And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this (betrayal of Jesus) thing. And then there arose also a dispute among them as to which of them was regarded to be the greatest. (22:22-23)
What caught my attention was how quickly the disciples went from thinking lowly of themselves to thinking of themselves very highly. In one breath they are considering their capacity for betrayal. In the next they are exalting themselves, considering their capacity for greatness. Would the real friends of Jesus and the sons of God please stand up.
These are the men that Jesus carefully chose to pick up, with the Holy Spirit, where He, the Word made flesh, would leave off. In regards to the kingdom of God, everything is going to depend on these guys and the Holy Spirit. So…, what was it that he saw in them that qualified them for such powerful ministry and glorious destinies? It apparently was not the steadfastness of either their confidence or their humility. While these men no doubt did have specific gifts, I believe their primary qualifications was something else. It was this; In their nature and capacity, the original twelve were exactly like you and I. We all have natures, and consequently identities, that were wrecked with Adam’s at the Fall.
I believe the cosmos itself is agonizing, looking ahead to a special day, asking, if as soon as possible, “Could the real friends of Jesus and the sons of God please stand up.” The question remains for us; “So.., what is our greatest capacity; Is it for unfaithfulness and betrayal or is it for greatness?” The question that Adam has left us with lingers within; “Who am I really?” Am I, at the core of my being, predisposed toward good or toward evil? At my foundation, am I a son of darkness, or am I a child of light? May I share with you a chapter from my story?
I showed up for my week of counseling with Charlie Finck with a heart that sounded like one of the disciples; in one moment it could be very up and yet more often it was down, sometimes very down. It also sounded like the heart-conscience of the Gentiles that Paul described in Romans 2:15, where the thoughts of their hearts were alternately accusing or defending them. I will never forget an observation Charlie made very early in our sessions; “Rob, you don’t know who you are.” I have shared much of my story on previous occasions; but to summarize, I could say that I arrived at his office believing that Jeremiah 17:9 best portrayed my identity. It says…
“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.”
I left Mr. Finck’s office with an understanding that my core identity is better portrayed by 2 Cor 5:17;
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
The key doctrine of my life had centered around the fallenness of man. I speculated endlessly as to the human capacity for depravity. God knows my own experience, and the evening news, daily confirmed my conviction! Relating to God involved the personalization of this doctrine which amounted to introspection. If I were deeply serious enough and was successful at being totally honest about the depths of my corruption, then Godly sorrow would follow; then, just around the corner, my heart could attain that hallowed state of brokenness and contrition the Lord so cherishes. Then I could be cleansed at the depth of my repentence and move forward in my relationship with God.
I arrived at the counselor’s office as an accomplished soul in “sin-management”. My stumbles and falls were all just the recurring proofs to me of my depraved identity. I knew I was just a sinner saved by grace. I might have been going to heaven but there was certainly no heaven on earth for my heart. After Charlie had helped me in becoming honest about, and taking responsibility for, the judgements, bitterness and resentment (which I had rationalized as righteous indignation) something shifted in my heart. Note; It is interesting that my own supposedly wholehearted, self-generated attempts at repentance had not uncovered some very basic issues of unforgiveness!
That shift in my heart, which I now think of as the redirection of repentance, seemed to permit another truth, a much deeper one than my depravity, to take hold and begin to dismantle a world of hard, rigid religious attitudes and thoughts toward myself and others. Where my heart and identity had been vacillating like a spiritual schizophrenic, between its capacity for evil and greatness, it now is inclined to simply defer to the greater reality – the far greater reality of “Christ in me, the hope of glory. While that might sound arrogant, as it most certainly would have to me four years ago; today it is simply a childlike assumption about who I understand myself fundamentally to be.
So, when I consider the question, “Would the real friends of God please stand?” or, “Would the real sons of God please stand?” I arise and identify myself. You might ask me, “What is the occasion when you are asked to to do this?” Great question! It happens with every breath I take as I consider the fulness of this gospel of the kingdom; the new heart that I received in this new covenant between God and I; this finished work of the Cross that has settled once and for all the question of who I am. My intentionality at nourishing this truth is how I live out Proverbs 4:23;
“Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.”
The Kingdom of God is within us. Our hearts are that space where time and eternity overlap; where the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of God are both vying for the rights to rule and reign. Because it is so devastatingly effective, the devil, the accuser of the brethren, uses this tactic to attack the would-be Kingdom within over and over. His strategy is simply to challenge our identity in any way possible. He is not about to quit. Why would he? It has kept the army of God on the defensive for a long time.
We saw this tactic used on the Lord Himself during His wilderness trial. Satan said, “If you are the son of God, then..…” His tactic was to misapply scripture in an effort to lead Jesus astray. It didn’t work at all because Jesus knew who He was and this was the ground He fought from. This enabled Him to sift through Satan’s proposals, discern the lies and respond accordingly.
Satan is a master lier. He rules exclusively through deception. His kingdom will last just as long as mankind lives in agreement with his lies which are embedded in the hearts and minds of men. When Satan comes to us with some line, that begins with, “You are just a sinner, with those special names he has assigned to us; those customized fiery missiles he aims at our identities. Perhaps he has persuaded you that, in your core nature, you are just a looser; just a fool; just kind of dumb; just a joke or just an addict. Does this voice sound at all familiar? I had no idea how pervasive this voice was within me until I found (with Charlie’s help); 1) a safe space to be myself and; 2) a person who knew, from experience and scripture, the inner kingdom-landscape of the believing human heart.
When Satan comes, and he will, with his accusing and condemning words that say, “You are just a (you fill in the blank); I have learned to respond, “No. That’s a lie. That is not the Good Shepherd’s voice. I know His voice and I will not follow another’s. The voice of the Trinity is never vacillating and it is never condemning.” It does not matter whether he follows up, which he will, with a reminders of my deeply stained past or my most recent sin. I am learning to keep my guard up and watch over this precious heart of mine. I declare to to the enemy, myself and to the great cloud of witnesses…..
“I am a son of God. I am His friend. I am a co-heir with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my Life. The Holy Spirit has sealed me as God’s very own. I am seated with Christ (even now in the presence of my most recent sin) in heavenly places.” An irony: There is not an iota of pride in these (apparently prideful) declarations.” They are simply my agreements with God, regarding the deeper truths He has spoken about my identity.
It is surprising to me which of the enemy’s “just-accusations” have been the most debilitating in my Christian life. By far, the most destructive is the great overarching half-truth: “You are just a sinner saved by grace.” This statement is 100% true with the exception of one word; the word “just”. No! We are much more. God has gone to great trouble and expense to give us new natures that contain new identities.
This is the place I now fight my battles from. I have discovered that, from here, far fewer fiery missiles penetrate than they used to. If that word “if” is still in the vocabulary of our hearts it is like painting on ourselves a big bullseye. Once our identities are secure in Christ, he has a much harder time acquiring his target and accomplishing his mission which is getting us to vacillate; tempting us to ask “if” we are really His sons and daughters; “if” we are really God’s friends.
My story is, that from this very solid ground in-Christ, I have rediscovered intimacy with God and far more victory over sin.
I believe the Church, which includes every soul that is trusting in Christ as payment for their sin, has a powerful destiny which includes crucial contributions to The King’s conquest of this world. This implies that a lot is riding on you and I as well. Jesus has gladly given us the kingdom and is waiting to see what we will do with it. We have the same qualifications that the first disciples did; nothing. When the final chapters are written, all things, related to the Bride’s glory, will be summed up in Christ. It is Christ, who is in us, who is the hope of glory.
Father, may the Word of God in us be made flesh in this hour that the world might be provoked to entrust their hearts to You, our faithful Creator, Father and friend. May we discover and rediscover our identities as the children of light who are called to shine the light of Your glory into this earth’s dark spaces with increasing intensity as the Day draws near. In Jesus name. Amen.