Good morning, Lord. Thank you for another day in which I can reveal Your Glory.
I have been reading the books, Seeking the Face of God by Walters and Five Views on Sanctification by Stanley N. Gundry as well as a bit in the book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard F. Lovelace.
I think that the things I learned over the past few weeks reading about spirituality have been very helpful. Here are a few of my thoughts.
1) Christians don’t continue to live in the flesh. By definition, they “walk in the Spirit” and have the power to do so (either immaturely or with growing maturity). If they are not fully surrendered and consecrated to your service then the question is rather how do they even know that they are saved (i.e. J. Edwards). If they fall into sin, your children learn to quickly confess and repent and return to a life lived in the shadow of the cross walking in the Spirit in loving obedience to your will with the purpose of being used by You in Your great rescue operation.
We are crucial to your plans, Lord, because You have chosen to use us as living testaments to the glory and power of your character in us fulfilling the demands of your Holy Justice in your own body on the cross. Love fulfilling justice, not setting it aside.
This is the Calvinist position which, in many ways, is more strict than the Arminian position. It’s almost like they/we define “walking in the Spirit” as positional sanctification rather than, the more obvious, experiential sanctification. Almost as if fleshly living is simply immaturity rather than dangerous rebellion or deadly spiritual drift. But perhaps it is both.
I suppose that if you are a Christian and your salvation is secure, then fleshly living is immaturity and dangerous to your growth and ministry (but not to your salvation) but, by definition, it is also temporary because the Spirit will convict you of sin and bring you back to a conscious walking with/in the Spirit. If you are a Christian.
But the question is, how do you know you are a Christian if you continue to live in the flesh? You can believe that you are, but if it is true, your normal state is walking in the Spirit. If you are not walking in the Spirit in full surrender and consecration, then there is no assurance of salvation (i.e. J. Edwards) unless you run to the cross in confession and repentance of sins.
After all, if the heart is deceitful above all things, how do you know that you are a Christian? Is it just a matter of taking God at his word or is it a matter also of seeing the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit (our seal of salvation, our guarantor of eternal life, our promise of the power for a new relationship with God) in our lives?
And what is that evidence? Spiritual gifts? Yes. Spiritual fruit? Yes. But J. Edwards, the great American theologian who lived during the Great Awakening in America, says that it can all be false and counterfeit except for the humility of true confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation between us and God and others.
The shadow of the cross is a place of humility which is rooted in love and despises the shame of revealing its sin and deceit for the joy of reconciliation with the desire of your heart (which is the true convicting work of the Spirit).
So, what do we say about the masses of churchgoers (Christians? non-Christians? a mixture?) who live lives that are not surrendered or consecrated? The Christian life is distinctive. It is different from the world and distinguishes itself from the flesh.
Preaching must be clear about the abundant life and that it is not optional but the normal Christian life. It is a life lived in the shadow of the cross.
Relationally, we walk in the Spirit and when we fall into temptation for whatever reason, we quickly confess and repent because we want to be in right fellowship with God more than we want to live apart from Him in sin and rebellion. Is this not true of every marriage, every couple in love? If it is not, then there is no love relationship even if they have been declared “married”. Marriage is a matter of the heart not of the law or ceremony or even of good intentions. Do you love me? is the cry of the heart.
No cheap grace allowed. The cost of new life in Christ is a new life in Christ. The cost of marriage is the exclusion of all others and a heart-felt desire for the object of our love. As Christians, we are different. Our beliefs and values have changed. Our actions reflect those changes and we live on the edge of faith, working out the salvation that You have placed within us. Yes, there is room for growth in obedience but, relationally, it is black and white. You are either with God (and in Christ) or you are not.
Growth is normal in all relationships, but you are either in the relationship or you are not. Now be (live out) what you already are (a new person in Christ). Now be the husband or wife that you already are.
That is not to say, that on a deeper level, this question of the heart isn’t, in fact, the most important issue to God and that, in His grace, he allows us to rebel and fall away for a time to reveal our own hearts to us in order to increase our awareness of His grace and thereby increase our love for Him which keeps us more firmly on the path. Even in marriage, temptations can happen and we can even fall and any betrayal is a deep hurt to the other precisely because of the love that they have for us. But forgiveness based on the cross is still possible. In the context of true confession and ongoing repentance on the one side and forgiveness based on the cross and reconciliation based on the promise of God to finish his work in the life of the sinner, new life is possible.
It is even possible to say that the restored life is deeper and richer than the romantic life in a marriage (and restoration can ignite a deeper and longer lasting romance).
But we may not fall into the lazy “cheap grace” attitude that says that we will allow ourselves to sin so that grace may abound (we can always repent later on). I can feel the pain in Your heart at such crass betrayal of your love and I have been the cause of that pain. Forgive me, Lord.
We pursue the simple good (C.S. Lewis) of walking in the Spirit free from conscious and intentional sin by the power of the Holy Spirit and quickly confess and repent when we fall into sin and temptation. God works the more complex good (C.S. Lewis) of transforming even our sin into a deeper relationship with Him. God may use our sin to reveal His grace but we are expected to live in the Spirit by faith and not sin in the first place. God is looking for mature believers who have learned to love him deeply from the heart because they want to not because of the benefits. These are the kinds of people he is creating and which are very useful to his purpose of rescuing his people from the clutches of the Devil. Sanctification has a purpose after all.
2) Much of the disagreement between the 4 major views is semantics but I’m not sure it makes much difference in real life. Lord, I think that you can work effectively in people’s hearts even if they get some of this doctrine wrong (just like the early church). Certainly the concept of eternal security makes a big difference but the concept of flesh used of Christians who are not walking in the Spirit is minor.
Still it is helpful to remember that You are there even when we are living in the flesh and that, probably, it would be more accurate to say that we are grieving your Spirit (or better yet, we are living as if we were still in the flesh which we are not which is why the Spirit is grieved). That makes it more “relational” which is helpful. Thank you, Lord, for teaching me these things.
We are living as if we were still in the flesh which we are not which is why the Spirit is grieved. Just like in marriage, we can live like we are single when we are not which is very hurtful to our spouse because it puts in doubt the relationship itself.
3) My third take away is that I belong to you, Lord. Period. If I fall into fleshly living it is immature rebellion and dangerous to my growth and ministry. Like in any relationship, I have to Stay, Talk and Try. Staying is the point here. Just like the movie “Catch me if you can” with Tom Hanks and Leonardo Di Caprio about the young forger running away from the FBI, at one point Tom Hanks says “nobody is chasing you.” You are already part of the family.
In many ways, staying is harder than running away. Staying is about love. Running is about shame. Do you want to stay? Then stay. You will have to humble yourself and talk (confess) and try (repentance and make every effort) but the fundamental question is what do you want?
And perhaps you, Lord, allow us to go there, precisely to reveal to us what is in our hearts, the glory of wanting to stay more than wanting to go (to sin, to rebel) and, as that wanting grows into desire and then into love (the reason for wanting to stay is in the other not in the benefits to you), you teach us and help us to grow in intimacy with You.
Lord, all of this is good material for my book on Hosea marrying the prostitute as a metaphor of your relationship with your people.
Anyway, Lord, maybe there is more benefit to the Calvinist view of things than I thought, although the concept of “staying” still can be defined by full surrender (vs. wrestling with and rebelling against You) and consecration and I still think that there is some truth to the conscious sins (in the context of an awareness of our overall pollution) vs. unconscious and unintentional sins.
So, from a Calvinist point of view, it isn’t about a second blessing or about a higher life or a deeper life because they all seem to assume that it is normal (and certainly, common) for Christians to be living un-surrendered, un-consecrated lives in the first place. No, the normal (even if uncommon) Christian life is lived walking in the Spirit in full surrender to Your will and consecration to Your service in whatever creational context that You have given us.
That may not be entirely fair to the Arminian position because they clearly preach that living in the Spirit is the normal Christian life but the words themselves, “the deeper life,” “the higher life” seems to be a contradiction in terms. Yes, the abundant life is used in Scripture to describe this normal state of walking in the Spirit and, yes, the abundant life is “deeper” and “higher” than walking in the flesh (which, by definition, means “apart from God”). But, the point is, that if we are in fact Christians who are intentionally rebelling or consciously sinning and are unrepentant, then we will be grieving too.
Church discipline is not about the sin so much as it is about an ongoing conversation with the sinner about whether or not there is grief and conviction which leads to repentance.
If not, as a church, we may have to make it clear that there is no evidence of the work and presence of the Holy Spirit of God in their lives and the church needs to treat them as a “gentile” in need of salvation rather than as a christian in need of restoration.
So long as the teaching of the abundant life is clearly stated as the normal Christian life and that we are not simply “walking in the flesh” when we intentionally disobey or slowly drift away. We are, but so much more. We are “grieving the Spirit” because we are living as if we were apart from God when in fact, the Spirit of God now lives within us (if that is in fact the case).
No one can hurt you like someone you love. Yes, non-believers also grieve the heart of God in a sense but there is a response of ultimate judgement if they are not saved. For those of us who are saved by the blood of Christ, we are the children of God and have the power to hurt God deeply precisely because of that love, that new relationship which the cross has made possible.
But we need grace even for ourselves otherwise we are still in our pride wanting to be seen and counted as perfect or holy or spiritual without the humiliation and shame of transparent confession and ongoing repentance. We need to practice a constant clinging to the cross for our conscious sins as well as our unconscious, unintentional sins and overall pollution. No pride allowed, spiritual or otherwise.
We can’t deal with everything all at once. My knowledge exceeds my obedience and always will in this life.
Rather than minimize the sin (by ignoring some sins or not looking closely at our motives and intentions), I have to learn to maximize your grace (in spite of my conscious, semi-conscious and partly intentional and unintentional sins and overall pollution) and stay in the process of learning to make every effort to live in the shadow of the cross.
Stay, Talk, Try.
Perhaps it is helpful to talk in terms of immaturity, growing in maturity and maturity. Assuming that you are a Christian and you desire through the work and presence of the Spirit to be in fellowship with God and are willing, therefore, to humble yourself as often as necessary through confession, repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation, then we can talk about the maturity continuum.
Perhaps immaturity in Christ should be seen as that initial wrestling with God about loving obedience to His will. We surrender and then rebel. We consecrate ourselves to his service but refuse to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily (confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation is the way of the cross).
Maturity is the ability to remain in the shadow of the cross in full surrender and consecration and includes the desire to quickly return to fellowship after falling temporarily into sin. So on the relational side of things, it is black and white, immaturity or maturity (although there is room for growth).
After all, we are like prostitutes (see Hosea) who have destroyed our ability to love but have been called into a new relationship with our bridegroom or young lovers, pregnant with new life, but untested and immature in their commitment.
In either case, untested love or inability to love, it is the relationship itself that is the question. What do you want? Do you love me more than anyone or anything else?
This is a black and white question but it may have to be asked more than once (growth in maturity) and God is especially good at revealing our idols and asking for our permission to rip them out of our lives inch by inch, step by step, to increase our capacity to love Him by forcing us to decide between them and Him, by shedding light on it, bringing it out of the darkness and into his light and asking us to crucify that idol of flesh upon the cross of Christ in confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
In that sense there is a relational immaturity and maturity that prioritizes the relationship over other things. This process is a deep and necessary one but in the process, even though we are already married (assuming that we are, in fact, Christians), there are periods in which we have rebelled and are sitting in the bar, nursing our beer and flirting with the barmaid.
The question is whether or not our hearts are in pain, grieving the breakup, nursing the hurt or misunderstanding or sense of justice that caused the rupture or rejoicing at the opportunity to get away and be free to do our own thing.
As leaders we must be at the point in our relationship with Christ that we can say that God has brought us to a place of tested maturity in which we have demonstrated a true, growing love for God and a desire for His fellowship and, when we sin, we quickly return to the safety and joy of the shadow of the cross.
Then there is the question of growing in maturity. That is only possible on the other side of full surrender and consecration not for those who are temporarily in a place of rebellion. If you are grieving the Spirit, the issue is to make up and reassert your love and desire to be in fellowship.
Sadly, the focus for many individuals and churches is on the sin itself, as terrible as that may be, instead of on the relationship between the individual and His God which is the heart of the matter.
But, if your are living in the shadow of the cross, then growth in obedience, in christlikeness, in virtue and in ministry can happen. If you are living in rebellion and sin, search your heart to find out what you truly want, talk to some Christian leaders who can clarify any misunderstandings you may have about God and what He is doing in your life and then decide, again and again if necessary, to choose the love of God in Christ or to turn to your own ways. Is God good and my heart evil? or Is God evil and my heart good? Is he in the wrong or am I in the wrong?
Love is always a decision but make sure that you know deep down that whatever God is doing in your life, whatever the circumstances are, He is in control and He loves you. That is the basis of the relationship. If you don’t truly believe that, you may need to start at the beginning and take a good, long hard look at the cross of Christ to see your sin and God’s provision of grace who loved us even unto death while we were still sinners.
The point is that if we are living in sin and rebellion and we know it, then we must first ask ourselves whether we are, in fact, “married” to God or not and, if we are, then are we truly “in love” with God or not and, if so, since He is good and in control and we are his children and need to learn to love and trust Him, we must be in the wrong and must confess and repent (and get help to continue to repent until the sin is overcome in the power of the Spirit however long it takes).
No growth in Christlikeness or virtue can happen while we are in a state of open rebellion or spiritual drift. No growth in love in a marriage can happen while we remain uncommitted to the relationship and are willing to put in the time and effort and resources to be the spouse that we are and to find that sweet spot where we actually want to be there and to be in fellowship with the desire of our heart.
We live out a redemptive focus in a creational context but even our redemptive focus consists of our life ministry lived out in the relational context of our walk with God. That may seem obvious but is rather uncommon.
Our true life ministry (which is to reveal the glory of God’s character as shown in Christ) is an overflow of our walk with God and our church ministry (according to our gifts and roles) are an overflow of our life ministry.
So, again, the relational question (even for Christians) is the essential question of the heart and can be seen on a spectrum from immaturity (struggling with God, unwilling to give up ground, focused on justice) to maturity (struggling with sin in the power of the Spirit, quickly bringing faults to the cross because we know we are loved and have been bought with a price, wanting to be obedient out of love not for the temporal benefits in terms of feelings or success). Immaturity is bad. Maturity is good in any relationship, even with yourself. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something important when we begin to recognize our immaturity for the selfishness that it is and then consciously choose love. After all, that is how maturity happens, in relationship (even when babies arrive) when you have something to lose.
Morality may be a limit to our will but love doesn’t even consider our will to be important because it is focused on the other.
That relational maturity can take a lifetime to learn and even well known spiritual leaders may experience the dark night of the soul, the final step in their relational maturity where they, like Christ in the garden, against all odds, in the face of a silent heaven, choose to obey even when they feel abandoned by God.
In the case of Christ, he was, in fact, abandoned by God and became sin for us on the cross. In our case, we may feel abandoned by God because of our sin, or our over dependence on feelings rather than faith, or because God has withdrawn his obvious favor to teach us the priority of love over benefits.
So even well-established leaders can experience these relational challenges in their walk with God but it is precisely because they have learned the maturity of walking in the Spirit and desiring after God, that God leaves the hardest and most difficult issue of the dark night of the soul until last.
It is important to say also that God’s relational question in our rebellion and sin is black and white but our ability to respond quickly and decisively in humble confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation will grow over time as we face and overcome this question of the heart which underlies our sin and rebellion.
So, even here, to talk of maturity is more difficult than to talk about growth in maturity. Still, there seems to be a place that we all get to in our relationships that the tide has turned, where we are truly together together, where it isn’t just a matter of duty or obedience but of desire and love.
That maturity is created in us through this process by God Himself as we discover and respond to the grace of God shown through the cross of Christ.
So, leadership needs to have this true relational maturity which has been tested and refined by the fires of temptation and sin, sometimes overcome, sometimes being overcome but always redeemed by the blood of the cross.
Which is to say that even the relational maturity process can continue for a lifetime but there is a growing maturity in our walk with God that desires fellowship with Him above our sin and self-interest and when that happens, as we are walking in the Spirit in-between these relational challenges, God is at work molding and working on our Christlike character.
Separating the relational process from the character process seems to make good sense to me, even though they are related and integrated. Both of these processes are inner realities and must be worked out in the outer realities of mastery of our bodies and in our life ministry to others.
Thank You for teaching me these things.
In Your Name I pray. Amen.