They said, “How long?” I said six months. They said that’s too long for a visit, you need a visa. I’ve dealt with a lot of immigration officers because I got 8 girls out of Israel and into Britain—which is not a small task—without any passports, believe me. I won’t go into that, I’ll tell that story another time.
I know you never argue with them. So, this man said you need a visa. I said, “Maybe you can help us.” He looked at this strange assorted trio: me, my Danish wife and this little black girl, and I think his heart was moved with compassion. He said, “Come on in and we’ll see what we can do.” Actually, they did it all, I didn’t have to worry about anything. Within 6 months I was a duly admitted immigrant. The interesting thing was I had to be admitted to the United States on the Indian quota because I was born in India which seemed to me strange.
What I’m saying is that was one of the most decisive things that ever happened in my life. It was one of the key events in my life but it happened by accident. So, don’t ever think that you know what’s important. And, don’t dismiss some decisions and situations as unimportant because they may turn out to be the key situation in the whole of your life.
So, how do we remain in Christ? Have you got the answer now? Obedience. In what? In small things and in great things. Walk out of here tonight and I’ll guarantee within 24 hours you’ll be challenged with an issue of obedience. It may seem a very small thing but it could determine your destiny for the rest of your life.
I’ve only got one more thing to say about being in Christ and then I’ll try to sum up what I’ve been saying. This, I think, is something that God has been emphasizing to me for the last 2 years more and more. It is following the pattern of Jesus in this respect, that we never take the initiative out of God’s hands. Okay? Never take the initiative. Jesus never took the initiative. This is a mine of potential blessing if I can just give you the key tonight. Never take the initiative. All right? I’ll show you now the scriptures. John 5:19.
“Jesus answered and said to them, Most assuredly I say to you, The Son can do nothing of himself but what he sees the Father do; for whatever he does the Son also does in like manner.”
See? Jesus said, “I don’t initiate anything. I never do anything until I’ve seen my Father doing it. Then I do what he does.”
And in the same chapter, verse 30, Jesus said:
“I can’t of myself do nothing. As I hear I judge, and my judgment is righteous because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me.”
See? I can do nothing of myself. How much? Nothing. How much can we do better than Jesus? The problem is, we do more. It’s not what we do less, it’s what we do more that gets us into trouble. I don’t know whether you’ve ever thought about that. Abraham is the great father of the believers. Abraham is a wonderful pattern to follow. But he made certain serious mistakes. What was the worst mistake he ever made in one word. Ishmael. Has it occurred to you it didn’t come because he did less than God asked, it came because he did more than God asked. I’m sure for most of us in the ministry—I’m not excluding myself—if we were to analyze where we got into trouble it was not through doing less than God asked, it was through doing more than he asked. We took the initiative out of God’s hand and we got into trouble. You don’t need to say amen. It’s true whether you say amen or not.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever pondered on Ishmael. There was no question of immorality. In the culture of that day what Abraham did was perfectly acceptable when his wife was barren. He did it at his wife’s request. But I don’t know whether you realize the problem for Israel and the Middle East today is summed up in one word. What’s that word? Ishmael. That’s 4,000 years later. How many of you want 4,000 years of problems? Just take the initiative, that’s all you have to do.
I said to a close friend of mine who is kind of struggling to find God’s will for his life, I said, “If you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing but you’re doing something, how do you know you’re not doing the wrong thing?” See? Most of us, especially in the western world but I think all over the world, we feel a compulsion to do something, otherwise we’re not earning our living. That’s like the disciples we talked about the other night. They said, “We’re going fishing. We can’t sit and wait for what God has for us, we’ve got to do something.” How many of you at one time in your ministry have felt if I don’t do something I won’t be earning what I’m getting?
A particular temptation for intercessors. You know that God can support intercessors without their doing anything that people can ever see? There are many of you here tonight called to intercession. In my opinion, you’re like the unseen organs of the body: the liver, the heart, the lungs. The body couldn’t function without you but nobody ever sees you. No young man ever walks up to a young lady and says, “What a beautiful liver you have.” But if she didn’t have a functioning liver she wouldn’t look nearly as pretty as she does.
Let me try and say this. Don’t initiate anything. Never do something until you know it’s the thing God wants you to do. You won’t arrive at that in one jump because some of you have got to have a lot of jumps to get there. But, aim at that. Ruth will bear me witness. With regard to the things that have worked in our ministry—and they’ve worked far beyond anything we ever anticipated—if you told us 10 years ago that we would have a ministry that is reaching more than half the globe regularly, day in and day out, I don’t think we could have understood what you were talking. It didn’t come about because we had some good ideas, it came about because we did the little things God told us to do which was start a radio program on 8 stations with a budget of $8,000. We had no idea what would come out of that program.
Also, our ministry today, we have about 40 workers in Florida and we have people working with us around the earth. We have never appointed anybody to work with us. God has sovereignly joined to us the people that work with us. If we ever make an appointment, it’s a disaster. One of the scriptures that’s very powerful in our present experience and dealings is John 10:29 but it’s in the margin of the New International Version. What it says there is:
“That which the Father has given is greater than all.”
The standard translation says, “The Father who has given them is greater than all.” But actually, most of the texts approve the other translation. “That which the Father has given is greater than all.” What God the Father has given is decisive. The whole universe runs by it. John the Baptist said a man can receive nothing unless it is given him from heaven. I tell you, we can grab for a lot of things but we can only receive what God gives from heaven. And all the rest is going to give us a lot of trouble. It’s better to stay clear of it.
Now, you won’t achieve that in one jump, as I said. It takes tremendous discipline to refuse opportunism and to wait for what God tells us to do. And also, to do it when it doesn’t seem to make much sense. How many people in the Bible were told to do strange things? I mean, I don’t think we could count. And most of them were little things because that’s the way God moves in our life. He tests us on obedience in small things. He tests us whether we’re willing to wait for what he directs us to do.
I want to conclude with what I believe is the solution to the problems of the church. I believe there is a solution to the problems of the church. When you look at the problems of the church, that’s a breathtaking statement. I believe there’s one very simple solution. It’s to give the initiative back to Jesus. Okay? And that means to make him once again head over his own church. The function of the head is to take the initiative. I’d like to read from Ephesians 1 very briefly. Ephesians 1:22, speaking about the fact that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to the heavenlies. Paul then says:
“He [God the Father] put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body...”
As far as God’s plan is concerned, Jesus is to be head over everything in the church. He’s to be the initiator of everything that happens in the church. Nothing in the church is to happen unless it’s initiated by God the Father through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. I believe that would solve the problems of the church. I don’t believe there is any other solution.
I believe there are two things that have been misplaced in contemporary Christianity. Number one, the cross has been misplaced from the central position and set off to the side. Number two, Jesus has been displaced from his headship.
There was a meeting of some leaders in one of the cities of England, I won’t name which one, and Jesus sent them a very simple message. He said, “I want my church back.” Are we prepared to give him his church back? That’s a question we’ll have to answer.
But, let me bring it down to an individual issue for a moment. Are you prepared to make him head? Are you prepared to let him make the decisions, form the plans and take the initiative? Are you prepared to obey him in whatever he says? See, many of you, frankly, you’re so busy trying to serve God that you’re frustrating yourselves. Isn’t that right? I don’t say that to be critical. How do I know it? From my own experience.
Let me go back over my little list now. What it means to be in Christ. Bearing in mind that this, I believe, is the key to God’s approval.
Let me ask you this first before I do that. I don’t make a practice of asking people to make demonstrations but, sincerely, how many of you really want God’s approval? Just put your hand up. Well, I put my hand right up. I want God’s approval. I believe the key is to be in Christ. I believe being in Christ involves these simple things which I’m just going to read from my outline.
First of all, it takes place only through a new creation. It has to be a sovereign work of God. And it happens when God chooses, where God chooses and to whom God chooses. That’s not a popular doctrine in some sections of the church. But it happens to be true.
Once we are the new creation in Christ, the keys or the steps are this. Identification. Identify with Jesus in his death, burial, being made alive, being resurrected, being ascended, taking our place with him on the throne. And that is only by one way, what is that? Faith. There’s no other way but to believe.
The key step in identification where we move in is by baptism. Once we’re buried with him we have the right to go all the rest of the way with him.
Once we have entered into this identification we remain identified with him simply by obedience, by continuing obedience in small things and in great things. And bear in mind the small things will be the things in which you’ll be tested. Don’t wait to be tested in the great things because the test will never come.
And finally, giving God back the initiative. Making Jesus head individually in each of our lives, collectively in the church. Not taking the initiative from him. I believe that is a simple, practical, scriptural answer to our craving for God’s approval.
Now, years ago God told me—in fact, in l962. When I say God told me I get tired of people who say that so let me not say it. I felt God impressed upon me that—I mean, I was dealing with a married couple once. The wife was super-spiritual and the man was anything but spiritual. After I listened to the wife for about 10 minutes, all she said was, “God told me, God told me, God told me.” The poor husband just stood there and looked. So, after 10 minutes I said, “You know, it would be terrible to be married to you because to be disagreeing with you would be disagreeing with God.” Well, the husband smiled. It was the first time anybody had taken his side. I don’t like to make big statements about “God told me.” I will say God spoke to me audibly, I will say that in that one instance.
Anyhow, I felt God impressed upon me. This is what he communicated. He said, “I didn’t call you merely to deliver religious lecture. Whenever you preach on anything practical to my people, I always want you to give them the opportunity to respond in some practical way. Never leave it as just a lecture.” So, I try to obey that. Tonight I want to challenge you and I want to ask you if in the light of what I’ve been saying—let’s put it this way very simply. You want to give God back the initiative in your life, okay? In the light of what I’ve been saying, you recognize that there are a lot of things you’ve been doing in God’s service which he didn’t initiate. And really, they’re not being too successful, to say the truth. Tonight you say, “God, I’m sorry. It was presumptuous of me to take the initiative out of your hands. I want to give it back to you. I want to walk out of this place prepared to let you show me what to do and I’ll do it. But, I won’t do things that you don’t initiate.
If you want to make that commitment to God tonight, very simply just stand up where you are, that’s all I want you to do. If that’s your decision. Well, look at that! Amen, what are we going to do now! You better take the initiative at this point. Alleluia, thank you Lord. Why don’t each one of you just tell God, “God, I’m tired of trying to run my own life, plan my own ministry. I want you to be the head.” All right? Why don’t you do that for a moment. Just tell him in your own words. Thank you Lord. Come by your Holy Spirit, Lord. Seal that decision tonight. Seal that decision tonight, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Lord, lay your hand upon these people who are standing here tonight and let them go out of this tent knowing that the good hand of their God is upon them for good. That you are going to steer them, that you’re going to lead them in the good works which you’ve before ordained for them to walk in. Amen. We give you thanks and praise. Let’s praise him tonight. Praise your name, Lord. Amen.
Now, I would ask you to be seated. May the Lord bless you. I just have two more issues I believe we need to deal with. There’s some of you here that are born again, you’ve received Jesus as your personal savior. You have never been identified with him by baptism, by immersion. And when I say baptism and immersion I’m saying the same thing in two different words. Tonight you are willing to be baptized the quickest. As my secretary writes on my letters, A.S.A.P. Do you know what that means? As soon as possible. All right. Stand up if you’ve made the decision here tonight, “I’m going to follow Christ all the way.” Amen. Bless you. Now, who knows what you’re going to do? I would say make sure you’re baptized within 24 hours. I once baptized an Anglican rector and his five children in his own bathtub. This wasn’t in this country, this was in Kenya. After that he baptized his converts in a horse trough! The important thing is you get right under there and come up again. It’s not the scenery that matters. I mean, if I were in your place I think I’d do it tonight. That’s up to you. There must be some water around here somewhere. Any of these handsome ministers on the platform will be only too glad to do it!
Now, let us sit down but don’t go back on your commitment. One more thing and I want the ministers on the platform, if they feel so led. I think that we should make a collective acknowledgment to Jesus as representatives of his church that we have taken the headship out of his hands. That tonight we want to make him head. All right? If you feel like that I’d ask the brothers and the sisters here if you’d come forward. And I think Brother Dave, you’re a vocal person.
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