Sonship - an Eternal Spiritual Position
Sonship is, of course, an eternal spiritual position into which we have been placed in relationship to God through Christ. But the ‘spirit of sonship’ to which I refer is also a holy attitude, and a set of values, out of which we are meant to live in walking with Christ and with His people. Not only is it our attitude to Him, but also our heart attitude to others, and especially to the leaders He has given us. Furthermore, it is our attitude to our leaders that shows whether ‘sonship’ is really in us, for as the apostle John said,"And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." (1 John 4: 21)
And don’t say He has not given you leaders. In making covenant with David, He made reference to a context for His promises, "...ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people..." (2 Sam 7:11). And the Scriptures of the new covenant are even clearer for our sake. Hebrews 13:7 instructs, "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." Later in the same chapter this is clarified further with, "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you." (Hebrews 13: 17)
The passage in 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-13a is especially rich with meaning: "Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work." We will return to these passages later and find out what the Lord means here by 'respect'. We should especially note that these sonship attitudes and values to which we are called were firstly Christ’s. We are told to be "like-minded having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose" and that in this "your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." (Phil 2:2,5)
There is a personal story behind my understanding and teaching of the ‘spirit of sonship’ as a set of Christian values. In telling the story, you will notice I often use the words ‘us’ and ‘we’. This feels more natural to me, for I and my leadership team and our people learned these things together, and to this day we walk closely together. Although I certainly obtained many spiritual victories alone in prayer, many of my experiences have been shared experiences too. On many occasions others have been with me, and we have prayed together, heard God together, made choices and decisions together, and said “yes” to God, willing to pay the price together. We have spent a lot of time together, and regularly have scheduled meetings for no other reason than to be together – because without relationship, we would not be what we are meant to be as Christ’s people. And through difficult times, my ministry leadership team and our people have stood unshifting, believing together.
I have always involved those around me in my calling, in the belief that what I am called to in Christ, they are called to also. Am I called to be an apostle to the nations? Then they also are called to go to the nations in apostolic ministry; and whatever grace I have been given, they too shall carry. And they do!
In growing and learning as a people, we experienced deep sorrows and the pain of struggle together, as well as the great joys of success, progress, and many miracles in answer to prayer. The progress did not come without the years of struggle and pain. We had to go through a period of vociferous opposition and vilification, even hatred, from people who, whilst using the name of Christ, made themselves such enemies of the gospel that their actions and words could only be understood, even now after many years, as demonically driven. There was no rational reason for their behaviour, except that, just as Joseph was told to take Mary and the baby Jesus and flee to Egypt because there were those who sought to take the life of the child, Satan also tried to kill the expression of Christ that was being born in us. The restoration of apostolic grace, and in particular the re-establishing of apostolic life in the church, is a huge threat to the kingdom of darkness. Not only was there a serious testing period of opposition and vilification, it was followed by a longer and more difficult period of powerlessness and ‘insignificance’. I had not expected this. The story of most churches I had heard was that after the troublemakers leave, blessing and growth occurs and even financial strength improves. I was looking forward to that, but found instead a long period of great quiet. We had more success and had even baptised many people during the trouble, but in the period that followed there seemed to be no such successes. I did not understand for quite some time that this also was an essential process as part of our preparation for our calling.
Everyone faces opposition, and whilst opposition questions one’s identity, when it is dealt with by prayer and faith, and the resolve to obey God, it strengthens our character and clarifies our identity, while at the same time challenging our motives and cleansing the soul in various ways. God uses opposition for His own purposes, not least to train, strengthen, and purify us. Anyone called to leadership, especially to fivefold ministry, and in particular to the role of the true prophet, and even more so to the authority of the genuine apostle, will be called upon to face opposition. It is the way of Christ, it is a means of grace, and without it, I’m afraid, leadership will be very shallow.
So I also had to persevere during this season of powerlessness, and for me this was a much more difficult period – one for which I had not understood any precedent. During this the Lord stripped away every outward form of success. I heard Him say, and I shared it with our people the following Sunday, “I’ve taken away from you everything that normally makes people think they’re successful, so that you can concentrate on being successful in the one thing that really counts – intimacy with God, and intimacy with each other.”
This was the year 2000. We had just handed back our huge, multi-million dollar property to the denomination, for the Lord had spoken to quite a large number of our people earlier that year telling us to resign as a church from the denomination. When I sought the Lord about this, I heard Him say clearly that for us to do what we were called to do in the world, we would have to operate from outside the denominational system. We walked away in freedom, owning little but owing nothing. Now we had no property, and therefore no program. Unexpectedly, the Lord saw to it that finance also was now limited. In the light of the Lord’s words to us, I said to our people, “There is nothing for you to do from one Sunday to the next, except to walk with God and walk with each other. We have no program. There is no building, therefore no cleaning and no gardens. We have no rooms, so there is no Sunday school. There is nowhere to meet during the week except in houses. You are free to walk with God, to pray and do His will, and we will all meet together again every Sunday.” Even for Sunday services we had no permanent place where we could meet – the facilities in the city were not available for permanent bookings at the time. Each week I would advise our people by letter where we would be the following Sunday. Sometimes we met in the Botanical Gardens. Our fellowship was rich, the teaching and ministry was a blessing, but no new people were joining us, and there were few baptisms or other signs of progress, even though the Spirit of God was really with us. It was difficult, for even though we had a good ministry, and the Lord was very close, we could not seem to succeed at anything.
I realise now that ‘powerlessness’ is a more difficult training period because it tests you to the very core of your spiritual identity. You are not now facing the opposition of other people questioning your identity; instead, you begin to question yourself. Am I who I thought I was? Am I really called to the ministry? Are we really God’s people? Have we really heard the Lord? Are we really in the will of God? And all the while, in the eyes of others (meaning other churches or Christians) you look like a failure. Yet throughout God is very much with you. Personally, I regard the season of powerlessness and insignificance as the most crucial of preparatory seasons in the life of the apostle. And who knows what issues of the heart, whether of pride, or trusting in self, or some other fleshly weakness, have been dealt with in the long process of this desert experience.
I read somewhere that the early Church fathers did not trust a man who had not been broken by failure. Perhaps that is a helpful illustration to amplify this truth: there is a need for God to address something in each of us that must be broken. This is especially true of those called to leadership. At the time, I was very much aware that, whatever these difficult times might be doing for me, it was also doing an important work in the hearts of our people.
THIS BLOG IS AN EXCERPT FROM THE SPIRIT OF SONSHIP BOOK BY JOHN ALLEY