We are occupied in these days with that which is born of the Spirit, or, the new creation in Christ.
One might remind you of the two passages which are so familiar. The one is, as you know, in John 3:6: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit". The other is in 2 Corinthians 5:17: "Now if any man be in Christ there is a new creation, old things are passed away, behold all has become new and all things are out from God".
We are not here at this time so much concerned with the fact of the new creation, or of there being a birth by the Spirit, as we are occupied with the nature of that which is born of the Spirit and of that new creation. We are taking it for granted that all here know the fact that everyone can say out of their hearts that they know that they have been born of the Spirit and that they are a new creation, or that there is a new creation where they are concerned. But I think we all know very well that there is a very great difference between the fact of being born again and knowing all about that which has been born.
The Physical and the Spiritual Realm
We have all been born naturally or we should not be here, but it takes experts and specialists a whole lifetime to fathom what has been born. It is a line of the closest and most continuous study, is anatomy and physiology, and we are learning more and more how little we do know about ourselves after all - the workings of this human machine, all the inwards and outwards. We know very little about it after all, but it is very important that we should know something about it, that we should know the nature and the laws of our being. And we are discovering how necessary it is to be acquainted at least with some of the greater laws of our physical life in order that there may be a maintenance of life in fulness and health and enjoyment, and ignorance in that realm may lead to a good deal of suffering, weakness and loss.
Now, if that is true in the physical realm, it is also true in the spiritual realm. We are in the spiritual realm and while we may rejoice in the fact that we have been born anew from above of the Spirit and that there is a new creation in Christ Jesus where we are concerned, there is a very great deal of ignorance prevalent amongst the Lord's people as to the constitution, nature, and laws of their spiritual life. I am convinced that this is the reason for a very great deal of weakness and failure, spiritual limitation, and loss.
While we do not want to be occupied with ourselves but with the Lord, it is very important that we should know exactly what we are and how we are constituted and what are the laws of our new life. If we get that settled as fully as possible, once and for all, we should be on the other side of a very great deal of our trouble. And so we are thus occupied not so much with the fact, as with the nature of that which is born of the Spirit. And the first thing upon which we are going to dwell for a little while as the Lord enables, is that of the essential heavenliness and spirituality of that which is born of the Spirit, for the Word declares that "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit".
The Absolute Heavenliness in the Life of the Believer
Now we want the full force of that to come home to us. If the Word of God divides things, then we must recognise the division that the Word of God makes. If the Word of God divides between spirit and soul and body, then we must recognise that division and see once more that what has been born anew is not our bodies (I suppose we know that quite well!) also it is not our souls, for soul and spirit are not the same in the Word of God; they are divided. And that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, and there you get the heart of the whole matter, of the nature of that which is born of the Spirit, of the new creation. But it is especially upon the heavenliness of this thing that I want to lay the emphasis for I am quite sure that it is here that most of the confusion exists and most of the failure to apprehend the secret of power and victory and effectiveness, lies.
I believe that the Old Testament and the New Testament are occupied, perhaps more fully, with the tragic results of misapprehension in this direction than with any other thing; and that is a terrible thing to say. The history of Israel in the Old Testament, which is far more history of failure than success, which bulks far more largely in the realm of disappointment, weakness, and breakdown than in the realm of triumph, victory and progress, has its explanation on this very one thing. We will see that in a moment.
When you come to the New Testament, the bulk of the New Testament is written with this one thing in view. You begin in Romans and go into Corinthians, and into Galatians, into Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians and right on to Peter, James and John and you will find that the one thing in view is either actual, or threatening, spiritual failure - either actually or threateningly, spiritual failure. In some instances the failure is there in a bad form and the letters are written to correct things, to seek to recover spiritual ascendancy and spiritual power which has been lost. In other cases the thing is threatening, it is hovering over, moving round, and the writers see the perils and they write to warn and admonish. And if you get to the heart of all this, both as to actual conditions of failure and from threatening conditions of failure, you will find that both in the Old and New Testaments one thing that explains it all is a misapprehension, or a failure to apprehend the fact of the absolute heavenliness of the believer's life. Now you can write that down and carry that into the Word of God and test everything by that and you will find it is true.
The Recovery of Spiritual Position in the Old Testament
Go back to the Old Testament and you will find the Lord separating His people from Egypt in the most utter and complete separation - that not a hoof was to remain in Egypt. Then His designation of Israel was this: "My Son... out of Egypt have I called My Son" and to Pharaoh "Let My Son, my firstborn, go that He may serve Me". My Son... out from Egypt. And when you turn to the book of Nehemiah 8:17 in relation to, as you remember, the Feast of Tabernacles: "And of the assembly all that were come again out of the captivity made booths and dwelt in booths, for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun until that day had not the children of Israel done so and there was very great gladness". Now if you go back in that connection when the Feast of Tabernacles was established, Leviticus 23:34: "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, the fifteenth day of the seventh month is the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto Jehovah. On the first day shall be a holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein. Seven days shall ye offer an offering made by fire unto Jehovah: on the eighth day shall be a holy convocation unto you and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto Jehovah. This is a closing festival, ye shall do no servile work".
Now coming back to Nehemiah 8:13: "And on the second day were gathered together the heads of the fathers' houses of the people, the priests and the Levites unto Ezra the scribe to give attention to the word of the law. And they found written in the law how that Jehovah had commanded by Moses that the children of Israel dwelt in booths in the feast of the seventh month and that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount and fetch olive branches, and pine branches and myrtle branches and palm branches, and branches of thick trees to make booths, as it is written" etc..
Now, the interesting thing is that that carries you right back to the coming out of Egypt. And if you will follow that thought back in the mind and in the commanding of God, you will find that the Feast of Tabernacles, that is, the dwelling in booths, was a testimony to the nature of the people's life when they were brought out from Egypt. Egypt is the place of houses, is the place of earth settlement, where you become a fixture in the earth. The bringing out of Egypt was the rooting out of the earth, the absolute break with all earth ties, the destruction of everything that was permanent and stable on the earth and a bringing out into a place of detachment and separation where, so far as this world is concerned, everything is very tentative, loose and uncertain and, if you like, very precarious from the standpoint of the natural man, where you have no certain dwelling place, and where you do not in any way construct that which is permanent.
So the Feast of Tabernacles, the dwelling in booths, was to be maintained as a testimony that God has rooted His people out of the earth, and from time to time dwelling in booths they were to declare that they were a people of the heavens, out with God, absolutely separate. Now, it was going back upon that very principle and the violation or ignoring of that law which brought them into all their trouble. Every time they made some connection with the earth, when they formed a link in some way, they came down spiritually from their high place and touched things down here with interest, concern, purpose and expectation, or allowed circumstances to drive them, to harass them into some alliance of some kind, some earthly resource, that immediately became the ground of the loss of their power because it was the loss of their position. And the Lord stood back from them and their enemies took advantage of their lost heavenly position and so there ensued defeat, failure, weakness and suffering. And now you notice in Nehemiah it says: "For since the days of Joshua it had not been so..." but you are in Nehemiah!
Joshua, the book of the heavenlies, possessing the land, coming up by way of the Jordan, the full cutting off by the Jordan to go to possess the heavenlies... you are continually in booths in the heavenlies, in Joshua. But Judges sees the people come down out of the heavenlies; they have tolerated things which were commanded to be destroyed and that has brought about a grovelling earthward, a tie earthward. And Judges becomes the most tragic book of the Old Testament, perhaps with one exception: the book of Malachi. It is a book of defeat, failure and weakness all the way through, because they ceased to recognise the heavenliness of their nature. That is Joshua followed by Judges and on in successive experiences of defeat until you come to the great captivity, Babylon - the religious system of this earth, man-made, man-constituted and they are in that. And they have lost their heavenly position in the mountains of Jerusalem, high up, in which the Lord delights.
But Nehemiah sees a remnant returning, two out of twelve tribes coming back, and they are reinstating the Feast of Tabernacles to declare that they, as a remnant, are a heavenly people. Here they have come back to the heavenlies and the Feast of Tabernacles comes in again. That is one of the laws of all recovery - recovery of spiritual position, which is the recovery of spiritual power, the recovery of the might in God - one of the laws is that you recognise firstly the essential heavenly nature of the child of God. I know as a teaching that may be very familiar, yet I am quite sure that for every one of us, myself included, this is the key of the whole thing. If we get this settled, we are on the way for everything else, because you know it is the place that tests us, it is the place that tests everything. You do not understand that, of course. It wants a little enlarging. You see, we now belong to the heavenlies; that is, we are no longer of this earth, we are no longer a part of the system of this earth - religiously or otherwise. We are no longer governed by the standards of this earth and this world. No longer do men's judgments and failures control our actions, our course of things - they are not supposed to - they ought not to, and everything is tested by the place. Is this thing a heavenly thing? Did it originate in heaven? Has it come out of heaven? Is it governed by the heavenlies, or is this thing something that has come by man's judgment, reasonings, standards and values?
It is the place that tests everything. That is a difficult thing to say and get over to you, but you ask the Lord to show you what that means; but it is true all the way along in life and service. The test of everything will be: is this of heaven, or is it of man? Is this from above, or is this from below? Has this come from the Lord, or has this come along the earth level? Are we being governed by how men think and speak and judge and act, by the accepted traditions of men, religiously? Are we being governed by a system that has been set up here on the earth and because we are expected to do this thing, it is the right and proper thing to do according to all Christian tradition and the accepted order of Christian life, are we doing it because of that, or are we getting it straight from heaven? It is the place that tests.
The Recovery of Spiritual Position in the New Testament
Our new place in heaven. The Lord Jesus was an example from Jordan onwards of the new man according to God's heart, the new creation: that which is born of the Spirit. In this connection you noted there was never one moment or instant in the life of the Lord Jesus here on earth when He was influenced or governed by anything that was here on earth. If He ceded certain claims of man He only did so for the moment in case He was morally involved so that He accepted the supremacy of this world system, but He did so because there was nothing morally involved and nothing spiritually involved in it. He paid tribute. Every believer has to pay rates and taxes, there is no moral truth involved, but you note He had a reservation. His way of approaching that thing betrays (if I might use that word) a reservation about it "lest we be thought to be disputing their rightful claims, go to the sea and you will find a fish". Now He has a supernatural element in the whole thing and He is only doing the thing with a reservation. We do not recognise that the government of this world is the supreme government.
It is clearly manifested in the sending out of the twelve and the seventy; He first of all forbade them to go into the houses or places outside the Covenant. "Go not save unto the lost sheep of the House of Israel." Why? Because He was enforcing His rights within His own house historically; saying in effect, "You are going where I have rights. I have a right to be recognised, to be received and to be cared for. You go, and in My name your presence is a declaration of My rights; now, if they receive you not, shake off the dust..." etc., etc.. He has claims, heavenly claims, and He has that reservation all the time in His walk here, but it is not on that side that I am thinking particularly. The Lord Jesus was not governed by things here below, He never allowed what men thought was the right thing to do to govern His course and His conduct. He never allowed this world in any way to influence Him.
What was here as a system was not the thing that influenced His conduct. His own brethren said to Him one day concerning the Feast of the Passover, "Go up to the feast and do Your works openly, for no man doeth anything in secret but openly - for His brethren did not believe in Him". His attitude was, "I go not up to this feast - you go up - My time is not yet". They would try and influence Him by man's way of doing things and by argument that sounds quite good, "Don't do things in a corner secretly, come out into the open! If there is anything in Your claims at all, why not come out; do not do it in secret, prove that You have nothing to be ashamed of, let the world see." These are all very plausible arguments and might from the natural reason make some appeal, but He just puts them aside. "You can, I cannot; My time is not yet." When they had gone up then He went up; in the meantime He had discovered by fellowship with the Father, with the heavens, that the time had come for Him to go. His going up was under heaven's rule and not under earth's rule.
In the case of His own mother after the flesh, at Cana: "They have no wine...", "woman what have I in common with you" meaning, not as our Authorised Version would convey which is very harsh, "Woman, what have I to do with thee", but meaning, "Woman, your mentality and Mine are in two different realms, what you are thinking of, I am not. You are thinking down here in this earth realm that here is an opportunity for Me to give a display... I am not dwelling in that realm. I have bigger things in view than that". So He put back that because though it would come, perhaps through the channel of most tender human affections, He would not be drawn out by the appeal of His own mother to whom, doubtless, He was greatly attached and devoted. But He was in fellowship with heaven and He got it from heaven, not from His mother, and then He said, "Fill the water pots with water".
You remember how the two sisters in Bethany made their tremendous appeal to Him concerning their brother, "He whom Thou lovest is sick, come". He tarried. They would influence, they would persuade, there was every reason humanly why He should hasten to save the situation, but He tarried until all human opportunity, all human chance was gone and then at length when there was no human ground whatever of hope, He approached the two sisters. He has been in prayer, but you only get His acknowledgement of the answer to a prayer which is not recorded, a prayer which was most likely a silent prayer, but His acknowledgement of the answer to that prayer is made audible "I thank Thee O Father that Thou heardest Me, Thou doest always hear Me" (John 11:41,42), and then He cried, "Lazarus come forth" (John 11:43). All the persuasion and influence of loved ones on the earth and human need, human cry, and a desperate situation, would not touch Him in that realm. He would not allow that to come in as a consideration at all, but kept Himself detached from the earth because of this thing. He waited for God's moment and God's word.
All those declarations of His about the Son not being able to do anything out from Himself, not speaking the words or doing not the works, but the Father speaking the words and the Father doing the works - "Whatsoever the Son seeth the Father do" - etc., this all shows how absolutely the heavens ruled in His life and that He was not of this earth. Now He represents the new creation, the new man, that which is born of the Spirit as God's thought for every believer - something absolutely cut off from this world, absolutely severed from this earth in its essential nature. You must guard what I am saying against any false application of this principle in ignoring your moral obligations on the earth and of cutting yourself off and going into monasteries and convents. I am talking about that inner reality of every believer's life, that there is that which is the true new creation within every believer which is not of this earth, and has no relation to this earth. It has come down from heaven, is born from above and belongs to heaven and always gravitates towards heaven, and makes us (or should make us) increasingly realise that we are strangers on the earth. The believer is both a mystery and a stranger in the world and we must accept that. "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own" the world knows us not because it knew Him not. We are a mystery in the earth, something cut off from this earth.
It is something very much more than giving up going to the pictures, or to dances and things like that, and being not of the world. That can be merely legal; you must not do this that or the other because you are a Christian. That side of things can be so legalistic and hard. To realise that the centre of your being is not of this world and you cannot have any enjoyment and fellowship with that which is of the earth, that is another thing. That is going to be pressed in the believer's life right through to a point where you are completely lost and it becomes increasingly an agony to touch earthly things; a spiritual agony. When you have touched something which is earthly there is a tremendous kickback and you feel that death has come in, an arrest, and you have to go back to the Lord and get your position again. That is the nature of that which is born of the Spirit and the Word of the Lord makes that perfectly clear.
Now, I want us to get to one thing that I feel to be tremendously important for us who are in the testimony of the Lord in a practical way. It is this: that being essentially heavenly in our very nature and constitution, we have to come into everything which is of God as from above. Here is another thing which it is very difficult to pass over to other people and it is a matter upon which you really do need the Lord to give you power of understanding. Do believe me, whether you understand it or not for the moment, I am saying what I believe to be one of the most important and vital things for a believer and a servant of God to recognise: that is that we must come into everything which is of God, from above. It is impossible to come into the things of God horizontally; that you see something here that is very good, that is of God, is very true and the blessing of God is upon it; it is something that you covet, something that you want to be in, and you say, "Now I am going into that, to join that" and... you cannot. You cannot do that. That is impossible. Let me tell you that you cannot join the church of God. We have heard many people say that they are going to join the church. That is impossible. You cannot join anything that is of God. You cannot come this way into anything of God. Leave the horizontal line. Whether it be truth, or service, or fellowship, or any other aspect of what is of God; you cannot come into it because you see it and so you are going to join it, or get into it.
There is a system of phraseology which represents that whole conception of this. People are going to "take up" Christian work, to "be a member" of such-and-such a fellowship, going to "go into" this thing. Let me tell you that it cannot be done. They are going to have that truth; they are coming into that truth. No, along the line of their thought, it is impossible. How do we get into that which is of God? First of all by getting out of everything that is of the earth. How is that done? By the Cross. The Cross acts as a knife which absolutely severs the new man from the old. There is a severance. We have read Colossians 2:11-12, and we have seen again that there baptism and circumcision are brought together as one and the same thing - that circumcision of Christ, which is the putting away of the whole body of the flesh, and immediately follows the word of the Cross, and the Cross is that severing knife by which the whole body of the flesh, the old man, is cut off: encircled, circumcised in a cutting off utterly of the old man by the Cross. "Having been buried with Him in baptism". Baptism is a declaration and testimony to the fact that the old man has been put away by a complete cutting off and that he does not come into this kingdom at all; he has no place in this new creation; there is no way in for him; he is cut off, so that you cannot join or come into a thing that is of the new creation; the old man cannot come in that way.
Then, "If ye died with Christ, seek those things which are above". There is your heavenly life, for our citizenship is in heaven. It is the valuation of everything which is this side of the Cross. The old man cannot come into that. That which is in that is from above. The Cross has been recognised, accepted and appropriated by faith in all its severing work from the old man, the old creation - the circumcision of Christ - and we have taken our place by faith into the death of the Lord Jesus, put away completely and forever as having no standing before God. We are buried, put out of sight, covered, and for evermore that has to be your attitude towards the natural man. This is to be an attitude maintained. It is to be a daily exercise of repudiation. It is not that the old man is annihilated, but spiritually in the sight of man and the judgment of God, he is out and we have to put him where God has put him; his judgments, interests, ways of looking at things and arguments have to be put back; we must get it all from above. Does the Lord look at things like this? These are not the best arguments of the religious old man. When he is put fully out of sight in one act, an attitude forever to be maintained then comes: the resurrection act of the Holy Spirit. And resurrection and ascension are a continuation of one act of God. God raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand; resurrection and ascension - one act. And resurrection is to the heavenlies. Nothing is intended to be permanently on the earth.
After the resurrection of the Lord Jesus you can never be sure of Him being located on the earth. If He comes, He has gone. He does not belong here at all. When Mary would embrace Him, He says, "I am no longer to be held here". She would in effect say, "You will never go again" - No! The resurrection means the resurrection to a new realm, a heavenly realm; we are not of the earth now in any settled way. We come down to everything that is of God as from the heavenlies. The Lord Jesus in the person of the Holy Spirit came down, not to have permanent residence here, but to make something here a heavenly thing by His heavenly presence in it. And the church has become a heavenly body because a heavenly Lord has come into it and made it a part of the heavenlies, and it is spiritually situated, seated together with Him in the heavenlies. This is the point: now through death and burial, resurrection, ascension, everything of God has to be come into as from above, so that you have to be able to say about every bit of truth: "I did not come into this along the line of human apprehension, of mental appraisement, l came into this by revelation of the Holy Spirit. God showed me this. I did not get this from man or any company of people; from a fellowship, or some who represented this interpretation. This I got from above." You get it that way, and you have got it. It is Life. Believe me, you never get any bit of it without going through something terrific. We have seen and heard people say, "Yes, I see that; I believe that" and it is the natural human seeing all the time and you know that they are not in it. They grasp it with their mind, but the impact of the heavens is not in it. They have not come into it from above. It is difficult to explain, but ask the Lord for it; do not go away and say that that fellow has been talking up in the clouds this morning, ask the Lord, say, "I do not understand it, but there seems to be something there; if there is, show it to me". Ask the Lord. Do not put it away because you cannot grasp it with your mind; ask for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of His Son. Coming into the truth of the Lord Jesus you have to come into it from above. The work of God is exactly the same as the truth of God.
The Cross has to be applied to the man, not only as a sinner, but as a preacher, organiser of Christian activity, and a runner of churches. It is true. Have you come into your spiritual life from above? It is possible to be a child of God and be serving the Lord in all good conscience and good faith for a series of years, and yet not be in it as we ought to be, and one is not saying that because you are not in it in this way that you are not saved. There is a difference in being born, and understanding the nature and laws of your new life. And the Lord must bring His people to see this: that they are not only born again, but a wholly new constitution, a heavenly system has been brought into being and we have to be ruled from the heavens, governed by a heavenly government, translated out of the authority of darkness, separated from the earth, the world spirit, separated from ourselves; religiously as well as sinfully.
We have to be separated from that realm in which the god of this world governs. We are out of that. That is the meaning of Jordan at the end of forty years. The normal and right course would have been in about eleven days to be in the land. That is God's order, God's thought. God's thought was never forty years in the wilderness. That was necessary because they were carnal Christians. God meant them to come out into a heavenly place where everything was of Himself: feeding them from heaven, providing everything from above, making everything heavenly; but they wanted everything along the line of the senses. So, forty years of carnal Christianity (if you care to use that term) ensued, not in the will of God. And Jordan had to come as the double emphasis upon the fact that God's idea is for those who come out of Egypt to live in the heavenlies. How many of the multitude went into the land to possess it? Two. I fear that percentage is dangerously near the truth today.
While there are multitudes saved, the percentage of carnal Christians who are not living the heavenly life is very great. The percentage of those who have entered into the land, into the inheritance, living out from God, living upon all the heavenly resources, is very small indeed.
My dear friends, be quite sure that that which you are in, which is of God, you are really in and that you are not thinking that you are in it because you can only really be in it as you come into it from above. You must be able to say in a true sense, "I came down from heaven. This is not something I have adopted, something I have taken on. No! It is my very life, my very being". You cannot resign from that. It is you and you are it, and the Lord must have us there, and while He does not take advantage of it in a wrong way, it does give Him what He needs in a right kind of ground for working that fuller conformity to the image of His Son. You see what I mean, if you join a thing, you meet trouble and difficulty, and you give it up, but when it is your very life, you cannot give it up because you say "it is me".
May the Lord bring His Word into our hearts.