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by Jacob Ninan
The term ‘Christian’ means many things to different people, varying from someone who has a ‘Christian’ name or who was born in a ‘Christian’ family to one who is a child of God through being born again. It was first used to describe the disciples of Christ in the early church in Antioch (Acts.11:26), who had left their earlier ways of life and religious beliefs and had chosen to follow Jesus Christ. If we use the term to refer to those who have ‘Christ in’ them, we can see that only those who have been born again (Jn.3:5) can be considered as Christians in the truest sense of the word.
But we do have to be realistic and recognise that a whole lot of people consider themselves as Christians and also are accepted as such by many others. But the fact is that even among those who have been born again, the Bible refers to three types of people, depending on how they live. Those who are led by the Holy Spirit are spiritual (Gk. pneumatikos), those who live according to their carnal nature are carnal or fleshly (Gk. sarkinos), and those who merely follow their natural human instincts are natural (Gk. psuchikos) (1Cor.2:14;3:1). Just because someone is born again, he or she does not automatically become spiritual. Also, ‘religious’ people who follow external forms such as reading the Bible, praying, attending church regularly, etc., are not necessarily spiritual. Only when they yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit and set their minds on the things of the Spirit (Rom.8:5,6), can they become spiritually minded. It is a sobering thought to realise that even after being born again people can walk according to the flesh, in a carnal manner, or in a natural, human manner relying on their own knowledge and understanding. Carnal people are easier to identify from their behaviour, but ‘natural’ people are more difficult to spot because in many ways they may outwardly look like spiritual people.
Imagine a Christian studying the Bible using his natural abilities, even learning Hebrew and Greek, and interpreting doctrines without any help from the Holy Spirit. It will be only his intellectual powers that he will use in this study, just as he does in the study of other subjects. He may look at verses as a lawyer looks at legal books, trying to identify all the nuances. Or he may look at the Bible as if it was a science text book, giving weightage to each word in a literal sense without understanding the spirit of the passage or what God is trying to convey. Others may recognise such people for their knowledge or scholarship and they may even be considered as authorities on certain subjects. The problem is that the Bible which was inspired by the Holy Spirit needs the same Holy Spirit to reveal His truths to us (2Pet.1:20,21). However clever we are, or however much we have accumulated knowledge, our natural abilities are not enough to understand the things of God (1Cor.2:14). Unless we are born again, we have only natural eyes, and with these we cannot even ‘see’ the kingdom of God (Jn.3:3).
It is understandable how people who are not born again, those who do not have the Holy Spirit, try to understand the Bible with their own abilities. But it also happens that we who are born of God do not always yield ourselves to the Spirit of God, and so, in effect, what we come out with may be a mixture of the natural and the spiritual! The more spiritual a man has become, the less carnal or natural he will remain.
Now imagine a religious minded man wanting to live a godly life. If he repents of his sins and puts His trust in Jesus, he can be born again and become a child of God. Then he can have the Spirit of God leading him, opening the eyes of his understanding so that he begins to see things in the way God looks at them (Jn.3:3;Eph.1:17,18). But if he depends on his own intellectual abilities to understand God and obey Him, he is likely to become a ‘Pharisee’ who understands only the letter of the law without getting any insight into its spirit. Outwardly he looks like a very godly man because of the strict way he tries to follow his religion.
Look at people who are doing great social service in the name of Jesus. Can we say only born again Christians do social work? We do recognise the fact that many Christians are driven by their love for God to do social work, and many movements that have brought about great social reformation have come up from godly Christians. But social work can also be done by ‘natural’ people who feel concerned about social evil, those who want to earn ‘points’ with God, those who want to impress others, or those who want to compensate for their wrong deeds! Jesus even talked about those who did miracles and cast out demons whom He did not know as His own. Obviously, they did not know Him either.
Then there are others who make up great plans for the kingdom of God using bright ideas that come up in their natural mind. There are those who equate ‘church planting’ with building halls, those who try to compensate for lack of anointing with homiletics, and others who bring out innovative schemes for expanding the church in the same way marketing executives plan their outreach. There are those who ‘mechanise’ church management with member database, tracking attendance, distributing sermons electronically, organising leadership hierarchically, etc., and imagine that they are serving God keeping up with the times. Where is the place for the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of people and bring about conviction and transformation?
Let us think specially about the possibility that we who know God are living much or part of our lives following our natural instincts. When we follow our natural abilities we look at ‘things that are seen’, the tangible things, and miss the things of the Spirit which are outside the natural realm. We reason out things, we feel a certain way, and then we act accordingly. What we must remember is that what we do in this way may not be ‘wrong’, because we have a certain sense of right and wrong. We can follow a natural understanding of what the words of the Bible say, and we may miss what comes by faith. It is only when we put ourselves under the authority of the Holy Spirit when we begin to see also things that are not seen. A. W. Tozer said, “At what point, then, does a theological fact become for the one who holds it a life-giving truth? At the point where obedience begins. When faith gains the consent of the will to make an irrevocable committal to Christ as Lord, truth begins its saving, illuminating work; and not one moment before.”
It is not enough to be good in our own eyes and in the eyes of other people. We need to become godly. We never become God, or even ‘gods’ as some false teachers say. But we need to let the Holy Spirit mould us into the image of Jesus Christ, starting from the inside. Our conscience will become more and more sensitive as we recognise things as wrong which we used to do happily before (Heb.5:14). God begins to give us insight into our motives and intentions which we did not pay attention to before (1Cor.2:15). We begin to ‘hate’ ourselves and admire God more for receiving us by grace. We begin to think of other people and their needs in such a way that we are willing to sacrifice our own needs in the process of helping them (Php.2:3,4). We begin to understand God’s ways and hear His voice as we meditate on His word. That is how a spiritual Christian grows and lives.
The apostle Paul was very aware of the danger of doing things merely from his natural abilities, because he knew that it could not really impart anything eternal to the others. So, as he preached, he deliberately avoided using human techniques that would impress his listeners (1Cor.2:3-5). In other words, he depended not on himself but the Holy Spirit to give him the right attitude and the right words, and to work in the hearts of the listeners. Can we, in these days, afford to ignore this truth and move over to depending on techniques and impressive presentations? And, when we do that, can we blame God for not bringing the same mighty results from our work that other ‘uneducated, unskilled’ men have produced from their work (Acts 4:13)? The truth should come home to our hearts that says, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1Cor.3:7).
-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, March 2016
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