The Higher Christian LifeHow to Experience the Abundant Life Jesus Promised
Is it possible to know, to actually know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I have victory over the power of sin in my life? Absolutely! But not on your own or by your own strength. To fully understand what the Holy Spirit does for a man totally consecrated to Him, all we need to do is take a quick look back at the early disciples and see how their lives changed once they received the Holy Spirit. They are, for me at least, the greatest testimony to the power of a life surrendered to the Holy Spirit and one lived in the divine victory over sin.
In the Gospel accounts, we see the men that followed Jesus, ordinary men like us, with all their fears, doubts, weaknesses, and failures publically displayed for the world to see. They are presented in all their frailty, warts and all. And if we were a cynic, we would say this works against the life-changing claims made by Jesus. After all, these men followed Him for over three years. They heard more, knew more, saw more, experienced more, and listened more than any other believers since then until now. Yet seeing and knowing all they did, and having a ring-side seat to all of Jesus’ miracles, they still could not grasp the depths of His teachings to somehow get power or victory over the sin in their own lives.
How is that possible? And if they struggled as much as they did, how are we to fare better?
Over and over again Jesus had to rebuke His disciples for their selfish and unChristlike actions and attitudes. From wanting to call down fire from heaven on those who offended them (Luke 9:54), to arrogantly correcting Jesus mid-sentence by telling Him he was wrong (Matt. 16:22-23), to selfishly wanting to be secretly picked to sit at His right and left hands above the other disciples without them knowing it (Matt. 20:21), it seemed like these men never learned a thing Jesus was trying to teach them in their three long years with Him.
Then, at the Last Supper, when Jesus said, “I desire to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15), they blew Jesus off like His suffering was nothing because they were more concerned about “which of them should be considered the greatest” (Luke 22:24).
What a motley crew. Not exactly the stuff heroes are made of.
We have previously written about the process each of us goes through in receiving the Higher Christian Life. However, truth be told, one of the most important, yet overlooked aspects of receiving the Higher Christian Life is a time of honest self-examination whereby we prepare ourselves for more of Him. And since holiness is the primary attribute of the Holy Spirit (hence, the word Holy), we should expect to have a time of spiritual house-cleaning before we invite our Holy Guest to possess more of us. But be warned, although the end result of spiritual self-examination is wonderous, the actual process can be quite painful as we come to grips with who we really are, and not who we imagine we are. So let’s look into the importance of self-examination in the Higher Christian Life.
In the Old Testament, in preparation for Passover, the children of God were required to search their homes and rid them of any semblance of leaven, which is a type of sin. For those who failed to do this and tolerated leaven in their home, they were cut off from the “congregation of Israel” and forfeited the blessings of the Lord bestowed by the Feast (Ex. 12:19). It was a very serious matter.
And so it is also a serious matter when we come to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1) to the Holy Spirit. We are asking Him to live in us and to make us into His temple, the “temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you” (1 Cor. 6:19). Therefore, as with any other guest we invite into our home, we must make sure our home is clean and presentable to honor our invitation. And in much the same way, each believer must go through a cleaning process, a time of acknowledgment, confession, repentance of sin, and a commitment to righteousness, before we ask the Holy Spirit to take full control of us and enter into the Higher Christian Life.
Let’s look at some areas in our lives that need to come under the spotlight of the Holy Spirit before we move forward in this journey.
For those who truly desire to experience more intimacy with Christ, one of the stumbling blocks that will hinder you from embracing the Higher Christian Life is the so-called lack of Biblical examples of what the Higher Christian Life is all about. And this hindrance is often the result of not looking into the Scriptures with open eyes, but with a presupposition to a particular theological bent. For example, if you come to the Scriptures believing God no longer moves among His church as He did in the book of Acts, you will discount and ignore and try to explain away passages that show otherwise. And if you have not yet experienced the Higher Christian Life, yet know others who have, the self-defense tendency is to downplay their experience as something emotional or fleshy, and not Biblical (otherwise, it makes us feel like we are somewhat deficient in our relationship with the Holy Spirit). So to guard against this, let’s look at the Higher Christian Life from the pages of Scripture to get a clear picture of what this life with Him is all about.
The Higher Christian Life is also known as a holy life or a life of holiness. And this really shouldn’t surprise us. After all, it is the Holy Spirit (emphasis on Holy) that now lives in each of us. So if we surrender to Him and allow the Holy Spirit to live His life through us, we could naturally assume the outcome would be a life that emulates the very character of God Himself, which is holiness.
So let’s take a moment and look into the Scriptures to see what a holy life looks like. For this is the life the Holy Spirit will live through all who yield themselves to Him and, by doing so, embraces and experiences the Higher Christian Life.
The Higher Christian Life can be described this way:
Often, in our search for the Higher Christian Life, we can be easily led astray from simple, child-like faith to demanding a sign or some miraculous proof to believe. And this detour from what pleases the Lord (faith) to the abyss of doubt can happen subtly, under the cover of darkness, like a growing cancer, until we no longer seek for more of Him. Instead, we seek more of what He can do or how what He does makes us feel. Seeking signs or “attesting miracles” is the opposite of faith. Please understand, we can have faith in signs themselves, but that is not faith in Jesus. It is faith in what Jesus has done, or will do, or how He “wow’s” us with His majesty, but it is not faith in the Person of Jesus Christ nor the Person of the Holy Spirit. And the Higher Christian Life is not about seeking signs, but about seeking more of Him.
For example, Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest, January 2nd, says the following:
Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do; He reveals to you Who He is.
Read the entry again this way,
Have you been asking God what He is going to do? Fair question. Nothing wrong with seeking the will of God.
He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do. Why not? Because faith doesn’t grow by knowing the future or having all the answers in advance. Faith is built by knowing the One who knows the future and resting in Him.
He reveals to you Who He is. And that should be enough. A child doesn’t need an explanation from his father about how the house payment is going to be made each month or what steps have been taken to make sure breakfast is on the table each morning. He just needs to know the character and trustworthiness of his father and rest or abide in that. So it is with the Lord.
Or, to put it another way, “Lord, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but You promised never to leave me nor forsake me. But I am afraid and worried and full of doubt. Would you please do (you fill in the blank with a sign or miracle that fits your situation) so I will trust You when I see the miracle You will perform? Just give me this one sign that Your Word is true and You keep Your promises, and I will never doubt again.” This is not faith. It is disbelief until God proves Himself, disguised as faith. And God seldom, if ever, honors this kind of non-faith, especially when we seek the Higher Christian Life.
Regarding the Higher Christian Life, we have discovered some truths that should change our lives. For one, Jesus said in John 14, we “know (ginōskō)” the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit “dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). Then, in Romans 12:1, we are urged to “present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service.” But who do we present our bodies to? What Person of the Godhead accepts the sacrifice of our body? It is not the Father, who now sits on His throne in heaven, and has no need of a body. It is not the Son, who has a body and is now seated at the Father’s right hand. No, it is the Holy Spirit who lives in each of us as the security of our salvation. It is the Holy Spirit who seeks possession of our bodies to empower us from the inside. And if this is true, then 1 Corinthians 6 takes on an entirely new meaning. It says:
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s – 1 Corinthians 6:18-20.
When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our body, He transforms it into the temple of the Holy Spirit by virtue of His holiness. Therefore, any sin a person commits “against his own body” is an afront to the Holy Spirit. It is a sin that pollutes and corrupts the very dwelling place of the Spirit. And from this type of sin, we are not commanded to fight or resist (James 4:7) but to flee. To run. To “hightail it outta there!”
After all, our body is now the “temple of the Holy Spirit who is (where) in you, whom you have from God, and (therefore) you are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). But what does it mean “you are not your own”? And how can we “glorify God in our body” which are God’s?
As we have shared, the key verse regarding the blessings of receiving the Spirit and His inaugurating the Higher Christian Life in each of us is found in John 7:38. Here Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” In this Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit, whom “those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). But the Holy Spirit is now given. And Jesus is now glorified. So what does this say about our current need for the Higher Christian Life?
Before we can understand the “why” of the Higher Christian Life, we first must come to grips with the anemic condition of our faith and then somehow dig deep and find the desire and fortitude required to make things different. Remember, our actions will never outrun our faith. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” It is equally true, “You’ll only do what you think you can and should do.” Or, as Solomon said, “For as he (a man) thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7a).
To quote a truth from Facing the Giants, my favorite movie, “Your actions will always follow your beliefs. If you accept defeat, then that’s all you’ll get.”
And this truth isn’t true for just football. It is also true in our spiritual lives.
The following are six truth statements regarding the Higher Christian Life and the condition of the church. And remember, the church is defined as a group of individuals who collectively make up the whole. This means, by inference, these six statements that are true of the church, are also true of you and me as individual members of His church. Once we accept the reality and consequences of our current state, then we can begin to move forward from spiritual apathy to abundance (John 10:10). And we can then begin to embrace the Higher Christian Life, no matter the cost, and no matter how long it might take.
In a previous podcast, we introduced the importance of living, not for the applause of man or for our own self-gratification (no matter how noble our pursuits may seem), but solely for the pleasure and approval of God. In other words, we aim to be like Jesus. Our ambition is to live to hear the Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21). And our single desire should be like that of Jesus, who said, “I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). This, and this alone, is the aim of the Higher Christian Life.
But it is usually much easier said than done. Sometimes we end up running around in circles, like getting lost in a cul-de-sac in our own neighborhood. But consider the following admonition on how this life is designed to be lived:
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him – 2 Corinthians 5:9.
Note how this verse begins with a “therefore” and focuses on our Christian life’s “aim” or ambition. Let’s see what it is saying.
First, the context of this statement is found in the beginning part of the chapter. Here we find Paul talking about the wonder of being in the presence of the Lord after we discard this “earthly house” (2 Cor. 5:1), our mortal body, and are clothed “with our habitation which is from heaven” (2 Cor. 5:2), our heavenly body. According to Paul, heaven is lightyears better than “Your Best Life Now” on this fallen planet.
Next, we are assured that God is the one “who has prepared us for this very thing” and has also “given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 5:5) of its truth and fulfillment. After all, “we walk by faith, not sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).
Finally, the “therefore” relates primarily to the passage immediately preceding this one. And what an incredible statement it is regarding the passion and heart of someone who is experiencing the Higher Christian Life and has eternity in focus. It says, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
So what is the aim and ambition of someone who desires the Higher Christian Life?
Therefore (a conclusion based on what was written before) we make it our aim (our ambition, purpose, something we aspire to), whether present or absent (in this life or the life to come, on earth or in heaven), to be well pleasing (acceptable, that which God wills and recognizes) to Him – 2 Corinthians 5:9.
Is there more?
In looking at the testimonies of great men and women of the last church age and their experience with the Higher Christian Life, I want to pause today and examine just one more, the life of Adoniram Judson (A.J.) Gordon (1836-1895). He was an American Baptist preacher (who ministered alongside D.L. Moody in his Northfield Conventions), writer, composer (“My Jesus, I Love Thee”), and founder of Gordon College and later Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. But more than that, he was a man who had an experience with the Holy Spirit that changed his life and ministry. And in almost every talk after that experience, he continually revealed how the Lord baptized him in the Holy Spirit by showing him, as Christ is our Sin-Bearer leading to salvation, so the Holy Spirit is now our Burden-Bearer leading to empowerment for ministry, and can be trusted with our lives once we surrender them to Him.
Let me give you but a taste of this podcast by posting a few quotes and statements about the Holy Spirit from Dr. A.J. Gordon.
“Whenever, in any century, whether in a single heart or in a company of believers, there has been a fresh effusion of the Spirit, there has followed inevitably a fresh endeavor in the work of evangelizing the world.”
Regarding the Person of the Holy Spirit, Dr. Gordon said this:
“I had known the Holy Spirit as a heavenly influence to be invoked, but somehow I had not grasped the truth that he is a Person of the Godhead who came down to earth at a definite time and who has been in the church ever since, just as real as Jesus was here during the thirty and three years of his earthly life.”
Then, once this realization of the Personhood of the Holy Spirit became real to him, Dr. Gordon said:
“How many true Christians toil on, bearing burdens and assuming responsibilities far too great for their natural strength, utterly forgetful that the mighty Burden-Bearer of the world is with them to do for them and through them that which they have undertaken to accomplish alone! Happy also for these if some weary day the blessed Paraclete (Comforter, Advocate, the Holy Spirit), the invisible Christ, shall say to them, “Have I been so long time with you and yet you have not known Me?”
When asked about the cost of the Higher Christian Life and ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit, he said:
“It costs much to obtain this power. It costs self-surrender and humiliation and the yielding up of our most precious things to God. It costs the perseverance of long waiting and the faith of strong trust. But when we are really in that power, we shall find this difference: that, whereas before it was hard for us to do the easiest things, now it is easy for us to do the hardest.”
But there is more.