Tag Archive | Biblical Spirituality

We’re not fighting a human war

“For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

The Christian battle is not a battle of the flesh. The Christian’s weapon is not physical and material. But the battle is no less serious. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). 

As Christians, we are to fight. But our fight is the fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). Our weapons are not human. We don’t use swords, knives, and guns. Instead, we carry “weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left” (2 Cor. 6:7). Our sword is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Eph. 6:17).

Our weapons, even though they are not of the flesh are powerful. They’re powerful because they are “through God” (2 Cor. 10:4). We are “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10).

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First Corinthians and the Continuation of the Gifts of the Spirit 

I have written on this subject elsewhere but here we’re going to look at the text of 1 Corinthians and evaluate what it’s says regarding the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit.

First, it’s important that we acknowledge that this is a controversial issue. And it’s important that we consider these questions from an unbiased perspective.

What we were taught in the past should not determine our beliefs. We also should not let misapplications or extremes that people have that hold a certain belief dissuade us from holding a certain belief. The validity of a theological truth must be determined by what the Bible itself says. It’s important that we first agree on that.

Scripture is the final say on wether or not the gifts of the Spirit continue, not whether or not we understand each of the gifts perfectly or whether or not those who believe the gifts of the Spirit continue practice everything in a way that builds up the body of Christ in accordance with Scripture. Those other things are distractions (in logical argumentation they are referred to as the red herring fallacy).

So, what does 1 Corinthians itself say about the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit?

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“Dear God, I want to be very rich…” (and other prayers)

“Dear God, I want to be very rich. I would like a Benz or at least a new Honda Civic with a sweet spoiler and racing stripe…”

Do your prayers sound like that? Probably not. You might prefer a BMW.

Realistically, our prayers don’t very often sound quite like that but sometimes that is about the gist of what we pray for. Stuff, sometimes good stuff, is what occupies the majority of our prayers. I am not saying it is always bad to pray for stuff. I am not saying it is bad for us to pray that our dear Aunt Ruth will get over her cold, we should do that, please do, but we must also pray for other stuff; spiritual stuff.

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Religious Affections

jonathan_edwards

“For although to true religion, there… must indeed be something else besides affection, yet true religion consists so much in the affections, that there can be no true religion without them. He who has no religious affection, is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart. As there is no true religion, where there is nothing else but affection; so there is no true religion, where there is no religious affection. As on the one hand, there must be light in the understanding, as well as an affected fervent heart, where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light. If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the Word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise, than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things”

~Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (Yale University, 2009), 120-21

“Holy affections are not without light; but ever evermore arise from some information of the understanding, some spiritual instruction that the mind receives, some light or actual knowledge. The child of God is graciously affected, because he sees and understands something more of divine things than he did before, more of God or Christ and of the glorious things exhibited in the gospel; he has some clearer and better view than he had before, when he was not affected: either he received some understanding of divine things that is new to him; or he has his former knowledge renewed after the view was decayed”

~Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (Yale University, 2009), 266

Biblical Mysticism?

A Mystic’s Meter

The rhythms of a mystic’s faith are not drudgery upon duty and duty upon drudgery. The mystic’s meter, rather, is delight. Delight in a God they know. Yet, as much freedom as rhythm and cadence have, there is still structure. So, I want to look at the structure of the meter. What cadence does knowing God take?

Is Mysticism Wrong?

Is mysticism wrong? I think a lot depends on how it is defined. If you define mysticism as subjective vain emotional longings, then yes it is wrong. If you define mysticism as unbiblical, then yes it is wrong. If mysticism is set on anything else then God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6), then yes, mysticism is wrong.

Mysticism, however, is not wrong in itself. It is the focus that can be wrong. It is the information, or perhaps more often, the lack of information, that can be wrong.

Don Whitney instructs us:

“Don’t be deceived by a complex spirituality that gives the appearance of wisdom but doesn’t start with ‘Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians 2:3). And don’t become entangled in any spiritual practices that sound good but incline your mind and heart away from the ‘things that are above’” (“Practice True Spirituality”).[1]

Not All Mysticism is Created Equal

Mysticism does not have “inalienable rights.” That is, not all mysticism is created equal.

Frist, some mysticism is based on illusionary dreams and speculation. However, there is a problem with this (1 Jn. 4:1). Satan parades himself around like an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) so that he may devoir like a lion (1 Pet. 5:8). Subjective experiences alone cannot be our guide.[2]

Second, some mysticism contradicts the Word of God. Any word that contradicts His Word should not be our word. God is our authority. And His Word is our authority. There are many other good and important texts but they are not ultimate. They are subordinate.

Third, any form of mysticism that does not prize and exalt Messiah and His work is defective (1 Jn. 4:2). Mysticism is about knowing God. Jesus the Messiah is God in the flesh (Jn. 1:14). It is through Him that we can know God (e.g. 2 Cor. 4:4); that we can go boldly before the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). Jesus reveals God. If we conceal Him, belittle Him, or don’t rightfully honor Him, we are not practicing mysticism but anti-mysticism; we are concealing God.

Good Mysticism

Mysticism, I believe, at it’s heart, is about knowing God deeply and experientially.[3] So then, how do we know God? We know Him through His Spirit, amen![4] And the Spirit, most typically, uses the means of His own inspired Word, the Bible. We meditate on His Word, as well as other good texts, and God, by the Spirit, reveals Himself to us. Good Christian mysticism thus relies on: 1) The Spirit for illumination, not vain visions or the like (Rom. 8:26; 1 Cor. 2:12-16; Eph. 3:14-19; 1 Jn. 4:1); 2) The inspired Word of God, not primarily other sources (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:3-4); 3) The Incarnate Son to show us God, and not visions (Jn. 1:1-14; 14:6; 2 Cor. 4:4; Heb. 1:3). 

Good biblical mysticism (some may prefer “spirituality”) is about having a deeper sense of God’s truth. It’s seeking for God to open our eyes that we would be deeply impacted by His truth (Ps. 119:18). It is about knowing God’s love that surpasses knowledge that we may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19). It’s about being renewed by the transformation of our minds (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10). It is about revival.

It short, mysticism does not seek mere knowledge. It seeks to also experience the truth of that knowledge. So, it seeks to taste the sweetness, and not just know hypothetically and intellectually that something is sweet.

Jonathan Edwards words are enlightening:

“There is such a thing as a spiritual and divine light immediately imparted to the soul by God, of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural means… This spiritual light that I am speaking of, is quite a different thing from inspiration: it reveals no new doctrine, it suggests no new proposition to the mind, it teaches no new thing of God, or Christ, or another world, not taught in the Bible, but only gives a due apprehension of those things that are taught in the word of God… There is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.”[5]

Mystics, so to speak, not only want to know that something is sweet, they want to taste it’s sweetness.

A.W. Tozer: A Good Example of a Good Mystic

James L. Snyder points out that “the word ‘mystic’ did not scare Tozer. The term ‘mysticism’ simply means ‘the practice of the presence of God,’ the belief that the heart can commune with God directly, moment by moment, without the aid of outward ritual. He saw this belief at the very core of real Christianity, the sweetest and most soul-satisfying experience a child of God can know.”[6]

Tozer rightly reminds us—how sad that we need reminded!—that salvation is “not an end but an inception, for now begins the glorious pursuit, the heart’s happy exploration of the infinite riches of the Godhead.”[7] Conversion is meant to lead to communion. Orthodoxy must, if it is to be true orthodoxy, result in doxology. “’You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically,’ Tozer often remarked, ‘and as empty as one spiritually.’”[8]

The true Christian mystic should be heat and light. Heart, head, and hand. He should love the LORD with all that he is, his heart, soul, mind and strength; and his neighbor as himself.

Conclusion

So, you might say, a mystic’s meter, what gives him his aesthetic poetry and music, is knowing God by the Spirit, though the Word, and in Christ. This is where he can find true delight. He can know God and true joy in this rhythmic triad; instead of the clashing and subjective thrashings found elsewhere. A mystic’s meter in sum, should be rhythmic, not chaotic. It should have a distinguished element to it, not destructive and haphazard vague desires. God has, Paul reminds us, revealed Himself; we don’t worship Him as unknown, but as known (Acts 17:23). We can know God truly, if not fully.

Will you seek to know God? Will you dance to the melodious meter? Will you use the means He has given you? Will you be a Christian mystic?

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[1] Don Whitney, “Practice True Spirituality.”

[2] Let it be noted that exceptional things may likely still happen. See 2 Cor. 12:2-4, for example.

[3] Mysticism is “the belief and practice that seeks a personal, experiential… knowledge of God by means of a direct, nonabstract and loving encounter or union with God. Although a psychophysical dimension (including visions, dreams or special revelation) may be part of the mystical experience, this dimension is not necessary. Instead, Christian mystics generally teach that the true test of the experience is the resulting fruit of the Spirit in the mystic’s life” (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 81). “The mystic,” Tozer said, “differs from the ordinary orthodox Christian only because he experiences his faith down in the depths of his sentient being while the other does not. He is quietly, deeply and sometimes almost ecstatically aware of the presence of God in his own nature and in the world around him” (The Christian Book of Mystical Verse).

[4] Mysticism, at least, true accurate mysticism, can only take place after the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (see Jn. 3:3).

[5] Jonathan Edwards, “A Divine and Supernatural Light”).

[6] The Life of A.W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God, 155.

[7] The Pursuit of God, 13 cf. Jn. 17:3. Brother Lawrence reminds us that “Many do not advance in the Christian progress because they stick in penances and particular exercises, while they neglect the love of God, which is the end” (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 24). 

[8] The Life of A.W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God, 155.

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