Archive for the ‘Spiritual Growth’ Category

Territorial Spirits

December 19th, 2016

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia. (Daniel 10:13 NKJV)

The topic of territorial spirits has been treated by Christians by giving it both too much and not enough emphasis. The Bible does, however, present this spiritual reality in Daniel 10:13 and 10:20, and in Mark 5:10.

Over-emphasis leads to error: One of the tendencies of those who put too much emphasis on territorial spirits is to go about trying to cast these demons out, seeking out demons themselves to engage them. But there are no examples in scripture of people doing this. This method leads to error. We are not to go out and challenge demons but rather to take a defensive stance against his attacks on us. James teaches us to resist the devil, not to attack the devil (James 4:7). Ephesians 6:11 teaches us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” “Standing” is different from “attacking.” And though we do take on Satan’s kingdom whenever we preach and teach and evangelize, and though we do have the power to even cast out demons of people possessed by them (Luke 10:17 and Acts 16:17-18), the emphasis of our ministry must be the preaching of the truth of God.

We have the expression, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” and it comes from this biblical teaching. Jude especially warns us of the foolishness of us seeking to directly provoke the devil.

But even when Michael the archangel was arguing with the devil and debating with him concerning Moses’ body, he did not dare to bring a slanderous judgment, but said, “May the Lord rebuke you!” But these men do not understand the things they slander, and they are being destroyed by the very things that, like irrational animals, they instinctively comprehend. (Jude 1:9-10 NET)

The emphasis of the scripture is to preach the gospel, to teach the truth, to resist the deceptions of the devil, and to stand in the full armor of God the work of the devil as we depend on the power of the Spirit of God to enable us. We are not helpless – we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us (Rom. 8:37) – yet the power to resist comes from God, not us.

Satan’s kingdom is a genuine evil spiritual power that we are not to underestimate or play around with. God is greater than the devil, and Christ in us is greater than the devil that is in the world, but one of the chief tricks of the devil is to appeal to our lusts and our pride. Many a Christian has been brought down by in his pride overestimating his own power, rather than by confessing his own weakness and depending on God. Jude’s word was that not even Michael the faithful Archangel was so presumptuous.

Under-emphasis also creates problems: Yet there is something to this matter. It is not a figment of people’s imaginations but a genuine spiritual reality that is taught in scripture. Anyone who has traveled and ministered in Christ’s name to different nations will be aware that different cultures have different spiritual problems. Though Jesus Christ is the solution for all people and for all nations, there still are different ways that people are spiritually bound. Paul referred to all the world’s peoples when he wrote:

But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:2-4 NET)

This blinding comes in different shapes to different nations. Some are steeped in fear and superstition, bound by Satan’s deception as to the reality of the spirit world. Some are addicted to strong emotions and uncontrollable passions. Some are deceived in that they deny spiritual powers exist at all. Some are controlled by greed. Some are fatalistic and angry. And we can go on and on describing the unique traits of the different peoples of the world.

We may pass these differences off to the peculiarities of climate, culture, and history, as well as some unique individuals who have come along, and I suppose all of these things play some part. But could it also be that these differences reflect the unique touches of the different territorial spirits? Satan’s kingdom does have organization, as Paul wrote, we fight against: “the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Eph. 6:12).

Regardless of the manner of deception and spiritual blindness and enslavement, all the world needs Jesus, and Jesus can save and set free all who call upon Him in truth. This should call for some patience on our part, and not to be quick to judge or to think lowly of people from different cultures. We may notice their faults, while they notice ours, but neither of us have walked in the others’ shoes and can only say as Paul did:

And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest. (Eph. 2:1-3 NET)

But God in His mercy in Christ Jesus forgives us and sets us free. And that is the important factor.

Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Maturity , ,

Moving onto Maturity

November 28th, 2016

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Hebrews 6:1-3 ESV)

In order to mature in the Christian faith we must desire spiritual growth over many other distracting things.

We must choose God over our friends and acquaintances, we must desire to be closer to God than to them. We must desire to please Him more than please them. We must “go on” to maturity, leaving the things associated with immaturity behind us. We cannot continue to make it our goal to please our friends and please God.

This will inevitably create some tension between us and others, when they wish us to walk in the old ways of past friendship. Paul alluded to this when he said, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child. I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11 NKJV).

We must disassociate from the world and its values. Since the world is all around us, and even within us by our sinful nature, we cannot leave it entirely in this life. But yet there must be some safe place, or safer places, where we can withdraw from its influences and be with God more than with it.

We must also disassociate with inferior and fundamentally flawed forms of the Christian faith. The author of Hebrews specifically addressed in chapter six some of these forms and the understandings that lay behind them. Here is room for inner emotional conflict if there ever was. How can we reject those forms of Christian teachings that were used, at least in part, by God Himself to mature us?

Again we find an answer in 1 Corinthians 13, “But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1 Cor. 13:10 NKJV). This is the discipline of the sciences, to take what knowledge we have and to use this as a step stool to go on to greater knowledge, even if we discover that the “science” we stood upon in the past was partly flawed. It is, even then, difficult to do in science, and it is much more difficult to do in the Christian faith mainly because we must bring in our emotions and the multi-generational influence that spans the years.

Six specific things are mentioned here that belonged to the “elementary principles” or “doctrine” of Christ. These were not flawed in themselves, but somehow they became used in an inappropriate way in the first century Jewish Christian church. The author had written in the preceding verses:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb. 5:12-14 ESV)

The problem was not that what they had believed in was wrong – it was foundational, fundamental, and “elementary” to the Christian faith. Their fault was that they had not built upon the foundation by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 3:1-17), rather they became “minimal Christians.” It is common that some people imagine that once they have been saved and baptized, once they are safe from eternal condemnation, then there is nothing left for them in the Christian life that they must do.

These six items are:

Repentance from dead works – It is necessary to repent from sin in order to be saved (Acts 11:18), and the Christian life is to be a a life of continual repentance before God. The problem was that these Christians looked at their repentance as laying only in their past, not in their present.

Faith toward God – Faith in God – specifically in gospel He has sought to reveal to us – is essential for salvation. But, again, as with repentance, we are to live and to walk by faith. Our faith must be not only a past response to the hearing of the gospel, but a present and growing reality in our lives. “For we walk by faith, and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

Teachings about Washings – The Jewish faith had many washings associated with it, and though we may understand that here he spoke mainly of Christian baptism, since his audience was Jewish Christians it also naturally allowed itself to apply to the many cleansing rituals. The issue that it addressed was that someone may feel he has done his spiritual duty because he has associated in the rites of his religion. The rites, even the Christian rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are never enough alone.

The laying on of hands – This had a special meaning to the Jewish Christian, for in the Old Testament the laying on of hands signified identification with the sacrificial animal to be put to death as a symbolic atonement for sin. We might think of this as the public expression of their faith in Christ, where they as believers “laid their hands on Jesus” or confessed Him as their sacrificial lamb. We must confess Christ, but having done so once at our conversion or baptism is never enough.

The resurrection of the dead – The hope of the resurrection of the body is a Christian fundamental. It was part and parcel of the Jewish faith as well, as we read in Job: “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26 ESV). (See also Isaiah 26:19.) But, again, we see how this cannot be the end of the Christian experience, to have repented and trusted in Christ, to have been baptized, to have publicly owned Christ, and then to wait for death.

Eternal judgment – In Christ Jesus the judgment that was rightfully ours to bear has been born by Him. We have instead received forgiveness and eternal life. The problem was not that this, or any of the other elementary doctrines, were false, only that they were seen as all and as nothing else being important.

How many Christians stifle the Spirit’s work in their souls not because they are wrong in their foundation, but because once they met the minimal requirements to enter into the Church of Jesus Christ, they stopped growing. The discussion that ensues in Hebrews 6 raises the question whether these people were truly saved or not. Anyone born of God will not be content to sit and wait for his resurrection, he will not be content to be a “minimal Christian.”

We may languish in an immature state for many years, but if we are truly born again God will patiently continue to prod us and urge us to grow, to know Him better and deeper. We must all move on to maturity in Christ.

A final point: There can be no place for pride and pretense in true spiritual growth, rather it is achieved only by God’s Spirit working in the humble and honest soul. Neither are we permitted to become condemning and judgmental toward others – the “better than thou” attitude is the opposite from the true heart of spiritual maturity. While we will find that as an end result or as a by product of our growth we will act responsibly toward the world – we will pay our bills, obey traffic laws, and do our civic duty in the world – yet we will realize that doing these things will not achieve our spiritual maturity. The true source of maturity is the Spirit of God working within us, and our outward adherence is a result, not a cause.

Spiritual Growth , ,