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Lowell Brueckner

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Seeking the Spirit of the Kingdom, chapter four




The chapter is taken from this book
In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul speaks of the sons of Sarah and Hagar allegorically. The words that join to relate and characterize the son of the slave are law, slavery, sin and flesh. Paul said that these characteristics corresponded to Jerusalem in their time (verse 25), and by this conclusion, we can see again the relationship between religion and the world. It is external and visible, very different from the Kingdom that comes without observation, because it is within us: “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed (visibly, outwardly)… For behold, the kingdom of God is within you (margin NAS. Within is the same Greek word as inside used in Mt. 23:26, the only other place, where it is used.)” (Luke 17:20, 21). The Kingdom of God is spiritual; it is a kingdom of the heart that has to do with grace, a promise and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Ishmael had carnal roots and could only bear fruit accordingly (as we saw before with King Saul). His birth was a project of the flesh, according to a human plan, and he was born into slavery. Abraham and Sarah conceived this plan, intending to bring into being by human possibilities, the promise that only God could fulfill. Since his mother was a slave, Ishmael also was a slave. Because he was conceived according to human possibilities, he was carnal. He was born because of a plan designed by human beings, contrary to the promise of God; therefore, in this particular way, Ishmael was born a sinner.

The nature of such a person is against the will of God and only can submit to rules that he thinks he must observe, even though he desires to do otherwise. It is an attempt to please God through human means. In one word, Ishmael was religious.

The central issue in Galatia was circumcision. It was an outward sign without spiritual power, imperfect and physical, that had nothing to do with spiritual reality. The person, who was religiously circumcised, thereby declared his loyalty to the law, “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law” (5:3), and not to an inner reality of a new heart. If the law enters into the plan of salvation in any way, it completely annuls grace: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (2:21). It is impossible to mix the two principles. Once again, the Galatians, some of them at least, found themselves under condemnation and a curse, because, “you have fallen from grace” (5:4). They were functioning in a different, opposite sphere: “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you” (5:7, 8).
Leaven has to do with false doctrine: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough” (5:9). “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees… Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6, 12). The teachers from Jerusalem, who had come to Galatia, did not heed that warning and they preached, as did the Pharisees and Sadducees, that in order to be saved, one must be circumcised (Similarly today, there are those who say that one must be baptized in water to be saved. It is the same false doctrine, only it focuses on another physical element, that is, on water, instead of skin).

Circumcision is a good example to illustrate the characteristics of a worldly religión, because it is a physical, external act. No one needs spiritual eyes to practice it. If we conform to such practices, the revelation of the cross will be removed. That revelation is a stumbling block to the person, who has no spiritual capacity. He not only does not see, but he also opposes: “If I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished”(5:11). The cross is an offense to the world and, if there is anything that can take the eye off the cross, that is pleasing to it. Society will respect any religion, but that of the cross.

Now, we will see how different the son of the free woman is. In Galatians 4:27, it speaks of a woman with two great disadvantages – she is sterile and she has no husband. She is physically disabled and she has no recourse to remedy the condition. No human possibility is within reach. She has faith in the invisible, that is, in the word - the promise of God. He is her invisible Husband and her help comes from above – from heaven. God produces a descendant through her by supernatural birth, based on spiritual promise. The descendant proceeds from the New Jerusalem, heaven and eternity. The Old Testament types that God used, Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, formed part of the plan and the work of God, which He determined before the human instruments existed. What comfort is in these words of Paul! “You brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise” (verse 28).

The teaching of Paul in this allegory, concerning Isaac, defines what it means to be known of God (4:9). God knew him, before Isaac knew God: in fact, God knew him before he was born. This is an extremely important verse. In 1 Corinthians 8:3, Paul said, “If anyone loves God, he is known by Him.” God’s love in the heart is the proof that we are of God and John emphasizes it throughout his entire first epistle: “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). On the other hand, those who love the world, by nature hate those who love God.

What concerns these two sons puts an end to ecumenicalism (a syncretism – a synthetic unity, inspired by men). It is impossible to unite them and make them work in harmony. They cannot communicate or collaborate between themselves and God does not expect that they do so. The effort made today to unite people, essentially carnal and governed by rules and functions learned from men, with others (however imperfect they may be), who have their roots in God and an instinct for that which is heavenly and eternal, is totally in vain. It just cannot be. “As at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also” (verse 29).

Some years ago, I saw a leader frustrated, because he saw two people, working in the same region, who did not communicate properly. Personally, I did not see a need for frustration, nor did the friction surprise me. As I saw the situation, one was of the flesh and the other of the Spirit. Thank God, one abandoned the territory and the other continued faithfully until he died. Time after time, I see the failure produced by vain attempts to unite the flesh with the spirit. True unity, the kind of which the Scripture speaks, is of the Spirit and through faith. “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman” (verse 30). That was how God resolved the problem.


“Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another…” (5:16, 17). While we walk after the desires of the Spirit, guided by Him, we cannot satisfy the desires of the flesh. To practice sin in habitual, continual form, guarantees that you are not a son of Abraham by faith. “This Abraham did not do”, but, as Jesus taught, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:40, 44).

There exists no similarity between the spiritual attributes that characterize someone born of the flesh and those of the new creation. Liberty, love, faith and the presence of the Spirit, coming out of the heart of the person created after God, satisfy His desires. That is an impossible task for those who walk according to the flesh. God’s law is inscribed in the heart of a Christian and this way is incomparably and infinitely more powerful than that written by ink. The one who lives by this law is free to love and please God, because Christ lives in him and he can walk after the law of His nature. Because he has the nature of Christ and His mind, it is possible for him to think God’s thoughts and on that basis he can call himself a Christian.

Often we hear it said that the book of Acts should be recognized more as an account of the work of the Holy Spirit, than that of men (Acts of the Apostles, we call it). We see in it the Holy Spirit empowering and leading the lives of the apostles in a practical way, confirming in their personal lives all that Paul has been teaching us in his epistle. It takes away every excuse that would make us believe it impossible for a human being to live so intimate a relationship with God. “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28). With these few words, the apostles expressed the liberty, faith, and direction from God, which they experienced.

While they preached Christ crucified and resurrected, heaven opened to confirm their word. God answered their prayers with supernatural demonstrations. They saw anew, as at the cross, the earth tremble, the stones break, and the dead breathe again. Many could see that the Son of God was among them in reality.

In Acts 16, we watch as Paul and his companions crossed a territory, which we call Turkey today. As Abraham, who left his land without knowing where he was going, they, as well, did not know their destiny, as they started out. No vision revealed to them all that God wanted to do on this trip. It was the same with Philip, when he went down the desert road, not knowing why, leaving behind a revival in Samaria. Peter, who went to Lydda near Joppa, had no idea that he would end in the house of Cornelius in Caesarea. Any work that is of God and not of man will be something like that. Man can teach you to function inside his plan, but the disciple of Christ must depend upon God every moment.

In spite of the fact that these disciples knew that there was a need for the gospel to enter the territory to the south, Asia Minor, for the moment that was not God’s plan. The need alone and even the spirituality of their great leader, the Apostle Paul, were not sufficient grounds for them to enter. The Holy Spirit did not allow it, so they continued on to the border of Bithynia to the north. Once again, they were surely moved by knowledge of the great need that existed in this province to receive the gospel. However, again the Spirit did not permit it.

They had to learn to leave these areas in the hands of the Lord of the Harvest and follow the direction of God’s Spirit. As we know, years later the apostle John wrote to seven churches in Asia Minor. It confirms that, in His own time, God sent workers into this territory. It is better that the Spirit be put in charge of everything. With His infinite wisdom, the entire world will hear the gospel. The reason that we still come short of fulfilling the Great Commission in our day is not due to a lack of effort (there has never been so much missionary effort, as we have it in our day), but to an ignorance and insensibility to the voice of the Spirit.

After many days’ journey, having covered the greatest part of this territory, the disciples still had not received a specific word, as to the direction that they were supposed to go. So they continued to travel until they came to the coast and the port of Troas on the opposite end. Here Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, so the whole team (not only Paul as leader) recognized that God was speaking. They decided to board a ship to Macedonia. In this way, God spoke and led them there. “When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10). When the Holy Spirit guides, there is no need for the dictates of a big shot.

In that place, God had a people prepared to receive them. I believe that the first reason, for which the Spirit did not allow Paul and his team to enter into Asia Minor or Bithynia, was because He was answering the prayers of women in Philippi. He cannot close His ears to prayer. “On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled” (verse 13).

An evangelist from the first half of the 19th Century, Charles Finney, had the privilege of seeing in his lifetime, according to conservative estimates, 500,000 people added to the church, from which 90% were faithful until death. Someone asked him the secret of so much success and true fruit, to which he responded, “Our method is prayer.” Finney, as all others that God has used in church history, just as Paul and Jesus Himself, was a man dedicated to retire often, specifically to pray. Father Nash, as he was fondly called, an older man who traveled with him, instead of going to the meetings, separated himself to pray, while Finney preached to the lost.

God commanded Ananias of Damascus to go to Straight Street and seek out one called Saul, “for he is praying” (Acts 9:11). My dad, one year after becoming a Christian, went to look for a family of Native Americans in the State of Wisconsin. He and his musical companions came to a village, of which they had never heard, and held an open-air meeting. Many people gathered around them and fourteen responded to an invitation to pray for salvation. Afterwards, a lady came to my father to tell him that she had a church building on her property and had been praying for eight years that someone would open it for the preaching of the gospel. Seven years before my dad surrendered to Christ, he received a startling vision of a light shining from the ceiling of his bedroom. When we add the year that he now had lived as a Christian, we see that just eight years before, God began to answer the prayer of that lady.

Secondly, God had placed His hand upon Lydia of Thyatira, who according to His purpose was at that time living in Philippi: “A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (verse 14). God had prepared this one and she had spiritual hunger. For that reason, in order to complete the work that had begun in her, the Spirit wanted Paul and those who accompanied him to go directly to meet her. It had to be at that precise time, not before she moved to Philippi and not after she had moved to another place (probably, as a seller of purple she went from city to city).

In the 18th Century, God sent William Carey to India, where he witnessed the terrible custom of burning wives alive, many times very young girls, next to the bodies of their dead husbands. Carey felt in his soul the same pain that God had suffered for many centuries and, finally, he was able to influence the government of India to introduce a law prohibiting that barbarity. A similar case that God had been suffering was that of a demon-possessed girl in Philippi. Men and devils had abused her and, for that reason also, Paul and his team could not go elsewhere. It was the time for the liberation of this poor slave and they had to be there, in Philippi, at that moment. “A slave girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling” (verse 16).

However, because they were obedient to the Spirit’s direction and participated in the liberation of the young girl, Paul and Silas were thrown into jail. Many times, God directs us to an uncomfortable place, where we would not choose to be, so we must be disposed to anything that He sends. We cannot know how many people, for whom God had been especially concerned and had prepared the way for them to hear His word, were in jail at the same time that Paul and Silas were there. This part of their mission was accompanied by a tremendous earthquake. It took just such a powerful act to break the terrible chains of deceit, which bound these prisoners and the jailer.

Paul and Silas had to be there exactly at that time, when the earthquake occurred. It was a good thing that they weren’t in Asia Minor or Bithynia when it took place! Only God knows these events ahead of time and we can only witness such experiences, if we are free to walk in the Spirit and not after the flesh. We would be surprised, if we knew all that He has prepared. I know a wife of a sea captain in Bucharest, Romania, who tells of the time that she and her husband began to seek a remedy for the fears that came over her, due to being in the throes of an earthquake. At that time, he began to read the New Testament and they attended a Christian meeting. There they were instructed about having peace with God and now they are sure that their names are written in the Book of Life. Many times, the human heart needs a cataclysm, natural or spiritual, to make it react and launch a search for God.

From this story that we have just seen in the book of Acts, I still should mention the case of the jailer. Along with his entire household, God had prepared him to receive Christ and be baptized. Frightened by the results of the earthquake, at the point of suicide, “they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house… immediately he was baptized, he and all his household… and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household” (verses 32-34).

On one of the trips to Slovakia with our son, Dan, our host invited us to take a walk in the center of Bratislava, after picking us up at the airport in Vienna. Personally, besides not being a good tourist, I was tired from the trip and had no desire to see the sights in a city of 500,000 inhabitants. However, as we strolled, we met three people, one of them an American missionary, who years before had gone to serve the Lord in Slovakia. He did not live in the city, but on that day, he was visiting it.

Twenty-five years before, when we lived in the United States for several years, I was invited to preach in a church, where this man had recently been converted. Before his new birth, he had been a hippy, and when I first met him, he still had very long hair. In the meeting, God touched his heart and he began to consider being involved in missionary work. He came to our house a few times to attend the meetings we held every Sunday. Twenty-five years later, it was obvious that God had prepared that encounter. As we chatted, he invited Dan to speak to young people, who were in a reformed school, where he had been ministering. That was probably the best service, in which we participated on that trip, if not the very reason, for which God had us in Slovakia at that time. This is by no means a unique experience; in fact, I could tell many similar stories. Walking in the Spirit ought to be the normal way for a Christian, not an exception.

The book of Acts has never had a conclusion. Let us help one another to walk in the way of the Spirit and to carry one another’s burdens, which means, to help with the difficulties that each one of us has in walking this way. The end that we keep in mind, in so doing, is that each of us should come to a maturity, in which we can bear our own burden. “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2)… “for each one will bear his own load” (verse 5). The purpose of it all is that each one can develop his own relationship with God and not always be dependent on others. Something is wrong, when after sufficient time in the gospel, a Christian still cannot hear the voice of the Shepherd and does not understand what it means to be guided by the Spirit. The responsibility for walking in the Spirit is a personal one


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