Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

Discernment 7


By Rayola Kelley


          We have been considering the natural spirit of man. True discipleship is what addresses the natural bent of the fallen disposition of sin. The “old man” is made up of the self life that needs to be denied, vain imaginations that need to be transformed, and the flesh that needs to be crucified. These three hindrances need to be taken care of in order for a disciple to follow Jesus into the life He is calling him or her into.

       The putting off of the “old man” entails the great exchange. Man must exchange his old life with a new life of Christ. It is true there are those who try to mix the two, but such a concept is like trying to mix oil with water, the profane with the holy, the unclean with that which is clean. You end up with the oil separating from the water because they are made of opposing substances, the holy becoming profane, and the clean becoming defiled. Jesus made reference to this in Matthew 9:16-17 in relationship to wineskins and garments. If a person tries to pour new wine into an old wineskin it will break, and if a person tries to patch an old garment with new cloth the tear is made worse. Such mixtures compromise the integrity of the new while destroying the old. Clearly, we cannot mix our old life with our new life.

       The new man is endued with heavenly life while the old man possesses the temporary life of this world. It is the tendency of new believers to think that the old has something good in it; therefore, they try to patch their old life with religious activities. On the other hand, if they perceive there is something good about the old but desire the new, they try to tack what they consider to be the good of the old life onto the new, but in both cases the new becomes greatly compromised and defiled, while the old reveals that it is unable to bring any real lasting stability.

       The “old man” has to be taken care of so that the spiritual man can be established. Man is either tied into the flesh and the world or he is taking on the life of Christ and becoming the spiritual man. 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 speaks about the earthly man and the spiritual man. We all start out earthly, but if we are born again of the Spirit of God we are translated from the earthly status to become the spiritual man that is able to interact with God. This translation points to a new creation where everything becomes new while the old passes away (2 Corinthians 5:17).

       Man in his fallen state is bound to the earth. He is but dust in light of his ending, mortal in light of his present existence, and fading in light of strength and time. However, the spiritual man will live forever in a glorified state, and the more the spiritual man walks according to the next world to come the more the earth loses its grip on him. The problem with some Christians is that they are trying to hold on to the world while trying to be religious and spiritual. A person who tries to do this will fail to become a spiritual man who is taking on the likeness of Jesus Christ.

       December is when we celebrate deity coming into the world. We all know the arguments about celebrating Christmas. Some will not celebrate it because it is a Catholic holiday and others feel it is proper to celebrate it as long as Christ is the center of their celebration. The truth is we should celebrate Christ every day, but it does not hurt to mark the fact the He came by way of Bethlehem (the House of Bread) to become the Bread of life (John 6:35).

       What we celebrate at such a time is not that He simply came but how He came. He thought it not robbery to cease to hold onto His sovereignty as God and allowed Himself to be fashioned as a man in order to become a servant to all (Philippians 2:5-8). His glory as God was veiled by humanity, and He came as a babe, a child, a son, and was born to a virgin in a stable (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7). There were different responses toward His birth and life, and like Jesus’ first advent we still see how the flesh responds to Him, how the world regards Him, how governments fear Him, and how wicked leaders despise Him.

       It is vital that we understand how to discern man’s reaction to Jesus in order to properly test our own attitudes. Much of our attitudes towards spiritual matters are based on the influence of the spirit that is in the world. Before I understood why Jesus’ first coming was significant, I thought of Christmas in a sentimental way because He came as a baby, but we all come into this world as a baby. I never thought about why His coming was significant. Yes, I heard and read the angel’s tidings to the shepherds on that night so long ago in Luke 2:11, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Even though I heard this tiding many times I was ignorant of the fact that He came to save me. I was blinded by fleshly sentiment, lost in a false sense of religious piety, and walking on the broad path of destruction.

       Today there are many people who hold to the sentimental notion of Jesus as a babe, but that babe grew into manhood and became the savior of the world (people) by dying on the cross. Bethlehem makes no sense without Calvary and there would be no Calvary without Bethlehem. He had to come our way as a babe in order to become the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Bethlehem is the door but Calvary provided the way in which salvation could be wrought in man’s life by faith in Jesus’ redemptive work.

       Even though we have heard or read these responses many times when it came to Jesus’ birth, let us consider them in light of what is happening today. Luke 2:7 mentions the fact that there was no room in the inn for Jesus. How many times through the years in different plays did the one playing the innkeeper make a point by declaring that there was no room in the inn? In fact, there are songs written about this one response. The innkeeper was not being mean and according to some accounts the manger was part of the inn and wasn’t all that bad after all. However, the innkeepers of the world would make some type of concession if they were entertaining known royalty and dignitaries no matter how crowded the inn was. And, if the circumstances were presented to those at the end by such individuals, there might have been some kind or loyal soul who would give way to such officials, but the reality is that Jesus was not recognized as the king because His parents didn’t fit the description of royalty or as being important.

       The innkeeper represents the world. The world with all of its activities and demands had no room for Jesus that night long ago. In essence, the innkeeper was doing the business of the world. Clearly, the demands of the world will always push Jesus into some small corner such as a manger, the ways of the world will always crowd Him out, and the claims of the world will eventually deem Him as a troublemaker, someone to be scoffed at, rejected, and discarded.

       If you look around, you can clearly see the present world doing the same thing where Christ is concerned. The godless philosophies of the world are pushing even the mention of Jesus out of every arena. The demands of the world are swallowing up every corner to ensure there is no place for Christ to rule in a person’s life. The ways of the world show contempt towards genuine faith, and the world claims that only weak fools believe there is a God.

        The question is should this surprise believers that the world is doing everything to wipe out the testimony of Christ? After all, the spirit of the world can operate as an anti-Christ spirit, a spirit that strives to replace the real Jesus with counterfeits and deny the existence of the one true God (1 John 4:1-3). Jesus stated the world hates Him and will hate those who follow Him. James tells us that if we are a friend of the world, we are enemies of God and the Apostle John clearly states that if we love the world, the love of the Father will not be in us (John 7:7; 17:14; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15). You can’t love God and the world at the same time, yet how many of us allow the world to define how we look at the things of God? How many of us had a sweetness developing in our Christian life, but the cares of this world choked out the influence of His Word on our lives (Matthew 13:22)? What or who is taking center stage when it comes to our time, attention, energy, and strength?

       The next person to consider was Herod. He clearly represented the spirit of the natural man that was greatly influenced by the spirit of the world that works in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2). Herod represented the kingdoms of this world, its idolatry, pagan ways, vain pursuits, temporary glory, and wickedness. Herod didn’t care about Jesus. He would have had no idea Jesus even existed if it wasn’t for the three wise men seeking him out to worship the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-3). In the end, Herod’s indifference towards Jesus turned into hatred for Him.

       Is this not true for the world we live in? For the most part, the world doesn’t pay any mind to Jesus, but lift Him up as a standard of what is true, right, beautiful, pure, good, and just, the world’s indifference will turn into hatred. Consider what is happening in the halls of Congress towards the Christians in Texas who lost half of their congregation because of an insane gunman. These Christians have been mocked for turning to God in their sorrow. They have been scorned for believing that although their loss and sorrow is great, in light of eternity it will be temporary, and they have been sorely ridiculed for praying to a God who “let them down,” trusting that somehow He will be glorified in such a tragedy. I hope the people from these different wicked congressmen’s districts have taken note of the hatred that has been displayed by them towards God and His people and vote them out in the next election.

       Herod pretended he wanted to find Jesus so he could worship him, but that was a ploy on his part to rid his world of any future competition (Matthew 2:4-8).  After all, Herod was appointed procurator by Rome and saw himself as king, while Jesus was King. Herod was given power by Rome, but Jesus was empowered by heaven.  Jesus didn’t present any real threat to Herod’s fragile kingdom or ego, but in his demonic paranoia, he could not let the baby Jesus live to manhood. He ended up becoming a tool of Satan and fulfilling a very sad prophecy from Jeremiah, when he had all infants up to two years old murdered (Matthew 2:16-18).

       The world will try to destroy any influence Jesus may have and might have on tender hearts, seeking souls, and tormented spirits. It is for this reason the Apostle John made this statement in 1 John 5:4-5, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God.” 

       The next group of people in the Christmas Story were those who believed the tidings concerning Jesus. The first ones to respond were the shepherds. The shepherds were, for the most part, considered insignificant in the culture, yet the Lord’s angel declared the incredible message of a savior being born to these outcasts. The message had a profound effect on the shepherds because it was backed up by the very glory of heaven shining forth in the dark night (Matthew 2:9-13). But, consider that such individuals have nothing to lose in this world and everything to gain in light of the world that is yet to come. These shepherds obeyed and went to Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:15).

       The shepherds were invited to come and see the Christ child. Likewise, every Christian believer has heard some type of invitation from the Lord to come to Him. Whether the invitation is to those who are heavy laden, to those who are thirsty or hungry, or to those who are seeking, the invitation is the same, “Come unto Me, come and see.”

       What did the shepherds see when they sought out their new-born savior? They saw what the angel declared, “the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” They would see lowliness clothed in a child, purity in a babe, and promise and hope in an infant boy who one day would become Savior, and they believed. And, as lost sinners seeking a Savior, what are we invited to see? lowliness in the form of a sacrifice, God’s Lamb being lifted on a cross out of love to die in our place in order to redeem us from sin and death’s claims on us. The fact that we are believers clearly states that after hearing the Gospel and seeing His sacrifice and resurrection with our hearts, we likewise believed as the day star arose in our spirits and the Sun of Righteousness brought healing to our barren souls  (Malachi 4:2; 2 Peter 1:19).

       What were the shepherd’s reactions? They became evangelists and made known abroad what they had seen and heard (Luke 2:17).  Are we not commissioned to tell others about what we have heard and seen when it comes to Jesus Christ? In Luke 2:20 we are also told, “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” Are we bringing glory to God and offering the sacrifice of praise because we have heard and seen the truth about Jesus and the salvation He offers to all who will come and see after hearing the “good news?”

       The next group of people involved in the Christmas story were the three wise men. Many comment how the wise men came last, but what they fail to point out is that these three individuals recognized the sign that the King of the Jews was born and they sought Him out (Matthew 2:7-12, 16). From their own account that they gave Herod they had searched for two years. The wise men believed the sign and endured two years of searching until they found Jesus.

       There are many people unknowingly looking for Jesus. They desire only what Jesus can give them. They may seek the answers in things, activities, and pursuits, but in the end they are left empty because only Jesus satisfies.

       We also live in an instant society. There are few who allow themselves to be inconvenienced for even an hour or two and even fewer if something takes more than a week or a month. Many lose interest along the way and end up dropping the ball instead of seeing something through to the end.

       The Bible tells us we are to seek the Lord and live, and if we seek Him with all of our heart, He will be found by us (Jeremiah 29:13; Amos 5:4-8). The wise men sought the King of the Jews until they found Him. I was saved at 21 and all those years prior to my new birth experience I was seeking the answers to the questions of life, and when I found the Lord Jesus, I knew He was the ANSWER!

       The wise men brought valuable gifts. At Christmas we are to celebrate the gift of eternal life, but have we brought valuable gifts to the Lord, gifts such as our lives, talents, and resources?

       The wise men were wise because they knew how to read the sign and sought out the One the sign pointed to. Even the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were not aware of His birth. Consider the signs today. They are pointing to Jesus coming again, but how many people are seeking Him out in preparation to see Him coming back in the clouds?

       There are other people who are part of the Christmas story that we must not overlook. There is Mary, the one who carried the Lord Jesus in her womb. We must make sure that as Christians we are carrying the Lord Jesus in our hearts. There is Joseph, Mary’s husband. He was entrusted with making sure that the life of Jesus was maintained and nurtured. Are we as believers nurturing the life of Jesus in us through obedience to His Word, fellowship in His Spirit, and worshipping in the most Holy Place?

       Then there was Simeon who had been waiting to see Jesus. Although he was older, he believed what he had been shown by the Spirit that he would see his salvation, and because of belief, he was led by the Spirit to the temple on the day Jesus was dedicated. When he blessed the child, he declared, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” He went on to say, “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32). Are we looking for the fullness of our salvation to be revealed to us by heaven? Are we being led by the Spirit into places of preparation and communion to experience the Lord in a personal way?

       The final person is the woman named Anna. She spent most of her life in the temple. She fasted and prayed night and day. She lived in expectation of redemption coming. When she saw Jesus she instantly gave thanks to the Lord and went from the temple to tell others who were looking for redemption that it had finally come (Luke 2:36-38). Like Anna, are we living in great expectation? After all, Jesus stated when you see certain signs, “Look up for your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28). And, like Anna are we telling others who are living in such expectation that Jesus our Redeemer has come and that He is coming for a church without spot or wrinkle?

       Every year at this time I remember or reread the Christmas Story, not for sentimental value, but to rejoice that Jesus came. Even though there is so much commercialism, the old, old story of His birth, life, death, and resurrection never grows old, never loses its importance, and never changes. Imagine for two thousand years the events around Jesus’ birth, the activities around His ministry, and the fulfilling of His mission to redeem mankind remains the same in spite of the vast influence of the spirit of the world upon the hearts and minds of people; the “innkeepers” of the world; and the “Herods” who have set out to destroy any trace of Him.

       As believers we can thank God for the great gift of His Son and His Son for the incredible gift of His life, but we need to consider what we are giving back to our Lord as we rejoice in, and benefit from, His many blessings.

       We at Gentle Shepherd Ministries want to take this time to wish you and yours a blessed Merry Christmas.