Learning to operate the kingdom of God calls for a fundamentally different epistemology (a theory of acquiring reliable knowledge). In this physical world, we learn to rely on our bodies, which translate the stimuli of the surroundings through the 5 senses into electromagnetic impulses, which are in turn deciphered and interpreted by the brain as representing reality.
I should note here that we don’t ever directly perceive anything in this physical world, although it might appear that way. For instance, when I “see” a car, light is reflected off of the car’s body and onto the cornea, through the pupil onto the lens, and eventually onto the retina of my eye. So when my eye “sees” the car, it sees it upside down. At this point, “I” still haven’t seen the car. The image needs to travel further than my eyeball. It needs to get compressed into a message that is then sent through the optic nerve up to the brain, where it’s deciphered, and then “I” am finally able to “see” the car, right side up.
Similar mechanisms works for all of our other senses.
We are so used to receiving, deciphering, and interpreting many thousands of messages a day from the outside world that we don’t realize that “we” are hidden in a cybernetic organism, aka physical body, that serves us up with information in a way that “we” can understand. In a way, the body is a piece of organic high-tech gear that we wear to interact with the world. That’s referred to in the Bible as “being in the flesh”.
When one gets born again and receives eternal life, a sequence of several instantaneous changes happens to one’s anthropological composition. I was able to track several or of those changes, Scripturally. I am sure there are a couple that I’ve missed. Usually people refer to that whole sequence as “being saved”, but that’s a very genericized and a poor description of that metamorphosis. One particular change that’s of interest to us here is that “we” are no longer “in the flesh”, but “in the spirit”:
Paul gives us additional information regarding this transition of a human being’s “location” from body to spirit:
11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him […]
Previous to that experience, we were “in the flesh”. I mean, “we” (our being) were IN it. “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return” – that’s the destiny of those in Adam. When we were placed into Christ via baptism (the real one, not the water immersion ceremony that represents that unseen reality), we (our being and identity) are now “in the spirit”. We are not spirits (if we were spirits, we wouldn’t need bodies to function), but we are IN the spirit part of our being.
Incidentally, that’s precisely how God solves the problem of death for humankind, from a bioengineering standpoint. Quite elegant, isn’t it?
So, here are the effects of this transition from flesh to spirit:
9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you [Upon new birth, our being moved from flesh to the spirit – very important point!]. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
In other words, our spirit is a new piece of high-tech gear that we should be able to use in a way that we have previously used our physical bodies.
What the Bible calls “heaven” is the realm imperceptible to physical senses that the spirit person is meant to operate on. It’s not so much a place where people go after they die (that would be cemetery!). It’s a parallel, higher realm of existence. That’s where Christ followers are seated with Christ right now:
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
In theory, people should be able to train themselves to operate in that realm, and develop perception of that realm. I’ve met and have talked to people who have done that in practice. Those folks are operating on a higher spiritual plane. Getting there takes more faith and concerted effort, but staying there takes less effort, paradoxically (since now you are moving by a new set of senses, as those get developed).
Another way to operate in that realm is to use the upgraded spirit as one uses a radio receiver: tune in to the right station, and the song comes on. The presence of radio waves (or the spiritual phenomena, by my analogy) is simply assumed. That’s a lower level of faith – that’s where I am currently, in a couple of areas. It takes less faith and effort to get there, but it requires more conscious effort to operate in it.
A third way to go about the things of the spirit is to deny that the realm really exists now, and revert to the old Catholic theology (or a not-so-Reformed version of it) where heaven is where people go after they die. It takes no faith at all to presume that this is so. Incidentally, that’s where the majority of Christians find themselves today. I am not trying to pick an argument by saying that, I am just stating the facts. The rest of the world longs to connect with that realm, and that’s the reason why Happy Potter books and movies, X-men, and all the recent Marvel comics adaptations are so immensely popular. The church as a whole is really lagging in its responsibility to pioneer a legitimate path into that realm, and connect people with the resurrected Jesus, and with all that he has to offer.
Over 3/4 of the post-resurrection New Covenant theology was written down by Paul as the result of his personal encounters with the resurrected Jesus. He didn’t go to guys like Peter and John, who personally knew Jesus during his earthy walk, in order to learn from them (except for a brief meet and greet). Instead, he went solo and learned from Jesus personally through a series of mystical personal encounters. Most of our church practice is based on trusting in the fact that all of the information that that one guy received as the result of his metaphysical encounters (as opposed to through eyewitness experiences) is solid. How do you like them apples?! Just chew on that one for a while.
I am interested in moving up from faith to faith. We really don’t have to settle for less. If anyone has anything to contribute – let’s exchange some ideas.
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