Evolution of the Christian Consciousness
by John G. Lake
July 15, 1920
Chicago Convention of Pentecostal Assemblies
I want to talk to you tonight about my Lord. I want you to get acquainted with Him. Some know Him in one way or another. None of us has reached the place where we have it all, but, bless God, we are on the way. When I was a boy, I thought the sole aim and object of the gospel was to keep from going to hell. A good many other folks observe Christianity from that point of view yet. After awhile, evangelists changed the idea somewhat. They began to teach that the object of being a Christian was not to keep from going to hell, but to go to heaven. Then, I began reasoning. I said, “One is just as selfish as the other.” The one gets saved to keep from going to hell, and the other one gets saved to get to heaven. Both are wholly selfish, and neither one is the real purpose of Jesus.
Jesus gave one final reason for men being Christians, and, strangely, very few people have ever discovered, even from the Word of God, what that real purpose is.
One day, Jesus came along by the River Jordan when John was baptizing and asked for the privilege of being baptized. John was startled. He said, “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matthew 3:14). Jesus said, “Suffer it to be so,” and then He gave the real reason: “for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (verse 15). In one of the liberal translations, it says, “Unto all righteousness.”
Jesus was going to be baptized as His commitment of His body and His soul and His spirit to God forever, in order that from thenceforth He might manifest the righteousness of God.
To manifest the righteousness of God is the real reason for a man’s desire to be a Christian—not to go to heaven when he dies or to keep out of hell, but to reveal the righteousness of God in this world. And then, heaven and all our rewards will be the natural result of having lived in unity with God and having revealed His righteousness in this world.
God has a wonderful purpose. God’s Christian is the most magnificent specimen in all the universe of God. God’s ideal for a Christian surpasses everything else in the whole world. Varied churches and varied religious institutions have their peculiar idea of what a Christian is. One of their ideals seems to be that the individual must be able to whoop and hop around and all that sort of thing. But Jesus never did it. He was too big for that. He had outgrown it. We have our ideas of religious meetings. Not one of them is like the meetings Jesus conducted, at least only in a slight way. Then, we have our ideas of what constitutes a real message. My! If you will read the Word of Jesus over again, you will discover that few of our messages are like the message of the Lord. His messages were an uncovering of the soul of man, an uncovering of the nature of God so that men could discern Him, and when they discerned Him, they loved Him. The message of Jesus was constructive, not destructive; positive righteousness, not negative obedience.
Jesus gave a new name to God that nobody had ever given Him before. The prophets were intimate with God, and the Old Testament is one marvelous revelation of intimacy with God. They knew Him as a great Governor, as a great Controller, as the One who guided the affairs of the universe, but Jesus knew Him as “Father.” He introduced into Bible vocabulary a new name to express God to us.
I am going to talk to you along a line that perhaps may seem new. First, I want to place before you God’s ideal of a Christian. Then, by His grace, I am going to undertake unfolding, step-by-step, how men arrive at that stature of Christ.
God’s ideal of a Christian is neither a man who is ready to go to heaven nor a man who lives a good life in this world nor a man who has victory over sin or victory over disease. It includes all these things, but it is ten thousand times more than that.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–13)
And that is the ideal of my heart—that somehow, in God’s divine grace, by the wonderful processes of His Spirit, He is going to help me to grow up out of babyhood and infancy into the stature of Jesus Christ. And that is God’s ideal for the Christian.
You say, “But, brother, I was saved from my sins.” Yes, Jesus was. “Don’t you know I was sanctified?” Why, surely, Jesus was. Don’t you know Jesus was baptized in the Holy Ghost, but He went so far beyond that it reveals these were but the beginnings by which a Son of God was born and came into being? His development was beyond all that and went beyond all our known Christian experiences.
I want to speak now of the growth of the knowledge of God that took place in Jesus Christ. This will sound strange to some of you. But you say, “Jesus Himself was God.” Surely He was; He was likewise man. “He took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16). “[He] was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
He came to our level. He demonstrated in the beginning that man could be an overcomer over the powers of darkness through reliance on God and His Word.
His demonstration began first in the order of nature, where He met no mind but His own. He changed the water into wine by the action of His own will; He stilled the sea by the word of His command; He walked on the water—each one of them an ascent over the other. Each one of them revealing that in the soul of Jesus Himself there was an ever-ascending scale in God.
Then, the next thing in the life of Jesus was when He began His ministry of healing. When He undertook His ministry of healing, He had another mind to meet—the mind of the individual who needed the blessing. “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (Matthew 4:23).
Then, Jesus entered a new realm. If you study the healings that took place under His ministry, you will observe that first, it was the healing of disease; next, the healing of the blind; next, the healing of the lepers—a gradual, continuous assent. And last, the creation of eyes in the man born blind. And now there developed in the soul of Jesus a holy dawning of the power of God, even over death, and in His demonstration over the power of death there are three degrees, like the other. (See Matthew 4; 8; 9; John 9.)
The daughter of Jairus was dead for a few minutes. While the father was interceding, the servants came, saying, “Thy daughter is dead.” Jesus went instantly to her bedside, and she arose to life. (See Matthew 9:18–19, 23–26.)
The son of the widow of Nain was dead for several hours, and they were carrying him out for burial, when Jesus touched the bier, and he arose. (See Luke 7:11–15.)
Lazarus was dead for four days, and the testimony of his sisters was, “By this time he stinketh” (John 11:39).
First instance, death in the first degree, dead a few minutes; next, in the second degree, dead a few hours; and, in the third degree, dead four days; “By this time he stinketh.”
My, there is a wonderful revelation in connection with the raising of Lazarus that is not given in the story as it appears in the New Testament. I want to quote from the New Testament Apocrypha, from the book of Nicodemus. It will explain a whole lot to you.
Before I give this story, I want to call your attention to one other thing, because it concludes the thought I had in mind. There are degrees in the experience of Jesus by which He took one step after another in every single realm until He eventually manifested God’s divine perfection. There was the crucifixion, followed by the resurrection, and climaxed by the ascension—each one of them a degree in the power of God beyond the other.
If Jesus had died on the cross and there had been no resurrection, there never would have been one single soul saved through the blood of Jesus Christ.
If Jesus had died on the cross, gone into the grave, and been resurrected from the grave only, there would still be no such thing as a real salvation in the world.
But because Jesus died on the cross, entered into death, arose from the grave, and ascended to the throne of God and finally received from the Father the gift of the Holy Ghost with authority to minister it to men, there is in existence a divine salvation, sufficient to satisfy the nature of every man.
The Story of Lazarus
In the story that I wanted to bring to you is this marvelous incident. Just prior to the crucifixion of Jesus, Satan appeared in the regions of death and said to Beelzebub, the keeper of the Regions of Death, that he might now prepare to receive Jesus Christ, because he (Satan) had brought to pass such a combination of circumstances that Jesus was to be crucified. Beelzebub replied, “But, Satan, is not this Jesus of Nazareth, who in His divine nature was so strong that He came here and took from our midst Lazarus when he was here, and we could not hold him?”
Satan said, “Yes, He is the one.”
Beelzebub said, “But if in His divine nature He was so strong that He came and took Lazarus from our hands, and we could not hold him, how can we hold Him Himself?” That was the problem.
Now I am going back. What is the real secret of the resurrection? That Jesus arose from the dead? No! Lots of men had risen from the dead. Way back in the Old Testament, they opened a grave to bury a man, and when he touched the bones of Elisha, there was enough of the Spirit of God in the old dry bones to give him life, and he arose. But he brought no revelation of God and manifested no particular power of God in the world.
The son of the widow of Nain was truly dead and was raised to life, but he brought no revelation from the dead. Lazarus was dead four days and restored again, but, so far as the record goes, Lazarus knew no more after his resurrection than he did before.
At the crucifixion of Jesus Himself, many that were dead arose and appeared in the city. (See Matthew 27:52–53.)
It was not in the mere fact, then, that they arose from the dead, or that Jesus arose from the dead, that gives the secret of the resurrection. I want you to see what it is.
All the way along in the life of Jesus there is a growth in consciousness of God. Step-by-step, Jesus Christ discerned God and His purpose for man and God’s purpose for Himself. Step-by-step, Jesus entered into the truth of His vision. Step-by-step, Jesus revealed the power of God in the new light that had dawned upon His soul until finally, after He had manifested His power in these three degrees of death, ending in the resurrection of Lazarus after he had been dead four days, He began to talk to His disciples about a new problem and a new possibility. He began to open the fact that He Himself was likely to be crucified. In fact, that it was in the prophecies that He should be and in the determined councils of the Godhead.
I want you to distinguish between Christianity and philosophy, for in these days the world is filled with philosophical religions, and everything psychological is used to impress the world that it is religious. And Christians ought to know what it is that makes the distinction between Christianity and philosophy and what makes Jesus distinct from the philosophers, and why it is that Christianity has a power that philosophy has not.
Some of the philosophies were old and whiskered and ready to die when Jesus was born. The Bhagavad Gita was written eight hundred years before Isaiah. Buddha lived hundreds of years before Jesus and taught most of the things Jesus taught. Confucianism was old, Brahmanism was old, most of the ancient philosophies were old when Jesus came to the world. The philosophers wrote their tenets, left them, came to the grave and died, and their revelation ceased. There was nothing remaining but the tenets they had written.
Buddha wrote his tenets, came to the grave; Confucius wrote his tenets, came to the grave; Brahman wrote his tenets, came to the grave; the Zenclavestas were written, and their authors came to the grave. They all died, and there was no further revelation. The grave ended all.
Not so with the Son of God. Not so the Lord Jesus. Why, Christianity began where philosophy left off. The crucifixion of Jesus was but the entrance into the greatest of His divine revelations. Jesus not only rose from the dead, but He determined in His own soul to take captive that power that had been captivating men and subjecting them to death’s control. So Jesus entered into the grave. The early church was much more conversant with this phase of the Lord’s victory than we are.
The literature of the early church fathers is full of the wonder of what took place in the life and ministry of Jesus after He was in the grave. Peter gives us just two little flashes. He says, “He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing” (1 Peter 3:19–20). Next, He went and “preached also to them that are dead” (1 Peter 4:6). What for? “That they might be judged according to men in the flesh” (verse 6).
He carried His word of testimony and power to the very dead, those who were dead before the flood and those who died between the flood and Himself. There are two classes—the spirits that were in prison from the days of Noah, and He went also and preached to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh. Remember that Jesus preached to the dead. The dead of His day had the prophets to listen to and receive and believe their teachings or reject them, just as you and I have. The purpose of His teaching was that they might be judged as men in the flesh.
Next, in the soul of Jesus there grew that wonderful consciousness that, having liberated them from death’s power, there was a step further yet to go. He must take captive the power that was binding their souls. So He entered into death, and His ministry and victory in the regions of death was the result. And one day He came forth from the dead, a living man once more, as He was before He died.
Over and over again, John tells us that He did this and He performed that work and He wrought that marvel and that in order that we might believe, in order that He might reveal to the satisfaction of the souls of those who were trying to believe that there was a foundation and a reason and a substantial ground on which their confidence in Christ could rest.
So He came forth from the dead with the consciousness of God and His power and His ability to command God’s power and utilize it, that no other in all the earth or sea or heaven ever had. No philosopher ever had it, or had ever known anything of it. But when Jesus came forth from the dead, He came forth speaking a word that had never been spoken in the world before. He said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). Blessed be the name of God! He had proven it. Faith had become fact; vision was now consciousness.
All the triumph of Jesus in the regions of death had wrought in His soul the wonder of God. No other life ever had it. No other soul ever got the flame of it. No other nature ever felt the burning of it. Bless God.
And He was so anxious to lift His followers into it that the very first thing He did after His reappearance among them was to breathe on them. He said, “Let Me give it to you. Let Me breathe it into your life. ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost’ (John 20:22).” Let me put it into your hearts, burn it into your soul, establish it into your nature. His victory over death had wrought the marvel.
But, beloved, that is not Christianity. Christianity is more than that. That is not the consciousness of Christianity. The consciousness of Christianity is greater than that. It was holier than that, more powerful than resurrection consciousness. When Jesus came forth from the dead, He was able to declare, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore…” (Matthew 28:18–19).
Oh, then there were some wonderful days—forty wonderful days in which Jesus took the disciples, who had been in His own school for three-and-a-half years, through a new course. In these days, we would call it postgraduate course. So, they went out into the mountains of Galilee, all by themselves, for a postgraduate course with the risen Lord. And He taught them of the power of God, and He taught them of power over death and the divine fact that the dominion of the risen Christ is for every soul.
David, describing it, said, “Thou hast led captivity captive” (Psalm 68:18). Not only that, but beyond it. “Thou hast received gifts for men” (Psalm 68:18).
So, one day, there came the ascension. He took them out on the Mount of Olives and, as He blessed them, He rose out of their sight to glory. Then, there is one of those wonderful divine flashes in the Word of God that just illuminates a whole life.
Peter was preaching on the day of Pentecost. The power of God had fallen upon the people. The people demanded an explanation. “What is it? What does it mean?” Peter replied, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). Then, he went on and taught them concerning Christ, took them from His crucifixion through His resurrection and His ascension up to the throne of God. And when he got the people at the throne of God and their minds fixed there, he gave them the final explanation: when Jesus had arrived at the throne of God, an interview between God the Father and Jesus Christ took place. And God gave to Jesus the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the explanation was, “He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (verse 33).
Say, beloved, the Holy Ghost is born out of the heart of the Father God Himself, ministered through the soul of Jesus Christ, the High Priest of God, into your heart and mine. It is intended to lift our hearts and lift our lives out of Chicago mud and to keep us there forever.
So, the real Christian ought to be the kingliest man in the whole earth, the princeliest man in the whole earth—as kingly and princely and lovely and holy as the Son of God—as big as Jesus, with the power of Jesus and the love of Jesus. Bless God.