IN THIS article we begin our discussion of the seven steps that must be taken to walk in the spirit:
A. Deadness to Self and to the World
The first part of this step is self-denial. As Christians we are in a fight. The flesh will always contend against the spirit, and the spirit will always contend against the flesh (Galatians 5: 17). And the greatest battle the flesh wages is resistance to self-denial. The heart of the fight, then, concerns self-denial and its opposition to self-indulgence. We may overcome self-indulgence by subjecting the heart to the influence of God’s Word on self-denial, and by displacing self-indulgence through its opposite good, self-denial. We are called upon to deny ourselves in the interest of the Lord’s Word. This does not mean merely denying the sinful disposition, but especially denying the natural disposition. The natural disposition seeks its own ends. It throws on the heart and mind thoughts of ease, comfort, pleasure, home, friends, country, ambitions, and prospects. When these are not given sway, it pleads for a little consideration. But we are not to give in to its cries. This is done by filling our minds so full of the opposite thoughts, that there can be no room for the thoughts of self-indulgence. We cannot think two kinds of thoughts at the same time. Let us, therefore, subject the heart to the influence of self-denying thoughts, and the victory is ours.
What are such thoughts? God’s Word gives us many of them: God’s self-denying love in giving His only begotten and well-beloved Son to die for others, even enemies; Christ’s love in stripping Himself of His former glory, and becoming poor for our sakes, that we through His poverty might become rich; His maintaining through three and a half years of suffering the most self-denying love ever exhibited in the world; the usefulness of self-denial, its indispensableness in the attainment of the Lord’s character, the Lord’s commendation of it, the desire to have His approval for exercising it, the victory at the end, and everlasting life as a result. Such thoughts held upon the mind consciously, constantly, persistently, until the heart is subject to their power and is filled with self-denial, will displace its opposite evil, self-indulgence.
The second part of this step is deadness to the world. This implies that in matters pertaining to our consecration we do not accept the world’s will as ours and indulge it. This does not mean that we are not to perform our duty to the world, but that we are not to accept its will sacrificially. The world, as represented in our families, friends, business, religious, and social associates, frequently seeks to influence us in ways that are contrary to our consecration, thus making us worldly-minded. We must be dead to such efforts to control us. How may we overcome the flesh and walk in the spirit in this particular? Not so much by fighting the flesh directly, but rather by walking in the spirit. World-denial is developed by holding world-denying thoughts upon our minds and hearts. By a conscious exertion of the will these thoughts must be held firmly and continually upon our hearts and minds until world-denial is established, and as it grows, it gradually displaces world-indulgence.
What are such world-denying thoughts? We find a number of them in the Word: the propriety of our being dead to the world and alive to God, the Father’s and the Son’s pleasure at such a condition, the unprofitableness of being alive to the world, the delightfulness of being alive to God and thus being dead to the world, the glorious outcome in character and rewards for this characteristic, the good example of God, Christ, and others, the blessings that this brings to others, the unsatisfactoriness of aliveness to the world, and its final disappointing results. These thoughts kept upon the mind and heart until their influence permeates them will cultivate deadness to the world; and as it grows, its opposite, aliveness to the world, is gradually displaced. Thus, in this respect we walk according to the spirit and do not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
B. Meditating on the Lord’s Word
How may we learn to take the step of meditating on the Lord’s Word? Natural worldly thoughts flow into our minds. The concerns of daily life occupy most minds and tend to crowd out everything else. Although it is necessary for us to think along natural lines to fulfill our office as servants of righteousness and holiness, apart from this our minds should be diverted to spiritual subjects. The Lord desires us to concentrate our thought on His Word and be as the godly man described in Psalm 1: 2: “His delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” This step is of supreme importance because it furnishes power for the other steps. We take this step by consciously exerting our new will to hold the beautiful thoughts of the Word upon the heart. This includes the thoughts of the doctrines, precepts, promises, exhortations, prophecies, histories, and types of the Scriptures. Let us do this until the heart is subject to their power. By exercising the above, we will transfer the thoughts from the mind to the affections for the perfecting of the character.
Watchfulness is the quality and activity of the new heart, mind, and will whereby we survey our dispositions, thoughts, motives, words, acts, surroundings, and the influences operating upon us. Its function is to give our new heart, mind, and will the needed Scriptural information on these points and arouse it to activity in harmony therewith. Its elements are: Wakefulness, alertness, challengesomeness, incredulity, scrutiny, decision, and arousing. Without watchfulness, we would be the prey of the devil, the world, and the flesh, and would make shipwreck of our calling. It logically follows the preceding step and serves to make available to our needs whatever we gain from the study of the Word.
Carelessness with respect to spiritual things, and concern exclusively for natural things, may be considered the opposite of watchfulness. We develop such a disposition by subjecting the heart to the influence of thoughts conducive to spiritual carelessness and worldly carefulness through holding them upon the heart and mind. How may this be overcome? Not so much by fighting it directly, but indirectly, that is, by displacing it with the opposite good, watchfulness. Watchfulness is developed by subjecting the heart to the sway of thoughts from the Word productive of watchfulness, by holding the pertinent parts of the Word upon the heart; and as watchfulness is thus growing it gradually displaces its opposite until carelessness is entirely displaced. The following are thoughts from the Word conducive to watchfulness: God suggests it; Jesus and all the faithful exemplify it; it keeps us from falling and helps us to stand; Satan, the world, and the flesh oppose it; it enables us in part to overcome and makes us more useful and fruitful. Thus, we will walk in the spirit in watchfulness, and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh in carelessness.
Prayer may be defined as the uttered or unuttered sincere desire of the heart going forth to God for good things. Its elements are invocation, praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition, communion, and assurance. It may properly request the things in the Lord’s prayer and is always answered when we abide in Christ and His words abide in us. It properly addresses the Father primarily, and the Son secondarily. When properly offered, its results are to the Lord’s glory and to the good of others and of ourselves. Its opposite is prayerlessness, due to the lack of appreciation of one’s needs and God’s part in prayer. If we have this fault, let us not fight the flesh directly, but indirectly through cultivating the opposite activity of the spirit until the fault is displaced.
Prayerlessness is caused by holding thoughts conducive to it upon the heart, until it is subject to their influence, while prayer is produced by the new heart, mind, and will consciously and persistently holding pertinent thoughts from the Word upon the heart until it is subject to their influence; thus, with prayer established, prayerlessness is displaced. The following thoughts from the Word will be found conducive to prayer: Our needs, God’s ability and willingness to answer, His invitations and promises, Christ’s advocacy of our petitions, the blessings coming from it to us and to others, and the honor reflected thereby upon God.
(to be continued)