Until Christ is revealed in us and to us by the indwelling Holy Spirit we cannot know Him.
For many Christ followers our journeys begin in a similar way. We hear and believe the gospel and set out expectantly, seeking to know more about this Jesus Christ who took our place on a Roman cross. We want to get to know this irresistible, mysterious, resurrected Jesus we have discovered, and we expect spending time with the ones who’ve followed Him longer will surely help us.
But many of those we assume are best friends with this Jesus we are falling in love with, are not. In the wide world of Christian religion there exist man-made, mass produced images of Christ. We don’t yet know it, but the picture many bring us is tainted with two centuries’ worth of very inaccurate human interpretation. The genuine and original Masterpiece has been obscured beneath multiple layers of humanity’s interference.
Religion presents us with a paint-by-numbers version of Jesus, accompanied by a pre-set colour palette already mixed by those who are supposedly “older in the Lord”. Much of the canvas has already been filled in with a garish combination of opinions, tradition, culture and human ignorance. We are handed our own little brush so that we too may personalize the painting, adding our own layers to this representation of Christ that is not Christ. Eagerly we take up our brush and start filling in blanks under the tutelage of those who are said to know exactly how the image should look.
The problem with our picture is that we rarely get to start with the original. Generation after generation since Christ walked the earth in the flesh have added their own interpretations to His portrait. Men and women, often with the best of intentions, have attempted to refine the original image to match their personal ideas of how Christ should look. Each has built upon the previous layers according to their own culture, tradition, need or preference.
So a detail is altered here, a brushstroke added there and perhaps a change of hue in another spot. Some have highlighted certain aspects of the picture they felt sure are more important than others. Others have obscured details they considered irrelevant. Over the passage of history the original, undefiled Masterpiece has been tainted by layer on layer of human tampering.
The altered image passed to us has been enhanced, manipulated and distorted, but we are unaware of the contamination it has endured. We take our altered image to the scriptures, searching for affirmation and harmony with the image we hold in our hands. When we encounter passages or mysteries there that do not conform to the modified picture of Christ that has now taken up residence in our mind, we leave it to ‘greater minds’ to interpret them and run back to the comfort of our picture, for to question the image we have been handed is to enter into dangerous and often lonely territory.
There are few exceptions to this process. Sometimes our path may cross the path of another disciple who long ago threw away their paint-by-numbers canvas and their little paint brush for the pursuit of the original Masterpiece. If we are fortunate enough to stumble upon such a one we can be sure their departure from the assembly line world of modern Christianity has been costly for them. But if we stick close we will often glimpse the true Christ beckoning us onward through their lives. Should we follow, it will be costly for us also, but so very worth it.
Until Christ is revealed in us and to us by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we cannot know Him.
‘….the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.’ Luke 5:15
If Jesus is no more than a source of moral instruction in our lives (hearing), we are still holding a paint-by-numbers image in our hands. If He has no greater purpose in our lives than to meet our needs (healing) we are not yet beholding the Masterpiece. We have merely ‘heard a report’, but we are yet to know Him.
There must come a pivotal point in our journey where our relationship with Jesus surpasses the ‘report concerning Him’. We must press forward with a desire to know Him covenentally, drawing our life moment by moment from His Life. We must arrive at a place where we have ‘heard for ourselves and know’.
‘……and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”’ Jn. 4:42
To know Him in this sense is to have entered a fullness of knowledge, to be consciously and progressively experiencing the knowing of Him *.
‘I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.’ Jn. 1:33, 34
John the Baptiser did not know Jesus until He was revealed to him by the Spirit. He saw, that is he perceived by the power of the Spirit, and from that God-breathed revelation testimony was born.
Until we know Him by revelation of the Spirit, we cannot testify of Him in power. This ‘knowledge of Christ’ testimony is the testimony that overcomes the accuser of the brethren (Luke 21:12-17; Rev. 12:11).
Flesh and blood can never reveal Christ to us. Christ is revealed to the human spirit only by the Holy Spirit.
‘He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”’ Mat. 16:15-17
At this moment millions upon millions worship a mass produced paint-by-numbers Christ, a fictitious and deficient replica of the original Masterpiece. Religion hands us a picture of Christ that is tainted, modified and powerless. To behold that living Masterpiece as He actually is we must be willing to lay down the counterfeit images we have accumulated in whatever time we have spent in humanly controlled religious environments.
For me, the legalistic Jesus presented by formal Christian religion was a gross misrepresentation of the true and magnificent Jesus I am now coming to know. I have abandoned the paint-by-numbers Jesus to run with this unsurpassed Masterpiece Jesus the Holy Spirit delights to reveal. Finally I can say “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded……” (2 Tim. 1:12) Has it cost me? More than I can say. Is it worth it? Much more than I can say.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ road into the Kingdom. It is not at all easy in the wilderness outside the institution, but it can be even harder to hear, see and know for ourselves in the middle of the crowd with their mass produced paintbrushes and canvases.
Whatever the pathway we are called to tread, the testimony of Jesus Christ increases in us only as we consciously and progressively experience the knowing of Him. That testimony, alive and unquenchable, is the eternal life of Christ Himself, held within surrendered vessels, ready to be poured out on the world at any given moment. That testimony is more than words, more than a comforting story. It arises in us only as we continually behold the true and original Face of Christ, Spirit to spirit.
It is the Spirit of prophecy.
Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”Rev 19:10 NASB
*Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2015 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.