Discerning Christ

Throughout the scriptures we see that God often conceals His truths. The bible declares: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Prov. 25:2). This is evident in the accounts of Jesus Christ in the days of His flesh and the plan of God that was hidden from many at that time. There are yet great mysteries that are hidden in the scriptures that God is continually unveiling to His sons. The many truths that we now know and have come to appropriate were indeed a mystery to us until they were unveiled. When God brings revelation, He does it with the purpose that what has been revealed would be possessed. Revelation always precedes possession. God is always enlarging Himself in us through greater revelations of Himself. The truths revealed are hidden mysteries that bring us not mere knowledge but to a person – Christ.

The riches of the glory of the mystery of Christ are indeed unsearchable, even today they remain concealed and hidden from many to whom it has not yet been revealed. Paul declares: “that I should preach the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God” (Eph. 3:8-9). What is hid in God is indeed a mystery. And at the epicenter of God’s mysteries you will find Christ, whether it be the mystery of His will (Eph. 1:9), the mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16), the mystery of our change (1 Cor. 15:51), the mystery of reconciliation, the mystery of His coming and many more. But in order to be enlightened to understand these mysteries, we need to have our senses exercised to discern Christ.

I had an interesting experience as a child which is relevant to what I share here. I must have been around 12 years old. One summer, a few of us decided to wonder around the outskirts of the city while living in Addis Ababa. During one of these escapades, we passed by a brewery and the smell was unbearable. We had to cover our noses as most of us started to gag. This drew the attention of the locals who looked at us in amusement. For the locals who lived nearby, the smell was normal for they had been accustomed to it and they were not at all bothered by it. So, how was it that the same odor could be discerned differently by different people?

This question has spiritual relevance. We see it exemplified during Jesus’ earthly ministry. For the Pharisees, Jesus Christ was not a pleasant aroma. For the Pharisees, Christ was the aroma of death leading to death (2 Cor. 2:16). His words of peace, instead of liberating them, bound them to the lifeless religious order they had been accustomed to and defended vehemently. The Pharisees failed to discern Him.  Meanwhile, the Jews were looking for a king to liberate them from Roman occupation. They too failed to discern the Lord Jesus Christ. However, to the disciples, our Lord Jesus Christ was a sweet fragrance whose ministry produced life in them. As Simon Peter declared: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

The difference among these three groups is clear. The disciples discerned Christ while the Pharisees’ and Jews’ capacity to discern was overwhelmed by the stench of religion and folklore they had been engrossed in for centuries. They wouldn’t let it go. Indeed they couldn’t for they were not drawn by God. This is true even today. But not merely among the heathen of the world who worship countless idols, but also to those who profess Christ in the contemporary church system of our day. Like the Jews they too have been steeped in the church system’s order and doctrines. They’ve become dull and undiscerning. Like the Laodiceans they claim: “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17). They have arrived at all they need to know about the plan of God and have shut their ears and hearts satisfied with the in-part revelation they have received not knowing that they are poor and famished.

Like the Jews, they wait for a literal king to appear suddenly. Yet His coming is a mystery. The fact that He comes as a thief emphasizes the unknown means by which He comes. When Christ appears in the elect sons, not only will it be unexpected but the church system will not recognize Him. As they did to Jesus Christ in the days of His flesh, they will refuse and persecute those in whom Christ is appearing. The sad reality about religion’s subtlety is that those bound under it are undiscerning. Its elusiveness, half-truths, mixtures of truth and error, and the muddling of the spiritual and fleshy keep many oblivious and indifferent not having their senses exercised to discern both good (truth) and evil (error). So, why are the senses of many saints dull today?

In the natural, we know that the nose is a discerner. We often smell food to examine whether it is spoiled. We smell clothe to check if it’s dirty. We enjoy good food not just by its taste but also by its smell. However, our noses can sometimes fail us. As relayed in my childhood experience of the locals who lived by the brewery, the nose can be accustomed to a specific smell as a result of continued exposure to the point that a stench no longer becomes bothersome. It becomes norm. Similarly, many saints have grown so accustomed to the stench of the religious church system and her doctrines. Always being encouraged in Adam and never growing in Christ. They have acclimatized to its man-centered teachings and programs which promote self. They remain content and comfortable amidst the odor of humanism and the man-made doctrines that oppose the very purpose of God in Christ.

Even right now, some who read these lines may be baffled, questioning how I could make such statements. I’ve had many discussions with saints in the church system that refuse to entertain let alone accept the truths that are unequivocally relayed in the word and which are in stark contrast to what they have accepted as dogma. This is not intended as an indictment but a reflection from my own journey. Having grown up in the church system, I was accustomed to her teachings, her doctrines, her programs and every man-centered belief she espoused. Since childhood I was indoctrinated in it. However, as God started to enlighten my understanding to the truths of the full gospel of the Kingdom, to His plan of the ages for creation, the reconciliation of all things in Christ and the many other mysteries relayed in His word, it wasn’t long before my spiritual nose began to discern the smell of confusion and error I was drowning in. It wasn’t pleasant. It was a cruel concoction of man that had permeated the minds of the saints. It was the vilest set of lies that could only be conjured in the deep dark recesses of man’s heart. It was a foul stench. I couldn’t sit there any longer for I was repulsed by the humanism that was being propagated by it. It was seemingly well intentioned and sincere on the façade, but it was grotesque – defiantly opposing the very word of God. It had the form of godliness but denied its powers. It professed one thing but believed another. It acknowledged the sovereignty of God but by its beliefs opposed it. It paid lip service to the supermacy of God but in practice placed the desire of man above God’s. It confessed the rulership of Christ but denied His Lordship.

In fact I was surprised that in all the years I sat in the pews, I had not recognized it. Indeed the natural man is incapable of discerning spiritual things. Its focus and persuasion is towards observing those things that are visible: the numbers, the impressive buildings, the decorated stage, the sound, the ambiance, the charisma, the ceremony, the fame, the friends and the reputation of well-respected ministers. Oh how we looked forward to conferences, the popular singers, the guest speakers, rushing to grab good seats to watch the spectacle only to have our emotions stirred while our inward man remained dry.

Now, I realize even while in the church system, I was man dictated by natural things, incapable of discerning the spiritual. The bible declares that: “the natural (soulish) man receives not the things of the Spirit of God… nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). However, all these were outward manifestation of an inward nature. And the fact that I didn’t discern them indicated that I predominantly identified and lived in the natural man. Certainly, these things speak regarding the man in all of us who is attuned to natural or visible things.

We were all first natural beings in that we were all men who lived by what we saw with our physical eyes, what we heard with our physical ears and sensed with our natural faculties. Paul states: “the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual” (2 Cor. 15:46). We were all at some point like those people who lived by the brewery. We continually lived under the dictates of the natural man. Indeed some of us might still be in this state. So habituated to the error and humanism that we never discern how foul it is.

But how would it be possible to enable those people who live by the brewery to recognize the foul smell? Well, their noses would have to be reprogrammed. They would have to be reacclimatized. And this can only be done by relocating them to a different area where there is no smell. Over time their noses would be awakened to distinguish the clean air from the foul. This is not just a change of physical location but an inward transformation where their senses begin to be exercised to rightly discern.

God is now awakening the spiritual man – the inward man who has the spiritual capacity to sense, to hear, to see and to smell that which is in the superior realm of spirit. We are being relocated from participating in the dictates of the natural man and the confusion of the church system. An inward work of purification is taking place. We are putting off the old to put on the new man. We are being summoned to transition from living in the natural man to live in Christ. We are being drawn to set our minds on things above and not things on the earth (Col. 3:2). For above is where Christ is (Col. 3:1), indicating the superior reality of the new man, the inward man – Christ in us. Only in this transformation are we capable of discerning the truth. Spiritual things can only be discerned by a spiritual mind. For only the mind of Christ can rightly discern Christ.

John the revelator was “in the Spirit on the Lord ’s Day”. In this state, he was able to both hear and to see the Lord (Rev. 1:10,12). In our initial experience with Christ, only by the quickening of the Holy Spirit did we become awakened from our deep sleep in the natural man to come alive to discern Him. For “God…even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together” (Eph. 2:5-6). Even now the Spirit of Truth is guiding us into all truth and He is glorifying Christ in us by this very process in order that we may discern Him and follow Him wherever He goes. Jesus said: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

Discerning Christ’s body

There is also a corporate application to the discerning of Christ through His body. Paul states: “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:29).

What does Paul mean when he says “discerning the Lord’s body”? The context is of course about the communion. We need to recognize here that Paul is not merely referring to the outward act of drinking the cup and breaking bread. The spiritual foreground of this act is much deeper and it’s where the substance or the spiritual reality of the communion lies. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body, for we all partake of that one bread.” Who is the body of Christ? Paul tells us on numerous occasions that we are the body of Christ.  “You are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Cor. 12:27). So the Lord’s body that we are to discern in our fellowship is those who are being identified with Christ and are members of His body.

We see throughout the word of God that Jesus makes no distinction between Himself and His body. When the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, He asked:  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Now, did Saul persecute Jesus? Of course he persecuted members of the early Church. But those joined with Him and in union with Him are the members of His body. Paul again reminds us: “‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:31-32). Christ and His body are one. “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor. 6:17). Christ is a many-membered body in whom Jesus Christ is the head and the firstborn among many brothers. The body is one with the head. Therefore, to persecute the body joined unto Him is to persecute the head.

Similarly, not discerning the Lord’s body is akin to not discerning the head. The fact that one cannot discern the words of those who are ‘in Christ’ indicates that this one is not in union with the head. How can one reject, discredit, oppose and refuse parts of his own physical body. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (I John 4:20). Can you imagine your hand rejecting your neck? Indeed Christ is not divided. The church system maybe divided across denominational and sectarian lines but Paul tells us this is indicative of carnality and babyhood in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-4).

Jesus warned us: “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me” (John 16:3). Indeed many have rejected the truths that we embrace and have shared with them. In rejecting these truths, they not only reject us but they also reject Christ. And the scripture is true “Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him” (1 John 3:1). But like John, as God gives us the opportunity “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” (1 John 1:3).

Discerning through identification

Our capacity to discern cannot be reduced to spiritual glimpses or flashes. Nor does it come by fasting and praying or other efforts of the flesh. It also doesn’t come by persuasive word of human wisdom. Rather discernment comes through identification. Identification refers to a state where one assimilates the attributes of the other and is transformed by the nature the other possesses. As mentioned, since we were first natural men we all identified with Adam. While in Adam we discerned those things that be of Adam – natural things. However, the natural man cannot discern spiritual things. But God is now putting off the Adamic so that we no longer identify with the man of dust. For “as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (1 Cor. 15:49).

We are instructed to put on the new man, to be possessed by the new man, to be one with the new man. To be identified with Him is to be transformed into the image of Christ. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). When Paul says: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me”, he is saying I have been identified with Christ; I am one with Him having been consumed by Him.

One can only manifest what he is. Being precedes manifestation. Similarly, only the one who has identified with Christ can therefore, by the nature of Christ that rules in him, have the ability to discern Christ. Such a person can discern Christ for he is one with Him in word, in mind, and in nature. The degree to which we can discern Him depends on the degree to which we have been transformed into His image. Therefore, to fully discern Christ as He truly is, we need to be like Him. The bible refers to this union as knowing. Notice that Jesus Christ was unknown by those he lived around. Jesus “came to His own and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Why? Because “the world did not know Him” (John 1:10). To identify with Christ is to know Him. Knowing indicates union. It indicates deep intimacy and being perfect in one (John 17:23).

There is an aroma, a fragrance that is being released by the body of Christ who are being  transformed into His image and who are pressing into union and perfection in Him. This corporate company of sons are commissioned to give off through their words and their conduct in their daily lives the wonderful aroma of Christ. For “through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:14-16). To the one who discerns Christ by the spirit and partakes in the communion of the blood (life) and bread (word), it will surely produce life.

May God energize you by His Spirit to identify with Christ and be enabled to discern the wonderful aroma of Christ.

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