Christianity: Mental or Spiritual?
(When a person is born again, he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and becomes a child of God. The Lord Jesus said, ‘My sheep know My voice.’ John 10. Sheep are very foolish creatures, but they have this faculty of discerning the voice of the true Shepherd. Born again children of God should distinguish between what is true and what is false, what is alive and what is dead, what is mental or intellectual and what is truly spiritual. Alas, modern Christianity is largely dead; and only a faithful few understand what it means to have ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him’, Eph 1:17.
This is an elucidation of a brief article written by T.Austin Sparks in his magazine, "A Witness and A Testimony" in May-Jun 1926 , which reveals clearly the direction in which Christianity was heading, even then, way back in the 1920s. The message is broken up into four paragraphs below and discussed prayerfully and carefully.)
1. There is a vast amount of intellectual comprehension of truth and doctrine which is not touching the situation, not meeting the need... A person may know Scripture most thoroughly and yet be the most awkward, cantankerous and peevish person in daily life; or go into business relationships, drive a hard bargain and send another man to the wall for his own ends. You may have all knowledge and yet profit nothing. It is the natural man receiving on the plane of the natural man. It is mental apprehension of Divine truth, and it is not alive, it is not the 'water of Life, clear as crystal.'
Four things are to be noted here. i. An intellectual comprehension of truth and doctrine. ii. A dichotomy between belief and practice. iii. The natural man receiving the things of God on a natural plane. iv. The lack of ‘life’ in such intellectual or mental apprehension of divine truth.
i. Truth must come to us by revelation. We can grasp the Bible intellectually. There are so many Bible scholars and theologians, who have written much about the Bible and about the Lord Jesus Christ. But their understanding is limited. The intellectual level is limited. What is needed is spiritual apprehension and this comes by God revealing Himself to us. The gateway to truth is the born-again experience. Unless a person is born-again, he can never know the things of the kingdom of God. Read John 3. Even after being born-again, God has to ‘speak’ to us. It is the word spoken to us in our quiet time with God that brings truth and life. God has to open the eyes of our understanding. Without the Spirit of God, there is no life. Furthermore, it is not only the word spoken to us, but the word experienced through trial and suffering that brings abundant life and blessing.
ii. The 2nd point is very important. A person may have thorough Bible knowledge and yet be ‘the most awkward, cantankerous and peevish person in daily life’. The word of God has to impact our conduct and our character. If we are not transformed into warm, loving, healthy, robust Christians – if our life is not changed, if our behaviour is not altered for the better - of what use is this faith that we profess? It is not important to be a professing Christian; you must be a practical Christian.
iii. This 3rd point is answered in my comment on point i. There is a world of difference between the natural man and the spiritual man. The natural man knows nothing of the things of God. He is an unbeliever. He has not accepted Christ. He is not born again. Paul in First Corinthians talks about carnal and spiritual Christians. Those who are carnal, are still dominated by the flesh, even though they are born-again. The cross has to work in our lives; only then can we become truly spiritual. A spiritual person is ‘meek and lowly’ – even as Christ was!
iv. God’s truth comes to us with the power of divine life. Peter said to the Lord Jesus Christ: ‘You have the words of eternal life!’. Words spoken under the unction of the Holy Spirit immediately touch the heart. ‘They were pricked in their hearts’ is the word in Acts 2:37. We must be able to distinguish between the word that generates emotion (eloquent words can stir up many feelings) and the word that touches the spirit. (Man being a tripartite being has deep within him what is called the spirit or the inner man. Emotions touch the surface; God’s words stir the spirit.)
2. Services may be very beautiful but dead... You may have very high ideals, sublime thoughts, and yet there may be just something that renders it all ineffective and you get nowhere. The modern pulpit goes as far as it can, with its own human mental outfit. If a man happens to be more scholarly and better educated than another, his interpretation is thought to be nearer the truth than that of anyone else. If he can put a construction upon the Word of God which is fresh, interesting, and fascinating and just satisfies the inquiring minds of his hearers, they go away with the idea that that is truth. That is no argument at all - no criterion whatever. To make the whole thing a matter of scholarship is to get off the road.
Two things to be noted here. i. Outwardly attractive, but inwardly dead. ii. False emphasis on scholarship.
i. There are churches which have grand services. There is an outward show, but inwardly there is death. Anything that is organized by man, with his own understanding and wisdom and his own effort and strength, will only bring death - no matter, how skillful and elaborate it might be. The Bible refers to this as ‘dead works’.
ii. The emphasis upon scholarship is most misleading. I fully agree with this. I have seen pastors of churches who have come out of reputed Bible seminaries and theological schools, who have been utter failures as pastors and shepherds of the flock. There is an intellectual arrogance about those who have come out from schools like the Dallas Theological Seminary; alas, they carry with them the dead weight of 'spiritual bankruptcy'. The same is the problem with those who are doctrinally-inclined. They believe that they have the right doctrine. But doctrine by itself cannot translate into life. Again, the Lord’s words come to mind: ‘You MUST be born again!’. God has to reveal Himself to you; He has to capture your heart. You must be washed in the Blood of the Lamb; you MUST receive the Holy Spirit. These are prerequisites for every believer in Christ. You may come through Bible School with flying colours, and yet be spiritually dead.
3. Moses was learned in all the knowledge of the Egyptians, and yet he had to have forty years of isolation and discipline. At the end, Moses had to say, 'I cannot,' and then God was able to say 'Now I have got you down to a level where I can say, 'I can.' Before Saul of Tarsus could go anywhere for God, he had to talk like this: 'Sinners, of whom I am chief'; 'I am the least of all the apostles and not meet to be called an apostle'; 'the things that I counted gain, I now count but loss'; 'I received it not from men, it was made known to me by revelation'; 'it pleased God to reveal His Son in me.' That is not objective achievement; that is subjective experience, and between the two there is all the difference that there is between life and death...
Three things to be noted here. i. Moses had to be emptied in the desert for 40 years before he could come to the level of God’s requirement. The same with Saul of Tarsus (i.e.Paul). ii. The emphasis on revelation from God. iii. The emphasis on subjective experience (i.e. the subjective experience of the cross.)
i. Here examples are given. A. Moses had to be emptied of all self-sufficiency. He had to come to the point of saying: ‘I cannot.’ We can do nothing for God. We have to brought to the point of total emptiness. Jacob’s hip-bone had to be broken, before he could become Israel and fit to stand before God. B. As regards Paul, he had to come down to the point of saying: ‘I am the least of all apostles.’ ‘I am the chief of sinners.’ Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
Incidentally, as Moses had to be emptied of all his ‘Egyptian knowledge’, so Paul had to be humbled of his ‘high standing as a Pharisee’. ‘The things I counted gain, I now count but loss.’
ii. Paul’s words are very clear. We learn the truth by God-given revelation. The truth Paul preached came to him by revelation from God. It was not received from men. Man’s learning profits nothing.
iii. ‘God revealed His Son in me.’ This is something more than what happened on the road to Damascus, when the Lord appeared to Saul; here Paul is testifying of a revelation of Christ within his heart. There is objective apprehension of truth, and there is subjective experience of truth. We have to experience Christ, ‘learn Christ’. It is the subjective experience of Jesus Christ and Him crucified that brings life. It is the inward experience of the cross.
4. The man who brags of scholarship and argues that because he has a higher brow than anybody else and is therefore nearer the truth is probably the most blind of all men... The moment you introduce the element of the natural man into the ministry you kill it. The river of the water of Life clear as crystal will not flow through the channel of the flesh.
What you minister must be born of the Spirit of God in your spirit, and it must not be interfered with by the flesh. God will not let the stream of living ministry flow until the flesh is laid forever in death and it is no longer I but Christ.
i. Boasting in human wisdom, mental apprehension of truth, natural understanding – is most dangerous. Man’s wisdom is foolishness to God. Whatever is of the natural (unregenerated) man brings only death. The flesh is of the natural man - fleshly wisdom, fleshly strength. The flesh profits nothing.
ii. Whatever you minister or preach must be ‘born of the Spirit of God in your spirit’. Only the Spirit brings life. Such a statement (i.e. 'the Spirit brings life') can be understood only by those who are truly born again.
iii. Lastly, the flesh has to be laid forever in death, and it should be ‘No longer I, but Christ’. That is what baptism speaks of. What comes out of the natural man (the old Adam) is death (1 Cor 15.21); what comes out of Christ is life (1 Cor 15.22). So when you testify in the waters of baptism (by immersion), you are declaring that you have identified yourself with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. The old Adam is dead, and now you are alive in Christ. The Risen Christ, through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, now works in you. All is done according to the Spirit.
It is no longer I, but Christ. I must decrease, He must increase. Others must no longer see me; they must see Christ in me, and glorify God.