GROWTH IN THE SPIRIT
“I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
This rich passage is one of the most-quoted scriptures in the Bible. A couple of outstanding truths come to mind as I read this: first, the apostle Paul is surely speaking to Christians because the only “brethren” who can present their bodies to God to live perfectly and acceptably before God and man are born-again Christians; secondly, (this may seem paradoxical to many believers), although the people to whom he was speaking were saved, Paul says their minds still needed renewing.
Throughout this book I have emphasized the difference between the spirit and the soul. Recall that the inner life, i.e., the spirit, can exist outside the natural dimension of the body, but which, because of the way God has designed us, is an integral part of the whole person — and in terms of influence, control and eternity, the main part. The “mind” in this passage is talking about that part of a human being where instincts and personality reside, i.e., the human aspect of thought life, or in a word, the soul. The question raised here is “how is the mind renewed after being born again?”. After all, doesn’t the new birth produce a perfect mind? Obviously not in Paul’s mind, because there stands the “be transformed” commandment staring us in the face. Therefore, we must carefully examine the matter of how and why the mind is to be renewed.
Let me commence answering this question with another scripture:
“Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.”
Because of Christ’s work at Calvary coupled with our faith in Him and His work, our sins have been forgiven. Also, we have been sealed (in our spiritual “new man”) by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption of our bodies and souls. However, there’s still a lot of stored-up “junk food” in our memory banks, etc., even after we have become Christians. It is for this reason our soul needs renewing. The above verse from psalm 51 alludes to how this is done. Please note that God desires truth to be in our “inward parts”. And further, God is teaching here that wisdom will be the result of the presence of truth in the “hidden part”. What is the hidden part? It is the spirit within us. We’ve already learned that the spirit is like the wind which cannot be seen with the natural eye (John 3:8). (Recall that the word “spirit” in our English Bibles is the translation of the Greek word “pneuma”.)
Does our own spirit within us teach our own mind?
Absolutely yes. Throughout the book we have been addressing this issue in various ways. Now we are getting to the “nitty-gritty” of it all. We have learned that there is a “new man” in each born-again individual. This new being is a new creation of God the Holy Spirit, which occurs at initial salvation when we place God-given faith in Christ Jesus. In order to solidify the reality of this phenomenon, I have already emphasized several times that the new man is a perfect being, not partly perfect, not something that needs renewing as is the case with the soulish mind. However, even though the new man is positionally perfect (because he is born of God), he can grow in knowledge and wisdom. It’s very important to understand that the only knowledge and wisdom he can grow in is God’s knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge produced by the flesh, the world or Satan will not cause any increase or even become a part of the new man. That which has been born of God in one’s spirit will regurgitate “junk food”. Paul explains it like this:
“For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
Your version of the Bible may have the word “spirit” capitalized here but actually this is a liberty taken by the translators which the context doesn’t suggest. The “things that you wish” is referring to the desires of one’s own inner man. Yes, the “wishes” are inspired by the Holy Spirit but this is not talking about the Person of the Holy Spirit. This is referring to a conflict between one’s flesh and his God-sealed spirit.
To further clarify, certainly it is true that the Godly inspiration of the new man in one’s inner spirit comes from the Holy Spirit. But it is one’s personal, new inner-man, a God-created, perfect being, which Paul is alluding to in the above passage. The born-of-God new man in one’s spirit is the new authority within a saved person. And this new being is designed to exert a God-like influence in one’s body and soul, which results in warfare between the new man and the old flesh which still resides. The lustful flesh can still be tempted after the new birth and it is for this reason the new man and the flesh argue with each other. This is why God wants our minds renewed, which is precisely what Paul is addressing in Romans 12:1&2.
The flesh is also still prone to seduction to sin by worldly and satanic influences. The positionally-perfect new man is not. That is why God planted this new seed in us, so that we would have access to His wisdom through the Holy Spirit and from God’s Word. The Holy Spirit does indeed communicate with the spirit within us once the new man is born there. Now do you see why we must understand that the new man is a perfect being?
After the new birth, the new man doesn’t get any better in terms of positional quality. However, the new man can and must grow in knowledge and wisdom in order to live the Christian life to God’s highest standards and to become a God-inspired teacher. He does this by renewing his own mind subsequent to the new birth. For better or for worse, one’s own body and soul is the only temple the new man has to work with.
GODLY GROWTH REQUIRES GOD’S MANNA
As the natural body requires good, natural food for good growth, so the new spiritual body, the new man, requires good, spiritual food for Godly growth. The new man in a Christian will always be repulsed by unGodly food. It may be presented to him by one’s soul, the flesh, the world and by Satan, but it doesn’t get inside one’s new nature. The new nature can’t be grown by “garbage”. This is why our new man argues with the flesh and with all ungodliness which is presented to him.
Now don’t misunderstand me. Although he is saved and sealed, the new man in one’s spirit is responsible for what happens in his entire being, including the still-sin-prone soul and flesh. But sin does not impregnate the new inner man. If it did, then upon death a believer would take the sin into heaven with him and that just isn’t in accord with God’s program. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, the sealed new man will have to watch the wood, hay and stubble be burned away which he allowed to enter the soul and body:
“If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
1 Cor. 3:15
It may still be troubling to some that I say we must grow in our spirit man and yet also say that we are created a perfect being inwardly. Think of it this way: in our new, inner, spirit man, we don’t grow in quality, only in abundance and performance, i.e., we are to mature in the things of God. Perhaps it will help our understanding here to explore the truth of the next section.
EVEN JESUS GREW IN KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM!
“What?”, someone yells! “Jesus needed to grow spiritually? A perfect man! Sinless in all His life! Jesus was God! What are you saying, Lance?” Before someone calls me a heretic or a lunatic, let’s quickly go to scriptures which explain my point:
“And the child grew, and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”
This passage is referring to Jesus after He and His parents left Jerusalem and returned to Nazareth where He would be raised. Based on this clear and undeniable scripture, we see Jesus grew in spirit, knowledge and wisdom. He did this in spite of the fact that He was sinless, perfect, and yes, even being the Son of God.
Why would God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit work things out like this? Surely this was their strategic plan from the foundation of the world. I think it was for these reasons: Jesus’ life was exemplary of how we as Christians are supposed to grow. There is no difference in the pattern or methodology. The only difference in our maturation process and His is the fact that we are born sinners. Jesus was not. He was perfect. But that which is born into our spirit man when God impregnates us with new life in Christ is also perfect and can mature in the same manner as did Jesus.
God does not create something less than perfect at our new birth and then expect us to improve the quality of its kind. That is not what sanctification is all about. He plants a new, perfect being in us, our new man. Subsequently, we are to become involved via God-given nurturing principles, seeing to it that our inner man develops into the likeness of Christ to as great an extent as we are willing and capable of doing, being empowered, of course, by the Holy Spirit. You might say the size of our new man gets bigger as he develops, but not better in terms of quality. Jesus did not get better in His nature as He grew. But, as the Son of man, He grew in wisdom. The Bible says so.
WHAT’S THE PURPOSE OF IT ALL?
I surely don’t know the whole purpose! But the Bible does give us some of the details and we have been studying them throughout this book. It’s important and quite amazing to realize that even though Jesus — as the pre-incarnate Son of God — inspired the whole Old Testament, and yet as the Son of man on this earth He studied it:
“And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:...”Luke 4:17
Notice that Jesus “found the place where it was written:”. He looked up Isaiah 61 just like you or I would. (Well, it wasn’t chapter 61 then, since numbering of the chapters is a more modern design, but you know what I mean.) In the previous verse it says this was His “custom”. Jesus went to “church” (or synagogue) on the Sabbath much like we Christians do today on Sunday (as we commemorate the Lord’s Day, i.e., in honor of the day of His resurrection).
Yes, Jesus studied the Bible. Regularly. That’s how He grew in knowledge and wisdom. He had a perfect “new man” in Him. Jesus was called the “last Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15:45 where it is also said that He became a “life-giving spirit”. There was no sin in Jesus’ soul so He did not have to “renew” His mind. It too was perfect. He never yielded to sinful temptations, although the Bible says that He was tempted in all ways such as we are.
But there is a big similarity here between Jesus’ human life and that of a Christian. The new life planted into our spirit man at our new birth may be spiritually young, but it is a perfect creation. And although spiritually and positionally perfect, the new man can grow in knowledge and wisdom of God just as Jesus’ inner man did. If we want to become mighty in spirit, we must, like Jesus, study God’s Word and apply its teachings to our everyday lives. The more we study God’s Word the more our inner man knows and the more likely we are to direct our still-sin-prone flesh body and soul to conform to the dictates of our spirit man. This is what it means to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” as pointed out in Philippeans 2:12b. This is also what must be done if the renewing of our minds becomes a reality in our lives.
Part of God’s purpose of the “renewing of our minds” is explained right in the context of our study verse, Romans 12:2: “...that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” God wants us to shine as lights in a world darkened by sin and unbelief. The way to achieve this is to overhaul our minds so that we can then act according to God’s standards. God wants His ways to be operating right in front of the public’s eye. And the only way this can be done is if our mind is under the control of the new man within our spirit which has been nurtured, trained and grown in God’s “seminary”.
Unsaved folks need to see the “sons of God” in action. Going back to our key scripture, it is God’s desire that we “...present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service”. It appears that God wants us to view all this training simply as normal Christian maturation since He says this is our “reasonable service”. God “reasoned” the way!
While expecting rewards should not be the primary basis of presenting our bodies a living sacrifice to do Godly works, nevertheless the Bible makes very clear that “reasonable service” will be rewarded:
“Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”2 Cor. 5:9&10
There is nothing wrong with expecting God to be faithful to reward His children who do good according to His will and purpose. God is a good God. He is not unfaithful. In eternity, He will do according to what He has promised, just as certainly as He has done thus far.
The above scripture and many others like it make very plain that God will bless Christian faithfulness, and most likely to far greater extents than we can imagine. As His sons and daughters, through inheritance, we have every right to allow our expectations of God’s promises to be part of the motivating force to urge our whole being — spirit, soul and body — to God-inspired activity. “Lord, help us to do it rightly.”