Editorial | “To be spiritually minded ...”
We all want to overcome, to get over this or that weakness, to be more spiritually minded, to sin less, to be more devoted to the Lord, to have greater self control, to be more full of Him and not ourselves, and so forth. But there seems some kind of brake that comes on all the time. Our minds wander away from spiritual thinking so easily. A blocked gutter or broken toilet comes into our lives and swamps us; and so hour by hour, day by day, life slips away like sand between our fingers. We are only occasionally arrested by a spiritual thought, or the reality of the fact the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me, and I shall by grace live eternally in His Kingdom. We want to live in the shadow of the cross, of the hope of the Kingdom, all the time. But… somehow, we don’t seem to ‘get the feeling’ all the time. It is occasional, rather than a general experience. Going to a Bible School or helpful gathering becomes a ‘high’, which recedes until the next such event or experience.
No Excuses: Human Nature
Too quickly we blame our human nature for this sad state of psychological affairs within us. We assume there are parameters which we can never really move far beyond; he’ll never stop drinking, she’ll always be bitter about her ex, I’ll never really be able to move on from what they did. As if being human excuses us from being too spiritually minded or developing too far. But just remember- all we posit about human nature, we say about the Lord Jesus. For He too had our nature, as our total representative; yet despite that, He was “holy, harmless… undefiled” (Heb. 7:26). His character and work show us the huge possibilities there are for those who bear human nature. And the Bible is full of examples of radically transformed people; Paul sees his own conversion as a pattern for all who should afterwards believe (1 Tim. 1:16).
Cain was in the gall of bitterness and jealous hatred against his brother Abel. “If you do not do well, sin lies [crouching, ready to spring] at the door. But unto you shall be its desire, and you shall rule over it”. This is a ladder to reach to the stars. “You shall rule over it”. We can overcome sin, bad habits and thought patterns; sin may seek to get us, but we can rule over it. We may well think that we can’t; the way was set, the die cast, the destiny mapped out, the genes determined; our background, upbringing, life path was as it was, and so we are as we are. But we can be made new. Sin need no longer have dominion over us, as Paul says in Romans 6; or as early Genesis puts it here, “you shall rule over [sin]”. We are not debtors to sin (Rom. 8:12)sin is not inevitable. But most people fail to see beyond the very limited horizons of both their nature and their immediate life. Earth’s curvature means that we can’t see beyond horizons; but we can, if we wish, know what is there. There is a doctrine of a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), whereby we really can be made new people.
We are also inclined to blame our environment. Believers excuse their lack of spiritual mindedness because… they can’t get to meetings or Bible Schools, their neighbours, partner, children, parents, work environment, the society in which they live… isn’t apparently conducive to their being spiritually minded. But we must give full weight to the parable of the vineyard in Isaiah 5. God wants us to bear spiritual fruit. He would not put us in a situation too great for us to bear, whereby He knows we can’t be fruitful. In fact, the very opposite. He did everything for that vineyard, which represented “the house of Israel” (Is. 5:7). He created, through much work, the optimal environment for their fruitfulness: “What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? Why, when I looked for it to yield grapes, did it yield wild grapes?” (Is. 5:4). Your environment, your life path and current situation, is optimal for your spiritual fruitfulness. It takes some believing. We all like to think that if we lived there and not here, with him rather than with her, in that ecclesia rather than this, with his health rather than mine, in that career rather than this… then, I would be more spiritually fruitful. But the song of the vineyard shows that’s just us making weak excuses. The stones that hinder fruitfulness have been gathered up (Is. 5:2); and the crushing, powerful logic is that God wants our fruitfulness rather than our unfruitfulness. From His side, He has set up everything for us to be fruitful.
Focus on the Positive
Victory isn’t going to come because we force ourselves, by dint of rigid self-control, with knuckles white as we clench our minds and bodies to resist temptation which seems so attractive. None of us have that steel will, that iron in the soul to achieve that. Human nature isn’t made of such metal. The Lord who had our exact nature was indeed tempted as we are, yet without sin. But things we struggle with, He maybe just didn’t feel that way about; in the same way as if I were offered hard drugs on the street, it would only technically be a temptation, because I have never done drugs and am scared stiff of the whole scene. I’d cross over on the other side of the street and get away from the pusher. But for someone who has struggled with these things, it would be a hard temptation to struggle with. The Lord’s environment of thought, the psychological atmosphere in which He lived His mental life, was with God. He was “with the Father”. But surely there were things He was tempted over which we have no idea of; He engaged with sin and temptation on a far higher level than we do.
‘Holiness’ means both separation from as well as separation unto. The positive things we are separated unto are to dominate our thinking. Israel were brought out from Egypt through the Red Sea (cp. baptism) that they might be brought in to the land of promise (Dt. 6:23). Abraham was told “Get out...” of Ur; and obediently “they went forth to go into the land of Canaan: and into the land of Canaan they came” (Gen. 12:1,5). The New Testament preachers urged men to turn “from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to God” (Acts 26:18); from wickedness to God, to the Lord (Acts 3:26; 15:19; 26:20; 9:35; 11:21). In Nehemiah’s time, the people “separated themselves from the peoples of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters…they clave to their brethren” (Neh. 10:28,29). Close fellowship with one’s brethren arises from having gone out from the surrounding world, unto the things of God’s word. The life that is consumed with care for others, with the Lord’s service, will have no time for other things. I once asked a once alcoholic brother how he managed to quit. He shrugged and smiled, and said: “I guess after I was baptized I just didn’t have time to get drunk. It takes time, you know”.
The Way of the Spirit
God can work directly on the human mind. And that’s just what we need. There are plenty of examples; God sent a bad spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem (Jud. 9:23); opened Lydia’s heart to be receptive to the Gospel (Acts 16:14), faith itself is a gift “not of yourselves” (Eph. 2:8). There’s a higher hand in our lives and thinking; hence it was “of the Lord” that Samson fell in love with a Philistine (Jud. 14:4). The balance between human freewill and God’s sovereign action is impossible to define; but in the Divine-human encounter, for sure we are not just left with our own strength of will and intellectual abilities. He earnestly wants us, and wishes to indwell us with His Spirit. And so the New Testament speaks often of the gift of a new spirit, a new psychology, a different pair of eyes, another worldview, the ways of providence acting on our hearts [if that for some is a more comfortable and familiar terminology]. Peruse 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30; Rom. 5:5. They all speak of how we can be given the gift which means “that you may be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man. That Christ may dwell in your hearts…” (Eph. 3:16,17). He wants to live in us, to think in our thinking, to walk in our shoes. So as we sing: “Drive out our sin and enter in / Be born in us today”. Don’t think that any reference to the Holy Spirit always refers to miraculous gifts. Those have long ceased, but this isn’t to say that God isn’t active by His Spirit in our lives. “John did no miracle” (Jn. 10:41), but he was filled with the Spirit (Lk. 1:15). The new covenant which we are under includes God writing His word upon our hearts (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10). The blessing of Abraham is not simply forgiveness, but to be “turned away from our iniquities” (Acts 3:26).
We pray for forgiveness for sins, arising from our knees not doubting we are forgiven; but still something seems lacking. And that ‘something’ is the sense that “I shall likely be here again”, failing in the same area. What we subconsciously yearn for is the power not to sin; not simply forgiveness for when we fail. God’s provision is exactly what the spiritual man needs, desperately. This very ‘thing’ that we yearn for is met in the gift of the Spirit. We have been given that Spirit, but we need to consciously be open to God’s usage of it, surrendering every area of living and thinking to His influence. The Corinthians had received the Spirit (1 Cor. 1), but were “not spiritual” (1 Cor. 3:1), because they like Israel resisted or grieved the Spirit. If we want to be spiritually minded, to overcome the flesh in thought and action, then we have to accept that we cannot do this in the strength of our own willpower, nor by dint of our own unaided intellectual ability. Once that crucial surrender is made, in totality and from the core of our hearts, then God’s power and willing, His Spirit, is able to work- making us a new creation, in which all things become new. The natural creation was creation by a word; God spoke, and it was done. The existing chaos and disorder, “without form and void”, was transformed. It was not creation out of nothing, but a radical re-ordering of all things to the extent that effectively, something totally new was created. And now He is prepared to speak into our hearts, to work a new creation, with a similar outpouring of Divine power, to effectively create ex nihilo something new and beautiful out of our otherwise chaotic and disordered lives. “Now to Him that is able to do immeasurably above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works inside us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20,21).