The Character Refinement Set
and the Social Christian
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 1 June 2002
"Truly, this only I have found: That God (Elohim) made man upright, But they have sought out many schemes" (Ecclesiastes 7:29, NKJV)
Making friends in a new country or in a new place can be hard. You may find a different language and a different set of customs so utterly different from your own. Having lived in four different countries during my life I know how disconcerting this can be. But imagine living abroad for many years and then returning to the country of your origin to find that it has changed so much in your absence that you not only find it hard to recognise but feel a stranger in it. Many expatriates - people who have gone abroad and then returned to their homeland - go through this and are amazed by the speed at which people and places change - not so much outwardly, but in their attitudes and ways. The changes that have been taking place in Western nations over the past half century since the end of the Second World War are taking place at a terrifying speed. Technologically we are seeing many wonders unfold before our eyes but spiritually and morally we are returning to something far worse than the dark ages - we are returning to our dark, pagan past.
Solomon said: "Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, But they have sought out many schemes". Now this word "schemes", also translated "inventions" (KJV) is a quaint one: it means devices arising from man's self-love. Yahweh-Elohim made man upright, normal, perpendicular, regular - like the Elohim. But instead he has sought out many devices or schemes, many ingenious twistings away from the normal. And the twistings he calls "normal" and the normal he calls "twistings". And all this because of self-love. The prophet Isaiah warned:
"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
And prudent in their own sight!"
The fall of man instigated by fallen angels or demons is about twisting things. And the fall of man and of angels is all about self-love.
In addition to making us upright and normal, Yahweh-Elohim also created us to be socially-minded. Thus the social "me" means recognition by a set (or group), and this is a wonderful influence with us all. For instance, a boy who is good and mild to his father and mother at home may swear like a trooper when he is with another set such as at school, not because he is bad or evil, but because he wants to be recognised and accepted by his set. You will find this is true through the whole of life. The Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) recognises this principle and regenerates it. Inevitably, we must be moulded by the set to which we belong whether we like it or not, and for this reason Yahweh may alter our special setting. We may affect or change any amount of individuality, but is remains true that we either grovel or strut, according to our realisation of how we are recognised by the set to which we belong.
Now be honest with yourselves. Is it not true that your behaviour changes when you are with different sets of people? You know it's true. You automatically try to please. You may be sweet and mild in one set but rude and bombastic in another. Your may be passive in one and active in another. You may be submissive in one but overbearing and arrogant in another. And it is an unhealthy way to be. After a while you may start asking yourself the question: "Who am I?" as your confusion mounts and you wonder which set you truly belong to. And at some point in your life you may make a choice and tell yourself: "I choose to be a part of this set" and you set about adjusting your life, consciously and unconsciously, until you have blended in and feel comfortable. In some cultures there may only be one set, in which case you have never known anything else. Typically, if you have grown comfortable with your set, you may judge all other sets as being "bad". Most Muslims, for instance, are accustomed to thinking that their way of life is normal and upright and that everything else - especially in the West - is part of what they call the "Great Satan". Most secular liberals, by the same token, view religion is "bad" and they may well believe, albeit it subconsciously, that their atheistic liberalism is normal and upright, since that is all they have ever known. And the more they see it in other Western nations, the more convinced they will be that it is "right" - not because they have thought through the values of the set but because that is all they have ever known.
Though this may be an uncomfortable thought to those who pride themselves in being highly individualistic because of their own decision-making processes, it is a fact that what they are are formed by is the wider set or culture in which they find themselves in. The God-given drive to be a part of a set is what has made them what they are.
The Bible unapologetically teaches us that we cannot develop a holy life alone. Such a life would be a selfish life, without God in it and wrong, no matter how much we meditate about, or pray to, God. Yah'shua (Jesus) was accused of being a glutton and a drunk because He lived so sociably amongst men (Mt.11:19; Lk.7:34). And in His High Priestly Prayer, He prays that Yahweh not take them out of the world but keep them from the evil one (Jn.17:15). The apostle James reaffirms this when he admonishes us to remain unspotted from the world, implying that we must necessarily remain in it and not start longing for an escape to heaven (Jas.1:27). The first place that Yah'shua (Jesus) took His disciples was to a marriage feast and you will remember that the final triumphant gathering of the saints is a heavenly marriage feast. We were created to be amongst many people.
The question therefore is not so much what "I" as an individual should be doing (important a question though that is) but which set should I be in? Which set should be forming me? Which is the set in which I can let my guard down, relax, participate and merge, as it were? Which set is to be my natural, spiritual home? What set am I going to allow myself to be formed in so that I may experience the security and spiritual cosiness which can in any case only come from such things?
We can answer that on two levels, the first of which is the most important, and from which the second ought to be flowing.
"Jesus (Yah'shua) ... said ..., "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (Jn.4:23-24, NKJV)
I want you to notice these words, "and we will come to him and make Our home with him". The first and most important set is the fellowship of the Godhead - Yahweh, Yah'shua (Jesus), and all the Elohim. This is the set in which the newly-born Christian is placed in. It is the fellowship of heaven. Here is where the real character-forming takes place. Here is where security lies. Here one will be loved and cherished at all times. To be in this set, therefore, is the most important priority. It is not a visible set like a human one where you can see your friends and companions, but an invisible one. That's a hard concept for most to grasp and yet it is vitally true.
Do you remember when Yah'shua said to His disciples that He would be shortly leaving them, and how the disciples reacted with horror at the thought? They had shared their lives with Him for nigh on three years - they had eaten, slept, and walked with Him. He had literally grown on them. And being as He was such a wonderful man who acted like a magnet because of His goodness and holiness, the thought that He would suddenly leave their little apostolic set was enough to cause them a major inner crisis. And you will remember how they all felt when He was nailed to that cross and died. There was a feeling of finality about it all - as though the set - that special fellowship of love and intimacy - was gone for ever. They were demoralised, devastated, and felt complete hopelessness. They all returned to what they had know before. Yes, they returned to their old set - to their families in Galilee and to their old trades. That's all they knew. Two sets - the one before Christ came into their lives, and the one when He lived among them. They had no other set to go to.
That's why when people get disillusioned with a church, for example, they go back to whatever they were or had before. If they were atheists before they joined a church, then it is atheism to which they usually return. Not all, but most. We return to what we knew before. That is why former Satanists, who have been let down by Christians who have failed them, go back to the only thing they know, even though the set was one of pain and horror. That was what the Israelites felt when they started doubting Yahweh's love and care of them in the wilderness - they wanted to return to the old slavery mindset in Egypt. Do you see how important, therefore, the set really is? The moment we start doubting God, we automatically slip back to old mindsets, as though we are somehow connected to them by an elastic band. It's a very frustrating phenomenon, but it is nonetheless true.
Yah'shua knew, and knows, how hard breaking away from old sets can be. He also knew how dangerous it can be when visible attachments can become idolatrous. None of His disciples wanted Him to go. They walked, and lived, and spiritually breathed in His very shadow - in the shadow of the Master from Galilee who did so many wonderful things. But He knew this was unhealthy - not because Christ is unhealthy, but because any kind of physical attachment can have the adverse affect of drawing people away from the spiritual, which is unseen. We are to love and adore Christ, yes, but it is not His physical self that we are to feel such attachments for. That is why He told them that their moment of full spiritual liberation would come when He had gone from them, for then - and only then - would they be freed to do miracles even greater than He had done amongst them. Only by having Him invisible could they properly connect to His true essence, which is spiritual.
And it's true. Compare the writings of Paul with the other disciples. He never walked with Yah'shua (Jesus) face-to-face, and yet how poverty-stricken we would be without, for instance, the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians! The deepest and most sublime truths were revealed to the apostles after Yah'shua (Jesus) had risen and was taken from their sight.
Now I stress this because you cannot ever come to know, love and appreciate someone for who they are, until they are out of your sight. That is not to deny that we are physical beings, or that we do not need one another's physical presence to make close associations; but it is to say that in order to know the deepest and highest aspect of anyone, you do need to be physically separated for a period. Our physical separation from Christ is, of course, only for a while, and there is not one amongst us who loves Him who does not anticipate with eagerness and joy the reunion we shall have with Him at that second Cana, that marriage feast in heaven. My point is simply this: to enjoy the greatest intimacy with the Elohim requires that they be invisible to us for a period, and that period is this life span. We may not like it, but that is only because we are constantly being pulled by carnal forces in a direction opposite to spirituality. In is in their physical absence that we actually grow the most. It may not be pleasant, but it is necessary.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is well known to you all, but perhaps some of you may not realise that on one level the departure of the younger son from his home is also our departure from heaven to come and live on earth. The elder son is a type of the angels who chose to remain behind. Who amongst us has not, at some point, however briefly, found ourselves grovelling in the pig-swill of sin, realised our awful condition, and yearned to return home to God? Many, if not most, don't go back. They lose all willpower. Or they believe that their Heavenly Father will not have them back because they are so spiritually soiled. But I assure you He is waiting for every man, woman and child who has gone off the path. Every one of them, however dary their dye. He scans the spiritual horizon every day, longing to glimpse a sight of a repentant soul wanting to come home again. And he waits, day after day, His heart stretched out, because His heart is broken and lonely without His children.
Christ's departure from this sphere of mortality stretched the disciples' hearts. They honestly felt - and probably all of them - that God had abandoned them. I am sure they complained. I am sure they felt deserted, marooned. I am sure they felt sorry for themselves. I am sure they feared what the world would think of them. I am sure they loathed the sarcastic comments of the Jews who said: "See, He couldn't even save Himself. Yahweh abandoned Him just as He has abandoned you." And I am sure they believed it. Their faith weakened, their once bursting hearts felt like empty wineskins. They felt abandoned.
Fifty days after His ascension into Heaven, on the Day of Shavuot or Pentecost which we recently celebrated, Yah'shua returned in an unexpected way. He returned through an outpouring of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). And the disciples were filled in a way they had never been filled when Christ was physically among them. No, He was no longer visible, but His spirit was there, and more than ever before. For the first time they became spiritully-minded! Don't forget that whilst the Master was amongst them, Peter became the voice of Satan and tried to stop Yah'shua (Jesus) from going to His death, the same Peter denied His Master three time, Judas betrayed Him, John was concerned about his own personal glory in the afterlife, the apostles quarrelled with themselves, and generally displayed all the stupidity of the human condition. It was not until they were alone and experienced Christ from a physical distance that they began to understand who He really was. It wasn't until then that they began to really know Him. And it wasn't until Pentecost that they were truly liberated.
The set in which Yahweh wants us placed first of all is the invisible set of the Godhead. He wants us to have a life in the Elohim. He wants us to "see" with our spiritual senses and not with our carnal ones, because until we learn to do that, our judgement is always going to be faulty. It's like I said last week - when we are not operating in the spirit of the Torah we get bogged down in the letter and end up as legalists. We end up defining people and circumstances through external effects instead of spiritual causes.
Our primary concern, therefore, must be to live in the Godhead Set. That means a personal relationship with Christ - not something theoretical, but something alive and real. And that can only be cultivated by a careful investment of time in reading Scripture and earnest prayer. Only in this way can we become preserving salt and shining lights. Only in this way will we prevent ourselves from losing our savour and from casting shadows everywhere we go when we cover our lights with bushels of selfishness.
If salt gets into a wound, it hurts; and when God's children get amongst those who are "raw" towards Yahweh - and remember that every immoral person is an open wound towards God - then their presence hurts us. For this reason we are commanded to keep away from such sets save to witness to them. We are not to identify with them and so find ourselves adopting their values and ways. Such is spiritual suicide.
A man or woman who is not right with Yahweh is an open sore, and when the salt of truth gets into it, the pain stirs him first to annoyance and distress, and then, finally, spite and hatred. That is why Yah'shua (Jesus) was hated. He was a continual annoyance. Nothing is cleaner, or more wonderful, or grander, or sweeter than light. Light cannot be soiled. A sunbeam may shine into the dirtiest puddle, but it is never soiled. A sheet of white paper can be soiled, so can almost any white substance, but you cannot soil light. Men and women who are rightly related to Yahweh can go and work amongst the most degraded set of humanity where all kinds of immorality is present, without being defiled because Yahweh keeps them like the light. But if you don't have that purity of spirit the degraded set will corrupt and soil you. That is why we are to keep away from it until we have likewise had our Pentecost and been properly endowed with spirituality.
The second set, after the Elohim Set, is the Church or Assembly Set. We must have fellowship with the Godhead but equally we must have fellowship with the Body of Christ. That is what makes us sociable. And Yahweh, you will find, insists that we keep together in fellowship! In the natural world it is only by mixing with other people that we get the corners rubbed off. It is the way we are made naturally, and Yahweh takes this principle and transfigures it. Paul said:
"Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb.10:25, NIV).
Next week I want to talk more about how the fellowship of believers develops our spirituality and why this set is so vitally important. Without it, we can never break out of self-love and into Body-love where the greatest freedom and happiness lies. Amen.
Click here for Part 2
This page was created on 26 May 2002
Last updated on 26 May 2002
Copyright © 1987-2007 NCCG - All Rights Reserved