God’s Church the Place to Change

By John Thiel, mp3

Scripture reading: 2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord [is], there [is] liberty. 18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord.

You must be born again – these are the words which Jesus expressed to a leader in the Jewish church at that time. This man was a worshipper of the true God; he had been established in the faith of the Jewish church, concerning which Jesus Himself said to the woman at Samaria, Salvation is of the Jews. He had a personality and a character that had been established over years; he was brought up in the Jewish faith. And Jesus came to him and he found it very difficult to understand at first, but finally it dawned upon him. Jesus was actually trying to tell him something. What was He trying to tell him by saying, You must be born again? The way you are at this present time, you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven. This is what He was saying. You must change; you must start all over again. You must be born afresh. Start from scratch, start from the very beginning of a little baby being born

The man was in a struggle with this and he was starting to quibble a little bit with Jesus about that. But Jesus made it quite plain. A similar subject comes to us now. The subject of being born again is bandied about by the churches of today and they say it happens once in a lifetime. But the true doctrine of new birth was understood by the pioneers of Adventism to mean that it is a process of time which is completed when Jesus comes. The final perfection of new birth will be completed just before Jesus comes to welcome us home. This is the way the pioneers understood new birth.

The issue that lies before each one of us, whether we have been long in the faith or not, is that the way we are at this present time still needs to be changed. I am not good enough yet. That is a thought that threw Nicodemus into a disputing attitude towards Christ. “What are you talking about? How can I come into my mother’s womb again?” He was trying to parlay the subject, and Jesus was saying to him, “Sorry; you must change.” And so it is with all of us.

The Reason for Church Attendance

What is the reason that we come to church? What is the reason in attending church, and being part of God’s church? What is the purpose of it? There are many reasons that the masses of professed Christianity come to church for: It is a time of spiritual sociability, a time to worship God, a time to be active in promoting the gospel, a way to provide an environment for our children so that they can be brought up in the fear of God. But in today’s circumstances very few really engage consciously with the real purpose of being part of God’s church. There is no satisfactory reason for being part of the church, or of any church, if this reason is not paramount in our mind. The following scripture shows the purpose of God’s church. God has given gifts for the church and its experience.

Ephesians 4:8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. … 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

What did He give those for? Why is the church there as a ministry?

Ephesians 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

Here is the purpose of God’s church. It is the primary reason for having a church; there is no other reason than this. The purpose is that through His church we would be changed. Here is the expression of this change:

Ephesians 4:22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. 25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

We have to put off the old man, the old way of me. My natural way has to be laid off and  replaced by a new person; and it is a new person that is being sanctified and cleansed so that ultimately a church would exist that has not spot or wrinkle or any such thing. There is to be a change from my natural self. This is the real reason for affiliation with God’s church. And unless the servants of God in the church give their full attention to this work as the central purpose of their ministry, they are wasting their energies. The purpose of ministry is what is written in Ephesians 4:11-13 – to ultimately be presented before God without sin, without a fault in the character. It is the work of the church to lead the people to new birth and conversion through to the end.

Continual Reform

We are to come to the realisation that we are dissatisfied with ourselves, that our natural state of being, even at this time, is still in need of being changed. This is difficult for the nature within us. We think, Surely, now I must’ve come to the point where I can feel comfortable that I am what God wants me to be. My natural self is very dear to me; it’s the only thing I know by experience; it’s mine. And to change that is not a comfortable thought. I still have to change. I have to become a better person. Interestingly enough, the church that was separated in the First World War was called the Seventh-day Adventist Church Reform Movement. That was an important name, because the church is to be made up of a people who are reforming.

Reform, continual reform, must be kept before the people; and your example should enforce your teachings. {4T 568.4}

The case of Daniel was presented before me. Although he was a man of like passions with ourselves, the pen of inspiration presents him as a faultless character. His life is given us as a bright example of what man may become, even in this life, if he will make God his strength and wisely improve the opportunities and privileges within his reach. {4T 569.1}

Reform into something that is different to what I was before and what I even am now. Continual reform is what must be kept before the people in God’s church, because God’s church is the place where God is purifying His people.

As the light of truth is received and followed out, it will work an entire reformation in the life and character of all those who are sanctified through it. {2T 60.2}

The church is the household of God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). So the church of God is to have the truth within it, because it is the light of truth received and followed out which will work an entire reformation in the life and character of all those who are sanctified through it. This is what association with God’s church is all about. Every member is occupied with the mammoth task of a character change.

Christ’s Longing Desire

At no time on this side of Christ’s return can we say, I don’t need any more changing. If we were in that position Jesus could have already come.

“When the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.” Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. {COL 69.1}

Do I still need some changing? It is as obvious as anything; otherwise Jesus would have come already. The change, the reformation of character, is something that will go on until Jesus will see Himself reflected in His people, and then He will return. So the church is a place where He is purifying His people so that when the fruit is brought forth He can come. The Scripture is explicit on this matter. In what follows there is here a comfort, that although I have to change, I am not disqualified because I haven’t changed completely yet.

1 John 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God,

We are the sons of God, because we are part of His church,

1 John 3:2 …and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

So when He comes, we will be like Him. And what are we to do now?

1 John 3:3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

He is changing, and he is embracing the ministry of God’s church to produce that change, because he has the hope that when Jesus comes He is going to be like Him; so he purifies himself under this ministry.

How sick are we of the human suffering which is escalating around us as we look at the events of the world today? Do we desire to see the end? Then if we desire to see the end of all this suffering, what naturally is the message for us in this? We can do something about it. The Scripture says it plainly; it is in our hands to hasten the coming of the Lord Jesus. And how are we going to hasten it? By deliberately taking hold of and letting the ministry of God’s church achieve the purpose that God has for His church to change us, and not dillydallying, thinking, Well, I should be alright by now. Nothing like that. I am to continually stand before the light that comes through the cross of Jesus Christ and see myself in contrast to the glory that I see in God’s wonderful gift.

The church that is to be under the spiritual guidance of the Holy Spirit and His ministry.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord [is], there [is] liberty. 18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord.

We want to consider the change and the map of our experience in the character change that is to be ours, and understand this important purpose of God’s church in the truth.

Consequences of Self-Indulgence

As we come from a life of occupation with me, with myself, a life of self-indulgence, doing the things that I like to live by, that I love doing, that I enjoy; if I continue to do those things of the natural human nature, I am going to suffer the consequences. And the consequences are experiences of affliction. Because affliction comes as a consequence of doing the wrong thing, of having a faulty character, and of manifesting unChristlike deportment. What am I going to get from that? I will be afflicted. I will suffer the consequences of my character defects. And as I act like that, doing what I choose to do, responding the way I choose to respond, and suffering affliction as a consequence of it all, I am tossed about, and I wonder, Why is this happening to me? Have you gone through those experiences in your daily life? Why am I having trouble with my family? Why am I having trouble with certain situations of my daily life? Why is this happening?? Have you ever suffered the intense mental exercise of this?

What is the natural response within each one of us when I am going through a bad time with someone else as a consequence of my character defect? What do I always do? “If such and such a person wouldn’t be like this, I wouldn’t be like this.” Isn’t that the way we rationalise within our mind? “This person has spoken to me like that, and that is why I am reacting like this.” “If that person would change their approach to me, I would be able to change my approach.” Isn’t that the way we reason in the tribulation and the difficulties? Human beings are ever interacting with one another according to their character differences, and they suffer the consequences. But as we continue to go along this path and we tend to blame others because of our responses, ultimately the day comes when God steps in. And what happens when He does?

Isaiah 30:18 And therefore will the LORD wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD [is] a God of judgment: blessed [are] all they that wait for him. 19 For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more: he will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee. 20 And [though] the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers: 21 And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This [is] the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.

There is weeping, mourning, and human relationship entanglements; there is a weeping within myself, Why am I suffering under this? What is going on?? and God says, I have mercy on you. This is an important issue in itself. Never lose sight of the fact that He has mercy upon you, for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for Him. He says, I’m waiting for you; I’m waiting for this to happen so that I can be gracious to you. Because of your and my personality difficulties, God is waiting for us to go through the bread of adversity and the waters of affliction; and as I go through those unpleasant circumstances, the Lord is saying, I am having mercy upon you; I am going to teach you and help you through those teachers that are according to my heart. Thy teachers will not be removed in a corner any more,

Isaiah 30:20 …but thine eyes shall see thy teachers: 21 And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This [is] the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.

This thought is continued in Jeremiah 3, and this comes back to the importance of God’s church; we have to recognise it as the way where God is actually speaking to me through His ministry. Here He speaks to these backsliding children:

Jeremiah 3:13 Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the LORD thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the LORD. 14 Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you:

We are sons of God; He is married unto us. It is the church. I am married to the church, He says,

Jeremiah 3:14 …and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion: 15 And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.

We need understanding. Why is this happening to me? The Lord will feed me with knowledge and understanding, with the knowledge that the way I am at this present time has its consequences, and you and I are afflicted. But as He gives us the bread of adversity and the waters of affliction, He will show us through His teachers, through His church. This is why we are in the church, so that we can actually benefit in what God is doing to help us in His mercy.

Communication of the True Ministry

Indeed, He passes us by the ministry of His pastors, which are occupied with this most important work – the occupation of helping the flock to change. And what will these teachers according to God’s own heart communicate? What is the communication of the true ministry? This is the communication by which this change is to take place; God will give us this particular assistance to change me. Here are the words of the Holy Spirit:

Deuteronomy 32:2 My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass:

In this process of new birth, it is the work of the preachers and teachers according to God’s own heart that will communicate the doctrine that comes like rain. You have a certain rain at a certain time, and then it dries for a while, and you want some more; then it dries again for a while, and you want some more. You need that constant application of the doctrine to develop that character. Here is the doctrine that we are to concentrate on and that we are to embrace, so that my change can take place.

Proverbs 4:10 Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many. 11 I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. 12 When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.

What must I do?

Proverbs 4:13 Take fast hold of instruction; let [her] not go: keep her; for she [is] thy life. 14 Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil [men].

Stay under the ministry; don’t go where you will be mollycoddled in the wicked way. Go only where your path is going to be corrected by the things that He instructs. Take hold of the instruction. He will show us in His mercy, when we turn to the right hand and we turn to the left.

The message is very simple. It’s not a very complicated message really. God is literally assisting us through His word which we are to follow in our character change.

Jeremiah 6:16 Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where [is] the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.

As I am in this state of restlessness because of my character defects, there are instructions that God is giving me, and I am to ask for those instructions; I am to recognise the ministry. I am to ask for those instructions of the old school, the old ways, the old paths. And if I will follow that instruction, not just learn about it, but do it, walk therein, the rest to my soul will come; I will experience the mercy and the restfulness that comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ (because Jesus is the one who is speaking here). So we can recognise quickly, Here are the answers to my problem!

But this is why Jesus says, You must be born again. You must become as a little child, in childlike humility. I must be small in my own eyes to submit to that instruction. You see, a person who doesn’t really want to submit, feels uncomfortable being corrected. “I’m good here! there’s nothing wrong with me here; this is my particular right.” And if I am uplifted in my eyes about myself, can I receive instruction? It’s impossible. I cannot receive the instruction that God is trying to give me. But if we are small in our own eyes, if we are humble, and if we continue in that humility, then the work of God in helping us change blossoms into that new life. It does it. What will God do if we will heed what He is saying through His ministry?

Ezekiel 36:25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do [them].

This is the plan that God engages in with His church, if we will recognise why I am in this church. There is no reason but for this purpose of changing my character and my life. And if you go through tribulation because you are doing some things wrong in your character, don’t blame the church or anybody else; concentrate on what the Lord is saying to us. Let Him instruct you. I can’t testify strongly enough of this, because I am dealing with my own life here as I share this with you. If I submit my mind to the care of the church, and stop blaming the church for its wrongs towards me, I will discover my own. Because while I’m concentrating on feeling sorry for myself because the members in the church aren’t treating me right, if I think this, I can’t see my own faults. I can’t see them; I’m seeing everybody else’s. And there are plenty among the others that I can blame for my reactions. But when I am under the ministry, a change of attitude comes about. “I must be born again… oh…” If I have some wrong aspects in my life, then I must change them; I must be born again; I must alter my attitude.

Diligence in New Birth

When we first come to Jesus there is this burst of beautiful new life, and the old fairy tale attitude comes into action: And they lived happily ever after. But then, when something goes wrong after this, we think, Well, then I’m not born again. Oh yes, I’ve started; but I’m not finished yet. I’m still birthing; I am still coming to perfection.

God says, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and now I can teach you because you are childlike. You are now depending on me like a little child, and you will respond to all the instructions I give you.” That is the way God is working.

The initial burst of new life often fills us with an elation about what we are learning, and we think, Wow, I’m learning all these beautiful things! And then we think, Well, now I know these things; and then comes a period of great danger, because we have been illuminated by the things of God’s word, and we begin to look around us in God’s church and at others who are under the ministry of God’s church, and they are doing things that are not right in my own eyes; and not only in my own eyes, but God’s word says that this is what they should be doing, and I am in this terrible danger now, after having been illuminated, to become judgmental. And do not believe for one moment that you can have a new heart and not fall into judgmentalism; because I am not perfect yet. I can still fall into judgmentalism. But the childlike simplicity does not do this; it says, “Oh, danger here; I’m going to listen to God’s counsel instead of looking at the people around me.” This is the danger we are in; we see the imperfections in the church membership; we see people making mistakes, and we begin to stand aloof from them in our own minds many times; but sometimes it comes out in our conversations.

We start to think, Why is he/she doing that? and we come across from a perspective that is not under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We become full of zeal, we venture into that which is given only God’s servants to do, who have been delegated to help the church to recover itself. And if they do it, they do it under God’s direction, not under reactionism to another person’s fault. How long God is patient with us as He is changing us; and the ministry is careful not to push a person over the edge. But we tend to put the facts before the people before they can actually handle it.

Self-Appointed Zeal

The word of God gives us an example of this kind of dilemma that can happen in God’s church. Here is an example of someone who begins to do things outside of his realm because he sees a fault in the church:

1 Samuel 13:8 And [Saul] tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel [had appointed]: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. 9 And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering. 10 And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him. 11 And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and [that] thou camest not within the days appointed, and [that] the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; 12 Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering. 13 And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. 14 But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him [to be] captain over his people, because thou hast not kept [that] which the LORD commanded thee.

Can you see what Saul did here? Samuel made an appointment with him, and he wasn’t there. After seven days he was supposed to be there. And now the pressure of circumstances was upon Saul, and he said, You didn’t come according to your promise, so I forced myself to do the wrong thing. What an example. And it was a responsible response, wasn’t it? I needed to pray to God to help us! said Saul. Can you see the rationale? But it’s not according to God’s instruction, and this is what makes it faulty.

1 Samuel 15:17 And Samuel said, When thou [wast] little in thine own sight, [wast] thou not [made] the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?

When was he the king? When was he the one that was anointed of God? When he was little in his own eyes. What an object lesson. Where do our mistakes come from after we are enlightened and we have received a new heart and a new mind? They come from the fact that we forget that our character is not yet thoroughly changed, and we think we can rely upon our own judgment. This is what happened to Saul. He relied on his own judgment. He had a new heart; the Lord had given him a new birth; he was a new man, but now, in his judgment of things, he was referring back to his natural self. He was no longer small in his own eyes. So we forget where we came from; we forget that the Lord has in His mercy brought me to where I am now but that I’m still not perfect yet; and I am not to rely on my own judgment, as King Saul did.

Stay Small in Your Own Eyes

That makes you feel vulnerable, doesn’t it? That makes me feel very vulnerable. It actually sends shivers through me to think that I must submit myself to something that I can’t be absolutely sure (in my feelings) is the right thing to do. King Saul had circumstances around him that made him feel he had to act and do something; and he relied on his own judgment, instead of the counsel of the Lord. Here is the object lesson that we are to take home from this message. Don’t forget that when you are small in your own eyes the Lord can bless you. Stay small in your own eyes. To walk safely in character change I must remain meek and dependent, no matter how long I have travelled the path of change. I must remain meek, even though I have learned a lot. I love the Lord; my heart is His, and I feel absolutely secure in His mercy, but I must remain dependent upon Him like a little child. I can’t begin to throw my knowledge around in a way that is not God’s way.

Every Christian will be assailed by the allurements of the world, the clamors of the carnal nature, and the direct temptations of Satan. No one is safe. No matter what our experience has been, no matter how high our station, we need to watch and pray continually. We must be daily controlled by the Spirit of God or we are controlled by Satan. {5T 102.1}

It doesn’t matter whether I am born again or not. It doesn’t matter whether I have received a new heart or not. I still have to contend with my carnal nature – the clamors of the carnal nature, the direct temptations of Satan, and the allurements of the world, the circumstances of the world. If I am not totally dependent on the Lord, like a little child, my natural state of response will take control. I must be small in my own sight. No one is safe; and that includes me. You can see that unless I am practising what I am sharing with you here, I myself will be in grave danger of losing my way. Not until the second advent of Christ is our work of new birth complete.

The Christian life is constantly an onward march. Jesus sits as a refiner and purifier of His people; and when His image is perfectly reflected in them, they are perfect and holy, and prepared for translation. {AG 291.3}

This is when He will come, when they are prepared for translation.

A great work is required of the Christian. We are exhorted to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Here we see where the great labor rests. There is a constant work for the Christian. {AG 291.3}

None are living Christians unless they have a daily experience in the things of God and daily practice self-denial, cheerfully bearing the cross and following Christ. Every living Christian will advance daily in the divine life. As he advances toward perfection, he experiences a conversion to God every day; {AG 291.4}

Can you see? New birth every day.

…and this conversion is not completed until he attains to perfection of Christian character, a full preparation for the finishing touch of immortality. {AG 291.4}

This is where we are at under this message. Right to the very moment of Christ’s return we will feel imperfect in character. We will feel that way, and if I am going to continue to have a mentality that is in tune with the Lord, to be little in my own eyes like that, I will continue to let the changes take place. Although we might be righteous, no sense of righteousness will cause me to boast. I will not patronise others because I have been longer in the experience than they.

Imperceptibly to ourselves, we are changed day by day from our own ways and will into the ways and will of Christ, into the loveliness of his character. Thus we grow up into Christ, and unconsciously reflect his image. {RH, April 28, 1891 par. 2}

As we come up to the time when we see Jesus coming in the clouds, how will we feel? All faces will turn to paleness because Jesus will look us through and through. I will still feel imperfect. I will still feel small in my own eyes. And it is the words of Jesus “My grace is sufficient for you” that will lift up my spirit; and the paleness will disappear at that time.

Praise God that He has given us the answers to the purpose of our existence in the world and in the church, a purpose that I must bear in mind all the way through – I am not before God perfectly changed yet; I need to change, to be born again. I need to be different to what I am, and I need to take God at His wonderful word when He says, You are my son, even though you are imperfect; I am helping you, I am cleansing you, I am giving you messages by which you will be perfected. Let us, each one of us, submit to His instruction like a little child, and remain as a little child. May God bless us to do this.


(Illustration by Good News Productions, International, used under CC BY)

Posted on 14/03/2018, in Divine Service Sermons, The Pioneers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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