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31. Basic Principles of Being Perfect in Christ

– Chapter 31 –

Basic Principles of Being Perfect in Christ

Perfection is ignored by most churches today, yet it is the one thing that drives the apostle Paul forward, and causes his heart to burn with a fiery zeal to “present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28-29, NIV).

Not many Christians today understand, much less share, Paul’s concern for perfection. Today the main and perhaps sole concern is getting saved. The goal is to get someone to make a decision or a profession of faith. After that has been done, our mission is accom­plished for that person, and now it remains for him or her to wait for heaven. Anything beyond getting saved — such as sanctifi­cation and perfect­ion — is of no real concern. Yet for Paul, perfection was the one thing that burned in his heart; he toils and strives that everyone may be perfect in Christ.

Many churches are content with getting people to “make a decision for Christ”. To be fair to them, they often have no idea what more they can do for the spiritual growth of those who “come to Jesus” beyond asking them to join a church group or be involved in some service in the church. But these activities do not in themselves necessarily help bring new believers to Christ-likeness, to which God calls every believer.

The man of God strives for perfection

Close your eyes and think of a dynamic Spirit-filled Christian whom you know personally. If you know any such person, try to think of him or her for a moment. Right now I do have some­one in mind, and some­how this person causes my attention to be directed to Christ. This person has a Christ-likeness that deflects my thoughts to the Lord like a mirror. Do you know anyone like that? Perhaps you have in mind a lay Christian, a Christian worker, or a pastor. The church is desperately in need of such people. In fact, when I asked you to think of a dynamic Spirit-filled Christian, you probably had to search hard through your mental database.

When you think of him or her, what spirit­ual qualities come to your mind? I can say categor­ically that in every such case, he or she is striving for perfection in Christ, that is, for Christ-likeness. There is no exception to this spiritual rule. Any Christian who radiates Christ-like quality is a person who shares the same goal as Paul: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil.3:14). The upward call — the heavenward call — is nothing more, nothing less, than the call to perfection or Christ-like­ness (cf., v.12). There is no Christian who mani­fests spiritual excellence who is not driven forward by the Spirit towards perfection.

Pressing on toward the goal

One chapter earlier, Paul says, “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil.2:13). The natural man does not pursue the things of God, but is mainly interested in money, position, enjoyment, and praise from men. No one will strive for perfection whose his heart is not open to God’s Spirit driving him forward and fulfilling God’s will.

What is this heavenward call? Is it more Bible study, more prayer, more evangelism, more church activity? All these things are good, but that is hardly what Paul means by the goal of the upward call. We need to know what the goal is, or we will end up going nowhere or running towards the wrong goal. There was once a conference on the theme, “Press on Towards the Mark.” At the end of the confer­ence we were no wiser than at the beginning as to what the mark was that the conference wanted everyone to press towards!

It is urgent that we pay attention to the matter of being per­fect in Christ because so few know anything about it and think that perfect­ion is an impractical ideal. On the contrary, it is a most practical mat­ter, for God never commands anything that has no prac­tical spiritual value. By rejecting God’s call to perfection, are we not implying that He is impractical, being out of touch with reality?

The Christian who does not aim for Christ-likeness will sorely lack spiritual dynamic. Take a look at your own life and see how much spiritual vitality you have. The intensity of your pressing to the mark is a spiritual barometer of your Christian life.

In talking about perfection, we are talking about the practical Christian life, not some pie-in-the-sky ideal that we leave to our old age to consider. We are talking about the driving force in the Christian life, our very motive for being a Christian.

In pressing towards the goal to which God has called us, we experience in ourselves His resurrec­tion power: “That I may know him and the power of his resur­rection” (Phil.3:10), a power that is seen not only in the future bodily resurrection, but right now in our spiritual lives through faith. This empowers us to pursue the objective before us with yet greater vigor. The result is an upward spiral in the spiritual life, going from strength to strength (Psalm 84:7), and from grace to grace (John 1:16).

What exactly is the goal?

Many people in church don’t seem to be experiencing God in a real way. There may be a sincere faith and some measure of love, but God is still not experienced in a deeper way. What would be helpful for making progress in this direction is not just to aim for Christ-likeness in ourselves, but to guide others towards becoming perfect in Christ. In guiding others towards the goal, we will find ourselves progressing towards the goal. This is the principle of “Give and it will be given to you” (Lk.6:38), which we see also in Paul.

The lack of a clear goal results in spiritual lukewarm­ness. Ask the average Christian what the goal of the Christian life is, and see how few know the answer. But do you know the answer your­self? How can we press towards the mark when we don’t know what it is?

Paul pushes forward with determination because he knows what the objective is that he is aiming for: to “gain Christ” (Phil.3:8). But how do we gain Christ when he is not a piece of property that we gain possession of? There are three mutually related ways in which we can gain Christ:

(1) We gain Christ by becoming like him, that is, gaining his image or likeness, molded by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s image. The more fully we gain his image, the more com­pletely we gain the essence of his character. We will possess his image fully when we are conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

(2) We gain Christ by pleasing God. It is God’s predetermined plan that we be conformed to the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:29).

(3) We gain Christ by knowing him in an ever-deeper relation­ship with him. This knowing is not head knowledge, but knowing him exper­ientially in daily life, entering into an ever-deeper relationship with him, and being transformed into his likeness (Romans 8:29). So important is “knowing Christ” that Paul mentions it twice within three verses (Phil.3:8,10). He speaks of “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord … that I may gain Christ” (v.8).

Experiencing God in pursuing Christ-like perfection

A lack of spiritual determination and direction will hinder us from know­ing God and experiencing His power. We must press on to know the Lord, and through knowing Him to become more like Him.

In learning to be like Christ, of which one aspect is interceding for others (Heb.7:25), the Lord granted me many experiences of his grace and power.

Not long ago, I was driving to Tor­onto in foggy road conditions. Traveling alone, I was commun­ing with God. My thoughts were eventually led to one part­icular person who had been coming to church and was in a desperate spirit­ual condition. Suddenly the Spirit of God moved in my heart, and I said, “Lord, as You are moving me, I am going to claim this person for You. He has been languishing in hope­lessness for a long time, and no one has been able to help him, least of all himself. So I claim him for You.” In this simple prayer, I took hold of him for the Lord by faith.

After arriving in Toronto, I had many church matters to attend to, and thought no more of the matter. Early Tuesday, 5 or 6 am, I clearly heard the voice of this person whom I had claimed for the Lord, and it was calling my name. To me it was a most unusual experience. I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking to me before, but I cannot recall any previous occas­ion of this kind in which somebody called my name. From this I knew that God had answered my prayer, and had done something in this person’s life.

When I returned to Montreal on Wednesday night, my wife Helen told me immediately upon my arrival, “This person called you half an hour ago.” I said, “I know what has happened in his life.” She asked, “How do you know? You just came in through the door.” Then I told her how I had claimed the person for the Lord, and how I heard his voice somewhat like what happened in the Macedonian vision (Acts 16:9). I did not see a vision; I only heard a voice calling me clearly and distinctly. The person had a distinctive voice that was easily recognized, and I knew what God had done. I related this to Helen upon my arrival so that she can be a witness that God had given me prior knowledge of His work in this person’s life.

The next day I felt tired and unwell, so I slept through most of the day. In fact most of those who visited Toronto that weekend also got sick. The follow­ing day, I phoned up this person, and the first thing he said to me was, “I have committed my life to the Lord!” I told him I had already known about this. I told him about the voice I had heard, and then said to him frankly, “If God hadn’t revealed this to me, I would have been skeptical (because of his former unstable character) about your commit­ment to the Lord.” Our God is the living God. His deeds are remarkable.

God does wonderful things

This is not to say that we seek signs and wonders as an end in them­selves; we should not. There is a danger of becoming fascinated with these things instead of seeking God Himself. I know from exper­ience that when we follow God, signs and wonders follow us. We don’t follow them; they follow us (Heb.2:4; Mk.16:17).

Some time back, when a certain preacher and I were standing at a river’s edge near my home discussing the Lord’s work, a fish swam out of the water onto the river bank direct­ly in front of our feet! It was not a big fish, being slightly less than a foot in length, but it was evidently meant to convey the Lord’s response to our discuss­ion. With fish being a metaphor for people (Mt.4:19; 13:47f), the Lord was telling us that He himself would send people to us. This is in fact what he has done. That preacher is an eyewitness to this remarkable episode; other­wise it may sound like a fishy story. A few coworkers had that fish for dinner.

Most Christians do not experience God much. But those who follow Him in pursuit of perfection or Christ-like­ness will experience Him, for He dwells in them and works through them. If you walk with God or Jesus the Son of God, you will see wondrous deeds. Jesus says to his disciples, and therefore to all Christians: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12, NIV).

Perfectionism and psychology

When we hear all this talk about perfection, we may say to ourselves, “Wouldn’t all this emphasis on striving after perfection make the Christ­ian life exhausting?” Let us address this question.

Perfectionism is often regarded today, especially in psychology, as some­thing that is bad for your mental health. An example of this is seen in an article in the April 1985 issue of Reader’s Digest with the title, Perfection Can Be Bad For You, written by a psychiatrist. The subtitle says, “Striving compul­sively for impossible goals can lead to depression, troubled relationships, and decreased productiv­ity.”

After reading this, you wouldn’t want to think about per­fection any more. If perfection leads to depression, low producti­vity, strained relation­ships, and even broken marriages, then cer­tainly newlyweds wouldn’t want to think about perfection at all!

The article says, “By perfection I do not mean the healthy pursuit of excellence by those who take genuine pleasure in meeting high standards.” Well, it’s comforting to know that pursuing perfection is not always bad. The writer goes on to say, “Without concern for quality, true accomplish­ment would be rare.”

He draws a useful distinction between a healthy pursuit of excellence on the one hand, and perfectionism on the other, the latter of which his subtitle defines as “striving compulsively for imposs­ible goals,” which is bad for mental health. If “compul­sively” here means being driven irra­tionally and irresistibly to pursue goals which are impossible to attain, we would agree that perfectionism is undesira­ble. The writer confirms that this is indeed what he means by perfection­ism: “I am talking about people who strain compul­sively and unrelent­ingly towards impossible goals, and measure them­selves entirely in terms of their achievements.”

As for impossible goals, is Christ-likeness possible or impossible? It is humanly impossible, so it is true that we are striving towards an impossible goal. But it is possible by the power of God. If you try to be Christ-like by your own efforts, or imitate Christ externally, then yes, you are pursuing an impossible goal. In this case we would agree with the psychiatrist that we are attempt­ing the impossible, and will be heading for depression, troubled relationships, and the like.

God’s call to perfection is not compulsive in the sense of being irresistible; nor is it unattainable, for He abundantly supplies grace through His Spirit. It may seem irrational to the self-cen­tered man, but it makes perfect spiritual sense. In that case, perfection is the pursuit of spiritual excellence, which is Christ-likeness. Therefore, when we talk about perfect­ion, we are not talking about “perfectionism”.

In a Christian maga­zine, I came across another article with the title, No One Is Perfect, Not Even the Perfectionist. Whereas Paul exhorts everyone to strive for perfection, this Christian magazine belittles the pursuit of perfect­ion. It is true that nobody is perfect, but that is precisely why we press on towards perfec­tion.

The writer is a psychologist employed by the Christian organizat­ion that publishes the magazine. It would be interesting to find out how many psycho­logists today are employed by Christian organizat­ions. They are influencing a large segment of church mini­stry, and mainly (with some notable exceptions) in a human rather than a spiritual direction.

The article has a section titled Symptoms of Per­fection­ism (by the word “symptoms,” perfectionism is likened to a sickness) which says, “The perfectionist is most likely to be a workaholic, and one who depends on his work to give him pleasure and satisfaction; work is all-consuming in his life, and he is helplessly controlled by it.” It goes on to say, “The perfect­ionist is indecisive.” I don’t know if the state­ment works in reverse: If you are indecisive, you are a perfectionist!

It also says, “He takes problems at work very seriously. And when someone makes a statement about his work, he interprets it as an affront or criticism.” Is there something wrong with taking problems at work seriously? The definition of perfection­ism has been stretched so wide as to become almost meaning­less.

It continues, “As a result he cannot relax and play. He is often des­cribed as grumpy, anxious and isolated.” If that describes your college roommate, you had better watch out because he may be a perfectionist!

“A perfectionist Christian is usually thing-oriented rather than people-oriented. In his world view, things have a higher priority over people. He is very meticulous in how things should be done … Because of this tendency to be a workaholic and thing-oriented, the perfect­ionist Christian is often unable to express warm and tender emotions.”

Further on, the writer seems to contradict himself when he says that a perfectionist is often authoritarian. So is a perfectionist auth­or­itarian or is he indecisive? Or an indecisive authoritarian? How can he tell others what to do if he himself can’t decide what to do?

I am not saying that there is no truth whatever in these articles. But even if an observation is valid, especially in the case of this Christ­ian psychologist, it can be exaggerated to the point of the ridiculous.

How firm is the opposition to being perfect! You are striving for perfection and then along comes a Christian psychol­ogist telling you that perfection is bad for your mental health. Though, to be fair, he is striking at perfectionism. But the impress­ion left with the reader is that perfection can be criticized in the same way as perfectionism.

Perfection versus perfectionism

I just acknowledged some valid observ­ations in the critique of perfect­ionism set out in the two articles. Let me elaborate on this.

To the extent that the analyses of perfectionism are valid, it will be seen on closer inspection that the problems which the articles expose all have to do with the type of behavior which the Bible associates with the natural or carnal man. Perfection­ism is the natural man’s attempt to achieve per­fection by his own wisdom and effort, like his attempt to reach the heights of heaven by building the tower of Babel (Gen.11:4). It is man perfecting himself in his own way, and according to his own ideals and for his own glory.

If the definition of perfectionism is limited to the carnal striving after self-perfection, then it becomes a useful term to describe the type of perfection which is the diametrical opposite of the spiritual perfect­ion the Lord calls us to pursue.

But in this case, it is crucial that perfection and perfectionism are clearly defined and distinguished from each other, and not confused with each other. One of them is a God-centered, God-motivated and God-empowered perfection; the other is a man-centered and man-driven perfection. Apart from the use of the word “perfection,” the two have nothing in common. We can for con­venience’s sake call man-centered perfection “perfectionism,” since it has many of the negative characteristics outlined in the magazine article. Then perfection­ism becomes a useful reminder that we are to avoid man-centered­ness at all costs, and to seek only the vital perfection that is in Christ.

Spiritual perfection is essentially Christ-likeness

Can we still say that the one who strives for the perfection taught in Scripture is a tense workaholic who doesn’t express warm and tender feelings? Is he driven compulsively like a drug addict? Are the servants of God in the Bible neurotics, striving for the goal with obsessive-compulsive intensity? When we read his letters, does Paul appear to be someone who stands with his eyebrows knit together, and his eyes fixed on some distant mark? And if you talk to him, he would say, “Don’t interrupt me. I am concentrating on the goal!”

This may be a caricature, but that is basically how some psycholo­gists, Christian and non-Christian, caricature the person who pur­sues perfection. Such a person is depicted as a joyless obsess­ive-compulsive workaholic who is fixated on an unattain­able ideal.

Would any of these descriptions aptly describe Jesus Christ, whose life and character are recorded in the gospels? Is he a “tense workaholic who is unable to express warm and tender feelings”? It is important to stress that perfection in Scripture is Christ-likeness.

For those who are living the new life in Christ, what perfection would they pursue other than becoming like him? What else would anyone who loves his Lord and Savior consider as perfection? Will the Christian psychologist deny Christ’s perfection? If not, why the unmitigated attacks on perfection? Why not encourage us to become like Christ while avoiding man-made perfection? Christ’s perfection is generally not something that Christ­ians are aware of except as a theolo­gical concept; otherwise they would see that an attack on perfect­ion is tantamount to a critique of Christ, the embodiment of perfection.

Joy in pursuing perfection

What is the lifestyle of the Christian who strives for perfection? Are there so few who pursue perfection in Christ that the matter has to be discussed theoretically? If we know any such person, does he or she fit the profile of the perfect­ionist as painted by psychologists?

When you meet servants of God, you will be amazed by their abundance of joy. They laugh readily and heartily, and find great joy in the Christian life. Seeing their joy you may even have doubts about them because they don’t conform to the notion of a perfectionist who has his eyebrows knit together in some sort of tense concentration.

When you pursue God, it is easy to be joyful and relaxed. I wonder if some people may be offended when they see God’s servants laugh so heartily. There is a common notion that holiness is incompatible with joy and laughter. Portraits of saints show them to be somber.

Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.18:3). Are children somber by nature? Do they not tend to be cheery and joyful? In this respect, men of God have much in com­mon with little children who rejoice in their Father’s presence. They are not tense or neurotic; their eyes are not focused on some distant object, looking past everyone as some preachers do when they preach!

If we had the chance to meet with the apostle Paul, we would be amazed by his joyful and relaxed character. I draw this conclusion not only from reading his letters (e.g., “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” Phil.4:4) but also from having had the privilege of knowing a few outstanding men of God when I was a young Christian, an arrangement made possible by God’s remarkable provision. When I got to know them, I thought that every Christian would be like them, only to dis­cover later on, to my great disappoint­ment, that there are actually few like them.

The first thing I notice about men of God is their undivided loyalty to God, and their unrelent­ing pursuit after Christ and Christ-likeness, which is the essence of perfection. There is remarkable joy and peace even under intense pressure and persecution. I had never seen people so relaxed, so thankful, so full of peace, as these men of God, even when their lives were in danger.

I also noticed their loving and caring attitude. The fruit of the Spirit is love, and love does not look past the people it meets. When a disciple is pursuing after Christ, he or she will be concerned about the needs of the brothers and sisters. When Paul says that he strives and toils to present every man perfect in Christ, you might say to him, “Do you really have time for me? I thought you were single-mindedly pur­suing after Christ.” He cares for you precisely because he is pursuing after Christ and Christ-like­ness.

Another reason Paul wants to present every man perfect in Christ is that the pursuit of perfection is not a solitary effort. The church is a body, the Body of Christ. When we strive for perfect­ion together, the body of Christ grows harmoniously.

Five basic principles of growing into perfection

First principle: Remove the body of flesh

There are five basic principles of growing into perfection. The first principle is to remove the body of flesh from your heart. I am, of course, using Paul’s language here, an example of which is seen in Colossians 2:11: “In him (Christ) you were also circumcised with a circum­cision made without hands, in the removal of the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ”. Paul’s language may seem hard to under­stand, but there is not­hing mysterious about it.

Firstly, Paul is talking about circumcision, a procedure that cuts off flesh.

Secondly, it is a “circumcision made without hands” — carried out by God, not by man. Hence it is called the “circumcision of Christ”. We cannot perform self-surgery and remove the flesh from our own hearts; it is God who, by his Holy Spirit, carries out the surgery. And when does this take place? The next verse says, “You were buried with him in baptism” (v.12). It is at baptism that the circumcision of Christ takes place, by which the body of flesh is removed and buried.

Thirdly, “He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit” (Romans 2:29). Spiritually, you become a Jew not by literal circumcision but by being circumcised in your heart.

Fourthly, Paul speaks of the “body of flesh” because the flesh is integral to the body, and is its dominant element. Flesh does not exist by itself apart from the body. If the flesh controls our lives, it exerts its influence through the body. But when by God’s grace the body of flesh is “removed,” it means that its control over us is removed, and we can now live under God’s gracious lordship.

Many Christians are still controlled by the body of flesh. Examine your own way of thinking. Is it controlled by things such as food, clothes, money, praise, the comforts of life, and sexual desires? Is your way of thinking domi­nated by the body?

Teenagers are particularly prone to this, and it continues on to adulthood. From their conversations you can tell that their thinking is controlled by things pertaining to the body. These things are not sinful in themselves, but if our thinking is dominated by the body of flesh, we won’t experience spiritual reality and vitality in our Christian lives.

In the important chapter on baptism, Romans 6, Paul says, “Our old man was crucified with him (Christ), that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (v.6). At baptism we are crucified with Christ and buried with him. Our “old man” is crucified so that the body of sin may be done away with — not in the sense of physical extermination but of its being removed from our hearts, and no longer exercising control over us.

If the body of flesh is not removed from the heart, our thinking will be controlled by it and will produce “the deeds of the body,” which will result in death. “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die, but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom.8:13). Many Christians have made ship­wreck of their faith because they have not, by the Spirit, put to death “the deeds of the body” or “the deeds of the flesh” (Gal.5:19).

Hence there are many weak, unhappy, and stressed-out Christians. The battle between flesh and spirit will create deep inner tensions. The tendency is to compro­mise between flesh and spirit, but at the cost of the loss of joy, power, and the fruit of the Spirit.

Second principle: Joyful acceptance of suffering

The second point about the Christian who strives for perfection: His striving for perfection is expressed in a joyful accept­ance of suffering. When the body of flesh is dealt with, you won’t be afraid of suffering, fatigue, poor health, lack of sleep, or even death.

Whereas suffering is an unwelcome topic to those who are in the flesh, it is embraced by those who are pressing towards the high calling of perfection, for it is through suffering that we are made perfect, as was true even for Jesus himself (Heb.2:10; Heb.5:8,9).

Interestingly, when Paul brings up the topic of suffering, he often does it “out of the blue,” without any obvious connection to the main discussion. An example is Romans 5:1-2 which begins by speaking on justifi­cation by faith: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Suddenly in the next verse (v.3) he says: “Not only so” — referring to what he has just said, namely, justification by faith and rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God. This then becomes yet another reason for rejoicing: “… we rejoice in our sufferings.” Do we, like Paul, see suffering as something to rejoice in?

Few Christians consider suffering as cause for rejoicing. Many complain, “Why is God unfair to me? Why did He give me a wife (or husband) like this? I thought that marriage was going to be heaven on earth, but it turned out to be years of torment. God didn’t give me a good job either; my boss twists my arm every day. Add to this my poor health, my aches and pains.”

But the man of God rejoices in suffering because he knows that it will lead to spiritual excellence in the likeness of Christ. That is why Paul considers suffering as good a reason for rejoicing as justification by faith! God has a predetermined plan for all who through faith have responded to His call (Rom.8:29,30), those who “have been called according to His purpose” (v.28). And what is that purpose? To be “glori­fied” (v.30). It is to become a new person “conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v.29). But this cannot be accomplished without suffering, for if we wish to “share in his glory” we must also share in “his sufferings” (v.17).

Romans chapter 8 is a vital discourse on life in the Spirit. All of a sudden, in the midst of wonderful statements such as “the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (v.2) and “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (v.16), Paul again brings up the topic of suffering out of the blue. In the very next verse (v.17) he continues, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory”. This may seem an abrupt change of topic, but it demonstrates the importance of suffering to Paul and his reasons for rejoicing in it.

Many people grumble over small misfortunes, but the man of God rejoices in every situation. When Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in jail, they sang hymns and praised the Lord (Acts 16:25).

Are we able to say, “Praise God, my car broke down this morning and I got stranded on the road for three hours! I had a great time of communing with Him.” Thanking God for a car breakdown may seem irrational, but that is what makes a disciple of Jesus extraor­dinary where others would be cursing and swearing.

Third principle: Set the mind on spiritual things

Thirdly, the Christian who strives for perfec­tion will set his mind on spiritual things. He is inclined towards spiritual things because God’s Spirit is guiding him into all the truth (Jn.16:13). He sets his mind on the things above, not on earthly things (Col.3:2). Paul warns us:

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6)

What you set your mind on — the flesh or the Spirit — is a matter of life and death. If you set your mind on the flesh, you will die. If you set your mind on the Spirit, there is life and peace, including the inner peace that fills a man of God even in situations of danger.

In China many years ago I had the privilege of knowing brother Yang, a faithful servant of God. We shared a room together for several months, and I saw that his monthsmmmis life was in constant danger. He knew he could be arrested at any moment for preaching the gospel. At that time, such arrests routinely led to prison, labor camps, and sometimes death in those camps. Yet I have never seen a more peace­ful man in the face of danger, with no hint of fear or anxiety. His life spoke more power­fully to me than a hundred eloquent mess­ages. His heart and mind were so focused on God and eternal things that transient trials on earth did not disturb him.

What are “the things of the Spirit” we can set our minds on? Meditate on love, joy, peace, the fruit of the Spirit, the glory of the church, the things to come, the coming of the Lord, God’s power to transform people, and His plan for your life. Have you ever pondered what God could do through you? Do we suppose that God has use for only one John Sung, one Wang Ming Dao, or one D.L. Moody? He can use any of us to shine forth His light to this generation.

Fourth principle: Let God do His will in you

The fourth point touches on something we mentioned earlier: Let God do His work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. We may be familiar with these words in Philippians 2:13, but we often quote them as if they happen by some automatic or self-fulfilling way. The fact is that this verse is not a reality in most lives. To make it true in us, we must yield our lives wholly to God.

The preceding verse (v.12) speaks of obeying God and working out our salvation with fear and trembling. If we don’t obey God, He won’t do His work in us, and we are acting contrary to His will (cf., “to will and to work for His good pleasure”).

If God could fully implement His will in the lives of His people, there would be many spiritual giants in the world today. The reality is that God is prevented from willing and doing His good pleasure in most Christians because they do not submit wholly to His will. But when our will is totally yielded to God’s, we will do whatever He wants us to do, think as He inspires us to think, and live according to the mind of Christ (1Cor.2:16).

Fifth principle: Faith in God’s power

Fifthly, the man of God stands firm in the truth expressed in Romans 8:28ff: “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Do you catch the spirit of this statement? The one who loves God and pursues after spirit­ual excellence is confident in God’s love and power. He knows that God’s will for him is always for his good, and is the expression of His perfect love.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ” (v.35)? Not­hing can separate us, neither tribulation nor distress nor persecution. If there is anything or anyone that could separate us from the love of Christ, it would be we ourselves. Paul gives a list of things that cannot separate us from Christ, but never says you cannot separate yourself from Christ.

The reality is that many Christians do this very thing one way or another through continual disobe­dience to the Lord. This results in their being “severed from Christ” and “falling from grace” (Gal.5:4). This is especially true in these last days (1Tim.4:1). They deny the faith (1Tim.5:8), “even denying the Master who bought them, bring­ing swift destruct­ion upon themselves” (2Pet.2:1; Jude 1:4).

But there is no external power in heaven, on earth, or under the earth that can separate us from the love of Christ. The man of God is confident of God’s love and power. His spiritual intensity comes not from himself but from the Lord. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal.2:20).

By daily applying these five principles of spiritual victory, we will not live second-rate Christian lives. May Yahweh our God be pleased to raise up mighty men and women for Himself in this generation and reveal His saving glory to the world through them.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church