I was working on my text for the Book of Acts study I teach on FaceBook every Monday night and saw this:
“And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.” (Acts 19:18-20)
What struck me was how being truly born again, these people were changed from the inside out. They immediately began to confess their sinful deeds, which revealed that they had repentant hearts. They also put action behind their repentance: they got rid of all of their costly sinful objects.
As I pondered this I could see a stark contrast between this true event in the Bible and so much of the body of Christ today. In so many places people are marketed by actually being told that they are just fine living in ways that harm them and others spiritually.
In these places godly standards don’t seem to matter at all. The Word of God isn’t respected (unless it says something the people like to hear.) All sorts of perverse and sinful lifestyles and beliefs are celebrated all in the name of “love”; but it is NOT real love because it isn’t loving to encourage people to do things or remain in lifestyles that are harmful to them and others.
These spiritual environments cause people to focus on the earthly encouragement they get for being sinful and draw their focus away from the Holy Spirit and His conviction of their sinful practices, some of which might even have blatant demonic origins and attachments. They actually DISCOURAGE people from being conformed into the image of Christ by encouraging them to remain like the fallen world around them.
This doesn’t resemble the spiritual environment in the Church in first century Ephesus.
“And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.” (Acts 19:18-19a)
Something about a hunger for personal holiness has been lost as Christians have been taught to pay less and less attention to the Holy Spirit of God. Paul teaches us to live, as Christians, a DIFFERENT way…a new way:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)
He goes into this more in depth in his letter to the Colossians and I think this is worthy of a rabbit trail.
“If (since) then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on (focus on) things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (FACT – your life is fundamentally and ETERNALLY different). When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth (get rid of sinful things you do and believe): fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them (this used to be your lifestyle when you were lost). But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, (when you were saved you set aside who you used to be when you were lost AND have set aside those sinful practices) and have put on the new man (you have become someone totally new) who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him (Jesus is changing your mind about who you are so you will see yourself in terms of HIM – not what you USED to be like), where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free (we won’t be taking our cues from anything physical from now on),but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful (these ways to live are your “new normal” in Christ).” (Colossians 3:1-15)
What Paul was used to seeing was what he personally experienced and what he saw in our passage from Acts Chapter 19: people were born again and they were changed from the inside out. They didn’t require programs and trinkets and door prizes and such to cause them to change their behavior. The Holy Spirit did a work in them…sometimes instantaneously.
Saul STOPPED persecuting Jewish Christians and stood down for a while. The next time we see him he’s doing the VERY thing he went to Damascus to arrest other Jews for doing.
“And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?’ But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 9:17-22)
I am convinced that when Paul first went to a place and led people to the Lord he saw in them what happened to him when he was saved. I’m sure that he wrote what he did in Colossians 3 and in its companion letter Ephesians (4:17-32) not to teach them to do that as much as to explain WHY it happened to them. Its like he is detailing the “spiritual mechanics” of what has happened to them.
So, why do we hardly see this happening in the modern Church? I know it does here and there. I’ve been overjoyed to see it with my own eyes and saddened to realize that it is not the norm in this time.
Have you seen it happen in the place where YOU worship? Do you see it happening in YOUR life? HAVE you seen it in your own life…but, when you think about it, it seems like it has slowed down or stopped?
I can trace this all too common dynamic down to two primary issues: 1) the almost non-existence of real discipleship in the body of Christ today and 2) the cares of the world. The first issue makes it easy for the second to impede our transformation into the image of Christ.
If someone does not disciple us and help us remember AND keep us accountable to “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2) then “when Christ who is our life appears” (Colossians 3:4a) we will NOT also “appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4b)
We won’t walk in His glory at all. We won’t be living out our new normal in Christ. Then it is easy for satan to serve up that second one, the cares of the world, and spiritually foot sweep us.
“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:19-23)
True discipleship helps us understand “the word of the kingdom”. It plows our hearts and helps us remove the stony places in our souls. It cultivates our souls, removing the weeds and breaking up the soul so the seeds God sows are able to take root in us.
Who did Jesus tell the “parable of the sower and seeds”? His very first disciples.
Who are WE? His most current disciples, IF we choose to be continual learners of Him through whomever He chooses for us. While sermons, and Bible studies, and men’s and women’s breakfasts, and retreats, and conferences are all good – these are NOT discipleship and they do not typically produce “disciples”. They produce “attendees”.
Being a disciple means submission to the person of God’s choice and it involves the slow motion, painstaking process of these two sharing their lives with one another. People engaged in true discipleship come to truly KNOW one another. They help one another “put off the old man with his deeds”, “put on the new man”, and become “renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created” them.
Two people engaged in true discipleship seek and allow the Holy Spirit of God to grow them from the inside out, transforming and renewing their minds.
May we all be different than the world and different from what we once were outside of Jesus.
May we do our eternal King proud.
Pastor Mike McInerney
Mike McInerney Ministries, Inc.
© September 23, 2020