THE POWER OF THE PREACHING OF THE CROSS (MESSAGE N°4)
By Henri Viaud-Murat
English version of tape C118, "Source de Vie", La Grotte, F-48370 St. Germain de Calberte, France. This message is the fourth of a set of 5 (C115 to 119).
Practical Aspects of the Message of the Cross
I would now like to consider our subject from a practical standpoint. Preaching the message of the Cross is vital, but applying it in all the practicalities of everyday life is more vital still. Even a proper spiritual understanding of the message will not suffice, unless we apply it on a daily basis. Since we are Christians, those who watch us need to see Jesus Christ in us : no longer must our flesh hinder His manifestation of Himself in our lives. The Lord Jesus needs to demonstrate His presence through us, who are His children.
I would like to quote from Galatians : "O foolish Galatians ! Who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified ?" (Galatians 3:1). Paul had preached the message of the Cross to them and led them to the Lord. One of the first things Paul did during his missionary trips was to take a few disciples apart and instruct them in the Word of the Lord. His first message to them was : Jesus Christ crucified. He would explain the revelations he had received from the Lord. His message to them amounts to this : "I have explained to you what Jesus accomplished on the Cross. And now, you foolish Galatians (the phrase actually means : "stupid Galatians"), after listening to the message of the Cross, you have stopped obeying the truth. Your spiritual life with Christ began properly, but you have now fallen back into the ruts of the flesh. You have gone back to what you had forsaken."
However, Paul painstakingly goes on to explain to them where the truth lies, pointing out what they must do if they want to walk in the will of God and be pleasing to Him. "This only I want to learn from you : Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith ? Are you so foolish ? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh ?" (Galatians 3:2-3).
In your reasoning, do you use your spiritual understanding, or your carnal, human understanding ? Have you received the Spirit through the works of the law, or through the preaching of faith ? The message of the Cross is imparted to us through the Word of God ; then the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, reveals it to our hearts. So Paul explains that the Galatians received the Spirit through the preaching of faith, not the works of the law.
The Holy Spirit wishes to enlighten our spiritual understanding by revealing this directly to our hearts. We then need to lay hold on the revelation and appropriate it through faith. The mere performing of works will never enable us to practise the message of the Cross, but will only reduce it to the kind of head-knowledge that makes one say : "I know I must live a crucified life, and I am bent on doing so. I will endeavour to practise it in every aspect of my existence." But that would be a work of the flesh, devoid of faith ! The Holy Spirit imparts faith to us when our spiritual understanding is filled with light, and when our spirits fully accept the message of the Cross.
Further on, Paul explains what he means : "Are you so foolish ? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh ?" There are two ways of practising the message of the Cross : a spiritual way, through faith, and a carnal, legalistic way, through the law and the commandments. "Have you suffered so many things in vain if indeed it was in vain ? Therefore he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does he do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith ? Just as Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness, therefore know that only those who are of faith are the sons of Abraham."(Galatians 3:4-7).
We shall be fully able to apply the whole message of the Cross if we receive it by faith and walk in it in faith. Everything, finally, is a matter of faith. The whole of Christs inheritance, beginning with salvation, is to be received by faith. So you may say : "Well, here I am back at square one again ! How can I obtain that faith ? I want to, since I can apply the message of the Cross only through faith. What must I do to have faith ?
Paul goes on to say : "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying : In you all the nations shall be blessed. So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham." (Galatians 3:8-9).
We are all sons and daughters of Abraham through faith. The Lord reveals His word to us, as He did to Abraham. Abraham believed. On account of Abrahams faith, God was able to move mightily in his life, so mightily, in fact, that the Messiah came from his lineage. The promises made to Abraham were all fulfilled in Jesus. Through His coming and through His sacrifice, the Lord opened wide for us the doors of heaven ; he enabled us to walk in the Spirit, and to walk as crucified ones.
Everything is given to us through faith, for only thus can it be through grace. In verse 10, Paul says : "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse ; for it is written Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all the things that are written in the book of the law, to do them."
We must be careful when we exhort Christians to apply the Word and not just listen to it. Of course we have to practise the Word, but this can be done either in a legalistic or a spiritual way. Under the law of Moses, God gave commandments, and all the Hebrews had to do was to apply the Word of God. They tried to, but could not, because they were neither born again nor baptised in the Holy Spirit as the Church of Jesus Christ can be.
So Christians are not to try to practise the Word of the Lord in the way that was required of the Jews under the Old Covenant. We are not to receive Gods Word as if it were a law given from outside of us, for us to apply as best we can. We may be able to practise some of the Lords commandments, but it is impossible to reach perfection or to come to the full measure of the stature of Christ that way : it would mean coming under a law without ever walking in the Spirit, therefore remaining under the curse. We must be perfectly aware of that.
This does not mean that we are simply to declare that "it cant be done", thus settling for "cheap grace", walking in defeat and giving in to the flesh. We need to understand that the only way to practise the Word of God is through faith. Our spiritual understanding needs to be enlightened, so that our spirits know what God is revealing to us through His Word and His Spirit. Since true faith always involves the corresponding works, we shall see that what we believe comes to pass.
The Word of God was written into our hearts when we were born again. Moreover, the Holy Spirit, who teaches us all things, has taken up residence in our hearts. We are in a position to receive faith from the Lord Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith. Through that faith, the life of Jesus flows into us. Such faith carries us, quite naturally, into the works of Jesus, which the Father has prepared beforehand for us.
To try to practise the Word of God without faith is to come under a law and rob ourselves of the life of Jesus. That produces a legalistic attitude that imprisons us in the deadness of the flesh, under a curse, when Jesus sacrifice on the Cross has destroyed that curse ! Obedience, then, would not flow from faith. The Word of God would be seen as a mere commandment which we are required to obey. That could never be a work of faith, since true faith always produces the corresponding works.
That is why Paul says to the Galatians : "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." (Galatians 3:10). What a far-reaching statement ! The law says : "Whoever does not practise Gods commandments is cursed." In Old Testament times, devout Jews endeavoured to practise the Law, but never managed to satisfy Gods absolute demands fully. That was what God wanted, to reveal to men the sinfulness of their nature, and to let them know they could never obey the Law perfectly in that way. God has committed all men to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
The Lord Jesus had to come in the flesh : it was through Jesus that the revelation of grace and truth was given. Through repentance and faith in Jesus, men were given access to the new birth. By giving men a good and perfect law, God wanted to show them that it was impossible to obey it in the strength of their own wills : they had to be born again. Century after century, men tried to obey the law, unsuccessfully ; but this led them to realise that if they were ever to obey the law, it would have to be through some other means.
If we try to live as crucified ones who walk in the Spirit, yet retain legalistic attitudes, we shall never be able to obey all the commands of the Law. There was only One who reached the goal : the Lord Jesus. No matter how determined, resolute and willing we are, we cannot. To walk the way of the law is to come under a curse. That is not how God wants to teach us to walk in the Spirit.
So Paul says : "Galatians, what fools you are ! Initially, you were walking in the Spirit, but now you are falling back under the yoke of the law, so you are cursed ! "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us, for it is written : Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree." (Galatians 3:13). Why was the Lord Jesus made a curse ? So that the blessing of Abraham might be fulfilled through Jesus for the nations, and so that we might receive, through faith, the Spirit who had been promised. So before the Galatians believed, they could not receive Him as they were able to receive Him after believing.
There is one way only to walk in the Spirit and to walk every day as one who is crucified : through the moving within us of the Holy Spirit, received through faith in Jesus Christ. Not only will the Holy Spirit reveal the works of Jesus to us ; He will also allow us to step into those works and walk in genuine faith. In our daily existence, we shall actually be enabled to walk as crucified ones. Because we believe, we shall be able to enter into the works of God. Only then can the Lord perfect His work in us, provided we remain steadfast in the faith, looking unto Jesus and His Word.
It may seem to you that all this is rather complicated. Dont be anxious ! The Holy Spirit will explain, reveal and teach it to us. If, as the Word requires, we believe in our hearts that in Christ we were crucified and rose again, if we continually look to Jesus, we shall be able to hold a position of victory. Whenever we are tempted to doubt or to fear, if we hold fast at all times to the truth we have received, we shall reign in life. The abundant life of Christ will flow into us, and we shall not practise sin, having understood what our position in Christ is. We shall dwell in that position through faith.
It is the same for all the promises of the Lord : salvation, healing, deliverance from any and every demonic oppression, and so on. How did we receive salvation ? Through faith ! We accepted the preaching of the Gospel through faith, the fact that Jesus had died for us, that all our past sins had been blotted out by His blood, and that we could ask God to forgive our sins. The Word of God says : "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (I John 1:9).
We are not to wait till we feel that something is taking place : we are to appropriate, through faith, the statements and promises God gives in His Word. As soon as we appropriate them through faith, the Holy Spirit does His work within us. He convinces us that we truly are children of God, because through simple faith, we receive His Word. That is how we come into salvation.
Some endeavour to live seemingly good Christian lives, but they have not been born again, and have not received the life of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they were born into good Christian families ; they are church-goers, know that Jesus is the Saviour, and know all about what He has done ; but they are not born again. They have not taken into their hearts, through faith, the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus. There has not been a deep work of repentance within them, and they have not fully received into their spirits the revelation of all that Jesus has done. They have not fully consecrated their lives to the Lord.
I believe there are quite a number of them in our churches. They have accepted an intellectual or a sentimental version of the Gospel, but have not repented and have not truly given their lives to the Son of God. They have not grasped, through faith, the saving message of the Gospel, so the Holy Spirit has not been able to do His regenerating work in their hearts. Since the law of the Spirit of Life in Jesus Christ is not at work in the lives of such persons, they are still under the law of sin and death ; they have not been led to the Cross and into new birth.
The Word of God declares that what counts is to be a new creation in Christ Jesus. When we have received, through faith, salvation and new birth, we also have access, through faith, to all the promises of God and to the whole of Christs inheritance : sanctification, the righteousness of God, healing, and deliverance from demons. God also wants to provide for all our needs in Jesus Christ. All the promises of God are "yes" and Amen" in Jesus Christ. Gods promise is that for those who seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, all those things will be added. "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you". (Matthew 6:33).
God offers us all His promises, saying : "I will meet all your needs if you believe my Word." He will work out whatever He need to do in us, so that we can walk as crucified ones in the practicalities of daily life.
We receive healing for our sicknesses in the same way. The Scriptures declare : "by his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5). "He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet : He Himself took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses." (Matthew 8:16-17). Perhaps we fully understand this Word, but have not yet appropriated it in faith, receiving it as the truth that concerns us personally. We may not have grasped, through the Spirit, that our former natures were slain in Christ, and that all our sicknesses perished in Him, for He bore them for us on the Cross. We may not have yet realised, through a revelation of the Holy Spirit, that our former selves were wholly destroyed in Christ. Our former selves, with their passions and their evil desires, all of their sicknesses and infirmities, were engulfed in Christs death and burial. We have not yet grasped that the Lord Jesus has done something new within us, through His Spirit. Actually, He has made all things new. He wants to make us heirs of God. Resurrection awaits us, the rapture awaits us, if we remain faithful to the Lord and walk with Him in faith. All His promises are for us !
What a difference there is between walking under the law and walking in faith ! Anyone who has actually received a healing through faith knows it in his heart of hearts. He doesnt need any further explanations ! Even if the healing is not yet fully manifested, anyone who is truly in the faith knows in his heart that Gods Word is true, that Jesus took upon Himself our sicknesses and our infirmities, and that by His stripes we have been healed. If we are in the faith, our works will be in agreement with that faith. There will be no need to go and ask a brother whether we should, or should not go to a doctor or take medicine. Going to a doctor is the evidence to the fact that we are not yet in the faith of God. Of course, we are not to criticise or judge each other, but to exhort and help each other to look to Jesus, who gives us faith and brings it to perfection.
If you come and ask my advice, this is what Ill say : "Brother (or sister), keep on coming closer and closer to the Lord, and pray for a deeper revelation in your heart of what He has done for you. Be aware of your spiritual position in Christ. Receive in faith all that He reveals to you." Then it will be clear to you, without the slightest shadow of doubt, that God is faithful to His Word and brings His promises to pass. You will know that God doesnt need mans medical skills in order to heal you. Jesus demonstrated that throughout His earthly ministry. He always healed all those who asked Him to, simply through the power of His Spirit.
Would we need psychologists to explain the meaning of sin and salvation to us ? Of course not ! That is achieved only through the work of Gods Spirit, through the preaching of faith. When we receive faith through new birth, we need to know that our past lives are wholly dead and buried in Christ. There is no need for traumatic counselling sessions or any of the soulish entanglements of "inner healing". If we have received the message of the Cross, the message of faith, that is all we need to deal with our problems through Christ, provided we are in the faith.
That is why Paul adds : "that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:14). Then, one verse further on : "Brethren, I speak in the manner of men : Though it is only a mans covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it." (Galatians 3:15). No-one must ever add to or take away from the Word of the Lord. He has given us His promises : "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say : and to his seeds, as of many, but as of one, and to your seed, who is Christ." (Galatians 3:16).
None of Gods arrangements can ever be altered. No promise of His can ever be cancelled : God keeps His promises. As soon as He sees a heart opening up to His Word and keeping it through faith, he will bring His Word to pass in that life. If He did not, His promise would be made void, which is impossible.
Further on, we read : "if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law." (Galatians 3:21). The law can never give life. It is a series of commandments, all of which are good. But the law in itself ministers death. God has committed all men to disobedience, so that the promise might be given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. The Holy Spirit wishes to reveal the work of the Cross to us, that we might appropriate it through faith.
Jesus has achieved everything for us on the Cross : He took our former nature, nailed it to the Cross, and caused us to die with Him. He obtained forgiveness for our sins, and the crucifixion of our flesh. He gave us a new life, through the new birth. He has already fulfilled everything ! Jesus ascended into heaven, and presented Himself to His Father as the perfect High Priest. He offered Him His own blood, which is more perfect than the blood of goats and calves. He atoned perfectly for all of our sins. He sat down at the right hand of the Father, and caused us to be seated with Him in the heavenly places !
On the Cross, Jesus said : "All is fulfilled. And bowing his head, he gave up his spirit." (John19:30). Since all is fulfilled, what the Lord Jesus needs, now, is our faith, so that we can enter into this fulfilment. How can I walk in the Spirit, and live as one crucified ? Through faith in what Jesus did for me, through faith in what He has made of me in Himself. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." (Romans 10:17).
If the Cross is preached as it ought to be, and if we hear it in our hearts, faith is going to flow into us : and through faith we shall appropriate what we have heard, what the Word of God declares. Our appropriation of this through faith enables the Holy Spirit to work a miracle in us. Through faith, we can step into what Jesus Christ has fulfilled for us ; we understand that it belongs to us, and are in a position to apply it in our daily lives.
Paul goes on to say : "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus ; for as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ." (Galatians 3:26-27). We have put on Christ, if we hold fast in faith to the fact that we have been baptised into Him, into His death and His resurrection.
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christs, then you are Abrahams seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:28-29). It is through faith that we become heirs, just as Abraham received his son through faith and faith alone in Gods promise. There was no other way to receive him. Abraham believed and trusted God. When God says that you were crucified with Christ, that your flesh is dead and buried, that He has granted you a new nature, you need to listen to Him with an open heart and receive what He says. Do not try to use your human understanding. Receive the word of the Lord, and say : "Thank You, Lord !"
It is therefore vital to listen properly. The same Word falls on the ears of every man. How are you going to listen to it, and what sort of fruit is it going to bear in your life ? The same Holy Spirit is moving throughout the whole world. Gods goodness is urging all men to repent, and also to receive what He reveals in His Word through the Holy Spirit. God has no favourites : He wants to treat us all in the same way. If we are Christians, we are all His children.
The fruit that His Word is going to bear in our lives does not depend primarily on the Lord : He has already done everything for us. The fruit will depend on the way we listen to the Word of God. Let us read some verses about this : "His disciples asked him, saying, What does this parable mean ? And he said : To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand." (Luke 8:9-10).
It must be clear to us that the Lord Jesus wants to explain His Word to us in full detail, provided we truly are His disciples. To understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, the disciples simply questioned Jesus. It is the same for us. Let us say to Him : "Lord, I want much more than head-knowledge about the Cross and the crucified life. I want Your Spirit to do His work within my heart, so as to receive the revelation of those things through faith." If we are truly the Lords disciples, Jesus will explain everything to us. The Holy Spirit, who knows the depths of God, will teach us all things. "God has revealed them to us through His Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God." (1 Corinthians 2:10).
The Lord will answer our questions. God will grant this freely and graciously ; so we need to be perfectly sure that we are indeed His disciples. Our lives must be wholly consecrated to the Lord, with nothing held back. The disciples of Jesus had left everything to follow Him ; they were not yet perfect, but they had given up everything to follow Him, to listen to His Word, to take it into their hearts and ask the Lord for explanations if they did not understand. Let us never hesitate to question the Lord Jesus if we do not understand His Word. He will explain everything in full detail. "Now the parable is this : The seed is the Word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear ; then the devil comes and takes away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved."(Luke 8:11). The hearts of those people were as hard as a much-trodden path. Yet they had listened to the same Word as the others. The Holy Spirit was moving in their hearts too, but those hearts were hardened to such an extent that Gods seed could not send roots down into them so as to bear fruit.
"But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the Word with joy ; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away."(Luke 8:12).
Those are the ones who were content with a superficial work in their hearts. The roots could not go down deep into their soil, for it was too stony. Yet they listened gladly to the Word at first. Many Christians are like that : they enjoy listening to the Word, and say : "this message on the Cross is fantastic ! its awesome ! Its the very thing I needed !" Then, seemingly, some time afterwards, they have forgotten all about it. When trials come, they fall apart, because the work in their hearts was superficial. The Word could grow only stunted roots within them, lacking soil to sink deep down. And yet the seed was of the same quality, an identical, divine seed.
"Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity." (Luke 8:14). As Christians, we have no business entertaining carnal anxieties and saying : "I am worried about what is in store for me : am I going to have this, that, or the other ? Paul had plenty of cares, but his were spiritual cares. He was burdened for the spiritual well-being of the Churches. He was anxious because the Galatians were slipping back into the flesh. Those are the right kind of spiritual cares. Worldly cares, however, stem from fear and unbelief : "Will I have a good job, plenty of money, social security, and a proper pension ? How much money do I need to set aside to prepare for the future ?"
God does not forbid us to think about such matters. But if we get worried, if our spirits are immersed in those things, then the good seed within our hearts will be choked and will bear no fruit. If we are filled with the cares of life, a desire for wealth, or the lusts of this world, we shall actually scatter evil seeds that will choke the good seed in our hearts, and the Cross will be preached to us in vain.
"But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience." (Luke 8:15) That is what makes all the difference ! An honest and good heart ! When you hear the message of the Cross, or any other message from the Word of God, if you have an honest and good heart, that message will take root in you and will unfailingly bear fruit. Do you understand how vital the hearing of the Word is ?
Our hearing depends on the condition of our hearts. What is the condition of your heart ? What do you think of most of the time ? What is your heart taken up with ? Do you allow yourself to be ensnared by the cares and pleasures of life, are you lured by wealth, or are you wholly devoted to your Lord and to the doing of His will ? Do you really want to feed on the spiritual milk from above and the wholesome, solid food of the Lords Word ? Jesus says : "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again : but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst. The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:13-14). He also says : "Let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely." And also : "Ho ! everyone that thirsts, come to the waters ; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk, without money, and without price !" (Isaiah 55:1).
Some Christians do not thirst : or more exactly, they thirst for other things than the Word of God. They may also thirst for the Lord and for the world at the same time. That kind of thirst puts us among those who suppress the Word in their own hearts, for lack of good soil within them.
Therefore the condition of our hearts is all-important. There can be born-again Christians with devious hearts. There can be unconverted pagans with good, honest hearts. I do not mean that such hearts have been cleansed and made righteous before God : no, if they are pagans, they are still sinners ; but their hearts, though unregenerate, can be honest and good. Here are two instances of this : the first is in Acts 8:13, when Philip came and preached the Word in Samaria. The Scriptures tell us about Simon the magician : "Simon himself believed also ; and when he was baptised, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done." (Acts 8:13). Read that verse again with me : "Simon himself believed also, and when he was baptised "
Doesnt that remind you of something ? "He who believes and is baptised shall be saved ; but he who does not believe shall be damned." (Mark 16:16). According to the conditions laid down by Jesus, Simon had become a Christian. But immediately afterwards, we read : "And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, saying : Give me also this power, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:18-19). The apostles certainly had the discerning power of the Holy Spirit. They would never have baptised Simon, had they not realised he had actually believed the Gospel message ; and yet they were aware that he had been a prominent magician. Not many pastors, today, would have acted as they did !
Simon heard the Gospel message and believed ; Philip baptised him at once. He never said : "This one was a prominent magician ! Im going to keep him waiting for six months to see whether he is really converted, before I baptise him !" What would we have done in Philips or in the other Apostles place ?
But Peter said to Simon : "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money ! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God." (Acts 8:20-21). Simon had become a Christian, but he had a devious heart. For that reason, he had a hideous thought : he imagined that the gift of the Holy Spirit could be purchased with money. So Peter rightly discerned that his heart was dishonest, and that his very life, his spiritual life, was imperilled ! "Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you, for I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity."
That "perhaps" has a terrible ring to it ! Simon was on the verge of sinning against the Holy Spirit ! And yet he had believed and been baptised ; he had listened to the Word of God like the others. But his heart was not right in the sight of God : it was devious ! He thought that everything was a matter of money. Peter did not offer him a deliverance session to free him from his bonds ; he asked him to repent and to pray.
The Bible also tells us about pagans who had good and honest hearts. Two chapters later, in Acts 10, we read : "There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment." This man was a captain in the Roman army : the ultimate pagan ! Every Roman private or officer was required to offer sacrifices to the gods of Rome and to Caesar, who was to be acknowledged as a god. No-one could get promoted without submitting to those requirements. This centurion had done these things honestly, considering them the right thing to do ; but we are also told that he was "a devout man, and one that feared God, with all his house, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always." Yet he was not saved, since God sent an angel to him with this message : "Go and get Peter ; he will tell you about salvation." "About the ninth hour of the day, he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him Cornelius ! And when he observed him, he was afraid and said : What is it, lord ? So he said to him : Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon, whose name is Peter." (Actes 10:3-5).
Cornelius was a devout, God-fearing pagan. That is tantamount, today, to being a devout Buddhist, or a devout Muslim. Those Roman pagans had no end of gods, such as Jupiter, Mars, and so on. They offered sacrifices to them. So this man, a pagan, had a good and honest heart. He prayed to God, as Muslims pray to God. I am sure that there are Muslims whose hearts are good and honest. They were born into their religion, and no-one ever taught them anything else. But it is the hearing of the Gospel that shows whether their hearts are good and honest. If so, they will accept the Gospel message, since Jesus is the Truth.
Cornelius did just that. An unsaved Gentile, he "prayed to God always". Many unsaved people pray to God : that is not salvation. But it shows God what their hearts are like, and God reveals salvation to them through Jesus Christ.
So Cornelius had a vision of an angel appearing to him. Many Christians would like to have such a vision ! The angel said to him : "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God." But he was not saved on account of his prayers and his alms. The angel told him to fetch Simon, called Peter, who would tell him what to do to be saved. We know the rest of the story. They went and fetched Peter, who in the meantime had had a vision and received the revelation that he was not to consider the Gentiles as unclean. Peter came and preached salvation through faith in Jesus to Cornelius and his household, and he concluded his message thus : "To him all the prophets witness that through his Name, whoever believes in him will receive remission of sins." (Acts 10:43). "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the Word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered : Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptised who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have ? And he commanded them to be baptised in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days." (Acts 10:44-45).
So here are obvious instances of a former magician who believed and was baptised, but had a devious heart ; and of a pagan with a good and honest heart, who heard the Gospel message and received it in faith. The very same Gospel message was gladly received by Cornelius, the man with the good and honest heart, and improperly received by devious-hearted Simon, in whom the good seed did not bear the same fruit as in Cornelius. Can you see the one thing that made such a difference between the two men ? It was the condition of their hearts ! So you may ask : "What must I do to have a good, honest heart ? If, sincerely, you say : "Lord, I want to have a good, honest heart", that already means that your heart is honest and good, and you are on the right track ! It doesnt even occur to anyone whose heart is not honest and good to ask God for that ; he will strive, rather, to look good, being a hypocrite who focuses on the externals of religion, and not on the actual condition of his heart in Gods sight.
When the Lord Jesus gave the parable of the seed and the sower to his disciples, he laid the full responsibility for the condition of their hearts on their shoulders. He did not let them off easily, telling them that God had made them that way. In Mark 4, after explaining the parable to them, Jesus said : "Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you ; for to him that has, to him shall be given ; and he that has not, from him shall be taken even what he has." (Mark 4:24-25).
That actually amounts to saying to the disciples : "Be very careful about how you listen ! It is your responsibility before God to have good, honest hearts." The condition of our hearts does not depend on the Lord, but on our own attitude in front of His Word, which will bear good fruit in our lives only if our hearts are honest and good. We know some people who did not obtain results in their spiritual lives, because their hearts remained hard. For others, it was because their hearts remained superficial. The hearts of others were filled with the lusts and cares of the world. All told, the result is the same for those three different kinds of persons : the Word of God bears no fruit in their lives. So we must do what Jesus tells us. He said : "Let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely." Revelation 22:17).
If you want to know whether your heart is honest and good, turn to the Lord Jesus and say to Him : "Lord Jesus, you know that I want your Word to bear abundant fruit in my life. With my whole heart, I am utterly determined to give you my whole life, so that you can do all the work you want to do in me." Jesus said to His disciples : "To you it has been given to understand, if you are my disciples."
You have listened to the Word. The Holy Spirit has been at work in your heart enabling you to understand it. How will you respond ? Has your heart been deeply touched by the revelation of Jesus on the Cross, and by what He did for you ? Have you simply come close to the Lord and said : "Lord, the one thing that counts in my life is following You !" Jesus is calling every man. Many are called, but few are chosen : not that Jesus rejects them, but because they do not respond to His call.
"Do all You have to do in me, Lord. I want to follow You all the way, every day of my life. The things of this world do not appeal to me." If you are still attracted by the things of this world, the vain things of this life and the lusts of the flesh, of course you will not be able to utter a cry like that towards God. But what will come about in your life ? You will encounter great difficulties and severe problems. Gods plough will have to go over your heart and open up deep furrows in it. That plough is not the work of the Cross, it is the trials and difficulties you will encounter in life, because you have not really given your whole heart to Jesus. So God will say : "So you want a taste of the things of the world ? Well, go ahead and taste them, enough to realise how distasteful they are ! They can give you neither peace, nor joy, nor the fullness you could find in me, the Good Shepherd." The purpose of those trials and difficulties is to break you completely. Perhaps, when the plough has done its work, your heart will be able to receive the seed of the Word of God, so as to bear fruit within you.
Then you will say : "Lord, until now, I didnt want to give my whole life over to You and to follow You, for I had other interests and other cares than You. But now, You have made me understand that in this world there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can truly give me peace and joy. I have wasted a lot of precious time, and obtained what I was seeking, but without finding fullness for my life. Now I am empty, ungratified, unfulfilled. None of those things have brought me real happiness. Vanity of vanities ! My life is scarred by all sorts of trials. Now, Lord, I am ready to receive Your Word and to keep it !"
If you have a good and honest heart, when you hear the Word, you wholeheartedly decide to make Jesus your all. You are not yet perfect, you have not yet come into the fullness of the crucified life or the walk in the Spirit, but you are taking the Word into an good and honest heart. The seed has sent down roots, and is not held back by stones and thorns, because you watch over your heart. You take care not to drink from bitter fountains or from the broken cisterns of this world. You watch over your heart so that the Word that is planted in it can grow and bear its fruit. It will bear fruit, if you allow it to grow.
That parable of the sower shows us how vital it is to watch over the condition of our hearts, to keep them free of thorns, prickles and stones. As soon as a seed has been dropped into good soil, the living power inside it will cause it to grow and bear fruit of itself in your life. You will not have to sweat in order to make it bear fruit. You sweated to remove the bad seeds and the stones, to prepare your heart. In the parable of the vine and the branches, all the branch has to do is remain attached to the vine so as to bear fruit.
Some aspects of the crucified life may still seem mysterious to you. However, you do not need to worry about how to enter into it. All you need to take care of is the condition of your heart : is it honest and good ? Are you sincere with God, or do you play around with Him ? Are you pretending to be a Christian ? Do you come and listen to the Word just to put up an appearance, or merely because you enjoy having a good time with your brothers and sisters ?
Do you thirst for the Lord and for the things from above ? If those things are in your heart, and if you make sure that they remain there, then Gods seed will produce fruit. You will receive the revelation of God, and of the hidden things He has in store for those who love Him. You will fully understand the walk in the Spirit and the crucified life. You will be able to enter into them by faith. You will receive the Life of Jesus !
"But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the Word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred." (Mark 4:20). Since you allowed no-one to pluck the Word out of your heart, it will bring forth a plentiful harvest that will astonish you, for it will be the work of Jesus.
Everyone can have a good and honest heart. Even a pagan can, otherwise he could not be saved. The way we listen to the Word is vital ; we dont listen to the Word of God just to enjoy a good message. I listen to it, Lord, because I know it is your Word !I want it to sink into my heart and be rooted in a heart I have prepared for You, Lord, a heart wholly consecrated to You.
To conclude, I shall say : "He who has ears to hear, let him hear !" (Mark 4:9). "He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 2:29). The Word of God is established in the heavens forever. It will never pass away ; but we must take care to hold it within our hearts. We must not let the devil come and snatch it away. That Word is powerful to produce exactly what God wishes within me. So watch over your heart, watch over you consecration to the Lord. If you are determined to follow Him unreservedly, Jesus will teach you how to apply the message of the Cross in your daily life.
Let us pray : Lord, You hold me responsible for the condition of my heart and the way I listen to Your Word. I do not want to hold You responsible for my hearing. I want my heart to be like good soil, fit to receive Your holy Word, Your holy seed, so that it bears much fruit in my life for Your glory. Lord, may this Word that I am listening to bear, within me, all the fruit You want it to bear. That is what I wholeheartedly desire ! Help me to watch over my heart. Throw light on all of my deep, hidden motivations. I do not always see them myself. You say that the Holy Spirit searches the depths of our hearts to shed light on whatever is hidden. Lord, let all of those things be brought to the light before me. I want to see everything, to know whatever lies in the depths of my heart. You know I want to follow you and walk with You. I want to see all of Your works coming to pass in my life, through faith in You. I also want to see Your Church, without spot or wrinkle, made ready for Your coming. You have done a perfect work ! Lord, please grant this prayer for Your children, for those who are waiting on You and truly delight in You. You are going to move in a wonderful way ! Do it for each of us. Let our spiritual ears be open, in Jesus Name, my Father. Amen !
The above teaching is the transcription of a spoken message, given in French by brother Henri VIAUD-MURAT. An audio cassette-tape of the original French version is available. The whole of the original recording has been written down unaltered, so as to retain the spontaneous quality of the spoken message, except for a few minor changes made to improve the clarity of the written text.
You can obtain a copy of the audio cassette-tape of this message and others (in French) by writing to :
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