Part 1: True Spirituality
by Pastor Cornelius R. Stam
(The following is the first of a series of excerpts from Pastor Stam’s classic work on true spirituality. Since this book never appeared as a series in the Searchlight, many of even our long-time readers may not be familiar with these selections.)
“He that is spiritual judgeth [discerneth] all things, yet he himself is judged [discerned] of no man” (I Cor. 2:15).
The truly spiritual man is so far above the wisest sages of this world, yes, so far above the mass of Christians with whom he comes into contact, that he can understand them, but they can never quite understand him.
We should all long to be truly spiritual, but what is true spirituality? This is the question we seek to answer in this book by the Scriptures—and the Scriptures rightly divided.
Our libraries contain many books on this subject, written by able men of God. The reason for the appearance of this, still another, however, is quite simple.
The professing church has so long built upon the false premise that the present dispensation began at Pentecost with the “pouring out” of the Holy Spirit, that the vast majority of the books written on spirituality take their readers back to Pentecostal days to find the pattern for true spirituality. Most of these necessarily do this with reservations and qualifications, since the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was accompanied by tongues, healing and other miraculous demonstrations, along with a communal way of life which is incompatible with God’s program for today, as revealed through the Apostle Paul.
We “believe, and are sure,” however, that the present dispensation began, not with Peter and the eleven at Pentecost, but with Paul, to whom the risen, glorified Lord later revealed His will and program for our day. We therefore believe, further, that the truth about the Spirit’s operation today is to be found in Paul’s epistles and such other Scriptures as are compatible with them.
True Spirituality first appeared as a series of articles in Truth magazine, the official organ of Milwaukee Bible College. With a few minor changes and corrections we now send it forth in book form, praying that God will graciously use it to lead many into a sane, balanced and truly spiritual Christian experience.
What is meant by such terms as “he that is spiritual” (I Cor. 2:15) and “ye which are spiritual” (Gal. 6:1) in the Scriptures? What is true spirituality in the Bible sense of the word?
In proceeding to answer this question we must first observe that true spirituality does not consist merely in the domination of a man’s life by his spirit, rather than by his soul or his body, for with the entrance of sin man’s whole being was “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:17-19) and he became, spirit, soul and body, a fallen creature. Moreover, as we have seen, man’s perverted soul now, rather than being the seat of simple self-consciousness, became that of self-importance and self-interest, and this had a devastating effect upon his spirit, setting the whole inner man at enmity against God (Rom. 8:7; Col. 1:21).
An examination of the Bible usage of the word pneuma will soon dispel the notion that the quality of spirit is in itself necessarily good. Again and again we read in the Scriptures of “unclean” and “evil” spirits (Mark 1:23; Luke 7:21, etc.). In I Peter 3:19,20 we read of “spirits in prison,” who were cast there for their disobedience to God in the days of Noah. Satan himself is, as we know, “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2) and believers are explicitly warned that their warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against wicked spirits in the heavenlies (Eph. 6:12). Indeed, the fact that we are called upon to cleanse ourselves from all defilement of “the flesh [referring to the physical man when thus linked with the spirit] and spirit” (II Cor. 7:1) and that some do seek to be “holy both in body and in spirit” (I Cor. 7:34) indicates clearly that man’s spirit did not remain undefiled in the fall.
Hence it is not enough that our lives be dominated by our spirits. The whole man, spirit, soul and body, must be dominated by the Spirit of God. Spiritual men, in the Bible sense of the term, are those who possess “the Spirit which is of God” (I Cor. 2:12) appreciate and respond to “the things of the Spirit of God” (I Cor. 2:14) are “led by the Spirit of God” (Rom. 8:14) and thus bear “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22).
That Scriptural spirituality has to do with the work of the Spirit of God in the believer, is clear from I Corinthians 2:11, where the Apostle Paul points out that just as no one could understand “the things of a man” if it were not for “the spirit of man which is in him,” so no one can understand “the things of God” except by “the Spirit of God.”
The mere fact that fallen man himself is, or has, a spirit does not help him to understand God or to be more like Him. This fact should be carefully noted by those who seek to please God by constantly—and vainly—attempting to attain to their “higher” selves.
THE SPIRIT AND THE FLESH
In this connection the Pauline epistles have much to say about the flesh (Gr., Sarx) in an ethical sense, as signifying, not merely the physical body, nor even the body and the soul, but the fallen, Adamic nature in man, as it affects his whole being, including even his spirit.
In the flesh, says the apostle, “dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). He calls it “sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). He tells us that “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit” (Gal. 5:17) that it seeks “occasion” to do wrong (Gal. 5:13) and that “the works of the flesh” are all bad (Gal. 5:19-21).
It is important that we understand that more than the physical body, or even the body and the soul, is meant by the term “flesh” in such passages as these. The apostle refers to the old nature as it operates in the whole man.
Often, to be sure, man’s fallen nature expresses itself in the abandoned gratification of sensual passions, but on the other hand it may express itself in an attempt to control those passions. The “old man” may be outwardly moral and upright and, indeed, quite religious. He may faithfully observe fasts and feasts and holy days. He may strive to keep his body under control, disciplining himself by participation in ascetic practices in “a voluntary humility,” while actually he is all the more displeasing to God because he is “puffed up by his fleshly mind,” supposing that he is making something of himself. And meanwhile the “ordinances” to which he “subjects” himself and even his “neglecting of the body” fail to prove “of any value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:18-23) for the simple reason that all these efforts merely represent an attempt by the flesh to improve himself.
Little wonder that we read not only that “he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal. 6:8) but that even “to be carnally minded is death…. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:6,7).
“So then, they that are in the flesh [I.e., live in the realm of the old nature.] cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). This is important to remember. No matter how educated or cultured or religious the natural man may be, he CANNOT PLEASE GOD.
We have dealt with this subject at some length in order that the reader may not be misled into supposing that if only his spirit could somehow get control over his body he would be a better man, for his spirit, soul and body are from infancy controlled by the fallen Adamic nature—the flesh.
What the sinner needs is a new nature, begotten of the Spirit of God, so that God Himself may have control.
PREVALENT FORMS OF PSEUDO-SPIRITUALITY
Before explaining from the Scriptures how sinners may become “partakers of the divine nature,” something further must be said about what spirituality is not.
In addition to sincere, though vain, attempts by the unsaved to improve the old nature, there are various forms of pseudo-spirituality which many, even among God’s people, have mistaken for the real thing, supposing that they evidence a working of the Spirit of God within.
With some, pure emotionalism is taken for spirituality. Natural emotional reactions to touching stories, impassioned appeals or beautiful sacred music is thought to be the working of the Spirit within, and those who react readily to these things are thought to be quite spiritual.
With others solemnity is taken for spirituality. They feel that true believers should be always grave and so they go about with bowed head, a long face and a generally sober bearing or, perhaps, try to affect deeper spirituality by so doing, while others—who do not know them well—remark on their piety.
With others again it is the very opposite. They mistake cheerfulness for spirituality and look upon those who are quickest to shout “praise the Lord,” or who seem always happy, as being most spiritual.
Very often, of course, mere ceremonialism is confused with spirituality. Observing a “sacrament,” gazing at a “sacred” picture or statue, kneeling at an altar; such things may be, and often are, mistaken for spirituality.
Perhaps the most prevalent counterfeit of true spirituality is that which believers are least apt to suppose they would ever be deceived by: superstition, which plays so largely upon the imagination. A young man seeks to determine the Lord’s will for his life by flipping his Bible open and letting his finger alight at random upon some passage which is supposed to indicate the leading of the Lord. A housewife seeks guidance for the day by taking a promise at random from a “promise box”—a promise which may not at all apply to her and which she will have to “spiritualize” in some way to make it fit. Another says: “I talked with the Lord about it and He said….” Often the most unscriptural practices or courses of action are justified in this way. When people tell us this we generally inquire further into the matter. We ask: “Just what did the Lord say to you?” “How did He say it?” “Did you hear His voice?”
We believe that God does indeed speak to His children directly in His Word and indirectly through circumstances, but even in Bible times it was comparatively seldom that man ever heard the voice of God. Generally what “the Lord said,” in such cases as the above, was nothing more than some wholly human emotion felt or opinion arrived at—and as wholly unreliable. If what “the Lord said” was a genuine conviction, based on the revealed will of God, then it may be said that God spoke to the individual through His Word, doubtless in answer to prayer, but the impression should not be given that the Lord “said” or “whispered” something, while the individual was engaged in prayer. Those who imagine that they have such experiences and suppose that this reflects some degree of spirituality on their part should search the Scriptures and learn that in the days when God did speak to men by word of mouth, or by angelic appearances, He did so to the wicked and ungodly as well as to His saints. Doubtless our adversary would gladly have us occupied with imaginary “voices” and “revelations” and so displace the now-completed revelation in the Holy Scriptures.
Let us not be misunderstood. We do not say that emotional reactions or sincere solemnity or cheerfulness are wrong. We simply say that they should not be confused with true spirituality. The unsaved can experience similar emotional reactions to those which are felt by the saved. The unsaved too may be cheerful or grave. Certainly ceremonialism and superstition have a large place among the unsaved. Yet the unsaved, whatever their emotional experiences, however solemn or cheerful, however given over to ceremonialism or superstition, are far from spiritual.