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The Word Of God:
Through Flesh And Blood
"If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God
(What advantage then has the Jew?—Much every way: chiefly, because to them were committed the oracles of God.)"
I Pt. 4:11 (Rom. 3:1-2)"Let (that which is good) proceed out of your mouth—that it may minister grace to the hearers… Let your speech be always with grace."
Eph 4:29: Col. 4:6
The word of God is a spirit reality—the essence of Life, grace, and liberty. Being born of it, we are born of grace, liberty, and we have eternal life. This is in us and is unseen, perceived only by the spirit—from spirit to spirit.
The Word of God however comes clothed in many forms. Such forms include clay tablets and pages of Scripture. The purpose of these forms is to aid us in our weakness. It gives us something on which our personality can focus until the Life-giving grace behind the forms becomes woven into the fabric of our inner man. Once the grace of Life behind the form becomes part of our nature, we no longer need the form at that level of development. It becomes obsolete to us. So it drops off. Now, as long as the form of God's Word is necessary to us, we are under the discipline of that form at that level to which it speaks. However, once the grace behind the form is woven into us, we become free from the form. It has no relevance to us any longer. To remain under it as if to obey it is to entertain bondage and condemnation.
I From FORM To Reality In History
We see this illustrated on the broad level concerning the difference between the Word of God as it came through Moses (ie, the Old Covenant) and the Word of God as it came through Jesus Christ (ie, the New Covenant). Through Moses, the Word of God came clothed in a form of stone. It was called The Law. But through Jesus Christ, the Word of God came in person. Jesus was not a form of the Word. He WAS the word embodied (Jn. 1:1). As the pure unencumbered Word, He was the essence of grace (Jn 1:17).
See therefore the relationship between the form and the reality. Israel was put under the discipline of the form (the Law) until the consciousness of the nation was such that it could receive the reality (the grace of Jesus Christ.) In the fullness of time Jesus Christ came. The Word of Grace replaced—superseded, transcended—the Word of Law given to the body of God's People. So it is we now say we are under grace and not under the law (of Moses). The broad-based application of this reality is expertly expounded by the apostle Paul in his various letters.
But what I want to do is show you how this macro-cosmic ("bigger than life") application (which we all affirm) applies to each of us on a day by day basis as we grow in grace by God's Word to us through one another. We do this by tracing the form of God's Word back to its root essence.
II. From FORM To Reality Under The New Covenant
So far we've established that God's Word comes clothed in forms that we can perceive—forms which discipline us until the grace behind them becomes part of our nature, releasing us from the form. Having looked at the Law of Moses in relation to Jesus Christ, let's look at another form—the New Testament scriptures.
The New Testament is to the Church what the Law of Moses was to Israel. The New Testament is a form of God's word of grace. It is God's word clothed in the writings of the apostles and prophets. In a sense, because they are a form, they are the Church's Law. The Church remains under their discipline. Until when? Paul says that his own words and ministry (as that of all the apostles) are given until we the Church come into corporate perfection (ie, the complete grace of Jesus Christ as manifested through His entire body—Eph 4:11-13).
Follow this carefully. As we grow in grace, what do we find happens in our relationship to the scriptures? We find that our relationship to the scripture is always changing. Although we remain under its discipline as long as we are in these bodies, we find that its ministry to us changes over time. We find that it speaks to us in different ways at different levels.
As the grace behind the words of scripture is worked into us at one level, we become free from the discipline of the words at that level. Then we find the Bible ministering to us at a higher level. We "see" new things in scripture we never saw before. We endeavor to conform our lives to the new principle we have seen. Once it is part of us, we leave that principle behind and become aware of a still higher need for discipline, etc. (see Heb. 6:1). This is what John means when he says that we receive "grace for grace" (Jn. 1:16) and when Paul speaks of moving from "glory to glory" (II Cor. 3:18) and that God is revealed "from faith to faith." (Rom 1:17). These are levels of grace within our life. There is a progression here. At each level, the form of the words of scripture serves as a focus for our thought until the grace behind them is woven into us. Then we are released by grace from requirement (law) of the scripture at that level.
Example Time. The Scripture says, "Let him that stole steal no more" (Eph 4:28). If a new convert was a thief, this scripture will minister to him at face value—until thievery is worked out of him. Once it is worked out of him, the verse will not hold any more meaning for him at that level. He is free from that law by grace. But then God may wish later to speak His Word to the man again by this verse, only this time it may be in reference to how he spends His time. This verse may convict the man of stealing time from God. Again the man comes under the law of this word until that grace is worked out in him. Then he is free from it again. Why? The Law only applies to the lawbreaker (I Tim. 1:9). Where a man overcomes sin in his nature by the word of grace, he is no longer a lawbreaker, hence no longer under that law. He is no longer subject to that form of the Word of God.
Am I understood? The problem in the Church is that obedience to God's Word is taught as obedience to forms of the Word. The Law of Scripture is used to enforce obedience and measure it. But this is a total misappropriation of the scriptures and shows a failure of comprehending grace. The scriptures are a form—our relationship to which is determined by our progress in grace. Our obedience is to the Spirit of Grace behind the Scripture, not to the letter of scripture. Responsible ministry using the scripture recognizes this.
III. Flesh And Blood: The Ultimate FORM
This brings me to now trace the forms of God's Word to their root essence. So far we've looked at the Law of Moses and also the New Testament scriptures. But if we trace these forms back to their lowest common denominator, what do we find? We find that the root form that clothes every word of God is:
FLESH AND BLOOD
All Word of God that comes to us through any form that our minds can apprehend ultimately comes to us through the form of some human personality. The Law of Moses came through Moses, the New Testament came to us through the personalities of Paul, John and others. (Had we been there when the words were first voiced, it is these men we would have heard speaking.)
The Living Word of God is eternal. It is Life. It is Spirit (Jn 6:63). It is not bound, reaching from heart to heart—from God's heart to our hearts. But! The human personality through whom it comes is finite. The meanings of the human language that clothe God's Word are limited. This limitation is what distinguishes form from reality, and law from grace. Law is nothing more than the limitation of human personality that clothes the Living Word, giving our minds something by which to grasp it while the Lord works silently in our hearts. Once the work of grace is done, the law passes away. We come out from under the limitation of the human meaning behind the words.
This explains how it is that the Word of God both "endures forever" (I Pt. 1:25), yet "vanishes away" (Heb 8:13). It is the unseen eternal Spirit-word that endures forever, reaching heart to heart, generation to generation. But the forms of that word thorough finite human personality change from age to age and ultimately pass away. Because these forms are the essence of law, it explains why we are to always be coming out from under its dominion.
Growing in grace means we are to be coming out from under the discipline of the Word according to its delimitations of human meaning and understanding. We are to be constantly exchanging limited meanings of God's Word for its infinite work of grace within us. We exchange our sense of fear and bondage under the demands of the human meaning for the internalized work of Life marked by the restfulness of God's Presence. We embrace the finite word only as long as is necessary for the grace behind it to become part of us, then releasing it, we move on. This is how we use the lawful forms of God's Word as spoken through men to take us from "faith to faith" and grace to grace in the Knowledge of God.
We easily see this difference between the limited word and the eternal Word when we look at scriptures. When the writers of scripture first wrote, they had a certain limited, personal understanding and application in mind for the meanings of their words. This lawful understanding eventually passed away as the circumstances they addressed passed away, as did the writers themselves pass away.
For example, Paul wrote churches concerning limited situations. He spoke with limited understanding, as did the prophets (I Pt. 1:11). He told the Corinthians to do this and Timothy to do that. Now all these immediate situations as delimited by Paul's meaning and intent according to the law of Paul's personality have passed away. But the words remains to this day for us—no longer according to the law of Paul's limited understanding, but as God's Spirit speaks them by Grace to our hearts today. This is the Eternal Word behind the law of Paul's language.
The form of Paul's words will be with us as long as God wishes to use it to speak to our hearts by it according to His Grace. Then, when perfection comes, even this form will be done away for us. So said Paul himself (I Cor. 13:8-10). When we one day attain to perfection, all forms of God's word through the delimitations of human personality, language, and understanding shall be done away for us. All remaining lawful clothing around God's eternal Word will be done away for us. In the meantime, we are to be moving from grace to grace—from form to less form—in our apprehending of the Living Word of God. We should be becoming less and less legal in our outlook and in the way we appropriate God's Word through its various forms, beginning with scripture.
IV. Applied To The Present Prophetic Word
If we understand the difference between God's Living Word and the legal forms that clothe it through human personality, then we are ready to bring to all down home to something very immediate that concerns us all. I want to talk about God's Word as it comes to us through one another, ie, through the present prophetic word.
God is still speaking today! He speaks to us through one another. He speaks through the Body. He speaks through apostles and prophets, through counselors and elders. In short, God is still speaking through flesh and blood. What does that mean? It means that God's Word is still coming to us on the wings of the law of human personality. God wishes to speak a word of grace to our hearts—but it still comes to us clothed with the forms of human language, understanding and intent.
What does this mean? It means that in our relationship with God and with each other, we have to make a distinction between what people say to us in the name of the Lord, and what if anything God is saying to our hearts by grace through them. If someone speaks to us in God's name with a prophetic word, we have to test it (I Th. 5:20-21.) For what? We have to test it against the work of grace already established in us to that point by God.
We have to know how it accords with what God has already wrought in us. Does it accord at all? If so, in what way? Totally? Or are there elements of the word that minister grace while other elements are from the prophet's own personality with its limitations? Does the whole word minister necessary discipline to which we should submit? Or are some elements already transcended by us in grace?
Often times, God speaks a word through someone, but what God means by it for us, and what the person himself understood by it are two different things! If we don't test what we hear through one another, we can easily come under bondage to the law of human personality. Yes, God does speak to us through one another. But unless we test against God's work of grace, we can end up receiving wrong words, or receiving right words for the wrong reasons.
We can become enslaved to the personality through whom God has spoken to us—a bondage God does not intend. God has given us His Word through His Body for the same reason He gave us His Word through the scriptures or through any form: namely, as a help for our weakness (Rom. 6:19A). The form disciplines us until it becomes unnecessary. The lawful form becomes obsolete as we move into the next realm of grace.
Many people will receive a word from the body where they won't receive it, say, through an Old Testament verse because they think that the Old Testament verse is law while the word through the prophet is grace. In one sense this may be accurate. We do have greater grace because of our access to God's Word through each other. But! In the final analysis, we prove God's grace to us—NOT BY WHICH FORM IT COMES THROUGH, BUT BY whether or not the word fits with God's already established work of grace in our hearts—regardless of which human form it comes through, whether Moses, or Paul, or Prophet Jones.
People assume that because a prophet has spoken, the word must automatically fit with God's word of grace in them, or else God wouldn't have spoken it. This is untrue. A prophet is a human vessel. That means his word can be as inappropriate or inapplicable as a verse from Moses, and still be a true word. Consider. The Old Covenant is inspired by God. But it no longer applies to us. Why? We are now in an era of grace no longer governed by it. Yet the Old Testament is still from God. But we are fools if we go back under it.
The same thing is true concerning prophecy. All of us are in different realms of grace. A prophet can speak a true word. BUT! If that word speaks to us at a level of grace which we have already transcended in our walk with God, the word is obsolete before it is even spoken! So we are free from it—at least from the limitation of it according to the prophet's intent. (God still might use the words to speak to us in another way at our own level, quite despite the prophet's intent by it. This requires humility.)
Let me give you a classic yet little understood example of this from Acts. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem. The established word of grace in his heart is such that he knows he is to do this and what awaits him there (Act 20:22-23.) When he lands at Tyre, certain prophets give him a word from God that he "should not go up to Jerusalem" (21:4). However, Paul is not dissuaded! He goes anyway. Why? Because even though the word is from God, it is spoken at a level beneath the degree of grace he has attained, and therefore is obsolete to him—at least at the level of the intent of the prophets. The word did not test out in accord with the framework of grace already worked out in Paul through years of suffering.
Most people reading this story feel forced to choose between whether Paul heard from God or the prophets heard from God. That is not necessary. Both heard from God. But the prophets heard God at a level already surpassed by Paul in grace. Their legal word was rendered void before it was given. (For a similar story of apparent conflict between the Word of God and the Word of God, read Jeremiah 35).
V. Applied To Personal Revelation
No matter what other human forms God's Word may come to us through, all forms have to ultimately pass through the form of our own understanding. Even personal revelation in which God's Spirit communicates directly to our hearts must pass through the veil of our own mind, a mind empowered by the life force of our own flesh and blood.
Because of this, we must even test words from God we receive directly by His Spirit. We must test our limited perceptions against His internalized work of grace within us. As our relationship changes to scriptures where the grace behind scripture is woven into us, so does it change to personal words we receive ourselves from the Lord. Every personal word from God has a limited time and season after which we ought to be finding release from it as its grace is worked out in us.
Responding rightly to personal words from God is as tricky and more so than responding rightly to prophetic words. As a form, personal revelation is the most gracious of all forms of God's Word. There's nothing that compares to being able to hear from God for one's self. Our relationship to personal revelation carries more authority than our relationship through any other form because it comes closest to our hearts.
But that is where the difficulty lies. Because personal revelation is the most gracious of forms, it is the form people are most likely to mistake for the work of grace itself. Therefore, many people come under a spirit of bondage and legalism to their own personal revelation or directives from God, failing to realize that their own flesh and blood-based understanding of personal revelation is itself law. The grace and Life behind personal revelation cannot be apprehended by our minds or appropriated through our efforts to fulfil it.
The operation of the Living Eternal Word in our hearts is in a realm that transcends our own understanding of the meanings of the words we have received. For that operation to prevail, we have to come to the place of releasing our own legal perceptions of God's personal commands and promises to our hearts. It is the most refined operation of grace behind the Word of God that we will ever have to negotiate.
Sometimes we will receive words from God that have no other purpose than to test our level of grace in Him. God will issue commands to see whether we are able to discern how to respond to Him in grace, or whether we respond out of a spirit of legalism. In Ezk. 4:12-15, God commands Ezekiel to do something Ezekiel recognizes he does not have the grace to do yet. Rather than obey under forced legalism, Ezekiel declines. And God concurs with him, offering a substitute command.
Other times, God issues words to us that challenge our legalistic adherence to other earlier words we have lived by. Then it is we must respond to God's personal word against our cemented understanding of earlier words through other forms, or even through earlier personal commands. In Acts 10, God issues Peter a personal command that transcends his legalistic adherence to Old Testament commands concerning relationship with Gentiles. It was a must for him to obey this word and so overcome the hurdle toward a higher grace.
The point of these illustrations is that, as with all forms, the purpose of personal revelation is to liberate us into God's internal work of grace by His Living Word. No form is to be obeyed for its own sake as an end in itself. God uses personal revelation to deliver us from bondage to more removed forms. But he does not expect us to respond to personal revelation as a bondage to form. (Sometimes, God will use a more removed from like scripture to deliver us from a spirit of bondage to personal revelation!)
VI. Conclusion: The Grace And Limitations Of Living Oracles
We must not be fooled or confused concerning the Word of God as it comes to us through the filter of any human form, historical or present, biblical or presently verbal. Humanity is still humanity. Form is still form. Limitation is still limitation. Law is still law. We must test what comes to us through any form against God's grace-work in us already. If it ministers discipline where we need it for attaining our next level, we ought to submit to it until we can become free from it. If it is a false word, or (as is more common) a word that ministers a law we have already surpassed in grace, we ought to dismiss it, or shelve it in case God wants to minister through it later on a higher level beyond us and beyond the intent of the one who gave it.
But we must not be fooled into obeying any form of God's Word for its own sake simply because we are convinced of its superiority over another form. Paul's writings are superior in application to Moses. Prophecy is superior in immediate application to any historical scripture. And personal revelation supersedes prophecy for immediate personal application. But all is form and all must be tested against the living word of grace in our hearts according to the knowledge of God for proper application—a knowledge known by rest and peace of the Presence of God indwelling us.
This brings me to the verses with which I headed this article. Peter tells us to be oracles for God's Word. This is marvelous. But remember that to be an oracle of God is to still be limited. The Jews had the oracles of God committed to them. This was to their advantage over other peoples. But it didn't guarantee faith and forward motion in grace. So we must remember about ourselves.
We can be oracles for God's Word as were Moses and Paul. It is thrilling to be a vessel for the spoken words of God. We ought all desire to prophesy (I Cor. 14:1). But! To be an oracle for God's word does not guarantee correct application of those words according to grace. This calls for a special sensitivity on our part—one that can only be developed in us as we ourselves grow in grace. But if I am not growing in grace, I am likely to mete out God's Word for others according to the limitations of my understanding (my law) of where they should be with God.
I have spoken personally as an oracle for God over many years. But as I look back over my utterances, I see where I have mixed my words with my own expectations on people, laying a certain bondage on them to conform with my understanding of what they ought to do with my word from God for them. I deeply regret this and have asked God to separate out for people from my past the difference between what was from God and what was from my legal expectation on them. I've asked Him to release people from all bondage connected with my expectation on them so they might be able to profit from what was truly from God for them according to his work of grace in them.
As I have grown in grace, I have been learning increasingly how to minister as an oracle from a more gracious perspective—one that leaves others with a sense of ultimate accountability to God for what they do with my words, not to me. Paul tells us to speak with grace. This is a lesson for all of us. Let us be oracles for one another, helping one another in our weakness. But let us recognize the limitations on our personality, and so release others into the grace of working out between themselves and God the appropriate meaning of whatever it is God has to say to them through us.
I now want to close out my discourse with a diagram that summarizes what I have tried to say:
The Word of God as it comes to us mediated through any level of flesh and blood (including our own) is a form, —shadow, —image—that points us to the invisible, hidden reality of the Living grace—Word of Jesus Christ in the heart.
We are only under the form until we come into conformity to the inner grace to which the form corresponds. The form is then rendered obsolete and must drop off.
The forward and upward motion we make from form to reality is called faith. This motion is led and directed by the Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, we will be released from all form of the word in the day that our inner grace-man is perfected, totally swallowing up our outer-man. At that time we will display the unhindered, unmediated life-image of Jesus through us (Rom 8:29).
Until then, we are under discipline of some limited form of God's Word as mediated through flesh and blood. However, as we make forward motion by faith, growing in grace, we are to be exchanging more restrictive form for less restrictive form, —moving from faith to faith—exchanging lower grace for higher grace, —moving from glory to glory.
The macrocosmic demonstration of this is the historical movement from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, the Age of Law to the Age of Grace. However, to the degree that the New Covenant is still mediated through the ministry of flesh and blood, it is still old covenant in nature. So the New Covenant is both a single historical act of grace, but also a present process toward which we are to grow.
I don't know about you, but I've always had an unquenchable desire to get to the bottom of things when it comes to spiritual truth. I wanted to be able to come to the ultimate truth, the final reference point for being right. This began with my search for the right interpretation of every issue in scripture. Soon, however, I found that there were as many interpretations as there are people. So I knew that mere access to the Bible was not enough.
Eventually, I came into the gifts. I learned about prophecy. Since this was much more immediately the Word of God, I thought surely this would be the final authority for truth and rightness. But soon I discovered the same problem that I saw with scripture: people in conflict—conflicting prophecies, some right in one way, others right in another way—but nothing I could grasp for guiding my life. The same thing was true about body ministry in general. I could always find a second opinion as to the "word of the Lord" concerning any issue. Just go to another body to find it.
Finally, I decided that if I couldn't trust what anybody else was saying, I could at least trust what I understood God to be saying to me personally. Guess what? Wrong again. For although I have heard His gentle voice say many things to my heart over the years, I have seen my own understandings and expectations for those things smashed over and over, leading me to surrender my own understandings to Him over and over. I hear. I believe. I act. Then I get hurt—only to believe again. (At this point you have "Job's Friends" come to you telling you where you were disobedient or didn't hear from God. Even now they come to me on occasion.) So, no. Even my own understandings of God's personal word have failed me. I have had to relinquish even these as my final authority.
So where have I been forced to turn to find final truth? Answer: In… Inward to the hidden grace of the intimate heart knowledge of Jesus Christ—that unknowable love that passes all knowledge (Eph 3:16-19)—the ultimate object of all true faith—that ever-abiding indefinable Presence of God that remains when all else has been shattered—all dreams, all understandings, all hopes, all expectations, all interpretations.
Listen to me carefully. Listen well to what I say: Every form of the word of God has ultimately failed me. Every representation of the Word of God to me through flesh and blood (including my own) has failed me. But! God has never failed me. The Living Word of God has never failed me. That Eternal Word Who builds Himself up in me through the passing of every form has never failed me. He still abides in me and testifies to me of the veracity of Who He Is when all else is gone. And when all else is gone, He neither condemns nor accuses. He only expresses an inward pleasure that I was willing to believe Him as far as I did, as faulty as my form for understanding may have been. It is the heart He finally looks at.
Now I have let you in a wee bit of my own walk with the Lord. I want you to see what has led me to the conclusions I have taught here, and what drives me the way I go in life. I hope that somehow my testimony to what I have found to be true will help you wherever you may have encountered disappointment in your walk as you have tried to follow God in life over any form of His Word to you. Have you felt failed by a scripture? Or a prophecy? Or perhaps a personal word from God to your own heart?
If so, then I have written for you. My final word for you today: our trust is not in any form of God's Word as we perceive it. Rather, all things are given to lead us to who He is in us —the Living Word of Grace and Truth. As for all else we have lost and suffered in the course of believing Him over the forms of our humanity—He will look to it—beyond and above the law of our perception (Eph 3:20). This is the final grace in all things.
Only He is right. Let us die to our rightness.
Hunter River, Prince Edward Island, Canada
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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Page revised December 26, 2015