Three Examples of Men Who Were Religious but Not Spiritual
Zac Poonen | 20 May 2018
Jude speaks in his epistle of three people who were religious, but not spiritual - Cain, Balaam and Korah (Jude 11). Let us consider them one by one.
“When a man consistently dies to self day after day, there will be a fire from heaven on his life and on his ministry."
Cain was not a godless man. He was a deeply religious man who believed in offering sacrifices to God (Gen. 4:3). Abel also offered sacrifices to God. But the difference between the two sacrifices and between Cain and Abel was the difference between hell and heaven, the difference between religiosity and spirituality. Cain and Abel symbolise two ways in which people have trodden - the way of religiosity and the way of spirituality. Cain is a type of those who offer external things to God - money, services, time, etc. Abel, on the other hand, symbolically laid himself on the altar when he killed the lamb and laid it on the altar.
Religious people can give gifts, pray, and do many good works - but they do not understand what it is to offer themselves. They may pay their tithes exactly, but they will not put their self to death in the moments of temptation. That is the difference between the old and the new covenants. You could enter the old covenant without dying to self. But it is impossible to enter the new covenant without dying to self. Jesus did not come to offer tithes, but to give Himself as an offering acceptable and well-pleasing to God. Cain and Abel symbolise the broad and narrow ways of approaching God - the way of religiosity and the way of true spirituality. You can be a servant without death to self. But you cannot be a son without it.
God answered Abel's sacrifice with fire from heaven. But nothing fell on Cain's offering. When a man consistently dies to self, day after day, there will be a fire from heaven on his life and on his ministry. This is the genuine baptism of the Spirit and fire that John the Baptist said Jesus would give to those whose roots He had first axed. On the other hand, a brother who merely does the right things externally may have a good life, but the fire and the anointing of heaven will be missing from his life. Satan's counterfeit 'baptism' which tickles the emotions (which is what most are enjoying today) is worthless garbage compared with the genuine baptism of the Spirit and fire that Jesus sends upon His disciples who choose the way of the cross.
Balaam was another religious man. He was a preacher who wanted to serve God, but who was also interested in making money and meeting great men in the world (Num. 22). He sought honour and financial gain for himself in the name of the Lord. There are many, many false prophets, like Balaam today. Their doctrines are all fundamentally right, according to the letter of the word. But undiscerning believers cannot recognise that they are motivated by the spirit of Balaam (loving money and honour). These are the ones about whom Paul writes in Philippians 2:21 saying that they all seek after their own interests. There were people in the church in Pergamum who lived by this doctrine of Balaam (Rev. 2:14). There is no difference between seeking for honour and seeking for money in the church. Both are but different variations of the same spirit of Balaam.
Korah was another religious man. He was from the priestly tribe of Levi (Num. 16). But he was dissatisfied with the ministry allotted to him by the Lord. He desired to be more prominent, like Moses was. This covetousness (cloaked with a religious garb) was what proved to be his destruction finally. He and his co-rebels, Dathan and Abiram, and their families, are the only ones recorded in Scripture who went alive into hell (Num. 16:32,33). So seriously did the Lord take this sin of rebellion against the authority that He Himself had appointed over His people.
Most elders, preachers and pastors today are self-appointed. To rebel against them may not be serious. It may sometimes even be necessary! But to rebel against one who has been appointed by God would bring upon one the severest judgment of God. A spiritual man would never even dream of doing such a thing. But religious people will. Such is the spiritual foolishness that accompanies religiosity.
Korah symbolises those who are in an unhealthy competition with others in the church. When you find it difficult to praise and appreciate a God-fearing brother, it is an indication that you have something of the spirit of Korah in you. When you criticise him, then you are full of the spirit of Korah. If you can listen to others criticising him, then you are like the 250 rebels who joined Korah, and who were also judged by God.
We can never become spiritual if we do not discern between religiosity and spirituality. It is the need of the hour - for it is concerning the last days that it is written that many would have the form of godliness, without the power (which is the word of the cross).
How to identify a New-Covenant Church
Zac Poonen | 6 May 2018
Nowadays many believers are fed up with their own denominations, and are leaving them in search of a new-covenant church. There are also many groups that claim to be "New-covenant churches".
But how are we to identify a new-covenant church? - Certainly not by the pattern of its meetings. It is possible to imitate many things in the pattern that we see in a powerful church, and yet never become a powerful church ourselves.
It would have been possible for the Philistines to build a tabernacle exactly like the one that Moses built, because the details were all clearly given in the book of Exodus. But there was one thing about that tabernacle that no-one would have been able to imitate - and that was the fire of the glory of God that rested upon the tabernacle. That was the one distinctive mark by which the true dwelling place of God was identified in the wilderness. Without that, the tabernacle was an empty shell. When the tabernacle was later replaced by the temple in Solomon's time, the glory of God filled it. But later, when Israel backslid, that glory slowly moved out (Ezekiel 10:4, 18, 19). That temple then became an empty shell. It is the same with many churches today.
The one identifying mark of a new-covenant church is the presence of God in its midst. When the spirit of prophecy is powerfully present in a church-meeting, those coming to that meeting will fall on their faces and "acknowledge that God is there" (1 Corinthians 14:24, 25). When Jesus speaks prophetically in the church, our hearts will burn, just like the hearts of the two disciples burned on the way to Emmaus, when Jesus spoke to them (Luke 24:32).
God is a consuming fire. When God came down into the bush through which He spoke to Moses, and the bush burned, no worm could survive in that bush. In exactly the same way, no sin can remain hidden or unexposed where the powerful, burning presence of God is found today. Such a church alone is a new-covenant church. The eyes of Jesus are like a flame of fire (Revelation 1:14) and He is constantly searching and exposing sin and human traditions and Phariseeism in all the churches which He is building.
The master key to the kingdom of heaven is poverty of spirit (Matthew 5:3). Without this, we will not be able to build a new-covenant church. To be poor in spirit is to be broken before God constantly with a sense of our own need, because we have a great and intense longing to be perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect. "The Lord is near to the broken hearted" (Psalms 34:18). And when He is near, His presence brings the fire of heaven into our hearts and through us to others wherever we go.
Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) made a serious mistake when they joined the powerful new-covenant church at Jerusalem where the presence of God burned like a fire. If they had been in the church at Corinth (in later years) they would have lived long lives. Ananias might even have become an elder there - because the church at Corinth was a carnal, dead church. But in the fiery new-covenant church at Jerusalem, this couple just could not survive. God will expose and remove those who live in hypocrisy in any new-covenant church.
If there is anything that dishonours God in our life at home or work place, we are in great danger if we remain as members of a truly new-covenant church. If your basic aim in life is not to seek the glory of God, but something for yourself or your family, it is far better that you leave a new-covenant church where God is powerfully present and His Word powerfully proclaimed. It would be better for you to join a dead church. At least you may then live long - unlike Ananias and Sapphira!
There are many churches today that call themselves "new-covenant churches". But they are as dead as the dodo bird!! The name means nothing. The question is whether Pharisees and hypocrites can live comfortably there or whether they are exposed and get offended and leave. In a new-covenant church, many will get offended with the preaching of the Word and leave the church. It is written of the church at Jerusalem, that "many people didn't dare join them" (Acts 5:13).
If our desire as elders is to increase our numbers rather than to make disciples for Jesus, we will gather Pharisees and hypocrites in our churches. We will never build a new-covenant church. When the presence of Jesus is powerfully present in a church, the disciples therein will be taken up with seeing His glory. The proof that we have indeed seen the glory of the risen Lord will be that the things of earth (like comfort and honour and wealth) will have become dim in our eyes, and will no longer have the attraction that they once had for us.
In a new-covenant church, there won't be just powerful preaching of the Word but powerful, living examples of the Word too. It is not new doctrines that make an impact on others for God, but holy lives. New-covenant servants don't just preach to others, they invite others to follow their example too (1 Corinthians 11:1).
We should weep when our example is not a worthy one. We should hang our heads in shame when we bore people with dry, un-anointed messages. It is impossible to become cold or Pharisaical if we follow Jesus. We are far away from Jesus if we have only dreams and visions to talk about, but no word from the Lord to feed the people with. It is impossible to bore people, when we ourselves are on fire for the Lord.
Jesus was raised from the dead so that He might have the first place in everything (Colossians 1:18). God fully backs all those who have this as their ambition. What this means is that we give up our own plans and rights and let Jesus tell us what we are to do, how we are to spend our money and time etc. If this is your only ambition in life, you can be certain that God will use you to build a new-covenant church in your locality.
Many claim that Jesus is in their midst just because they quote His Name (Matthew 18:20). But they are deceiving themselves. If He is really present in their midst, then why are the meetings so boring? Why is it that lives are not being transformed? Even a short time spent in the company of a truly godly man makes a deep impact upon us such that, it even changes the course of our lives. How much more of an impact there should be upon our lives if we have spent even a short time with Jesus Himself? So if lives are not being transformed through the church-meetings, then we have to admit that the Lord's presence is not there in our meetings. Then we are NOT a new-covenant church.
We will never be able to build a perfect church here on this earth. Even in the first church that Jesus built - His twelve disciples - there was one traitor. So we cannot expect anything better. But where Jesus builds His church today, there will be a core at the centre of that church, of people who have seen His glory and who have been gripped by it. Their hearts will be aflame with a fire that the Devil cannot quench. Through them the Lord will build a new covenant church for the glory of God.