Some Thoughts On Balance and Maturity
Not As One Who Has Arrived
But As One Desiring To Be Led More Deeply In The Way
I. THE CHRISTIAN’S OBEDIENCE TO THE WILL OF GOD
After the inner man, the Christian absolutely desires to be obedient to all of the exhortations, commands, and verbal imperatives of God. However, after the flesh (this body of death) there is absolutely no righteous desire to observe God’s revealed will for our lives. As a result, there is a constant warfare, a continuous struggle, wherein we both can do no good whatsoever and wherein we can do that perfect good that Christ, Himself, works in us (through the Spirit of God, despite our carnal flesh). Indeed our good works must be perfectly good, seeing that God has wrought all our works in us, if we are His (Isaiah 26:13). Yet, whilst continually affirming this truth, if we say that we have no sin, that we possess no sin, that it is not ever-present with us (and all that we do), as some odious and filthy garment continuously worn, then we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us. Sin is ever present in all that we do though it be not present in that which God, Himself, does in us. This is a mystery to me and I do not pretend to understand how my good works are both perfectly good (being God-wrought), and yet, utterly contaminated (because, subjectively, as an integrated being, my sin is manifestly mixed with all that I do because I do nothing with a perfect heart, will, mindset, or desire). The whole essence of this bewilderment is summed up in:
Matthew 25:34-40 “Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed [thee]? or thirsty, and gave [thee] drink? 38 When saw we Thee a stranger, and took [thee] in? or naked, and clothed [thee]? 39 Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, In as much as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done [it] unto Me.”
Why is this so? Why is it that ‘in as much as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these [His] brethren, ye have done [it] unto [Him]‘? It is because they are Christ! Truly, the Lord Jesus is so yoked to His people, that doing something to, or for, the Body is the same as doing something to, or for, the Head — for Head and Body are one Christ. This same truth declares that through true vital union with the Lord, every good work He works in His people becomes their good works, their perfect works, their very own – though all of Him (for they are One). Whereas their sin, all of it, is naturally none of His because it stems not from anything flowing from Him, or intrinsic to Him, as to His character, works, or nature. Our sin became His sin through imputation and susception only, as He bore them on the cross, through vital union with us, as our perfect atoning Substitute. Yet, because our sin is truly ours intrinsically, and because our good is all of God, and seeing that we much more often have a keener awareness of our sin, than of the goodness He works in us, we are left like those in the parable, to ask, when did I do this good you describe Lord, when do I really ever do any good; what good work (that you have ordained that I should walk in) can I ever truly say “see, there, I walked in it uprightly!”? I can see no such thing; yet, in Him, and through Him, I trust that it is so; I trust that I work out the good works that He works out in me, though I (myself), as with most all of the saints, am far more apt to think “is it me Lord?” than “look at me Lord!” Yet, as it relates to man, horizontally, it is easy for the flesh to boast in our goodness, in our law-keeping, in our growth and progress, but such thoughts and boastings are not from above but from below. Humility and maturity gives thanks to God for growth, and victory, but causes us to see ourselves (again, intrinsically) as falling so far short of the mark by nature that our light is but darkness in comparison to the perfect and holy Light of the God.
Nonetheless, from the point of view of who, and what, I am in Christ, I can say that (in and by the Lord Jesus Christ) I utterly delight in the law of God after the inward man (Romans 7:22); yea my absolute delight is in the very law of the LORD that reflects His blessed nature, character, holiness, and goodness. I am blown away by those who can view it as something to be disdained, avoided, frowned upon – it is madness (and sadness) to me. When we read “hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1:10), when rightly understood, even spiritually understood, we see clearly that there are not two separate sets of instruction in view, but the “two” are one. There is no distinction between God’s word and His law when His word is used arightly, in love, in the systematic consistency of thought that God has laid forth, all with an eye singularly placed upon Christ. His law is the entirety of His word, the fullness of His counsel from Genesis to Revelation, whether as a type or figure (concerning those passages that are either historical or abrogated, being fulfilled, having served the purpose of pointing us to Him and His finished work), or whether as an operative precept, regarding all of the non-abrogated portions of Scripture, that which applies to us today, concerning the true nature of our peace, hope, faith, justification, sanctification, glorification, and that instruction from God which pertains to our walk, our manner of life. A clear example of this truth can be found in 1 Corinthians 14:21, which states “in the law it is written, With [men of] other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.” When compared to the original passage, we see that the use of the term law hardly fits the common, limited, notion of it but points to a passage that reveals God’s dealings with men in general, for it reads “Whom shall He teach knowledge? and whom shall He make to understand doctrine? [them that are] weaned from the milk, [and] drawn from the breasts. 10 For precept [must be] upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little: 11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people” (Isaiah 28:9-11). So we see that, as with words like love or world, the word law can have different connotations depending upon the scriptural context; the law of sin, is different from the perfect law of liberty; the law of Moses is different (especially in our day) from the law of God, but the entirety of the Bible is the word of God and we should love every aspect of it, without exception, without bias, without excuse, Lord willing and helping, as with all other things spiritual.
So in this light, with all sincerity, I declare that I would love to consistently meditate both day and night in His law (Psalm 1:2) though indwelling sin inhibits and quenches that desire far more often than it ever should. With all my being I can declare that His commandments and judgments are more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb are they (Psalm 19:10) but only when my mind is blessedly ordered, prioritized, and set upon Him by His grace and effectual working (may it be more and more and more!). “O how love I Thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97) is what I wish I could say with perfect sincerity and consistency because I know that through His precepts I both can and will get understanding, even more so than the ancients, if He blesses me therein (Psalm 119:100, 104). I know that through His commandments I can be made wiser than all mine enemies, and that by taking heed according to His word, I can (experientially) be cleansed in The Way. Though my objective cleansing, or washing, is through the Holy Spirit, even the washing of the Word, as The Lord quickens His people, leading them to the Gospel Truth of that utter washing away of sin that occurred when our Lord died in our stead, the elect’s stead, and was buried, and rose again in absolute victory! Nonetheless, I often need that experimental washing, that subjective (conscience) washing, that comes through the word of promise, the word of peace and comfort, and the word that declares unto us the Living Water and the Precious Blood of Christ. But it is not just about the conscience, it is absolutely about our walk, our conduct, our Gospel adorning, for if His effectual Hand is upon me, I will have the true and felt victory over this sin, or that, for a season, for many seasons, or maybe (just maybe) completely — all as He desires, though never anywhere even close to perfection in this vile flesh over all sin. Yet, we will have victory indeed seeing that all scripture is God-breathed, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God (Christ in me and me in Him) may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works/well-doing (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Timothy 5:10; Acts 9:36), and seeing that (a) throughly furnished means that we were already perfectly given all that is necessary for the purpose at hand, and that the effect of what we were already given continuosuly remains, for by the Holy Spirit that indwells us, and the Spiritually-applied word that enlightens us, (b) we can do all things through Christ which strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). So seeing that growth in grace and grow in faith are part and parcel with spiritual maturation, I understand that growing in faith comes only through spiritual hearing and that spiritual hearing is that gift of our Heavenly Father that enables us to comprehend the word of God, as we physically read or hear it, and as it is applied to our fleshy hearts by the Spirit of God (Romans 10:17; John 6:63; 1 Corinthians 2:13; John 14:26; and Ezekiel 36:26-27). Likewise, growing in grace is tied-into growing in the knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18), and growing in the knowledge of Christ is tied into growth in faith through spiritually hearing the word, for the Lord promises that if His people, by His effectual working, (1) receive His words, (2) hide His commandments within them, (3) incline their (spiritual) ears unto His wisdom, (4) apply their God-given fleshy hearts to His understanding (not leaning unto their own understanding), (5) cry after knowledge, (6) lift up their voice for understanding, (7) seek wisdom as silver, and (8) search for it as for hidden treasures, then shalt we understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of Christ and the Godhead of whom He is the fulness bodily (Proverbs 2:1-5).
GROWTH, MATURATION, THE TRANSFORMING OF THE MIND, AND THE CONFORMING OF THE SOUL UNTO THE IMAGE OF CHRIST
Yet, I simultaneously understand that there is another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin (which is in my members), which causes me to often moan, groan, or cry in like sentiment “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:23-24). This is no mere notion, no mere academic interest; in the whole of my being I understand that concerning this flesh, and the indwelling sin therein, I am carnal, sold under sin (Romans 7:14), serving the law of sin (Romans 7:25), and there remains a carnality of mind associated with this flesh that is enmity against God, and ever remains so, because it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be (Romans 8:7) seeing that the flesh will always lust against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh for these are contrary (the one to the other) so that I cannot do the things that I would (Galatians 5:17). As a result, I (and all of God’s quickened people) can declare with the Psalmist “If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Psalm 130:3). Yet, the peace of the Christian is in Christ, and in His finished work on the cross, knowing the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, even the blessedness of those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered by the blood of Christ. Such are already delivered from this body of death in Him (as to the victory, promise, and purpose of God though we do not yet have the experience of this blessed reality in time) seeing that, for the Christian, it is as sure to come as if it has already arrived.
Nevertheless, I am indeed carnal, sold under sin, doing what I (after the inward man) ginōskō not (G1097), know not, love not, and thus, allow not (for what I would do, I do not do, but what I hate, that I do as a result of indwelling sin). I see, therefore, an apparent (but never a real) contradiction. I know that there is victory in Christ — not just eternal, objective victory but experimental, present in time, victories as well — victories that allow me to rightly say, “I am not (now) what I once was,” manifestly speaking. That is, I do not commit many of the outward sins that I once committed, do not feel as great a pull of certain temptations as I once did, though my sin is nevertheless ever before me, and not only is it as odious a stench to me as it was in times past, but it is now even more so. But why? Why do I have certain real, and lasting victories (to which God alone gets the credit and glory), surely the fallen flesh doesn’t get any better — it never can and never will. It is a legitimate question seeing that there has been growth, there has been progress in my outward walk, and in my being manifestly set apart for holy use by God (the real meaning of sanctified), though I fall so far short of the mark, in and of myself, both objectively and subjectively. It’s not just me; surely every true child of God can thank Him for this victory here, this deliverance there, growth in this aspect in addition, though we no doubt slip over here, stumble over there, and fall ‘seven’ times (Proverbs 24:16), yet always get back up in Christ, by His grace! But how! How can there be growth, maturation, yea even (though the word be dreaded) progress, or progression, when I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) there dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; I have a true desire to do good, but how to perform it, bring it about, work it out, I find not, that is, I cannot come upon it, so as to find that which I have enquired about, sought after, scrutinized, or had hoped to discover. Thus, the good that I would poieō, that is, the good that I would perform of myself, make or fashion of myself, bring forth of my self, yea even create or produce of myself I do not — I cannot even begin to do any such thing, not even the slightest bit at all. So what is the answer?
The Lord Jesus Christ, and the entire Triune Godhead, is the answer. I am fully persuaded that whatever good I do must be an operation of Christ in me, my only Hope of Glory; if God the Father does not grant me, in each instance, the gift of a willing heart to do His will, and likewise the strength to do (in Christ, by the Holy Spirit), I will most assuredly fail. But it is not so with my sin! No, the evil which I would not, that I truly and actively (after the flesh) do. I don’t just do it, I don’t just commit a little evil here, or a little evil there, sometimes. No, as it relates to this spiritually-foul flesh, I don’t just do evil, I prassō evil, which means (per the original Greek) I habitually, continuously, practice evil. The doing of evil is an ever-present, unceasingly (in this life) contemporaneous reality. God makes this abundantly clear. Again, if I say that I have no (habitual, continuous, contemporaneous, present active indicative) sin, I deceive myself, and the Truth is not in me. God promises that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (experimentally, seeing that objectively this was done on the cross wholly by way of Christ and His finished work). So again, if we say that we have not sinned, i.e. that we did not sin in such a sense that the results of it equate to continuous sin in our life, then we make God a liar and His Word is not in us.
Now, seeing that I absolutely do poieō, perform of myself, make/fashion of myself, bring forth of my self, yea even create or produce of myself that which I neither will nor desire (know nor love), then it is no more I that do it (it is no more what I am in Christ, after Christ, even after His blessed image), and it is no more I that work it out, but it is wrought by that loathsome and vile sin that dwelleth in me, and which is me, after the flesh, being formed of (and in the image of) the old man, the outer man. It is in light of these truths that I can say, as with the Apostle Paul, that I indeed find then a law, that, when I would do good (when I would poieō, perform, bring forth that which is good by the operation of the Spirit of God in me), evil is nonetheless present with me, lying near me, and ever at hand. The presence of this evil, this sin, is determined of God and appointed by Him to be with me (though not in accordance with my active will or consent after the inner man); this is all unto His glory (in His perfect strength and my absolute weakness) and unto my perfect good in the pruning and chastening (which is the conforming and transforming) that comes from it. We read in Psalm 17:13-15 “Arise, O LORD, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, [which is] thy sword: 14 From men [which are] thy hand, O LORD, from men of the world, [which have] their portion in [this] life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid [treasure]: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their [substance] to their babes. 15 As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” This passage is often used concerning those other people that oppress us. However, the greatest wicked, or wickedness, from which we need to be delivered (experimentally speaking) is our own sin. God uses the sin of others to mold us into the image of Christ as we are made to persevere through fiery trials and tribulations; however “the wicked which is His sword” is chiefly our own (carnal, fleshly) selves. Isn’t it interesting that the word sword, is chereb in the Hebrew, and it is also used to describe other cutting tools in the Bible such as axes, graving tools, knives? It is also used to denote that which is used to cut stone. The wicked within, and without, is God’s tool to cut us, shape us, prune us, so that we may be fashioned after His image, with His express image being the Lord Jesus Christ.
So despite my natural sin, inability, and great need, I see God purposing all things, governing all things, bringing about all things, and shaping all things into the grand scheme and design He purposed from before the world was. He created us unto good works which He causes us to walk in, and yet, leaves us with ever-present sin to humble us, chasten us, and to cause us to rely wholly on Him, and in His strength. He took away our sin perfectly, utterly, and completely in Christ, and yet, leaves us to experience it in this life nonetheless.
With such a scheme in view, concerning both our complete salvation and the working out of our salvation, what should our attitude be concerning both our perfect ability in Christ (to walk in the good works that he has ordained for us) and our simultaneously perfect inability to do any good after the flesh? how should my mindset, my worldview, my entire demeanor, attitude, and manner of life be in light of these great truths? Shouldn’t I absolutely delight in the law of God after the inward man, to such an extent that it motivates me, galvanizes me (always Lord willing and as God enables), to walk in accordance with His word, and to mortifying my members (even fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry for which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience per Colossians 3:5-6), seeing that the law that is in view is the entirety of the non-abrogated counsel of God? Yes, we are saved not by our own works in any sense but by the faith and faithfulness of Christ, as received by the faith wrought in us by God (even as a free and sovereign gift from God). Yet, are we not exhorted, in the entirety of His counsel, as dearly beloved children of God, and as strangers and pilgrims in this earthly, wilderness sojourn, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11); and to strive mightily against yielding our members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin? Aren’t we to instead yield ourselves unto God, as ones that are alive in Christ, quickened by the Spirit from the dead? Aren’t we suppose to use our members as instruments of righteousness unto God (even our minds, tongues, and bodies)? Surely we have no strength to do this whatsoever! I truly do not have any and would be a fool to think that I do! But should I not, should we not, trust that God will grant us the necessary strength, supply us with said strength, to do that which He beseeches us and commands us to do, all to the degree that He has ordained that we should do it (seeing that we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them?).
Yes, we will never achieve perfection in this flesh; yes, we will never see the improvement of the flesh; yes, we will have many stumbles and falls (even in old age, like some of the godly kings of ancient Israel); and yes, we will often loathe ourselves over how woefully short we truly fall in comparison to the Lord and His blessed word; but we are to pray for ourselves, and for one another, desiring that we might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that we might (actively, not just passively) walk worthy of the Lord, experimentally, manifestly, unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work He has ordained for us, and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son: in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins… (Colossians 1:9-14). If we have this redemption and forgiveness of sins, in Christ Jesus, then should we not actively seek to put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, and all filthy communication out of our mouths; lying not one to another (especially about who we are, and what we are, and about what we can do and what we cannot do in this life; with all of the associated airs, pretenses, errors, and hypocrisies); seeing that we have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him? (Colossians 3:8-10 and Ephesians 4:31-32)? Shouldn’t we actively seek to lay aside all malice, guile, hypocrisies, envies, evil speakings, and (as newborn babes) desire instead the sincere milk of the word, that we may grow thereby — if so be that we have actually tasted that the Lord is gracious (1 Peter 2:1-2)?
When I read 1 Timothy 6:11-14 “But thou, O man of God, flee these things [disobedience, rebellion, unwholesome words, pride, envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings, covetousness, avarice, etc.]; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. 13 I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and [before] Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; 14 That thou keep [this] commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ…” — I do not see any room for any such arguments as “we cannot do this; God doesn’t expect us to do this; we should ignore this and just look to Christ knowing that He did this for us; this is legalism if we actually promote this; such passages should just be read individually, since only the Gospel should be publicly proclaimed; this is dry doctrine and not true, experimental religion, etc.” We are called to actively “flee fornication” (1 Corinthians 6:18); flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14); and “flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22-23), remembering that we are to submit ourselves therefore to God, knowing that if we (by God’s grace) resist the devil, the devil will flee from us. We are, therefore, to “draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to us.” We are to “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14); we are to be all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, being pitiful, being courteous: not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that we are thereunto called, that we should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (1 Peter 3:8-12). It doesn’t get much clearer than this.
As a primary author in writing the book of Psalms, do you think that David, in speaking against evil walked openly in it himself? I do not believe so at all for he was a man after God’s own heart. He had his stumbles and falls, big ones even, but the course of his life was one characterized by godliness (though never unto manifest perfection) and not debauchery and grievous sin; he was no son of Belial. The same goes with the author of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes; do you believe that Solomon, being moved by God to write His works, as was His father, do you believe that he walked in open sin and rebellion (as the course of his life0 whilst speaking out against such things in his works? I know that Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, as with the entire Bible, is spiritual first and foremost (pointing us to Christ) but it is practical as well and we would do well to take heed and to strive against sin. We are commanded to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; that word work out is katergazomai and it means to fully accomplish, bring about (amongst other things), all with the full knowledge that we do so only because it is “God which worketh in [us] both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). We work out that which God works in us, to the degree that He has foreordained, and we should strive to the utmost, not making excuses for our sin, though we will fall far short in this sojourn life.
To God be the glory, Amen.