Know what’s going on in the spiritual realm

Spiritual realm: image credit: Ian Greig

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV

Paul doesn’t end his letter to the church in Corinth with a cheery “Keep up the good work” but something Churchill could have said in 1940 when threat of invasion was all the talk.

What are we standing firm against?

If we agree that this is God’s word and therefore timeless, speaking to us today as it did to believers in the first century, what are we standing firm against and on our guard to challenge?

Our world is bigger than our everyday lives, what the BBC defines as news, and the government and institutions.

The spiritual realm — and added dimension

We are spiritual people, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, belonging to a Saviour and Lord who doesn’t live in a building and who is not recognised when He makes an appearance. For us, there is a spiritual dimension that has a considerable bearing on our lives and communities, both for good and for evil.

Occasionally in the Bible someone has a visitation from an angel, or an impression of one in a dream or vision. Abraham had some signpost moments like this and Jacob was injured in a wrestling match with an angel. Joshua was given detailed instruction by an angel before the conquest of Jericho. Isaiah encountered an angel as part of his call to speak to the hard-hearted. Joseph received vital direction from an angel three times. Angels at the tomb announced Christ’s resurrection, others reminded the disciples of Jesus’ return, and sprang Peter from prison1

What does this tell us? That these people of giant faith were specially chosen to be visited?

Step back a moment and consider what is happening. Even if angels do appear to specially favoured people (some were, some were not) this mainly tells us that what is happening in the heavenlies, needs to be communicated to someone on earth… to the person who needed to know God’s strategy at that time.

  • What happens in heaven is not divided from what happens on earth
  • The heavenly realm is mostly unseen. That does not make it unreal

We have a real, active and vindictive enemy — completely real in Jesus experience and teaching — out to to spoil what he can get his hands on. He and his demons inhabit the spiritual realm unseen, and prey on our thoughts and lives where we are

We also have help from the heavenly realm, accessible to us because we can ask for it through Jesus. And that’s the point of this verse, this closing reminder from Paul:

Be on your guard
Stand firm in faith
Be courageous
Be strong

He is saying, don’t forget the battle that is going on over every righteous Jesus-centred action you take. Thoughts as well! And so expect some push-back — but stand firm and don’t give in to it.

This is different from the gentle church-orientated religion many of us were brought up in. Those four instructions are not gentle. And this is not about church, so much as the One who said “I will build My church“.

He will. And He does it in partnership with us — as we stay alert and on our guard, spiritually.

For a prayer about this, see this post on GLOW.

  1. Genesis 32:22-32Joshua 5:13-15Isaiah 6:6-7Matthew 1:20-21, 2:13, 19-20Matthew 28:1-10Acts 1:11, Acts 12:6-10 []

God’s assurance and the five common doubts we all struggle with

“Did God really say…” was the devil’s original incitement to doubt. Image credit: Ian Greig 03547

The Bible has particular good news about the security of our salvation in Jesus — our assurance. This article examines the five most common doubts we struggle with, and shows how to resolve them the way Jesus did.

The sowing of seeds of doubt — an old, old strategy

A lot of the spiritual battle of life happens inside our heads. That’s where the devil tries to insert thoughts that we can be deceived into thinking are our own. In reality, they come from the sneaky suggestions of the master liar, the “crafty serpent” of Genesis who, right at the beginning, put a seed of doubt in Eve’s mind with the question: “Did God really say…”1. And so Adam and Eve swerved from dependence on God to independence from God, and sin came into the world. This tactic of tempting us to sin has served him well. He tried it on Jesus, and he is using it on us today. Like Jesus, we learn to disable doubts and show their lack of substance by using God’s word — the truth that sets us free ((Luke 4:1-13; John 8:31-32)).

Doubt no. 1: “Am I really saved?”

“Are my sins forgiven just by believing and receiving Christ — surely that can’t be enough?”

What God says about that, needs to be internalised and set alongside that doubt, to topple it.

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” — 1 John 5:11-12

Doubt no. 2: “Why would God hear or answer my prayer?”

.”Is God, who is far away and concerned with BIG things, really be concerned with me and my prayers. Why would He hear them and answer them?”

God loved the world so much that He gave… the most anyone could give, His Son2. And Jesus gave His life for you, on the Cross. He wants you to come to Him in every situation:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. — Philippians 4:6

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. — Hebrews 4:14-16

The night before He died, Jesus spoke to His disciples. Over the three years they had all asked Him many things, but He tells them they had not yet asked in His name — as those belonging to Him. Our assurance of answered prayer comes because we can belong to Him, by choice, and we can ask in His name, as He taught the first disciples:

“Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete” — John 16:24.

Doubt no. 3: “I’m a failure — I can’t seem to resist sin.”

“I feel a failure as a believer, when I find I cannot live right and resist sin.”

He empowers us by His Spirit to say ‘no’ in the Name of Jesus, to resist, to live over and above the temptation. But He has also given us a place that we can go back to again and again, the Cross, and there we can receive forgiveness.

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” — 1 Corinthians 10:13

Doubt no. 4: “Am I really forgiven?”

“There are things in my life which won’t go away; they haunt me and I feel guilty.”

Satan’s ploy is to try to trap us in thoughts or actions which go against God, and then hit us with the guilt of it, to reinforce and compound doubts 1-3 and deal a mortal blow to our self-esteem.

The reality is, we make mistakes. Relationships go wrong, marriages fail, people get hurt as a result of our actions or words, and these and all the everyday failures things grieve God. But in Jesus, God who became man, we have a Saviour who both understands the pressures and difficulties, and at the Cross has provided a way out for us.

If we are in fellowship with Him and others, and we are being honest with Him about where we have given in to our independence or our selfish desire, His blood cleanses us from all sin. “All” does mean all. And, if you have given your life to Jesus, and your life is therefore hidden in His — “in Christ Jesus” — there is no guilt weighing you down. The guilt has been removed, leaving only the suggestion of it.

“If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”— 1 John 1:7-9.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus — Romans 8:1

Doubt no.5: “What is my destiny?”

“What is God’s guidance for my life, and am I able to receive it?”

God’s guidance is often not easy to discern. We don’t often get a Holy Spirit-inspired future-revealing dream, or a visit from an angel. The prompts come in much smaller and more ordinary ways, and we can easily miss them — with the enemy sowing confusion and every kind of distraction to put us off. However, a bit like promises of assurance, promises of God’s guidance are all over Scripture, and He can use any part of it to speak to us to give us a little redirect, right at that moment. But here is a foundational verse to commit to memory, to use against that confusion, and to return to as a solid promise that God will meet us as we come to Him with our little bit of faith:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” — Proverbs 3:5-6.


Some people find memorising Scripture easier than others, but the principle for all is straightforward — reference, repeat and revisit. Know the reference for where to find them, marked up in your Bible; read them out loud and repeat them whenever you can; and go back to revisit to consolidate your learning.

Doubt can be a killer but God’s word brings the presence of God Himself and is life-giving. Do what Jesus did and tell the enemy and his lies where to get off — and you will grow rapidly in assurance, which is what Father God wants for you.

See also Explaining… Our assurance in the kingdom of God

  1. Genesis 3:1 []
  2. John 3:16 []

The kingdom of God is not the church…

… but it depends on us keeping our house in order

Wheat and weeds growing together near Tillington, NW Herefordshire.     Image credit: Ian Greig

Read Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and 1 Corinthians 5:6-13

Among casual readers of the Bible, there has been a long tradition of confusing the kingdom of God with the church.

This was especially common during the era of Christendom in Europe where the church and state powers were enmeshed, and it persists today where people assume the organisational structures of the church and the power wielded by church leaders is synonymous with God’s kingdom.

Unfortunately, this has led to a dangerous misreading of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds.

In the story, Jesus compares “the kingdom of heaven” to a man who sowed good seed in a field while his enemy secretly sowed weeds. In order to protect the wheat from being uprooted prematurely, the weeds are allowed to grow alongside the wheat until the harvest.

Those who equate the kingdom with the church have understood this parable to mean that wicked, harmful people should be tolerated within the church alongside those seeking righteousness. In other words, it is not appropriate to exercise church discipline or expel anyone for any reason. Such actions, they say, are reserved for God alone at the final judgment.

This view, however, is a complete misreading of Jesus’ parable and requires one to ignore many other passages within the New Testament - and the words of Jesus himself - that call upon church leaders to exercise discernment and discipline in order to protect the church from harm and guide everyone toward godliness. In its worst application, this read of the parable has been an excuse for not removing corrupt or abusive church leaders.

The story of the wheat and the weeds is not about the church. It is about the world. We occupy an age in which the kingdom of God and its righteousness has taken root. It is growing and expanding. But its presence is not without resistance. Alongside God’s kingdom is also the evil of the world. Until the harvest, we must expect the goodness of God’s kingdom and the evil of the world to coexist in tension with each other.

But the fact that evil persists in the world is never an excuse for the church to ignore it within its own community or to silence those who have been wounded by its agents.

Original post by Skye Jethani in ‘With God Daily’, July 9

See also Understanding Revival page with the wheat and weeds passage of Matthew 13, in The Living Word

Pleasing people or pondering unpopularity 3

Trusting God is required of us – and we can trust Him. When we don’t, it’s a response from the old life “ruled by sin”.
Sid the cat, image credit: Ian Greig 02829

Avoiding the trap — when life pushes us towards sin

Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
Our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin…

Romans 6:1-2, 6-7

Earlier we considered Jeremiah’s dilemma, experiencing “insult and reproach all day long”. And he ponders how to respond in a God-honouring way, and the temptation to react by refusing to speaking out any more: “If I say, ‘I will not mention His word or speak any more in His name…’ “

For Jeremiah, identified by God before birth to represent him, NOT to speak out would have been apparently wise, quite understandable, a reasonable choice – and knowingly disobedient. Not have been the most obvious sin in the book — but it is the more nuanced forms of disobedience which often trip us up.

Jesus’ teaching about the persecution and conflict that would follow His disciples reveals a subtle sin that the enemy sets up for us, and then uses in accusation. It is simply lack of trust. Being constrained by fear, rather than being led by the Holy Spirit, is a reaction rather than a measured response. Jesus emphasises repeatedly: “Don’t be afraid”.

The old reactions are ingrained — getting angry, finding someone to blame, saying the wrong things — and ignoring God rather than listening and trusting. But, as Paul says, the old reactions belong to the old self.

This is an encouragement to choose to respond, with God, rather than react independently from God. That way, we avoid giving the devil a foothold, a way into our thought-life and life generally, Ephesians 4:27.

Pleasing people or pondering unpopularity 2

Jesus warned that He would cause conflict

Light and shadow: Recognising the darkness which opposes the light and causes hostility
Image credit: Ian Greig 03117

Matthew 10:28, 34-36, 38
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…
… “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”

Jesus was pretty up-front about the reality of hostile reactions — not everybody sees the Good News as good for them, especially if it threatens their status quo in some way.

Even families, He said, would be divided about what He represented.

Saying that He did not come to bring peace presents us with a problem. What, then, He did come to bring?

Foretold as the “Prince of Peace” with government on His shoulders1, Jesus was announced as Saviour and Messiah by an angel accompanied by a heavenly host praising God for the One bringing peace to those on who His favour rests2.

This is a fundamental truth and expectation — that “The Lord blesses His people with peace3. In His final long discourse to the disciples, He promised them: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you… not… as the world gives”4.

But there’s a clue in the “not as the world gives” phrase, easily overlooked. So let’s look at it.

Peace with God is taking a position against the one who opposes God. Peace with God by definition is a rejection of Satan and his control — and that puts up a target for all the retributions Satan is known for, like confusion, conflict and slander.

Wind back the story three years and we have Jesus fasting alone in the wilderness, and having a series of encounters with Satan5. In the third and final of these confrontations, Satan shows Him “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour”6, and he goes on to say, that if Jesus would worship him (Satan) instead of His Father, he would (so he said – but he is is a liar on every occasion) allow Jesus control of those power structures.

There’s a lot of power and control in the world’s systems and institutions where sin, corruption and lack of submission to God puts them at the disposal of the devil. These might be human kings or rulers, and they might even be religious leaders — the Temple and Sanhedrin council was a case in point — but Satan had all he needed to pull their strings and use them for harm, and not for good. We see this same strategy today.

Jesus the Prince of Peace and proclaimer of justice to the nations7 is resurrected and ascended to heaven as Lord of Lords and also as Great High Priest. So our allegiance and deference to Jesus — just by itself — stands in opposition to every strand of ungodly control and corrupt administration, in the world or, sadly, in the less spiritual and more institutional dimensions of Christian religion..

Why does that mean His disciples will encounter conflict rather than His peace?

  1. Many people will receive Him and respond to His love and the grace of His acceptance. However some will react against to the Lordship dimension of this.
  2. Jesus in you or me — the Holy Spirit one with our human spirit — will stir up opposition from every spirit that is not submitted to Him. It is an unseen, unspoken, spiritual stand-off.
  3. The mention of Jesus, as well as the presence of Jesus, brings into focus the reality of two spiritual kingdoms which are opposed. The kingdom of darkness is exposed by Jesus’ kingdom of light. Jesus taught about the “strong man’s house” and Satan’s kingdom,8 and went on to say, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me”,9. With Jesus, the common philosophy of the world is overturned: everything is not relative, there no middle ground, there exists no variety of paths to the truth. It is light or darkness, Him or the enemy of our souls!

That said, Jesus as Lord confers peace, wholeness, spiritual prosperity and inner joy on to those who are His. It is like joining a regiment on the front line: being shot at by the enemy is what happens — but this is a uniquely well supported and equipped regiment, led personally by the most highly decorated and personable commanding officer, who also has an unmatched record of victory.

  1. Isaiah 9:6 []
  2. Luke 2:10-14 []
  3. Psalm 29:11 []
  4. John 14:27 []
  5. Matthew 4:1-11 []
  6. Matthew 4:8-9 []
  7. Matt. 12:18-20, Isaiah 42:1-4 []
  8. Matt. 12:25-29 []
  9. Matthew 12:30 []

Invited to join the kingdom franchise

The summit of Mount Sinai, where God spoke to Moses and set out His partnership offer
Image credit:

Exodus 19:2-8

2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
3 Then Moses went up to God and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel:
4 “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.
5 Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession. Although the whole earth is Mine,
6 you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’
7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak.
8 The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said.’ So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.

Here’s the story:  Moses is back on the slopes of the mountain where He encountered God before and heard God speak and reveal Himself in a personal way1. As Moses was starting to grasp, everything about God is about relationship. And now God is calling to him again – and with that sense of relationship, with that sense of God being love, giving him what amounts to a heavenly commission:

…If you… keep my covenant, then… you will be my treasured possession… a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…2

The whole nation would be part of this, called up by God, known to be good, loving and totally consistent, to serve Him as distinctly as joining up to serve Queen and country in uniform today.

How different this was from the nations around, trying to appease the whims of their deities (which represented demonic strongholds over the region) while trying to please a capricious and often cruel human king.

Exclusive rights and privileges as a ‘kingdom of priests’

The people of God were to have exclusive rights and privileges as a ‘kingdom of priests’ looking to Yahweh their God and their king, being set apart from other people to belong to Him as a holy nation.

This language of privileged priesthood, or relationship with God, was echoed by Peter, writing a generation after the Resurrection. Now it was not an ethnic distinction. It was the call of those trusting and believing in Jesus, every one of them, to be part of this priesthood.

It wasn’t about old-style priests performing rituals and offering sacrifices – Jesus had made Himself the full and final sacrifice for all people and for all time. However, the world around didn’t know that. So it needed priests in the deeper sense of go-between mediators, to represent God to those who did not know Him, and to help them to find Him.

The spiritual nation of Moses’ time, and what we call the Old Covenant, has now become for us under the New Covenant in Jesus, not a nation but a spiritual house or family. Every believer belonging to Jesus is an essential partner who shares His continuing ministry. And each one is fitted in as part of its structure – Peter uses the picture of “living stones”3.

The present-day practice which captures some of this sense of investment, commitment and partnership

Is there anything in our world which is like this? Our ideas of partnership are nowhere near as good, but the present-day practice which captures some of this sense of investment, commitment and partnership is a form of business familiar to us — the franchise partnership.

You might not know that your favoured fast food outlet, or the hotel you like, or the technician who uses clever technology to remove dents and scratches from your car, or that modern style of optician or the different kind of veterinary practice, is following a successful model based on franchise partnership. Those operating them have invested heavily – it’s a major commitment – to be able to practise this exact business, agreeing to follow the strict rules of the franchise, laid down by the franchisor. In return they are supported by a unique and competitive product range, and being part of a well-known, advertised brand. Customers like this because they know what they are getting – there’s an assurance of quality.

Like inviting Jesus into your heart and giving Him your life, it is costly, a big commitment and an act of submission which turns our natural independence on its head. Like having Jesus in your life, it is also an enabling and hugely beneficial partnership.

We can learn from the comparison

To relate the kingdom of God which Jesus spoke about, to a brand or a franchise, is making it far too cheap and worldly – but don’t dismiss this, we can learn from the comparison. Jesus came to establish His kingdom, His Way, on earth and He spoke about it constantly. We talk a lot about the church – something Jesus mentioned it just three times. The kingdom of God is the focus of His teaching again and again, with more than 100 instances. The kingdom of God was His message, the essence of the Good News.

Active partners… bearing the warrant of His authority and commission

The rule of God, the fair and just and good order of the way God does things, was starting and everyone was invited into it. Not just to enter in, not just to come into salvation and freedom and new life, amazing gift though that is. Jesus was signing up workers for the harvest4 to be active partners in His harvest, bearing the warrant of His authority and commission.

The first disciples had some coaching for this partnership by being involved with Jesus, watching Him as He ministered throughout Galilee. Now the coaching took a different form as they were sent out to do what they had seen Him do, this time with Him watching them5.

1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to Him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness
5 …These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…
7 As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”
8 Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Paul reminds us, as he wrote to believers in Rome, that this partnership is not without its difficulties — but the challenges prove how the partnership works, helping us to grow in trust and showing God to be greater.

Romans 5:1-5 NIV
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
3-4 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Your new Specsavers or Burger King business is not launched as a naked competitor into a competitive marketplace – it comes with the backing of solid business experience and all the know-how gained in other start-ups which show how it works. A franchise brings success for both stakeholders in the partnership by replicating the proven franchise model. When we grasp the kingdom of God and seek to live it the way the Holy Spirit shows us, and with His help, we see growth and God is glorified.

He said… that His disciples… would find themselves doing even greater things

Living for Jesus is challenging enough and partnering with Him in His kingdom mission feels like an impossibility. “Hang on, ” we say, “Jesus did those things as Jesus!” But He said at the end that His disciples, knowing a spiritual power and boldness beyond themselves by the Holy Spirt, would find themselves doing even greater things6.

And us? This takes a reminder from where we started, acknowledging that everything about God, is about relationship. “God is love”7 and in this relationship, we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts by the Holy Spirit living in us8. Looking at Jesus was like looking at love with arms and legs, and it was this love which drew people, healed people and transformed them into such effective witnesses.

  1. Exodus 3:14-15 []
  2. Exodus 19:5-6 []
  3. 1 Peter 2:5 and 9-10 []
  4. Matthew 9:37 []
  5. Matthew 10:1 []
  6. John 14:12 []
  7. 1 John 4:8, 16 []
  8. Romans 5:5 []