The Kingdom of God Is the Kingdom of Right Relationships

The Individual in Relation to Himself
Once the Rule of God is established in the human heart, that person becomes free from the tyranny of himself. I know that such a statement may sound like a cliché and an over-simplification of human problems, but thousands of freed people are today rejoicing in the reality and victory of this simple understanding of life. Anyone, you well know, can make things complex. The whole world applauds complex solutions. We should be finished with complex solutions, not because they do not entertain our minds, but because they do not work. We should work hard to make things more simple. It is not easy, but we can be cheered by the advice of those who encourage us to KISS—meaning: “Keep it simple, Stupid!”

The simple truth is that the self positioned as god is the basic cause of the entire gamut of emotional problems in people. What we commonly call neuroses, psychoses, addiction problems, and behavior problems are the results of a life wrongly set up. It is time to abandon the complex explanations which the professional experts in our culture hand us. Emotional problems are not caused first of all by traumatic events in childhood, nor by a faulty environment, nor heredity, nor by the defects of our parents’ training. What seems much closer to the truth is that we quickly used these events in our past to further establish our egoistic way of life. We used whatever happened to us to further get our way.

Not only do we “use” our histories and environments as “reasons” for our present behavior, but we also use whatever emotional bondage has accrued to further our egoistic way of life. To illustrate: Here is a middle-aged woman who is chronically ill. Her problems range from migraine headaches to upset stomach, from palpitation of the heart to skin rashes. She told me she was aware of what caused all this. It was her unhappy marriage. She had married the wrong man, and for twenty years her life had been hell. There was no doubt in her mind about the cause of her problem. It was sitting at home right now looking at TV—another thing she could not stand.

As the woman went on with her story, she revealed that she had used this husband as the excuse for building and unloading tons of resentment which, I gently pointed out, was nothing but a monument to her own egoism. The cause of her egoism was further supported by her near-total absorption in herself. She spent most of her waking hours nursing herself back to health, spending money on herself at the doctor, and if there was any time remaining, she would worry about what her next illness might be. This is the hallmark of an egoist—a nearly total self-absorption, based solely on one’s pathetic emotional bondage.

The reason for this self-absorption is well-founded: It is a massive effort to fight off death. Death is at work in the hypochondriac—just as death is at work in an alcoholic, a suicidal person, a work-maniac who earns a heart attack, a law-breaker who goes to prison, or a drug addict. In all these problems, there is a frantic intent to shed the body, to get rid of it, to die. All bondage impells us in the direction of death. The self in control of the self seeks to kill himself. The wages of god-playing is eventually the destruction of the self, which is what I think Paul had in mind when he said, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Why should god-playing end in death?

Is it not because god-playing is so unnatural to man? Being ultimate goes so contrary to man’s intended nature, that every fiber of his being rises up in massive protest. Playing god is as unnatural to man as trying to fly like a bird simply because a person knows how to swing his arms. That man will die who jumps off a cliff pretending to be a bird. The price of such a fantasy is death. So with the self who knows no authority over himself except himself.

If our understanding is correct, then we would expect to see in the lives of people-made-Number-Two-by-virtue-of-God-being-their Number-One, a freedom from the tyranny of the self, various crippling emotional bondages, and the death process working in them.

Miracle of miracles! This is exactly what happens when the surrendered self enters the Kingdom of God. I know it is too much to believe. Only fools do. But the lives of many people who have come into this freedom testify to us that our understanding is correct. I say, their lives testify to this. We are not interested in clever hypotheses or neat explanations. Shattered people have suffered sufficiently from the glib talkers and that multitude of “healers” who know all the answers but never set us on a course of healing, much less find healing for themselves. When we turn, therefore, to the lives of people who have entered the Kingdom of God, we find that they are a new breed of inwardly free people.

Gert Behanna, among many thousands of case histories, will serve as a clear example. The only child of a Scotch immigrant who became a millionaire, she lived life to the hilt. The price tag on her self-centered, profligate life was staggering: alcoholism, drug addiction, three broken marriages, and attempted suicide. Sunk to the depths of moral and physical misery, her body wracked by psychosomatic illnesses, Gert Behanna had reached the bottom. “I wanted extinction because I was without hope.”

A physician advised psychiatry, but strangely, Gert knew what she needed. “I don’t need a psychiatrist. What I need is God.” To which the doctor replied, “Well God wouldn’t hurt a bit.”

A bit later, she read an article by Sam Shoemaker entitled, “It Is Never Too Late to Start Over.” Gert went over to her bed and got on her knees.

“God, if you are anywhere around, I wish you would please help me because I sure need it.”

In twenty minutes it was all over. It was a spiritual showerbath. I felt cleansed. I felt welcomed. I’d never had a home, and I never made one, but I felt welcomed. I also felt forgiven. I knew exactly who this was—God.

I said, “Thank you very much, Sir. I’ll have to start from scratch but I’ll tell you one thing: I’ll never take another drop of liquor in my life.” And I have not.

I started from scratch. I prayed, “Our Father who art” Then I stopped. Our Father—not theirs—ours. Suddenly I was a sister to everybody. Suddenly I thought about my own sex. With the thought of women, I thought about cooking, which I knew nothing about. Calling my book dealer in Chicago I said, “Mr. Chandler, I want a Bible and a copy of The Joy of Cooking.”

“My God, what’s happened to you?” asked Mr. Chandler.

“My God has happened to me,” I said, and He had.*

In Gert Behanna’s fifty-third year, she discovered that God was not dead, and that through the miracle of Christ’s love and power, drugs, liquor, and despair itself could be conquered. In her book, The Late Liz, Gert says, “In standing aside and looking back at this woman I used to be, it is more and more possible to detach myself, to view her in third person. She was she, and I am I; Siamese twins perhaps,
19one of whom must die that the other may live.”
*“God Isn’t Dead!” by Gert Behanna (Waco, Texas: Word Records Incorporated).

A person comes into relationship with himself by coming into a relationship with God. By making God the ultimate authority and power in one’s life, the self discovers who he is. The answer to the lifelong question, “Who am I?” is finally answered. I am a human being, created by God—that is who I am. The search for my identity is ended. No longer am I tyranized and terrorized by myself. Now I live under the love of God in the Kingdom of God. The discovery of God as King invariably brings about a simultaneous discovery of oneself. Formerly, we knew ourselves as a goddish being and hated ourselves for it. Now we know ourselves as human beings.

The Individual in Relation to His Spouse
Let us talk for a moment about the idea of marriage. The divine intention is that husband and wife are basically equal as persons, for how else can they be united in one flesh? These persons of equal worth are meant to complement each other in a relationship in which they are to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Ideally, each spouse would then care as much for the needs of the other as for his own desires.

That such a marriage is a rarity, none will deny. There is a simple and accurate explanation for this: each party in marriage tends toward self-centeredness. Egocentrism destroys marriage. Husbands and wives who play god on each other can hardly avoid a tiring, fruitless, marital war.

Since it is difficult for the husband and wife to equally play god on each other at the same time, what usually happens is that first one will play god and then the other.

I know of a man who, soon after marriage, sent his wife out of the kitchen because he knew more than she about cooking. He was not satisfied with the way she was doing it, so he took over. In addition, this fellow would never allow his wife or children to buy clothes unless he was in the store to approve their purchases. Even worse, he actually selected the clothes he wished his wife to wear. We can understand the complaint of his wife when she shouted, “You are nothing but a dictator! You and Hitler belong together!”

After about five years of marriage, they both became so sick of it that one day the husband announced, “I’ve had it! From now on, you can have charge of the whole family. You worry about us from now on.”

And would you believe it? From that day, the wife wore the pants. When finally the husband arrived at my study, he was complaining that he felt like “the fifth and last child in the family.”

From this example, we can learn that the relationship of egoists in marriage can and does change. In this particular marriage, the husband became a Christian, whereupon his egocentric wife left him and eventually ended the marriage. Had the husband remained egocentric, I expect there would have been an accommodation, and some kind of a marriage would have continued. What we pray for, of course, is that both parties will come under the rule of Christ and then enter Christian marriage—which is the only kind that really works.

The real unity in a marriage must come on the spiritual level if it is to be a true marriage. Until the husband and wife meet under God, they will relate only on the level of self-interest, competition, and eventual estrangement, though not necessarily separation or divorce.

Though the husband and wife are equal, we must also recognize, however, a difference of function in the marriage. Because a husband is given the function of leadership and ultimate responsibility, Paul enjoins wives to be subject to their husbands as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22). All Paul is saying here is that you cannot have four hands on the steering wheel of the family car. It is best if the husband steers and the wife assists him with the no less important functions of map-reading and controlling the children. It is true, the husband may ask his wife to drive the car for a time, in which case the wife has control of the car, but even then, she should not be given the power to make final decisions. This power must remain with one person—the husband—because if it is passed back and forth, no one knows what his role is in the dangerous crises of life.

In Christian marriage, a wife does not hesitate to be subject to her husband, because she realizes that he, as well as she, is under the authority of Christ. Were the husband to revert back to an egocentric life-style, the wife would be understandably concerned about a dictatorial use of power upon her, but this should not deter her from playing her God-given role as a wife.

The proof of the husband’s submission to Christ can be seen in the desire to love his wife. Surely this means he would be sensitive to her needs. It also means that the husband would invite and give full weight to the wife’s feelings and opinions in all decision-making. But loving a wife means more. When Paul urged husbands to “love your wives” (Ephesians 5:25), he also intended that a husband should never enforce or coerce his decisions upon his wife. A husband is given authority to lead, but no authority to force his wife to follow. In this, a husband follows the example of his Lord who, though He gave us the Ten Commandments, never forces us to obey them. On the wife’s part, when she freely chooses to be subject to her husband, she does it as an act of obedience to Christ rather than to her husband.

It hardly needs to be added that Christian marriage is a solemn, permanent covenant. Whoever breaks that covenant by adultery or desertion is in conflict with God That places many people in conflict with God today, because the institution of marriage is in terrible distress, due largely to the accelerating egocentrism flourishing in our culture. And still, I have never seen a troubled marital relationship which could not have been healed by the simple grace of forgiveness. But forgiveness is abhorrent to one who is playing the judge.

Here again, the only solution is God, because He alone is the Judge. His judgment is far more merciful than that of the warring partners in marriage. A healthy marital relationship will not become sick, nor will a marriage covenant be broken, as long as a central place is given God in the marriage.

In summary, when God is invited into a marriage, and the Rule of God takes root, that marriage will grow and become a joy beyond description. Without God, marriage degenerates, because egoists are always antagonists. It’s that simple. Let us now look at the two offspring we always see in a marriage of egoists: violence and deprivation.

Let us think of the most common kinds of violence physical violence and something that hurts even worse, verbal violence. People who have suffered both kinds have told me that getting hit in the mouth hurts, but nothing can compare to words which are used as knives. Whoever resorts to violence in the marriage relationship is really assaulting God, for to attempt the destruction of another means that we are over another which only God should be. Indeed, violence presupposes a condemning judgment, as we pointed out previously, which leaves no place for the judgment of God.

The only workable way to overcome the problem of violence in marriage is to openly resign as a godplayer. If one of my parishioners tells me he hit his wife in the mouth, knocking her dentures across the room, I suggest: (1) that at a time of his choosing, we get on our knees and he ask God’s forgiveness; (2) that he write or speak an apology to his wife with a request for pardon; and (3) if he really means business with his problem of violence, that he tell me when he is prepared to hand over his life to God and avoid a repeat performance of this kind of conduct.

I have observed many times that violence toward others begins when we tire of working on our own problems and begin taking a moral inventory of other people. This is something which only they and God have a right to do. When one person appoints himself to the task of taking another’s personal inventory, the self-righteous judge invariably adds punishment to his verdict of guilty.

So much for our problem of inflicting violence on a marriage partner. Where there is a donor, however, there is also a receiver. How does one cope with a violent spouse? We know that in the Kingdom of Self, one deals with violence by returning it in greater measure—the law of the jungle, an eye for an eye, the survival of the fittest, and all that. But how, in the Kingdom of God, do we respond to the violence our marriage partner inflicts on us?

I previously attempted to concretely spell out what it means to live under an ethic of love (see pp. 74-79). In summary, a non-violent citizen of the Kingdom of God attempts to:

A. Take his stand.
B. Explain his position to his “opponent.”
C. Give up his “opponent” to God.
D. If attacked, he is prepared to love his “enemy” by

  1. Not resisting evil, turning the other cheek.
  2. Moving in close to his “enemy.”
  3. Doing him positive good.
  4. Praying for him.
E. Keep working on his own problems.

These principles are precisely what we need to govern our response to the violence of a spouse. Let us, therefore, cast out that diabolical nonsense which counsels us to learn how to fight fairly in marriage. Fighters—both fair and unfair—lose. But those who lose to God, win. If we choose the path of non-violence in marriage, we are at least guaranteed that we will have one real winner, and possibly two.

The real winner is that person under God who has followed the counsel of Booker T. Washington: “Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him.” The “enemy” in any marriage loves to provoke the other to anger and hate. Indeed, the “enemy” is boiling with new anger because he has lost his power to make his spouse angry. The non-violent spouse is then accused of refusing to get involved, of weakness, of being sick.

Let it be.

Hold on to God. You will survive as a stronger person if you follow His example of loving the unlovable.

There is hope, too, that your example will serve as a guiding light to a spouse who is stumbling in the darkness of anger and violence.

In addition to the problem of violence, there is also the problem of deprivation in marriage. Again, the parties in marriage both deprive and are deprived.

A working wife may deprive her husband of a good home. There is a kind of woman who feels good only when she is at work. When she returns home to a husband who wants involvement with her, she is either too tired or uninterested. The husband, on the other hand, may deprive a wife of sexual intercourse. I know of a husband whose sexual interests are so tied up with pornography and masturbation that he has come to look upon his wife as a sister.

If one is honest enough to admit that he is a depriving spouse, the only hope is to confess it to God and his marriage partner. Then, come into the Kingdom of God. There is freedom from any problem if one comes under His Rule.

As to being deprived, again, the answer is God. Being deprived provokes our egoism. One woman complained to me that she was deprived of a man in her marriage. Her husband was still a little boy, she complained, who picks his nose in public, calls her “mother,” and will not go to sleep without a light on in the bedroom. His behavior infuriates his wife. What is the solution to this problem?

She has yelled and screamed at him. We know, therefore, that he is aware of what he is doing. He has a good memory, so there is no need to remind him again. The infantile behavior, however, persists.

What can be done?

Nothing, humanly.

Power was never given us to change another human being. This wife is trying to do the impossible as she vainly attempts to get her husband to grow a few inches taller. Jesus asks us, “And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his stature?” (Matthew 6:27). This heroic woman answers, “I can! I can make this immature husband grow up.”

But she cannot.

The most helpful thing she can do for her husband is to pray for him. God will have to change him. She cannot.

The wife can also do something for herself. She can stop using her husband as an excuse to slip into egoistic resentment and violence.

Both husband and wife need a basic and effective solution to their problems. The solution is God. It is all summed up in these words: “Set your mind on God’s kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NEB).

The Individual in Relation to His Children
We have already seen that the person whose lifestyle is basically ego-centered is a troubled, problem-laden individual. When this person brings children into the world, he fashions them into his own image. He also worships them as he worships himself, for his god is man.

From Adam and Eve on down to today, human parents train their children to sin their sins. The mother whose goddishness is expressed by an overprotective, perfectionistic training of her child will see these very attitudes in full operation when the grandchild arrives. Note that at the time of such training, the mother’s intent is to help the child and save him from costly errors. The mother feels anxious and insecure. Certainly the last thing she wishes to hear is that she is a god-player. But she is. Look at her damaged child. The child is a human sacrifice offered in worship to mother.

Mothers and fathers can do even worse things to their children, however, than to overdirect them. A much more destructive way of damaging children is to withhold discipline from them. The child is then permitted, we are told, to grow up naturally. After all, how will the child learn self-discipline if he is constantly inhibited by external parental discipline? Why restrain the basic goodness of a child?

The reason the parent withholds discipline from his child is because the parent wishes to live without discipline. We can hardly expect much else. The parent builds his philosophy of life into his task of child-rearing, and if the parent is ultimate—that is, under no higher authority, hence, not under God—then we can hardly expect him to impose a discipline upon his child, except possibly for some self-serving reasons.

It follows, too, that a parent who defaults in disciplining his child will rather concentrate on building his ego. The child is handed buckets of encouragement and praise, not to mention a number of well-chosen bribes which are dangled before him to activate his egoistic glands and muscles. The parents sincerely feel that their child has no problem with sin—that is, with god-playing. There is nothing wrong with the child. The child, we are told, simply needs love, praise, encouragement, and still more love, praise, and encouragement. The egocentric parents also want love, praise, and encouragement for their own lives, feeling that there is nothing wrong with themselves. They feel they are essentially lovable, worthy of praise, and headed in a direction in life which merits encouragement. As for god-playing, this does not register with them as a problem. So why should it be a problem to the child?

Eventually, such children become a terrible problem to themselves, not to mention a burden to others. When this happens, the current professional advice is to listen to the child. Really listen to him. And of course, no one denies that this is good, but if all we do is listen, it may do great harm. Mere listening may fortify the I-centeredness of the child. Just listening also encourages a person to further embed in his mind his sick feelings and faulty style of life. Of much more value than mere listening is for the child to be challenged, lovingly countered, invited to accept God’s terms for his young life. This entails the death of the I-centeredness—a benefit which mere listening can never bring.

If listening is not enough, neither is keeping the child happy, enough for the training of the child. Most parents feel that a happy, secure childhood, free from any difficult deprivation, is the most important foundation in the child’s life. It cannot be denied that this is important, but not so important as providing discipline and authority for the child.

We have some friends who are presently in the process of a divorce. They have children. Will the children be damaged by the divorce? Of course they will. They will receive less love. Yet the greatest danger in that situation is not the loss of love (because no child ever feels he gets enough of that anyway) but that with the severing of parental authority, the child will rush through the breach with only one parent (probably badly shaken from the divorce) around to stop him. That is how children from broken homes really get hurt.

My wife and I have some gifted friends who were childless for many years. They finally adopted two beautiful children—twins—and from that moment, smothered these children with nothing but love and affection. This was the way to insure that they would become normal, healthy adults, we were told. Today, the son is in prison, and the daughter has left home. Their poor parents still do not understand what went wrong. They tried so hard. They gave so much. But they seldom said no to them, never having realized that discipline is the highest form of love. Now the children hate the parents. There seems to be a law in the world which says that if authority-bearers default in the use of their authority, their children who are deprived of this blessing will rise up to destroy these “authorities.”

Not too long ago, a middle-aged man whose godplaying parents had showered him with all kinds of permissiveness sat in my study. He was slightly intoxicated but sober enough to say, “My problem is that nobody has cared enough or had the guts to say no to me. I am surrounded by nice people who are afraid to counter me, afraid to tell me that I am a damn fool for doing what I intend to do. Oh, for somebody to, cross me. That’s what I need. That’s why I’ve come.”

I do not agree with a colleague who said that this man was simply working out his sick dependency needs on me. I feel that man was exactly on target as to what he needed. I was careful, however, not to give him exactly what he wanted. If I had shouted “No!” to him, he would have revolted in his typically egoistic fashion. But I did counter his whole life in offering him new terms, new discipline, new counsel which he was free to accept or reject.

Were my parishioner a young child and were I his father, I would have used some loving coercion on him. This is precisely what our mothers used on us during our toilet-training. We could fight mother and she would still love us, but it had to be her way. This is a good parent. Many parents wish they had used this principle with their children’s piano lessons. After, say, a year, the child wants to quit. The parents foolishly say, “We leave it up to you.” What they should say is, “No. We want you to continue. You once made a decision to play the piano, but regardless of your feelings, continue. Now you have a half hour of practicing to do yet.”

Which all leads me in reflection to say that children need three basic things from parental authorities:

A. Loving coercion.
B. Loving limits to their behavior.
C. Loving love, by which I mean a love free from possessiveness and filled with patience, warmth, and acceptance.

I am tempted to add a fourth point to the effect that children need parents who will love themselves when they fail to meet these goals perfectly.

The key to being a good parent, I am sure, lies in being solidly positioned in the Kingdom of God. Anyone under God’s rule has settled the question of authority in his life, and now he can properly represent Authority to his children. Without God, parents are angrily authoritarian, which is the last thing a child needs. He needs loving, disciplining authority in his life.

Normally, a child will respond to authority with obedience. Those who insist that obedience damages the natural spontaneity of a child lead us astray. We know better, even from our experience with dogs. We all understand that a dog needs training. Without discipline, a dog grows up wild, hating himself and others. Dogs enjoy their lives when they are well-trained and disciplined. Would that we thought as much of our children as we do of our dogs! There is a way to stop raising trained dogs but wild children.

The way is God.

The Individual in Relation to His Authority-Bearers
God alone is Authority. But people do represent Him.

In the eyes of the egocentric person, Authority, as well as His authority-bearers, are the enemies of his life. These “enemies” parents, teachers, employers, policemen, judges, pastors, doctors, lawmakers, and so on—are a constant threat to his position as Number One in the world. The egoist resists the imposition of external authority upon his life. God and His surrogate authorities are experienced as dangerous intruders bent on the egoist’s destruction. “God hates me,” reported one man who told me in detail how he spent sixty years of his life under his own authority.

The I-centered person, in a word, wants to run his own show without any outsiders messing things up. He wants to be self-controlled. He calls that self-discipline. He has childlike faith in his childlike self. He believes with all his little heart in his I-will-power.

This self-discipline enslaves us. My friends in Alcoholics Anonymous tell me that practicing alcoholics are self-disciplined. They are living under the discipline of the Big I with all the willpower that is in them. When a person abandons will-powered self-discipline and gets under Higher Power, he becomes a free man. As one member put it bluntly, “I tried self-discipline with my alcoholism and my diarrhea. My approach had no noticeable effect in stopping either problem.”

20Self-discipline keeps us slaves to ourselves in the Kingdom of I. I want now to sketch how coming under authority-bearers tends to free us as persons. Following this, we will see that for one to really become free indeed, he will need to deal with Authority Himself. Two brief examples now of the liberation we experience when we submit to authority-bearers.

Think of the adolescent person. Recall how he resists his parents when they set limits for him. The normal adolescent has episodes in which he kicks against, fights, vilifies, and not infrequently hurts his parents. Most of us parents are both stunned and frightened by what we see happening in our child. “How can this be in one who was such a beautiful baby and well-mannered boy?”

If, at this point, the parent resigns as a parent, as so many today do, we know what will happen to the child. Without the restraints of parental discipline, the child will fall apart. It is almost as if he shakes himself to pieces because there is no hand to steady him.

Hopefully, the parent will retain his role as parent, continuing to hold his position of authority with a firm, loving hand. Almost invariably, as the period passes, the child will come to terms with the parent and be the more mature because of it. When the parental authority-bearer patiently does his job, he is really laying a solid foundation in the child’s life so that the child can become free. Free from whom? Free from himself.

A second illustration of freedom through discipline is found in patients who come voluntarily for treatment to a mental hospital. Today the major reasons for entering a mental hospital are: (1) an uncontrollable addiction; (2) attempted suicide or homicide; (3) other kinds of irresistible compulsions; (4) depression. When a person with any of these problems voluntarily admits himself to a hospital, almost without fail he is amazed to find that his symptoms almost disappear after a week or ten days. The change is almost miraculous. Hard-core drug addicts often report that they no longer desire heroin. The moment they leave, however, the addiction returns full-force.

Not too long ago, two of my alcoholic parishioners discovered some vodka which a thoughtless visitor had left under a tree on the grounds of the hospital.

“Here was this bottle of Smirnoff’s staring us right in the face. Would you believe us, Chaplain, that neither of us even wanted a drink of it? We could have drunk it and gotten away with it (because vodka leaves no odor on the breath), but we decided to turn it in to the ward nurse.”

I was glad with these men for their victory over alcohol. Their voluntary submission to God’s authority as represented by the hospital, gave them this freedom.

More is needed for real freedom, however, than mere submission to an authority-bearer such as a hospital. One must go on to voluntary submission to God if one is to receive lasting freedom. “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Sad to say, one of these men began drinking soon after leaving the discipline of our hospital. Without the hospital and a central place for God in his life, he became his own authority—with the inevitable results.

All this leads me to state in a sentence the main thesis of this chapter: We are to be subject to no man but God—yet we are to be subject unto God through human authority-bearers. My point is simply that submission to God without the mediation of authority-bearers is often just another way of talking to ourselves, because in that private dialogue between God and the soul, we can often get God to say most anything we want Him to say. On the other hand, submission to authority-bearers without submission to God is a return to the worship of man. Inseparably join the two—submission to God and authority-bearers—and we are in the Kingdom of God. This kind of obedience brings us authentically and realistically under God’s control.

Most people, I find, think that submission to God is all that is required. It is sufficient, several have pointed out to me, just to deal with God. I once believed this myself and even recommended it from a pulpit. These were the days when I neither sought nor felt I needed the counsel of fellow Christians. After all, why consult with them when I could talk directly with God?

I’d like to answer that question. Why consult the advice of a brother in Christ? Because, quite honestly too often I cannot tell the difference between the voice of God and the voice of my own egoism. Too many times I have claimed to be following the will of God when everyone around me knew perfectly well I was following the will of Earl. Had I only turned to a brother or sister in Christ and asked for his impartial counsel and then accepted it, I would have avoided a rendezvous with my own folly.

A brother in Christ as a spiritual adviser is now someone without whom I cannot live. It has gotten through to me that God can never be separated from His people. There is a triangle in my life composed of God, another theocentric person, and myself as a theocentric person—
triangle of life

The linear relationship between God and myself is surely basic and needful, but the triangular relationship is even more needful, because it corrects what I hear God saying to me in the linear. God speaks to me through my brother in Christ. My spiritual adviser is the primary bearer of God’s authority into my life, I see God in him. I hear the voice of God through my adviser.

“I envy you,” someone might say, “with such a wonderful spiritual adviser in your life. Such a strong person! So wise, too! I just don’t have any people like that in my life. Too bad for me.”
Would you allow me, my friend, to be your spiritual adviser for a few minutes? I have something to say on behalf of the Lord we both serve.

What I hear from my spiritual adviser is frequently something I don’t want to hear. At times he will cross my will and then just patiently stand there until I have the humility to become obedient. Sometimes it takes me a month to raise all my objections and play out the procrastination game before I get around to doing what is suggested. The rule I now follow is that unless my Christ-representative’s advice is clearly contrary to the Word of God and my conscience, I will just do it. Do it out of obedience to God. I don’t have to like His will—I just have to do it.

I disagree with you—flatly and completely. I don’t agree that my spiritual adviser is a special breed of spiritual giant. Neither would he, incidentally, agree with you. In addition, we both feel that God has a spiritual adviser for every one of His people, yourself included.

You have an image in your mind of a spiritual adviser who would have the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job, and the brilliance of Paul. There is no such person—not in your life, nor in mine. My spiritual adviser is a very ordinary Christian with ordinary talents. He does possess, however, one virtue which fully qualifies him for his role: God has given him a genuine humility—a demonstrable humility—which is proven by the fact that he has chosen to place himself under a spiritual adviser. It is the fact that he is verifiably under submission to Christ through his spiritual adviser, that qualifies him to be one to me.

“But I still don’t see that kind of a person in my life,” you respond.

It may be true—but it need not be. Why would it not be possible for you to approach a Christian friend and have an agreement that you would cross-advise each other? Why could you not meet regularly to share your lives and seek the Lord’s will through each other’s prayers and advice? Would that not place you both under the authority of Christ in a tangible way?

“Should not such a person be a pastor?” He may be, but not necessarily. Look only for someone who knows Christ and is led by the Holy Spirit.

“What if he gives me the wrong advice?” Do nothing against your conscience but everything against your willfulness. Begin with those issues where you can both agree that the advice is the will of God.

As your temporary spiritual adviser, I have a suggestion to make: Ask God for such a person in your life. Here is a prayer you can use:

Heavenly Father, I now understand that I need a spiritual adviser in this relationship with You. Lead me to the person You have in mind for me. Reveal the person’s name to me. And once I know this person, give me the freedom to speak up and share my need. You be the power for all this—both in me to ask, and in the other person to accept. I believe that my prayer has already been answered. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

There are other people besides spiritual advisers who represent Christ to us. Indeed, we should see Christ in our employers, in the local policemen, in ecclesiastical courts, in government officials, in the law of the land, etc. We can affirm the words of Peter in the New Testament as consummate wisdom:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. (1 Peter 2:13-14)

Paul says the same thing:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed. (Romans 13:1-2)

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ . . . doing the will of God from the heart. (Ephesians 6:5-61)

“But how far does this obedience go?” someone asks. “Does one blindly obey a corrupt law? And when the authority-bearer is obviously in error, what are we to do—support him in his folly?” Two examples:

A twelve-year-old boy was in great distress when his father said to him, “You must pass this exam. If you must cheat to pass it, cheat. Just don’t get caught. But you must pass the exam.” What counsel would you give such a boy?

A friend of mine who is in business asked me, “My employer insists that I falsify some figures in an important report. I run the risk of being fired if I do not cooperate. What should I do?”

These are tough questions, so we must brace ourselves for some demanding answers.

We are to obey authority-bearers only insofar as they conform to the law of God. When human authority is in conflict with God’s authority—and we may need spiritual counsel from other people in the Kingdom of God to know when that point is reached—it seems to me that we have no alternative but to disobey. We are to transcend human authority and be subject to God alone at such a time.

I don’t know whether my brief explanation in the preceding paragraph satisfies you or not. I know it would not satisfy my parishioners, who are mental patients. Such a person would probably say to me, “So what do I do? How do I handle such a situation? Okay—you’ve give me the general principle but how do I apply it?”

I would suggest three concrete actions.

A. Love the disobedient authority-bearers. Our first duty is to look to ourselves rather than immediately to the sins of others. The need for this action is very great, because faults in the authority-bearer have a way of drawing out our egotism. His sins evoke in us judgment, haughtiness, self-righteousness, anger, violence, et cetera.
It is so important, therefore, to love the “enemy” the more so when he is undeniably wrong. It is our task to correct our attitude toward him and express to him Christ’s love through us, both in friendly words and selfless deeds.
B. Pray for the disobedient authority-bearer. He sorely needs your prayers. Ask God to lead him away from sin. Pray that the Holy Spirit will give him a change of heart so that he will abandon his wicked plans. Draw upon the limitless power of God to change the “impossibles” in this conflict.
C. React non-violently. This means that we refuse to comply with what is unlawfully demanded of us. Indeed, it is our duty to violate corrupt laws and attempt to substitute just laws in their place.

A classic model of non-violent reaction is found in the early Church soon after Pentecost. The religious authorities “arrested the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out and said, ‘Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life”’ (Acts 5:18-20). The apostles did as the angel commanded until once again they were arrested and brought before the Council. Peter bluntly told them, “We must obey God rather than men” (v. 29). After beating the apostles, the Council charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus. But they did. “And every day in the temple and at home, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (v. 42).

It is difficult, as we all know, to know just when to resist and when to comply. Sometimes we are awake all night trying to figure out where to draw the line in our lives between the lawful and unlawful. We search and investigate until we are weary, trying to determine whether a given authority-representative is under the law or above it.

These difficult choices clearly illustrate the need for a spiritual adviser in our lives. God will use such a person to free us from an ego-biased decision. Understand, of course, that we do not ask the spiritual adviser to make our decisions. The spiritual adviser is vested with advisory power—not the power of decision. Each person is responsible before his Lord for his own decisions.

It is true, also, that God can and does speak directly to a person through the Holy Spirit. When we are brought before governors and kings, we are not to be anxious about what we are to say, for the Holy Spirit will tell us what to speak (Mark 13:11). The Holy Spirit is speaking directly to the hearts of His people today as never before, praise the Lord. By conferring with a spiritual adviser, however, as to the content of the Holy Spirit’s revelation to us, we have a sure way to confirm that it is indeed the Holy Spirit speaking to us, rather than our human spirits or evil spirits.

What is really at issue here, is whether one is ready to hear the truth about himself. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth. We should be so willing to hear His truth that we would not be at all concerned about the quarter from which it is coming. Ideally, the Spirit’s truth should be welcomed from any person who calls Jesus, Lord. Because of our spiritual weakness, this kind of openness to the truth may be too intense for us.

So we begin, therefore, with one person, whom I have been calling a spiritual adviser. We ask him to tell us the truth about ourselves.

This is the beginning of what the Bible calls “living in the light.”

Let us now go on to look at two, ways which claim to bring us into the light but do not. They are egocentric religion and humanistic psychology.

Read Chapter 7
19 This is one of the most profound descriptions of unregenerate man that I have ever come across.

20 Self-discipline does not enslave us to ourselves if we are in Christ. If not self-discipline, where will the discipline come from? God’s word may tell me what to do, but will never make me do what it says to do. I must discipline myself to do it. Moreover, I must discipline myself to be sensitive and yielded to God’s word in the first place. God never does for us what we should do for ourselves. Although God gives us our daily bread, he does not sit at the table with us and feed us just the right amount of food and drink for the day. We must discipline ourselves to prepare what God has provided and further discipline ourselves to ingest only what we need.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” “I keep under my body” is the rendering of the text of some weak manuscripts. A better translation is buffet, or maul (the RSV has pommel). The thought, of course, is that of personal discipline. Walking with God demands personal sacrifice and self-discipline. Sacrifice of things not necessarily evil, but which prevent the full devotion of the soul to God - such as, pleasures and worldly pursuits. In an era of luxury, like the present time, Paul’s words have real significance for the serious servant of Christ.

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