The Higher Christian LifeHow to Experience the Abundant Life Jesus Promised
The Aim of the Higher Christian Life
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?
The Holy Spirit as Your Burden-Bearer
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.
The Process for Receiving the Higher Christian Life
There is a process each of us goes through that leads us from where we are in our spiritual life to where we desire to be. Or, from the nominal Christian experience that most of us fixate at, to the Higher Christian Life, the “abundant life” Jesus promised (John 10:10). Everyone goes through it. Some stay at one stage longer than others. And some move quickly through many of the early stages only to get hung-up on a latter one. The process or stages in our awareness of this Higher Christian Life are general in nature and differ in details from person to person. But the value is in seeing there is a process for receiving the Higher Christian Life that everyone seems to go through. So be encouraged where ever you find yourself in the process.
This “process” or stages in our experience with the Holy Spirit and the Higher Christian Life should not surprise us. In fact, we see a similar process revealed in Romans 8 regarding our salvation. In this process, God moves in our lives in distinct ways, in separate stages, some of them unknown to us at the time, to bring about His will for our lives. And what is His will? That we will be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29).
Consider the process God brings those through who have embraced the Higher Christian Life:
One, there is an awareness of our need for more of Him. We find this truth in John 7:37 where Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” Before the refreshing given by the Lord, there must first be an awareness of our need.
Two, there is a troubling in our soul, a growing, deep dissatisfaction with our present spiritual state. In other words, “I now know that I am thirsty, and I am miserable until I get this need satisfied.” Remember, it is those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” who will be filled or satisfied (Matt. 5:6).
Three, there then must come a time of absolute surrender of self to the Lord Jesus. It is what is called the point of total abandonment to Him. This is when “you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). This is the point of commitment, the point of no return. From this step forward, success or failure depends on the desire you have for the Higher Christian Life and your willingness to suffer the costs of true discipleship (Luke 14:25-33).
But the best is yet to come.
Why Most Fail at the Higher Christian Life
Nobody wants to fail, at anything, ever. We strive to be winners and not losers. We tell our kids that “if you try hard enough, you can do anything!” We don’t start a business to fail. We don’t start an exercise program to fail. We don’t enter into marriage to fail. Failure is not an option. Yet for those who have experienced the Higher Christian Life, many of their testimonies talk about multiple failures, often over many years, before any success. So why is that? Why do most people fail at their attempt to live the Higher Christian Life?
With just a glance into the lives of those who have lived the Higher Christian Life, a certain pattern emerges. And that pattern is a time of waiting, and pleading, and praying, and frustration, and spiritual darkness, until the light finally dawns. There seems to be some distance between when the person realizes what he is missing in his spiritual life and begins to actively seek it, and when that need is finally satisfied by the Holy Spirit.
Oswald Chambers, author of My Utmost for His Highest, waited over four years between the time he began to pray for the Higher Christian Life and when the Lord granted his request. And during that time he said, “nothing but the overruling grace of God and kindness of friends kept me out of an asylum.” Why? Because of the internal anguish of his soul knowing where he was and where he wanted to be with the Lord, and not being able to get there on his own.
For Amy Carmichael, the famed missionary to India, it was only two years. She came to know Jesus as her Lord at the age of sixteen, and by eighteen had surrendered her all to Him. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Andrew Murray testifies it was “seven or eight years” between his seeking, and ultimately receiving, the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” He called that time of barrenness “one of deep dissatisfaction.” And look what the Lord did through the pen of this man after his time of waiting. Amazing.
For Dr. Walter Wilson, it was much longer. In his testimony at the Canadian Keswick Conference, he states he was saved in December of 1896 and didn’t experience the blessings of the Higher Christian Life until January 14, 1914, almost 18 years later.
Yet for Charles Finney, the one who was used so mightily by God during the Second Great Awakening, his salvation and the Higher Christian Life happened at almost the same time. God chooses how He will deal with each of us differently. For some, it is after a time of waiting. For others, it is almost instantaneous, like exhaling out the self-life and breathing in the Higher Christian Life.
But the truth they all understood is this, “God never gives us a desire that He will not ultimately fulfill.” Never.
The Prayer of Full Surrender
The following is a message given by Dr. Walter L. Wilson (1881-1969) at the Canadian Keswick Conference about his experience with the Higher Christian Life. This message was reprinted in the October 1936 issue of “The Evangelical Christian” and also in the tract, “The Secret of Soul Winning.” The name of the article is “Whose Body is Yours?” and provides a wonderful glimpse into the process the Spirit took Dr. Wilson to discover the Higher Christian Life and his prayer of full surrender.
Enjoy and be blessed and encouraged in your own search for the Higher Christian life.
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
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.
Because there exists in these days a great desire in the heart for, and a confusion in the mind concerning the Spirit-filled life, or the path of consecration, it may help to clear this matter if I tell you of my own experience with the Lord, the Spirit.
It was my privilege to be raised among a group of believers who were quite orthodox in their teaching, and quite earnest in studying the Word. It was among these that I first trusted the Lord Jesus in December 1896. He saved me and changed my life. Immediately the Word of God became my constant companion. I loved it, studied it, preached it, and gave away tracts in large quantities. No apparent success followed my labors, and much energy produced little fruit. This failure disturbed me greatly, but I assured myself and was assured by others that we were not to look for results but only to be busy at seed sowing.
Living for the Pleasure of God
One key to experiencing the Higher Christian Life is the understanding that we live, not for the applause of man or for our own self-gratification (no matter how noble our pursuits may seem), but to live solely for the pleasure and approval of God. Because quite honestly, everything else is temporal, and only this is eternal. Our single desire should be like that of Jesus, who said, “I always do those things that please Him (Father)” (John 8:29). Jesus lived His life for the pleasure of the Father. And to experience the Higher Christian life, so should we.
Oswald Chambers says it this way in the March 17th offering in My Utmost for His Highest:
It is arduous (difficult, demanding great effort) work to keep the master ambition in front. It means holding one’s self to the high ideal year in and year out, not being ambitious to win souls or to establish churches or to have revivals, but being ambitious only to be “accepted of Him.” It is not a lack of spiritual experience that leads to failure, but a lack of laboring to keep the ideal right.
And this is hard. I know in my own life I often get sidetracked with the “good” things in my relationship with Him, such as being a pastor, leading my family, preaching and teaching the Word of God, ministering to others, praying, studying the Word, witnessing to others, etc. Note, all of these things are good and expected and encouraged of someone who claims to be a believer. But it is these “good” things that can, and will, demand most of our time and strength and be seen by others as desirable and praiseworthy… on this side of eternity. Yet they are not necessarily the “best” things in life that have eternal consequences today and forever. Let me explain.
The key to a deeper Christian life is to understand how we are to emulate Jesus in everything. He is our model, our example, and our guide. If we want to know how to respond in a certain situation, we look to Jesus and see what He did and commit to doing the same. And if we struggle with our flesh, we need to remember that Jesus has left us Himself (“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” – John 14:18) in the person of the Holy Spirit who abides with us forever (John 14:16). Hence, we have Him living in us to empower us to do the will of the Father (John 5:19). Just like Jesus had.
So why do we still struggle?
Holiness and the Higher Christian Life
One of the two Scriptures that reveal the importance of holiness and living the Higher Christain life is found in Psalm 24. Here we see David beginning with a statement about the unsurpassed greatness of the Lord (Psalm 24:1-2) and then, based on His greatness, David poses both a question and an answer. The question is a logical one and goes something like this, “How can we get close to a God who claims ownership of the earth and ‘those who dwell therein’? (Psalm 24:1). How can I get to know a God as powerful and holy as this?” And how can I ever practice holiness to gain the Higher Christian Life?
David asks the question this way:
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? – Psalm 24:3.
And the answer is just as revealing. Only someone who is holy, as He is holy, can come into the presence of God. Read carefully what is written in Scripture.
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully – Psalm 24:4.
This is a picture of practical holiness, the kind of living holiness that reflects the nature of Christ in our day-by-day decisions. It is the holiness Peter spoke of when he said, “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
But there is more.
In Hebrews 12:14 we read that without holiness, “no one will see the Lord.” And if a deep intimacy with the Lord is a by-product of the Higher Christian Life, then holiness is an essential, if not vital, aspect of our spiritual lives.
Abiding in the Higher Christian Life
One of my spiritual mentors is a man named Andrew Murray. I was discipled for the most part by his books and devotions that I was blessed to encounter early in my Christian life. His writings are devotional in nature and have ministered to my soul for years and have always challenged me to want more of Jesus in my daily walk with Him. Some of his books that are regarded as classics are “With Christ in the School of Prayer”, “The True Vine”, and especially, “Abide in Christ”.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Andrew Murray (1828-1917), he was a Dutch Reformed pastor, missionary, and writer from Scotland, and spent his years ministering in South Africa. Andrew Murray was a man of faith and had an intimacy with the Holy Spirit that, in my opinion, was surpassed by none. Yet he, like so many of us, felt a dissatisfaction with his spiritual life and longed for something deeper and more intimate with the Lord. And it was this quest for what he called the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” or the Higher Christian Life that allowed God to use him as He did.
Murray recognized that obedience to the Lord is nearly impossible, no matter how hard you try. Sheer determination or strength of will are never enough. And the only way to live a life of holiness is to surrender your life to Him and allow Him to complete the work of sanctification in us. Sounds simple, I know. But the testimonies of these giants of the faith tell us it is much harder than it seems.
And I can also attest to the difficulty of total surrender to the Lord. Can you?