Friday, April 2, 2021

The whole

I had an extremely encouraging conversation with a friend who is both much younger and much smarter than I am. Those conversations can be challenging, but also rewarding. I realized in the conversation that our faith must embrace everything that we are. 

It seems to me that we fall constantly into the trap of denying one truth in order to believe another. And that seems evident in our attempts at spiritual growth: some of us attempt to deny our emotions, others attempt to deny our wills, or our bodies, or our intellects in order to achieve some sort of spirituality. But of course none of those things is actually spiritual. True spirituality is not a denial of any part of what we are, it's being all that we are under the control of the Holy Spirit, under the Lordship of Christ (Colossians 3:17).

So the path to spirituality isn't denying our emotions in order to focus on our intellects, any more than it is denying our intellects in order to focus on our wills. We are made in the image of God, and we have emotions, intellects, wills, physical bodies, and so on. We don't become more spiritual by being less intellectual, any more than we become more spiritual by being less emotional, or by being less physical. The point of Christianity isn't that any part of what we are becomes less, it's that all that we are comes under the Lordship of Christ, under the control of the Spirit of God.


Our faith is to be intellectual, but not merely intellectual. It is to be emotional, but not merely emotional. It is to be intentional, but not merely intentional. It is to be physical, but not merely physical. But all under the Lordship of Christ.


But of course that's not really enough. Our faith is transformational: we who have died with Christ are transformed by it. We die as one thing and are raised another (1 Corinthians 15:40–45).  So please don't misunderstand me to be saying that spirituality is continuing exactly as we were as unregenerate people, that's not at all true. My point is that Christianity doesn't involve becoming less human: Christ is completely Man in His resurrection, just like He was before He died. We, too, will be fully human when we have been raised with Him. Christian perfection is not to be less intellectual, or less emotional, or less physical. We will be all those things in the resurrection.

My point is that denying our wills, or our emotions, or our intellects, or our bodies isn't spirituality. Spirituality is to have a will under God's control. It's to have emotions under God's control. It's to have a body under God's control. It's to have an intellect under God's control. Spirituality is being what God has made us to be, especially being subject to Christ in everything we do, think, and feel.


Many years ago I was reading Watchman Nee, and I was struck by his statement that Romans 6 isn't aspirational: it's not that we aspire to be crucified with Christ. It's a statement of fact: we have died with Christ.

Many of the sermons I listen to go off the rails at precisely this point. When those preachers talk about New Creation, they're not talking about something they believe to be real. If you listen – really listen – to what they say, they believe Romans 6 and Colossians 3 and Galatians 2 are metaphors: they are statements we should all be working hard to live up to.

I absolutely believe this is the leaven of evangelicalism: it's the idea that new birth is an addition, as opposed to a replacement. Nothing could be farther from the truth! 


But having said all that, the Christian life is nothing less than the life of Jesus in our mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:6–12). It's not a diminishing of the mortal body, it's not a diminishing of what we are as God's creations. It's a transformation. It's a change. But it's the life of Jesus worked out in mortal bodies. We can't shortcut the Holy Spirit's work in us by denying our intellects (although our intellect gets us into trouble) or by denying our emotions (as messy as they are) or by denying we have wills (as problematic as our wills prove) or by denying our physical bodies (as much as we might long for transcendence). The Spirit of God is working in us to reveal Christ in those things. And we are foolish to think we can help Him out by denying them.


Susan said...


Susan said...

The word "transformation" occurs twice in Scripture with reference to Christians (Rom. 12:2, and 2 Cor. 3:18). Every believer tries to be reformed, but very few apprehend the great moral difference between reformation and transformation. As a rule believers rejoice that they are saved, and aim to be up to the language of Micah 6:8, "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."

There are increasing numbers who have accepted the truth that by the grace of God they have been transferred from Adam to Christ, and that they are clear of the old man in God's sight; yet they have no true understanding of what it is to be "transformed." Reformation is improvement, and refers to what already exists; but transformation means a change of being. This, it is feared, is little known.

In Romans 12:2, we are exhorted not to be "conformed to this world," but to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind." This means a new mind, something altogether new; so that you are not to walk before men according to this world, but according to the mind of Christ, your life. Hence, at the end of this exhortation, the Apostle says, "put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:14).

It is not a question as to whether the order of this world is good or not, but you are not to be conformed to it any more: you are to be "transformed" according to a new mind, and thus be able to "prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." Everyone who knows anything of his own heart must know that he has tastes and desires connected with this earthly scene, and the more they are gratified the stronger they become. But as he walks in the Spirit he finds that what he likes most in the natural order of things is the very thing he must avoid: "No man . . . having drunk old wine straightway desireth new; for he saith, The old is better." Very slowly do we learn to be altogether non-conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our mind.

As to the transforming of 2 Corinthians 3:18, the blessedness of it is that it is by beholding the Lord Jesus' glory with unveiled face that we are transformed into the same image; that is, we are brought into moral correspondence with Himself. It is not merely a new course outside and apart from the world as in Romans, but here we are in conscious union with the risen Lord Jesus Christ in glory.

It is true that every convert does not enjoy the light of His glory, because many are dwelling more upon the work than upon the Person who did the work. The fact is, the nearer you are to Him in glory the more assured you are of being in the righteousness of God, and that you are there without a cloud; and it is as you behold the Lord Jesus there, you are gradually transformed into moral correspondence to Himself. Many have been misled by thinking that by reading the Bible you become like Christ—transformed; but you will find diligent students of the Word, who may never say anything incorrect in doctrine, yet who never seem to grow in grace and walk in spiritual reality.

When we learn that we are united to Him who is in glory, we can come forth in the new man to manifest His beauty and grace here on earth. This transformation is of the highest order. The Lord lead our hearts to apprehend the great contrast between the old man, however reformed by law, and the new man growing by grace into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. J. B. Stoney

HandWrittenWord said...

Thanks for sharing this passage from Stoney, Susan.

After delineating the WORKS of the flesh, Paul reveals the FRUIT (not WORKS)
of the Spirit. Then he states this:

And they that are Christ's have crucified
the flesh with the affections and lusts.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also
walk in the Spirit.
(Galatians 5:24-25)