Something has been troubling me for a while now. I don’t really know how to put it in words, but I’ll try. A book I am reading and hoping to review by F. Remy Diederich, called “Broken Trust”, has also motivated me to look deeper into this.
There seems to be some inconsistencies in the experience of being a Believer and being born again. For one, we are told that we are born again by the Spirit of God (John 1:13, John 3:5-8), which means that we are new Spiritual creatures (2 Cor 5:17). As such, we should have new traits and abilities, which we will discover and utilize as we mature.
Jesus also told us that we will be given the Spirit of Truth, which will TEACH us all things and lead us into all truth (John 14:26, John 16:13). Then John taught that if we have this Spirit, we do not need anyone else to teach us…(1 John 2:27)
So, I have to ask, why is there such a need and dependency of teaching in Christianity? Why are most of the Believers today reliant on ministration from other Believers (Pastors), and do not seem to have the ability to hear and learn from God themselves (John 10:27)? Why did Paul feel the need to teach soooo much, people who supposedly also had the Spirit of God, even telling them – “we have the mind of Christ!” (1 Cor 2:16). If you do, would you need someone else to point it out to you? Or was that just an inspirational talk, reminding them of what they knew already, to encourage them to persevere?
I often get the impression that being born again is more of a mental exercise than it is a Spiritual rebirth or awakening (consider Rom 7:25). There is a lot of resisting of one’s own will and flesh. Paul also told the Roman Christians that they needed to be renewed in their minds, and not to conform to the world (Rom 12:2). It makes you wonder, is Christianity really “mind over matter”? Is that true spirituality?
The Corinthian Church had a lot of issues with sexual immorality and needed Paul’s counsel and teaching on this to know how to manage their relationships and desires for marriage (1 Cor 5, 1 Cor 6 and 1 Cor 7 notably). And there was the bickering and division over circumcision and water baptism that Paul had to squash, warning the Christians in Galatia not to seek to be justified by the Jewish Law (Read Gal 3 and 1 Cor 1:10-18).
Now, if these people had all received the same Spirit of God, by which they were saved and born again, why were they still so carnal and so undiscerning of the truth? Did Paul, Peter, James and John receive a greater dose of this Spirit? Or are there stages to being a Christian?
We can see that though Peter and the other Apostles had learnt under Jesus for three good years, they only became SAVED, i.e. BORN AGAIN, when they received the Holy Spirit Baptism about forty days after His ascension to Heaven (Acts 2:1-4). Before that, they were simply Disciples of and Believers in Jesus Christ. Later, they and all who followed them and believed and lived like them were called ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:26).
“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom 10:14-15).
Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the world making DISCIPLES of men, teaching them to obey all that He taught them (Matt 28:18-20). This is also a charge for us who have been saved, to go and make disciples. We preach and teach, they listen and receive us and God’s Spirit of Truth, and are saved and born again – by God’s Spirit Baptism (Acts 1:5). Before they receive the Spirit, they are mere disciples, but when they have been baptized by God, they are born again Believers, empowered also to minister.
I think this is where the confusion lies…counting disciples and believers, not yet born again, among the Saved or Saints. As James said, it is not simply about believing, because even the devils believe and shudder (Jam 2:19). And so, perhaps, what we have in Christianity is too many people remaining disciples and not receiving the Spirit which empowers them to MAKE disciples of others. They are perpetually being fed (Heb 5:12-14)!
Paul said concerning them that they are carnal and he cannot give them meat, because they cannot comprehend, because they still need and crave milk (1 Cor 3:1-3). They need constantly to be put through the basic rudiments of the Faith, and cannot walk in power as the sons of God they ought to be, as those born of the Spirit of God.
But when the Spirit of God comes, so does enlightenment. Paul was an example of this. He talked about how when he was converted and received the Spirit of God, he didn’t go to the other Apostles to either learn of them or confer with them, but went to Damascus to preach the Gospel (Gal 1:15-18)! But who taught him? My guess is the Holy Spirit.
It was the same Holy Spirit that filled Stephen with wisdom and understanding, who was the first to be martryed for teaching the Jews about Jesus, and their forsaken covenant (Read Acts 7). However, Cornelius and the Ethiopian Jew, who were preached to and taught by Peter and Philip respectively, are examples that preaching and teaching are essential for making disciples of men (Read Acts 10 and Acts 8:26-40), and they are also evidence that IT IS GOD WHO BAPTISES, and saves by His Spirit (Matt 3:11) – ours is just to preach (1 Cor 1:17-18).
Those who are not saved need us to preach the Gospel to them, and if necessary, teach and defend our belief (1 Pet 3:15, 2 Tim 4:2). And when they believe, they become disciples, who need further training, until the Holy Spirit comes upon them and they are born again. For Cornelius and his household, it was instant, and they needed only preaching, but for others it was not (Acts 8:16-17, Acts 19:2-6).
The Scriptures tell us that “if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom 8:9), yet many believers operating in carnality are counted among the Saved. This, I do not understand.
People have come up with doctrines about how our Spirit man is saved, while our flesh is still drenched in sin, and thus, we will be resisting the flesh until we receive our heavenly bodies. I believe this doctrine is drawn from Paul’s own teaching in Romans about the Law and Sin and Grace, and his own struggle with the flesh (Rom 5, Rom 6 and Rom 7 notably). Paul who was enlightened and experienced in these things was able to understand and teach others, who may also have had the Spirit, but were not yet able to grasp how they could still be prone to sin. In this sense, I do appreciate that even having the Spirit of God ourselves, we can and should still learn from one another and grow in understanding of our spirituality.
Yet, this is different from teaching age-old born again Believers the basic principles of the Faith time and again. God wants to be our Teacher and Minister, which is why He gave His Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Guide (Matt 23:8-11). If we have the Holy Spirit, is it possible that we will turn to men again to teach us..?
I guess it is. Since even with the presence of the Holy Spirit, great leaders, such as Peter and Paul have succumbed to sin (Gal 2:11-14, 1 Cor 1:16-17). So, disregarding the Spirit (for fear of being deluded or wrong) in order to follow men is a STRONG temptation and trap. And it doesn’t help that there are FAR too many men, who are willing to replace the Holy Spirit in your life. For them, as Remy pointed out in his book, it is a need to validate their own gifting and ministry, rather than encouraging you to develop yours.
And I believe, this trap, this dependency, this “Man of God” syndrome, that results in those who have the Spirit of God living as though they do not, being reliant on others for revelation and direction, actually originated from the days of Peter, James, John and Paul. It is a condition of humanity, religion and culture, a thorn in the growth of true spirituality, which requires that we be led by the Spirit of God (Rom 8:14).
Furthermore, in a climate of division, where false doctrines are creeping in, and disciples are being diverted away by false teachers, the need for those empowered by God’s Spirit to teach and Pastor cannot be undermined (2 Pet 2:1-3). So, though it is true, as John said, that we do not need anyone to teach us, if we are able to discern the Spirit, we actually still need ABLE teachers and ministers to help us stay grounded (and this is also the reason we ought not to forsake fellowship with one another (Heb 10:24-25)), in a climate of insincerity and rebellion. It is also important for passing down GOOD tradition, from the elders to the novices (who are not allowed to take leadership roles lest they be taken by pride, due to their spiritual immaturity (1 Tim 3:6)), that will preserve the true Faith against the tide of culture (Gal 1:8-9).
So, I guess I have answered my own question as to why those born of the Spirit of God would still need teachers of men. Also, all babies need mothers and fathers to nurture them to grow, even spiritual babes. Paul and Timothy had such a nurturing relationship, as Paul claimed to be Timothy’s father in the Lord (1 Tim 1:2).
However, sometimes (actually, quite often unfortunately), those who we rely on as parents end up overstepping their mark or abusing their authority in our lives (whether unintentionally or arrogantly). This has resulted in a lot of malnourised, underdeveloped, abused and disillusioned children of God. And this too, spiritual abuse, is a problem of humanity and religion that will not be done away with until we are rid of the flesh.
The key in navigating this risk and staying grounded is developing that personal link with God ourselves. Jesus, though raised by Joseph and Mary, realised who He was at a very young age and developed His relationship with His true Father. We must all do that, and no ‘Man of God’ can ever damage us or lead us astray, if we know who our Daddy is. So, since we are all prone to be abusers or the abused, we must be careful to point everyone to the only infallible Minister – Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our Faith (Heb 12:2).
May God help us as we abide in the Vine.
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