Transformed by Beholding Jesus by Sebastian Mathews

I am pleased to introduce to you my friend Sebastian Mathews. Sebastian and his family began attending Forward Church in January 2019. They were familiar with grace and the New Covenant message but they did not know how to actuate grace. After a series of frustrations and a devastating loss, they discovered not only the freedom of grace but the power of grace. God’s influence in our hearts is not just unmerited favor, it’s a power that brings about radical transformation in very radical ways. Sebastian teaches what he’s learned and gives a testimony of how it has given way to incredible fruit in just about every area of his life.

“Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do You know me?’ 

Jesus answered and said to him, ‘…when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’” John 1:48

We all view the world differently, based on our own ideas.

All of us wear spectacles in some form or another. We all view the world around us from our own unique perspectives, or what can be called a worldview. Those lenses are often filtered and distorted, sometimes even cracked and broken. Yet as believers, how we view God profoundly shapes our life, the decisions we make, the experiences we go through, and the outcomes thereof.

Tim Keller, noted Christian apologist, suggests that any worldview consists of posing and answering three questions:

  1. How are things supposed to be?

  2. What is the main problem with things as they are?

  3. What is the solution and how can it be realized?

Don’t we all ask those questions at some point or another? We know the promises of God in our heads whether it be in our health, relationships, or our finances, and we wonder how we can appropriate those for ourselves into our hearts so that we can experience what God has promised for us in our lives.

These worldviews and the ideas behind them have consequences.

“As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” Ps 23:7 (KJV).

Throughout history, how people have viewed the world, or their worldviews, has influence their personal meaning, values, and the way they think and act. We all know that if people change their worldviews, they change their values and the way they think and act and ultimately the outcomes they experience. 

The idea of freedom for example that was first expressed in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 had global effects. For example, as this new idea of freedom spread its way across the Atlantic from America to Europe, “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” or “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, as expressed in 1790 by Maximilien Robespierre, chief influencer of the French Revolution, became its rallying cry.

But even great ideas can be easily lost. Unless we are regularly reminded.

By the end of the 18th century, the French revolution was rapidly losing steam. Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon and the first elected president of France, when he could not be constitutionally re-elected, seized power in 1851 and made himself emperor. 

And likewise, even on the other side of the ocean back in America, that first great experiment in freedom lay precariously in the balance, the fledging country laid waste by the civil war of 1861 to 1865. 

  • And so Abraham’s Lincoln’s seminal address at Gettysburg in 1863, seeking to bring unity and healing to a divided nation just four months after the Union had defeated Confederate soldiers at the battle of Gettysburg at that turning point in the war, rededicated America’s founding as “conceived in liberty”, reaffirmed the “proposition that all men are created equal”, and borrowing from John Wycliffe’s’ prologue to the first English translation of the Bible in 1384. “The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People” reminded the gathered audience “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”; irrevocably linking God with freedom.

  • Two score years later in 1883, Emma Lazarus, the Jewish-American poetess, wrote these words, affixed to the Statue of Liberty, welcoming immigrants to freedom, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”. Apt isn’t it that her last name was Lazarus, reminding us of her namesake poor beggar who was carried to Abraham’s bosom while the rich man ended up in torment in Hades in Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31.

As we see above, these rejoinders don’t even have to be codified into formal documents for them to remind and renew the hearts and minds of people. Ideas do powerfully exist in and can be transmitted through mottos, speeches, poems, and even comic books!

Here’s a great idea. It is the freedom in Christ that makes us great. 

26 Brothers and Sisters think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before Him. 30 It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” 1 Corinthians 1:26-30.

As believers, we recognize this call, not to the best and the brightest but to the least and the lowest. For, it is freedom in Christ that transforms and empowers us, causing greatness to arise within us. 

So how do we lose our freedom? When we start viewing Jesus wrong.

Our view of Jesus is important. It affects every aspect of our lives; whether we live in freedom and victory or bondage and failure. For example, have you, or perhaps someone close to you, had to weather a storm, perhaps a sickness or disease? My dad died when I was 22 years old and left behind myself, my kid sister, and my mom, without family in South Africa, where we had moved to and lived for only just over a decade. He had given his life to Jesus just three years earlier. As a recently saved family of believers, we were surrounded by well-meaning religious folk and faced with many conflicting views about Jesus in the midst of this storm. How many of us have been in similar situations and have heard of and worse still believed some of the following incorrect views about Jesus?

  • “Suck it up” – Do you see Jesus as a military drill sergeant? Do you believe that Jesus sent (or even worse, allows) the storm to refine me and build character in our life?

  • “It’s your fault” – Do you see Jesus as a high school Jesus? Do you think you are responsible for the storms in your life so you believe that you should pay the price and face the consequences?

  • “Shift happens” – Do you see Jesus as a heavenly teddy bear? We live in a fallen world and storms happen, after all didn’t He say we will have trouble? Do you believe that all Jesus will do is “comfort” you as you endure it?

  • “Que será, será” – Do you see Jesus as a mystery? Since His ways are above our ways, maybe if it’s God’s will, He will heal me but then again, what may be , may be and so maybe He won’t. I will never know in this life. If it’s His will that I suffer, then I just have to accept it.

What does the biblical Jesus look like?

The way to view Jesus clearly is to see, not the Jesus from man-made tradition be they religious philosophy or human performance, but the Jesus of the bible. 

How did He deal with people who came to him with a sickness or disease, for example? Did He tell them to suck it up and endure it or blame them because it was their fault? Did He shrug His shoulders and simply assure them He would be with them but do nothing to heal them or did He just give them a mysterious runaround? None of the above. 

We see the Jesus of the bible “heal all who were sick” Matt 8:16 and He give us authority to do the same, even greater, Luke 10:19. 

The right picture of Jesus helps us see ourselves right(eous)

A biblical view of Jesus helps us to see that “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers” 1 John 5:2

And when we see that it’s His will that we prosper in all respects, we also see that “His divine power has bestowed on us [absolutely] everything necessary for [a dynamic spiritual] life and godliness, through true and personal knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3 (AMP)

So, why can’t we see Jesus clearly sometimes?

It may be that we have an incorrect view of Jesus. We may be unable to see Jesus clearly because a veil (or a mask) lies over our heart. 

14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart” 2 Cor 3:14-16

When we look in the mirror, instead of seeing a reflection of Jesus that arises from within us as new creation beings, we may instead still be looking at a reflection of the masks that we bring with us from our old life. 

Are we still wearing a veil?

Psychologists tell us that all human beings seek the security of feeling loved, a sense of significance that comes with acceptance and belonging, and satisfaction of success that comes from being good enough. Perhaps you struggle with one of the following lies.

  • I’m unloved - do you tend to feel abandoned and unwanted? Do you believe that “nobody wants me”?

  • I’m not good enough – do you tend to feel rejected and not good enough, that you always have to prove yourself? Do you believe that “everyone is unhappy with me”?

  • I am alone and don’t belong – do you tend to feel detached and different, not wanting to commit or form strong attachments? Do you believe “I don’t need anyone”?

But there is hope. “But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” I Cor 3:16 

How does the Father see Jesus? 

Interestingly, God the Father addressed these exact same areas when He spoke over Jesus at His baptism (and who until that point, arguably had accomplished virtually nothing related to the earthly ministry He was called). 

“…and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’” Matt 3:17

The Father called Jesus His beloved, He spoke belonging and acceptance of Jesus by referring to Him as His own, and declared that He was already pleased with Jesus, that the Son’s performance had nothing to do with the Father’s good pleasure in Him.

How does Jesus see you? 

Does Jesus not see us the same way as the Father sees Him? After all, "just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” John 15:9. And “because as He is, so also are we in this world.”1 John 4:17. Finally, “We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

So how does Father see you?

We should hear the Father say of us “this is My Beloved son or daughter, in whom I am well-pleased”. We should be declaring that

  • God loves me as He loves Jesus, “so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:23

  • Christ has qualified me and is well-pleased with me, so we should be “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” Col 1:12

  • I belong to Christ and accepted in the Beloved, for …He hath made us accepted in the beloved” Eph 1:6 and “so then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.” Eph 2:19

As believers, we are called to “put on the new self, according to the image of the One…” Eph 4:24. That means, when we look into the mirror, we should see not a veiled mask of lies but an image of Jesus, a reflection of our new creation self.

But how do we put on the new self? How do we see Jesus and ourselves differently?

For me personally, attending Forward church and listening to Pastor Clint Byars has been a revelation. For the first time I understand the need for heart transformation that takes the knowledge of grace in my mind and makes it real in my life. I am discovering that it is through the heart I am empowered to systematically appropriate grace by faith and daily experience victory, practically, actively and consistently. 

So how do we get this faith “into” our heart? From light to life.

For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” 2 Tim 1:5. How did Timothy kindle afresh the faith that Paul prayed over him through the laying on of his hands. 

As we continue reading, we see that it has “now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and [brought life - Photizo] and immortality to [light - Photizo] through the gospel” 2 Tim 1:10

It’s interesting that the same Greek word “photizo” is used to bring “life” to “light”. It is as if Paul is saying the life of Christ is and through the light of Christ. 

And the light of Christ is more than just head knowledge or more bible study but something deeper and more profound, more splendid and wonderful. 

Remember when “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” back in Genesis 1:3. Now we know that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”, Luke 6:45. So if God spoke light which brought life and His words emanate from His heart, it behooves us to know what’s in His heart if we are to experience that same transformative life. 

And from love to light to life. For God is love.

The heart of God is love.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. …In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins… So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for usGod is LOVE… We love because He first loved us”  1 John 4:7,10,16,19

And we are transformed when we look at His love for us

If we are to experience transformation, as we gaze upon Jesus, we need to know His heart for us. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Cor 3:18

So, when we look upon Jesus, when we behold Him, what are we seeing? We see what He told Nathanael, that He has seen us even before we saw Him. When we look at Jesus, we see His love for us. And that is how our lives are transformed. By beholding and experiencing His transformative love for us in our heart.

And it happens in our heart.

When we arrived from the grey skies of Seattle to the warm sunshine of Atlanta, we were still broken and bruised as a family. A great depression had befallen us; my wife’s kid brother whom she loved dearly, a successful youth pastor and only in his early twenties, had committed suicide a couple of years prior. We had been trying unsuccessfully to have another child for a few years and our finances were rapidly coming to an end after being out of work and at my wits end having tried everything that I knew.

Finding (or rather, quite providentially stumbling upon) Forward Church, a month later my wife fell pregnant as the promises of God became alive and began to bear fruit. And a couple of months later, after nearly a year without a job, when I was down to my last three dollars in the bank, visiting my sister in Toronto, I sat at a coffee shop in called Second Cup. It’s amazing how when you are down to your last three dollars how clearly you begin to hear from Jesus! There is something about desperation that causes us to let go of our own self effort and lean on Him. 

And at that point, sitting at Second Cup, I knew I had to listen to Clint’s sermons a second time. I pulled up Forward Church’s Facebook livestream. But this time I listened from my heart. And as Clint preached about releasing offence against Jesus, about experiencing Jesus not in your head but in your heart, about the quantum nature of God’s love and how every particle of His love washes over us like endless waves of grace within us (I have studied quantum physics at university but had never understood it so clearly as preached by Clint at Forward Church); there were so many nuggets of deep thought in his sermons. 

And I sat there, doing the exercises he recommended, allowing my heart to connect with the love of God on the inside. (See this blog for the exercises Sebastian is referring to)

It’s amazing how much we listen to God with our heads but so rarely with our hearts.

And I can’t explain it, but a wave of God’s love just washed over me and I just knew our financial problems were over. And within a few days, a new wonderful job appeared, and in addition a rush of finances flooded in from a various sources, and most importantly I could sense, for the first time, that transformation in my heart, just like when I had gotten saved for the first time some twenty or so years ago. 

For it is always with the heart that we believe (Rom 10:9) and receive.

Clint Byars

Believer, Husband, Father