Deeper Life in the Spirit
Pathway to the Deeper Life
Multitudes of Christians who have received the experience of
the baptism in the Holy Spirit, sometimes several years ago, nevertheless, have
never progressed "beyond Pentecost" in their spiritual experience.
Astonishingly few Spirit-filled believers have ever heard the message of the
deeper life in the Spirit; and such concepts as the "crucified life,"
"total discipleship," "the fullness of Christ," "overcomers,"
"restoration," and "manifestation of sonship" are vague or
unfamiliar to them. They are not pressing on into the deeper things of the
Spirit because they have never been taught that the baptism in the Spirit is
not God's ultimate purpose for them, but that it is in reality the "doorway"
to the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19; 4:11-13).
This truth was shown to the writer one day while in prayer before the Lord. As I was praying, there appeared before me, in the spirit, a door which opened, and several people stepped across the threshold and entered a room. All but one, after they crossed the threshold, stopped and just stood looking about them. However, one individual, after he stepped through the doorway, kept on walking and came to an apparatus like a ski lift, and seizing hold of this he went on to the top of the building. When asked by the others why he had done this, he simply replied, "Because I wanted to." It was not his desire just to stop and look around, after entering the doorway, doing nothing; but he took advantage of what was available to him to go on higher. The Holy Spirit, in giving the meaning of this revelation, indicated that the people passing through the doorway represent the majority of those who are now receiving the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that the baptism is not an end in itself, but is only the "doorway" to something greater—it is a threshold experience. But, most Christians who enter this doorway are not aware of this fact; therefore, they, like those in the vision, step over the threshold and stop—they do not go on "beyond Pentecost." They have not been taught, or have not allowed the Holy Spirit to show them, that the purpose of His coming to them was to reveal the deeper things of God, and bring them into a place of consecration that they had never experienced before, which is the crucified life.
There are three levels of understanding among Christians concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the believer. Every believer, of course, is familiar with His work of regeneration in them, for in this ministry He comes to impart divine life. Moreover, increasing numbers of Christians in all denominations today, recognizing that there is something lacking in their spiritual experience, and no longer satisfied with the excuses of the contemporary church for its impotency and lack of fruitfulness, are coming into an experiential understanding of His baptism of power. Fewer Christians, however, are aware of the third phase of the Spirit's ministry in those who have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which is that of crucifixion, perfection, and preparation for our manifestation as mature sons, now at the consummation of the age, in a great end-time ministry. It is this ministry of the Holy Spirit in us after we have received the baptism of the Spirit which is designed to bring us into the "fulness of God" (Ephesians 3:19), "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).
Most Christians who receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit do not move beyond Pentecost because they have been led to equate the "baptism" in the Spirit with the "fullness" of the Spirit, perhaps because the terms being "baptized in the Holy Spirit," and being "filed with the Spirit," are synonymous in the Book of Acts. But being "filled" with the Spirit and having the "fullness" of God are not the same things at all. One, the baptism in the Spirit, is an immediate experience received by a simple act of faith and accompanied with the evidence of speaking in tongues; the other, the fullness of God, is a growth and process which is accomplished when one yields himself to the ministry of the Spirit after receiving the baptism (Ephesians 4:11-15). It is this third phase of the Holy Spirit's ministry to the believer which brings us into the deeper life in the Spirit.
Jesus promises that when the Holy Spirit comes to the believer, "He will guide you into all truth...and he will show you things to come" (John 16:13). Certainly, if words mean anything, this is a promise of special revelation to the Spirit-filled believer. Revelation by the Spirit concerns more than just the elemental facts that Jesus is coming again, the saints will be resurrected, and the world judged. These are truths that He had already taught His disciples before He promised them revelation of "things to come." Charismatic Christians tend to criticize the historic churches, and rightly so, for their naïve idea that all truth and religious experience is something that can be grasped with the mind and intellect. Denominational Christians have, as a consequence, reduced such profound religious experiences as the baptism in the Holy Spirit, divine healing, miracles, visions, and revelations to mere first-century doctrines which are to be studied, but are not valid experiences for the believer today. However, "pentecostal" Christians (all those who have received the baptism in the Spirit) must learn the difference between being "Bible-taught" and "Spirit-taught." The deeper truths of God's Word must be taught by the Spirit, and a good deal of this must come by revelation. This is precisely what Jesus promised and what the Scriptures claim, and this is why the Holy Spirit is sent unto us.
As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
– I Corinthians 2:9-10
In consequence of the present-day outpouring of the Holy Spirit throughout the world, the deep things of God concerning His end-time purpose for His body are being revealed to many by His Spirit. This ministry of revelation regarding the deep things in His Word concerns: the crucified life, preparation of His body for a great end-time ministry, perfection of His body in view of His soon return, restoration of all things spoken of by the prophets, and the glorious manifestation of His sons to all creation, climaxed by the literal, visible reign and rule of Christ with His saints on earth. To remain in darkness concerning the deeper life in the Spirit and God's great purpose in this hour, after one has received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, is to frustrate the very purpose for which God has poured out His Spirit now at the end of the age.
Misconceptions about the Deeper Life
There are many misconceptions as to the nature of the deeper life and how one enters into it. It would be well to eliminate the popular misconceptions at the outset. Frequently we hear of the announcement of a "seminar on the deeper life," or of a "deeper life conference or convention," or of "studies in the deeper life" being offered. We often receive literature in the mail containing articles on the subject, or making some reference to the deeper life. However, the term as used by most individuals does not convey the more profound concept which the Spirit would have us know and experience. We are not criticizing those who use the terminology in a general fashion, for we feel that usually these are sincere efforts to awaken believers to the possibility of deeper knowledge in Christ, or of the reality of a deeper experience in the Christian faith, subsequent to the salvation experience, In order to understand more fully the nature of the deeper life, we shall indicate, first of all, what it is not, thus eliminating the popular misconceptions.
1. The deeper life is not
mere acceptance of the
full gospel message.
Many today use the term to refer simply to the "pentecostal" experience and message, supposing this is all there is to the deeper life. Multitudes of Christians in all denominations are receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and by this encounter are entering into a deeper spiritual experience with God, which was unknown prior to the infilling of the Spirit. Charismatic conferences and seminars, as well as Christian literature, which move people beyond the simple salvation message into the full gospel (healing, baptism in the Spirit, the charismatic gifts, deliverance from the powers of darkness, and so on), frequently speak of this full message as the "deeper life." Actually, however, all these things should characterize the normal Christian life and not be thought of as evidence of the deeper life in the Spirit. There is a vast difference between being ushered into the "spiritual realm" (the baptism in the Spirit does this), and living and walking in the "realm of the Spirit," or the deeper life, which is the crucified life. The baptism in the Spirit, we must remember, is but the "doorway" to the deeper life in the Spirit.
2. The deeper life is not increased
The crucified life is not merely an increase in what one is already doing. Flesh cannot crucify flesh. Many who sincerely want to please God and draw closer to Him make a determined effort to fast and pray more, and to increase their study in the Scriptures. They decide to be more faithful in their attendance in religious meetings, engage in visitation of the sick and the lost, and put forth a real effort to see more of the fruit of the Spirit manifested in their lives. However, we have found that sooner or later they will usually abandon the effort, admitting the goal is beyond their spiritual capacities. One may do all these things and still remain a babe in Christ. Often, the busiest people in the churches are the least spiritual. The Israelites practically exhausted themselves with outward religious observances, but were not any closer to God spiritually than their heathen neighbors (Matthew 15:8-9; Isaiah 1). The deeper life is not just "doing things" for God; it is not "busyness with church work," nor mere religious activity; but it involves inward change, wrought by the Holy Spirit. The deeper life is developing a greater concern for "becoming" something spiritually, rather than merely "doing" something religiously, Many seem to be more interested in religious form and activity than in learning how to walk in the Spirit, die to self, and grow in a deeper knowledge of Christ.
3. The deeper life is not great
supernatural manifestations in one's life.
Too often we tend to equate spirituality with the supernatural. One who is being greatly used of God, who has, for example, a miracle ministry, or the charismatic gifts manifested in his life to any degree, or someone who is given abundant visions and revelations, or who is blessed with the spirit of prophecy, is one, many believe, who has entered into a deeper experience with God than others, and is walking in the Spirit. But this is not necessarily true, for Joel 2:28 leads us to expect that those who receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit will be recipients of visions and revelations and will prophesy.
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.
– Joel 2:28
Moreover, as we are told in Mark 16:17-18, supernatural signs will follow any
believer who will act in faith on God's Word. In fact, the supernatural will
even be manifested in the lives of some whom Christ will ultimately reject,
according to Matthew 7:23-23. We may also point out, without any
criticism intended, that there have been, and still are today, some who have
sign-gift ministries, who evidently have never heard of the deeper life
message, or else, having heard of it, they have ignored it.
Thus, we must distinguish between manifestations of the Spirit and the deeper life in the Spirit. Great manifestations of the Spirit of God will be seen in the lives of those who go on beyond Pentecost to full stature in Christ, but they are not the criteria to determine if one is walking in the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are gifts of grace (I Corinthians 12:4-11). A believer who has recently been baptized in the Spirit can receive a divine anointing to use the gifts, whereas the deeper life is a growth (Ephesians 4:15). The deeper life is walking in the Spirit along a five-fold pathway in the footsteps of Christ. It involves the following concepts which will be discussed next: yielding, emptying, dying, overcoming, and commitment.
Five-fold Pathway to the Deeper Life
1. Yielding: The
pathway into the deeper life is total yielding of one's life to the Holy
If there was one thing which characterized the life of Jesus, it was His unconditional submission to the Spirit of His Father within Him, for He said, "1 do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things...; for I do always those things that please him" (John 8:28-29). Of Jesus it is said that the Spirit was not given unto Him by measure; He possessed the Spirit in fullness. Therefore, to the extent that we are fully yielded to the Spirit will we also know His fullness. Many do not manifest much spiritual growth after having received the baptism in the Holy Spirit because they are unaware of the real purpose for which He came to them; therefore, they do not yield themselves fully to Him. In the Parable of the Sower it was the hard ground which could not yield to the seed that was sown, and as a consequence could not produce any fruit.
What is the nature of such yieldedness of one's life and will to the Spirit? As with Jesus, total yieldedness means that every thought, deed, aim, purpose, and desire is brought willingly under the direction and control of the Holy Spirit. One's entire being—body, mind, soul, and spirit—is completely subjected to the Lordship of Christ, and brought into submission to the Holy Spirit to direct and use as He sees fit. It may as well be faced from the outset, human nature hates control (even by God) and despises the term "subjection," although it frequently occurs in Scripture in various contexts as being spiritually desirable. Yieldedness is not surrender or loss of our human will; it is surrendering it up to God to work His perfect will through ours (Philippians 2:13). Christ, for example, did not lose His freedom when all His life He willingly surrendered any selfish, independent expression of His own will, humbly submitting Himself to His Father.
The question is frequently asked by those who sincerely desire to yield themselves fully to God and experience the deeper life in the Spirit, "Just how am I to yield, and what am I to do in order to give total surrender to Christ?" While the answer to this important question often causes people at first to wonder if they heard you correctly, it is, nevertheless, the scriptural one. What must one do to yield himself totally to the Holy Spirit? Nothing. Absolutely nothing! Yieldedness is not something one does—it is an attitude of the heart, a state of the mind. When one tries, for instance, by an act of his will to give up some habit or some area of his life to the Spirit, he will often find resistance and opposition from his flesh, usually accompanied by strong urgings and rational arguments from within against the whole matter, Christians may strive for years to overcome their evil habits, or to conquer their besetting weaknesses. They may seek earnestly to conform to Romans 12:1-2, and to yield themselves fully to Christ. They may literally exhaust themselves spiritually in their efforts, yet they are no closer to their desired goal than before. They fail simply because yielding is not something we do at all! It is a passive state, characterized by three things:
a. Yielding is the absence of resistance.
Yielding to the Spirit is not doing something. It is simply not resisting the Holy Spirit when He would seek to teach us some-thing, correct us, discipline us, or lead us into some wilderness of trial to prove us and mature our faith. It is not resisting when He heats the furnace of testing seven times hotter to refine us, or removes some of the fleshly assurances which we have been leaning on to support our faith, and requires us either to stand on the Word of God alone or sink. Yielding is submitting humbly to His work in our hearts as He unmercifully cuts out root and branch some of those cherished, but unscriptural, "denominational doctrines" and "traditions of men," which we have held to with such confidence for years, certain they were inspired of God.
Yielding is, first and last, a passive state. It is the absence of resistance to the Spirit, and is not, therefore, something we strive to do. One does not try to breathe or sleep. Efforts at sleep usually result in insomnia. The dough does not try to yield to the hand of the baker; it simply does not resist. A mother does not try to love her child; she loves without trying, for the simple reason that there is no resistance in her heart. One does not try to yield to Christ; all one needs is a receptive heart. Instead of praying, "Oh, God, help me to yield to Thy will," we need simply to cease resisting His will and do it. There is no scriptural basis for pleading with God to make us willing to yield to His will. If He did not expect that we could do it, He would not have commanded it (Romans 12:1-2). Jesus did not try to yield to His Father's will; He simply did not resist it. Every believer can do the same, if he will cease trying to yield to God's will and simply stop resisting it. We must allow the Spirit to bring us to the place where we confess our utter inability to "help" God, and surrender everything without reservation to Him to work His perfect will through us.
In a meeting one time where the writer was speaking, one of those present shared a personal experience which illustrates this perfectly. As a pastor's wife, she had miserably failed, in spite of all her efforts, to effect any harmony between various factions in the church. In complete frustration one day, she prostrated herself on the living room floor and in utter resignation cried, "Lord, I quit. I give up, I am through. I cannot do the job." Then God spoke, saying, "Good. Now I can take over and do My work through you." This had been His intention all along, to solve the problem in His own way; but too often we are so busy trying to work out what we think is His will that in a real sense we are resisting His will and getting in His way.
b. Yielding is the absence of any expression of
Self-will resulted in the Fall of Adam. Israel's failure and rejection were due to the expression of her sinful self-will (Isaiah 1:2, 19-20). The unwillingness to surrender one's will and bring it into harmony with God's is the cause of much affliction, trial, sickness, adversity, and defeat in the lives of many Christians. There is real peril in a will which is not fully yielded to the Holy Spirit, for that aspect of the will not surrendered to God is vulnerable for Satan to influence and control. Any part of the will not totally consecrated to God is self-will, and is under either our influence and control or Satan's, and in either case is an expression of sinful self-will.
The total yielding of one's life to the Holy Spirit requires the full surrender and consecration of one's will to God. Unless he is first willing to let God's will be done fully through him, the Christian ought never to pray as Jesus instructs us in Matthew 6:10, "Thy kingdom come. They will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." It is hypocrisy to pray this and then ignore His will in some area of our lives. How do we expect God to answer our prayer, "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven"? Do we expect His will to be done through the drug addicts, the gamblers, or the prostitutes? Is the unregenerate world concerned about doing His will? If God's will is ever to be done on earth at all, it will have to be realized through Christians who, as they offer up this petition, yield their wills to Him in full consecration.
Self-will is often mistaken for "free-will." As a result, some believe that to lose their self-will would mean the loss of their freedom of will. But total consecration of one's will to the Holy Spirit is not the surrender of the free expression of one's will; it is the surrender of the independent, selfish exercise of one's will, and bringing it into harmony with God's. Man's will, when it is not in harmony with God's will, is not free anyway, for in such a state he is only free to choose how he will oppose God's will and how he will disobey God's purpose. In a word, such an individual is only free to choose how his sinful will may be expressed in opposition to God's. God never destroys man's power of self-determination or choice; He only asks that we surrender our selfish will and bring it into harmony with His. Such a harmonious blending of the two wills is perfectly illustrated in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, when we yield our voices to God to speak in tongues. In this blessed experience it is we who will to speak, while the Holy Spirit gives us the utterance. But this perfect union of the two wills, human and divine, is not to be limited merely to tongues; it is to characterize the lives of those who are pressing into the deeper life in total surrender to Christ.
c. Yielding is an attitude or affection of
The term "affection" is the key to understanding of yielding. Just as we have seen that yielding is not the nature something one does, but that it is the absence of resistance, it is also in this same sense that we are to understand yielding as an attitude of the heart or an affection of the soul. This is why the unregenerate sinner cannot surrender his selfish will up to God, for the precise reason that doing the will of God holds no affection in his heart, What he needs is a new heart (Jeremiah 13:23, Ezekiel 36:26-27). Without a spiritual rebirth the sinner may, by an act of his will, decide temporarily to change his ways, stop drinking and cursing, and attend some church; but he cannot consistently and permanently will to do so, because this manner of life holds no real interest to him, for there is no affection in his heart for it. The heart must be changed and made receptive, or all the willing in the world will not make one enjoy yielding to God. The sinner may give up alcohol for the sake of maintaining his employment and health, but this does not mean he does so willingly. Soldiers may submit to the discipline and hardships of warfare, but this does not imply that such dangers and trials hold any real affection in their hearts.
Often many Christians, for one reason or another, will resolve to give more time to Bible study and prayer, or to be more consistent in their attendance at worship, or to be more faithful in meeting their spiritual responsibilities, and so on. Such efforts, however, are frequently abandoned after a period of trial. The reason? There was no real affection in their heart for these things. They were motivated to do them for conscience sake, or by the urging of the pastor to his congregation to be more faithful in these things, or for some such reason. When there is no affection in the heart, then all the willing in the world will not produce a calm, satisfied, enjoyable experience. So too, in yielding one's total life to God: it results from the affection of a receptive heart. Such yielding is done unconsciously or involuntarily, as when one listens to good religious music, simply because it appeals to the heart. One does not have to try to listen, for his heart is receptive; his affection is set on it, and he enjoys listening without consciously trying to listen, It is not enough, then, merely to will to yield our lives to God. We must first set our affections on things above (Colossians 3:1f.); then yielding will come from the heart without effort.
2. Emptying: The pathway into the deeper life is our willing acceptance of a kenosis (self-emptying) experience.
The deeper life is entering into Christ's experience as set forth in Philippians 2:5-9 (ASV):
Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of man; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross, Wherefore also God highly exalted him....
In verse 5 the believer is
admonished, "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."
In what sense, on the basis of this passage, are we to have the mind of Christ?
The key to the answer is found in verse 7, where we are told that Christ
"emptied himself," which in theological terms is called Christ's
kenosis or "self-emptying," taken from the Greek term which occurs in
this verse. The King James Version incorrectly translates the Greek
"emptied himself" as "made himself of no reputation." Of
what did He empty Himself? We are told in verse 6, of "being in the form of
God," in consequence of which He (a) became a servant, in the likeness of
men; (b) humbled Himself; (c) became obedient unto the death of the cross; and
(d) was highly exalted by God. In no uncertain terms we are exhorted in verse 5
to have this same mind in us, which can only mean that God's purpose for us is
the same as it was for Jesus, that the way into the fullness of God is through
the kenosis experience.
The kenosis, or self-emptying, means giving up our lives, interests, plans, rights, or prerogatives, and accepting the cross, which is the crucifixion of the "self-life." When Christ emptied Himself He was then able to fulfill the role of a servant (the term means literally a "slave"). No one would ever be able to live the role of a slave sitting on a throne ruling over others, so He surrendered or emptied Himself of these rights. We shall never have this same mind in us and follow in His steps as true servants until we, too, step down from our thrones in the kingdoms we have built, and empty ourselves of all the fruits of the self-life: the desire to have our own way, to defend our rights, or to be ministered unto, instead of ministering to others; the love of recognition and position; the normal tendency to put one's own selfish interests first; and so on. This is one major reason the deeper-life message is spurned by many. It is such a threat to the "self-life." We have been pampered and encouraged to seek self-expression and self-recognition for so long that the message of the crucified life presents a real crisis in our life. The reason for this is not hard to detect, for a servant or slave has nothing, is nothing, and never expects to be anything; moreover, the world does not know or care if he exists. Only by experiencing a real kenosis in our lives—an emptying of self—could we ever submit to the abasement of slavery.
Jesus did not simply take on the "form" of a servant; He actually became a servant. He accepted the "role," and He expects the same of His followers. This is set forth in the words of our Lord when He said, "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (Matthew 20:26-28). The significance of the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit today is that God is beginning to deal with His people on a new level. Therefore, He will no longer countenance the low spiritual plane at which most Christians have been content to live. God is calling us to face the crisis of a real kenosis. Without the emptying of the self-image there can be no reproduction of the divine image. Christ is our pattern: what happened to Him has to happen to us. If it does not, then the pathway to the deeper life will be closed unto us; therefore, "have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."
3. Dying: The
pathway into the deeper life is acceptance of the crucified life.
The kenosis, or self-emptying experience, is the necessary prerequisite for our acceptance of the cross, for until one has emptied himself of any desire to sustain and nourish the "self-life," he lacks the necessary spiritual maturity and stamina to endure crucifixion. Since it is the cross where the self-life must die, then any unwillingness to accept the self-emptying experience, or any desire to keep the self-life alive, would produce only suffering and agony on the cross, and never issue in the death of the self-life. Frequently, there are those who desire to press into the deeper life in the Spirit and accept the crucified life, but who continue to suffer mental anguish, depression, anxiety, and frustration, seldom tasting the sweetness of walking in victory, for the precise reason they have not yet been willing to accept the crisis of the kenosis and surrender all desire to keep the self-life alive. It is too great a cost to surrender family, career, material security, recognition, rights, and privileges, and humble themselves as servants.
The church has not lacked those who have talked about the "crucified life." Many have sermonized about being "crucified with Christ"; evangelists and teachers have popularized the subject; books have been written about it; and Galatians 2:20 is quoted from the pulpit quite frequently. However, few Christians have gotten down to the business of taking God seriously and doing anything about it. The present move of the Holy Spirit throughout the world is for the express purpose of challenging Spirit-filled believers to do something about it.
What is the crucified life and what is its nature? The message of the deeper life is the message of the cross. Let no one be deluded into thinking that there is an easier way, for to come "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," we must follow in His steps, and this is by way of the cross. Once, while preaching on the crucified life, a vision was given of a tombstone with a path leading to it. The meaning was clear: the pathway into the fullness of God is the way of death—the death of self. On more than one occasion, when preaching on the deeper life, a vision of the cross has been given in our meetings.
The Lord has shown us three aspects to crucifixion, not just one. Generally, when one speaks of the cross, the idea of death immediately comes to mind. But crucifixion involves separation and suffering, as well as death. These three aspects also depict the nature of the believer's crucifixion with Christ.
a. Crucifixion is separation.
Crucifixion, perhaps the most cruel form of Roman punishment, required that the victim be transfixed with spikes to a cross which was then placed upright into the earth, suspending the individual in mid-air. When one was thus nailed to the cross, he was "separated" from the world and all the activity which took place around him. There is just such a separation which is supposed to take place in the believer's deeper-life experience. The first separation takes place in the salvation experience. In the new birth experience he is separated unto Christ from his sins, the world, and his past (Colossians 1:13). The second phase of separation occurs in the believer's baptism in the Holy Spirit. In this experience the Spirit comes to separate him from his spiritual weaknesses, impotency, and fruitlessness, as well as his wrong beliefs and the traditions of men, imparting unto him new power and illumination, The third phase of separation is separation of one's affections from anything but Christ. This phase of separation is a much deeper work than that which occurs in the initial experience of the baptism of the Spirit, which is but the doorway to the deeper life. This is a deep work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the fully yielded believer who has set his affections on things above, which brings about complete separation of the heart from the world and everything it offers (Colossians 3:1-10).
b. Crucifixion is suffering.
Crucifixion also involved suffering, often intense, before death brought relief. Christ, for example, suffered the agonies of the cross many hours before He died. There are also three aspects to the believer's sufferings, which are a vital part of his crucifixion: the endurance of personal trials; suffering on behalf of others; and sharing in Christ's sufferings.
(1) Suffering personal trials.
The first aspect of suffering is designed by God to develop endurance in us, mature our faith, and prepare us for more intense spiritual warfare (cf. James 1:2-4). The suffering of such hardships and trials of our faith is an important phase in our spiritual development. Personal trials involve such things as temptations, personal losses, and misfortunes; apparent delays in answers to prayer; physical attacks from the enemy in his attempts to inflict some illness or disease upon us; overcoming personal weaknesses, such as impatience, intemperance, and anger; and so on.
(2) Suffering in behalf of others.
Some Christians mature very slowly, if at all. Those growing to maturity often find it difficult to understand the immaturity of others, and are tempted to grow impatient with their repeated failures, shallow consecration, doubts, fears, and weaknesses. Many times God will require the strong "to bear the infirmities of the weak" (Romans 15:1-2; Galatians 6:1-2). In like manner, the prayer and financial burden of the church, as well as the responsibilities of the Lord's work in general, are often carried by a few faithful saints, who must bear the burdens of others in these matters. Moreover, there are times when you will be misunderstood, misrepresented, or subjected to verbal abuse. At times such abuse is at the hands of your own brethren, and the Holy Spirit may require you to suffer it silently, not defending yourself or trying to justify your actions. In such instances, God is allowing you to suffer this trial as a part of your cross, and to teach you how to follow in the steps of Jesus by praying in behalf of those for whom you are suffering. For those who would mature to the full stature of Christ, He will require them to lay down their lives for such brethren just as Christ did (I John 3:16).
This has been made clear to the writer in many instances. For example, there was a situation in the church where I was pastor, which seemed to necessitate having the offending individual meet with the pastor and deacons for admonishment. The matter concerned tale-bearing and misrepresentation of the pastor. The need was discussed with the deacons, but just before this individual was to be notified of the meeting, the Holy Spirit spoke to me, in a voice as clear as if it had been audible, "Are you willing to be crucified for this individual?" This question came with such suddenness and clarity, and was such a surprise, I fell to my knees and in five minutes had resolved the entire matter, cancelled the meeting, and accepted the invitation to suffer this on their behalf, and to bear the burden by not defending myself. God often has a wonderful purpose to fulfill through us when we are willing to suffer the weaknesses of others on their behalf, for in a few weeks this same individual came to me and apologized for having spoken against me! In another instance, when my actions had been misunderstood, causing others to take offense and manifest an unchristian spirit toward me, the Lord indicated to me in a dream that I was not to justify my actions, but deal with them in love and patience for their sake. Patiently suffering such trials on behalf of others not only brings us into conformity to the death of Christ, but also gives God, through our patience and prayers, an opportunity to lead them to repentance and change, which, again, is what took place in this instance (II Timothy 2:24-26).
(3) Suffering in behalf of Christ.
Few Christians have ever heard about this aspect of suffering. In fact, I do not recall ever hearing it mentioned by anyone throughout my Christian experience. But those who would follow in the steps of Christ and press on into the deeper life will be called upon to accept such trial as a part of their experience as well. One of the basic texts setting forth this truth is Philippians 1:29 where we are told, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ; not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." In James 1:1-3 we are told, "Brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers trials; Knowing this that the trying of your faith worketh patience." In this instance, however, these are called our trials. They are the trials of our faith; and moreover, it is said that we "fall into" them. But in Philippians 1:29 we find that the trials and sufferings of Jesus are experiences that are given unto us. Some trials and sufferings are trials of our faith, which we are called to endure in order that our faith may mature. In other instances trials are on behalf of others. But when we are given the privilege of suffering Jesus' sufferings after Him, then the reproaches which fell upon Christ will fall upon us; the abuse which is directed against Him will become our abuse; and the hatred of the world, as well as the scorn of the religious systems of men, will also be ours (John 15:18-16:3).
This is the highest form of suffering: suffering in behalf of Christ. It is, in fact, more than this; it is experiencing the "fellowship of his sufferings," which will bring us into conformity to His death (Philippians 3:10). It is, for those who are mature enough to receive it, filling up what is lacking in Christ's sufferings, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 1:24 (ASV). Speaking of his own sufferings, he writes, "[I] fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake." His meaning here is that if Christ were still on earth, He would continue to suffer at the hands of wicked men; therefore, He offers us this measure of His potential sufferings on behalf of His body, the church.
Haralan Popoff, a Bulgarian pastor, spent 13 years of torture in communist prisons for the Christian faith. During one period when he was compelled to go through unspeakable tortures by the communists in an effort to get him to deny his faith, God kept giving him Philippians 1:29 and John 15:21. Suddenly the significance of what the Holy Spirit was trying to show him burst in upon his soul in great clarity. He saw that it was not Popoff, the tortured, physical wreck, standing there receiving this abuse. It was Christ being mistreated and abused. Popoff was standing in His place, partaking of the sufferings of Christ. It was not Haralan Popoff the communists had to break—it was Christ!
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's suffering; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
– I Peter 4:12-13
c. Crucifixion is death.
Most Christians do not realize that our death with Christ is to be seen from two viewpoints: the legal and the actual. The legal aspect is set forth in II Corinthians 5:14, where we are told, "If one died for all, then [all died]." When Christ died, every believer was in Him as He died on our behalf. It is the same as if we had died. This is a legal transaction which we enter into by faith in Christ, whereby God declares us free from the guilt and penalty of sin. But there is another aspect, our actual death with Christ, which is the death of the self-life. The Holy Spirit comes to reproduce the crucifixion and death of Christ in us; however, this cannot be accomplished unless we willingly surrender up our lives as did Jesus, who said, "I lay down my life.... No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself" (John 10:17-18). The Holy Spirit will not touch one area of our lives that we do not willingly give up in death, for the precise reason that He cannot compel us to love God more than ourselves or the world. What then is the nature of crucifixion as death? Again, we see that there are three aspects.
(1) The deeper life is accepting
crucifixion and death.
Many who accept the fact of their "legal" death with Christ, nevertheless, seek to avoid at all costs the reality that they must die actually: the "self" must go to the cross. However, to accept the message of the deeper life is to accept the sentence of death as surely as a man condemned to die on the gallows must accept this fact. God is a jealous God and will not share Himself with another. The self must die, for He says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." The "self" is God's greatest competitor for our love and affections.
There is only one way in which to prepare the heart to accept this sentence of death: we must be willing to go to the Garden of Gethsemane and settle the matter once for all just as Jesus did. All His life He knew He must die, but there came the time one day when He had to face it as an immediate reality and accept it willingly. God will not allow us to go to the cross any easier than Jesus. We will never really accept the sentence of death until we go to the "garden" and wrestle with it, settling it there once for all. It is one thing to pray in a general way about the crucified life, but it is quite another to face the sentence of death squarely and wrestle in agony with it, as Jesus did, until it is finally, and forever, resolved. Jesus won the battle in the Garden, and He went to the cross in victory. We must, in like manner, first actually accept the sentence of death before we can go to the cross and surrender the "self-life" up unto death.
(2) Crucifixion with Christ is offering
ourselves up unto God as a living sacrifice.
The self-life must be surrendered on the altar (Romans 12:1-2). When we offer the "self" on the altar, the Holy Spirit expects, from then on, to have full control in our lives. This means that He alone will choose the kind of life we live from henceforth. If one has really been crucified and "died" to self, then there will be no struggling and resisting, but there will be a humble yielding to the Spirit's work in us. If the Holy Spirit wants you to live like John the Baptist in the desert, He will not ask you if you want to. You are dead, and Christ is now going to live His life through you. As a living sacrifice, you will always take the Spirit's side against yourself. If He says this or that habit must go, you will not argue, but you will simply die to it. If He informs you that you are to suffer some trial, or surrender up some area of your personal life, you will not offer any objection to His wishes. If the Holy Spirit wants you to weep and travail in prayer, groaning in intercession, as His instrument on behalf of others, you will submit. Nor will He ask your permission if He wants to suffer through you in some unheard-of place on the other side of the world on behalf of the heathen, where you may never be heard from again.
Are you willing to give such complete submission to the Holy Spirit? If not, then it means that you have not yet been to the "garden" and accepted the sentence of death. No one has ever accepted the sentence of death before first going to Gethsemane and wrestling with it there. If anyone thinks that he has, he has only deluded himself. Accepting the sentence of death is not walking some aisle and rededicating one's life, or accepting the call to full-time Christian work. Merely confessing, "I am crucified with Christ," however sincere one may be, is not acceptance of the sentence of death. It is not simply prayer, nor desiring a deeper walk in the Spirit. It is getting alone with God and surrendering up the self-life unto the cross. Only after we have gone to the garden and have accepted the cross can we know that we have actually accepted the sentence of death. Only then can you be sure that you will submit to the will of the Spirit, even if He directs you to give up your life as you now know it, takes away your comforts, and allows the abuse and hate of the world to be heaped upon you.
(3) Crucifixion is our acceptance of the
humiliation of the cross.
Concerning Christ's crucifixion, we are told in Isaiah 53:4, "Surely he hath borne our diseases and carried away our pains [literal Hebrew]: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." One of the most humiliating aspects of Christ's crucifixion was the utter failure of the people during the time of His sufferings and death to comprehend its significance. The world then, just as today, misinterpreted what they saw, for they thought His sufferings and death were evidence of God's judgment upon Him as an imposter! Although He was dying in behalf of others, they said, "We did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." The world and the organized religious systems today do not have any more insight into the real nature of your crucifixion and death than they did of Jesus' sufferings, but will misinterpret your trials and sufferings as evidence, not of the deeper work of the Spirit in your life, but as evidence of God's disapproval. Since the Holy Spirit's purpose is to bring about your death on the cross, He may allow you to suffer some apparent failures or setbacks for a time, or permit you and your testimony to be rejected by some whom you thought would receive it, or allow you to suffer some severe trials of faith with no more comfort or knowledge as to their meaning than Job had. God will allow no flesh to glory in His presence (I Corinthians 1:27). Are you willing, therefore, to submit to this pruning by the Spirit in your life without resisting or running from the humiliation of such trials? Jesus could not come down from the cross to remove His humiliation; His followers, sadly, often do. Those who finally press into the deeper life will be those who willingly accept the humiliation of the cross and say, as the Apostle Paul, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14).
4. Overcoming: The
pathway into the deeper life in the Spirit is overcoming in all things.
Jesus’ message to the churches in Revelation is a promise that those who overcome will inherit all things. Nothing is promised to those who allow themselves to be overcome. In fact, throughout the Scriptures, you will not find any promises made, or ultimate blessings assured, to any except overcomers. Many who call themselves Christians have an unscriptural concept of salvation, reducing it to a mere affirmation of the words, "I believe in Jesus," and this confession is sufficient to be accepted into most religious bodies, without so much as a question being asked of whether there is any evidence of change in the individual’s life. However, salvation as seen in the Bible is not merely believing. It is a walk (Ephesians 4:1), faithful endurance (Matthew 24:13), and overcoming. This latter truth is clearly seen in Jesus' words in Revelation 2:7, "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life" (cf. I John 5:4). Likewise, the pathway to the fullness of God is not merely to experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but it also requires that we overcome. The most significant revelation the Spirit is giving now at the close of the age is that believers should strive to become overcomers. There are many blessings and promises made by the Lord to overcomers in the Book of Revelation: they will eat of the tree of life (2:7); not be hurt by the second death (2:11); eat of the hidden manna and be given a white stone with a new name written thereon (2:17); be given power to rule over the nations, and be rewarded with the morning star (2:26-28); be clothed in white raiment (3:5); be a pillar in the Temple of God (3:12); sit with Christ in His throne (3:21); and inherit all things (21:7).
God in this hour is preparing to bring the body of Christ into perfection. For overcomers, this perfection will be wrought in them through the instrumentality of His Word and their obedience to it (John 16:13; Ephesians 5:26-27; I Corinthians 2:9_10; Revelation 2_3); but for the rest of the body, it will come through the instrumentality of "fire" (I Corinthians 3:11-15). On the basis of their consecration, the "people of God" have always consisted of two groups, not simply one, as is so commonly supposed. There are, first of all, those who "overcome the world" (I John 5:4); who, through their faith in Christ, have delivered their souls from the world: "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world." Most of this group, however, never advance in their Christian experience beyond the "first principles" of the gospel (Hebrews 6:1; Galatians 4:1-2). Many of these have been baptized in the Spirit, but they remain "babes in Christ," unable to receive the strong meat of the Word (I Corinthians 3:1-2; Hebrews 5:12-14). Generally they walk by sight, instead of faith; their consecration is shallow, and they are unwilling to pay the full cost of discipleship, to forsake all, as Jesus requires. But there is another group of overcomers spoken of in the Scriptures, who "go on unto perfection" (Hebrews 6:1). They will be led by the Spirit of God and will overcome in all things, in consequence of which, as mature sons, they will inherit all things (Revelation 21:7; Romans 8:14-23). In Revelation 2-3, Jesus mentions seven specific realms in which they will overcome, and in Revelation 21:7-8, eight sins and temptations are listed over which they will be victorious. It will be well for the reader to examine carefully the Scripture for each of these, to which we now turn.
a. The overcoming life will be characterized
by uncompromising loyalty to God
The Lord commends the disciples of Ephesus for their faithful, enduring labors in His vineyard, which will also characterize the lives of all overcomers (2:2-3). Many Christians serve after a fashion, but it cannot be said that it is always patient, faithful service. It is when the notion strikes them, or their conscience pricks them, or when nothing else interferes, that they manage to sandwich in some time for prayer or ministry to the sick and lost, or for help for other's needs, and so on. Multitudes, many of whom are baptized in the Spirit, are still occupying their time with personal interests, their spiritual labors consisting largely of attending some church and listening to sermons. To them this is the essence of Christianity. They do not see any present purpose in their salvation, and it would never occur to them that they have been called to labor faithfully in the Lord's vineyard, develop a holy life, be fruitful, and reproduce their own experience with the Lord in the lives of others.
We see, from verses 2 and 6, that uncompromising loyalty to God and His Word is the mark of the overcomer.
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: ...But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Total faith in
God's Word and loyalty to it are the
deciding factors that distinguish true overcomers from nominal
certainly cannot be contested that the average Christian will put
his church or denomination and its doctrines and creeds before loyalty
Word, even when its doctrines and practices may be contradicted by the
teaching of the Word. The Ephesians are commended by the Lord for their
to allow church loyalty to veil their eyes to errors in doctrine and
in the assembly at Ephesus. In their loyalty to Him they could not bear
which were evil (2:2), had exposed those who were impersonating
apostles (2:2), and hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which God also
(2:6). Most today, however, even when they become aware of such things
facetiousness, moral weaknesses, sin, and indifference in some of the
or the teaching of unsound doctrine, or other unscriptural practices in
particular church or denomination, will generally close their eyes,
if they ignore the situation, things will improve of themselves. Such a
of indifference is disloyalty to God and His Word. There is no greater test or
evidence of an overcomer than his total loyalty to God and His Word, whatever
the personal cost may be. In extreme instances, if the situation is not corrected,
in order to remain loyal to God it may be necessary for one to separate himself
from such unscriptural teaching and practice.
For the timid or those who are deluded into thinking that it shows a lack of love for one to separate himself from those who persist in error, we recommend reading II John 6-11; Titus 3:10-11; and Romans 16:17 for the Biblical requirements in such cases. The Christians in Ephesus were commended for their unwavering loyalty to truth. We are warned in Scripture that now at the close of the present age, "some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and the doctrines of demons" (I Timothy 4:1), and that Satan will transform himself into an angel of light, working through those who are "false apostles" and "deceitful workers" (II Corinthians 11:13-14). Therefore, it will only be those who are firmly grounded in the Word of God and maintain absolute loyalty to the truth that will be safeguarded against possible deception. The importance of being an overcomer in this realm is not to be minimized, for many in this present hour are being deceived and led astray.
b. Those who enter the deeper life and come to the fullness of Christ will overcome through tribulation (Revelation 2:8-11).
Every believer undergoes some measure of trial. Generally, however, the average Christian looks upon trial and tribulation as obstacles to avoid at any cost. There are some unalterable laws of God which we must accept or we shall never overcome. One of the most important and least understood is that trials, tribulations, and testings are not obstacles to be avoided. On the contrary, the Scriptures teach that they are the way into the kingdom! This is clear, for example, in Acts 14:22, where we are informed that "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Jesus tells us in John 16: 33 that "in the world ye shall have tribulation." Peter also confirms this truth saying, "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps" (I Peter 2:21; cf. 4:12-16; John 15:18-21). The faithful are characterized in Revelation as overcoming their fear of tribulation and trial and remaining faithful through them unto death.
I know thy...tribulation.... Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.... He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
– Revelation 2:9-11
Many, however, who are unwilling to pay the cost of
being crucified with Christ, resist the cross at this point and invent excuses
why they are reluctant to submit to God's refining work in them. Tribulation is
never pleasant, but there is no other way promised overcomers. Since the deeper
life is the crucified life (Philippians 3:10), then those who allow the Holy
Spirit to bring them to this place will be those who have overcome their fear
of tribulations, and who remain faithful through them. All believers are called
to endure tribulation (2:9), but some are allowed more than others
("The devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be
tried," 2:10). However, the measure of our trials is the measure of
God's confidence and trust in us. Some, whose faith is weak or whose
consecration is shallow, cannot endure much trial. For example, Job endured
great trial, suffering, and personal loss, but his wife soon renounced her
faith, saying to her husband, "Dost thou still retain thine integrity?
curse God, and die." Abraham endured a test of his faith for 25 years
concerning the promise of God, whereas Esau sold his right to inherit this same
promise merely under the stress of temptation because of physical hunger.
Tribulation, trial, and testing are the means by which God prepares His disciples for greater blessings and a deeper walk with Him. Thus, Moses was compelled to endure 40 years of isolation on the backside of the desert in preparation for his role as Israel's spiritual leader, and for the privilege of speaking with God "mouth to mouth" (Numbers 12:6-8). David had to prove himself faithful by overcoming through years of persecution at the hands of King Saul, before he himself inherited the kingship. Christ said of the Apostle Paul that he was "a chosen vessel," and he was not only blessed with profound revelations that exceeded those of any other figure in the New Testament, but he was also to be shown, Jesus said, "how great things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:15-16). Of Christ Himself it is said, "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered. And being made perfect [that is, complete or mature], he became the author of eternal salvation.." (Hebrews 5:8-9). This fact is affirmed by the Lord Himself in Revelation 3:21, saying, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." Therefore, it is certain, seeing that God required require Jesus, the Apostles, and the saints of the Old Testament to come into perfection and spiritual maturity through trial and suffering, that He will not allow us to enter into the place of deep fellowship and communion some easier way. We are called to overcome through tribulation, not by avoiding it at all costs.
c. Overcomers will hold fast to Jesus' Name
and not deny His faith (Revelation 2:12-17).
The Lord commends the overcomers in the church at Pergamos, saying, "Thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith." What exactly does it signify to hold fast to Jesus' Name?
It means, first of all, not to deny His Name in the face of persecution or tribulation which one may have to endure for the Christian faith. Satan had his seat in the city of Pergamos, where the powers of darkness had great influence and control. In spite of the persecution assailing it, this church had maintained its faithfulness to the Lord and had not denied his Name or the Christian faith. Many professing Christians in the early centuries denied Christ in order to avoid the terrible persecution waged against the Christian faith, thus preserving their lives and property. The time is rapidly approaching when Satan once more will be allowed to sift the church as wheat, thereby separating true overcomers from nominal followers of the Christian religion. This is graphically described for us in Revelation 13, where we are told that Satan's power will be given to Antichrist "to make war with the saints, and to overcome them:...and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark or name of the beast, or the number of his name" (Revelation 13:7, 15-17).
It also means not to deny the power of Jesus' Name to save, heal, deliver, and do His supernatural works today, as in the past. The early church knew the power of Jesus' Name and valued it highly, for the Lord Himself in John 16:23-24 had stressed the importance of His disciples using His Name as their power of attorney. This is clearly seen in the healing of the lame man by Peter, who told the astonished Israelites how he had done this miracle, saying, "His name through faith in his name hath made this man strong" (Acts 3:16). The church today has lost its faith in the importance which Jesus' Name carries in the courts of heaven and among the forces of darkness. His Name is still our power of attorney. Christ gave His church the authority to use His Name and promised to honor it as if He Himself were there speaking the word of faith, as we find, for example, in Mark 16:17-20 and John 14:12-14; 16:23-24. When the contemporary church substitutes such things as religious methodology and organization, or medical science and psychiatry, in place of the power and authority of Jesus' Name, it has, thereby, denied His Name and His faith.
These are the days of restoration, and God is unveiling to overcomers a new revelation of the power and authority of Jesus' Name. He is quickening apostolic faith in them through His Word, and sending them forth to begin once more to demonstrate that God is still God, and that Jesus is the same today as yesterday! With faith in His Name they are already beginning to pull down Satan's strongholds; they are demonstrating that disease and sickness cannot stand before His Name when spoken in faith; that the powers of darkness must loose their victims; and that the signs still follow them that believe, because of the power and authority of His Name. The world will never be convinced that Jesus' Name carries the same authority today as in the past merely because one is a Christian and attends church, if in time of need he turns for help to medical science, psychiatry, or the financial institutions, like the unbelieving world. Overcomers will demonstrate total faith in Jesus' Name in all circumstances, knowing that it is the only Name in heaven or earth that God honors, angels obey, and the forces of darkness fear.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
– Philippians 2:9-11
We know of cases of healing actually taking place where no formal prayers were offered, but only the Name of Jesus was spoken in faith with regard to the sickness or injury. Deliverance from accident or harm has come in times of emergency by calling on His Name. In one instance, when a demon challenged me through the lips of one totally possessed man and said, "You cannot cast me out!" I replied in faith, "Indeed I can, because I have the power and authority in Jesus' Name." And out it came! No Christian work can prosper that neglects to respect and use the power and authority of His Name, or that attempts, on the other hand, to use it merely to promote the teachings or religious programs and institutions of men. But where it is spoken in faith, in harmony with the Word, Christ is pleased to demonstrate that He is still reigning on the throne of heaven.
d. The "last works" of overcomers
will be greater then the first (Revelation 2:18-29).
Jesus said to the church in Thyatira, "I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first." We are reminded here of Jesus' words to us in John 14:12: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also: I and greater works than these shall he do."
As we read in Joel 2:23-32, the present outpouring of the Holy Spirit is merely the "former rain," which is to be followed soon by a great "latter rain," or deluge of the Holy Spirit in unprecedented power and revival. This has also been confirmed by God to many through vision and prophecy. But the meaning is not to be limited to God's anointing us in the future for end-time ministry, for He would not commend us for something He does. He says to the church at Thyatira, "I know thy works." Basically then, Christ refers here to our present responsibility as overcomers to see to it that we are daily progressing in our spiritual development and fruitfulness, that our last works in the Lord are more than the former. It is all too evident that the majority of Christians never progress much beyond their initial salvation experience with Christ. Even in the case of those who come one step further in their Christian experience and receive the infilling of the Spirit, there are few who seek to move on beyond Pentecost into the deeper things of God.
This is why the message of the deeper life as being the purpose for the infilling of the Spirit, together with the end-time message of faith, with its challenge for disciples to walk once again in apostolic faith, is so significant. It is only as we press on into the deeper life and exercise total faith in every area of our lives that our last works shall be more than the frost. The meaning is clear. If one is still where he was six months ago regarding his own spiritual development and fruitfulness, then he is not overcoming in this realm. Many will be saved "as if by fire," either from the lack of fruitful works in the Lord, or because their works were "dead" religious works not approved by God. Sadly, many have not taken a step beyond Pentecost since receiving the Holy Spirit. It is not without significance that in every instance Christ deals with the seven churches in Revelation on the basis of their works. See 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15.
e. Overcomers will be careful to watch lest
they defile their garments (Revelation 3:1-6).
Here, the Lord cautions us to watch lest we grow careless and become defiled by the teachings and traditions of men, by errors in doctrine, or by not keeping ourselves unspotted from the sins of the world. He rebukes the church at Sardis, saying, "I know they works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (3:1). It is possible to bear the name "Christian" and deny its life and power in actual practice. Outwardly, many churches today appear to be "alive" because of their great organization, financial prosperity, dynamic programs, extensive religious activity, and large membership. But often, upon close investigation, very little real advancement is being made spiritually, and much of the frenzied activity and religious programs are merely efforts to compensate for the lack of faith in the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. One may have the form of godliness and deny the power thereof. One may be busy in various religious activities and still have no sincere hunger and thirst for the deep things of the Spirit. Jesus tells us to overcome in this realm in four ways.
(1) Be watchful (verse 2).
We are to keep our spiritual senses alerted and not allow ourselves to drift along with all the contemporary religious beliefs and practices merely because they are popularly accepted by most, or because they seem to produce results. There are many religious errors today, as well as unsound practices and teachings in all denominations, which are clearly out of harmony with the Word of God.
(2) Strengthen the weak areas in your
spiritual life (verse 2).
Jesus warns, "Strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die": such things as, for example, those areas of truth concerning Christ's end-time purpose for His body, where you may be "on the fence"; or it may be that the enemy has been tempting you to give up some truth as non-essential (such as belief in the need of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, or the inspiration of Scripture), or tempting you to embrace, as many are doing today, such heretical doctrines as reincarnation or ultimate reconciliation, Others may need to strengthen certain weaknesses in the area of spiritual development, and discipline themselves in prayer and study in the Word; or their weakness may be in the realm of fleshly appetites, or such things as an impatient or critical spirit, and so on.
(3) Remember the truth which
you have previously received, and hold fast to it (verse 3).
It is sometimes astounding how little of the Word is actually assimilated and put into practice by those who hear it. As we are shown in the Parable of the Sower, if we do not assimilate the Word and act on it when it is sown in our hearts, then the seed will die. The Scriptures are emphatic on this point, for we are told, "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22). The Word of the Lord is often recorded on tape and written down in notes, only to be filed away and forgotten. It is all too easy to become merely a "spectator," listening to sermons and the Word being taught without any conscious effort to open one's heart to the Word for the purpose of acting on it. Remembering the Word and holding fast to it will also guard our minds and hearts against Satan's deceptions and perversion of doctrine (I Timothy 4:1).
(4) Repent (verse 3).
Believers who would go on to the fullness of God must repent of their shortcomings in the aforementioned areas: for their failure to watch over their spiritual lives as they should; for not strengthening their weak areas; and for not holding fast to the things the Holy Spirit has been speaking to them about. The phrase in verse 2, "I have not found thy works perfect before God," is literally "I have not found thy works fulfilled before God" (cf. Ephesians 2:10). We are not merely to be hearers, but doers of the Word.
f. Overcomers will keep Jesus' Word of
endurance (Revelation 3:7-13).
The term translated "patience" in verse 10 in the KJV is literally "endurance." Jesus promises overcomers preservation from the coming Tribulation which is soon to fall upon the world, saying, "Because thou has kept the word of my endurance, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." What is meant by keeping Jesus' "word of endurance"? The answer is found in Rev. 3:8, where the Lord said to the saints at Philadelphia, thou "hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name." It means to endure in all things and remain faithful to His Word, for "he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). In Matthew 24, Christ speaks of the coming persecutions and world chaos, as well as the rise of false prophets and teachers, who will show great signs and wonders which will lead multitudes astray. There will increasingly be the temptation to escape the way of trial through compromise or denial of His Word. There will also be those who follow after signs and supernatural phenomena to such an extent that they will fail to use discrimination, and will allow themselves to be deceived and led astray. More and more there will be a separation of true overcomers from nominal Christians in this end-time, as satanic pressures and delusions increase.
No one will be allowed to plead that they were not able to stand because of their lack of strength, for the saints in the church at Philadelphia, although weak, used what little strength they had and endured. Jesus commended them, saying, "I know thy works; behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name" (3:9). God will not allow us to excuse our failures on the basis of weakness, for He has promised us: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (I Corinthians 10:13). Moreover, He invites us to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).
A missionary to China, who gave a brief testimony at a deeper-life convention at which I was speaking, tells in her book concerning her work in China how God dealt quite sternly with her in this regard. She related that during a particularly trying time when certain trials and problems were about to overwhelm her, she cried out for the Lord to lighten her load as her burdens were too heavy to bear. In an audible voice, His stern rebuke was, "Pray for more grace"! Overcomers are not promised a life free from trial, but grace to overcome through trial. The saints at Philadelphia had just a little strength, which with God's grace was all they needed to endure. In this hour, God is not looking for those with great strength, talent, and intellect, so that they might work independently of Him and boast of their accomplishments. He is looking for the simple, the weak, the foolish, the base, and the despised (I Corinthians 1:26-29) who will be consecrated vessels, willing to yield themselves totally to Him, and who will keep His Word and endure.
g. Overcomers will be spiritually zealous, overcoming the temptation to lukewarmness and apathy (Revelation 3:14-22).
Our generation is motivated by the principle of
conformity and compromise. Vagueness and neutrality characterize every-thing
from politics to religion, Nothing is really just black or white today; everything
seems to be just a neutral gray. It is growing increasingly unpopular to be
definite or specific about anything in the area of religion, for fear of
offending. Anyone who tries to be positive and clear about his convictions is
labeled "dogmatic," "authoritarian," or
"divisive." The result is that most tend to either compromise or
conceal their convictions about the Christian faith with a sickly
"lukewarmness," which Jesus rebukes, saying, "So then because
thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my
mouth" (3: 16). The current revolt by the younger generation is in great
part a protest against the spirit of our age: the spirit of conformity,
compromise, and lukewarmness.
The apathy and lukewarmness of the contemporary church is due to several factors, such as the inroads of liberal theology in the churches, denying the inspiration of the Scripture, and consequently denying its authority to command our obedience. In addition, lukewarmness results from the development of the unscriptural distinction between a professional "clergy," who now bear the burden of responsibility of fulfilling the church's commission, and a "laity," whose primary function has become that of mere spectators at religious services at 11:00 A.M. on Sunday. Also, in consequence of the church's loss of the experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, whereby genuine praise and worship, ministry by the body, and the miraculous and supernatural have now been replaced by stereotyped liturgy, denominational boards, programs, and organizations, the body of Christ has become spiritually lukewarm. Sadly, Christians, for the most part, seem to find it easier to accept this state of affairs than to heed Christ's admonition to be zealous and repent (3:19). To the contemporary church, which Satan has seduced into remaining lukewarm in the face of the great moving of the Spirit of God today throughout the world, boasting, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," Jesus replies, "Thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Nor are those multitudes of Christians really any better off who, although they have received the infilling of the Holy Spirit, have stopped at Pentecost, laid down their mantle, and have become lukewarm spectators once more. No one who is satisfied with the contemporary religious status quo can be an overcomer in the foregoing seven realms.
h. Overcomers will be victorious concerning eight temptations and sins which are named in Revelation 21:7-8.
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
We have described for us here, not an occasional lapse or sub-mission to temptation, but the character and conduct which characterizes those who will not enter the kingdom. However, the real issue is the fact that overcomers will have completely overcome these eight forms of temptation and will not be tainted by them in any way. That is why they are called "overcomers."
(1) The fearful.
This refers, first of all, to those like the man in the parable of the talents who knew his lord to be "an austere man," but was afraid to use what he had been entrusted with, so he hid his talent in the earth. The parable is a commentary on the spiritual state of multitudes in the churches, whose lives are barren and fruitless, and consequently worthless to the Kingdom of God. He includes those who shrink back in fear from the trials and tests of their Christian faith, and compromise their convictions, as well as those who, being fearful of the cost, turn aside because of the burden of bearing a cross and living the crucified life. Being fearful, they do not overcome. Overcomers will trust God in the face of every trial and circumstance, resigning themselves in total dependence upon Him in every matter, whether great or small.
(2) The unbelieving.
The reference here is to the scoffers, doubters, skeptics, and faithless. God, in no uncertain terms, gives us His attitude toward the unbelieving in Hebrews 11:6 and Romans 14:23, saying that "without faith it is impossible to please him," and that "whatsoever is not of faith is sin." No matter how religious one may be, or how zealously he may study the Word and pray, we are told that unless there is faith, it is impossible to please God. Israel was severely rebuked for her unbelief because she "limited the Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 78:41). Jesus repeatedly reproved His listeners for their weak faith or lack of it. He was aware that the key to an overcoming life was faith, and because of this, He continually stressed the need of maturing in the faith and of maintaining total trust in God in everything. The Scriptures tell us that "this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
(3) The abominable.
The abominable are those who willingly defile themselves with all manner of sin, usually without restraint. Their thoughts and speech are filled with obscenities, and their fleshly appetites generally control their actions. The spiritual discernment of the abominable is practically non-existent, and their moral character is low and base. Overcomers will be those who, by God's grace, are led by the Spirit, having put off the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21); who bear the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23); and who have "crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (5:24).
Not merely the overt act is meant, but those who overcome will also have put away all anger, hate, resentment, and malice toward others. Jesus said "that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matthew 5:22), and we are told emphatically in I John 3:15 that "whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him," For those who would follow in the footsteps of Jesus and come to the fullness of His stature, His demands in this regard are absolute and without compromise. We are admonished: "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Certainly overcomers will not be brought into subjection to any form of sexual uncleanness and unrestraint, even in marriage. Such practices as the reading of erotic literature, self abuse, and unclean conversation, as well as lustful habits or fornication in any form, will be avoided. Jesus absolutizes this requirement by expanding it to include sexual purity in thought as well as deed (Matthew 5:27-28).
God's attitude concerning those who participate in the occult is that they "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone." All forms of fortune telling, spiritism, magic practices, and involvement in the false religious cults and their teachings are absolutely forbidden by Scripture.
The Word of God clearly condemns all forms of occultism, such as ESP, hypnosis, astrology, water witching, fortune telling, telepathy, use of the Ouija board or pendulum, and magic charming or healing, as well as attending or participating in seances, spiritualists' meetings, or other false religious cults, such as Christian Science, Unity, Jehovah's Witness, Rosicrucianism, Inner Peace Movement, and so on. The practice of table-tipping, automatic writing, or involvement in any way with psychics, clairvoyants, and mediums is also forbidden. The Scriptures declare: "They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21), nor come into the presence of God (Revelation 22:14-15), but "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone" (Revelation 21:8), "for all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord" (Deuteronomy 18:12). Carefully note the following Scriptures: Deuteronomy 18:9-14; Exodus 7:11-12; II Timothy 3:8; Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 19:26, 31; 20:6, 27; I Chronicles 10:13-14; II Kings 21:5-6; Isaiah 2:6; 8:19; Jeremiah 27:8-10; Zechariah 10:2; Malachi 3:5; Acts 8:9f.; Acts 16:16f.; Acts 19:19; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 21:8; 22:15.
Generally, the term idolatry means the paying of divine honors, or giving worship to, some created thing, such as the worship of nature in some form (animals, sun, moon, fire), or the worship of one's ancestors, or other gods through some image or figure. However, the term in the New Testament is also used to designate covetousness, whereby material possessions become the object of one's affections. Covetousness is called "idolatry" in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 (cf. Matthew 6:24), and unrestrained appetite and gluttony is also included under this category in Philippians 3:19 (cf. Romans 16:18; II Timothy 3:4).
Our materialistic society, in which even the contemporary church often measures spiritual progress in terms of its financial solvency, is a continual threat to the scriptural emphasis upon believers holding true spiritual values above temporal things. Acquiring the so-called necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter, as well as attaining material security, occupies most of the attention of the human race the greater part of the time. In fact, one would be thought abnormal if this were not his central interest. All one's life from birth to death—whether at home, school, or his place of employment—is focused upon achieving material security as the primary object and goal of life. In like manner, the basic concern of government is not who will win the space race, nor achieving lasting peace in the world, but it is, and always has been, economic. Any political system succeeds or fails, in the final analysis, in how well it enables its citizens to achieve a measure of material prosperity, while maintaining some degree of financial solvency. In a culture where "mammon" is being increasingly worshipped as a god, overcomers will be those who set their affections on things above and not on things on the earth, thereby keeping themselves free from covetousness which is idolatry.
Truth will be the one virtue above all others that will characterize overcomers and adorn their spirits. They will have their "loins girt about with truth, and [have] on the breastplate of righteousness" (Ephesians 6:14). The level of contemporary Christianity is such that even among Christians certain degrees of truth are permitted, and such practices as the so-called "white lie," "half-truth," or "evasive answer" have been accepted as a normal part of the mores of our society. Nevertheless, the Scriptures clearly condemn all forms of deviation from the truth, never justifying them, whether done for sake of expediency, or a deliberate untruth told for the purpose of deceiving others. Inward sincerity and outward truthfulness are attributes that give evidence of an overcoming life.
5. Commitment: The pathway into the deeper life is total commitment to the demands of discipleship.
The term "total commitment" is not new to
most Christians, for they have been challenged at some time or other to make such
a consecration to God and His kingdom. However, there is no precise agreement
among Christians as to just what "total commitment" really means. To one
group it means one thing and to another something quite different. The
institutional church conceives of total commitment as unswerving loyalty to the
denominational program. Many of the Pentecostal brethren would define it in
terms of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In this instance, receiving the
infilling of the Spirit is evidence that one has now made total commitment and
has fully consecrated himself to the Lord. Total commitment, to others, means
surrendering one's life to missionary service in some foreign land; to others,
it is consecrating oneself in a life of fasting, prayer, and devotion to the
Word. Accepting the call to preach, teaching a Sunday
School class, or the conversion experience itself constitute total commitment
in the minds of some.
However, an individual may do all these things and still not have made total commitment to Christ, for until the Holy Spirit reveals unto you what total commitment is, you cannot make it. Multitudes who are loyal to their denominational programs, or who have dedicated their lives to various Christian causes or callings, as well as many who have received the infilling of the Holy Spirit, nevertheless, still live lives that are spiritually shallow and fruitless, and filled with self-interest and concern.
Just what, then, is total commitment in view of the fact that so many who feel they have made it apparently have not done so? Total commitment may be summed up in one verse of Scripture in the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless 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." Total commitment is acceptance of the crucified life. It is giving up the "self-life" in death, and accepting the total demands of discipleship as Jesus sets them forth in Luke 9:57-62 and 14:25-33. These passages should be carefully read as the basis for the discussion which follows.
Giving up the "self-life" in death is total commitment. Why? Simply because one cannot do more than die. The death Christ calls us to in Luke 9 and 14 is the death of the self-life, whereby we are called to take up the cross of discipleship. We live in an age when the term disciple" has no real significance and meaning for the average Christian. The modern-day church has substituted many things in the place of total consecration, such as church membership, religious activities and programs, dedication of one's life to full-time Christian service, or busyness with church work or social efforts. Even such secular programs as the Peace Corps are commended by many denominations and have assumed a certain religious aura, perhaps due to the sense of consecration one feels through such participation.
Discipleship, however, is something quite different from all this. It is taking up the cross and following Jesus. And one takes up a cross for only one purpose: to die on it. Until we die, we cannot make total commitment, for total commitment is dying. It is not, moreover, just dying any death, but it is following Jesus to the death of the cross. This is what Christ Himself insisted that discipleship to Him would require, for He said: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." Jesus is now calling out a people who are willing to give total commitment to Him in everything: not simply for some who are willing to get busier in religious activities or church work, but disciples who will so identify with Him in His sufferings and death that He can fill them with the fullness of Himself.
The message of discipleship, as Jesus proclaimed it, presents a real crisis in the lives of most Christians when they learn that He expects them to take His words literally, when He said, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." They can accept the fact he expected the early disciples to do so. They can accept the fact that soldiers must surrender their freedom and come under the stern discipline and authority of others, giving their lives when necessary. They do not think it strange that communists willingly give total commitment to their philosophy, nor that political leaders expect and receive total loyalty from their followers. But, to give total commitment to Christ—it sounds so idealistic and so remote from reality today. "Surely He does not really expect of us what He required of the apostles" is what is so often heard from Christians today. However, a careful reading of Luke 14:25-33 will show quite clearly what He does require, for we read in verse 25 that He spoke these stern words, not to the apostles, but to the "multitudes" which followed Him. Three times in this passage He clearly states the fact that unless one makes total commitment to Him without reservation, "he cannot be my disciple." In the passage in Luke 9, He likewise declares, with absolute finality, the nature of His call, saying, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
In Luke 9 and 14, Jesus emphasizes the total demands of discipleship. Christ's call demands immediate response. Christ's call demands total response. This is why His call to discipleship presents such a crisis to professing Christians who live in an age with so many religious substitutes obscuring the real nature of discipleship. Truly, His call to discipleship is a stern demand. Who is equal to it? Who can meet it? The answer is: no one! No one at all. And yet Christ does not modify His demand upon our lives as a concession to our weakness, nor adjust His requirements to adapt to our modern-day anemic Christianity. This is precisely why He offers us the Holy Spirit, for it is only through the Spirit that we can understand the nature of Jesus' call, consecrate ourselves to it, and meet His demands upon us.
It is not unfair to say that, intentionally or not, the institutional church has deluded its members concerning the need for and validity of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. However, the Scriptures are plain: genuine discipleship without the baptism in the Holy Spirit is impossible. It is easy to see, then, why the church today, without the experience of the infilling of the Spirit, no longer preaches the Biblical message of discipleship, and has substituted religious programs and activities to compensate for its lack of the power of the Holy Spirit, Thus, in the face of all the contemporary religious activism and spiritual shallowness, God confronts us once again with the message of discipleship to Jesus, calling us to follow in His steps into the deeper life in the Spirit.
What exactly does Christ teach regarding the nature of true discipleship to Him? What are the characteristics of a disciple? What are the demands of discipleship? In Luke 9 and 14, we find certain conditions laid down by Christ as requirements for those who would be His disciples and desire to press on into the deeper life. There are six conditions in all; six places in our lives where He tests us. These are areas of our lives which are so close to our affections, so much a part of us, that only those who are hungering for the deeper life of the Spirit will be willing to pay the cost.
Six Conditions of Discipleship
1. Discipleship is: the total forsaking of all things for Christ.
And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests: but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
– Luke 9:57-58
Jesus calls upon those who follow
Him to forsake all interest in everything else, whether possessions, material
security, career, family, or friends, insofar as they would in any way hinder
us in our total commitment to discipleship. This condition kept the rich young
ruler from discipleship and entrance into the kingdom. This is why the
preachers of popular religion never touch on the total demands of discipleship;
or, if they do, they take all the "sting" out of it with their
fanciful interpretations of what Jesus meant by "forsaking all," when
He said in Luke 14:33, "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that
he hath, cannot be my disciple." All through His ministry Jesus urged His
followers to consider what one must be willing to undergo in order to be His
disciple. It meant, first of all, to forsake all interest in building a life
and future in this world. From what He tells us in Mark 10:28-30, we see that
He does not mean that God cannot give us material blessings, but that we are to
forsake all interest in material things and they are to hold no affection in
our hearts. Even our families cannot be allowed to hinder our consecration to
Him. People's values today are
confused. The churches are filled with professing followers of Jesus who have
little time for discipleship. They are madly rushing about seeking security,
recognition, and success, while they plan and build for the future, as if this
world were going to last forever, completely oblivious to the demands of Jesus
for total commitment. The Spirit is sending forth
repeated warnings in this hour that "the world is passing away, and the
lust thereof" (I John 2:17), and that soon there will not be any future to
plan for. The present is all the time there is to prepare for His return.
The three individuals in Luke 9 who sought to be Jesus' disciples represent three categories of people in the religious world who desire to follow Jesus, but on their own terms. In the first instance, we see the impetuous disciple. He is still with us today. He is usually the first to respond to Jesus' call, saying, "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest." There is seldom any weighing of the destination, and no counting the cost first, as Jesus clearly tells us to do in Luke 14:28: "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?" Jesus warned those who would follow Him not to make some hasty or rash decision, but first to make sure they knew where He was going so that they would know where they were going—for He was going to the cross. The cross must come before the crown.
But the impetuous disciple is like some of those described in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, who received seed in the stony places. They often receive the word with joy, but because they are not rooted and grounded in the Scriptures, they fall away in time of tribulation over the Word. Or, like others, they receive the seed among thorns, and the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches choke the Word and they become unfruitful.
A student in a religious school where I taught, who had felt the call to prepare for Christian service, revealed that he was an "impetuous disciple" by his reaction to Jesus' teaching concerning discipleship. His incredulous reply to Jesus' words was, "Jesus only expected such total commitment by the twelve disciples. We are not called to be disciples today!" When shown his untenable position from Scripture, he then remarked with resignation, "I cannot live up to such requirements." Sadly, he was not alone in his views, but reflected the attitude of many of the students. The churches and religious schools are filled with impetuous disciples who have said to Jesus, "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest," without the slightest notion of where Jesus is going. They have never been told His destination; they have never heard the message of the crucified life; and as a consequence they have misinterpreted the call of Jesus to be something else, something less than the cross.
Jesus is not asking something of His followers that is impossible. He is asking us only to do for Him what we have already done in one way or another, either to please ourselves or others, We have already made total commitment to something—family, career, wife, husband, political ideology, church, or denomination. There is no such thing as being unable to make total commitment. Many of those who contend they cannot forsake all for Christ, nevertheless will suffer and die for their country, forsake all for their loved ones, or will suffer untold hardship and deprivation to achieve personal recognition in pursuit of a career.
In my experience as a pastor, I have observed that, all too often, those who are the first to commit themselves to some work of the kingdom or service to Christ do so impetuously, without regard to the cost, and as a result are often the first to fail on their commitment. In one instance, for example, one man had boasted that he would be the last to forsake a new work which we had undertaken, but, in actual fact, he was the first to fall away. "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33).
2. Discipleship is: the voluntary abandonment of the normal course of human affairs due to the urgency of proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.
– Luke 9:59-60
The imperative urgency of
witnessing to the "living dead" is such importance to Christ, in
contrast to the everyday affairs life, that He declares to this man that even
the formalities of the funeral, the normal expression of bereavement and paying
one's respect to the dead, are to be set aside when the occasion demands.
Although some will attempt to rationalize Jesus' meaning here in an effort to
justify their weak faith, nevertheless, Jesus said what He meant and meant what
He said. This is precisely what God required of the prophet Ezekiel. As a sign
to Israel of her coming fate, the prophet was forbidden to mourn or weep, or
show any indication of bereavement at his wife's death (Ezekiel 24:15-27).
In like manner, a missionary friend of the writer was on board a ship, leaving for the mission field, when he received word of the death of his father. He was torn between the normal desire to "go bury his father," or to keep his face turned to the mission field without further delay. His choice was to obey Luke 9:60 and go "preach the kingdom of God." When my own children were involved in a serious automobile accident a few years ago, one suffering severe injuries, which included broken bones, my wife and I were away in a meeting where I was to speak on the message of faith and divine healing. When we learned of the accident, we decided to claim their healing by faith and remain to fulfill our commission before returning, giving a living testimony, thereby, to the message I had come to proclaim. We did not regret our decision, for God miraculously healed them without medical treatment!
Thus, again we see that Jesus demands total commitment and total response to His call. Jesus' demands cannot be met by those whose hunger is for less than the fullness of God and the deeper life of the Spirit. Not bury your father? Not pay one's respects to the dead? Not rush to the hospital when your children are seriously injured? Not mourn or weep at the passing of your wife? What would people think of such a radical forsaking of the normal course of human affairs? We are all well aware of what others would think, and that is precisely why Jesus' teachings on total discipleship are generally avoided today. Jesus is not saying that once we accept the call of discipleship, we are never to attend a funeral again, nor show any concern in behalf of others, but not when it would cause delay in our commitment to the kingdom, or if it would in any way hinder the proclamation of the Word.
The problem of the disciple in Luke 9 is that of many today. He desired to be a disciple, but one of his own making—he was a "me first" disciple. He replied to Jesus' call, "Oh, yes, I will follow you, only allow me first to go and take care of my personal affairs." This sums up the problem of so many today who think they want to go into the deeper things with the Lord, but cannot rid themselves of their selfish desire to follow Christ on the basis of "me first." The pathway into the deeper life requires total commitment, without reservation, Discipleship to Jesus is not for those who wish to reserve some portion of their lives for selfish use. No, it will cost us everything. But that is not the end of the matter; after we have given all, then we are required to give ourselves and take up the cross and follow in Jesus' steps. The remarkable thing is that Jesus put the same call upon this would-be disciple as upon Matthew, Peter, James, John, and the other apostles. He said the same thing to him as unto them: "Follow me." But there was a great difference in their reactions. Matthew and the others, unlike this man, did not reserve to themselves the right of any delay in their response. They did not feel, once the call came to them, that there could ever be anything of sufficient importance to cause a delay in their response, or cause them to put something else before the call of Jesus.
3. Discipleship is: the refusal to look back after choosing the Kingdom.
And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
– Luke 9:61-62
Lot's wife looked back—and as a consequence, perished. This illustrates just how serious the situation under consideration is. Looking back can be, in some instances, a pleasant and happy occasion for us. A part of the joy of one's life in later years is to be able to look back, remembering and reminiscing about the pleasant experiences with friends and loved ones in former years. We all know the warm joy we feel in our hearts as we look back and share with others such things as our pleasant childhood experiences, the time of our conversion, the years with our parents at home, our courtship and marriage, some of our outstanding spiritual experiences, and so on. This God-given capacity to look back can be a pleasant experience in many ways; but there is a kind of looking back that displeases God and will issue in condemnation.
And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that [the angel] said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee.... But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
– Genesis 19:17, 26
You might ask, "Why such a
severe punishment for such a seemingly trivial act on her part? Why did God
judge her so harshly for merely looking back to the city of Sodom?" Jesus
answers this Himself in Luke 9:62. Lot's wife in looking back proved herself
unworthy for the Kingdom of God. Her sin was not the mere act of looking
back; but this act was her testimony that she did not want to leave the
wickedness of Sodom, that she was leaving against her will, and that her heart
was still in Sodom. In this she was like the Israelites in their continual
longing to return to Egypt. It was their desire to return to Egypt that
revealed the true nature of their hearts, and thus excluded them from entrance
into the Promised Land. Outwardly they had left Egypt, but in their hearts they
had never forsaken their sin and idolatry. Their hearts were still as much
attached to the world on their march to the Promised Land as they had been
while still in Egypt. They could never enter Canaan. It was impossible because
their hearts had never forsaken Egypt.
When the call of God comes to us to escape Sodom or Egypt, or to go forward with the message of the kingdom, He does not expect us to come when we are ready, or when we have satisfied the wishes of those at home, or alter we have completed some task that we are interested in, but we are to come at once, without delay. Many would-be disciples have misinterpreted the seriousness of Jesus' call, thinking that because they have mentally accepted the call, they can follow Jesus on their own terms. This is how Lot's wife was deluded. She thought that she had escaped the judgment of Sodom because she had moved her physical body outside the doomed city; but the affections of her heart were still inside Sodom, so she too suffered its fate. Jesus' warning is clear. As long as one's heart is still in Sodom, he has not yet escaped Sodom.
Many believe, for example, that they have escaped the future judgment by coming under the protection of membership in some church; yet their hearts are still in Sodom, their affections are still on the things of this world. Many people are deceiving themselves. They have heard God's call to escape the approaching judgment upon this world; they have put their hands to the plow, but instead of plowing, they are looking back, trying to hold onto the old associations and the old ways, because this is where their heart is. In Luke 17:32, in the context of speaking of His return and the judgment to fall upon such careless, deluded individuals, Jesus warns, "Remember Lot's wife." It is very clear from Jesus' warning here that He expects us to see the spiritual significance of her sin of "looking back."
The easiest way for a runner to lose a race is to look back over his shoulder to see how much he is ahead or how close the other runners are. In the delay caused in the two or three seconds it takes him to look back, others may pass him, rushing ahead to win the race. When Jesus sends forth His call for disciples, He always includes in the call the admonition, "Do not look back." Jesus' concern is that we do not burn the candle at both ends, seeking to preserve a life in this world and attain one in the next at the same time. The disciple in Luke 9:61 had only one flaw in his commitment, but it was a fatal one. He said, "Lord, I will follow thee, but...." "But what?" Jesus asks. The reply comes, "When I have finished this task." "If the cost isn't too great." "When I get all my affairs and problems straightened out." There are some who feel that they could give up their worldly possessions, and if occasion demanded they could forego expression of bereavement, but to give such consecration, such total response to Jesus' call that they must never look back—what a price to pay!
There the Master leaves it. Attempting to soften or reinterpret His demands, in an effort to make them more acceptable to others, is both dangerous and deceiving. Most of us have been taught that Christianity is not giving up anything, but that it is receiving a gift from God. Jesus puts an end to this pious little deception by His stern teachings on discipleship. Discipleship to Jesus is giving up everything—it is forsaking all else! He tells us that it will cost us everything. This is why the religious multitudes will turn away from Jesus' teachings on total commitment.
But they do not all turn away, praise God. Let me relate one example. In one of the groups where I teach God's Word each week, a certain woman came to me for counseling and prayer. It seems her husband, who was unsaved, resented her attendance at these meetings and after a time his opposition increased to the point that he demanded she not only discontinue her attendance, but also renounce her Christian faith entirely. He announced that he was the head of their home, and from henceforth she was to give all her allegiance to him instead of Christ. She must, he warned, make a choice between them. Her reply was simply, "But I do not have any choice. I have served Jesus since I was a young girl. I cannot renounce Him now." In this humble confession of faith, she gladly paid the cost of discipleship, refusing to look back after having put her hand to the plow.
4. Discipleship is: the expression of total love for Christ.
If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and tie, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
– Luke 14:26
Those who experience the deeper
life in the Spirit will give the same devotion to Christ that He did to the
Father—total love. Christ is to be put before all else, including one's self.
Sooner or later Jesus confronts those who are receiving the infilling of His
Spirit in these last days with the total demands of discipleship and of total
commitment to Him. Our affection, even for those dearest to us, must be as
"hate" in contrast to our love and devotion to Him. He is saying,
when we are compelled to choose between Him and something less, we are to hate
the alternative and choose Him. In fact, until we come to the place whereby we
see that we really have no choice when anything or anyone else is offered as an
alternative to Christ, then we do not yet know the Biblical meaning of
discipleship. Moreover, we will never be able to go deeper with God until we
accept the sobering fact that Christ will not allow us to "share" our
love and affection that belong to Him with others or other things of this
world, for He is a jealous God.
The theologians and commentaries will give us a thousand reasons why Jesus' words to "hate" father, mother, wife, husband, band children, are not to be taken literally. They say this would contradict His other teachings in Scripture which tell us to love even our enemies, and that "God is love." Such reasoning is in itself a contradiction and deceptive. Since it is God himself who tells us both to love our wives and husbands (Ephesians 5), and to hate them (Luke 14:26), then certainly we can assume that He is not going to contradict Himself. Therefore, the Scriptures themselves will give us His meaning, which is that we are to hate the "alternative" to Christ, whatever it may be. He tells us just this in Matthew 10:34-37, saying,
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother...and a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Certainly, we are genuinely to love others for their own sake, but our love and devotion to Christ cannot be shared with anyone else, or it will be less than He requires from us—total love. It is the sin of attempting to "share" our love, our time, our talents, our devotion, our affection for Him with less worthy objects that constitutes spiritual "adultery," and keeps us from going deeper with God. What, then, is the solution? How can we love others as the Scriptures command, and at the same time give total love to Christ? When He tells us to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," He does not mean by this that we are to seek anything else second, but that we are to seek only the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Therefore, whatever love and interest we have for others and other things from the moment of our conversion to Christ is, thereafter, to be an expression of our love for Him and will find its meaning and fulfillment in Him. We are truly disciples only when we have been brought to see that our love for others is but a visible outgrowth of our love for Christ (I John 4:20), and not a dividing of our love between Him and them. In this way we can give total love to Christ and love others at the same moment, for it is in the total consecration of all our affections to Him that we can reach out and embrace all others in that love. Only in our selfish attempt to divide our love between Him and others do we discover that we can love neither Him nor others as we ought.
5. Discipleship is: the total denial of self, in contrast to "self-denial."
If any man come to me, and hate not his...own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
– Luke 14:26
This is perhaps the most
difficult aspect of His command. The inability to deny "self" is,
without doubt, the greatest hindrance to total commitment and the deeper life.
We have been taught all our lives to develop a "self-image"; that is,
self-respect, self-confidence, self-assurance, self-reliance, and
self-awareness. The "self-made" man, who succeeds in life unaided by
the help of others, is highly respected in our culture; and an independent
spirit, whereby one develops confidence in his own ability, wisdom, and
judgment, is looked upon with admiration by most. It is little wonder, then, in
view of this, that Jesus' message of the crucifixion of self presents such a
crisis to most Christians today.
The denial of self is such an enigma to most that even when one accepts Jesus' teaching and would seek to put it into practice, it is generally reduced to a "work of the flesh," because of a lack of understanding of the real nature of the crucified life, as a result of wrong teaching on the subject. It must be made clear that the denial of "self" and "self-denial" are not the same thing, and the latter usually becomes a substitute for the former. Mere self-denial may simply mean abstaining from certain foods for health considerations, or because of a weight problem. It may mean financial sacrifices, or the foregoing of certain pleasures or luxuries, in order to send a child through college. Self-denial can mean severing family ties in a certain community to accompany one's husband moving to another state in order to secure employment. For others, it may require giving up smoking because of the threat of lung cancer, and so on. This is self-denial, but it is not the denial of "self."
The denial of the "self," in the Biblical sense, is the death of self. It is the crucifixion of the self-life and the self-will (the selfish will). It is placing "self" on the altar as a living sacrifice. It is willingly surrendering to Christ all claim to a self-life, lived independently of Him. It is the surrender of one's entire being—body, mind, soul, and spirit—to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The denial of self is the crucifixion of self in four basic areas of our lives. These are areas of extreme importance in maintaining the self-life, and it is precisely for this reason that until they are surrendered to Christ one cannot make total commitment unto Him. When Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself" and that he is to "hate his own life also," He had reference to the sacrifice of our love of possessions, love of position, love of praise, and love of privilege.
In the surrender of our love for possessions we are called to put devotion to the kingdom before our desire for material possessions (Matthew 6:19-34), and to set our affections on things above, not on the earth (Colossians 3:2-3). Material possessions are to hold no affection in our hearts. Although we may be abundantly blessed with them, nevertheless, they are but a means to an end, not an end in themselves.
Emptying oneself of the desire for position is to heed Jesus' command for His disciples to serve one another, for "whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister." Total commitment is giving up all desire to be a leader in the world, or in the religious systems of men, and becoming a servant in the Kingdom of God.
To deny self is to crucify the desire for praise and recognition from others. Jesus tells us that it is the "secret" prayers, alms, and fastings which please God and are rewarded, whereas those who seek praise for their deeds have, in receiving such recognition, also received their reward (Matthew 6). The "self" will generally resist crucifixion at this place more than any other, and must at times be restrained by willful, conscious effort in order not to submit to the temptation to be recognized, especially when we have made some unusual sacrifice of labor, time, or money. The enemy is subtle and will tempt one to rationalize at times, suggesting that we really are not seeking recognition, but that God will not be glorified unless we give a testimony of our good deed or sacrifice on another's behalf. Foregoing praise for oneself, and recognizing the merits of others instead, is an excellent corrective for this weakness. Therefore, "let nothing be done through...vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves."
Giving up the love of privilege is surrendering the desire to defend oneself, one's rights, name, position, or possessions. Until we are willing to take literally Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and turn the other cheek when abused, refrain from the defense of our rights and property in courts of law, and genuinely love our enemies, blessing them that curse us, doing good to them that hate us, and praying for them that despitefully use and persecute us, then we shall never understand the message of the deeper life in the Spirit.
Every man must commit himself to some central interest. If he does not deny himself and make Christ central, then he will put other things in His place—possessions, position, family, career, business, or even religious work. Therefore, Jesus said, "If any man come after me, let him deny himself." Until Christ replaces the "self" in us (Galatians 2:20), we will make some selfish interest the center of our lives.
6. Discipleship is: counting the cost and choosing the cross.
And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
– Luke 14:27-28
No one ever made total commitment who did not count
the cost first and willingly pay it, for one cannot make total commitment until
he knows what it is. Many think that they have done so, until they learn the
real nature of discipleship to Christ. Then they discover that, in reality,
they have not been following Jesus, but some man-made religious system, a
denomination, a popular Bible teacher, or a religious movement of one kind or
another. Discipleship to Jesus is the foregoing five-fold pathway; it is
pressing on into the deeper life in the Spirit. But it is also, as He says in
Luke 14:27-28, counting the cost and choosing the cross. To choose discipleship
is to bear the cross and follow after Jesus.
Bearing the cross is not what most have been led to believe. It is not accepting sickness or suffering as a cross, nor seeing how much pain we can bear without drugs, for even the unsaved can suffer this, often bearing their pain and affliction more stoically than many Christians. Our pains and diseases have already been borne by Christ on His cross (Isaiah 53:4-5; Matthew 8:16-17), and we are to appropriate by faith the healing provided for us in the atonement. Our cross cannot be sickness and disease, or we would be saying that His death was not enough, and we must add our works to His. Our cross is not the alcoholic husband or wife we must bear for the children's sake, nor the overbearing employer, nor the lying deceit of our neighbor. Bearing the cross is not losing a son in a senseless war, nor struggling to make ends meet because of the high cost of living. It is not dedication of one's life to full-time Christian work, nor giving up a career that is inconsistent with our commitment to Christ.
What then is it to bear our cross and follow Jesus? To answer this we must ask another question. What do men do with a cross when they pick it up? Where are they going, bearing the cross? Where was Jesus going with His cross?—for this is where He tells us we are to follow, saying, "Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple." Bearing the cross does not mean one thing for Jesus and something different for us. What it signified for Him, suffering and death at Calvary, will also be true for us. Crosses are not mere symbols or ornaments on churches—a cross is to die on. Therefore, Jesus warns us, do not pick it up unless you are willing to die. The cross today no longer signifies what it did in Jesus' day. It has become something beautiful and attractive—an ornament on the church steeple, or something to be worn around the neck, or a lovely decoration on the cover of a Bible. But the cross, in the message of Jesus, signified an instrument of suffering and death.
The cross is a path deliberately chosen. No one chooses death accidentally, and no one, therefore, is going to be crucified accidentally in this end-time move of God. The way into the deeper life is the crucified way. It is the way of trial, tribulation, testing, and purging. It is the way appointed to disciples (I Thessalonians 3:1-4), for "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). There is no such thing as finding some other pathway into the deeper life besides the way of trial; without trials you would be walking in the wrong way. When the fainthearted, pampered twentieth-century Christian pleads, "But isn't there an easier way?" Jesus replies, "But tribulation is the way" (Acts 14:22). "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Affliction and trial are not obstacles to be avoided at all costs, but they are the way into the kingdom. Jesus never tells His disciples to seek to avoid trials, or He would have to translate them to heaven immediately after conversion. He said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation."
Disciples are those who have given up their lives unto death by the crucifixion of "self"; who have ceased in their quest for an easier way into the kingdom, and who have come to see that it is the endurance of trial, not the avoidance, which is the way into the deeper life. Disciples are those who have counted the cost and have chosen the cross, and who, with the Apostle Paul, desire to know the "fellowship of [Christ's] sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." These are disciples, and it is these and these alone who will be brought by the Spirit of God "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."
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