20 Oct 2020
We have looked at Christian Spirituality, more specifically Biblical Spirituality; we saw the roles of Scripture and the Holy Spirit in fostering such a spirituality in the lives of believers.
We highlighted how certain churches have concentrated on evangelism and conversions to the detriment of nurturing spirituality among their members, leading to a lack of Christian maturity and matured churches. Religious activities and sporadic reference to the Bible without concentrated study, teaching, and preaching of the Bible in dependence on the Holy Spirit will not lead to spiritual growth among the ‘believers’. Increase in quantity does not mean increase in quality of spirituality.
We saw also how some may view spirituality as manifestations in dreams, visions, ecstatic experiences and so on, without sufficient emphasis on the Bible, resulting in lop-sided and unwholesome ‘spirituality’, not founded on the solid and reliable ‘revelation’ of Scripture and often ‘independent’ of the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit.
We have previously considered the three enemies of the soul – the flesh, the world and the devil. Taken together, they encompass the depth and extent of human evil. The flesh is the sin within us, the world designates the sin around us, and the devil the sin beyond us. Everywhere we turn we encounter sin as a pervasive human condition as well as sins in their vast and varied manifestations.
We have noted elsewhere that when we were born again, union with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension means that we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light – we have a new Master in the Lord Jesus; we are no longer under the rule of the evil one, and sin no longer has dominion over us. Adopted into the family of God, endowed and enabled with the Holy Spirit, we are in a position to deal with the power of sin over us, although we are still not perfect, and the struggle against sin and our ‘enemies’ still rages on until Christ comes again. When we do sin because of ignorance or weakness, there is continual provision for forgiveness if we confess and repent.
As believers, we are a new creation in Christ; yet as we seek to advance spirituality, we can no longer ignore specific sins. If we only have hazy notions about the general badness of our condition, we would not be in a position to chart a definite path of spiritual growth. We need to recognise and acknowledge not only the depth of sin but also the variety of sins.
For instance, the apostle Paul lists the variety of sins in detail: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage and anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like” (Gal. 5: 19-21; comparer 1 Cor 6:9-10; Rom 1:29-31; Col.3:5-9 ). The Bible makes no distinction between obvious bad sins and apparently not so serious sins. The sins of envy and slander, for example, are mentioned along with sins of murder, adultery because they all come from an evil heart (Mk 7:21). The wide variety of sins encompasses sins of the mind (evil thoughts), sins of attitude (envy, hatred, sins of speech (slander, gossip, filthy language) and sins of action (theft, swindling). Sin affects every aspect of life. The theological term for this is total depravity.
Scriptures underscore the dynamic nature of sin with expressions like ‘hardening the heart’ (Heb 3:8) and the ‘searing of the conscience’ (1 Tim 4:2). Paul describes sin as a debilitating power that prevents the will from carrying out its good intentions (Rom 718-24). James pictures it as a restless agitation deep within the heart that breaks out in external conflicts.
Although the ‘old self’ has been dealt with at the cross and we are a ‘new self or new man”, Paul still urged believers to put off the old man and to put on the new man. In this exhortation, ‘mortification of the flesh’ must come in and in this process, the recognition and acknowledgment of specific sins become needful and necessary. To recognise the primacy of the flesh is to acknowledge the ultimacy of personal accountability. We may be born into an abusive family, may be burdened with various health problems and ‘handicaps’, may grow up in a bad neighbourhood, in poverty, and so forth, but ultimately we must accept responsibility for what we do if we are to make any real change. This is not to deny the extenuating circumstances that helped shape our attitude and behaviour. But if we grow through life blaming the world, the devil or bad genes, our moral and spiritual development will be hampered and blocked. Real change can take place when we come to terms with our own sinfulness before God and pray with the publican: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner (Lk 18:15). When we confess that we are sinners and acknowledge the specific sins in our lives (despite mediating factors and difficult circumstances), we become recipients of God’s grace and forgiveness.
Sin is a deeply rooted condition that manifests itself in various ways; it is also part and parcel of sin to rationalise away our transgressions and put the blame on others and other factors. If the flesh provides the occasion for external temptation in the world, the world in turn moulds and shapes the flesh without our being fully conscious of it.
The sin of the world is a virus of evil which entered the world as a personal force through original sin and dynamically unfolds itself and tightens its grip on humanity and on the world in an escalating fashion down the ages of history, multiplying variety of sins and transgressions in the history of mankind. What Christians need sorely is an in-depth spiritual renewal (spirituality) of the whole person in order to decide for God or for the world, the flesh and the devil. Decisiveness is the mark of true discipleship. There is no middle ground.
Radical evil cannot be answered in kind. Returning evil for evil creates a downward spiral into greater violence and cruelty. Evil can only be overcome when the believer realises that there is a greater power, the power of love that overcomes evil with forgiveness and the promise of life. Do we recognise this in the person and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ who ‘absorbed’ all that evil unleashed on Him at the cross and did not retaliate, but overcome all these in submission to the Father and with agape love? Evil had no answer to such a One as the Lord Jesus who voluntarily sacrificed Himself to take our place on the cross and bore all our sins and their corresponding ‘wrath’ so that we may be reconciled to God. In a sense, evil was overcome by ultimate good and love and it lost its power to subject men and women under its bondage. The answer to the problem of evil is the Christian story, which actualises love, forgiveness and the power of life. What we need is Christian spirituality. We need to access the spiritual resources available to us. Internalising virtues and godliness drives away sins and vices. God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of HIm who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises , so that through them we may become partakers of the divine nature,..(2 Peter 1: 3-4(a)).
However, let us not be mistaken: God does permit evil; yet He punishes evil with evil, He brings good out of evil; He uses evil to test and discipline those He loves, and one day He will redeem HIs people from the power and presence of evil altogether. Christians are never in the grip of blind forces (luck, chance, fate); all that happens to them is divinely planned, and each event comes as a new summons to trust, obey and rejoice, knowing that all is for one’s spiritual and eternal good (Romans 8:28