The Church in the Wilderness
(From the Book "The Saving Life of Christ" by Ian Thomas)


     While God was feeding His people with manna in the desert wilderness  - He was causing them to hunger. "Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna..." (Deut. 8: 2-3)

     Throughout their time in the desert, God did not plan for His called out people to be satisfied. While the believer remains in the desert wilderness, God will cause the seeker to hunger and thirst after the heavenly fruit of Christ's life. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled." The filling with Christ's "Spirit of life" occurs when we have come to the end of human effort and have entered into His promised rest. This is how we are enabled to "put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." (Eph. 4: 24)

     The manna was given only to sustain life, never to fill and satisfy the soul. The desert is a time of removing the heart's idols from God's temple and separating your soul from worldliness - to be used for God's exclusive use. While God will continue sustaining your soul with His grace while He is testing you to find out if you will permit the Spirit to strip away your flesh-life, it will be necessary to enter into a union with Christ's divine nature before it is possible to know the firstfruits of His heavenly life.

     The Lord will lead you with the convicting work of the Holy Spirit through the desert testing period "to humble you and to test you in order to know what {is} in your hearts." Will you respond to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit or will you rebel against God?

     God must work out the very delicate matter of separating His called out people from their worldly way of life. He does it by bringing them to an end of their willful pride and self-sufficiency. This process will inevitably entail much suffering within the soul.

     During this stripping away process, He will also be leading His people to wells of refreshment on occasions so they do not fall away and return to the ways of the world. But these periods of refreshing joy cannot be compared to the river of life that flows without ceasing in the promised land. Only those who enter the land and begin to drink from Christ's Living Water of divine life will know what it means to "never thirst." (John 4: 14) Unfortunately, only "the few" are ever willing to enter in.

     "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns {by turning to the things and self-sufficient ways of this world}, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jer. 2: 13)

   "Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters...Why spend money...and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare." (Isa. 55: 1-2)

     As we are being stripped of our self-life in the desert wilderness, God must permit long dry spells between the wells of refreshment. He would like to speed up the process as much as possible because He needs Christians "filled" with Christ's life of righteousness. He wants to manifest His divine light in this world. However, He cannot go too fast in this delicate process of separating people from the ways of the world. The Lord does not want anyone to fall away. If He were expose us to all the evil in our fallen nature all at once, it would be more than we could bear.

     When Jesus went into the desert as our example, He fasted in the physical realm to demonstrate how we are to fast in the spiritual realm. We must stop feeding our spiritual life with the things of this world. God will not fill the temple of our body with His divine life until we are willing to accept His life as our only food and drink. Jesus said, "Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me...he who feeds on this bread will live forever." (John 6: 57-58)

     By the time we have given up all of our outside sources of spiritual sustenance through this spiritual fast, we will be as weak as Jesus was at the end of His physical fast. It is in this weakness that we will be able to perfect the power of God within our inner being. (2 Cor. 12: 9) The Spirit will manifest His divine power by clothing our soul with the life and nature of Jesus Christ.

     There will be a real change in the way we live when we come out of the desert clothed with power from on high. Once we are through with the worldly way of human effort, God is able to manifest His life and work through the temple of our body. Like Jesus, we cannot truly begin a ministry that brings all glory to the Father in heaven until this event has taken place. "Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole country." (Luke 4: 15)

     Where did God intend to satisfy His people? In the land {of promise}! Since God was stripping the people of their flesh-life in the desert, He refused to fill their soul with heavenly fruit while they remained there. Never forget, He has spread the table with good things in Canaan!

    Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God...A certain man was preparing a great banquet and inviting many guests. At the time of the banquet {in this New Testament age of fulfillment} he sent his servant to tell those {called out people} who had been invited, "Come, for everything is now ready." But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, "I have just bought a field {as a new property owner}, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me {because my concerns are for the property}."

     Another said, "I have just bought five yoke of oxen {as a new business owner}, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me {because my business must come first}." Still another said, "I just got married, so I can't come {because my spouse doesn't like the Lord's will}." Then the master told his servant,..."I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet." (Luke 14: 15-24)

"Therefore...repent. Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." (Rev. 3: 19-20)

     Have you entered into the banquet feast and begun to eat from the Tree of Life in the Sabbath-rest of God? Maybe you are still feeding your flesh-life on the things of this world. If anyone or anything is more important to you than the good, pleasing and perfect will of the Father, you will not be permitted to feast on Christ's divine life and nature.

     God cannot fully satisfy you in the wilderness because He is attempting to bring an end to your old life in the flesh. He must weaken you to the point where you give up all hope in self, and all hope of finding fulfillment from the things of this world. Out of love, He permits suffering to come into your life in order to bring about your willingness to die to self.

     Of course, it is not natural for the flesh-life to like what God must do. The flesh, in its natural desire to assert itself, fights against becoming nothing in itself so that God may become all in all. It has a natural enmity against Christ's selfless nature.

     This is why God must bring about a weakness in the flesh. The desert is a place of soul suffering. The intent of this work of the Spirit is to make us weaker in self so we will become more dependent on the Lord. We will not perfect the power of God within our inner being until we have been driven into an absolute dependence on God to direct and empower our every step.

     "Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body {which is intended to bring about an end to the self-life} is done with sin {or self-will}.  As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil {self-willed} human desires, but rather for the will of God." (1 Pet. 4: 1-2)

     "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work." (John 4: 34)

     When the Spirit is breathed into a new believer as the Dove of peace and reconciliation with God, He immediately drives the new seeker into the desert to separate him from the willful ways of the world. But there is a natural tendency to look back at the worldly things and methods that we once used to sustain our old spiritual life.

     However, you need to be very concerned about turning your eyes back to the world, because if you are not careful, God will give you the things that you want! The people "lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul." (Ps. 106: 14-15) The quail God gave them rotted in their mouths, and they lived in self-imposed spiritual poverty - carnally fat and spiritually lean!

     Your soul will feel miserable if you are feeding on worldly things while the Spirit is attempting to lead you through the desert with a hunger and thirst to be like Jesus Christ. The wretched feeling that occurs when you are feeding your soul on the temporal things of this world originates from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

     Many who are in the church today have not experienced spiritual regeneration and so they have not been blessed with a hunger to be like Jesus Christ. These people have never left spiritual Egypt {the world}. They naturally sustain their spiritual life by feeding their flesh with the things of this world. They do not experience a true sense of conviction over their spiritual adultery because they remain spiritually dead.

     The Spirit does not drive an individual into the desert testing period until after spiritual regeneration. They will know when this occurs because the Spirit provides them with an inner desire to become like Jesus Christ. And of course, the carnal desires that continue to flow out of their sinful nature will make them feel miserable. (See Romans 7)

     Since it is a true blessing to have our independent spirit broken (Matt. 5: 3), the breaking down of our self-sufficient pride becomes an essential part in God's plan of redemption. God must separate us from the self-life. This is why Christians all over the world will go through a period of suffering to break their self-sufficient spirit.

     "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ {as you die to self}, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed {within your soul}." (1 Pet. 4: 12-13}

     "Casting all your care upon Him...Be sober, be vigilant... steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace...after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you {in His undivided kingdom}." (1 Peter 5: 7-10)

     Life in the wilderness was not a happy place to be. But what a transformation took place on the day they entered into the land {of God's Sabbath rest}! "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death...That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled {or fully met} in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." (Rom. 8: 2, 4 KJV) There is deliverance from the bondage of the sinful nature when we enter into the promised land and receive the long awaited Promise of the Father - an undivided heart. The glory of the Lord is revealed within our soul so we are enabled to manifest His spiritual image.

     "God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them {because of the way they responded to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit} by giving the Holy Spirit to them {as an inner manifestation of Christ's divine life}...for he purified their hearts by faith." (Acts 15: 8-9)

     "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." (Matt. 5: 8)

     "The manna stopped the day after they ate this {divine} food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan." (Josh. 5: 12) Christ wants to become the food of our life - and the heavenly fruit of His Spirit flowing through our inner being will begin to satisfy our soul as with the richest of fare. (Isa. 55: 2; Eph. 1: 3)

     The riches of this divine food bears witness to the Spirit-filled life. "The fruit of the Spirit is {Christ's heavenly} love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Gal. 5: 22-23) The Spirit makes Christ's divine nature known as an experiential reality within our eternal soul. (John 16: 14)

     In the land {of promise} they enjoyed the fullness of the Spirit, not just sustained - now their soul could delight in the bountiful fruit of the land. No longer were they forced to eat the monotonous and leaning diet of the desert. They had entered the land flowing with spiritual milk and honey and had all the abundance of Canaan! It is here, in the promised Sabbath-rest, that we are enabled to participate with Christ in His heavenly blessings.

     Are you bored? Are you suffering from leanness of soul? Have even the things you are doing for God become monotonous? Are you tempted to grumble about the circumstances  of life rather than to constantly rejoice because of a fullness experienced within your soul? Perhaps you are still living on manna! Maybe you got out of Egypt {the world}, but you have not yet entered into the promised land. You probably still belong to the church of the wilderness!

     Yes, you may know about the baptism of repentance that results in spiritual regeneration. But this was the message of a desert preacher. (Luke 3: 3) John the Baptist provided his message from the wilderness to "prepare" the people to enter God's undivided kingdom here on earth. (Matt. 3: 2) If this repentance is real, it will result in a Spirit-produced "hunger and thirst" to be like Jesus. But this is only a sign of life in the desert wilderness, and not yet the "life of promise."

     John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins {reconciliation}. (Mark 1: 4) In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the {undivided} kingdom of heaven is near..."

"I will baptize you with water for repentance {to reconcile you to God}. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I...He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit {to provide you with divine life}..." (Matt. 3: 1-2, 11)

     So there is still a question to be asked: Do you know about the more powerful baptism of the Holy Spirit that immerses you into the life and nature of Jesus Christ? Our Lord expects us to go forward in our faith so we may enter into His undivided kingdom through a union with His life and will.

     The Messiah has come to establish His undivided kingdom in our heart. We are to become filled with His life of righteousness. "For the kingdom of God is...{Christ's} righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Rom. 14: 17) "Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord filled with the Spirit." (Eph. 5: 17-18)