J. D. Howell, Leeds
In our previous paper we were led to the inevitable conclusion that love of the world and the things of the world led to carnality and was at enmity with the spiritual. We would be the last to admit that we do these things that associate us with the enemies of God, but again the Scripture is clear, "whosoever therefore will be the friend of the world is the enemy of God", James 4. 4.
Despite the tendency to worldliness, we all desire to live a life pleasing to God, not only because of the certainty of the judgment seat of Christ but because we love Him who first loved us. No wonder the apostle Paul, recognizing the constant warfare within himself, cried, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?", Rom. 7.24. Let us now consider the marks of the spiritual Christian: we shall find them exactly the opposite to those of the carnal Christian. The spiritual life is a life of 1. abiding peace; 2. habitual victory; 3. constant growth; 4. supernatural power; 5. devoted separateness; 6. winsome holiness.
1. Peace - Abiding. Who is there amongst us that would not know and enjoy real peace - peace that lasts in contrast to the transient passing peace that the world attempts to find, but there is no peace to the wicked. Yet how easily we allow it to be disturbed. The desire of the Lord Jesus was that we should enjoy peace to the full. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid", John 14. 27.
Like Paul we all know the conflict of the spiritual with the natural, the moments of wrestling against some destroying thoughts and practices, but peace can come to us through conscious victory. The spiritual Christian does not continue in the practice of known wilful sin, in those things that war against the soul. Communion with the Lord is unmarred for the spiritual Christian; the gnawing consciousness of soiled hands, the pricking of a wounded conscience, the condemnation of an accusing heart are absent. But when these are present, peace cannot exist. What a blessing it is to know that soiled hands can be cleansed, wounded hearts made whole. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness", 1 John 1. 9. Those who walk in full communion with the Lord know and enjoy peace of soul, that deep joy and satisfying rest in the Lord.
2. Victory - Habitual. As we look down the pages of history, we think of men whose very names are associated with victory, for example, Hannibal, Alexander, Napoleon. Their victories became a habit until finally they met their match. So also shall we, if we rely on our own might, for even the stoutest are but frail creatures. "But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ", 1 Cor. 15. 57. Note the singular "victory"; it is continuous. We can mar that victory if we so wish, or we can experience the fruits of it daily over all sin. It is ours if we claim it. "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us", Rom. 8. 37. Not only are we conquerors, but more than conquerors. It is a complete, final and comprehensive victory. This is the position that God wants us to occupy, a life of habitual victory. "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place", 2 Cor. 2.14.
The word "always" shows that there is no restriction as to time, place or circumstance. Is this possible when I have a difficult person to live with, possibly one of my own family, and I have to endure bitter words and actions? God knows just those circumstances and He causes Paul to write that word "always". Dare you accept it, and believe God? Victory does not mean that I am unable to sin, but it does mean that I am able not to sin. It means that continuous, wilful sinning is overcome. It should be evident to others. Real victory cannot be camouflaged, it is there for all to see.
We are living in days when even in Christian circles there are those who lightly assess sin. They are prepared to adjudge murder, criminal assault and similar glaring misdemeanours as sin, but fail to realize that God has one word for all unrighteousness, and that is sin. What about those defiling things hidden away, evil and hard thoughts, easy offence, complainings, murmurings, backbitings? Are these things sin? "Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me", Psa. 51. 6, 10. "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God", 2 Cor. 7. 1.
Let us apply a simple test to ourselves. There was a time when we used to lose our tempers regularly, when we were easily offended, but by prayer and restraint we now have a large measure of outward control. There is nevertheless a great residue of irritation and resentment. Someone says unkind or even unjust tilings. We have sufficient control not to answer back, but inwardly we are angry. How often we have said, "I'd like to give her a piece of my mind". Is that freedom from sin; is it real victory?
3. Growth - Constant. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord", 2 Cor. 3. 18. With the spiritual man, growth is the outcome of correct feeding and exercise. There can be nothing static. An upturned, unveiled face must catch something of the glory of the Lord. How often we have to confess that our gaze is downward and around us, but if our affections are centred on things above there must be a growing likeness to the One whom we love.
Have you ever stood on the brink of a muddy, dirty pool and seen the reflection of a perfectly blue sky? It is reflected in some measure, but how marred that reflection is. So with us: if our lives are so full of the world, then those around can see only a marred, spoiled image of the Christ, if He can indeed be seen in us at all.
Note, too, that it is progressive, "from glory to glory". Our growth is marked by fruit bearing, and without fruit we are of little use to the Lord, a bore to ourselves and a stumbling block to others. This is what the Lord says, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit) he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing", John 15. 2, 5. The Lord continued, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples", v. 8. What is this fruit? "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law", Gal. 5. 22, 23.
It is as well to note that the singular word "fruit" is used, not the plural, teaching us that all these attributes emanate from one source and are all necessary to reveal likeness to Christ. How easy it is for us to mar this most desirable fruit; how often our love is spoiled by quick temper or lack of self-control. Some boast of their longsuffering, and truly their faces seem to proclaim that they have little, if any, joy. Others are strong in the faith and would defend doctrine to the last, but they do not adorn it. This all adds up to a life of restlessness. The blending of all these spiritual qualities is necessary, otherwise our lives can be but a poor reflection of the life of the Saviour, and our growth will be retarded and spoiled.
4. Power - Supernatural. One of the characteristics of this present age is the desire for power, nation vying with nation to secure a position from which international policy can be dictated. It is certain that if we, as individual Christians, are to survive, we can only do so as long as the power we use is superior to that arrayed against us. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father", John 14. 12.
How did this work out? One practical demonstration was given when, through one sermon, Peter saw several times as many souls saved as are recorded in the three years ministry of the Lord Himself. Where was his power? was it in personal charm, gracious manner, giant intellect, eloquent speech, massive scholarship? Certainly not. Most of these at least were not characteristic of the humble fisherman Peter. It lay rather in his vision of the Lord and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, to such an extent that those around marvelled that from unlearned lips such utterances were made. Was it not a fulfilment of the Lord's promise of Acts 1. 8, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you"? Truly the power we need is not a natural product, normally residing in humans. It is the God-given gift of the Holy Spirit which manifests itself in our lives and works.
5. Separateness - Devoted. That the Christian is in the world but not of it, is a dominant note of the Galatian Epistle, for God has called us to be separated from the world with its false religions, systems and organizations. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification", 1 Thess. 4. 3. Christ Himself is the perfect Example, "For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens", Heb. 7. 26. Whilst the Saviour had the closest contacts with the world, and though He moved about amongst sin, He was never defiled thereby nor did He at any time condone or compromise with it. The Christian will regard the pleasures, pursuits, principles and plans of the world as Christ did. As the world hated Him, so it will hate the true child of God. Yet how many professing Christians trifle with worldly things. The crowds are thought more of than the ones and twos where the Lord has promised to presence Himself. Of those who truly love Him, the Lord said, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world", John 17. 16, and again, "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you", 15.19. "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also", v. 20. What, then, is the demand that God makes upon His children? Surely that we should be conformed to the image of His Son, not allied to the world or its systems. It is easy for us to profess that we are His, but to what extent do we mirror the Lord to others?
6. Holiness - Winsome. "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy", 1 Pet. 1.15,16. Thus it is evidently the will of God that the standard of living that we should attain is that described as "holy". All Christians are called to a holy life, but how few really want it. Let us think in the first place of the negative side of holiness - what it is not. Sinless perfection is not taught in the Scriptures, for John in his first Epistle is careful to point out that such as say that they have no sin are untruthful. Nor is the elimination of a sinful nature taught, a nature that we shall carry with us so long as life on earth shall last. Holiness neither makes a person free from the possibility of sinning nor yet removes the presence of sin, but it does call for the constant confession of sin to God and cleansing from its defilement. Our likeness to Him will mark us out as a holy people, those who are dedicated to His service, whose characteristics are such that they separate us from evil to God. Thus we are able to lead lives well pleasing to Him, who has purchased us by the shedding of the precious blood of His Son.
The challenge comes to us. Are we carnal or spiritual Christians? Do we love the world and the things of the world more than our Saviour? Do we own Him as our Lord? Is He the Master of our lives? God grant that our answer may be,, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me". Gal. 2. 20. ,