J. D. Howell, Leeds
It is evident that we live in the closing days of the dispensation of grace, where lukewarmness in the things of God and a yearning for the passing things of this world are becoming more and more apparent in local assemblies of God's people. Similar conditions were present in the days of the apostle, who felt it necessary to instruct the churches in the meaning and need for both separation from the world around and separation to God.
For many, appreciation of spiritual things has become dim, and such men literally "see through a glass, darkly". Are there not many, saved by sovereign grace, content to remain babes in Christ, whose testimony is so weak that it is difficult to recognize them as Christians at all? Attendances at assembly meetings are spasmodic, and whilst having a poor appetite for the things of God, many have a prodigious appetite for things of the world, friends, position, pleasure, and so on. Do we need to remind ourselves that Christ gave Himself to deliver us from this present evil age, and as a delivered people rescued from the slavery of sin we should be alive unto God? In various places in the Scriptures we shall find Christians defined as people who are (1) near to God; (2) united to an earth-rejected Christ; (3) a peculiar treasure; (4) a body, a building; (5) a bride dear to Him through eternal days; (6) destined to sit with Him on His throne; (7) left here to show forth His praises on earth.
One might say that a people with all these features is more fitted for the heavenlies than the earth. Whilst there are those who delude themselves that they enjoy sinless perfection, the Epistle of John tells us very clearly that such people err from the truth. These characteristics do, however, separate from everything opposed to God.
The Lord Jesus, in His remarkable prayer in John 17 which can rightly be described as the Lord's prayer, is very careful to indicate the Christian position: "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil". That there are two kinds of Christians is clear, for they are named and described as carnal and spiritual: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?", 1 Cor. 3.1-4. Let us ask ourselves, to which group of Christians do we belong? We may deceive ourselves or our friends but divine eyes see what we are with absolute accuracy.
The Marks of a Carnal Christian. One of these is undoubtedly a life of unceasing conflict, perpetual discontent, and loss of peace. Two diverse laws become apparent, two forces pulling in opposite directions, two natures utterly opposed one to another with the old mostly in control. Well might the apostle write descriptively of this, "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see 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", Rom. 7. 22-23. For "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would", Gal. 5. 17.
The carnal Christian, knowing to do right, yet does the wrong. Habitual yielding to the Devil brings a life of unceasing, wearying conflict. The Spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak. So long as we are in this body of humiliation, so long the conflict will continue. Have you waited, almost with bated breath to see a photograph of yourself, and on seeing it you have been bitterly disappointed? Some prominent feature, which you would give much to erase, is there clearly seen; yet the picture is true. The picture drawn of the carnal Christian is anything but pleasing, but it is perfectly accurate. We may now examine various tell tale marks.
A Life of Repeated Defeat. Romans 7 is the spiritual biography of someone, possibly Paul himself, but it could be just as easily yours or mine. How true it is. "For that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I"; "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do", Rom. 7. 15, 19. Such an analysis brings one to exclaim with the apostle, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?", 7.24. How often, after attending meetings and listening to searching addresses, or perhaps after some particularly close contact with the Lord, we have made up our minds to turn over a new leaf, to conquer sin and turn defeat into Victory. Alas for all our resolutions, we still are guilty of sins of omission as well as sins of commission; we fail to do those things that we should and do those that we should not. Yes, they haunt our sleep and rob us of rest but there they are, lost tempers, proud words and deeds, selfish actions and worry.
In dealing with such cases, one has found that neglect of the Scriptures and lack of personal prayer have robbed young Christians of that intimate contact with the Lord. The Bible readings and prayer meetings get neglected and the Christian life becomes burdensome and neglected. Inevitably they suffer, for no true Christian can get into such a state without suffering. There is also a lack of concern for the unsaved, who must be given the gospel. "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing, for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not", 7. 18.
We cannot afford to have dual control; it invariably spells defeat and we need to pray for that experience which takes us into Romans 8.
A Life of Protracted Infancy. Have you not noticed how Christians who mix with the world never grow up spiritually? Some of us have had the keen disappointment of seeing those in whom we hoped for great things remain babes in Christ, both life and sendee being stunted. No parent would do other than admit that a baby in its babyhood is perfect, but what heartache if no development takes place either physically or mentally; such a child would be abnormal. What are the signs of babyhood? Are they not helplessness, dependence on others, absorbing attention, smiles when things go well but tears otherwise, touchiness and if it cannot have its own way, being peevish and cross? So with abnormal Christian babes, who are trials not only to themselves but also to their brethren and sisters. Let us examine ourselves and see whether we exhibit these characteristics. We know these in many assemblies, those who have to be taught when they should be teaching, and who are not capable of receiving anything but milk. The carnal Christian remains dependent on others, and is still in the infants' class; he is quite incapable of digesting the deep things of God. The Corinthians were classified as babes because they followed human leaders, esteeming the wisdom and oratory of men more highly than the wisdom of God. Were they very different from professing Christianity today, substituting stones for bread, attempting to satisfy spiritual hunger with the husks of the world? Is it not a fact that, in our modern age, amongst many Christians the radio, record player and television find a greater place than the Word of God? So many remain babes in Christ relying on being spoon-fed by others, living on predigested food. Many are underfed, anaemic and spiritually weak.
In such cases disease soon enters, disease which starts inwardly but quickly displays itself in temper, pride, impurity, selfishness, jealousy and many other ills. Worse still, because of our contact with others, there is a danger of an epidemic of which we may be the cause. It is so easy to find time to do what we want to do but let it never be said that we cannot find time to be holy, to speak oft with the Lord. In which category do you find yourself? as a helpless babe, or are you a mature Christian feeding on manly food?
A life of Barren Fruitlessness. What a tragic thing it must be to look back on a life which has been devoid of fruit for the Master. There are truly many who love the Lord but who would find it difficult if the Saviour were to ask, "What hast thou done for Me?". One fears that in the professed enjoyment of eternal life applied to the soul, we forget there are two outlets for our energies. We can go in for gold, silver and precious stones, or wood, hay and stubble. The Lord Himself had much to say on the question of fruit-bearing in John 15, but lest we tend to dismiss it casually, let us note carefully verse 2. "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit". It is certain that we are not saved to continue as we once did in the world. Far too many Christians try to carry contraband with them; worldly friends, pursuits, pleasures and practices dominate their lives., stumbling others, weakening and frequently wrecking the testimony of the local assembly. As law is essential to an ordered worldly society, so in the spiritual; there are spiritual laws which must be obeyed if our lives are to be orderly before God. Our text book is the Bible the precepts of which must guide our lives.
What is the quantity and quality of the fruit that we are bearing? Yes, worldly associations which come between us and the Lord just make us sterile, unable to do anything for God. We tend to become destructive in the Lord's work, openly criticising those who carry the burden that we should be shouldering, a fruitless branch awaiting the husbandman's pruning hook, an unhappy Christian, of little use to the assembly of which we are a part and no use to the Lord.
A Life of Infidelity. Do we stop to think of the effect of our friendships? Yes: I think we do in our natural sphere. We are all loyal enough to our earthly parents to refuse association with those who would dishonour their names, but one wonders how loyal we are to our Lord and His followers. Friendship of the world and its ways was not unknown when James wrote his Epistle, for says he, "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God", 4. 4. What a drastic statement! What is this world of which James speaks? Firstly the world is to Satan his lure for the unwary Christian, his eyes, his ears, his hands, his feet. It is human life and society, sometimes seemingly innocent in character. Some have already reached the stage where the radio fills the ears and television the eyes, where there is plenty of time for those things but little for the Lord. Even the Lord's Day is desecrated by these things; it is no new thing to enter a Christian home and hear these distractions on a Lord's Day. Is not our fidelity to the Lord being called into question? Our minds may become so full of worldly things that we have "room for pleasure, room for business, but for Christ the crucified, not a place that He can enter, in the heart for which He died". Satan has little further interest in the professing Christian when he has made him spiritually dead, blind and deaf. Some would say that we are narrow minded, that we need to adjust ourselves to modern thinking. Let us emphasize that it is God who says that worldly friendship with its pleasures, partnerships, prosperity, fashions and desires is spiritual adultery. How easy it is for Christians to become carnal. The Scriptures leave us in no doubt as to the nature of worldliness. John the beloved apostle writes, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world", 1 John 2. 15-16.
Here is the acid test; it allows no private interpretation nor argument. "All that ... is not of the Father". How does worldliness show itself? In our conversation do we talk more about worldly personalities than we do about the Lord? How does our spiritual index rate when our dress and general demeanour, our friendships, pleasures, possessions, reading, appetite and not least our activities are considered? Where are we when "there's a work for Jesus none but you can do"? Anything that feeds the flesh is "lust of the flesh". That which is attracted to worldly fashion or desires for possessions is "lust of the eye". That which exalts and fosters a spirit of pride is the "pride of life". Do you love the world and the things of the world? "Are ye not carnal, and walk as men?", 1 Cor. 3.3. Worldliness leads to a life of dishonouring hypocrisy. To you, my fellow believer, mixed up with the world, God says through the Holy Spirit, "come out from amongst them, and be ye separate", 2 Cor. 6. 17.
To be followed by "Separation To".