• johned@aibi.ph

The Amazing Gospel Of The Available God

Jesus came preaching “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” by this He simply meant “God is available, he is at hand, just near you, you can reach out and touch Him.” Why was this a revolutionary message and why did the religious leaders feel that it was going to put them out of a job so that they even plotted to kill Him?

The Problem Of The Pyramid

In the ancient world God was feared and only priests and kings and prophets had access to His power. The king was often seen as a divine “son of God” or even in some cases as an incarnation of God. The priests controlled the ceremonies and the prophets and seers brought special messages from the divinity. But the common people had no real access to God or fellowship with Him. That was reserved for those at the top of the social and spiritual pyramid.

In the case of the Jews real fellowship with God was reserved for the High Priest on one day a year when, after making appropriate sacrifices he would go into the special curtained room known as the Holy of Holies. Just one man got to meet God, for a few minutes, on one day of the year.

Thus God was a special being who lived in a special room in a special building and special people handled His ceremonies. And they were certainly not fishermen from Galilee. If you wanted your sins forgiven you did not just go and ask God for forgiveness. You went to a priest who sacrificed an animal on a special altar in the Temple and you went through the ceremony and you got forgiven. If you lived a long way from the Temple or couldn’t afford the sacrifice or were not Jewish – you were out of luck, your sins were not forgiven and you remained estranged from God.

Paul sums up the situation of the non-Jews, known as Gentiles as follows:
(Ephesians 2:12 NKJV)  that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

So God was an inaccessible being at the top of the social and spiritual pyramid, accessible only to Jews and truly accessible to only one Jew, the High Priest. In other words God was exclusive and inaccessible not inclusive and readily accessible. The thought of being able to touch God, shake His hand and talk to Him would have been considered blasphemy but John the apostle writes:

(John 1:14 NKJV)  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

(1 John 1:1-3 NKJV)  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life; {2} the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us; {3} that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus was God in human flesh, dwelling among us, a human being that John heard and saw with his eyes and looked on and handled with his hands. Not a concept, not just a spirit or a ghost. But “the Word became flesh”. Flesh and blood, a down to earth God, available, living, healing, preaching, teaching and dying in our midst.

The apostle Paul explains it this way:

(2 Corinthians 5:19 NKJV)  that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

That is God was in Christ. When you see Jesus Christ you see God in a person. What was God doing in human flesh? Reconciling the world to Himself – bringing us back into agreement with Him.

That raises the question of “how much of God was in Christ?”. The answer is ‘all the fullness of God”:

(Colossians 1:19 NKJV)  For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,

(Colossians 2:9 NKJV)  For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;

In other words God made Himself totally available, fully available to us in Christ by making “all His fullness” dwell in Jesus. This is hard to understand and theologians still ponder it with awe. But for our purposes lets just say that God held nothing back. It was a complete act of self –giving.

God gave Himself completely to us in Christ and God remains available to us in Christ. We now have access to God through trust (faith) in Jesus Christ:

(Romans 5:1-2 NKJV)  Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, {2} through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

(Ephesians 2:17-18 NKJV)  And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. {18} For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

This access to God does not change over time, nor is it dependent on our physical location near some sacred building:

 (Hebrews 13:8 NKJV)  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

(Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV)  And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. {19} "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, {20} "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

Who Can Know God Now?

Every humble, penitent person can find God - the poor, the lowly, the lepers, the criminals, the prostitutes, the foreigners, the deformed, the blind and even the demon-possessed. God is available to all who humble themselves before Him in repentance from their sins.

This incredible accessibility of God is illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the leaven which tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven got mixed up with this fallen world and transformed it :
(Matthew 13:33 NKJV)  Another parable He spoke to them: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."
In other words God got right inside creation like yeast inside a lump of dough - and changed it. He was no longer an inaccessible God staying outside creation and “remaining pure” but the intimate God getting right inside human beings and this world and transforming them.

In fact the way the term leaven is used in this parable is highly unusual. In the OT "leaven" was always used as a negative metaphor for contagion - particularly the contagious nature of sin. Jesus even used it this way when He spoke about the contagious legalism of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6-12).

Leaven was that which was fermenting, contagious, sinister, defiling. In the Old Testament if the clean touched the unclean - then it become unclean, but the reverse was not also true. Sin was contagious but holiness was contained (Haggai 2:11-13). Thus the unclean could change the clean, but the clean could never purify the unclean. Sin could work its way through a community and ruin it, but righteousness could never spread like that. It had to be guarded from contamination at all costs. A little leaven was dangerous and could ruin "the whole lump". But this is turned upside down in the Gospels!

When Jesus comes along the Kingdom of the Heavens is incorruptible and when the clean touched the unclean then purity resulted! In the old days of “pyramid religion” if a priest touched a leper then he was defiled and unable to perform his duties. However when Jesus touched a leper He was not defiled - rather the leper became clean!

In the “old religions” if anyone touched a dead body, they were unclean, but when Jesus touched a dead body, He was not defiled, rather that person rose from the dead! Jesus could mix with the real world without fear of contamination or loss of holiness.

The Pharisees went to great lengths to avoid defilement, to not touch leaven, to be pure by separation from all defiling things. But by contrast Jesus went and sought out the most unclean and defiling people - the lepers, the woman with the issue of blood, the prostitutes, the tax-gatherers, the Gentile soldiers contaminated twice by race and contact with death, the foreigners and the Samaritans. He willingly plunged into their midst ate, with them, drank with them, healed them and called them to repentance and transformed their lives.

 Jesus was never defiled, never corrupted, never made unholy by them. They did not defile Him. Rather He transformed them! Jesus could turn being touched by a distraught prostitute into a transforming moment of grace. Even close contact with the most “extreme sinners” and defiling situations did not affect Jesus spiritually.

Leaven is all about intimate close contact. Its put right inside, its mixed in, its hidden, its intimate in the closest way with the flour and in that close contact, in that mixing, it leavens the whole loaf. In the OT view where ritual purity was a very important issue intimate close contact was spiritually dangerous "you could catch something", impurity could "accidentally" pass along to you from a menstruating woman, a dead body, even touching a dead lizard defiled you until evening. You had to watch your step and not get too close to anything or anyone. But Jesus got intimate with a sinful world, taking on the likeness of sinful flesh and living and dying amongst sinful people. Jesus died in disgrace, executed by Gentiles, on a cross, between two thieves and even this did not defile and destroy Him but became our purification and salvation.

The Kingdom of God is leaven turned upside down. It is the holy transforming the unholy - impossible by OT standards but possible with God. It means Mother Teresa can minister to lepers in Calcutta and come out a saint. It means Christians can minister among gangs and street kids and prostitutes and remain pure. The Kingdom leaven wins. Kingdom purity is indestructible. It means intimacy with sinners is spiritually safe. You can love a drug addict and still be a good Christian, you can be married to an alcoholic (though I don't recommend it) and the Holy Spirit will not desert you.

What does the parable of the leaven tell us? Firstly that God is prepared to get close to sinful people! He is not floating around on a cloud, inaccessible to only the most spiritual. Jesus was accessible to all who came to Him, including lepers, prostitutes, Samaritans and Gentiles. The pyramid is finished. The “ladder to heaven” is no more. God has climbed down the ladder and dwelt in our midst.

But Aren’t Spiritual, Respectable People Much Closer To God?

No, they aren’t! Jesus tells a stunning parable to make the point:

(Luke 18:9-14 NKJV)  Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: {10} "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. {11} "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. {12} 'I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' {13} "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' {14} "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

The End of “Jacob’s Ladder”

Jacob, the patriarch of Israel had a dream: (Genesis 28:12 NKJV) Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Many people took this image of a ladder between heaven and earth as a picture of our status in God. Some very saintly people were at the top of the ladder, while the unspiritual earthy people were down the bottom with most of us somewhere in-between desperately trying to climb up by our own effort. Each “rung” we ascended was through renunciation of “the earth” and spiritual self-discipline – and like the game of snakes and ladders there were some very quick descents through temptation and sin.

In fact the ladder says the opposite. It says that heaven and earth are connected. Jesus demolished this idea of a spiritual ladder forever by going all the way “to the bottom”. He squashed the ladder flat by becoming a man, living and dying amongst us. Instead of us climbing up, God came down in Christ.
(Philippians 2:5-8 NKJV)  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, {6} who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, {7} but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. {8} And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Paul grasped this and told the Roman Christians to forget about terms such as “up” and “down” but to remember that God was always available through faith in Jesus Christ.

(Romans 10:6-9 NKJV)  But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?' " (that is, to bring Christ down from above) {7} or, " 'Who will descend into the abyss?' " (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). {8} But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): {9} that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

There is no spiritual ladder, no “up” nor “down”, nor any need to compete for spiritual ascendancy because God has become available to all who call upon Him through faith in Christ Jesus.

But What About The Rules?

Now someone might say: “Surely those who keep lots of spiritual rules and live strict spiritual lives would be closer to God than people who are not disciplined in the way they live? Are you saying that all their effort is for nothing?” Yes, at least as far as salvation goes. Salvation is a free gift and you get it by faith, not by keeping rules, no matter how strict they are:
(Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, {9} not of works, lest anyone should boast.
God does not want anyone to go around boasting “I got saved because I was really, really disciplined and I worked hard at it for twenty years and I fully deserved it.”. God does not want arrogant, boastful people in His heaven. He wants us all to just simply rely on His grace and love for us and to accept salvation as a free gift.

In fact God has thrown out all the old rules about washings, and sacrifices and Sabbaths and temples and holy days and priests and replaced them with a new rule – the rule of love.
(Romans 13:8-10 NKJV)  Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. {9} For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." {10} Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Rules about lipstick, alcohol and dancing do not make anyone holy or unholy. Wearing dull clothes and living a boring life does not make someone spiritual. We are made spiritual through faith in Jesus Christ – that’s all. The only rule we have to obey is the rule to love one another. That is the supreme obligation of the Christian. Of course if we love one another we won’t be murdering, stealing, lying, cheating or committing adultery because those things are contrary to loving our neighbor as ourselves. Thus the Christian life is one big positive (love one another) not a long list of negatives (don’t do this or that).

The mature Christian is someone who is perfected in their ability to love others. This is not measured by how many rules you can keep but how much good flows from your heart in words and deeds on behalf of others. These good deeds do not earn our salvation but flow from it.
(Ephesians 2:10 NKJV)  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

After we are born-again we become new creations (2 Cor 5:17) “created in Christ Jesus for good works’. After we are saved, we are made into a new kind of person that loves to do good and love others. Thus being a Christian is not about keeping a long list of rules and various “do’s and don’ts” – the bible calls this “living under the law” and in Christ we are freed from this.

(Galatians 5:18 NKJV)  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

(Galatians 4:4-7 NKJV)  But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, {5} to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. {6} And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" {7} Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

(Romans 7:3-4 NKJV)  So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. {4} Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another; to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.

Christians are freed from rule-keeping as the main dynamic of the spiritual lives. We do not have to go around worrying about whether we have kept this rule or the other or eaten this or touched that. In fact such rules, though they may appear spiritual are actually quite ineffective and a hang-over from the old “pyramid’ spiritual order before Christ:

(Colossians 2:20-23 NKJV)  Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations; {21} "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," {22} which all concern things which perish with the using; according to the commandments and doctrines of men? {23} These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

Rule-keeping doesn’t get us saved and rule-keeping doesn’t successfully deal with sin. Its useless. So we have been freed from rule-keeping and given the job of living in love by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV)  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, {23} gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

(1 Peter 1:22 NKJV)  Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,

The Holy Spirit Has Replaced The Law

Christians do not live by a law, or even by a rule-book, or a list of requirements but rather by being led by the Holy Spirit of God.

(Romans 7:6 NKJV)  But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

(Romans 8:2-4 NKJV)  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. {3} For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, {4} that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

(Galatians 5:18 NKJV)  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

We Are Sons Not Slaves

Slaves live in a world of “do this, do that” while sons live in a free relationship of mutual respect and love. When Christians try keeping lists of rules they become slaves. Instead we are meant to live freely and happily in love as “sons of God”.

(Galatians 4:6-7 NKJV)  And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" {7} Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

The Holy Spirit Gives The Sons Of God Direct Access To God

So we come full-circle back to the concept of God being completely accessible. We don’t need to obey a long list of rules or be a priest or a Jew, or observe special religious ceremonies or even be a very good and disciplined person to have access to God. We have access to God through faith in Jesus Christ, and when we trust Jesus God gives us His Holy Spirit who takes up residence in our hearts so that we can complete access to God.

(2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NKJV)  Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, {22} who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

(Ephesians 2:18 NKJV)  For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.

The Holy Spirit Also Gives Us The Spiritual Knowledge We Need To Live the Christian Life

Christians do not need a priest or a guru or a special interpreter so that they can have understand God. They are given the Holy Spirit so they can have direct, meaningful and intelligent access to God without needing any third-party involvement.

(Hebrews 8:10-11 NKJV)  "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. {11} "None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.

(1 Corinthians 2:12 NKJV)  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

(1 John 2:20 NKJV)  But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.

(1 John 2:27 NKJV)  But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.

(Matthew 23:10 NKJV)  "And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.

The Amazing Gospel Of The Accessible God

God has become one of us in Christ and reconciled the world to God so that anyone might know Him. Those who believe in Jesus are forgiven of their sins and made new creations and receive the Holy Spirit who instructs them on how to live in love free from rule-books, laws, priests, temples, feast-days, do’s and don’ts, special buildings, special foods, religious diets, gurus, and the like. There is no spiritual pyramid and no ladder we have to climb, and no “up” and no “down” but simply a God who is accessible to all who call upon Him in faith.