The Work of the Wilderness

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Gen. 2:17 π Gen. 3:3 π Lev. 10:1-3 π Lev. 10:3 π Jdgs. 21:25 π Psa. 102:25-27 π Isa. 28:13 π Ezek. 1:10 π Mt. 4:17 π Mt. 5:48 π Mt. 6:10 π Mt. 7:22-23 π Mt. 13:33 π Mt. 13:41-42 π Mt. 16:12 π Mt. 16:18; 2nd π Mt. 18:17 π Mt. 24:12 π Mt. 24:45-51 π Mk. 6:12 π Mk. 8:15 π Lk. 12:1 π Lk. 13:5 π Lk. 24:47 π Jn. 1:1 π Jn. 16:13 π Acts 17:30; 2nd π Acts 26:20 π Rom. 8:3 π 1 Cor. 3:17 π 1 Cor. 5:6-8 π 1 Cor. 12:27 π 2 Cor. 6:14 π 2 Cor. 6:16 π 2 Cor. 7:1 π Gal. 5:9 π Gal. 5:20-21 π Eph. 2:10 π Eph. 2:19-22; 2nd π Eph. 4:11-14 π Eph. 4:15-16 π Eph. 5:8-17 π Eph. 5:30 π Eph. 6:12 π Phlp. 1:1 π Col. 1:18; 2nd π Col. 2:8 π 1 Ths. 5:21 π 2 Ths. 2:3 π 2 Ths. 2:10-12 π 1 Tim. 3:9 π 2 Tim. 2:15 π Tit. 1:9 π Heb. 1:3 π Heb. 13:8 π 1 Pet. 1:6-7 π 1 Pet. 1:16 π 1 Pet. 2:5 π 1 Jn. 3:3 π 1 Jn. 3:4 π Rev. 2:5 π Rev. 2:16

There are some who are struggling to find their way in the spiritual wilderness the Lord has led them into. These recognize the futility of trying to leave the wilderness apart from the Lord's leading - in part because others have prematurely left the wilderness, gone out on their own agenda and have, in so doing, left the Lord far behind. These who are struggling on in the wilderness recognize that Jesus alone is the way - He is, of course, the beginning and end of all things - and these are settled and content with that.

But as time goes on, questions arise that need to be answered and explained because the Lord does not call us to unquestioning, blind obedience. ( 1 Ths. 5:21; top ) Understanding most often follows obedience to some command of His - sometimes years after - but understanding does almost always catch up with us on most of the things we do simply because the Lord told us to do so. If it never does so, we do well to reconsider (asking the Lord) whether we stepped out in faith or presumption!

Once we have exited from the counterfeit "church" system then begins what some refer to as the detoxification period. This is the time we begin to simply sit quietly at the feet of the Lord and listen for His voice. For possibly the first time in our Christian lives we realize that what He is saying differs greatly from what the vast majority of "Christian" leaders are saying in the "church." We do not realize - and may not realize for years - just how much our understanding is colored by the particular version of the "church" paradigm which we were told for years was God's plan for His people. Our religious experience, our culture, our social status, even our family life and childhood experiences - each of these have been used, in varying degrees according to our temperament and personality, to program into our "subconsciously" buried opinions, preconceptions and beliefs some element of distortion, deception or non-truth.

It is the time of detoxification from "church" that is the front door to the process of purification that is the spiritual wilderness. It is the wilderness which teaches us to forsake our own strengths and to rely upon the Lord - not in word alone but in truth and reality so that we can really experience God's divine enabling power and really live righteous and godly lives in this dark age.

As we sit in the wilderness, we begin to compare what the Lord shows us about the New Testament pattern of assembly with the "church" system we were part of before God called us into the wilderness. With elders and deacons, the New Testament pattern of assembly seems to mirror to some degree the hierarchical pattern of the Old Covenant with temple worship. And the question arises that if we believe this new (to us, at any rate) revelation about assembly is God's will for His people, His called-out ones (Greek, ekklesia) - that is, that they should be organized in this way - then why are we still in the wilderness and not doing it this way?

Since this question addresses a very large picture, we cannot hope to find a single, simple, bottom-line answer that explains the whole issue in one sound byte. The answers to this question more resemble the layers of an onion that interact with each other to form a solid mass. Let us peel back the answers one at a time and, in the end, we may yet find a more succinct explanation. Let us also keep constantly in mind that the answers are further wrapped, concealed and shrouded in layers of rot and decay and behind things that simply keep us from seeing the whole truth of the matter - in part because of demonic, antagonistic deception and in part because God has not yet fully revealed all of His counsel to us on every aspect this question touches.


We must first recognize that God drawing us into the wilderness is not happening in a vacuum. That is, the world, the culture, the society, the family and the demonic have all been factors in introducing spiritual impurities into our lives from the day we were born. While it is impossible to name every such influence, we can almost certainly identify the primary culprit that is causing us to be unable to corporately attain to the ultimate will of God for our assemblies.

Paul wrote, "See to it that no one carries you off as spoil or makes you yourselves captive by his so-called philosophy and intellectualism and vain deceit (idle fancies and plain nonsense), following human tradition (men's ideas of the material rather than the spiritual world), just crude notions, following the rudimentary and elemental teachings of the universe and disregarding [the teachings of] Christ (the Messiah). ( Col. 2:8 - Amp.; top)

The philosophy that has captured and reduced to spoil the people who claim to follow Christ is relativism, the notion that there is no absolute truth to which we must subscribe or else we will be in error. One follower of Christ (in a quote that is rich in irony because of who and what the speaker was) said, "Divine inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error but excludes and rejects it absolutely and necessarily." (Pope Leo XIII, 1810-1903, published in 1943 in The Papal Encyclicals, 1939-1958, also McGrath Pub. Co., 1981)

Relativism's first coherent expression is found in Rene Descartes (1596-1650) - "I think, therefore I am." No longer did man exist because God existed and had created man, man now existed as a completely separate entity with no real connections or responsibilities to his Creator. Man has since removed every philosophical basis that requires him to turn to God.

This is quite different from the New Testament where Jesus and all of His followers went everywhere proclaiming the message of the kingdom of God. Their message was simple: We have but one King - His name is Jesus! And everywhere they went, they preached repentance - the turning away from one's own independent appraisal of right and wrong, good and evil, truth and error, light and darkness and turning to God who alone is right and good and truth and light. ( Mt. 4:17 , Mk. 6:12 , Lk. 13:5 , 24:47 , Acts 17:30 , 26:20 , Rev. 2:5 , 16 , etc.; top)

Relativism, the idea that there is no absolute truth that applies to all men everywhere but there is only "truth" for you and "truth" for me and no one is entitled to claim to hold absolute truth that infringes on another's opinions and beliefs, has produced the age of lawlessness which Jesus said would characterize the time just before the end of the age. ( Mt. 24:12 ) Lawlessness is best defined as doing what is right in one's own eyes. ( Jdgs. 21:25 ) The Greek word is anomian [Strongs 458] and signifies the absence of an absolute standard by which one orders one's life. The meaning of this word was obscured by the King James version's (and other English translations) usage of the word "iniquity" to translate this Greek word. "Iniquity" more properly signifies sin and evil. There is a certain amount of interchangeability in the two words (see 1 Jn. 3:4 ) but "lawlessness" entails a more specific meaning than does "iniquity" or "sin." Paul tells us that lawlessness (doing what is right in one's own eyes) has no - none, absolutely no - fellowship (no commonality, no unity, no partnership) with righteousness (doing what is right in God's eyes - 2 Cor. 6:14; top )

Relativism and lawlessness reach far deeper into our existence than most realize. They are the roots of our denominationalism where theologians and scholars have taken up positions regarding various issues and rallied their followers. In the New Testament, this is called haireses [139] (heresies, sects) and dichostasia [1370] (dissensions, divisions) and it is a work of the flesh which keeps its practitioners from inheriting and experiencing the kingdom of God. ( Gal. 5:20-21 ) Relativism and lawlessness are the basis by which most "Christians" choose which "church" they attend because, rather than submitting the matter to the Lord and allowing Him to dictate to them His will, these lawless ones decide which "church" satisfies their own desires, preferences and preconceived paradigms. Relativism and lawlessness is the source of many theologies as, instead of being led only by the Spirit of truth into all truth ( Jn. 16:13 ), we rely on theologians and Bible scholars to foist their own opinions and preconceived notions upon us, opinions and preconceived notions which are only partially found in the Scriptures or which require certain key Scriptures to be distorted and then built upon "line upon line." (see Isa. 28:13 (top). This is a form of God's judgment on people who claim to be His but in reality are not.)

Relativism and lawlessness allow us to interpret Scriptures in whatever way seems best to us and anyone with a different interpretation - whether that different interpretation is a doctrine of demons, a tradition of men or a genuine revelation by the Spirit of truth is immaterial - the mere fact that the interpretation differs from the one the individual already held makes it wrong. The most common dismissal used now is that the new interpretation takes the Scripture out of the context of the individual's original preconceived viewpoint and places it into a different light. The only rightly divided word of truth is that one which has been divided according to the light provided by the Spirit of truth and which bears His stamp of approval. ( 2 Tim. 2:15 ) All who hold onto their own viewpoints - and in the process reject the light and truth the Lord would have them walk in - will be among those who will receive strong delusion from the Lord because they did not love the truth and these will be assigned their place with those who are perishing. ( 2 Ths. 2:10-12 ) These will be the religious experts and leaders who have prophesied, cast out demons and done many wonders in the name of Christ but are ultimately rejected because what they really did was only what was right in their own eyes. ( Mt. 7:22-23; top ) Their titles ("pastor," "elder," "apostle," "prophet," whatever) will be of no beneficial weight or consequence on that day and might actually seal their judgment, fate and doom.

The Paradigm

Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." ( Mt. 13:33 ) Though some scholars have tried to say the goodness of the kingdom is the agent of leaven that permeates and transforms the world toward goodness, leaven throughout the Scriptures is used of wickedness ( Mt. 16:12 , Mk. 8:15 , Lk. 12:1 , 1 Cor. 5:6-8 , Gal. 5:9 ) and the history of the world since the time of Christ does not fully support that interpretation (to say the least!). What Christ is really saying here is that the kingdom of God among men will be corrupted and influenced by the leaven of hypocrisy, insincerity, error and sin of false religion (as was practiced by Cain and all those who follow in his footsteps. (see Gen. 3:3 ) Cain's offering came from the very ground which God had cursed. ( Gen. 2:17 ) False religion draws on the carnal nature of the flesh which God has condemned to death. ( Rom. 8:3 ) Those who bring an offering - service, worship, whatever - of their own making are bringing "strange fire" to God's altar and cannot hope to please God. (see Lev. 10:1-3 , especially v. 3 footnote in the Amplified Bible.); top)

The "church" paradigm so subtly indoctrinates our thinking that for some time we still look for officers and positions and a system of elders and deacons and the fivefold giftings operating in the pattern that Paul (primarily) laid out in his letters. One option is to suppose that Paul was so indoctrinated in the Pharisee life of the Old Covenant (Law of Moses) that he transferred too much from the old to the new. This would, of course, raise the issue of the inerrancy of Scripture and if there were no other plausible (speaking both rationally and spiritually here) explanation, further exploration of that notion might be necessary. (Though many blanch at even the idea of questioning the inerrancy of the Scriptures, I have found this to be the most sure way of finding some new confirmation of them!)

Questioning the Scriptures is unnecessary here though. What is missing is the simple fact that Jesus will build His ekklesia. ( Mt. 16:18 ) How will He do this? The first thing to notice is that Jesus did not preach the "church" (neither the true nor the counterfeit). He preached the kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God? In short, it is that realm where His will is sought and done. ( Mt. 6:10; top ) It is the circle of people seeking and doing God's will who are the participants of His kingdom.

The ekklesia is also a description of these people. They are the people who have been called out of the realms of this world's darkness and translated into the kingdom of Christ's light so that they can attend to the affairs of His kingdom in their location and time frame, their own peculiar sphere of influence. ( Eph. 5:8-17 , Col. 1:18 , etc.) That is, these are the elements of salt and light which have permeated this world and brought about what goodness the Lord had preordained for them to do. ( Eph. 2:10 ) The ekklesia is His body ( 1 Cor. 12:27 , Eph. 5:30; top ) by which He does His will in the earth.

Where the "church" has drifted away from the truth is that Christ is the King who must be obeyed in all things. ( Col. 1:18 ) The "church" is preaching the "church" paradigm, most loudly proclaiming, "Come and hear this guy preach and, if you like what you hear, you can stay faithful to the 'church' of your choice and be saved for all eternity." This is very different from the gospel of the kingdom where God, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, commands all men everywhere to repent. ( Acts 17:30 ) It is no accident that Jesus only mentioned the ekklesia but briefly. (Three times in two verses in but one gospel - Mt. 16:18 , 18:17; top ) Until one is firmly established under the Headship and Rule of Christ by His Spirit of truth and righteousness, one cannot bring anything of value to the ekklesia table. But once one is firmly established under Christ's Headship, then one is able to fully function in the affairs of His kingdom of light. It's not about lengthy intellectual "discipleship" - it's about surrendering one's will and very life to the King!

Because God's nature includes holiness, we are required to be holy. ( 1 Pet. 1:16 , Mt. 5:48 ) This is why the ekklesia, the people of Christ's kingdom of light, are also called the temple of the Lord. ( 1 Cor. 3:17 , 2 Cor. 6:16 , Eph. 2:19-22 ) This is the reason we still need to understand at least something of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant primarily portrays the transcendency of God - His majesty, His holiness, His order. None of that is lost in Christ because neither God nor Christ have changed. ( Psa. 102:25-27 , Heb. 13:8 ) Christ remains the perfect expression of that which is God. ( Heb. 1:3 , Jn. 1:1 , etc.; top) The love and mercy of God in Christ does not nullify His justice nor His righteousness - it makes them even closer to the hearts of men!

Just as the beings who represented Christ had four faces - that of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle (which some see as primarily fulfilled in the presentations of Christ in the four gospels of Luke, Matthew, Mark and John, respectively - see Ezek. 1:10 ) - so too do the people of Christ have four primary aspects of their life in Christ: that of being citizens of His kingdom, members of His family, parts of His body and living stones and priests in His temple or house. ( Eph. 2:19-22 , 1 Pet. 2:5 ) No one picture adequately explains the fullness of what we are in Christ - but none of these roles are available to those who do not submit to the Kingship (Headship, Lordship, Rule) of Christ through His Spirit. But the four pictures (like the four faces on the one creature) represent the full measure of Him who is the Head to which we will attain when every part does its share. ( Eph. 4:15-16; top )

The Answers

Now let us return to the original question: "If Christ's people should be organized in elders, deacons and saints, why aren't we doing it this way?" There are several answers to this question that, on the face of it, would seem to contradict both reality and the other answers.

The first answer is: we are doing it this way. That is, because Christ has never stopped building His ekklesia according to His purpose, plan and will, there are veterans, servants and set-apart ones ( Phlp. 1:1 - using the less lofty, more literal renderings of the Greek words the "church" has hijacked primarily to justify the exalted or demoted positions they have assigned to the clergy and laity). Christ still expresses Himself in men, women and children as his messengers, preachers, heralds, shepherds and teachers to His people so as to bring them to spiritual maturity. ( Eph. 4:11-14; top ) The main problem we have is that we do not see and understand with the mind of Christ what He is doing as He builds His ekklesia. We demand a visible structure and almost entirely miss the nearly invisible function.

The second answer - and that which complicates the whole matter - is twofold: A) We are not doing it that way and/or B) we are also doing it in some other way. In the first case, we are actively rejecting the work that Christ is doing by rejecting His veterans and servants and putting in their place a "pastor" or "apostle" or "father" and a board of "elders" or "deacons" or some committee whose titles and functions can't even be found anywhere in the Bible (or only in some twisted version thereof). Those who persist in this way that directly conflicts with Christ's building of His ekklesia will become or already are the apostasy, the falling away from the faith, that occurs before Christ's return. ( 2 Ths. 2:3 ) These are the tares planted among the true wheat who will be removed from Christ's kingdom by the angels (because they cause others to stumble and they practice lawlessness themselves) and taken to the fire where there will be tears, bitter regret and the gnashing of teeth. ( Mt. 13:41-42; top )

In the second case - where we are also doing something other than cooperating with the work of Christ as He builds His ekklesia - we must purify ourself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. ( 2 Cor. 7:1 , 1 Jn. 3:3 ) We must forsake all the ways of the flesh which are the traditions of men practiced in the name of Christ. We must absolutely step away from all the demonic deceptions and teachings which have diverted us away from the Absolute Lordship of Christ - political involvement/affiliation, education, career, denominational/theological loyalties, spiritual leaders, riches (either the pursuit or misuse thereof), fears or other personal torments (see Eph. 6:12 ) - and partake only of Christ's table. Those who do not choose to step away from trying to live in both worlds will be assigned their place with the hypocrites. ( Mt. 24:45-51; top ) Let he who has ears hear.

To those who are struggling in the wilderness, there is only one answer: Jesus. He will lead us out of the wilderness when He knows the wilderness has done its purifying work in us. Until that time, He will occasionally bring a veteran, a servant, a messenger, a preacher, a herald, a shepherd, a teacher, or even just a brother or sister across our path that provides us with that spark of life and encouragement we need for that day or moment or trial or battle. But underneath it all lies His precious promise to preserve and sustain us through every circumstance the wilderness contains because it remains true that, to the Lord, our faith is of more worth than the purest of gold. ( 1 Pet. 1:6-7; top ) Those who are looking for some big movement of men in which they can passively and anonymously follow behind some big-name leader are looking for the wrong thing. Only those who can stand alone for Jesus now will be able to stand for Him in the last day.

But know this also: the Lord is building His ekklesia of veterans, servants and set-apart ones. One of the requirements for veterans (Greek, episkopas or presbuteros) is that he must "hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught." ( Tit. 1:9; top ) Those who have let go the faithful word he was first taught by the Spirit of truth to embrace some theological construct of men or demons have forsaken the Absolute Lordship of Christ and have taken up lawlessness and error. These are hardly qualified to be veterans of the faith and followed as leaders who know the way to attain to the will of God - though they are zealously and eagerly followed in many a "church," even house "church."

Similarly, servants (Greek, diakonai) must "hold the mystery [spiritually revealed "secrets" of God] of the faith with a pure conscience." ( 1 Tim. 3:9; top ) Again, those who have abandoned the leadings of the Lord who is Spirit so as to please some man or some organization of men cannot be holding the mystery of the faith - they are holding fast to the traditions of men and/or the teachings of demons because they hold to the "church" paradigm rather than the Spirit of truth.

Set-apart ones (Greek, hagios) who continue to go to the worldly places of the dead to seek the living ("church") are probably not as set apart to the will of God as they suppose. Only those who are and do and say and have only what the King wills for them are the true set-apart ones.

Men who continue in roles that in reality serve the works of the devil have no place or rights in Christ's kingdom. Only those who forsake, overcome and outgrow the roles of deception they've inherited, invented or invested themselves into will become the veterans and servants of the last days' ekklesia. In the meantime, those who are in reality today's "Joshuas and Calebs" must endure their "40 years" of seemingly aimless wandering in the wilderness, watching their seniors and contemporaries die off before they and their children cross the river between the wilderness and the next generation's "promised land" as the wilderness prepares the "Joshuas and Calebs" to be the veterans and servants (who have held fast the faithful word and the mystery of the faith) that will equip the next (and last before Christ's return?) generation for their work.

This is the work of the wilderness - those who build altars and temples to their present level of attainment and set up residence in the wilderness will die off there - being "church" in one form or another, to one degree or another. Those who leave too soon will be soundly defeated and taken captive to do the work of the devil rather than the work of the Lord (practicing apostasy or error to one degree or another). Only those who know their God in spirit and truth will perform His will, persevering to the end so as to be saved. These who truly know God will do and see incredible things and will shine like the sun in a dark, dark age.

Let he who has ears hear.

I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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