The Spiritual Man Series: “What does it mean to be led of the Spirit?”
I recently read an article about admissions made by ministers, priests, and rabbis in which they mentioned things most people don’t know about themselves. One contributor stated the following:
“Am I always 100 percent sure that God exists? No. Every minister I know has a faith life that ebbs and flows. Sometimes we feel really close to God, and sometimes we don’t. But even when God feels distant, we’re still leading worship.”
This man is very honest about his feelings. However, there are several troubling inferences made in this statement, things that should not accompany true believers in Christ. (Please refer to Chapter 2 of this series, “What is Spirit?) Of utmost importance in this statement is the associated use of the words faith and feel. You understand, to feel requires an emotion or sensation. It is a reaction to something “felt” by our physical senses or imagination. If this is so, then one’s walk of faith would certainly “ebb and flow” depending upon circumstances, for what we experience may be either pleasant and stimulating in a positive manner or unpleasant and equally stimulating but in a negative way. And then, there are the spans of time in which neither stimulus dominates, a time when one feels the need for a positive incentive. This is not a walk of faith but reaches into the carnal nature of man. (Please refer to Chapter 1. Biblical Faith),
Many preachers attempt to tap into people’s feelings in order to stir up a response. Some do so by bringing conviction or condemnation. Others may try to invoke an intense desire to obtain blessings such as healing or prosperity, while still others attempt to stir up jubilance and joy in story or song. Emotions are not necessarily absent of faith, but are not a requirement to faith. For example, nearness to God in worship or prayer may bring with it a sense of inner peace. One’s faith should stand uncontested on knowing God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. A conscious awareness of satisfaction, confidence, hope, and agape love (a non-emotional caring) becomes the response and fruit of our faith. So above all, we must seek to know Him who is our creator, who has become our Father, and our redeemer, and Lord. (See Jn. 17.3)
God is Spirit
Some have said God is difficult to know because all of this about the divine being of God and the kingdom of God is so abstract, out of the natural, and without physical or concrete evidence. Beloved, this is exactly what “spirit” really is…abstract. One may not have to be “born again” to see evidence of God’s existence, presence, and power. For instance:
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse.” Rm. 1.20
But to know God in spiritual reality and to understand the realities of the Kingdom of God, one must have spiritual discernment and divine revelation—as opposed to feelings and intellectual understanding.
The Essential Minimum
There is an incipient level of faith that acknowledges the existence of God; and maybe even that He rewards those who seek after Him. But once again we find this level of faith is founded upon the obvious: what one could sense with his physical senses and reason with his mind. The spirit of the un-regenerated man can never perceive God Himself or the realm of the Kingdom. It can never open his understanding to knowing Him, “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent;” (Jn. 17.3) nor could this un-regenerated spirit of man begin to understand the glorious mysteries of Christ. This initial level of faith is what the religions of the world are built upon. It consists of an outward devotion full of rituals, spirit practices, and fleshly emotions. It is absent of the life of God. It seems the first part of Peter’s exhortation for salvation is ritualistic followed, to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins.” However, the reality of the concluding part, “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” is never realized. (Acts 2.38)
Jesus was very emphatic and direct when He spoke to the Samarian woman He met at the well. First He spoke to her of the need for the new birth, a regeneration which He likens to flowing water,
“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” Jn. 4.13-14
This He spoke of the Holy Spirit, which will be given after His resurrection, for the regeneration of believers. (See Jn. 7.37-39) This, beloved, is the “essential minimum”.
Similarly, in a direct and unambiguous way, He spoke to the Pharisee Nicodemus, that unless a man is born again of the Spirit he cannot see the Kingdom of God, nor can he enter into the Kingdom of God. He continued, “Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit. 7Do not be amazed that I said, ‘You must be born again.” (Jn. 3.3-7) The use of this particular word “must,” indicates its absolute necessity. Otherwise he will remain unaware of this invisible dominion that surrounds him. One may repent by feeling sorry for their sins, be baptized in water, and go to church, yet the question remains, “Are they born again?” Oh how one must guard against deceiving fleshly religious practices, that seem right and good, but fall short of true regeneration of the spirit. For to the one it is partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but to the other it is eating of the Tree of Life.
Jesus goes on to say to this woman (and now to all who read these words),
“But a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him. God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Jn. 4.23-24
Jesus declares, “God is Spirit!” Natural man cannot connect with a spiritual God. No religion could satisfy the heart of God. God even forbade Israel to make any carved image of Himself (Ex. 20.4) which includes idols, pictures, trinkets or anything the stands to represent an invisible spiritual God. He desired that a clear distinction be made between Him as spirit and created elements of the world.
Now regarding the natural, God visited man in a very tangible way in Christ Jesus, but only temporarily. This, the apostle John recorded, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have gazed upon and touched with our own hands—this is the Word of life.” 1 Jn. 1.1 This visitation was the Spirit of God incarnate, in the flesh of Jesus, “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him.” Col. 1.19 A religion could be, and in many cases actually has been, built upon this very principle: Jesus Christ in the flesh who lived among us, taught in parables about the Kingdom of God, performed many miracles, and died as a sacrifice for sin. These “Christian” religions encourage people to believe in Jesus, pattern your life after Him, confess your sins and ask for forgiveness, and you will go to heaven when you die. This demeans the Gospel of Christ. There is much more to the life of Christ…after the cross.
Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus
The Gospel of Christ does not stop at the cross with His sacrificial death and burial. Of this, He declared, “It is finished”—meaning His earthly mission in the flesh is completed. A new realm now opened before Him, and for all mankind, one of a spiritual dimension. It began with His resurrection from the grave, His ascension into heaven, and His being seated at the right hand of God to oversee His Father’s Kingdom. At this juncture in the life of Christ is where religion ends and “life” begins! Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead in a new, altogether different, glorified body, a spiritual body! He now fully functions in the realm of the unseen spiritual, but also may interact in the realm of the natural. Remember how He ate and talked with His disciples after His resurrection? (See John 21) And then He would disappear from sight.
Having ascended into heaven, He now sits at the right hand of God. Because atonement is now complete for a people sanctified by the blood of the Lamb, the Father may send forth the promise of the Holy Spirit to indwell these believers and bring about a regeneration, in the inward man of the spirit, to all that believe in His Son. Of this the apostle Paul spoke,
“So from now on we regard no one according to the flesh. Although we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” 2 Cor. 5.16-17
A new creation, a new dimension is now opened to the believer. A new realm of worship and relationship with God…in the Spirit! No longer will attempts to worship God from afar suffice in tangible ways of sacrifices and rituals of religion. The expectation now is to draw near! God is Spirit and now those in Christ may come near in newness of spirit!
I wish I could make the words from the following scripture become more alive than just script upon the page. I would that sounds of thunder and flashes of lightning accompany their reading. I wish that eyes would become fixed and minds ponder upon words like regeneration, renewing, and Holy Spirit. Perhaps font style, size and boldness could help draw out its overwhelming importance:
“He saved us, not by works in righteousness that we did, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3.5
In this scripture, regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit are the only links to being saved. Without this spiritual reality in our lives, our many attempts at true worship are futile. Oh, religious activities may pacify our consciences and sooth our emotions, at least temporarily. But they will never satisfy that yearning arising from our innermost being for something more, something higher. Nor, will it ever satisfy the heart of God for the intimacy of a relationship with His own family of sons and daughters, born after His Spirit. Religion was our mainstay. But Jesus prophesied that religion will pass away and that “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him.” Jn. 4.23 There is no other way.
Solidifying the Foundation
A foundation has thus been set in place to be built upon. Regeneration, (born again) and renewal of the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to both seeing and entering the reality of the Kingdom of God. Heaven, which is most often thought upon as a “place of destiny,” is actually a spiritual realm entered into, yet presently in part only, while yet alive upon this earth. Rather than a “place,” heaven becomes a living relationship with God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Thoughts of heaven as a place of bliss become remote as thoughts of intimacy and fellowship with God become real. This threshold to eternity is the incipient or initial act of faith, which begins now, and leads into the eternal Kingdom of our God and our Lord.
Let us reinforce its importance with one further reading. All of Romans 8 should be considered, but we will only focus on verse 9, and include verses 10 and 11:
9You, however, are controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.
What a powerful declaration! No longer is the believer controlled by the realm of the flesh, which is the natural man who uses his senses, emotions, and reasoning to accomplish things, but relies upon the Spirit which is by faith in the unseen and intangible realm of God.
Now this is extremely important to note. The conditional participle “if” is used in all three verses. Its sense here is not just “if”, as by chance, but “if it be so, or if really” making the condition even more intense.
Thus, “…if it be so that the Spirit of God really lives in you.” This is not a suggestion, an analogy, or parable, it is emphatic. It is not an expression to be entertained by the mind but rather it is to be experienced in the spirit. The indwelling Spirit is an absolute necessity to live and function in the spiritual realm of the Kingdom of God. Without which, one does not even belong to Christ; even if he or she practices a Christian religion religiously after the flesh. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Can’t you see for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you actually fail the test?”2 Cor. 13.5 These are sobering scriptures. The Jewish Pharisees, being very knowledgeable and extremely religious about their faith had “missed the mark,” and had a sense of religious security and piousness. Regarding this Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”
Mt. 23.27 All religion, whether Muslim, Hindu, Jew, even Christianity as a religious practice, is religion and falls short of God’s ultimate intention.
If is used in equal importance in the following two verses.
10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alivebecause of righteousness.
11And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you. Rm. 8.9-11
The question before is, “What is the level of our faith?” Do we strive to believe in “God” and follow a religious practice that proclaims Him and allows for His worship? Or is there a level of faith within that has a distain for the failure of religions to produce anything of a godly quality within our lives and strives, rather cries out for the reality of the indwelling Christ? This very question falls at the core of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, “…that out of the riches of His glory He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Eph 3.16-17
The final question here, and pivotal question at this time in our lives is, “has this truth settled into our hearts to where it becomes spiritual reality?” Jesus, standing before Pilate, declared to him both that His kingdom is not of this world and that He had come to manifest or testify of the truth, “For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.” Jn. 18.37 In ancient Greek culture, this word truth (aletheia) was synonymous for “reality” as the opposite of illusion, i.e. fact. May the Holy Spirit open our eyes to discern spiritual fact from illusion, truth from fiction, life from religion, and spirit from flesh. May we be among those who, “…been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age…” Heb. 6.4-5
“I know that I know”—A Personal Testimony
How does one know if they have been born again or regenerated and have been renewed by the Holy Spirit? Obviously, it is a personal knowing and ultimately a status between a believer and God. And because it is personal, I can only speak for myself. Simply stated, “I know that I know.” And, what do I mean by this? Firstly, this knowing is absent of feelings, of emotions and reasoning of the mind. This knowing is experiential but inwardly, not in a physical or logical way. I just “know that I know.” There is an inner witness in the spirit that it is so. Secondly, what is experienced in the spirit is confirmed by Scripture. There is nothing sensed or understood that is contrary or absent from Scripture. Prophesies confirm and shed light upon this spiritual knowing, and by this knowing prophesies are judged. Thirdly, there is an inner gripping, and upward drawing, away from the worldly call but towards a heavenly call. There is a ready conviction, and a distain for inappropriate conduct; which at one time may not have seemed inappropriate but by the witness of the Spirit has become so.
I have spoken in the past of how man’s emotions and intellectual understandings are intertwined with religious practices. The regenerated spirit has emotions as well, but quite different from those of the natural man. These are spiritual emotions and therefore arise from within the innermost parts of man and are not imposed from the outside, as an incoming sensation in need of an emotional response. Unlike physical emotions which are short term and quickly fade with time and situation, spiritual emotions endure through time and circumstance. Here are a few such emotions:
A sense of blessing. In a recent Bible study, a dear brother shared how he felt overwhelmed being blessed of God. It is an inward reaction in the heart to the abundant blessings, cherished benefits, God has had His hand upon. Some of the blessings are concrete, as in the relationship with his wife, a relationship that words cannot describe—especially when viewed in the light of fleeting relationships in the world today. For here there are not only two souls united as one, but two spirits united as one in Christ as well. Thus intensifying the nature of this relationship. But it is the reality of the blessing sensed in the spiritual relationship with the living God that renders him in awe. Quite real is the drawing near to the Lamb of God at the communion table. Who am I that You are so mindful of me?
Gratitude. Emotions are reactions to incoming sensations. So, too, are spiritual emotions that react to the presence and blessings of God. Welling up within is an intense desire to express gratitude. But, to say “thank you” is seemingly inadequate. Words fail to express the feeling of thanksgiving for God’s good grace. So the words “thank you, thank you, thank you” eventually are lost in words and actions of adoration and worship, of brokenness and sincere humility.
An abiding sense of joy. How true the scripture, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” (Acts 2.28) Spiritual union with God makes full an inner sense of gladness that abides and lingers on, even through changing times and circumstances. Humorously, in my early years we would say that such people experiencing this sense of abiding joy belongs to the OSG, i.e., the Order of the Silly Grin.:) It seems this rejoicing in Christ radiates, as a natural expression, in their smiles.
Peace. Whenever a word is repeated in Scripture, such as, “Truly truly I say unto you…,” the weight of that word “truly” is increased many times. If one “truly’ had the emphasis or weight of a 10, the repeated word would have the weight of 100. Isaiah the prophet wrote, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Is. 26.3 Perfect peace is actually the same Hebrew word, “shalom” used twice, “shalom shalom,” meaning an emphatic peace of mind, a wholeness, a soundness that abides. Yea, though I do have an abiding sense of peace, especially regarding spiritual matters and of my eternal relationship with God the Father and Son, all too often circumstances in this physical life often cloud its reality in this earthly dimension. So too rest my prayers.
Love. I am so glad that the love of God, Greek agape, is not founded upon my likeability. God does not become overjoyed of my character or personal presentation before Him. Nor does God feel compelled by some spiritual law, to look favorably upon me. It is in His nature to want to care for me. This highest form of love, agape, is thus not an emotional love which may ebb and flow with time and circumstances. Agape love, sensed spiritually, is simply an awareness of God’s benevolence and good will. Its basis is on preference. Yes, this preference for the care and well-being the living God has for me is predetermined in Christ. And now, there is an added sense of agape in me for others. (1 Jn. 2.5) Overwhelmingly for me, it is for the spiritual and eternal well-being of others.
Yearning / Hope. And finally, there is this sense of an inward groaning, to know this only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent on my behalf. (Jn. 17.3) There is a gripping, a longing for, a straining after both a relationship with Him and obedience to Him, not wanting to disappoint or fall short. (Jam. 4.5)
Well, beloved, this message has grown longer than anticipated. May I end here adding a final note to the question, “How do I know I am born again and renewed in Spirit?” In short, what is described above is spiritually discerned and experienced. So, “I know that I know.” I would wonder and question such a reality if it were not so.