Part 3: Conversion, Context, & Evidence (‘In Spirit’)

“To enjoy in experience what is true of me as in Him, I must learn what it is to walk in the Spirit.

It is historic fact that in Christ my old man was crucified, and it is a present fact that I am blessed ‘with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ’ (Eph. 1:3); but if I do not live in the Spirit, then my life may be quite a contradiction of the fact that I am in Christ, for what is true of me in Him is not expressed in me.

I may recognized that I am in Christ, but I may also have to face the fact that, for example, my old temper is very much in evidence.

What is the trouble? It is that I am holding the truth merely objectively, whereas what is true objectively must be made true subjectively; and that is brought about as I live in the Spirit.”

Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, pg 132

We began this travelogue defining a narrow group searching for churches that operate ‘in spirit and in truth’, what that means to them, the rubbing distinctions of most church experiences, and what this sought-after church might look like in function in Part 1, which can be found HERE.

We continued to define the structural distinctions present in how ‘word’ and ‘spirit’ churches are founded and structured and narrowed the scriptural accounts that support the need both for being a church that adheres dearly to the Truth of God’s Word, while not neglecting the works of the Spirit of Grace; simultaneously, noting the fact that both types of churches have produced worthless alongside valuable things and that both types appear – at least at surface level – to be little more than a right-brain, left-brain preferential splitting of hairs in Part 2, which can be found HERE.

Though I had not intended anything beyond the initial post, I found in this process the sharpened need to redefine some spiritual matter – as much for myself as for these prior writings. In particular, I needed to clarify the receipt and power of the Holy Spirit. So, we will discuss these things here, in Part 3:

Who receives the Spirit of God and when?

What was the context of Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman: ‘In spirit and in truth’?

And what is the difference and the evidence of living vs. walking after the Spirit?

In short, and in a backwards sort of progression, we will be defining terms and, afterwards, taking a brush to the root of the divisions in these types of churches and church experiences in hopes of re-clarifying the ideal: A Church, that is a people, of both spirit and truth.

This study has taken me completely by surprise… and I have been blessed by it this week. I hope you are too.

Conversion(s)

In Pastor Hsi: Confusion Scholar and Christian, Mrs. Howard Taylor writes in wonderful and descriptive terms about the conversion, trials, and ministry of a Chinese scholar named Hsi, whom Mrs. Taylor and her husband later came to know personally in their missionary work. Regarding his receiving of the Spirit, she writes:

“In thought and prayer over the Word of God, he had learned that there is a baptism of the Spirit different from the regeneration of the soul at conversion.”

Part 1, pg 182

(This may be the precise point upon which ‘word’ and ‘spirit’ churches split; we will address the semantics later.)

The story continues that he tarried in prayer one night upon this discovery until he was made aware (felt, subjectively) the Holy Spirit “filling and overflowing” his heart (pg 183). “For with this baptism of the Spirit there came a clear and definite call to the work of God.”

“The call was so definite and the outpouring of the Spirit so real, that the whole experience left an impression on the life of Mr. Hsi that never passed away. From that time forward he was as a man set apart, with an apostolic sense and conviction of being chosen of God for some special service.

At the time he said nothing about it, feeling deeply conscious of his unpreparedness and ignorance in spiritual things. He realized that, so far, it was but an indication of Divine will, and that only in after years could the full purpose of God be unfolded.”

pg. 183-184

This desire for the baptism of the Spirit followed shortly behind Hsi’s conversion to Christ and deliverance from a long-standing opium addiction.

I very much recommend reading the whole of Mrs. Howard Taylor’s biography of Hsi’s life and life in the Spirit. Not long after his own deliverance (and after addressing the wellbeing of his own family) he set out on a mission to help others in China trapped in the same addiction, always first addressing the spiritual realities of the soul, then the medical. His plain and fervent trust in God is convicting and inspiring, beginning to end.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

John 15:4

So, it seems Hsi, largely unguided in a remote region of China, read God’s Word and saw the need to tarry in prayer for the felt-baptism of the Spirit – much as the disciples did at Pentecost.

And, it seems, Watchman Nee, would disagree with such an interpretation, if not the act:

Those who emphasize tarrying and hold ‘tarrying meetings’ only mislead us, for the gift is not for the ‘favored few’ but for all, because it is not given on the ground of what we are at all, but of what Christ is.

The Spirit has been poured out to prove His goodness and greatness, not ours. Christ has been crucified, therefore we have been forgiven: Christ has been glorified, therefore we have been endued with power from on high.

Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian LIfe, pg 98

Nee makes the compelling argument that it is because Christ was glorified that the disciples who tarried and, now, we who believe, receive the Holy Spirit of Christ from the Father. The disciples tarried to wait for Christ to be glorified and seated at the right hand of God, Jesus himself having told them to do so, and, we also knowing, that all things done in heaven are done with procession and order: Thus the wait.

Nee continues that such a tarrying in prayer is no longer necessary to receive the Spirit because CHRIST HAS ALREADY BEEN GLORIFIED and seated with His Father in heaven – which was the premise of our receiving the Holy Spirit and also that upon which the disciples needed to first wait (to be finished above).

Let’s stop here to consider two things. Both Hsi and Nee were learned men; however, in terms of theology, it is clear when reading his books that Nee would triumph in theology points. Nonetheless, Hsi had an entire lifetime’s worth of the ministry of the Gospel endued with power and evidences, and supported by godly character, aplenty to prove what he understood of God’s graces.

Can we rightly say or discredit one or the other based on the jots and tittles of mere textual understanding then? I don’t think so….

Both members served in the way and with the means God gave to them, with the measure of understanding and power God gave to each of them. So, while they may very well have fallen into different denominations, if we were to parse out their stated beliefs, we can hardly divide them in Christ: To each was given a measure of faith and, so far as I can tell of both lives, each were faithful in their given callings.

It’s truly a shame that we divide such men upon mere trifles as our individual understanding of God’s works and graces.

Or, do you yet imagine that God is confined by your understanding of theology – that is, your understanding of Him?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.

Isaiah 55:8

Again, I say, a Nee thinks everyone should be a Nee…

And a Hsi thinks everyone should be a Hsi…

But what if this is the attitude we are to take with brothers and sisters, those who bear some evidence of God’s good grace in their lives, rather than dividing them into doctrinal points of contention?:

Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

John 21:22

Though Jesus spoke of the manner of death Peter would face respective to John’s, His words well sum-up what should be our overall attitude concerning God’s children and the walk to which He calls each one: You, follow Me (and mind your own spiritual calling).

I speak not of those who distort God’s words, as those yet bound in bondage to sin, who are, therefore, yet the ‘children of the devil’ – to be clear. The audience intended here are those who belong to God as evidenced in righteousness and love.

In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:10
Worship: ‘In Spirit and In Truth’

Andrew Murray, in his devotion titled With Christ In The School of Prayer, keenly points out a “threefold worship” described in Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman:

  1. The ignorant worship of the Samaritans
  2. The intelligent worship of the Jew
  3. The new, spiritual worship of the coming worshipers

“As God is Spirit, not bound by space or time, but in His infinite perfection always and everywhere the same, so His worship would henceforth no longer be confined by place or form, but spiritual as God Himself is spiritual.”

Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, pg 19

What is ‘spiritual’? In simplest terms, isn’t it that which is not material, physical?

To perfectly define ‘spiritual’ worship as a particular movement, style of externals, or behavior then, would be to confine worship again to the intelligent worship of the Jews.

To offer no definition, to feign no knowledge of what God may or may not desire, may or may not approve of, then, might be to regress into the ignorant worship of the Samaritan.

And, certainly, to confine Him to any particular place or time or method of worship also shuns the worship of God as Spirit, ‘in spirit and in truth’ – Does it not?

We worship a God we know, but our worship is not based on our perfect understanding of Him; it is based on our relationship to Jesus as the Truth.

We do not deny the knowledge of what He has revealed to slosh about in spiritual orgies with every familiar spirit and every religious ritual; rather, we accept what Jesus has revealed about ‘Our Father’ and worship Him accordingly – by also accepting the precious Holy Spirit and the grace to carry our own cross.

We worship our First Love, revealed through Christ Jesus, ‘in spirit and in truth’ – wherever we are, whenever we are, because the curtain has been torn, the barrier to the Holy of Holies removed.

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 

Revelation 2:4

Rather than being housed by a material tent of common fabric, the same Spirit of Christ Jesus is now resident in your ‘earthen vessel’ of common flesh.

He is with you now.

He is in you now.

THE SAME SPIRIT THAT RAISED JESUS FROM THE DEAD!

And that is why we say:

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 6:19-20

Perhaps, perhaps, some, like Hsi, tarry in prayer, understanding that while they hear these words, they have produced little (or cannot produce) evidence of them in their lives. And is that not a good reason, saints, to tarry a while in prayer, to ask that you may receive – not the resident Holy Spirit already promised but for the eyes of your understanding to be opened?So that your form of godliness might be met with Christ’s power?

Call it a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit or a petition for understanding and revelation: Do you think God will give his child a stone when he or she asks for bread because they did not parse out the semantics of theology correctly in their prayer?

I think we act terribly arrogant when we confine God and His children in such poor, mere mortal ways and thoughts.

(There is 0 scriptural support for the doctrine that says only the Apostles could receive the Holy Spirit with power; thus, I will not entertain such foolishness here. There are plenty of scriptures that state in no uncertain terms quite the opposite.)

Living vs. Walking

In ancient Israel, one might (and often did) live their entire life in the camp of God’s general blessing and graces, as one of the Israelites, without ever entering the Holy of Holies – that is, without ever experiencing God’s tangible presence, seeing his glory fill the temple like a cloud, or approaching that holy, terrifying mountain to meet one-on-one with Him. Indeed, such experiences were then relegated to a select, chosen few. (Possibly, one of the reasons the shepherd boy, David, was so beloved by God was because by faith he did not confine God to a tent; rather, he loved God’s presence! – That means, he felt it and knew Him as much as any priest had in his day!)

There is a shadow of likeness here that persists today among those who, yes, receive salvation and the general benefits of being part of the body of Christ, yet neglect their own role as ‘the temple of the Holy Spirit’. They neglect to recognize God’s resident presence in their own personal lives and homes!

In other words, this kind of intimacy (the Holy of Holies) is no longer limited to those with hereditary claims to it; that is why the curtain was torn in two when Jesus died. He removed the separation caused by our sins, re-establishing the garden connection with our Father (when He came down to walk with Adam and Eve), sending the Holy Spirit to indwell the new temples – ‘these earthen vessels’: God with us.

If you were standing before the old Holy of Holies, as housed by the tent, would you sling mud on its windows? Would you bring in slop and feed the pigs there? Would you take the incense and candlesticks and use them to amuse yourself however you pleased? Would you treat it as you treat, say, your common living room?

What did 1 Corinthians 6 say we ought do with these temples? He said to ‘glorify God in your body and in your spirit’ – in the material and immaterial, in the common and the sacred Right?

Those who neglect the relationship necessary to enter into God’s presence (as felt and tangible as the priests and Moses knew Him to be) tend to stop short with defining Jesus as the Word.

The Word, He was; indeed.

But He was ‘the Word made flesh’.

The Word entering into relationship with humanity.

What I mean is this: If the Word has led you into the power of mental ascent alone in matters of belief, then you have not yet entered into the Word made flesh – the Word permitted to rule and reign also over your mortal body, flesh and bone, your daily life and ‘reasonable’ service.

‘Glorify God in your body and in your spirit‘…

‘In spirit and in truth‘…

How do you know if this is the case? – If mental ascent alone is the territory conquered? Simply put, there will be no evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power at work in your life. There may be common grace, just as those living outside of priesthood in the Old Testament experienced in Israel, but the lack of relational abiding of body and spirit in Christ will remain painfully evident (John 15:4).

Yes, yes… “a form of religion that denies the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:5). Is this form not found in Christianity as much as any other belief system?

I do not speak of whether you eat or fast (Matthew 11:18-19), but of whether He knows you… and of whether you know Him.

Saints, the Pharisees knew well God’s words and yet failed to recognize ‘the Word made flesh’…

And many, we are told, who seem to be baptized from heaven with signs and wonders will be told, “I never knew you,” by Christ…

Therefore, whether you are ‘in truth’ or ‘in spirit’, matter not a penny’s worth in theory until, ‘in spirit and in truth’ you worship God with the whole of your life (body and spirit), abiding in the Vine, resting in the work of the fruit of His Spirit, these things evidenced yet unique (as was Hsi and Nee) in your life’s calling. Do you know Him?

Haven’t we all witnessed such things?

The Christian that looks like the world; in fact, you can scarcely tell the difference.

The Christian that is legalistic, proud of their ‘truth’ in a mortal’s understanding but having not a cent of Christ’s spirit.

The Christian who carries scents of spiritual essence and tries to oil everyone with them, proud of their ‘spirit’ and yet a stranger to God’s character.

And is not the needed difference lacking in all of these relational, to one or all three Persons of the Godhead? – One lacking relationship to the Father; another lacking relationship to the Holy Spirit; and another lacking relationship to the Word, Jesus?

Thoughts in Closing

“For me to exhort you to exercise your will in this matter would be but to offer you the vain religion of the world, not the life of Christ…

But as Christians we discover a new law in us, the law of the Spirit of life, which transcends all else and which has already delivered us from the law [of sin and death].”

Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, pg 146

Some stop upon the utterance of that first paragraph and relish in forgiveness, never moving beyond that “law of sin” in their temple.

Because of Jesus’ resurrection and glorification, however, there is more to the story – Isn’t there?

Yes, there is a new law at work…

Is it at work in us?

One other thing I was blessed by in Watchman Nee’s book was the reminder that scripture refers to the fruit, singular, of the Spirit, not fruits (plural). He chastised those who would pray for more patience or self-control, for example, acknowledging that we do not parse out bits and pieces of the Holy Spirit:

If we have the Holy Spirit’s indwelling then we already have access to all of Him, to His fruitful working, to all of these aspects of Him.

And we need not pray for them. We need only, upon the next temptation of our patience, to believe that the Spirit of Christ within us is already well-capable of handling whatever affair.

In this sense, it all comes back around to faith – Doesn’t it?

(Don’t bother worrying about mental ascent here: Time will tell it if you’ve offered plastic fruit. You might not even have to ask how I know that…)

One thing that, I think, bothers those seeking for a Church ‘in spirit and in truth’ is the notable doctrinal outlines for who is and who is not a ‘true believer’, as defined by the understanding of men. Well, I have never heard a pastor use this terminology without first assuming that they were the standard definition (along with their church), in comparison to others.

This leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of those who have found ‘true believers’ in many unexpected places and in many denominations.

But what are we saying here?That we can perfectly separate the wheat and the tares?

Dear saints, that is a fool’s mission, for God has ordained that they should grow up together until the final harvest – when angels, not men, will separate and identify them.

But don’t we need to identify them? Well, Jesus knew his betrayer at the end, but, prior to this, did He treat Judas any differently than the others? Not that we are told…

Separate from this, I realize that elders and overseers are assigned the task of watching for and chasing out heretical teachings and those who bring them, according to scripture. When rightly done, it is necessary. The struggle of our age is that so many of these heretics have become the ‘elders’ and ‘overseers’ themselves, and, consequently, that authority structures and God’s good name are abused in the process. There is no fixing this; in fact, this will increase as the end of things draws near.

I leave you with James 1:21-27, which, I thinks, brings a well-rounded conclusion to this whole matter of truth and spirit, heart and deed, hearer and doer for the attentive reader.

May the doer be blessed. Pray also for me. Let’s be doers of worshiping ‘in spirit and in truth’ and not hearers only…

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 

But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

James 1:21-27

And:

Do not quench [subdue, or be unresponsive to the working and guidance of] the [Holy] Spirit.

Do not scorn or reject gifts of prophecy or prophecies [spoken revelations—words of instruction or exhortation or warning].

But test all things carefully [so you can recognize what is good]. Hold firmly to that which is good. Abstain from every form of evil [withdraw and keep away from it].


Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you through and through [that is, separate you from profane and vulgar things, make you pure and whole and undamaged—consecrated to Him—set apart for His purpose]; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete and [be found] blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-23

Amen.

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