It has been some time since my last post. I have been busy with teaching, pastoring, studying, and most importantly, being a husband and father. Recent events in our nation have introduced changes to cherished, God-ordained patterns, as well as stealing individual freedoms once protected by our nation’s Bill of Rights, and overstepping the explicit dictates of our Constitution. However, these changes, abuses of power, and wanton acts of hubris on the part of many do nothing to change God’s plan, or diminish biblical truth. With this in mind we continue, and conclude our study of true Christian spirituality as set forth in the pages of Scripture.
In our last outing we examined Scripture’s two negative imperatives, namely do not grieve the Spirit, and do not quench the Spirit, and also the positive assertion that we must walk by means of the Spirit. The key to obeying these scriptural instructions is found only in Scripture itself. That will be our focus as we close out this series.
Paul makes reference to the fact that there is a state of the Christian walk that corresponds to that state of an infant. Returning to his letter to the Corinthians Paul states, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able for you are still fleshly. . . and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:1-3). The criticism that Paul levels at them is based upon their “jealousy and strife” (v. 3). They were grieving the Spirit by their sinfulness and quenching the Spirit through their rebellion and thus they were infants in need of milk and not able to take in the meat of God’s word. From this testimony it is easily seen that believers go through stages of growth, but those stages of growth do not come without the cooperation of the believer himself. To state it a different and somewhat controversial way, growth is not automatic nor is it guaranteed.
Again, when we turn to the book of Hebrews we see a very similar chastisement. The writer states,
…you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their sense trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:11b-14)
In carefully reading this rebuke it becomes obvious that these Jews were believers who had regressed in their walk. Instead of growing upward they had actually gone backward. They had been believers long enough that they should have been teaching others. Contrariwise, those who are mature are so because they have practiced faith and obedience in the word. The result is that they have had their senses trained to judge between that which is good and that which is evil. However, they needed kindergarten remedial classes in the truth of God’s revelation. Just as Paul had described the Corinthian church and the writer of Hebrews identifies his Jewish audience, believers today can be immature infants not actively engaged in the growth process. Just as the lack of growth signifies a serious problem in the natural child so it is with the spiritual child. Peter gives a good directive as to the correction of this problem.
In First Peter 2:2 he wrote, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Peter identifies the fact that growth depends on the intake of the word and gives the imperative to long for God’s word for it is the “mother’s milk” that nourishes baby believers allowing them to grow to maturity in the Christian walk.
These three biblical examples identify the fact that maturity depends on the knowledge of God’s will and “spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that (believers) will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:9-10). The believer is like a well from which the Holy Spirit draws in order for the believer to receive His direction. Without the water of the word (Eph. 5:26) filling the mind of the believer the Spirit’s work is hindered seeing that the believer’s “well” is empty. Thus, maturity is in part dependent upon the knowledge and understanding of the revealed will of God, His word.
The Filling of the Spirit
The filling of the Spirit is, if not synonymous with, closely related to walking by the Spirit. It is not to be confused with the baptism of the Spirit, which is a one-time act, for the filling of the Spirit is a repeated occurrence.[i] The filling of the Spirit occurs when He exercises control over the direction of and actions in the life of the believer. When this is accomplished through His empowerment and the believer’s cooperation the believer lives the Christian life and grows towards maturity.
In the closing statements to the church in Ephesus Paul wrote, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). The clear comparison that Paul made centers on the issues of control and influence. To be Spirit-filled is to be controlled by the Spirit, or, just as one can be under the influence (control) of alcohol, the Christian is to be under the influence (control) of the Holy Spirit. It must also be noticed that the one who has come under the control of alcohol has done so voluntarily. Likewise, the believer who would be controlled by the Spirit must voluntarily submit himself to the Spirit’s influence. Many refer to this as yielding to the Spirit while others prefer to refer to it as depending on Him. This decision to yield to, or depend on the Holy Spirit is a matter that the believer faces following the decision to dedicate oneself to God. It is an ongoing issue in the believer’s life since the filling can only be accomplished when not in a state of grieving or quenching the Spirit and thus must depend upon the consistent confession of sin (1 John 1:19) and obedience to the word of God (John 14:15, 24).
To be Spirit-filled the believer must also know and obey the will of the Lord meaning that knowing the revealed will of God in Christ, is a necessity (Eph. 5:15,17,18ff cf. Col. 3:16ff). Remaining in the state of being Spirit-filled is to abide in Christ and in His word (John 14). Jesus told His disciples that in order for them to bear fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, they must abide in Him for, “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). To abide means to reside or remain in a certain location or sphere.[ii] In this passage it refers to remaining in fellowship with Christ by being obedient to His commands[iii] (John 15:7,10,14). John explained this very verse in 1 John 3:24; “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” When a believer is not in fellowship with Christ he is no longer being filled by the Spirit. When a believer is abiding in Christ’s words then the Spirit is able to direct him in the Christian walk.
There is so much more to be discussed and what has been discussed deserves a much greater treatment than what has been given here. I would recommend that each reader take the time to examine thoroughly the references given in this chapter because the Christian life is a vast and deep subject, and we have barely scratched the surface. We have seen God’s provision for the Christian life in regeneration, justification, sanctification, baptism into Christ, and the indwelling of the Spirit. We have seen the importance of the believer’s position in Christ, the problems that the Christian faces both externally and internally as well as what it takes to progress in the Christian life. And all of this has been viewed from a Dispensational perspective. Seeing that we are meant to live “in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God,” (Co. 1:10) it would behoove us to have a firm grasp of what the Christian life is and how we are to live it. I pray that God grace will continue to guide you in your studies.
[i]For a more in-depth treatment of this subject the reader is directed to Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life, 112-114.
[ii] William Arndt and Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) Logos Bible Software.
[iii]For an excellent discussion of this conclusion the reader is directed to Robert Dean, Jr., “Abiding in Christ: A Dispensational Theology of the Spiritual Life (Part 1),” CTS Journal 7, no. 1 (January-March 2001), http://chafer.edu/content.cfm?id=367#01 (accessed July 10, 2012).