Having Done All… Stand!
The apostle Paul bids us: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). At this our flesh may bellow, “True, but not practical and not likely!” Meanwhile, our spirit languishes even in acknowledging the truth of Paul’s exhortation because we choose to feed our flesh more than our spirit. Most of us, of course, understand that maturing spiritually involves sustained discipline toward growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), and most of us also understand that this is where our individual choices and perseverance are sorely tested.
We may genuinely desire to “walk in the Spirit” but the actual doing is difficult–by design–so we put off, adopt religious pretense, give up, then secretly hope that our noble intent and God’s grace somehow excuse us from the necessary obedience. In truth, many Christians do not genuinely desire to walk in spiritual discipline; if they did they would do so. Rather, they want to desire to walk in such and are therefore two steps behind, not just one. And that one step is what keeps too many would-be disciples from the freedom of actual obedience.
How, Then, Do We Walk In the Spirit?
Jesus offers a profoundly simple solution that is too often neglected or dismissed for its simplicity: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength… and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). Certainly, pursuing these greatest of the commandments will safeguard one from yielding to the lust of the flesh. But how does one progress beyond merely agreeing with this truth to proactively living it? How do we break the impersonal habit of only turning to God out of reactivity to life’s crises and offering trite thanks for our blessings?
Loving the LORD our God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength means living for Him and loving with Him daily by virtue of our entire being. And this is only possible by purposefully making Him first in our lives, accomplished by proactive worship and fellowship with Jesus Christ, in season and out of season.
*With our mind we routinely study God’s Word, contemplate His Being, and rejoice in His goodness. We also bring every thought–the good and the bad–into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Timothy 2:15; Psalm 46:10; Philippians 4:8; 2 Corinthians 10:5).
*With our heart and soul/spirit we seek and invite God’s presence and revelation, for more of God is revealed to those who vigilantly pursue more of God. Our spirit yearns to press beyond merely talking to God toward conversing with Him, listening to Him, worshiping Him, and ultimately being in His transforming Presence (Proverbs 25:2; Psalm 25:5; Jeremiah 29:11-13; 33:3; Luke 24:45; John 16:13-14).
*With our strength/body we remove ourselves from distractions and humble ourselves in appropriate postures, places, and activities that invite true humility and focus, showing our King that we wholly comprehend our place in His Kingdom and in this world. The result of disciplining our body toward active fellowship with God is “worshiping in spirit and in truth” as our spirit is drawn to the very Spirit of Truth, for a true heart of worship is only developed by the sincerity of the heart in worship (Luke 5:16; John 4:21-24).
*Being that God is love, we cannot in fact love our neighbors properly until we love ourselves properly, which can only be done by allowing the Spirit of God to help us love ourselves as only He can love us. Many confuse “loving our neighbors as ourselves” with the idea of treating others as you want to be treated. But loving others in godly love moves far beyond selfish notions of humane kindness (1 John 4:7-21).
The Will To Victory
There are occasions when the war between our sin-nature and spirit-nature, always confounded by external enemies, brings us again to our despairing fallenness wherein we swiftly forsake the One who can sustain us. Paul explains this internal war in Romans 7:7-25 and could surely empathize with our fears and helplessness. In both anguish and thanksgiving he cries out: O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul well knew that an absence of heartfelt prayer and worship is an absence of power (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19). He also knew intimately the limits of humanity and offers counsel for when we reach the end of ourselves and can fight no more: Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong… and having done all, to stand (1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:13). We are to watch our awesome God be glorified as we stand in His all-consuming Presence. And it is this bearing that forges the will to victory.
My own will to victory through Christ was once tested just prior to a season of difficult decisions that would ultimately include the unintentional betrayal and loss of a brother in ministry. Difficult seasons of life, undiscerned testing by God, and besetting fears were crushing my brother, leading to areas of neglect in both his family and his personal spiritual walk. His unintentional betrayal resulted from carrying burdens and suffering enemy torment that he would have been delivered from with a heart fully surrendered to Jesus. However, clinging to woe rather than Christ led him further into a prison of shame and perpetual fear that cast out the sacrificial love required to walk in the power of the Spirit and in shepherding fellowship with myself and those he had been called to disciple (outside of his immediate family).
My trial came via a spiritual dream wherein I found myself alone in a dark place with a terrifyingly large and powerful lieutenant of Lucifer. Immediately discerning the murderous intent of the demon, I attempted to call upon the Spirit in Jesus’ name to cast the enemy away or dispel an assault. To no avail. Instantly, my mouth was locked shut and my body was paralyzed. I could not speak. Nor could I flee when the mocking monster approached and began to physically attack me. I understood that God was allowing this. I denied fear a foothold and so I did not resist the violence, which angered the enemy greatly. As I was beaten, thrown, raped, and broken, the demon blasphemed God and cursed all that was holy. A long stretch of chaos infected my mind as I suffered the affliction. The pain was unimaginable on every level.
Yet only my body was being broken, not my will or spirit. I cried out internally for the Spirit’s protection and for Jesus to save me and give me wisdom. And He did. Paul’s words suddenly fortified me… and having done all… stand. It was all I could do to even hope to stand as I was tortured to ineffective existence at the whim of the devilish creature. But my faith did stand. I remembered Job and his sifting, choosing to trust that a greater cause was being fashioned by my awesome Savior. I determined that if I was destroyed in the midst of this spiritual trial, even to the point of physical death on earth (a possibility), then so be it if it served God’s will. I glorified Him through the suffering, knowing the present miracle was simply His keeping me alive and lucid. And that is when the agent of Satan vanished, the scourging ceased.
I remained in the surreal shock of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain for some time. Having been poisoned by corruption and raw evil, my only hope of healing was in Christ Jesus through whom I would overcome the stain of deep agony and awful darkness. I had been stripped of all but Jesus’ love for me and my love for Him. Such love prepared me for the hard truth of many personally beloved disciples mistaking the Holy Spirit’s conviction for condemnation and finding more meaning and passion in the cares of the world than in Jesus and wholeheartedly serving His Kingdom.
A wayward decision by my struggling brother ended an important aspect of a fruitful ministry (even our online presence was unilaterally deleted), as he was blinded by the aforementioned cares of the world and sought to escape the unbearable weight of conviction and fear that accrues when walking more in the flesh than Spirit. This was confirmed to me and I had to disassociate, as my absence would speak louder than my presence. I asked the Spirit to bring those involved in our spiritual family to a crossroad of revelation toward experiencing true humility and intimacy with Christ. Within weeks, everyone reached out to me personally and desired a continuation of our fellowship on some level. Everyone except my brother. He reached out once but projected his own fears and contrition onto me. In so doing, he remains in a prison of spiritual pretense. My brother’s spiritual torment has even diminished on occasion, by the devil’s design, to lend a sense of victory; but it is the devil who possessed the victory in separating my brother and his family from the intimate support of a spiritual fellowship. I pray consistently for the enemy stronghold to be cast down.
Nearly a year later, the discipleship ministry continued and has since grown with a deeper and more precise focus that is certainly more challenging, as it must be, for narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:14). And as Jacob’s dislocated hip served as a physical reminder of his spiritual trial (Genesis 32:24-31), I do possess some spiritual scars that manifest physically. But I praise God as often as I can for the privilege of such refining. I pray my brother and his family find the peace and will to victory they need to not only prosper their family, but to walk in the glorious calling I know they have neglected. Such a calling, however, will require sacrificial struggle and embracing warfare in the spirit that the flesh screams to avoid.
In Christ, To Stand Is To Fight
To follow Jesus, one cannot cling to any offense (even by the devil) for any reason through any trial, or one replaces faith in Christ for faith in the trial or oneself, making peace impossible. Indeed, if we are Christ’s own, within us is a will to fight for such peace. And though this at times manifests negatively in disobedience, I believe the root of this “will to fight” rests in a deeply planted desire to vanquish darkness and regain the Paradise lost in Eden.
A shadow of humanity’s failure also resides in each of us and condemns us. Yet Jesus Christ won the Victory that we could not win for ourselves and He invites us to partake of His Victory, urging us to resist the enemy in its throes of defeat. In so doing, our inner warrior can be unleashed in proper context, granting for rightly principled leadership to develop and inspire men and women to be greater than they are. For as we turn to Christ in earnest humility we will surely receive His wisdom, grit, and power to actually walk–or stand–in His Victory. Even if those you cherish fall away, choose this day how you will live… in a prison of fear, or in the liberty of God’s love which casts out all fear? (1 John 4:18)