DONT BE TAKEN PRISONER
By Dan Luehrs
"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1 NASB).
There are different types of prisons in life. Many times we only think of a jail as being a prison to keep bad people behind bars from hurting others. Now they have been restricted from their everyday freedoms that we all have learned to enjoy. But there are also prisons of our own making like, alcohol, drugs, anger, fear, hatred, pornography, gambling, worry, and the list could go on and on. These are all prisons and addictions that want to keep us in bondage. Anything that we are addicted to, other than God, can become a prison for us because they restrict our freedom to know Jesus more. Only God can help free us from these addictions. But there is one other prison or addiction that we forget about; it's called, "religion." Paul's letter to the Galatian church was on this very subject of being in bondage or imprisoned to programmed religion, the "Law." This was restricting their freedom of moving on with God into greater maturity and revelations of His word and Spirit. God wants us free to follow Him and not be hindered or under the control of any group of people or church denominations that doesn't want to go higher into the things of God. In fact, Jesus told us in Matthew 18:7-8 to "cut off" any part of the "body," "the church," that would be a stumbling block to us from growing into His full likeness. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free!"
"See to it that no one takes you captive (prisoner) through hollow (shallow) and deceptive philosophy (doctrines), which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority" (Colossians 2:8-10 NIV).
If we already have been given the fullness of God through Jesus Christ, what are we doing settling for anything less than all that He is? We must chase after His fullness in order to obtain it! God has put a great challenge before us that we might be like Him. If anything tries to stop or hinder us from this calling, we must fight against it to go higher unto the transformation of our bodies. We are not to be taken captive or held prisoner by anyone's denominational traditions. As a small boy I was raised in the Lutheran church. Lutheranism was all that I knew about God and the truths of the Bible. As far as I knew, everyone in the world believed as a Lutheran! Then one day I heard about "those Baptists," this was the church that did not let their children go to dances. When I heard this, I thought, "Thank God I'm Lutheran! They don't care if I go to the dance or not!" It did not matter what God thought about dancing as long the Lutherans OK'd it and it was all right with me. My mind had been controlled by Lutheran doctrines that I had learned as a little boy; the word and Spirit of God did not control my mind.
Most Christians faithfully attend their particular church year after year and many attend the same church for their entire lifetime, believing that they are pleasing God. For some, this may be God's will for them to attend "their church" for a certain time in their lives, but never to settle down and say, "We have all there is why leave?" As children, we attended elementary school, starting out in kindergarten. But how many of us would still like to be going to the same school, the same grade, and to have the same teacher year after year? None of us! Have you ever heard a kindergartner say, "I know how to read and write, just watch me!" Then as they begin to show you their writing skills you notice that most of it is just scribbling on paper. Even though they believe they know how to do it, they are just fooling themselves because they have not yet matured in the educational process. This is how many Christians act in regards to knowing the deeper truths of God's word. They are just children in their understanding because they have not been fed solid food to become spiritually mature. They have not matured in their faith through the deeper teachings of God's word; they are as the writer of Hebrews says, "babes in their understanding."
"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles (word) of God, and you have come to need milk (elementary teachings) and not solid food (the deeper teachings of Christ). For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice (growth) have their senses (spiritual understanding) trained to discern good (that which is valuable) and evil (that which is worthless). Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity…" (Hebrews 5:12-14, 6:1 NASB).
We must press onto maturity; God will not instantly make us mature by snapping His fingers! He has given us His word, Spirit, and our life experiences to help change us and bring us to maturity through our obedience to Him. But if we stay in one church all our life we cannot mature because no one pastor or church has all truth that is needed for us to grow. We must go where God leads us and press toward the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Galatians 4:1-3 says, "Now I say, as long as the heir is a child (in understanding), he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date (time) set by the father. So also we, while we were children (infants), were held in bondage under the elemental (basic) things of the world (and church)."
In order for me to grow in the things of God I had to leave the Lutheran church and press onto the calling of God for my life. Great pressure was placed upon me from old friends, relatives, family members, and two Lutheran ministers who tried to stop me from going forward into the call of God. Unknowingly, they wanted to imprison me to Lutheranism and have me turn around from the path of life that I was on and stay in the church because they thought this was right for my life. But if I had not left the church, I would have forfeited God's calling on my life. When God calls us to go higher with Him, we must leave the basic teachings of Christ and come out from under the yoke of elementary pastors and teachers. As spiritual children we were "Under guardians and managers" for a time by the will of the Father. But if we desire to be taught the deeper truths of Christ we must come away from them to sit at the feet of Jesus, the great Teacher. "And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him" (1 John 2:27 NASB). The elementary churches will always call us back down to their present level of teaching and revelation of the scriptures, and will not allow us to go much beyond their understanding without attacking us and calling us a heretic. An elementary student does not understand high school material because the teaching is over their head and they would be lost in it. So it is with the elementary Christians in the church, they just cannot comprehend it at this time, but they will later.
If God is calling you out of your present church and you choose to stay in it because you are afraid of what people might say and do not want to rock the boat or change, then let me tell you as lovingly and clearly as I can write, YOU ARE IN A PRISON OF RELIGION! The Lord will consider you as a coward in your time of judgment before Him (see Rev. 21:7-8). A prison is a place that restricts your freedom from going forward into what God has called you to be. As a Lutheran, I was taught that a person was born again through infant baptism. If I believed that I needed to receive Jesus into my heart and be baptized in water as a believer, they would have said I was a heretic and thrown me out. Even this basic teaching of being baptized in water as a believer was unknown to them because the spirit of religion was holding their mind prisoner to these strongholds of church doctrine.
This same thing has happened to many evangelical Christians that say they have the baptism of the Holy Spirit when they received Jesus as Savior into their heart. But when one of them receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, they say, "That’s of the devil, you’re a heretic, go away from us!" Where people are in their present experience with Christ determines what they believe and receive from others through their lifetime. Most Baptists are Baptists because that is what they were brought up in, and so it is with other people's religious beliefs. If a person does not push into more of God by leaving the church that they are in, (in God's timing), they will end up staying on that present level of spiritual understanding for the rest of their lives to the displeasure of heaven.
Pentecostal Christians are guilty of the same thing. Many believe that they have received everything that God has for them because they speak in tongues. Instead of using tongues as a tool and a stepping stone to press into more of the things of God, they totally stop seeking the greater revelations of the Lord. If anyone goes beyond where they are in their Christian walk, they also call them heretics because they cannot understand it. This cycle goes on and on from one religious generation to the next. It's a spiritual cycle and prison house to captivate us from going higher into the greater things of God! When the Lord told me to resign from the Assemblies of God as a minister, I thought, "This couldn't be from God!" But when I finally obeyed Him, I felt as if I was a bird let out of a cage, to fly for my first time! Then God began to teach me the greater truths of His word with many outside confirmations assuring me that I was hearing from Him. I could not have received these deeper truths in the church as a pastor because the people were not ready to receive them and would have thrown me out as a heretic. If we will obey God's leading, He will lead us into His great treasure house.
If you know in your heart that God is calling you to come out from the religious Babylonian systems of man, come out from them and go higher in God! "… Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4 NASB). Obey Him and He will lead you into greater things than you could ever imagine. We must see this higher walk of Christianity as a mountain climber does. A climber always seeks a higher mountain than the pervious one, if we can see the top of the mountain, we can get there. Unless we put one foot in front of the other we will not see what God has in store for our lives because we were fearful of the unknown. Our natural mind is not to be controlled by the spirits of this age, like anger, fear, lust, and worry. "… You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2 NASB). Even as there are evil spirits controlling the people of the world, so there are religious spirits assigned to every denomination to keep the people in bondage to their traditions of man and to captivate them, keeping them from going higher into the things of God.
There is only one way for us to keep out of those religious prisons and for us to keep growing into the likeness of Jesus. It is found in Colossians 3:1-4, "If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory." We will not find the greater revelations of God in the mixture of man's religious programs. We must hunger for more truth that is in Jesus alone.
If we have been saved from above where Jesus is, should we not continually seek the things above where Christ is seated in the heavenlies? "And raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6 NASB). If we are to come to full maturity in Christ, we must continually seek for a greater revelation of Him in the spirit where He is, and not the things below in the traditions of man. Greater truths will not be found in the elementary teachings of the church, but the Spirit of truth will give them unto us if we ask for them. "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth… He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose (show) it to you" (John 16:13-14 NASB). Although walking in the "truth" is more than just knowing and doing certain doctrines. It is knowing the truth in our heart and being true to it; not living the lie of tradition and the deceptions of men that steal the greater truths of God from us. We must focus upward where Jesus is, in order for us to get there. A mountain climber can only get to the top of the mountain when he is focusing upward! If we continue to focus upon the things below we will be at best a carnal Christian. But when we focus our attention upward, we will be seeking His face! Paul clearly tells us to, "Set your mind on the things above!" Seeking the things above starts within our own mind and thoughts, "… For he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6 NASB). As we set our mind on seeking Him, He will reward us with the greater revelations of Himself, who is our life. Our life is hidden in Christ and His life and presence is what we need most.
WE MUST CLEANSE OURSELVES FIRST
"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5 NIV).
If it is our desire to be raised up with Jesus in great glory and power when He is revealed, we must cleanse ourselves by putting to death the way of the world, the flesh, and the devil in us. To be dead to sin does not mean that we are not tempted anymore, but that our spirit man has grown and matured stronger than the man of sin in us, and we no longer have to obey its evil desires. Even Jesus was tempted as we are, yet without sin, He struggled with His fleshly mind in Gethsemane before His death, but His spirit man was stronger than the flesh and He could obey the Father's will. "… Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will (His fleshly will), but what Thou wilt" (Mark 14:36 NASB). Our faith and trust will also grow in the Father's love with every test that we pass and as we are being totally dependent upon Him to bring us through each test victoriously. We then will grow into the likeness of Jesus, even as we are growing older and wiser in our physical body through our trials and life experiences.
"If a man cleanses himself from the latter (worldly and earthly things), he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work (the work of sonship)" (2 Timothy 2:21 NIV). The word tells us that we must cleanse ourselves; God is not going to wave a magic wand over us and say, "Now you are clean!" Our trials and life experiences are set up by God to help cleanse and prepare us for His coming glory; God is now using our life experiences to help us see where we are not like Him and where we need to be cleansed. But how can we cleanse ourselves? Does this mean that we just grit our teeth and say to ourselves, "I'm no longer going to sin?" Well, good luck! Because you're going to need it! God will help us in our daily battles as we submit them to Him. To think that we will ever be totally sinless in this life is wishful thinking, for no person has ever done it other than Jesus. The man of sin that is living in every person will not allow it, and until he is taken out of us, we will have to fight the good fight of faith daily. I have found the closer you get to God the greater sin seems to become magnified in us. Even Paul said at the end of his life, "… That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15 KJV). Our sin in us is only magnified as we get closer to the light of God, and it reveals any darkness in us.
The question remains; "How do we cleanse ourselves?" By the truth and light of God's word exposing the darkness in us, which can be a humbling process. If God has told us to cleanse ourselves even as we wash with water everyday to cleanse our bodies, then certainly He will show us how to cleanse our sin from our lives! "And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (Colossians 3:10 NIV). -- "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts" (Romans 13:14 NASB). We must "put on" or live the "knowledge" of the truth, for the truth will "renew" our minds so that we will know what is right and no longer live to gratify the desires of our sinful nature. As we "put on" and live the "knowledge" of the "truth," which is the person and "image" of Jesus Christ, we will be walking in His likeness. Paul said, "The knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness" (Titus 1:1 NIV). The knowledge of the truth will always lead us to live a godly life because our mind and spirit will be filled with the life changing word of God and it will not permit us to live for the desires of our flesh. The word in us will rebuke and correct us; and if we walk in sin, there will be a continual war going on inside of us to control our lives. Religious traditions have no power to control the desires of our sinful nature. They are dead works that might make us feel good for awhile, but the truth of the gospel has the power to keep us in line and change us! "Such regulations (religious traditions) indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence" (Colossians 2:23 NIV). We must use the word of God as our sword and put on our entire spiritual armor to war against fleshly gratifications. If we will submit ourselves to God and resist the devil and all his schemes, he must flee from us! The surpassing greatness of God's power is at work in us to destroy all the works of the devil and our fleshly nature.
"Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord" (2 Peter 1:2 KJV). We receive "grace" and "peace" through the true "knowledge" of God. "Grace" is God's strength and power to live a godly life in the midst of a sinful generation. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age" (Titus 2:11-12 NASB). God has given us everything that we need to live a godly life in this sinful age. For where sin abounds, His grace/strength abounds more! We must cry out for more grace everyday to live upright before Him.
In chapter one of 2 Peter, Peter uses the word "knowledge" five times. It means, "to become fully acquainted with." In other words, we must "know" God! He wants us to know Him through His word and Spirit, yet many Christians seek to "know" the ways of the world more than they are using their time to seek God and to know Him more. When we stand before Him, we will be without excuse, because He has given us everything that we could ever need to know Him and to live a godly life on earth. "According as his divine power (grace) hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Peter 1:3 KJV). We must know Him more each day! When we ask to know Him more we are pleasing the heart of God, and then He will increase us to know Him more and more. "So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10 NASB).
We must not only be increasing in the knowledge of God, but also increasing in the six other virtues that Peter wrote about like, goodness, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. For in doing these seven virtues we will ensure our entrance into the kingdom of God (see 2 Pet. 1:5-7,11). "For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:8 NRSV). In other words, if we want to continually grow in God we must be practicing these seven virtues and increasing in them for us to attain more of God's knowledge and likeness. Yes, there will be a great price that we will have to pay in denying our flesh so that we might increase in God. But there always has been. It's called, "daily dying to self!" Even if we were seeking the riches of the earth, we would have to pay a great price to get them. But we will not be able to keep them for eternity, for seeking earthly riches is like seeking fools gold. "But if anyone does not have them (these seven virtues), he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins" (2 Peter 1:9 NIV).
"Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this (these seven virtues), you will never stumble." -- "Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you" (2 Peter 1:10,12 NRSV).
GROWING IN CHRIST'S LIKENESS
It is interesting that none of the epistle writers told us to go out and win the world to Jesus! But that as Christians we are to be growing in holiness (God's character) and into the full likeness of Jesus, so that we might be prepared for His coming.
The evangelical church has so imprisoned our thinking about reaching the world for Jesus before we are fully matured, that they forgot our real calling as Christians is for us to grow in the full likeness of Jesus, not reaching the world. Jesus and John the Baptist both grew in spirit before they did the works of their Father. "And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him." -- "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:40,52 NIV). John the Baptist "… Grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel" (Luke 1:80 NIV). As we cleanse ourselves and grow in the knowledge of God we are growing in spirit until the day of our revealing with Jesus; for we are now hidden in Christ until that day (see Col. 3:3,4). If God has hidden us as He did His Son, why would we seek to reveal ourselves until that day?
For now our calling as a Christian is to grow and mature in spirit first and foremost, and then return with Jesus to rule over the nations. This will take great faith in God and patience on our part to wait on God's timing. But in the end, it will be worth it to have a powerful ministry like Jesus and John had. "To the end he may stablish (to make firm or secure) your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints" (1 Thessalonians 3:13 KJV). God wants to prepare and mature us before Jesus comes with all His saints. God will add people into His church by His choosing and election and not by our creative evangelistic ideas. Acts 2:47 says, "... And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." Jesus sent the apostles to all nations to make disciples and to teach the people, He did not send all Christians to the nations, and unless God has sent us we had better stay home and grow in the grace and knowledge of our God! "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen" (2 Peter 3:18 KJV).
Paul Mueller said he worked with a well known evangelist named Thomas Wyatt in the early 1950s to the mid 1960's. Paul wrote, "I respected him highly in the Lord, and learned much from his anointed ministry, especially during the "latter rain" revival of 1948-1953. During those glorious years, I went to West Africa three times, was an associate minister in the church here, and taught in Bible Schools here and in West Africa. Thomas Wyatt had the world's largest religious radio broadcast in the 1950s (Wings of Healing). He was on the Mutual and ABC radio networks in this country, and also many large, independent radio stations here and in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and in other countries. He had a mailing list of well over a hundred thousand, and a missionary program that, in my opinion, was among the best in the world at that time (Global Frontiers). But in the early 1960s, a few years after moving his offices from Portland to Los Angeles, Thomas Wyatt became ill and was in the hospital. I had returned from Nigeria and was in Michigan at the time, so I was unable to see him. One of my friends who was a pastor in California then went to see Thomas Wyatt in the hospital. Dr. Wyatt then told my friend, "All that I have done is wood, hay, and stubble." He passed away shortly after that. Of course, Thomas Wyatt's confession surprised my friend.
A person can have a large ministry attracting the attention of the multitudes, but in God's sight it is all nothing but wood, hay, and stubble. And that old order ministry mentality seems to be affecting some of the remnant of the Lord today. Some in this so-called sonship walk seem to spend their time doing nothing more than reading and publishing books and tapes, and doing other religious works. Some delight in running from one meeting to the next under the guise of getting the message out. But the message is empty and useless if it fails to bring people to greater spiritual maturity. -- (End of quote).
When are we going to see that our religious works only make us feel and look like we are doing something good? In truth we are only feeding our own egos and not adding one thing to the work of the kingdom. Christianity is not about doing; it's about becoming like Jesus! Don't be taken prisoner!
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Intercession City, FL 33848