The Life of the Spirit

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - God's Need of Spiritual People

Reading: 1 Cor. 2:13-15; 3:1; 1 Cor. 15:44-46; Num. 27:18.

"That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." John 3:6.
"For they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace." Rom. 8:5-6.
"Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words. Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no man. And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ."
"Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Gal. 6:1.

The thing which we want to repeat, re-emphasize and yet more fully recognize is that the major issues of God's interests rest with spiritual men and women, and that to have such spiritual men and women is the primary concern of the Lord. It is the Lord's intention to deposit His fulness in a vessel of His own making. It is, moreover, His intention to fulfil His great designs in creation by means of such a vessel in which the deposit of His own fulness is found. That vessel is called the church, "the fulness of Him which fills all in all" (Eph. 1:23). But that fulness is not just going to be deposited mechanically, automatically, sovereignly - that is, out of relation to its condition and its capacity. We were saying in our previous meditation, that in both Old and New Testaments, in type and antitype, it is clear beyond any question that there is a point of discrimination between the Lord's people in this matter.

We spent most of our time in our previous meditations seeing from the light which Israel's wilderness history throws upon this matter, that there was a point at which the great divide was made, represented by Joshua and Caleb, on the one hand, and the whole company of the people on the other. And the Lord at that point said that none of those men which came out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, should enter into the land save Caleb and Joshua. They did not wholly follow the Lord, and these did, and that was after years of relationship to the Lord in all the terms and symbols of redemption: the blood shed and sprinkled, the lamb eaten, the Red Sea crossed and many things marking them out as the Lord's people, yet at length there came that discrimination among the Lord's people on this question of wholly following the Lord and the vessel in which the fulness of the Divine intention was to be found and the fulness of the Divine purpose was to be fulfilled.

Joshua, we saw, brought in this entirely new realm and basis of things - the Life of the Spirit as differing from the natural life, even of the child of God - the child of God, the people of God, living in the main on the basis of their natural life, that is, following the Lord in a way and in a measure with all intent and purpose, provided that that following of the Lord was not too costly a thing so far as this world was concerned, provided they could follow the Lord and have some things here as well. But if it meant following the Lord and for a time being stripped of things here, recognition, status, acceptance, realization of ambitions, possessions, even as the children of God, then they were not wholly following the Lord.

With Joshua and Caleb it was otherwise. If the glory of God, the ends of God, so required, if it could not be otherwise by reason of the existing situation but that they should have to wait, deprived of all the advantages, the extras of the Christian life, so to speak, here, and simply wait in utter shornness of all that this world, this life, holds, and wait for a generation, they were ready to do that. Their hearts wholly followed the Lord in that sense, and that is what is meant by spiritual men and spiritual women, a spiritual people - to wholly follow the Lord in that way.

The Conflict Between the Flesh and the Spirit

The Word of God does come down upon this great divide between natural Christians - the carnal, and Christians on the spiritual line - and everywhere the Word makes that tremendous distinction and shows that God's full, ultimate interests are bound up with a company of spiritual men and women after this kind, and it is against them that all the forces of evil are set. That is a thing to remember. We cannot develop it now in any measure at all, but just mention it as we pass on.

It was when the rock was smitten in the wilderness and the waters gushed out and Israel drank - the song of the well, a type of something more than the regenerating spirit of the early days of the Christian life but now a well within, as it were, the sovereignty of the Spirit in an inward and subjective way, it was then that Joshua came into view. It says - "Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel" (Ex. 17:8) - at that point, and when Amalek made the assault, Moses said to Joshua, "Choose us out men..." That is Joshua's coming on to the stage. There is nothing about Joshua before then. Things afterwards are very interesting as they throw light upon Joshua, but he comes in then at the moment when, because the Spirit has become an inward reality, has an inward sovereignty, the enemy rises up in a certain form to counter that. The conflict is set between them that are after the flesh and they who are after the Spirit. "The flesh wars against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh" (Gal. 5:17). That is the scene which introduces Joshua and it is from that time onwards that Joshua becomes a militant figure in Israel. The militant side of Joshua's history begins then.

My point is this, that it is when we become truly spiritual that we begin to meet the full force of the enemy's antagonism. A new kind of conflict starts with a spiritual condition. Then the sovereignty of the Spirit enters into the life, a new kind of spiritual conflict begins and from that time the conflict intensifies and gets higher and higher in its range, its realm in the very heavenlies, as typified by the land into which they will move under Joshua's command presently.

Spirituality, then, is the very occasion of the deepest, most intense form of spiritual conflict. So Ephesians 6 is that our conflict is against spiritual hosts of wickedness. That is the last chapter in the letter. Ephesians 1 is - "Ye were sealed with the Spirit... which is an earnest of our inheritance". That leads right on at the end - our warfare is with spiritual hosts. That is the outcome of receiving the Spirit.

It is true in the case of the Lord Jesus. The heavens were opened, the Spirit lighted upon Him, then into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. It is always like that. A truly inward spiritual condition precipitates this matter of intense and ever more intense spiritual conflict.

What Spirituality Is

We have to be very concise in these few moments, but our main point is that what God is really after for His own sake, for His own interests, for the realization of His fullest purposes, is truly spiritual men and women, a spiritual company. Now, a spiritual person or a spiritual company can only be such by the deepest discipline, chastening, and exercise and experiences. You can be all sorts of things as Christians without being spiritual. It does not require that a man shall be necessarily very spiritual to be a fundamentalist champion. You can be a great fundamentalist leader and champion, standing for the great verities of the faith, the deity of Christ, the inspiration of the Scriptures and the Bible from cover to cover the Word of God, without being a spiritual man. It is not necessary to be a spiritual man to be that. I knew a man in the United States who was such a terrific fundamentalist that he made so many enemies that he had to keep a loaded revolver in his desk in his vestry. That is a fact. It is an extreme case, but my point is that you need not be a spiritual man to be that. You need not necessarily be a very spiritual man to be a Bible teacher. You can teach the Bible as you teach any other text book and teach it cleverly and make it a very interesting thing and be full of Scripture and ability to handle it, without being a spiritual man or woman. It does not require that you should necessarily be a very spiritual person to lead a great evangelistic campaign as such, nor to organize a great missionary society and run a great institution in relation to Christian work. Not necessarily must you be very spiritual for those things. I am not saying spiritual men have never done those things. Really to do anything like that to the ultimate satisfaction of God requires spirituality. What I am saying is that you can do all these things without really being a spiritual person. A really spiritual person will be concerned about evangelization, about missionary matters, about the Word of God, but to be in all those things and very much engaged in those things does not necessarily mean that you are spiritual.

We can press that further. Look at the letter to the Corinthians. Here are people who have in abundance the manifestation gifts of the Spirit - tongues, healings and all the other gifts are there, and the apostle has to say, "I could not speak to you as unto spiritual", and here, even in these things which are essentially marks of the Holy Spirit's presence, they are using them carnally. Tongues is a display gift and can be used to bring people into evidence. The very church concerning which we read most about spiritual gifts is the church about which we read most of carnality.

Spirituality is something other and it is just there that our greatest difficulty arises - to really define spirituality. He says, "He that is spiritual judges (or examines) all things, and he himself is judged of no man" (1 Cor. 2:15), he is inscrutable. The spiritual man is inscrutable. He can scrutinize, he has power, ability, faculty, for spiritual scrutiny, but he is inscrutable. You cannot really define this, you can only approach a definition, and when you come to Joshua, perhaps you are helped in your approach to this matter of spirituality, for we have seen that Joshua brings us over into another realm, onto another basis. We still have Christ in type as Saviour, Christ as Lord in authority, Christ in person as Son of God and Son of Man; all that is there up to Joshua's time. That is not disposed of or set aside when Joshua comes in, but Joshua goes beyond that. We have Christ as High Priest in Aaron, as we have Christ in authority in Moses, but Joshua takes that up and goes beyond. It is not a mark of real spirituality that we know Christ as Saviour, nor that we recognize His authority as Lord, nor yet that we have a knowledge of Him as High Priest in His high priestly capacity and ministry on our behalf. A measure of spirituality is required for all these things, but it does not necessarily mark us out as very spiritual people. All that was there, but Joshua went beyond.

An Apprehension of Christ, the Embodiment of God's Thoughts

What really was it that came in with Joshua? What is it that goes beyond these things, which is real spirituality? It is the apprehension of Christ as the embodiment of the thoughts of God. Now, that is very difficult, you perhaps cannot grasp that at all, but do you not recognize that Christ is the embodiment of an altogether different and other system of thoughts and ideas from that which is common in this creation, in this world, in the realm known to us by nature? And that when we become subject to the Spirit of God, under His teaching we have to get entirely transformed ideas about everything. Our ideas have to be reconstituted. Is not that the very nature of our schooling as Christians? We are going through a reconstituting of our mentality. We bring over all our natural ideas and judgments to Christianity. We find we do not get very far with that. We have to change our ideas. The Lord' s thoughts and ours, even though ours are religious, devout thoughts and very well-meaning thoughts, thoughts of consecration and earnestness, nevertheless there is a difference in their very nature, and we have to get a new mental constitution before we can go on very far with the Lord. Is that not true? It sounds difficult as it is said, but really it is simple in experience.

What is the trouble with us? Why is the Christian life so complicated for so many? Simply because we are all the time trying to interpret God according to our own thoughts, to bring God down to our own judgment and make Him conform to our mentality. We find that it does not work. We cannot get on that way at all and God does not come down there. Something has to happen to turn us inside out and make us altogether new and different, and that is Christ. He is so different, so other. He is the embodiment of Divine thoughts in their very essence. Christ is a new system of ideas, different ideas altogether, and these Divine ideas are eternal.

You notice that when you come on to the matter of spirituality in the Scriptures, you are taken out of time into the eternal. What is the most spiritual of the gospels? It is John's gospel. John's gospel is written in terms of spirituality. Take the very first feature of the Christian life - John 3:6 - "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit"- how that is the keynote of John's gospel. But what is the realm in which that is set? It is the eternal. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). You are taken right out of time there, right out of this creation, right back into the eternal thoughts of God.

What is the most spiritual, or one of the most spiritual, of the letters of the New Testament? Is it not Ephesians? Yes, "blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies", "warfare with spiritual hosts". It is the realm of: "whom He foreknew, He also did predestinate." It is outside of time, it takes you back into eternity, and Christ is the embodiment of the eternal thoughts, the transcendent thoughts, and that is just where we find our limitation. We are so time-bound, so earthbound, so constituted according to this present hour and this present world and this present system. It is a most difficult thing for us to get outside of it, to change. But that is exactly what the Spirit of God is doing with us. He is putting us into eternity and changing us from this present order into another. John 3:.6 - "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" - that is the beginning. What is the end? 1 Cor. 15:46 - "afterward that which is spiritual". "There is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (v.44).

Well, the beginning of the thing is that there is a reconstituting inwardly - "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit", reconstituting as something spiritual. The consummation is that the body is brought into line with that which is done inwardly and a spiritual body follows. Between that there is all the history of spiritual growth, spiritual maturing, understanding, becoming spiritual men and women. "Ye that are spiritual" (Gal. 6:1). "He that is spiritual" (1 Cor. 2:15). It is something for you to dwell upon and see exactly what it is that the Lord is after and what He is doing with us. He is seeking this because He must have a vessel after this kind for the realization of His purpose. It will serve Him most greatly here, even in time. Spiritual men and women will serve the Lord most greatly, fulfil His purpose most truly.

This is just where this natural life of ours finds it so difficult to respond because we are so time-bound, so earthbound, there is very little appeal to us, we find little response in us to any suggestion to wait and afterwards the Lord will be justified. We want it now; we must have it now. That is the difference between Israel, Joshua and Caleb. But we have to face this. Do we really believe in a mighty, a tremendous, afterward? That this life at most, at best, at fullest, is a mere drop in the ocean compared with what God has? Do we believe it, believe it so much that this life really sinks into insignificance with all that we miss or all that we may have, in the light of the great calling of God unto the ages of the ages to be fulfilled in this vessel? Is it real or is it visionary and abstract, not practical? Well, there is the test and it is this reconstituting that the Lord is doing in us to make that heavenly, eternal vocation of the ages of the ages a more real thing with us now than all that this world holds. So often the Lord is found just making the precious things of this life as nothing, empty, wearying, so drawing us. He is seeking to reconstitute for that great thing which lies as the very basis and object of our not being just found in time and saved from sin and the world and Satan, but having been foreknown and chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, to reconstitute us on an eternal basis. Spirituality is a matter of understanding Christ and apprehending Christ as the embodiment of those eternal thoughts of God. The spiritual man, the spiritual woman, is the one who is really seeing in a growing way the significance of Christ as God's eternal thoughts.

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