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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Flesh or Spirit??
One of the best questions I have ever been asked is, "How can we know (other than hindsight) whether we are in the Spirit or in the Flesh?" - that is, how do we determine if anything we do is being done "in the Spirit" or whether it is being done "in the flesh" - really, it is asking "How do we walk in the Spirit, or know we are walking in the Spirit?"

I say it is one of the best questions because it is the kind of practical "how do I" question that cuts through all the fluff. Recall in John 9 the man born blind? The one Christ healed by making mud with his spittle and putting it on the man's eyes? The man was brought before the Pharisees and asked how it was that he was healed - and he told them. He didn't know Jesus from Adam, but he knew that Jesus had healed him - and marvelled that the Pharisees didn't understand that this man had to have been sent by God. Later, after they had cast this man out of the synagog because he had rebuked them in their blindness, Christ sought him out. Recall how this played out in verses 35-38:
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you." He said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.

That is an honest faith, and I love how practical it is. Who is he that I may believe? - there is no guile in a question like that - and I see the same integrity in the question "How do I walk in the Spirit?" That is, the one who asks such a question isn't asking so that they can take the information somewhere else and use it in a theological debate - they want to know so that they can put it into practice right here and now.

Praise the Lord for people like that!

Perhaps the best way to answer such a question is to first examine what "walking in the Spirit" is not.

It Is Not Mystical Buffoonery.

I don't think it escapes the notice of any new convert that in scripture men who were not Jesus Christ did miracles. When I first came to Christ, my expectation was that I should also be able to perform the miraculous - if my faith was genuine.

As a new believer, to be sure, my experience in scripture was so naive that I hadn't noticed nor grasped as significant the fact that not every believer was doing miracles - but only the apostles, and perhaps the deacons in the church etc. My understanding of scripture was vague and this vagueness grieved me with doubts about the validity of my own faith. Surely, I thought, if my faith is genuine, I should be experiencing these miracles as a matter of course.

My expectations were based upon my understanding of God's word, and my weak understanding produced some rather unrealistic expectations. As I began to read scripture more and more, I began to notice the context of these miracles, and who was doing them and why - which explained to me why I wasn't able to generate my own miracles.

I wasn't really understanding what scripture had recorded, and my ignorance produced mystical expectations.

Ignorance works that way - we may have enough information to draw a conclusion, but until we examine the information we have carefully our conclusions are going to be questionable.

Now there are a variety of ways to deal with failed expectations:

[1] I could have decided that since I wasn't able to cure the blind and raise the dead that scripture was bunk - that is, I could have concluded that it was all a big lie.

[2] Likewise I could have concluded that scripture was true, but that I wasn't really a Christian (this was my personal favorite), since I wasn't experiencing what I thought scripture described as the normative Christian experience

[3] Furthermore, I suppose I could have decided that I lacked some key component - likely faith - so that if I could just hunker down and "believe hard enough" (picture me clenching my teeth and going purple in the face) then I might be able to do a miracle. That is, I reasoned that something was "wrong" with my faith, and if I could correct it, I would be raising the dead in no time.

[4] Or I could have (and this was where I eventually wound up) continued to study the text, certain that there was a rational explanation for why I wasn't experiencing what I was expecting. That is, I could presume that I had made an error somewhere in drawing my conclusions.

The first scenario isn't really all that mystical - it is simply unbelief.

The second scenario recognizes that scripture is true, and presumes our understanding to be likewise accurate - therefore it rationalizes the discrepancies between what is expected and what is experienced by assuming that there is something insincere about one's faith.

The third scenario, like the second, recognizes that scripture is correct and also assumes that the believer has a correct understanding of that same scripture - but doesn't go so far as to presume that the believer is in fact unsaved - but rather assumes that the blame lies in some personal deficiency.

It is from the third scenario that mysticism gets it's greatest support. Many a believer is convinced both that scripture is true, and that they are saved - but these truths seem to contradict one another since their own experience doesn't line up with the expectations that their understanding of scripture demand. The result is that they begin to pursue "what's missing" - not in their own understanding (as would bring them to the truth) - but rather they are looking for "experiences" to validate their faith. Many "charismatics" camp here.

These same sorts are prone to interpret anything and everything as having deeper meaning. Did your skin tingle once when you were praying? Probably God's Spirit! Did you think about Africa while you were on the bus? Probably God wants you to be a missionary! Did you not like what the pastor said? Probably the Holy Spirit is moving you to identify sin in the pastor's life! These are the ones whose speech is often peppered with "The Lord told me to say this to you" and other such nonsense.

Walking in the Spirit is -NOT- characterized by acting upon every whim that enters into your thoughts. That would be called "anarchy" and our God is not the Author of confusion.

There is no "inner voice" - no special "divine feeling" no measurable, magical, phenomenon that accompanies the doing of God's will. Walking in the Spirit is not mystical, not something we do based upon unseen tingles, impressions, and whatever other tomfoolery you might imagine.

Setting Your Mind On The Things Of The Spirit

Remember Romans 8 verses 5 to 8?
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Before we look at what it means to set you mind on the flesh or the Spirit - we should also remember what Paul said only a few chapters previously in Romans 6 and verse 16:
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Likewise, let's look at the first couple of verses of Romans 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Putting it all together we see that "spiritual worship" of God is this: that we are moment by moment willingly offering God free reign of our lives by being ready and determined to obey what we know to be God's Spirit within. Whenever we are indifferent to God's Spirit, or determined to go our own way - we are in the flesh. Being "in the flesh" is our default condition. Being in the Spirit is an active form of worship that says, "I am willing to obey right here and now."

Mysticism Part Two...

Okay we say, we are willing to listen to whatever the Holy Spirit tells us to do. But here we might go just as awry as we were previously in danger of going. How do we know when God is talking to us, and when we are just being idiots?

Knowing the will of God isn't a matter of sitting cross-legged, emptying your mind, and trying to "hear his voice" while chanting a soothing mantra and sniffing incense. It is first a matter of knowing God's word intimately. Consider what scripture says about how God speaks to us today:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son... - Hebrews 1:1-2a
That is how God speaks to us today - through His Son Jesus.

Not that this puts us in the same boat we were just previously in, but with a new name to chant to (Jesus) - but that we understand this to mean scripture.

Recall Peter's declaration, "though art the Christ the Son of the Living God!" - what was Christ's response? It was to say that upon this rock He (Christ) would build His church. I don't care if you think the "rock" was Peter - your loss. The rock is "the teaching" that Jesus is the Christ. Peter's declaration is (in summary form) a description of everything the apostles would eventually teach. That Jesus was the Christ - consider the new Jerusalem (not a place but a people - c.f. Revelation 21) whose 12 foundations where the teaching of the apostles. The church is built upon -that- foundation - that is what Christ was going to build the church on.

When we talk therefore about the God speaking through Christ, we are not talking about mystical voices - we are talking about the message Christ gave to the apostles and has been recorded in and as the New Testament. Instruction that opens our understanding of the old testament so that it can never be closed again.

So it isn't some mystical voice - it is a knowledge of God as given through scripture, that is understood not because we are wise, but because God imparts wisdom liberally to those who ask for it.

I know that it is not my wife's will to have, say, extremely spicy food for supper tonight. I don't need to consult with her about it, because I know her. She isn't going to suddenly have a hankering for some Cajun. Having this knowledge any time I determine to have Cajun cuisine - I do so at the expense of that knowledge - that is, I can be certain that anytime I put aside what I know to do what I want - I am certainly acting in my own interest.

It is the same with God's will. God hasn't made His will a mystery, but plainly states His will in scripture:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. - 1 Timothy 2:3,4

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. - Ephesians 5:17

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, - Ephesians 5:18

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; - 1 Thessalonians 4:3

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. - 1 Peter 2:13,14

not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, - Ephesians 6:6

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. - 1 Peter 3:17

God's will, and I am borrowing from John MacArthur's wonderfully concise work on the subject "Found: God's will" - wherein he makes the case that five things are God's will for you - first that you be saved; second, Spirit filled; third sanctified; fourth submissive; and fifth that you be willing to Suffer for doing what is right. He reasons that if you are saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and doing right to the degree that you would even suffer, you won't have any trouble knowing God's will because if you are doing these at any given moment, you won't have room to do your own will - and as Psalm 37:4 points out - you will be delighting yourself in the Lord and when you do, you should expect psalm 37:4 to be true for you - that is, your desires will reflect God's desires.

As noted above, Romans 12:2 summarizes it - offer your life as a living sacrifice - that is, be willing to set aside your own plans and goals, and be willing to do God's will - and when you do you won't be conforming to this world, but you will be transformed by God and your mind will be being renewed and little by little, you will begin to discern what is the will of God - and that will manifest itself as [1] good, [2] acceptable and [3]perfect.

Bottom Line

So how do I know whether I am in the Spirit or in the Flesh? Picture the exodus of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 12). Recall how God had slain the first born of Egypt, but spared the firstborn of the children of Israel who had the blood of the passover lamb on their door posts and lintels. They were told to eat the passover lamb with their belt fastened, sandals on their feet, and their staff in their hand. I think that is a good picture for us of someone who is in the Spirit, not slacking about, but ready and waiting for the command of the Lord. They weren't told to do this for show or for fun, but so that they would be ready to leave immediately the command should come. So it is that the one who is in the Spirit is ready for God's command because he is prepared for it, anticipating, and eagerly waiting for it. He is doing all that God has specified is His will for us, (see above), is in no way quenching the Holy Spirit by ignoring his conscience - and is resting in the certain knowledge he will do whatever God calls him to do.

Not that he will hear some inner voice or must be careful to survey the various impressions of the day to see if perhaps this isn't God trying to tell him something. God tells us not to be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you." (Psalm 32:9) By this we understand that walking in the Spirit isn't a matter of God micro-managing your affairs - as though God were some great puppet master, and wants you to consult him before deciding to take your next breath.

Truly, when a thing is coming from your flesh and not your spirit, it will be for the benefit of your flesh and not for the benefit of your spirit. The more we know God the better we are able to know what is good for our spirit, and what is the nature of our flesh. If a person wishes to be certain they are in the Spirit, they must be certain of the will of God - and in order to be certain of God's will - they must know God (and not just about God).

Knowledge about God comes from scripture and as we walk in the light of what God shows us, as God Himself is in the light we will have fellowship with God - and move from knowing about God, to knowing God as a person - much in the way that a husband and a wife know one another.

While a son or daughter may be related to his or her father - they don't really know them unless they spend time with them. It is the same with God. So the bottom line is, spend time with God. There is a difference between walking in the light and studying what walking in the light looks like. One yields a relationship - the other puffs us up with air.
posted by Daniel @ 4:37 PM  
  • At 6:11 PM, July 18, 2006, Blogger Frank Martens said…

    Paul speaks the same to the Galations in Galations 5. But what's interesting is he doesn't leave them hanging woundering what it means to walk in the Spirit... He lists what it means... Check it out.. 5:19-24

    "19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires."

  • At 9:53 AM, July 19, 2006, Blogger Daniel said…

    I think it is a common struggle, and more often than not - a silent one as our pride, even in spiritual matters, would create a tarnish free buffer zone around our reputation such that we dare not let anyone know that we have at one time, or are presently struggling to "know for sure."

    Like many things spiritual, the more we examine it the more complex it seems, until finally we realize that the reason it is so complex is because it was so simple in the first place, and we rejected the simplicity of it in favor of something more academic.

    When we ask God, "What must I do to do the work of God?" We expect something far more profound than "Believe."

  • At 11:05 AM, July 19, 2006, Blogger Frank Martens said…


    That's what I love about God's Word. It's so simple. He lives off "love me" and then we go "how" and then simply replies "love me".

    But it takes God to speak that into our darkened hearts.

  • At 6:08 PM, July 20, 2006, Blogger IB Dubbya said…

    He Who's Name Is A Fearful, Yet Blessed, Divine Pronouncement ~

    You now have a new (though likely unfaithful, as is my nature) reader!

    (In case you're into the whole link tracking thing (like I am): yes, I came from TeamPyro...via your funky picture thingy...by way of your Blogger profile.)

    ...and besides the penultimate Photobucket, it seems we may hold in common an iffinity for eloquence.

    Thanks, Daniel, for so clearly and succinctly articulating your Reason for The Hope within,


  • At 5:05 AM, July 21, 2006, Blogger Daniel said…

    ib.carlos - Glad to make your aquaintance, and thanks for the comment!


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