Back to Basics, Pt 1: Securing Our Foundations in Christ

These notes from Paul Tothill were based on his message preached at Gateway Church on 24/6/18.

You can also listen to the message on the Gateway podcast (Available on Apple Podcasts or any other device).

When Jesus stood near Mt Hermon at Caesarea Philippi, He issued a statement not just to Peter and His disciples, but every lesser god, principality and power about His church and the kind of spiritual authority they would carry as a new eternal priesthood of all believers. This would take place upon His resurrection from death and His glorification in heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was speaking of a set apart people from gods of this world, empowered by the Holy Spirit, who would bring forward the Kingdom of Heaven and continue to destroy the works of these dark powers, established as a people who not only declared the gospel but whose lives revealed and demonstrated the Gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ to the world around them. They would become God’s spiritual freedom fighters into the world to fulfil the prophetic reality of Isaiah 61 just as Jesus commenced to do.

And to be sure, the power of the Cross would ensure that every believer that came into God’s Kingdom would do so by leaving their old Adam nature (their self-life) and sin-life buried with Jesus and establish their new Christ life as they rose with Jesus by faith.

By the work of the Cross, they would be spiritually removed from the tree of the Knowledge of good and evil with self at the centre and would be immersed in the Tree of Eternal life with Christ as the centre of their life and world view. This is what our water baptism into Christ realises for us.

The Cross of Jesus is the wisdom and love of God revealed not just to humanity but principalities and powers. It is powerful. Its multifaceted wisdom is to be revealed by the church to spiritual powers by its demonstrations of God’s love and authority into the world that restores the heart of humankind to God. It is not something that may work, like a new self- help program, or “live a better life teaching”; but does work continually in our life as we continually reckon our old life dead in Christ together with our old way of thinking and living and fully alive in Christ in our new way of thinking and living by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And this is the emphasis of our water baptism - our baptism into Christ Jesus, and in turn, by extension, into the Father, into the perfect God-head, into God’s heavenly community and God’s earthly community- His church. Through baptism we become God’s community to fulfil His purposes on earth as they are being revealed in Heaven.

Baptism into Christ

Baptism into Christ is the constant reminder as the early church understood that we have left our old fallen life in the grave of the water only to rise in a new life, with a new allegiance, a new purpose and a new reality. And this new reality is present, it is now, not future. It is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit so we now live by God’s empowerment as His grace, in the exercise of our free will, not our own strength and independent efforts.

Paul and the apostolic fathers would have understood baptism through the journey of Israel, the crossing of the Red Sea in the Passover story, marking out a new family, and even Jesus’ own baptism in the same way. When Jesus rose from the water, the heavens opened, and what appeared like a dove descended upon Jesus and God declared, “This is my mature Son, whom I love and with whom I am well pleased.” These words are for every believer who by faith dies to their old life and is “raised in Christ” to a new life through the demonstration of water baptism. We start this new life in the love of god, finding favour with God and blessed, all because of the forgiveness of sins.

Through the grace of the Holy Spirit and the new life of Christ working in us the Triune God is committed to bringing us to spiritual maturity- not just for our sake, but for the sake of other people, cities and nations, so that we may reveal the gospel through our lives and liberating others everywhere we go.

God takes us from spiritual bondage to genuine spiritual freedom so that we can join our free-will as an expression of our love for and our faith in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to live fully yielded to this new Christ life that is now in us. Like Paul we may say, “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

This plunging into the water and coming up again as NT Wright puts it, “spoke in powerful and effective symbolic language about the dying and rising of Jesus and about the new world that had come to birth through those events. To be baptised was therefore to die and rise with Jesus, to leave behind the old life and to be reborn into a new one. In so far as it marked out members of family it functioned somewhat like circumcision for a Jew, although women were now included. Equally it was a bit like a slave being branded” (free and now under a new master- no longer the master of sin and corrupted gods under the leadership of Lucifer).

The important thing is this rite of passage as a public event was a declaration to the world and every spiritual power, even a testimony to ourselves, that the believer now belonged to and identified their life with Christ- the Messiah in much the same way as a wedding is conducted publicly with witnesses who are witnesses to the solemnisation of vows as a covenant relationship.

It is a public act, a rite of passage, that is witnessed and bears witness to us. Our life is now one with Jesus. Not just each individual, but individuals joined together in Christ as a people, God’s community, relationally called together in Christ, into God’s love, working together fulfilling God’s purposes on earth to set each other free from spiritual bondage and to set others free in the world.

By our own baptism, our life is perfectly identified with Jesus’ life by faith including, for the early church at least, Christ’s suffering, His glory, authority and power.

Dr Michael Heiser, a Bible scholar, would say the early church saw baptism as a rite of passage declaring allegiance to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Salvation is a “believing loyalty- trusting what Jesus did to defeat Satan’s claim and turning from all other gods and the belief systems of which they are a part”. By extension that includes our postmodern world and its culture of individualism- in some forms revealing the god of this age, where self is regarded as the highest authority and given expression above and in the rejection of God. See Isaiah 14:12. Baptism, like the gospel, is about habitual loyalty to Christ.

In the spiritual cosmic battle swirling around us and the restoration of the nations, by our baptism into Christ, we have chosen sides. We have chosen to be with Jesus both now and in eternity and we have chosen to follow His words and life not the words and life of the other gods and this fallen world. We have made our decision. We have chosen to serve the One true God and His purposes on the earth and to liberate others from the rule and spiritual tyranny of lesser corrupt gods and darkness. (Isaiah 61) The life we live, as Paul says “is not our own”. We live in and from Christ. He is our life.

This seems to be the starting point of the life we now live through our salvation. The gospel when lived and revealed defeats the hold of spiritual powers and death. Simply put we have entered into a resurrection future that death cannot stop. This becomes important to understand in the context of what Jesus was declaring to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi.

To add finally, by being baptised into Jesus we are also baptised- fully immersed in the reality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and we join in the perichoresis, the “divine dance” of the Triune God as participants in His love. In this sense, we are immersed into Heaven’s Triune community for that reality to be reflected as God’s image bearers in His legislative assembly on earth with Christ very much at the centre of all we do and focus upon in an imperfect world.

By our baptism into Christ, we are not to be individuals living apart from God, nor individuals living apart from relational community established through God’s love and expressed as koinonia.

By contrast, our salvation and baptism takes us out of worldly individualism- where individuals are the highest form of their own authority, and living outside of God’s love, and places the individual into God’s eternal family and His earthly ecclesia- His family on earth, even as each person by their baptism affirms their loyalty to Christ Jesus. When we all live for Jesus and from Jesus by faith expressing our love for God and one another we start to mirror heaven on earth. We start to see the promises of God revealed and the power of God move.

What is important then, by coming to Jesus we have chosen a new path or direction for our life. The eternal life of the future Kingdom in the present, in the here and now. The Kingdom is both now, at hand, and not yet. Therefore, we are to be like yeast into the world around us with the Kingdom working in our hearts and actions into the hearts and lives of others. Every action, everything we do, regardless of what it is, if done as the expression of God’s love by faith is spiritual and the expression of the Gospel power in action that establishes us in Christ and liberates others. This, I believe, is how the early church would have understood such issues of salvation.

The Kingdom is both revealed in a manifested form or signs wonders and miracles as it breaks in, and in a hidden form deep in the hearts of believers and revealed through their faith actions towards others revealing God’s divine love as the full expression of the Gospel in action. The Kingdom advances in ways we do not always immediately see, realise or understand. But faith expressing itself as God’s love is the foundation to the Gospel being revealed that keeps us free and liberates others destroying the powers of darkness.

Paul makes clear, consistent with the meaning of “repentance” we live this life by a new way of thinking, by God’s grace through faith. Not by our own effort, lest we fall into the Galatian error as I said, not around camps of selected specialist teaching, and this movement or that movement, lest we fall into the Corinthian error and not by every novel teaching being blown around in all directions, lest we fall into the Ephesian error of immaturity.

We live this new life with our eyes, our thoughts and our hearts clearly fixed on Jesus through the Holy Spirit and continually trusting Him, increasing revelation of Him through the Scriptures. He alone is the author and perfector of our faith- He brings us to maturity to re-present Him into the world.

In that sense the Gospel outworked in the church Jesus is building has Him at the centre of every heart and authority, anointing, and gift as it starts to look like Him on earth. What is crucial is that our spiritual formation is linked to our spiritual authority and how we use our spiritual gifts not just individually but as a people.

Living with Jesus at the centre of our life we reckon every day that we are dead to the old Adam life, the old self-at-the-centre life and its consciousness. We no longer live from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and its judgments of self and others.

We wilfully and intentionally put on Christ to live fully alive to the new life, the Christ life, its new habits of love, humility and purity and new ways of thinking, living really free and powerful as we live by our new nature.

We move from self-consciousness and condemnation to Christ-consciousness; from legalism to God’s love. As we focus on Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit as a present grace, we die to self. If you are full of Christ, there is simply no room for the self-life to have power in your heart and thoughts.

This is how big people live. It is a choice. This is how those who are led by the Spirit of God live. And Jesus showed us how to do it in a deep relationship with God, completely surrendered to His Father’s words of protection, life and authority, and completely surrendered to the Holy Spirit so as to be fully alive to His identity developed through His relationship with the Father and revealed by stepping into God’s purposes.

The continuing revelation of Jesus as the Christ is our foundation for our new life. Now we can approach the foundations of what Jesus is building and what he declared to his disciples and spiritual powers.

water baptism

Matthew 16:16

Simon Peter spoke up and said, “You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God! Jesus replied, “You are favoured and privileged Simeon, son of Jonah! For you didn’t discover this on your own, but my Father in heaven has supernaturally revealed it to you. I give you the name Peter, a stone. And this truth of who I am will be the bedrock foundation on which I will be build my church- my legislative assembly and the power of death (or the gates of hell as a play on words) will not be able to overpower it! (or not be able to prevail against it).

I will give you the keys of heaven (symbolic of spiritual authority and ruling power to establish God’s dominion on earth as it is in heaven) to forbid on earth what is forbidden in heaven, and to release on earth that which is released in heaven.

Then Paul told the Ephesians of what the Holy Spirit was building that fits precisely with what Jesus declared.

Ephesians 2:19

So, you are not foreigners or guests, but rather you are the children of the city of holy ones with all the rights as family members of the household of God.

You are rising like perfectly fitted stones of the temple and your lives are being built up together upon the ideal foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, and best of all, you are connected to the head cornerstone of the building, the Anointed One, Jesus Christ himself!

It we take what Jesus said to Peter as a future foundational apostle, and what Jesus revealed to Paul through the Holy Spirit as a foundational apostle to the church, we see that they are completely consistent.

Then this theme of the holy city and completed temple as Eden on earth is revealed to John the apostle in the Book of Revelation. This is when heaven is on earth as God commissioned in Genesis.

Revelation 21:1

Then in a vision I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and earth had passed away and the sea no longer existed. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, descending out of the heavenly realm from the presence of God, like a pleasing bride that had been prepared for her husband adorned for her wedding.

Of course, this is the same Holy City that Abraham saw and set his vision of faith towards, the eternal city that will ultimately become the dwelling place of God on earth, the fulfilment of Eden on earth as the Commission of Genesis 1:28, re-established to Abraham in Genesis 15 and 17 and then through Christ in Matthew 28:18 anticipates.

In this sense the church community is meant to model towards each other this future Kingdom life into the present as each one does their work for the good of the whole community. This work is very practical. We live from our heart into the world around us.

In the world, the few carry the many. But in the Kingdom, the many carry the few. In other words, every believer in God’s family is to be a contributor and a participant into the Christ life of the church. So, we must understand the importance of both community and mission. Receiving and revealing. Being built up and going out into the world by releasing what is in our heart into the world around us, in our relationships, home, work and beyond. Notice we are not guests- we are children of God or more correctly spiritual sons of God.

Paul uses a building metaphor in his letter to the Ephesians to pick up the Old Testament language and imagery. The building metaphor is also used in the Old Testament as a blue print of revelation to describe people. A person is a house and a people is a house. Let me take you on a short journey of metaphor and meaning.

The word “Son” is the Hebrew word ben which literally means to continue the house. The word ben is closely linked to the word banah meaning to build and can even mean “stone”. As you raise sons to maturity you literally build the house to cause it to continue. That is what we do as parents as we raise our children. This is the context in which Paul is using the building metaphor. The raising up of mature sons of God who look like Jesus and live like Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit as image bearers who carry the authority of God into our modern world.

But Paul and Jesus were not seeing this building as an individual but as a people. As individuals, we are born again into a family on earth and in heaven. We are like “stones” being perfectly fitted together. We are a people, not just an individual. Teams accomplish far more than individuals by themselves.

God uses individuals to activate, lead and inspire a people into freedom and faith. Every individual is designed to be in community for their development, the development of others and the community’s development and advancement, just like a family, and to fulfil God’s purposes on earth.

This is not accomplished just by teaching, but through relationship and practically serving one another and accomplishing God’s purposes by revealing His heart as each person plays their part to reveal Christ being formed in them.

Each believer is to carry responsibility in some form of participation according to the measure of their faith and anointing from a place of freedom and the inspiration and expression of God’s love to cause them to grow and mature and for the community to grow and mature. It is the same in any home.

We teach our children to take responsibility. Indeed, we give our children responsibility and teach them to take on family tasks, to learn to carry a load, for their sake and the sake of the family and teach them how to love and honour their parents and love and honour their brothers or sisters. We teach them not to be entitled and selfish. Because that is God’s wisdom for us to flourish. We teach our children to be resilient and considerate; to overcome and to persevere. To consider others. As a result, we teach them for the world they will navigate as mature people so they may prosper. Without teaching, guidance, participation and responsibility, we cannot grow up into maturity in Christ or life for that matter.

Christ the cornerstone

The faith life, living constantly believing in the revelation of Christ as the anointed one of God, as our hope and our cornerstone, takes us from a self-focused life, to a Christ-focused life completely surrendered to Jesus, His authority and words and empowered by God’s enabling grace in all we do. Therefore, from a foundational point of view Jesus is the cornerstone to our new life- its foundation, and our capstone- our vision for the full expression of new life that is already in us.

In biblical times, a cornerstone was used as the foundation and standard upon which a building was constructed. Once in place, the rest of the building would conform to the angles and size of the cornerstone. In addition, if removed, the entire structure could collapse. Therefore, Jesus is our example. He is our standard. As Jesus said to Peter and His disciples, the revelation of Jesus as the anointed of God is the bedrock foundation in the heart of the people as His church.

He is our reference point in every regard in our development. He is also the capstone. Therefore, the continual unfolding revelation of Jesus in our life and acting upon it is what brings us into maturity just as Jesus said. Then we learn to carry His authority in greater measure. As Paul teaches the churches, the old self-life works against the Christ life, and we must be willing to overcome the old self-life with the faith resolve to choose to live the Christ-life empowered by God’s encouragement and grace. Christ Jesus also becomes our plumbline and our reference point for all Scripture and foundations of doctrine as sound teaching. Let me repeat: Jesus is built into the foundation of the church even as Jesus is built into the foundation of our hearts and our belief systems through the renewing of our mind and the work of the Holy Spirit. The foundations of the church are not governmental structures but Jesus Christ- the Gospel we are baptised into.

That is why we must preach the word of God revealed in Christ Jesus that Christ may be firmly established in us and we may experience His love, truth and life through the work of the Holy Spirit and empower us to actions of love and faith to reveal the reality of the Gospel working in us.

We need to be built up

This is why our teaching emphasises the teaching of Jesus and the life of Jesus as revealed through the Gospels and the apostles’ epistles to the church as the best example in an imperfect world of what it looks like to bear the image and likeness of God through expression of divine love and truth.

To help us on our journey of development and participation so as to reveal this new life God has appointed certain people to carry a grace anointing to be able to continue to build us up and so that we do not remain immature, and that we do not get thrown around by every wind of novel teaching or false doctrine, and we remain steadfast and not easily shaken by trouble and difficulties.

Ephesians 4:11

And he has appointed some with grace to be apostles, and some with grace to be prophets, and some with grace to be evangelists and some with grace to be pastors and some with grace to be teachers. And their calling is to nurture and prepare all the holy believers to do their own works of ministry and as they do this they will enlarge and build up the body of Christ. These grace ministries will function until we all attain oneness of faith, until we all experience the fullness of what it means to know the Son of God and finally we become one perfect man with the full dimensions of spiritual maturity and fully developed in the abundance of Christ.

In other words, God puts these grace gifts in our life for our benefit not so much theirs! The idea of “building up” is both teaching and demonstration, hearing and participating, guiding and releasing so Christ may be fully formed in us and revealed through us.

Hence the early church according to Acts 2:42 was “devoted to the apostles teaching”. That means they not only listened with a heart to learn and grow, they learnt with the view to putting the teaching into action empowered by God’s grace and faith. They were taught and they listened for purpose- they wanted to live this new life together even at the cost of suffering and persecution. They were of one heart and mind in this. And God performed amazing miracles in their midst!

The ministry that people are to be equipped in is in both mission- revealing Jesus to the world, and building up- the body, ie community, serving each other in love through actions of generosity, prayer, relationship, coming together, worshipping together, breaking bread together, learning together, caring for one another, considering one other, blessing one another, hospitality, carrying each other’s burdens, considering one another, praying for one another and so on. What we build or develop as a community is to be revealed through the community into the world, just like the Book of Acts describes.

So, God’s anointing of grace and spiritual authority given to these people is not for them but for us. To cause us to live in alignment with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone and the capstone and bring us to maturity in Christ. To teach and show us how to live free from bondage of sin, a Christ life in all its diversity and completely forsaking our old thinking of the self-life, to take up a role of participating in serving one another in love, to cause each of us to come into maturity in Christ through participating in the purposes of God. To give expression to what we are learning week in and week out in both community and mission. In short to live the gospel.

Humility is the key here. As CS Lewis said: "Humility is not thinking less about yourself but thinking about yourself less". In other words, the world in not all about us and what we can get from others, even in developing our own gifts. Similarly, ministry is not about us.

The Kingdom flows to us and from us in both the spectacular, the manifestations of God’s power, and in the unseen work of the heart revealed in our kindness and consideration towards one another, our love for one another and generosity and encouragement of one another. We actually establish Heaven’s spiritual authority when we do this. We live this life through the reality of our baptism- reckoning our old self at the centre life dead and fully alive in our Christ life.

Jesus did not say that we will be known as His disciples because of the miracles we will do. Of course, we can expect them to follow us when we move in the way of God’s love and faith. But rather we will be known as who we follow, who we have given our life to and our allegiance to, by our love for another. (John 15). This is the cry of the Father’s heart.

Read on: Part 2 - Devoted to the eternal words of God

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