by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 2 - The Law of Renunciation
In the letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, at verse 5: "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bondservant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted Him, and gave unto Him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father".
In chapter 3, verse 8: "Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith".
The letter to the Hebrews chapter 12 [chapter 11] verse 24: "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt".
The Lord has directed that today we shall be occupied with the realisation of His full will, unto which He has called us. And this morning, as you know, we were considering that great law of realisation and fulfilment, the law of the government of the Word of God. We were only able just to touch the very fringe of that matter, and I could only trust that it at least introduced you to a new consideration, and that, because of that emphasis, you will have a much closer and more devoted regard for the Word of God in every matter of life.
All those who have been of service to the Lord to others, have been people of the Word, not just of the letter of the Word, but of heart relationship with the Word of God. Men of the Word. All who have in any way fulfilled the function of spiritual leadership, like Joshua, have, as we saw, been based so strongly and utterly upon the Word of God. It has been like that all the way through, but the greatest of all, the Lord Jesus, was meticulously careful that in everything He moved according to the Word. The Scriptures had such a place in His whole life, conduct, teaching and work, so that He became known as "the Word of God". He was it. The Word is not something only written in a book. It has to become personal, personified in life, in character, and in every way if we are going to be of use to others, if we are going to be able to fulfil any responsibility at all like those men in the beginning in the church in Jerusalem and in Antioch. They were men who waited on God for His Word. They didn't organise the church, they didn't decide upon programmes, plans or schemes for the church. They never introduced anything until they had waited on the Lord for His Word about it, asking: "Is this according to what is revealed?" That is the only way of the growth of the church and its building up.
Well, as you see, that opens a very large door, we are not going to pass in further on that matter. I just re-emphasize that a law, a binding law of spiritual progress in the individual life, in the church life local and universal, is the absolute government of the Word of God, to the law and to the testimony. If it is not according thereto, then there will be a hidden peril in it.
Well, we go on this afternoon to another law of this progress in the will of God unto its ultimate realisation, remembering that we are called unto this. It is inherent in our call, it is not something extra to the Christian life, it is not something optional - that you can have a Christian life and, well, you can have this or not have it. It is fundamental, intrinsic, in the Christian life. And so is what we are going to say now about another law of the will and purpose of God in our calling, and it is what is suggested, more than suggested, presented to us in the Scriptures which we selected for this purpose out of many others, it's what I am going to call 'the law of renunciation'.
In Philippians 2 the Lord Jesus is presented to us in terms of the great renunciation. Being equal with God, as the margin said, "He regarded it not as something to be grasped, or held on to, tenaciously gripped, but He emptied Himself". He made the great renunciation in heaven.
The apostle Paul has caught that mind, which he exhorts Christians to have. He has seen the point! It came to him in the great encounter with the Lord at the beginning of his Christian life. He saw, and then all the other things, however great they were - and they were many and they were great, as he tells us in that letter to the Philippians - they lost their grip on him, because something else got a grip on him, and he said, he made the great renunciation, perhaps not in the same dimensions as the Lord, but for him it was everything, as it was for the Lord. Our everything may not be as great as was the Lord's everything, but it's everything, and if it is everything, well, that's it; it's full and final. He said that he counted all these things, this catalogue of advantages which were his by heredity, by birth, by upbringing, by training and by acquirement and so on, all these things he renounced. He renounced. And in the great renunciation of his Master and of himself, the church has benefited through all these generations - and that's the point - that's the point where we have to come to before long.
Then we read of Moses, as we could have mentioned many others in that chapter 11, picking out Moses, he renounced all that he had in Egypt: the learning of the Egyptians, the court of Pharaoh, and all the advantages that were there. He made the great renunciation. Why? Again, because of the people of God. Now, that's the point.
Before we come to its application, let me remind you that one of the clear marks and traces of the devil and his handiwork is the distortion of good into evil, of good things made into bad things. Satan creates nothing, he is not a creator, he creates nothing, but he intends upon what has been made for good to turn it into bad. Hence you have a whole list of paradoxes in the Bible, and it is fascinating to follow them, which I am not going to do, I give you the hint: a whole list of paradoxes, or seeming contradictions, and they're in this realm of good things in Divine intention turned into bad things.
Take the matter of ambition. Ambition indeed is the parent of many evils - ambition in the world - what it leads to! Ambitious men and women who, to realise their ambition, will tread upon all principles and will ride roughshod over all sensibilities. Ambition is a driving force - to get, to be, to master, to dominate, to rule - and have we not in our lifetime seen something of that? My, these ambitious people whose names we could mention, who have thrown the world into the most distressing and awful state! Literally multitudes being murdered for an ambition, a man's ambition! Ambitions, we need not dwell upon it, it can come and has come into the church of God. Men, as Peter calls it, "lording it" over God's heritage, wanting to be something in the Church, and have power - just fulfilling some secret ambition - they don't mean it perhaps and they don't realise it, but others do. There it is.
Well, here's something that is evil, but, but God created ambition! That's a Divine thing! Our translations don't help us too much in this, but Paul said: "We make it our ambition... to be well-pleasing unto Him". Make it our ambition! Paul, you have redeemed a bad word! You have salvaged something that has gone astray, that the devil has captured and turned to his own use, for it was ambition in satan before his fall that led to his fall, and he, like a serpent, has injected that poison of the serpent into human nature. Ambition; "we make it our ambition". Oh, surely we should keep that word 'ambition' out of the sacred language? No! It is something Divine.
And we could go on with a whole lot of paradoxes like that and contradictions. Paul gave us a list in one place: "Sorrowing, yet always rejoicing" that's a paradox isn't it? "Poor, yet making many rich", that's a paradox; and so on. Now, here we are in the presence of one of these in this very chapter, Philippians 2, and in this very consideration of the great renunciation. Satan has taken hold of something that God created and put into man and into His universe. What is it? To acquire, to possess, to have. It is not wrong in itself to have, it is not wrong in itself to acquire, to possess. Don't you have many battles over this, whether you ought to have this, and whether it is right to possess that? In your very nature there are the traces of this Divine thing, to have, to possess, to be enriched, whatever word you like to use, this acquisition. Yes, God put that in. The Bible is full of it. We were looking at Israel this morning, and what a lot the Lord said to them about 'having'! "I will bring you into a land flowing with milk and honey," and so on and so on, and "this is for you to have! I mean you to have it, to be a wealthy people. It is all for you. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, I have given it to you."
It's over against that there's the great renunciation. Is that a contradiction? Renunciation now as a law of having - He let go, and He was given it - He renounced and He was endowed with all the fullness of heaven.
Satan, then, uses this Divine thing, and twists something which is Divine, which is of God, which is quite right in its own nature, in its own nature quite right, and gives it this distortion to make it an evil thing. So that we have now in this world this terrible, terrible assertiveness: to get people, to possess, to have. Well, where does the solution lie? Where does it lie?
What's It For?
The answer to that question is the answer to the paradox. What is it for? What do you want it for? And, you see, it just is there that the enemy has done his work by introducing the selfhood power. Self: drawing to self, having for self, holding for self, prizing it for self. So when it says: "He emptied Himself", there is all the story of redemption in the emptying of self, and all the wonderful issue in this universe along the line of the redemption; that what man is going to have by God's gift and what we may have now by His gift in a spiritual way, every blessing of the Spirit in the heavenlies in Christ, all that fullness into which we are called in the will of God, comes along the line of the conversion of self - turning round, not now this way, but that way - to God.
Now don't, please, let that very principle work wrongly on what I'm saying! You see, Peter slipped up there because he wasn't converted really, at that time. And I know I am going to be challenged on that, because I have been, but there was a real sense in which Peter was not converted until the Day of Pentecost. We won't argue that out, you can think what you like about it. But, when the Lord came with the basin of water and the towel to Peter to wash his feet, Peter said: "No Lord, You, You shall never wash my feet!" Then the Lord said: "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me". "Oh! Well! I want, I want the part...". Do you see the point? It proved in a few hours after that, a very few hours after that, that really it was Peter who was in view, who wanted all that he could get, even of Divine things. And when I say that you'll get a great, a great fullness if only you will learn the lesson of renunciation, be careful as to your ambition for fullness! Who is it for? What is it for? Is it for self, or is it for the Lord?
Now, the principle lying behind Philippians 2 then, is just this: the Lord Jesus let go of all that He had of heavenly glory and equality with God, not for Himself, for it was His already and there was nothing, nothing whatever that He need do or could do to enhance His own possession and rights, but God had got to be vindicated in the creation of man. God created man and took that tremendous responsibility creating man. Haven't you often felt bad about this? Oh, some of your natures are better than mine, but I have sometimes, sometimes been tempted to think: was God justified in creating man, collectively as he is today? Just think of the history of man, and it hardly bears thinking about! But God did it. He took the risk and the responsibility of making the whole race; of making you and making me. I have to turn that back on the Lord sometimes and say: "Lord, You made me! You made me, You gave me a being, it was by Your law that I came into being - it's Your responsibility!" Well, that's helpful sometimes isn't it, but leave that.
God had got to be vindicated in His creating responsibility. And therefore, He had got to save this man that He had made. And He had got to be glorified in this man, and there is no salvation and there is no glorification while man is a selfish creature. Selfishness spoils everything doesn't it? And robs of all glory everywhere. Therefore, therefore that deep thing had got to be touched and dealt with - not theoretically, not doctrinally, not theologically, but actually, actually dealt with. And there is no way of dealing with anything actually than go along the line of that work - really, truly, actually - but by taking that thing and destroying it in your own person and work, and being the opposite yourself by a mighty, deep work of God. It's the vindication of God, the justification of the Father, the justification of creation and the making possible of man coming to that glory in fellowship with the Father in heaven for ever. That was the motive that led Him to the great renunciation of letting go.
It was outward, first for His Father's vindication, and outward secondly for man's redemption from that twist that the devil had brought in and by which so much mischief had been made. Evil. It was your salvation and mine from some thing that the devil had planted in the race which was a contradiction to what God meant. That was outward, and not for Himself; not for Himself.
Now read His life again. All that is included in this description: "He emptied... He humbled... He took the form of a bondslave... He was found in fashion as a man... He became obedient unto death" - and the most shameful and ignominious form of death that this world has known! It has always been known that crucifixion is the worst form of death and He went down to that! That's letting go of self isn't it, and all self-interest. That's renunciation and all that was involved for God first, the Father first. And that was why He was always speaking here of, "My Father... My Father" - the vindication of the Father for the redemption of man unto glory, the transformation and transfiguration of humanity. Note it: ambition, purpose, the will of God.
Now, dear friends, you and I are in the way of this aren't we? Have you not noticed that the Lord's dealings with us when He gets us in hand, when He really does get a purchase upon us, are along this line? Again and again in the course of Christian experience we come up against a situation where it is: are we going to hold on or let go? Are we going to let go? Can we let go? Can we really renounce? We are stuck until that is settled! We cannot get past it. It may be an incident in life, it may be what we might call a small thing in comparison with other things, but there it is. There it is. "Must I keep hold? Shall I keep hold? Shall I get this bone between my teeth and worry it to death, and not let go?" Alright, I shall repeat: there is no way on until that is settled.
And have you not, on the other side, experienced that when at last having sought the grace of God, by the grace of the Lord Jesus you let go and you say: "Lord, alright, my hands are off. I am not just resigning..." Be careful about becoming resigned to your fate! Being resigned to your fate is not the will of God and not just, "Well, I'm no longer interested". No negative attitudes, and no passive attitudes, but positive: "Lord, if this is what You want, You have it! And You have a purpose in bringing me to this position of letting go, of renouncing." And when we get there something breaks in, all that we had wanted, we get! It is strange isn't it, that it works like that? What about Abraham and Isaac? Couldn't he have held on? Couldn't he have argued with God? Couldn't he have supported his tenacity over Isaac by, well, what the Lord had said? Oh, yes, he could have built up a tremendous argument against offering Isaac, but he came to the point of the great renunciation. He let go to God, let go to God! He let go to God and what did he get? He not only got Isaac back, but he got a nation! "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" - from inward to outward.
You see the range of renunciation, the tremendous potential of renunciation. Moses, we have picked him out from amongst all these. Moses could have argued on the ground of sovereignty: "Well, Lord, Your sovereignty so ordered that when all the babes were being slaughtered I was spared, and that girl of Pharaoh's came along that day. It was all in Your sovereignty that I was rescued and taken right into the palace and brought up in Pharaoh's house, educated according to the wisdom of all the Egyptians. Your sovereignty was in this!" But the point was: he left it all, he left it all - a big 'all'. He renounced it all. Why? Because he had become converted, not in the New Testament sense perhaps, but converted - turned round, with reversion, or with version - turned from inward, to people. His race, as we know, was on his heart - the people for God, he chose rather to suffer the which and with the people of God - that's his motive: the people of God. "What I may lose doesn't matter; so long as the people of God get the benefit and the blessing."
Do you see the point? Christ was repeating Himself in these men's lives on this one principle: renunciation. And because He, the Lord, the Son of God, did this, "wherefore" - what a 'wherefore'! - "God highly exalted Him, and gave Him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on the earth" - and here is a peculiarity - "and things under the earth". Do you notice, often something like that is said, but the third dimension is left out. The "under the earth" is left out on other occasions where in heaven and in earth [are mentioned]. I leave that for you to think about! But in this case the underworld is also going to bow to Him! His renunciation means that the underworld, the full dimensions of the universe are affected. What a range is affected by the ability to let go unto God!
I think I hardly need say more than that. To let go is one of the most difficult things that you and I have to learn! But He was "meek and lowly in heart", and meekness is just that, just that selflessness, the outward aspect of life, that meekness - not for myself, but how much others can gain if I have to lose - if by my loss the Father can gain what He ought to have, if by my loss the people He has created may be benefited. That's the law of enlargement.
I stopped short in the quotation about Moses, you noticed that, of course, if you were watching, you noticed I stopped short at a certain point, because I am always afraid, you know, of this wretched, wretched self-interest of ours. It's always there, it's always like Peter at that time, ready to pounce upon [anything]. "He had recompense unto the reward." That's where I stopped, as we said, "For he had recompense unto the reward". Very well, very well. If it's by way of renunciation and loss, there's probably enrichment along that line. But we shouldn't be motivated by reward, should we? No servant of the Lord ought be motivated by what he is going to get out of his service. Not at all, "When ye have done all... say, we are unprofitable servants." But nevertheless, nevertheless, we can put a right and proper emphasis upon it because of where we started.
Are you following the train of thought? This is God's will for you, for me, for mankind: to be enlarged with all His fullness, to have all that He can give! But not selfishly, not for their own use, but for His glory, His vindication. And if you and I, we'll put it that way, if you and I get to glory and He is able to give us then of His fullness, endow us with heavenly riches, I am quite sure that we will have found in the discipline of renunciation the right ground upon which to be rewarded; that is, we've been through it.
You see, a person, anybody who has really been through this, been right in that deep and desperate reality of facing some thing, some possession, something that means very much to them, indeed, it might mean everything to them, might make or mar their life, they have been faced with the question of willingness to let go unto the Lord, my, it's been something, hasn't it? It's all most devastating to selfhood, to ambition, but when that devastation has taken place and we come out on the other side, it is all right. There's no battle now, out on the other side it's done. It's done. Then the Lord has His ground for rewarding, for giving. It's safe. It's safe.
I wonder how many of you, especially you servants of the Lord, whoever you are, I wonder how many of you have sometimes said to the Lord: "Lord, can You trust me with this? Can You trust me with that blessing? Can You really trust me to do this for You? I know my own heart. I know its pride, I know its acquisitiveness, its love of place, position, influence, and so on, I know it. And I'm afraid, I'm afraid that if You do, Lord, bless, I may, all subtly, take some gratification to myself. Can You trust me?"
And the Lord is working to get us to the place, dear friends, where He can trust us with eternal, heavenly responsibility, because He knows that that deep, evil thing in our nature has been dealt with by the discipline of renunciation. Do you follow me? It is very true isn't it, to spiritual life, it really is spiritual history. It's like that.
There are so many tensions, aren't there? My word, aren't we suffering in this life from nervous tensions and strains. Yes, many a nervous breakdown, a lot of this intensity, a wrong kind of intensity that does us harm nervously and physically, what is it due to? We are not getting what we want! We are not having what we have set our heart upon! God is not giving it to us, or doing it for us, and so we are in this state of tension and strain in life. And life becomes a strain, even the Christian life becomes a terrible strain. Of course, if you don't know anything about this, you are a very fortunate person, but it's true for all of us. We meet people everywhere who are under strain. You can see it in their faces. What is the matter? They haven't learned to let go to God. Because I know and you know, by experiences that you've had, that when you have come to the place where you let go to the Lord (and I am very particular about saying 'to the Lord' mark you, it may be to the Lord through other people or through somebody or some thing, but ultimately it's to the Lord), when you have done that and you've got there, a wonderful calm comes, wonderful rest and wonderful peace. The battle is over and the strain has gone! That is very true. This great renunciation.
So He identified Himself with man, in the form of a man. Temptation is not temptation and has no meaning, resolve this problem if you can, but it has no meaning at all if there is not something to work upon; not necessarily a sinful, evil, devilish nature, but just human nature as it is. And so when the devil came to Him in the wilderness and offered Him the kingdoms of the world, it was no temptation if He had no heart for the kingdoms of the world, if He could say: "You can have them. I am not interested in that!" If He could say, "They don't matter to Me at all, the kingdoms of the world," there was no temptation, was there? But if the kingdoms of this world were the very object for which He had come, there is a temptation, and a subtle thing here, appealing to the soul life even of the Son of Man. And He became identified with man, knowing quite well the temptations of man, and knowing man's natural ambition.
He was tempted in all points like as we are, sin apart, but He conquered. How? He conquered, not by saying: "I am not a bit interested in that. That is no temptation to Me!" No, but by saying: "I am going to have that, but not at your hands, satan! Not by your gift, not along your line. I am going to the Cross, and there I will destroy you and get this on proper ground." And so He became in the likeness of man, knowing man's temptations, without the sinful nature, (that's a [type of theological] problem, of course) without the sinful nature, nevertheless, nevertheless with a human soul which can have ambition for itself, or for God. And so, in that temptation, every one is: the Father, the Father, the word that the Father has spoken. The battleground, you see: "Not for Me, not for Me, but for others and for the Father."
I wonder if you've followed me? I think we are touching things that are very real to the spiritual life! We are. The whole matter of identification with us in order to save us, and to save us from our selfhood, our self-towardness, to save us by conversion - turning God-ward. The life of the Christian, then, simply is the life which is for God, isn't it? It's for God! We are tested on that, so often, really tested, but when we get through we come to rest, we come to peace, we come to quietness. The battle is over - until the next time! But that's the way we grow.
The next time will be more severe, I am sorry to say that, but you've learned something. You don't come into the more severe without the knowledge of what it means, and the way through. You've learned something and you're able to say: "Ah, well. I was up against something like this before, and I have learned how to get through by the grace of God. Alright, this is a bit more difficult, but it is the same principle. I am not going to fight for my own way. I am not going to fight for my own interests. I am not going to exercise this bulldog disposition of mine to get hold of this and not let go, but I am going to be ready to put that on the altar unto God." The solution comes that way - the law of renunciation in progress toward Divine fullness.
The Lord give us understanding and help from His Word.
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