Christianity - A Process of Transformation
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2

Reading: Luke 1:26-35.

"Now the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual discerns (or examines) all things" (1 Cor. 2:14).

"But we all, with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image" (2 Cor. 3:18).

"For whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29).

Luke 1:26-35 falls right into line with our present consideration. We are seeing that Christ is Christianity. If we really do need - as we do - to understand, to know what Christianity really is amidst all the confusion which has arisen within the compass of that word 'Christianity', to know the real nature of this into which we have come, it requires that we shall have a true, a genuine spiritual understanding of Christ, and that is not as simple as it sounds when it is stated like that. For the oldest believer, the one who has gone longest and farthest with the Lord, still realises how much he, or she, needs to know and understand the Lord Jesus. If we want proof of a statement like that, let us remember that so great servant of Jesus Christ who had so great a revelation of Him, and who could say that he had, at a certain time, "been caught up into the third heaven and shown unspeakable things which it is not lawful for a man to utter", and remember that that man, with all his spiritual history and knowledge, was still crying in his prison in the closing days of his life: "That I may know Him" (Phil. 3:10). It was still the predominating ambition and quest of a man with all that. Everything, therefore, is a matter of knowing the Lord Jesus in a spiritual way, so that Christ is really Christianity. Christianity is not a system of truth, of doctrine, of teaching, of practice, of creed. It is a Person; and yet, a Person beyond all comprehending.

Now we come to the next phase of our present consideration. Paul said here to the Corinthians: "I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ." (When amongst you, all I intended to know was Jesus Christ), and then he said: "And Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). That was excluding one whole realm of things and focusing and concentrating everything upon this Person, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Why? Here again is the key to our New Testament as well as to these letters. Jesus Christ has come into this world as the first and the representative of a different type of humanity. A different type of man has broken into history in the Person of Jesus Christ, and it is this that gives the explanation of the incarnation, the miraculous birth, the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus.

You know that the two things about which there has been more controversy than anything else where Jesus Christ is concerned, where all the schools of theological interpretation have been in conflict, are the birth and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. There are many other things in His life, too, but the two main points of controversy have been the virgin birth and the resurrection, and it is very significant that this should be so.

Leaving the resurrection for the present, let us start here with this birth of which we have just read, that which is called, and scripturally so, 'the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus'. I have said that this is the point of controversy and point of difficulty in real spiritual understanding; and the spiritual battle of these ages began at that point when there emerged into this world and into history this One after this particular kind of humanity. So soon after His birth all hell rose up to quench that flame, to blot out that life and its testimony. Herod, that devil-dominated and devil-driven man, went so far as to massacre all infant boys with the object of getting this One. But it was not only Herod. The Lord Jesus Himself later said of other men than Herod: "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). The murderer behind Herod and his mind rose up immediately this type of humanity broke into the world.

Well, that is patent. The explanation is that you have two alternative humanities, or mankind. You have the one that Satan made. When he got hold of Adam he changed the humanity, the kind of being that man was. He changed that man, and by an evil, spiritual fornication he produced a race after his own mind. Comprehensively the Word declares: "The whole world lies in the evil one" (1 John 5:19). This is a race after Satan's mind, a race of which he is the prince and the god. That is one kind of humanity.

On the other side there is this mind, this type brought into history and into this world. There is another, an alternative humanity to that evil one, and in this humanity all that other was going to be judged, and if unrepentant and not transformed (passed over from one to the other) it was doomed to be blotted out of God's universe. Therefore all the painstaking work and labour and effort of the evil one and the evil powers in the whole Adam race were going to be upset by this new kind of humanity. All Satan's work was going to be undone in this, and all that he ever set himself to do in spoiling God's kind of man was just going to be undercut and blotted out in this One who had now broken into this world. You can understand why Satan said: 'As soon as possible, in His earliest days, we must blot Him out, dismiss Him, get rid of Him!'

That lies behind this kind of humanity that is God-produced, and not man-produced nor Satan-produced; this kind of Man who is, in His very conception, God's act, a miracle. Now you can understand why the rationalists, who know nothing about new birth, take offence and object to the virgin birth! What is, after all, the best testimony to, and confirmation of, the miraculous, supernatural birth of the Lord Jesus? Our new birth! We do not have to argue it as theology, or mere Christian doctrine and creed, for we know that Jesus Christ is a miracle because He is a miracle in us. But the rationalists do not know about new birth, and therefore they can be caught in this controversy over the birth of the Lord Jesus.

Well, the explanation of this antagonism, this animosity and all this confusion (and the enemy is the author of confusion) about the Lord Jesus in His very conception and inception and nature and being is because of this one thing which runs right through the New Testament; another kind of manhood, of mankind, has been introduced into history, not as an afterthought, but "foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son". Out from the eternal thought and intention of God is introduced the image to which believers, the Church, have to be conformed, into whose likeness we are being transformed.

This is all being worked out in the New Testament, and if you want to understand your New Testament anywhere read it in this light: What is this all about? What does it mean? What is it after? What is the portent of this? Every bit of it is to bring Christ into view and to show this transforming work in believers. First you have the magnificent presentation of Christ in person in four portraits in the four Gospels. In the great wisdom and sovereignty of God the New Testament begins with a fourfold portrait of the Man, and from then onwards the work by the Holy Spirit begins and proceeds to transform and conform a people to that Man, so different that a mystery and a miracle lie right at the very heart and at the roots of this thing. The Christian life begins in truth with a miracle, a supernatural act. We know that if we are born again! And it proceeds on the basis of that miracle and that mystery of something other, something different, that God is doing. He is not just allowing us to go on our natural course. There is a lot compassed in a statement like that! Under the Holy Spirit's government we are not allowed to go on our natural course. We are continually brought up against the demand for something supernatural, something above, something more than the natural; and we are continually brought up against the fact that naturally we cannot rise to this standard, we cannot meet this demand, and we cannot go through this experience and challenge. We need something more than we have in ourselves, something supernatural. That is the whole history of the Christian life. It begins on that supernatural basis, for no man can beget this type. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6), and "...born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man" (John 1:13). It cannot be done. Man cannot produce this order by any natural means whatsoever. It is only produced by God. I am saying things that you all know and agree with, I am sure!

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says: "In Adam all die... In Christ shall all be made alive... the first man Adam... the last Adam" (verses 22 and 45). The contrasts are simply the contrasts of two orders of creation, the first and the last. The second Man and the last Adam. Always be careful how you quote Scripture! The second Man, yes, but the last Adam. There are no more races after Christ! Finality in humanity is in Him. "If any man is in Christ", says the apostle, "there is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17 - R.V. margin). "In Christ... a new creation".

And so we come back to our starting place. We are in the process of being transformed into the same Image, and it all depends upon which of these two orders is predominating in each one of us. The Corinthians were Christians. They were born-again believers and were addressed as such, but during the five years between the apostle Paul's first visit to them and sojourn amongst them and his letter, there had been such a degeneration and decline in their spiritual life, and they had opened the door so widely to this world that, as Christians, the natural man predominated and was in charge. So you have this terrible letter about all these things belonging to the natural man, and Paul has to say: "I could only speak unto you as babes." They were babes! Well, it is all right to be a babe while it is time to be a babe, but this letter was written after seven years. Paul was there with them for two years, and then he wrote this letter five years after that, so after seven years they ought to have begun, at least, to emerge from babyhood!

We would think it strange if a child of seven were still a babe, for the age of seven years is the most original time of life. A child of seven is the most original person in creation. You parents know that quite well by the questions you get asked! My eldest daughter, about that age, after coming to the service and hearing the chapter read about the end of the world (as it is in the Authorised Version), said when we got home: 'Daddy, if a man went up in a balloon and while he was up the end of the world came, what would he come down on?' Yes, a child of seven can put some posers to you - but that is just by the way.

By the time you get to seven years in the spiritual life you ought to begin to emerge from that infant state of irresponsibility. Here Paul says to the Corinthians at that time in their spiritual life: 'Babes still! I have to feed you with milk, not with meat, for you are not able to take it'. Yes, that is a terrible situation. However, it is a matter of which of the two sides of our make-up is really in the ascendant, the natural or the spiritual, or, in other words, whether we really are in the process of being transformed and conformed.

Well, the answer will depend entirely upon our reaction to God's dealings with us as children. in the Hebrew letter it says: "Regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art reproved of Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens... God deals with you as with sons" (Heb. 12:5-7). Is our reaction like that of Israel in the wilderness, murmuring and complaining, shirking, and all the time rebelling and wanting to get out of it, saying: 'Let us go back!', forgetting the tyranny of Egypt? They were wanting to go back from under the hand of the One who was seeking to make them, in difficulties and adversities, discover things about Himself and what He could do.

Now, to bring that right up to date, you and I are really in a school, and in a very practical school under the hand of God, where it is necessary for us to know Christ. "That I may know Him" - and here is the focal point of the knowledge: "and the power of His resurrection". Can anyone tell me that they do not need to know that? We are here under God's hand to know the power of His resurrection, and it is a wonderful thing to know the power of His resurrection maintaining us, enabling us, causing us to supersede those things which limit and make impossible our life and our service. We are up against this all the time. We are in this battle with forces of death to quench and put us out, and the Lord does not put us into situations and circumstances where it is all easy and straight sailing. He does just the opposite for Christians. He puts us into places where we cannot go through, cannot live, unless the Lord Almighty sees us through. But that is what we are there for - to discover the Lord Almighty. "The power of His resurrection". And if you say: 'Well, I am going to resign; I am going to quit; I am going to find an easier, simpler way than this!' you take yourself right out of the hands of God and out of the realm of making spiritual discoveries of Jesus Christ.

This is very true and very practical, but spirituality is very practical. We are being transformed, passed from one order to another, from the Adam order to the Christ order, from the natural to the spiritual, and this is the practical way. But keep this always in mind: there is an Image. The Hebrew letter puts it this way: "Looking off unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith" (Heb. 12:2). Remember that God has His Pattern, His order, in His Son, and we "beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are changed, are transformed into the same Image from glory to glory". And we should not look at the things which are seen, and near, and pressing upon our conscience and trying to obsess us with themselves, but look through to Him who, through these things which are so very real, is seeking to produce in us something more of Christ.

The Lord help us so to view and interpret His ways with us!

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