December 2015 / January 2016 - Vol. 83
To Steve Clark, a brother and a teacher
hands raised in worship and
The True God Whom We Serve
by Carlos Mantica

A man or woman will usually relate to God according to the vision he or she has of God. Those of us who have met God through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, our eldest Brother, have learned to see him as a close, friendly God, a personal God who has united himself with our humanity. We have learned to hold familiar conversation in a brother-to-brother intimacy with Christ who is both God and man. Coming to know God in a personal way was a necessary step for many of us who previously had the vision of an impersonal God who was very distant from us. But this new understanding of a personal relationship with God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ is just the first step in understanding how God wants to bring this relationship to a deeper level.

Jesus Christ is Lord
The Lord
Jesus Christ is truly our brother and friend, but he is also much more. When the Spirit of God came upon us, in what we have called being "baptized in the Holy Spirit," he showed us that Jesus who suffered and died for us, and was buried and raised from the dead, has now been glorified by the Father and established as Lord of heaven and earth. Through the gift of the Spirit we know and experience the glorified and risen Christ as our Lord. We now experience what the Apostle Paul wrote to the early Christians, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Christ is the Lord who is worthy of all glory, and in whose presence every knee should bow in heaven and on earth (Philippians 2:10-11). We don't need anyone one to tell us this truth, since the Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirit the reality of the glorified Christ who reigns over all and who now lives in us. So, now, through the working of the Holy Spirit within us, our natural impulse is to proclaim out loud the glory and praise of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now in our relationship with Christ we can naturally proceed from conversation with Christ to adoration, from trust to reverence, from love to respect. One does not hinder the other. Christ continues to be everything he had already been for us before we were "baptized in the Spirit" - our Savior, brother, and friend, but now we recognize that he is much more as well.

Encountering God's glory and majesty
Several years ago
, during a time of worship at an  international conference, the Lord gave me a vision of his glory. (Those of you who think these things are reserved to saints may now laugh.) In the vision I saw an immense crowd with their arms lifted in praise and worship towards a place located on the left side of my visual field. Then I turned my eyes to the place the crowd were looking at, and I saw the Hall of the Heavenly Throne. Behind the Throne was a company of angels - unlike anything I had ever seen before. I once had seen some enormous bronze angels which guarded the entrance to a monument in Spain. But now those gigantic statues looked very tiny, like Christmas ornaments in the shape of little angels, in comparison with the power, glory, and beauty of the living angels I saws standing before the Throne of God.  Their whole being radiated strength, dignity, and manly braveness that only contrasted the transparency and peace in their eyes.

Ascension of Jesus
                                              into heaven by Benjamin

On the throne, naked as in his Resurrection, sat Jesus Christ with an iron scepter in his right hand. His majesty was indescribable.

I was then able to grasp a little of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)
I know that this vision then made its mark on my way of relating to Jesus Christ.

More or less at the end of 1974 or the beginning of 1975, in our charismatic prayer groups, we began to experience the presence of God the Father. In all of those groups, with no exception, those who were praying would fall to the ground and prostrate themselves, their faces on the ground, without being able to explain how or at what moment this had happened. All we know is that the presence of the Father is awesome.

Moses bows
                                before the burning bush, painting by
                                Gebhard Fugel

This is what God told Moses from the burning bush:

“Do not come near, put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” ...And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:5-6)
When Moses implored God, “Show me your face”, God replied:
I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But... you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live... While my glory passes I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen. (Exodus 33:19-23)
At Sinai, the sole presence of God filled the whole people of Israel with terror, while they stayed at a distance.

To Elijah, God said:

“Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle. (1 Kings 19:11-13)
This is Isaiah’s description of his encounter with the Lord:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with to he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1-5)
Ezekiel recalls it this way:
I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:27-28)
None of these prophets saw God. These were merely glimpses of his glory; yet these simple servants of God were not able to resist his presence. I invite you to read the Book of Job once again. He who thought he had no sin and dared to appear before God as a righteous man, was finally able to understand his own smallness and his place before God, when God brought him face to face with his greatness and majesty.

In Revelation we see how the saints and angels relate to God. They, too, are overwhelmed by his glory, and they do not cease to proclaim his holiness, and to sing praises to God. That is our call as well - to worship and glorify God, not only now in this present life, but also for all ages without end.

hands raised in worship

Worshiping God with reverence and awe
Whenever God invites his people to draw nearer to his presence, he also expects them to relate to him in a manner worthy of his glory and greatness. Even when he embraces us with his tender love and kindness, there is still something in his glory and majesty that compels us to give him adoration, and to approach him with awe and reverence. We cannot continue to relate to him simply as we might have done in the past - simply as a benefactor who gives us good things when we ask for his help.

Whenever we gather to worship God together with other Christians, and when we each seek him alone in our private prayer, he wants us to acknowledge him both as a tender and merciful Father and as the Lord and Ruler of the universe. That is why we must always love him with gratitude, reverence, and awe. This attitude of reverence is necessary if we want to enter more deeply into his presence and to experience his immediacy.

Perhaps we might envy those who have seen God in a vision or who have experienced his presence and power the way Moses and the prophets experienced it. However, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us something of much greater significance that ought to change our attitude towards God and lead us to an understanding of our dignity in Christ and the great thing he is doing among us as his people.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews contrasts the experience of Moses and the Israelites with the experience God wants us to know and understand now, because of what Christ has accomplished for us:

For you have not come [as the Israelites did] to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood... (Hebrews 12:18-24)

In Christ we have direct access to God's throne in heaven
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we do not yet have a clear notion of what takes place when we gather to worship the Lord together. We who have been enrolled in heaven as God’s children (that is, we who have a “birth certificate” in the files of heaven, since the day we were born again from on high) join the triumphant Church of those who went before us in the joy of seeing Christ face to face, that is, we join our departed brothers and sisters, our parents, the saints, and myriad’s of angels, in order to appear together in the presence of God and to praise him.

If we fail to worship God with reverence and awe, or worship in an irreverant way, then we fail to recognize whose presence we are in - the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth. That is why the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the experience of the Israelites when they came to the mountain of God in the wilderness. God did not allow them to come near the mountain because they could not endure his presence and live. But now that Christ has come and has redeemed us with his blood, and has torn open the veil of the Holy of Holies that separated the people from God's presence, we have free access through Christ to draw near the throne of grace and to enter God's presence with confidence.

This new reality of how Christ has made it possible for us to enter into God's presence will not make any sense for those who do not yet  know God or who do not understand the fullness of his identity. But for those who do understand what Christ has done for us and how he wants us to approach the throne of mercy in heaven, let us examine what the Scriptures teach us about relating to God is a more mature way as his sons and daughters. 

How, then, does Scripture describe what our relationship to God should be like? First, it should be a personal relationship, because God is a personal being and not a cosmic force; and that personal being also regards us as persons, with that personal love with which we regard each of our children, and not the way one can look at the sand of the sea, even if that sand had emerged from our hands. Yet it is not properly a “man-to-man” relationship, a relationship between equals, even though Christ is a man and that man is our brother. In fact, he is infinitely greater than my brother the President, or my brother the Pope, or my brother the Emperor – people whom we would not treat as equals anyway.

Four images - types of relationships

When God, in Scripture, instructs on the way he wants us to relate to him, he normally uses one of the following four images. He wants our relationship to him to be similar to:

1. That of a son to his father.
2. That of a soldier to his officer.
3. That of a servant to his master.
4. That of a subject to his king.

Personally, I think it ought to be similar to all of those at once. It’s like the relationship I would have to my father if he were at once my king, my officer and my master, because God is all of those things at once, and I don’t know how we could separate them.

He is my Father but he is also my Master and my Lord. And this is where our joy residesin having a Master and being servants of a Lord who, nevertheless, regards us and cares for us with the love of a Father, and who is also the King of all that exists; in being aware that God is a personal being, who has dreamed of me from eternity, who loves me and therefore wants by happiness, and who is omnipotent.

I also believe that it is when we go alternatively from one of these images to another, so that one day we only look at God one way and the next day only in that other way, that we lose our right relationship to him. That is, when we are dirty and come to our King, or we are defeated and come to our Officer, but we forget that at that time he regards us with the love and understanding of a Father. Or when we come, like spoiled children, to the Father who forbids or commands us to do something, forgetting that he is also our Officer. Or when he asks us something or asks us everything, and we start whining, because we forget that we belong to him and that he is the Master and Lord of all that is ours and of ourselves.

I know it’s difficult to grasp all of these images because he transcends all of them. It is difficult to explain how to relate to him because there is no other relationship in the world that will actually be the same. But there is one thing I know we must understand: God is not our comrade or partner, our buddy, our sidekick or accomplice. He and his ways, his power, his authority and his glory, his commands, his essence, his goodness, his tenderness, his justice and his holiness are as far above me as heaven is above the earth. It was he who came to man, it was he who came to me in order to save me, and it was he who established a covenant and a relationship with me. And this covenant is the covenant between omnipotence and impotence, between grace and sin, not a covenant or a relationship between equals.

In order to understand at least a little better the images God uses for explaining his relationship to us, I would like to take a look into each of them individually. We are going to begin with the father-son relationship.

Paul says in Romans 8:14:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. ...When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness...” 
For a Jew in the times of Jesus, a son is not the same as a young child. In modern society, sons and daughter par excellence are young children. When we approach the age of 18, we feel we are ceasing to be sons or daughters, and the thing we most long for is for our parents to stop being parents or acting as such.
But in Jesus’ time, a son par excellence was an adult son, who was able to occupy his father’s position. The father-son relationship was, in this sense, a relationship between two adults.

A stanza of Psalm 127 illustrates this kind of relationship:

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:4-5)
This is not the image of Daddy playing Indians and cowboys with his kids in the backyard. Rather, this is the image of a father-chief, surrounded by manly sons who defend him and who are willing to fight for him and for his interests. These sons the father regards as a blessing, in contrast to a modern father who thinks it’s stupid to spend time forming his children, and who can’t wait to see them leave the home.

For the Jewish mentality, sons are a continuation and an extension of their father: in his reputation, which they must protect as much as their own; in his authority, which they must be able to use in representing him; in his character, being themselves just like their father, having his own way of being, of feeling, of acting; in his responsibility, caring for their father’s business (at twelve years old, the young Jesus who was lost in the temple was already aware of this responsibility); and in his mission, by carrying out and completing their father’s work.

A father lives and is perpetuated in his sons. Since we are God’s sons, we say that a Christian is a man who has been chosen by Christ, in order to be like Christ, and incorporated and enabled by Christ in order to complete Christ’s mission in the world, which is the mission that his Father entrusted him with.

This continuation of the Father is not merely biological but of character. We are supposed to be like him. Jesus said to the Jews, in so many words: “You think you are sons of Abraham, but in fact you are sons of Satan” (cf. John 8:39-44). He tells them this because they no longer reflect the faith of their father Abraham; they do not look like him at all.

All of this is what we are supposed to be for our Father, and it is thus that the Father wants us to relate to him. Not like young children who will hide or curl up in their daddy’s knees, but like adult sons, brave, responsible, respectful, obedient, who by their own way of being are looking to their father’s business, representing him and making use of his authority.

Officer-soldier relationship

Let’s now examine the officer-soldier relationship. We read in Ephesians 6:10-11: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” And then he goes on to describe the armor. To Timothy he says: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3).

We are supposed to be Christ’s soldiers, but some of our number are so irresponsible that they haven’t even realized that we are at war, in a war that began in heaven before the creation of the world, but which has been moved to earth. We are involved in that war even if we don’t want, and not wanting to fight will not only not protect  you from anything, but will make your defeat absolutely certain. Only those who fight under Christ’s banner will survive the devil’s attacks.

But our condition as soldiers must also reflect itself in our daily lives. When you are drafted by the army, your life changes radically. You are now subject to certain rules and to an authority. You are under military discipline. Your personal preferences are subordinated to the army’s needs. Sometimes you won’t be able to take a nap or go where you would have liked to go, or do what you would liked to do, but you will do what your officer says and go where you are sent or where your officer needs you. It’s not the right time to say, “Daddy, I’m tired, let me curl up in your arms,” as you used to do when you were a young kid. It’s time to say: “Heavenly Headquarters, give your orders.”

When you are at war, the safest place to be is with your officer in the battlefield, and well armed. Your safety resides in obeying him. If an army does not obey its commander, having been trained very well will be no use. If you desert, your penalty will be court-martial and dishonor.

It may be that all of this sounds too drastic to you. But that’s only because you are not aware that we Christians, by the very fact that we are Christians, are engaged in total war against the forces of evil, and that the commander of those forces does not sleep, but prowls around like a roaring lion. If we are in a war and if we have been recruited by Christ, we must be willing to live as soldiers. This means we will do whatever he commands us to do, and not those things which are of our personal liking.

But it also means that we will always try to act as a body and to remain together with our battalion. A lonely soldier is a dead man, and that is a well-known fact for those of us who once attempted to live our Christianity by ourselves or to engage in combat as snipers.

But a lonely soldier is not just an idiot, he’s a dangerous fellow for those of his own side. He’s the one others will need to go rescuing. He’s the most likely  to be captured. He’s the one who, because he acts outside all orders or plans, can spoil everything. If you are isolated, you are already in danger, and you are a danger for everyone else.

Master-servant relationship

Let’s now refer to the master-servant relationship. In Romans 6:17-23 St. Paul reminds us that we have been freed from slavery to sin, but we have merely shifted masters, since we now belong to Christ. He says in verse 19: “For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification.”

In order to fully understand certain things in Scripture, it is often necessary to first understand how things worked in the times when the Bible was written. In the times of Jesus, you were either a slave or a free man. And any person could become a slave at any time, for various reasons – because your country was attacked and defeated and the people were led to slavery, but also for more daily reasons such as not being able to pay a debt, as in the case of that man in the parable who owed ten thousand talents. Thus, a person could be sold with his whole family until the debt was paid for. 

We are well aware that we have a debt to Christ which we cannot pay. We also know that the word “redemption” is merely a commercial term, meaning “ransom”. Thus, Christ redeemed us with his blood, the same way you redeem a pledge at a pawnshop. Christ paid our debt with his blood, he bought our IOU’s – but not in order for us to be absolutely free, but, as Paul says, that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15). That’s why he is our Lord, our Master.

Nevertheless, a slave or servant would not go around bearing chains all the time, nor would he spend the whole day cutting rocks the way we see it in motion pictures. A servant would often have a position of confidence, and sometimes could be a tutor for a prince, or even a minister of Pharaoh, as in the case of Joseph. I think this is our situation, since God has placed enormous responsibilities in our hands.

A servant’s fortune came from and depended on his owner’s wealth. So you could be very rich and still be a servant. That’s what Paul says about us: “All things are yours... and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-22).

But above all these things, and whatever the particular situation or position of a servant could be, all servants had one thing in common: they had to do always and first of all – even above the work commended to them – the will of their master. That’s why I always say that the important thing is not doing much or little, doing big or small things – the important thing is always doing God’s will. If Pharaoh says, “Joseph, go and do this errand for me,” Joseph will not reply, “I’m sorry, Mr. Pharaoh, but I’m very busy working as your Prime Minister.” Joseph must go, because before being the Prime Minister he is Pharaoh’s servant.

Joseph was a great man under Pharaoh. And we are greater than Joseph under the King of the Universe. Jesus goes to the point of saying about us that even the smallest one in his Kingdom is greater than John the Baptist, whom he called the greatest born of a woman. But our greatness comes from being servants of the King in the Kingdom of God.

That is why, like the humblest of his servants, we owe the Lord honor, respect and obedience, and we renounce ourselves and any personal preference in order to do always and above all the will of God.

Subjects of the king

Let us now see what it meant to be subjects of a king. David, who was a king, says in Psalm 99:1-3:

The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise thy great and terrible name! Holy is he!

For us it is difficult to understand what a king is, because the few kings that remain today are very unlike the concept of a king in the Bible. A king today is a far-away individual, occupied in his own things and separated from his people, and he will only appear in great solemn events. The one who actually governs is the Prime Minister.

But in Scripture, the model of a king is that of someone who served his people, and he did this in two very concrete ways.

First, he waged war against the enemies of his people, and he would lead his army himself. As we know, in the time of the Judges there was no king in Israel. Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts, was their only King, and he was the one who personally waged war on behalf of his people. That is the constant line in the whole Old Testament – the witness of a King who fights for his people. Samuel grudgingly anointed Saul, who was the first king of Israel. 

The second function of the king was to do justice. He would solve conflicts, give sentence to condemn the wicked and to clear the innocent, and keep order in the midst of his people.

The people, in turn, corresponded to their king by showing him honor and respect, obeying his laws and serving him. Subjects would offer themselves in his service for a given time.

The Lord is our King, and he knows his office. David, who was also a king and who knew his duties, then dares to say to his King in Psalm 35:

Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise for my help! Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers! Say to my soul, ‘I am your deliverance!’
Joshua does likewise when he enters the promised land in order to conquer it. He expects the Lord to wage war against his enemies. That’s the same thing we ought to expect.

Christians today often trust too much in their own strength, neglecting the fact that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the hosts of the enemy, and that the enemy’s power is much stronger than ours. We can conquer only if God is with us, heading and leading the battle, and if we fight with his weapons.

I often insist that it’s not a matter of us fighting with God’s help, which would amount to making God our assistant, but of helping God in his warfare. Our slogan is, Christ and me are the overwhelming majority. If we place ourselves first, me and Christ, we are like a zero on the left of the number, which is worth nothing. But if we place ourselves after him, at his right hand, the more zeros we write, our worth will increase.

Because he is the King, he deserves all our honor and respect, and all our obedience. Because he is the King, the Lord judges us. “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God,” as Paul reminds us in Romans 14:10. As a judge he is slow to anger, but he will not leave the guilty unpunished. We must expect his judgment, remembering that judgment does not just mean punishment of the guilty, but also acquittal of the innocent.

And, once again, we must remember that in our four-fold relationship to him, as servants, subjects and soldiers, we are also sons and daughters of him who will judge us, and therefore we can also trust in his infinite justice and mercy.

> See other Living Bulwark articles by Carlos Mantica

This article is adapted from the book, From Egghead to Birdhood (hatch or rot as a Christian), (c) copyright 2001 Carlos Mantica.

Carlos Mantica is a founder of The City of God community (La Cuidad de Dios) in Managua, Nicaragua, and a founding leader of the Sword of the Spirit. He served as president of the Sword of the Spirit between 1991 and 1995.

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