I have seen profound evidence of this truth in the past week. The recognition that spiritual warfare is not only real, but necessary, has set my husband and myself on a path that has ultimately estranged us from the traditional Church, yet given us the opportunity to testify to the fullness of our Christian faith.
Christians don't like that word "process" because it means "a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end". You see, it is my opinion that we've kind of gotten the purpose and method of Christianity out of order and all mixed up. I'm not too sure we haven't lost some of what Jesus intended for us, His followers, to do until His return.
When the Apostles met the resurrected Jesus in Galilee and they received their/our commission, what did Jesus tell them to do? He told them in Matthew 28:19-20, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." There is a lot going on in those instructions, but somehow, the Church has reduced it all to a message about salvation.
The primary message that I think people in our culture receive ... and people in the pews ... is how important it is that we are SAVED. They perceive that the central point of the Good News of Jesus is that through God's grace, we have received the gift of salvation, which translates into eternal life; we have escaped the wrath of God because Jesus paid the debt for our sins by experiencing the death that is due all of us. GRACE and SALVATION become the focal point of what Jesus is all about, and we miss the broader implications of His ministry and purpose. To them, Salvation is the ultimate goal ... "got it ... done!"
Let me be clear, I am by no means denying the significance of Salvation! It is a desired result of a very real relationship with the Son of God. But it is just one component of that relationship, and we do a disservice, as His disciples, to concentrate on that message alone. We have forgotten just how extraordinary it was when, at the beginning of His public ministry, He stood up in the synagogue, and when reading from the ancient scrolls, chose to read Isaiah 61:1-2: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed and commissioned me to bring good news to the humble and afflicted; He has sent me to bind up [the wounds of] the brokenhearted, To proclaim release [from confinement and condemnation] to the [physical and spiritual] captives and freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord..."
In effect, Jesus is stating His job assignment, and it all leads to Freedom -- the binding of wounds; the release from confinement and condemnation; freedom to the prisoners of sin and the physical and spiritual captives [of the devil]. That is what He has been sent to do, and receiving Salvation (the "good news" He states at the beginning) is just the beginning of the process that will lead to Freedom in this world, and Eternal Life in the next.
The Church has been good about teaching the beginning of the process -- the Salvation message. But if we only receive Salvation and don't continue on to Freedom, then we have our faith in Jesus (that He died for our sins, was buried and resurrected to bear witness to God's victory over Death, and to bear witness to the same Power that will save us from eternal Hell), but we have only gone half-way towards benefitting from the rest of Jesus's assignment.
Knowing and recognizing that He died for our sins does not, by itself, release us from the bondage and condemnation of the Enemy. Our physical and spiritual captivity is not automatically voided by the Prince of this world. Did you know that the Early Church believed that everyone who received Salvation (and was converted out of this world) was still full of demons? They believed that a person could receive Jesus as their Savior from eternal damnation, but still have unclean spirits that affected their lives. You see, they were well aware of the symptoms of demonization, and there were people within the Church who had either witnessed Jesus "setting the captives free", or had seen His Apostles and disciples continuing His work in binding up the spiritual wounds caused by demonic attacks.
Sadly, today we have lost that sense of recognition. We have all kinds of titles we put on demonic oppression .... mental illness; schizophrenia; personality disorders, bipolarism, and on and on. In God's Truth, and in reality, these conditions are caused by spiritual attacks by the Enemy. Granted, these are extreme cases of demonic oppression, but this realization does not dismiss that Christians, who are wonderfully Saved, are still in bondage to demonic persuasions.
Over the past week, my husband and I have ministered to people who love the Lord without question, who have accepted Him as their Savior and believe in the redemptive work He did on the Cross. Yet, they are plagued with Guilt and Shame and Doubt and Unworthiness and Pain and Anger ... just to name a few. These are people who know that the Bible tells us that God forgives and forgets our sins. They know the Scriptures that tell us "I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more"; " I will put My laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’ Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more"; and "As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us".
They know these Scriptures and they hear them time and time again, but they don't really believe it. That's because they are still in bondage to the lies of the devil, who whispers in their minds that they don't deserve the forgiveness; that they are unworthy of Jesus's sacrifice; that they are still dirty and unclean in His eyes.
But here's what they miss, and what I believe the Church fails to hammer home in their teaching and preaching: It is the very important message contained in Hebrews 10:14 ... For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. I think most Christians can get the concept that when they receive Salvation, Jesus's forgiveness is a done deal (even if they don't quite believe it for themselves). But they have not been taught that this begins the process toward being the person that Jesus created them to be; the Scripture says they "are being sanctified". Other translations say they "are being made holy". Do you see the verb tense? It is Present Progressive, indicating an ongoing activity. It's right there in the description! It's about "Progress"! First ... Salvation, which begins the process; and then taking the steps to make progress towards Freedom!
Let's finish by going back to that Early Church belief that converted Christians still had demons. Why would we think we are any different? Do we look back on them as backwards and uncivilized, and see ourselves as more enlightened and informed? Remember, they were a whole lot closer to receiving Jesus's "Good News" than we are, thousands of years later. They took to heart his proclamation in that synagogue ... that this was the favorable year of the Lord because He was being anointed and commissioned to bind up and heal spiritual and physical wounds; to release people from condemnation; and to free the prisoners that the devil was keeping in captivity.
And before He left this world, He told those of us who believe in Him that we would do the things He had done, and even greater. And now we are waking from a long slumber of deception, lack of knowledge, and inexperience to continue that work.
In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus instructs us to make disciples of all nations, and to "[teach] them to observe all that I commanded you". That word "observe", in the Greek, means to guard or preserve. But what should we, as the Body of Christ, be guarding and preserving? The Gospel of Jesus, for sure ... that Salvation is available to all that believe in His redemptive work. But after He is resurrected, and before He ascends into Heaven, He makes it very clear that the Apostles are to wait for the Power of God (which would come in the form of the Holy Spirit). This is the same Power that the Father had given Him to heal the brokenhearted, cast out demons and set people free from the oppression of satan. And with that Power they were to continue these same works that He had done, and to teach those who were becoming followers of Jesus that they, too, received that Power at their conversion. And they were to use it!
I began this post by saying that I had seen this two-step process of Salvation to Freedom this past week. People were able to see Jesus in the midst of their sinful lives and to experience His love and forgiveness. They left that encounter feeling "different; lighter; as if a burden had been lifted". But most importantly, they left knowing that Jesus is ever-present and He wants them set free from the prison they've been locked in. And it is a glorious thing to witness!
It is such a blessing to be involved in Deliverance Ministry ... to see the Power of the Holy Spirit speak into people's lives so they can see the Truth of Jesus's forgiveness and their path out of the hurts and oppression they have been suffering under. When Jesus said, "And you shall know the truth, and the Truth shall set you free", I'm here to give witness that He means it! I have assisted Jesus and the Holy Spirit to help people see Him in the midst of the hardest times in their lives; times that satan used to give them a spirit of brokenness, or anger, or shame. And, the Holy Spirit shows them that Jesus was actually there with them through that painful experience, and they hear His truth, instead of satan's lie ... that He loves them; He has always loved them; He forgives them when they ask for forgiveness; and He washes them clean with His blood. It is to the Glory of God that I can assist Jesus in making Himself real to those who love Him! Now it is my prayer that other Christians will recognize that their Salvation is just the starting point; that they will begin the process towards Freedom, letting Jesus and the Holy Spirit work in them to release them from the spiritual bondage that is hindering them from bearing fruit in their lives and for God's Kingdom. That's the second step that Jesus died for!
Psalm 118:5 "Out of my distress I called on the Lord; The Lord answered me and set me free."