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Balancing the Christian Life
By Charles C. Ryrie
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1994 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
HERE IS A BASIC PROPOSAL or, if you wish, the thesis of this book: Genuine and wholesome spirituality is the goal of all Christian living.
It is possible that the very simplicity of the proposition might either deceive or at the least fail to make a proper impression on the one who reads it; so let us examine its key words.
By the word genuine I mean biblical, for only in the Bible do we have truth that is indisputably reliable. For this reason, the Bible must be the guide and test for all of our experiences in the spiritual life, for biblical spirituality is the only genuine spirituality. The practical importance of this is simply that all experiences of the spiritual life must be tested by biblical truth, and if any experience, no matter how real it may have been, fails to pass that test, it must be discarded. Of course, this is much easier said than done, but it is the only road to genuine or biblical spirituality.
A second key word in the original proposition is the word wholesome. By wholesome I mean balanced. There is nothing more devastating to the practice of spiritual living than an imbalance. One of my former teachers repeatedly reminded us that an imbalance in theology was the same as doctrinal insanity. The same applies to the realm of Christian living. An unbalanced application of the doctrines related to biblical spirituality will result in an unbalanced Christian life. Too much emphasis on the mystical may obscure the practicality of spiritual living, while an overemphasis on practicality may result in a lack of vision. A constant reiteration of the need for repeated rededications could lead to a stagnant Christian life in which there is no consistent and substantial growth. An overemphasis on confession could cause unhealthy introspection, while an under-emphasis might tend to make one insensitive to sin. Balance is the key to a wholesome spiritual life.
If this is to be a book about spirituality, it is necessary at the outset to consider some general features of the word spiritual. The word is, of course, built on the root word for spirit and thus means "pertaining to spirit". Actually it has a rather wide range of uses, all of which are consistent with this basic idea of pertaining to spirit. (1) In one instance (Eph. 6:12) the word spiritual is used of the demonic hosts who, as spirit beings, are distinct from human beings. (2) In another usage the Mosaic Law is characterized as being spiritual (Rom. 7:14). This reference indicates that the law was intended to have prospered the spiritual life of the Israelites to whom it was given. (3) The future resurrection body of the believer is termed a spiritual body in contrast to the natural body which he has until death (1 Cor. 15:44). The use of the word in this connection forbids defining the word only in terms of the incorporeal. The spiritual body is one which like the Lord's after His resurrection has flesh and bones but which is of a new and different resurrection quality (Luke 24:39).
Furthermore, (4) a rather wide range of activities and relationships of the believer are called spiritual. His ministry is discharged through the exercise of spiritual gifts which are bestowed by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:11; 1 Cor. 12:1; 14:1). The unity of all Christians as stones in the building is designated a spiritual house by Peter who also states that believers are to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (1 Peter 2:5). The sustenance of the children of Israel was called spiritual meat and drink, and Christ is designated the spiritual "Rock" that followed them (1 Cor. 10:3–4). The Christian expresses his praise in songs, hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). His mind is to be filled with spiritual wisdom (Col. 1:9), and his position in the heavenlies includes having been blessed with all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3).
However, a distinctive use (5) in the New Testament of the word spiritual is in connection with the believer's growth and maturing in the Christian life. A spiritual man must first of all be one who has experienced the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit giving him a new life in Christ. The Apostle Paul contrasts the spiritual man with the natural man (1 Cor. 2:14–15), who, having not the Holy Spirit, is apparently an unregenerate individual (cf. Jude 19). But spirituality involves more than regeneration, and it is the purpose of this book to discuss these matters. This will of necessity involve studying certain doctrines of the Bible. Without this basis our conclusions might not lead to genuine spirituality. It will also demand consideration of certain individual responsibilities and practical problems in the outworking of biblical truth in the life in a balanced way. Too, it will be helpful to consider some contemporary misemphases in order to avoid the same pitfalls and in order to bring the truth into sharper focus. All of these matters should give a proper perspective on biblical spirituality.
It goes without saying (or does it?) that a subject like this one especially requires the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit if it is to be learned fruitfully. Here is an area in which the need for proper balance can be illustrated. Some seem to feel that the teaching ministry of the Spirit overrides the need for study, while others conclude the sufficient study eliminates the need for the teaching ministry of the Spirit. The ministry of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth of God is indispensable. But the Scriptures which speak of it (John 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:12) do not say that this ministry is always direct. In fact, nothing is said about the means the Spirit may use in order to teach us. It may be direct, as one quietly meditates on a passage, but it may also be through intermediate means. Some of these means are the books of men, the teachers given to the church, concordances and even English dictionaries. Ultimately, it is the Spirit who does the teaching whether He chooses to use intermediate means or not. And He must do it if we are to grasp the truth.CHAPTER 2
WHAT IS SPIRITUALITY?
ODDLY ENOUGH, the concept of spirituality, though the subject of much preaching, writing and discussion, is seldom defined. Usually anything that approaches a definition merely describes the characteristics of spirituality, but one searches in vain for a concise definition of the concept itself. The reason for this is that the concept includes several factors, and it is not easy to weave these together into a balanced definition. Too, the only verse in the Bible that approaches a definition is rather difficult of interpretation: "He who is spiritual appraises all things" (1 Cor. 2:15). Consequently it is often avoided. Nevertheless, it is necessary to try to formulate a definition, for this is like the cornerstone which determines the shape of the entire building.
THE CONCEPT OF SPIRITUALITY
Genuine spirituality involves three factors. The first we have already mentioned—regeneration. No one can be spiritual in the biblical sense without having first experienced the new life that is freely given to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Savior. Spirituality without regeneration is reformation.
Second, the Holy Spirit is preeminently involved in producing spirituality. This is not to say that the other Persons of the Godhead do not have a part in it, nor that the believer himself has no responsibility, nor that there are not other means of grace; but it is to affirm His major role in spirituality. The ministries of the Spirit involve teaching (John 16:12–15), guiding (Rom. 8:14), assuring (Rom. 8:16), praying (Rom. 8:26), the exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7), and warring against the flesh (Gal. 5:17). All of these depend for their full manifestation on the filling of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
To be filled with the Spirit means to be controlled by the spirit. The clue to this definition is found in Ephesians 5:18 where there is contrast and comparison between drunkenness and Spirit-filling. It is the comparison which gives the clue, for just as a drunken person is controlled by the liquor which he consumes, so a Spirit-filled Christian is controlled by the Spirit. As a result, he will act in a manner unnatural to him—not an erratic or abnormal manner, but one contrary to the old life. Control by the Spirit is a necessary part of spirituality.
The third factor involved in spirituality is time. If the spiritual person judges or examines or discerns all things (1 Cor. 2:15), this must involve time in order to gain knowledge and to acquire experience for discerning all things. The Amplified Bible elaborates on the verse in this fashion: "He can read the meaning of everything, but no one can properly discern or appraise or get an insight into him." This could not be accomplished overnight; it is something which is true only of a mature Christian.
That word maturity seems to hold the key to the concept of spirituality, for Christian maturity is the growth which the Holy Spirit produces over a period of time in the believer. To be sure, the same amount of time is not required for each individual, but some time is necessary for all. It is not the time itself which produces maturity; rather, the progress made and growth achieved over time are all-important. Rate multiplied by time equals distance, so that the distance to maturity may be covered in a shorter time if the rate of growth is accelerated. And it will be accelerated if none of the control which ought to be given to the Holy Spirit is retained by self.
Here is a proposed definition of spirituality which attempts to be concise and at the same time to keep these above-discussed factors in mind. Spirituality is a grownup yet growing relation to the Holy Spirit. While this may simply be another way of saying that spirituality is Christian maturity, it tries to delineate more openly the factors of Spirit-control over a period of time. Certainly the definition satisfies the requirements of the description of a spiritual man in 1 Corinthians 2:15, for one who is experiencing a grownup relation to the Holy Spirit will be able to discern all things and at the same time will not be understood by others.
If this be a correct definition, there are certain ramifications of it which ought to be thought through.
1. A new Christian cannot be called spiritual, simply because he has not had sufficient time to grow and develop in Christian knowledge and experience. A new believer can be Spirit-controlled, but the area of control will be expanding in the normal process of Christian growth. A young Christian has not yet been confronted with many areas within the general sphere of Christian conduct, for instance; and while he may be completely willing to let the Spirit control his life and actions, he has not yet gained the experience and maturity that come from having faced these problems and having made Spirit controlled decisions about them. When he is first saved he may not even know that there is such a person as a weaker brother, and, although he may not be unwilling to curb his liberty for the sake of that brother, he has not yet faced the doing of it, to say nothing of having guided others into right decisions about such matters. Spirit-control may be total over the new Christian's life insofar as he has knowledge of that life in his newborn state, but, as his knowledge increases and his growth progresses, new vistas of life break upon him which must also be consciously yielded to God's direction. Time to gain maturity is needed for genuine spirituality.
2. A Christian of longer standing may not be spiritual, not because he has had insufficient time but because during the years of his Christian life he has not allowed the Holy Spirit to control him. Whereas the new Christian may lack the time required to become spiritual, the believer of longer standing may be deficient in yieldedness. And without complete and continued control by the Spirit he cannot be spiritual. This, of course, was the burden of the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, for his readers were in this exact condition.
3. A Christian can backslide in certain areas of his life without losing all the ground he has gained during his Christian lifetime. The flesh may control his actions during a period of backsliding, but when he comes back to the Lord he does not necessarily have to start the process of growth all over again. For example, a believer may backslide with regard to personal Bible study, but when he comes back to it he will not have forgotten everything he formerly knew. However, this principle does not apply in every area of life, for there are some aspects of living, such as fidelity in marriage, which if violated can never be fully redeemed. The sin can be forgiven, fellowship restored, but the ground lost cannot be recovered.
4. There are stages of growth within the area of maturity. The best illustration is that of the human being who, though in adulthood, continues to grow, develop, and mature. The spiritual man who is experiencing a grownup relation to the Holy Spirit is not stagnant in his Christian life, for he also has a growing relation in his walk with the Lord. In this life we never ascend to a plateau above and beyond which there is no further ground to gain. Spirituality, then, is a growing, grownup relation to the Spirit.
5. The state of babyhood need not last long. Let no one try to take refuge in a fraudulent kind of piety which demeans or ignores the processes of growth that have advanced him to a state of maturity which he refuses to recognize. False humility is sometimes the reason for such lack of recognition of maturity which has actually been achieved. After all, when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians those believers were about four or five years old in the faith, and he expected them to be spiritual by that time. He makes it quite clear that although when he was with them he could not speak to them as spiritual people (for they were then babes in Christ), he fully anticipated that by the time he wrote this letter to them they would have matured to the point where he could address them as spiritual (1 Cor. 3:1–2). With the passing of only a few years, babyhood should also disappear.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SPIRITUALITY
Spirituality is more easily characterized than defined. And in the biblical characteristics of spirituality we have concrete tests by which one may determine whether or not he is spiritual. In fact, they are too specific for comfort! How can one know if he is spiritual? Here are the tests.
SPIRITUALITY WILL BE EVIDENT IN THE BELIEVER
In his character. If spirituality involves control by the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), and if the Spirit has come to glorify Christ (John 16:14), then a spiritual person will manifest Christ in his character and actions. To glorify is to show, display, or manifest. The evidence that the Holy Spirit is in control of a life is not found in manifestations of the Spirit but in the display of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23) is a perfect description of the character of Christ; thus, the Christian who is spiritual will display love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control. These are the traits that will describe his character.
Excerpted from Balancing the Christian Life by Charles C. Ryrie. Copyright © 1994 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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