Monday, January 7, 2008

...in the spirit?

Living in the spirit is not easily nailed down to a definition everyone accepts. That the application of the meaning of the word cannot be reduced to a system supported by policies and procedures is the attribute of this sublime spiritual state which reveals being in the spirit means to be alive with God and waiting on Him. He, as the Holy Spirit, is the definition of the word.

I rarely find any discussion on how one learns to walk in the spirit. It is an accepted phrase which gets much use with limited depth of mutual understanding between believers. Often, when I’ve attempted to move a discussion in this direction—and I have been making this attempt for over twenty years—I get one of three reactions: the person or group gets all excited and wants to talk about the presumed effects of being in the spirit, usually the spiritual gift list of I Corinthians 12; the eyes, that window into the soul, retreat somewhat and heads nod while the conversation dwindles after a few simple truisms; or a list of expectations about behavior follow with legalistic undertones. I hear very little practical substance. It raises the question, “Can a supernatural reality have a practical explanation?”

Of course behavior is the issue, since the behavior of a Christian is expected to have the savor of the Savior as described in Galatians 5: 22-23. Christians sing, “God, create in me a new heart;” study the Word seeking understanding of what it says to live accordingly; listen to sermons; or participate in discussions in a class or home-group meeting format. All this "spiritual” activity is intended to be a part of developing a walk with God. Why do we think such is true? What evidence supports the conclusion that doing these or other activities develops the spiritual state the Bible calls "in spirit" or "in the spirit"?

Perhaps some intend to seek the path of righteousness but actually are guided by simply doing what the group does. More often, I think it is believed these activities are choosing the path to righteousness, and as such the activities and the group are the support system needed. People being who they are, many may even become refined in Christ-like behavior and rest securely there; but many secretly wonder if these efforts are the wood, hay and stubble kind of work or the work of gold the Father will praise. All of the sincerest efforts to grow more deeply in the way of Christ and all the insecurities over measuring up rest on what is or is not truly in the heart which only the Lord sees.

This post is not a complaint or charge against anyone or any group. The current state of affairs within the Body of Christ is certainly more profoundly complex, broader and more significant than I can describe in even a series of posts on a blog. Yet, I write today because I wonder, “What can simplify the issues between believers, reduce the tensions which arise over disagreements, bring life to the soul and spirit of individuals, develop more unity within our Christ-family, and ultimately increase the effectiveness of communicating the gospel?”

The answer, the only conclusion I can draw is learning a deeper, more authentic walk in the spirit.

It is a topic that cannot be denied. In the NAS New Testament, there are 380 total uses of the Greek word pneuma which translates seven ways. Of those seven translations, “spirit” is the translation 345 times. We just celebrated Christmas with its message of “Emmanuel, God with us.” We teach and believe that our very bodies are the earthly temple of God. This is the meaning of Christianity.

Or so I see it, in this wild wood of a world so desperately sick with sin.

16 comments:

Iris said...

Good Post!

Phil. 2:5-11 is probably the best description of the interior disposition that empowers "walking in the Spirit." The very act of emptying oneself and serving so others can be elevated. "Count others better than yourself..." all such are impossible in legalism or programs. However, it really does happen in His presence. I hesitate to use the word "prayer" because that too gets translated into "form." I am not talking about form, but simply what happens inside a believer when Emmanuel is given Lordship.
Bless you.

Jane said...

This post resonates with me. I searched for years, knowing there was more to this walk with God than I was experiencing and somehow unable to find anyone who had experienced more.

Eventually, she walked through the door--she was wearing a simple housedress, but I saw a queen. Through her wisdom, I began to have a glimmer into a better world: one hidden from view, but right there within me once I understood the answer was not external.

I am very grateful for the Internet because I have immediate access to blogs such as this and, most of all, to the writings of the Early Christians.

I have found the same truths Iris is touching upon. A simple (but complete) surrender, a willingness to wait silently in His presence is all it requires. God takes it from there.

Thank you so much for this post.

Alan Knox said...

David,

Very good post! I hope you continue writing your thoughts on what it means to be in the Spirit. While I don't think we can capture everything about being in the Spirit in words, this is something that is seldom discussed. Yet, it seems to be the way we are meant to live!

-Alan

Craig V. said...

It's true that Paul talks about each of us being a temple indwelled by the Holy Spirit. A more interesting image, however, at least it seems to me, is that a Christian community is the temple indwelt by the Spirit. In fact only a community is called the body of Christ, this is something an individual cannot be. We tend to think of walking in the Spirit in individualistic terms, but I wonder if we should also explore such a walk in terms of being in a community that is indwelt by the Spirit as the body of Christ.

Steve Sensenig said...

Craig,

You make an interesting point. I have actually wondered to myself without bringing it up for discussion with anyone yet whether or not the "temple of the Holy Spirit" refers to us as individuals or us as a group of believers.

Now that you've put it out there, I think I'll have to examine it a bit more grammatically and see if there's any indication one way or the other.

ded said...
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ded said...

Iris,
Thanks for your participation here. I agree with you completely regarding the connection between what is described in Phil. 2:5-11 and finding “practical” ways to express being in the spirit.
May the blessing be fully yours as well!

Jane, thanks for stopping by. I visited your blog and will mention it to my wife. She very much enjoys the fellowship of "sisterhood."

Alan, thanks for your continuing encouragement. I have three more posts on this topic as it is currently planned. I agree, words will not hold the wonder of this; but I think people can walk in much more of the reality than is realized. We are told to seek and find, though. What better way to do so than together, which will involve discussion. The exciting thing is that as we grow in spirit, it will go far beyond discussion. IMHO.

Craig and Steve, I think it isn't either/or but both. I don't believe a group can remove from me the responsibility to resist sin nor take up the burden of love, therefore I conclude, I am in need of being in union with the Holy Spirit personally. Yet, lest I reduce love to replacing people with a tree, rock or a cloud (worship of "spirit" conjured within inanimate objects being the crux of paganism), I can never fully experience the depths of the Spirit alone. Indeed, as I participate by being a brick in the wall of the corporate temple, Jesus is manifest, since He is in the midst of two or more.

Thanks to you both for your encouragement here. I appreciate being "with" you virtually. The fullest view of God will be a synthesis of individual perspectives.

Alan Knox said...

David, Craig, and Steve,

I love the idea of discussing walking in the Spirit together. I'm glad that Craig brought it up and that Steve and David continued it. As David pointed out, there is something both/and in all of this. I am certainly to walk in the Spirit individually, but I think that the very nature of walking in the Spirit invariably brings me into relation with others who are walking in the Spirit. I wonder... is it possible to only be in the Spirit individually when there are others around us who are also in the Spirit individually?

-Alan

George said...

As Craig and Steve ask is walking in the Spirit individualistic or corporate, the image that comes to my mind is one of a couple of guys in a horse costume -- or better, a bunch of people in a centipede costume. Each person walks individually, and all walk corporately. And the reality is that there is some failure to coordinate and thus some comical bumping into one another. But if they share the same intent, they do walk to where they're called.

How to walk in the Spirit is a great discussion. Perhaps there has been little definitive discussion for the same reason there is little definitive discussion among laymen as to how we walk on two feet -- we just kinda picked it up naturally, and the only talk that helped us was encouragement -- come to daddy/mommy.

Walking in the Spirit implies having the Spirit, which of course is not something you learn but Someone you meet. And get to know. Certainly reading the book helps, but I gotta admit that if the apostles needed their minds opened to be able to understand scripture I do, too.

I would know what it means to walk with ded: ded would start here and walk over there, and I would walk beside or behind or maybe in front of and go over there, too. I can try to imagine what it would be to walk in ded, altho that's just weird. But it's obviously a closer walk than along side or behind or in front of. And it is a walk that is not self-directed, nor is a walk that's scripted, either. It's a walk that is carried along, altho my feet are touching the ground and moving.

In other words, I think I have a clue, but by no means have I solved the puzzle!

Josiah said...

Life in the spirit rather than in our old man is life according to that pure core birthed through Jesus. It is certainly choosing this good over our sinfulness and learning to thus walk. But I do not think this walk stops with learning to walk as baby learns to walk to mama and papa. Rather we are called by our heavenly Father to run the race like those who are competing in the games (Paul was probably refering the olympic games) Hebrews teaches us go beyond the milk and partake of solid food which is for the mature who through practice have their senses trained to discern between good and evil.
In seeking this maturity one of the challenges we need to discern in order to walk in righteousness is when our good is in fact filthy rags, ie attempts of discipline in our old man. We not only must die to our evil ways but also our 'good' ways. That we may live according the yoke/discipline of love.

wsk said...

Great post and comments - I'm grateful to Alan Knox for leading me to your blog.

I've been praying for a practical experience in which I was able to hear clearly from the Spirit and to be able to surrender and act on that guidance, as Iris and Jane described.

The adage "be careful what you ask for" may apply here. My prayer was granted on Monday, and it happened by God taking me totally beyond my capacity to cope with a situation, so that I cried out from the heart and in utter desperation. The reply was immediate, and crystal clear, and things turned out better than I had dared to imagine.

Up till that experience, I had prayed for guidance, prayed for surrender, but I always had my own list of opinions, preconceptions and preferences getting in the way. It turned out, at least for me, that the trying got in the way of the actual surrender. It wasn't till I got beaten to an emotional pulp, in a situation where my opinions were useless and counterproductive, that I understood what surrender truly is.

I recently read a quote that gave me a helpful visual for the degree of helplessness required. I don't have it at work with me, so I can't tell you who said it, but it was something to the effect that the letting go has to be as complete as if your hands are nailed to the cross, so they don't even have the power to fondle the thing you're letting go of.

Wendy

Iris said...

Good tho'ts from all. As an "older" believer, I want to give a caution in the middle of our worthwhile efforts to make "walking in the Spirit" practical. Maybe "add some balance" would be a better term.

In our quest for the practical, there are times when we do not take time "in Spirit" with our Lord to understand Him and therefore to know what all this means and how to walk with Him.

We are so busy "trying" that we do not do what is most necessary -- the long arduous task of getting to know the Lord (Holy Spirit), through His Word and in the sabbath nature of dialog with Him.

A practical example: wanting to learn how to pray, so I read all the books I can find on prayer but never take the time to research the Word on prayer and take time to get to know Him through Word and prayer. One who does the latter will be very "practical" in their "walking in Spirit" life. Those who are like the former never will be able until the "bending" to Word and dialog occurs in the private place.

Just some "practical" thoughts.

terry said...

"And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal."—John 12:23-25.

This is the scripture that came to mind as I was pondering Steve's reply. Abiding alone perhaps is not living in the spirit, whereas to walk in the spirit, I must die to my own aloneness.

ded said...
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ded said...

ded said...
Alan, George, Josiah, WSK, Iris and
Terry,

I am bit shy on time as my semester averages from before Christmas are due tomorrow. Also, I want to post tomorrow with the next installment in this series.

Please overlook my not answering back specifically to the edifying and thoughtful comments you have each left. At least, I am not responding for now!

George said...

Iris and Josiah (et al) -- good points. Walking in the Spirit does not end, as Josiah points out, with walking as a child; it does extend to walking as an adult/mature. I think Paul in talking about running the race was more about completion than process, but the point remains: do it. As Iris says, don't just read about it, do it. And again I appreciate her comment about confusing prayer with form. Form doesn't matter, or at least not so much. What matters is listening and talking, which apparently is how Wendy took a huge next step. This is a living God we trust -- not something to study, but Someone to know, follow, and obey.

I agree with Iris when she cautions about practicality, but I use the word practical all the time. She and I seem to mean the same thing: try -- seek and be found -- rather than read and study. Finishing the race, to use Josiah's metaphor, requires taking actual steps, not just reading about theories of running.