|by James A. Fowler
Our premise is, "spirit-union allows for soul-rest." What do we mean by "rest"? The English word "rest" has two primary meanings. The first definition is that of "remainder," referring to "the part that remains." The second primary definition signifies "cessation and freedom from performance or activity." It will be the latter of these two definitions that will be the emphasis of this study on "soul-rest," for we intend to explain that the Christian can "rest" from the performance of trying to please or appease God, and can experience the freedom of ceasing from all performance activity that might attempt to gain or enact what he already has in spirit-union with Jesus Christ.
Spirit-union allows for soul-rest, and should lead to psychological function that derives from the sufficiency that the Christian has in spirit-union with Christ. Notice that the title indicates that spirit-union "allows for" (we could have said, "provides for") soul-rest. Spirit-union does not inevitably and immediately cause and produce soul-rest. Soul-rest is not an automatic outcome of spirit-union. Soul-rest is a progressive experience of allowing the Spirit of God who dwells within the Christian to function within that Christian's behavior. Simply stated, "soul-rest is ceasing from our performance of doing and striving to get what God has already given to us."
The cessation of the performance activity of "works" does not imply that "soul-rest" is acquiescent inactivity or irresponsible passivity. Soul-rest is not inertia or indifference. The religious advocates of a Christian life of treadmill performance often caricature "rest" as the passivism of reclining in the La-Z-Boy of life, doing nothing, and having no concern for what goes on. This is a most unfair caricature, for those who experience soul-rest are those who are receptive to the grace-activity of God, allowing the living Lord Jesus Christ to be the "performer" of their Christian lives as He lives His life out through them. In the "rest" of the Christian life, everything is ek Christos, derived out of the dynamic of the life of the indwelling Jesus. Christianity is Christ in action.
Survey of Christian Concepts of "Rest"
A survey of Christian thought concerning "rest" reveals that this concept has suffered from various misemphases. Many have relegated "rest" to an expectation of heavenly rest that is longed for, only to be realized in the future. This is the theme of the Puritan classic by Richard Baxter, entitled The Saint's Everlasting Rest: A Treatise of the Blessed State of the Saints in their Enjoyment of God in Heaven.5 There is no doubt that the future heavenly experience will indeed be restful without any need for personal performance, but this is not the concept of "rest" that predominates in the new covenant scriptures. It is questionable whether any of the New Testament references to "rest" refer to heavenly rest. It is a favorite theme of Christian hymnody, however. Another form of future rest sought by many Christians is the paradisiacal repose in an expected earthly millennial kingdom, but this is a doubtful interpretation of Christian "rest."
In a similar line of thought, many have pictured "rest" as the reclining repose of "resting on the promises of God." In this case "resting" is similar to "reckoning" that God will faithfully keep His promises. Though not illegitimate, this is primarily an old covenant concept. Jewish eschatology always focused on the future promises, whereas Christian eschatology revels in the fact that the promises of God have been fulfilled and realized in Jesus Christ. "For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes" (II Cor. 1:20). Rather than "resting on the promises," Christians are to "rest" in the ever-present grace of God realized in Jesus Christ.
Many Christians think of "rest" in the context of the Sabbath, the "day of rest," either Saturday or Sunday, set aside as a "day of worship." There is no doubt that the biblical concept of "rest" is connected with the Sabbath, for God rested on the seventh day of creation, ceasing from His generative action of creation (Gen. 2:2). This does not mean that God ceased from all action, passively lapsing into inaction. God always acts like the God that He is, and does what He does because He is Who He is. His Being is always in action, and His activity is always expressive of His Being. When the seventh day of the week was established as the Sabbath "day of rest" for the people of Israel (cf. Exod. 20:8), they were to rest from their labors to remember what God had done and was doing. Instead, the Jewish religion focused on the restrictions of labor, and turned the Sabbath day into a labyrinth of legalistic limitations. The "promised land of rest" (Deut. 12:9) did not provide rest (Ps. 95:11) either, for all the pictorial types of "rest" in the old covenant were designed to point to the "rest" that was only to be found in Jesus Christ. Christian rest is not connected to a particular day of the week, nor is it a geographical place in Palestine or heaven. Christian "Sabbath-rest" (Heb. 4:1-11) in the new covenant "day of salvation" (II Cor. 6:2) is the continuous opportunity to "rest" from all religious works (Heb. 4:10), by ceasing to try to perform religiously for God, and instead rest in His grace sufficiency through Jesus Christ. That rest from religious performance is the "rest" that we are responsible to diligently enter (Heb. 4:11).
When the concept of "rest" has been considered in reference to the Christian life, it has often been referred to as "the rest of faith." J. C. Metcalfe and D. M. McIntyre both have books entitled, The Rest of Faith.6 R. B. Thieme Jr. published a booklet, The Faith-Rest Life,7 regarding this to be a technique or procedure that one employs to live the Christian life, thereby changing "rest" into another form of performance. Wayne Barber has authored a book entitled, The Rest of Grace,8 correctly emphasizing that the Christian can "rest" in God's grace. It is important to note that "faith" is not something the Christian must "do" to get "rest." Faith must not be transformed into a "work" that contradicts the definition of "rest" as "ceasing from performance activity." It is probably better to refer to "grace-rest" or "Christ-rest" than to "faith-rest."
Dan Stone and Greg Smith have co-authored a book entitled, The Rest of the Gospel: When the Partial Gospel Has Worn You Out,9 using the double entendre of the two meanings of "rest" mentioned above. The "rest" of the gospel is the remainder, the part that many people have not heard in popular Christian teaching, and that remainder pertains to "entering God's rest" (final chapter) by ceasing from the performance activity of religion.
The use of the term "soul-rest" in this study finds its precursor in the words of Jesus Himself. "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:28,29). The final phrase, "rest for your souls," appears to be an allusion to the prophecy of Jeremiah (6:16). In a mid-nineteenth century book, A Treatise on Divine Union,10 Thomas Upham has an extended final section on "The Soul's Rest in Union," and it was this work that sparked my thought-processes to pursue the study of "Spirit-union allows for Soul-rest."
Explanation of "Soul-rest"
The world of fallen humanity runs to and fro at a hectic pace, seeking "rest" on the weekends, in church services, and on vacations and holidays. The humanistic work ethic that drives men to succeed and be significant leaves little time for "rest" and quietude. When identity is determined by performance - who we are based on what we do - then contemporary society thinks those who take time to "rest" will be left on the side of the road as excess baggage or "nobodies." "Rest" is regarded as but a utopian goal at the end of the rainbow of success. Thinking they can generate their own future of "rest" by their self-sufficient performance, fallen man runs on the treadmill that goes nowhere.
The contemporary religion of "evangelical humanism" has nothing to offer but a difference of scenery on the treadmill. Suffering from the "Martha complex" of "do-do-do for Jesus," Christian religion seeks to motivate people with the carrot of heavenly rest at the end of the rat-race. Proclaiming that "there is no rest for the wicked," the alternative is alleged to be a goodness achieved by striving performance. To achieve "rest" one must work for it. Meanwhile, God seems to be saying, "Be still (cease striving), and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10). Jesus said, "Observe the lilies of the field, how they do not toil or spin. Do not be anxious then. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:28-33). Modern Christians find it so difficult to just "be" - to live in the "isness" of the I AM of divine Being, and to allow their "doing" to be an expression of the I AM in action.
To reiterate, we note that "soul-rest" is not a super deluxe version of the Christian life. It is not a "higher life" or "deeper life" that only a few super-saints achieve. Soul-rest is not receiving something more than what every Christian receives when he becomes a Christian at regeneration. Soul-rest is not an added extra in the Christian life: Jesus Christ + (something else). In spirit-union with God, we are "complete in Christ," and soul-rest is allowing the indwelling presence of God to experientially permeate our psychological and behavioral function. Soul-rest is God's intended experiential out-living of the Christian life, i.e., of the Christ-life.
The God we received within our spirit is the God of rest. He is not a Being who struggles and strives to act and achieve. He is not hurried or harried, hustled or hassled. He always acts out of His own Being, as His Tri-unity functions in perfect peace and harmony. Throughout scripture He is often identified as "the God of peace" (Rom. 15:33; 16:20; II Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9; I Thess. 5:23). Soul-rest is allowing the "God of peace to equip us in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ" (Heb. 13:20). We are to "be anxious for nothing, but (allow) the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6,7). Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives (temporary external absence of conflict) do I give to you" (Jn. 14:27). Instead, Jesus is the "Lord of peace who gives us peace in every circumstance" (II Thess. 3:16), for He is the inner and eternal peace, tranquility, serenity of our souls. "He Himself is our peace" (Eph. 2:14), and we are to "let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts" (Col. 3:15). Soul-rest is participation in the peaceful harmony of Triune interaction and sufficiency.
Soul-rest is what Watchman Nee called "the normal Christian life."11 It is God's intent for Christians. Soul-rest is the process of "being saved" (I Cor. 1:18), as we participate in what W. Ian Thomas called "the saving life of Christ"12 (Rom. 5:10). Salvation is so misunderstood in evangelical Christianity today, for it is regarded as a static transaction wherein we acquire the commodity of "eternal life" that delivers and preserves us from future consequences. A dynamic and living understanding of salvation comes in recognizing that we are "made safe" from the dysfunction of abused and misused humanity, in order to experience the dynamic presence and function of the living Savior, Jesus Christ, in our lives. This dynamic understanding avoids the contrived distinction between salvation and sanctification. Sanctification is the ongoing process of salvation whereby we allow ourselves to be "set apart" as the conduits of the manifestation of God's Holy character in the thinking, affections, and decision-making of our psychological and physical behavior. Soul-rest is participating in the "abundant life" (John 10:10) that Jesus came to bring. It is being "filled with the Spirit' (Eph. 5:18), and "growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Pet. 3:18). Soul-rest is getting beyond Romans 7 and into Romans 8 - beyond Christian religion and into Christian reality.
Soul-rest and the Mind
Christians of the Western world, in particular, are steeped in the Aristotelian logic of attempting to explain God intellectually. With rational philosophical and theological syllogisms they seek to explain the infinite with finite reasoning, thinking that if they get everything categorized and systematized logically, they can then "rest" in their precise definitions and intellectual explanations. Seldom do they recognize that their rationalistic reasoning produces constant unrest, for "the more you know, the more you know you don't know." The mental machinations of scholastic theological research often ends up in the "analysis paralysis" of a cerebral logjam that makes Christian religion into "reasoned insanity." Man will never find "rest" in the unending attempts to figure out God and His ways.
The "deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:10), the "ways of God are past finding out" (Rom. 11:33). Western man has such a difficult time with the "unknown," the incomprehensible, the unsearchable; with dialectic that cannot be resolved with synthesis; with Divine Mystery that involves infinite reality that cannot be explained with finite reasoning. Since the time of the so-called "Enlightenment" in the eighteenth century, when human reason was deified and elevated to the highest arbiter of understanding, humanistic rationalism has reigned supreme in Western thought. God's response has long been, "'My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isa. 55:8,9).
God graciously allows the theologues to engage in their academic gymnastics until they run into the wall of the outer reaches of human understanding, and then seek to find rest from their rationalistic reasoning. I know from personal experience. My natural tendency was to formulate a "believe-right" religion with all the correct doctrines and Biblically accurate exegesis. My personality was suited to theological fundamentalism. As a student of biblical hermeneutics, biblical theology, systematic theology, dogmatic theology, and the philosophy of religion, I set out to get God figured out - exhaustively evaluated, fixed in formulation, and boxed up in theological categories. Then, I ran into the dead-end of human reasoning, agnostically admitting that I could not know it all, and questioning whether I could know anything - even whether God existed. That was indeed a time of unrest! But, praise God, He led me towards soul-rest in the mind through spirit-union with Jesus Christ.
Intellectual knowledge of informational content is not the way to soul-rest. Paul explained to the Corinthians, "Knowledge makes arrogant. . .If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if any one loves God, he is known by Him" (I Cor. 8:1-3). Better to be known by God, than to claim to know anything. Knowing all the details of scripture and theology will not provide soul-rest in the Christian life. On the other hand, the "knowing" of personal and relational intimacy with God is essential to soul-rest. Paul's exclamation to the Philippians reveals his awareness of this kind of "knowing." "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things,.that I may know Him." (Phil. 3:8-10). The relational knowing of an intimate relationship with the living Lord Jesus is of far greater value than a Ph.D. in any subject. The informational explosion of the modern era makes so much knowledge available, but leaves man in the unrest of his inability to know it all.
There seems to be a God-given desire in man to seek for truth. But when truth is sought in propositions, proposals, and precepts it is never enough. It never leads to soul-rest. The deepest sense of Truth can only be found in a Person. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8:32). "The Son shall make you free, and you shall be free indeed" (Jn. 8:36). "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6). Truth is a Person - Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate reality.
Man seeks wisdom. "Where is the wise man"(I Cor. 1:20), who can solve all our problems, Paul asked rhetorically, and then explained that "in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God" (I Cor. 2:21). The writer of Ecclesiastes admits, "I set my mind to know wisdom,. but I realized this was striving after wind" (Eccl. 1:17), "for even at night my mind does not rest" (Eccl. 2:23). Also recognizing the vanity of human wisdom, Paul wrote, "Let no man deceive himself. If any man thinks he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise. The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless" (I Cor. 3:18,20). Like truth, wisdom is found in a Person, for "Christ Jesus became to us the wisdom of God" (I Cor. 2:24,30). To know Jesus Christ, not just to "know about" Jesus Christ, but to know Jesus Christ in an ongoing relationship of spiritual revelation and intimacy, is to have wisdom that the world knows not of. James, the Lord's brother, wrote, "the wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy" (James 3:17).
The mind of man is never going to figure out life and all its complexities. No amount of human reasoning is going to solve the problems of the world or the insecurities of our human lives. The "deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:10) are discovered not by human reason, but by divine revelation. Soul-rest is only experienced when we are willing to go beyond human logic and accept the mysteries of Theo-logic; when we concentrate on spiritual realities that are invisible and unseen, rather than on naturalistic observation. Paul noted, "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (II Cor. 4:18). Soul-rest comes when we desire to know only what He wants us to know - all else is peripheral. Soul-rest in the mind is experienced when we are content with revelation, rather than reason.
Every individual has developed a full set of established attitudes in his mind. We have attitudes about things, events, ideas, God, other people, ourselves, etc. How were these attitudes developed? (1) By the recommendation of parents, educators, religious instructors, and the input of society via the media and enculturation. (2) By observation and experience, whereby we reflected on what we found acceptable and suitable. (3) By the revelation of God in natural phenomena (Rom. 1:19,20), the incarnation of the Son (Lk. 10:22; Gal. 1:16), the written record of the scriptures, and the personal revelation that God gives to Christians. Personal revelation is particularly important for the development of Christian attitudes that coincide with the attitude of Christ. "Have this attitude in you which was in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5), Paul admonished, and then in the same epistle, "Have this attitude (of pressing on to know Jesus), and if you have any other attitude God will reveal it unto you" (Phil. 3:15). As noted above, much of religion shies away from this ungovernable concept of personal revelation.
Personal revelation is the primary means of our being "transformed by the renewing of the mind" (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23). This renewal of established attitudes in the mind is not a task that we strive to figure out and formulate, but is the work of the Spirit of Christ revealing Himself in the process of our discipleship as followers and learners of Christ. Where does this "transformation" take place that is accomplished by the "renewing of the mind"? Not in the spirit of man, for Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who had already experienced the spiritual transformation of regeneration. The "renewing of the mind" allows for a "transformation" of behavior, as thoughts and attitudes consistent with "the mind of Christ" within our spirit become the springboard for mobilizing God's character expression within Christian behavior.
A particularly important area of our established attitudes is the attitude we have concerning ourselves. Many Christians seem to have a very negative attitude about themselves. They have self-denigrating, self-deprecating, self-condemnatory attitudes that identify themselves as "worms" before God, as useless, as amounting to nothing. Paul did indicate, "If anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself" (Gal. 6:3), but this is just a warning against prideful self-elevation and exaltation. To the Philippians, he wrote, "With humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself" (Phil. 2:3). And to the Romans, "I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith" (Rom. 12:3). The flip-side of "thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think" is "thinking less of ourselves than we ought to think." If a Christian views himself as a worthless liability to God, then he is failing to take into account the glorious asset that has been invested in him, his spiritual identity wherein "it is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). A positive personal concept of who we are in Christ allows us to "rest" in a confident sense of well-being that is cheerful, upbeat, and optimistic. Apart from such a consciousness of our identity in Christ there will be an attitude of inferiority that brings unrest.
On the other hand, we must beware of spiritual pride that can develop among those who understand their spiritual identity in union with Christ, and because they "have the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16) have experienced the intuitive "inner knowing" of revelation. Such Christians are tempted to develop a Gnostic and elitist sense of "knowing" that looks down its nose at those they deem to be at a lower level of spiritual "knowing," or who cannot articulate their spiritual understanding as they do. The words of James are pertinent: "If any one thinks himself to be devoted, and yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man's devotion is worthless" (James 1:26).
"As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7). The meaning of this proverb has been much debated. Does it mean that a man's identity is established by his thinking? Though Descartes' statement, "I think, therefore I am," posited human thought as the basis of our existence, we cannot accept the essentialism that suggests who we are is based on how we think. Neither should we give way to a behavioral determinism whereby having entertained a thought, we cry out, "Oh no, I am a murderer, a thief, a rapist." Fleeting thoughts sometimes flood our mind, but these are the solicitous thoughts of the tempter, whereupon the living Word of Christ will divide between the "thoughts and intents" of our heart (Heb. 4:12). Neither do a man's thoughts portend a potentialism whereby the mind is the creative source of human action. The "positive thinking" of Norman Vincent Peale, and the subsequent "possibility thinking" of Robert Schuller are based on the humanistic premise of auto-generation or self-actualization. "What you can conceive, you can achieve. Visualize and actualize. Reckon and realize." These are the fallacious mottoes of the self-potential gurus who fail to understand the derivative function of man. The proverb of Solomon most likely means that "as a man thinks or reckons within his soul, so he is in the behavioral expression of the spiritual character that indwells him." Jesus stated it more clearly, "The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil" (Matt. 12:35). The Christian has "this treasure (the indwelling Lord Jesus Christ) in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves" (II Cor. 4:7). Our thoughts become the point where behavior is put in motion and mobilized, or transformed into action. Established attitudes and thought patterns allow the Christian to behave as who he has become in Christ, allowing the character of Christ to be re-presented in his life. On the other hand, inconsistent thoughts allow for the mobilization of behavior that is a misrepresentation of the character of Christ, i.e. sinful. This interpretation of behavior expressionism is apparently the import of the proverb.
Soul-rest in our minds will be a result of keeping a unified perspective of our spirit-union with Christ. A "separated concept" of disunion will never allow for resting in His sufficiency, but will always provoke the pressures of performance to please God. As we appreciate and affirm that "we have the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16) within our spirit, we can draw from the revelation of His Theo-logic in our thought processes. Paul's words are so instructive: "The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace (rest). Those who are according to the Spirit, set their minds on the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5,6). "Set your minds on things above, not on the things of the earth" (Col. 3:2), Paul advised the Colossians. To the Philippians he wrote, "Whatever is true, honorable, right, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise, let your minds dwell on these things" (Phil. 4:8). But "setting our minds" on divine things is not something we "work" to maintain. "The peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7).
Isaiah declared, "The steadfast of mind Thou will keep in perfect peace" (Isa. 26:3). "Perfect peace" might be interpreted to be synonymous with "soul-rest." Some, however, misinterpret "steadfastness of mind" to be the necessity of conjuring up a continual Christian consciousness in every waking thought, and they engage in an inordinate striving to "keep focused" on Jesus. In a strict surveillance of every thought, they seek to allow their minds to think only of Jesus, and to think only the thoughts of Jesus. There is no rest in that - only a relentless self-policing of one's thought life. A healthier understanding of "steadfastness of mind" is the steadfast recognition and awareness that "we have the mind of Christ," and that Christ is our reason, our knowledge, our doctrine, and our teaching. As we live out of that union awareness, the intents of our heart will be the expression of the character of Christ in every circumstance. In the midst of varying situations our psychological minds will align with the mind of Christ within our spirit, and in our wills we will make the continuing faith decision that says, "Yes, Lord, I want what You want."
We do not want to imply by our statements about living beyond human reason in the reception of divine revelation, that the Christian should espouse any form of anti-intellectualism that refuses to use the mind and employ the reason that God has created us with. We just refuse to deify human logic, and instead make the faith-choices to be receptive to Theo-logic and God's action in our lives. Peter tells us to "gird our minds for action" (I Peter 1:13), and this will involve exploring the options and making plans. "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps" (Prov. 16:7).
Soul-rest in the mind of the Christian frees us from thinking that we must figure out and know everything. It allows us to be content with knowing only what God wants us to know. Resting in the recognition that the living Lord Jesus is "the truth" (Jn. 14:6), and has "become our wisdom" (I Cor. 1:30), we desire to "know Him" (Phil. 3:10) relationally, and allow Him to direct our thoughts by personal revelation. We do not cease from thinking, but only from thinking that our mental knowledge is the source or guide for acceptable Christian behavior; remaining available instead to the "renewing of the mind" (Rom. 12:2) that allows the character of Christ to be mobilized in our behavior.
Soul-rest and the Emotions
Many Christians seem to fight a constant battle with their emotions, which they regard as the culprits that keep them stirred up and disturbed. Emotions should not be considered as agitating enemies in our souls. Our emotions are not irritants that serve to "bug us" like pesky gnats. Emotions are not separate entities or powers, and are not essentially good or evil, but can be pervaded and activated by sinful or godly character.
God created all humans with the ability to experience emotion. The English word "emotion" is derived from the Latin, exmovere, which means, "to move out." Emotions allow us to be moved, aroused, invigorated, and enlivened. To be fully human, as God intended, we need to experience sensation, affection, fervor, enthusiasm, and passion. Without emotions life would lose its luster - there would be no thrill of excitement, no flush of embarrassment, no frustration of failure, no wonder and amazement of that which is around us and beyond us. We should embrace our emotions, and allow them to provide passion in our lives.
Emotions sometimes seem to be so spontaneous and overpowering, overwhelming us suddenly and even violently. They are not demons, however, but are integrally connected to the rest of our being (psychologically and physiologically). In particular, emotions connect with our thoughts and attitudes. People usually feel what they think. For example, if a person feels inferior, it is based on established attitudes about their identity. Some seek to blame the events of life for arousing their emotions, but events do not produce emotion. We cannot say, "That situation or that person made me angry." We have to own our own anger. The situation simply allows established attitudes comprised of expectations, assumptions and perceptions, to bring forth emotional reaction. In his Meditations,13 Marcus Aurelius (2nd century AD) wrote, "If you are pained by an external thing, it is not the thing that disturbs you, but your judgment about it."
Modern psychology is preoccupied with emotions, advocating that people "get in touch with their feelings," and "be true to their feelings." With the prevailing philosophical outlook moving towards "postmodernism," there is an extremely subjective orientation that evaluates everything by the emotional effect that it has on people, and often denies objective reference. This is not unlike the older "romanticism" that was the antithetical extreme of "rationalism." As Christians, we want to avoid both the rationalism of the mind and the romanticism of the emotions, in order to allow for the expression of the Christ-life through our thoughts and feelings.
So, how do people deal with their emotions? There seem to be three main options: (1) To believe that emotions can have power over us and control us, passively crying that we are "victims" of our emotions. (2) To believe that we have the power in ourselves to actively control our emotions by mind over feeling, denial, or the suppression, ofr "stuffing," of our emotions. (3) To believe that God gave us the ability to experience emotions, and that the indwelling Christ can control our emotions, using them as appropriate expressive agents of His character. The third option is the only one that allows us to have soul-rest in our emotions.
The range of emotional experience is so vast and diverse that it is impossible to identify all human feelings. In the 17th century, in a thesis on the Passions of the Soul,14 Descartes noted that emotional passions were a mystery that science could never understand. Despite the proliferation of the social sciences in the past couple of centuries, his observation seems to stand. We will, however, attempt to consider a few of the more common emotions.
We have all experienced fear and some of its common variations such as apprehension, anxiety, and worry. What are we afraid of? These can be boiled down to (1) non-personal fears, (2) interpersonal fears, and (3) intra-personal fears.
Non-personal fears include fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of what "might be," and fear of the future. These may also include fear of being in want, fear of sickness, bodily harm or death, and a host of other phobias. How do we have soul-rest from these kinds of fears? Only in recognizing by faith that all unknowns are known in the sovereign omniscience of God. All change is His change; God is in all the change. All of the "might bes" are His opportunities. The future belongs to the eternal God who desires that we let Him take care of it, and instead focus on the "now" of God's present tense "I AM," without getting overly preoccupied with prophetic and futuristic concerns. The Psalmist understood, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" (Ps. 23:1), as was illustrated by God's supernatural supply for Elisha via ravens (I Kgs. 17:4-6) and the perpetual supply of flour and oil for the widow (I Kgs. 17:8-16). Even sickness and death cannot separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39). God has everything under control, so when we are in spirit-union with Him, we can "take things in stride," resting in His love and sufficiency.
Then there are those interpersonal fears: fear of disapproval, rejection, loneliness, separation and broken relationships. Fear of offending someone. Fear of what others think. Fear of our enemies. Fear of what will happen to our children or grandchildren. Soul-rest in the midst of these kinds of fears comes from understanding that we "seek not the approval of men, but of God" (Jn. 14:23), who has approved (I Thess. 2:4) and accepted us (Rom. 15:7; Eph. 1:6-KJV). If God has accepted us, we are accepted by the only One who counts! He is not going to reject us, desert us, or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). In spirit-union with the Trinity, we are never alone for we are brought into the relation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As the Psalmist wrote, "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me" (Ps. 23:4). Jesus promised, "I am with you always" (Matt. 28:20). The solution to loneliness is not "get busy; get involved," but to recognize the union relationship we have with God and His people. Those who fear offending someone often need to understand that the problem is usually with people "taking offense," rather than our "giving offense," and Jesus was not at all concerned about the Pharisees' "taking offense" at what He did. Our desire is to "please God, rather than man" (Gal. 1:10; I Thess. 2:4). It doesn't matter what others think of you or your opinions. You are free to be uniquely you, with your own thoughts and your own opinions. We must not allow the opinions of others to control us. Fears of what will happen to our loved ones are relieved when we recognize that God loves our children and grandchildren more than we do, and seeks their highest good at all times.
The third category, intrapersonal fears, includes the fear of failure and insignificance, the fear of inadequacy and responsibility, the fear of inferiority and impropriety. The fear of failure is always a result of thinking that we have to do something, and failing to appreciate the "supplied life" of Jesus Christ whereby we have "everything pertaining to life and godliness" (II Pet. 1:3). The fear of inadequacy is overcome by recognition that we "have all sufficiency in everything" (II Cor. 3:5). How can someone have a fear of inferiority when they know who they are in Christ? The fear of impropriety is based on "established attitudes" of what others have deemed proper and acceptable. When Christ is operative in us, the expression is always adequate, significant, and proper.
When we allow the sufficiency of Christ to swallow up the self-orientation of our fears, we will experience soul-rest. The positive swallows up the negative. John's statement is, "Perfect love casts out fear" (I John 4:18). The question is not, "What is 'perfect love'?" but "Who is 'perfect love'?" The previous verses explain that "God is love" (I John 4:8,16), and this does not mean that God has some "love" to dispense, but that He is in Himself the essence of all divine love, whereby He acts out of His own Being, and overcomes our being with His peace and security.
We hate to admit that we have emotions of anger, so we have devised many words to redefine our anger and justify our anger. "I'm not angry, I'm just mad, annoyed, provoked, irritated, irked, hurt, fed-up, griped, sore, on edge, disgusted, upset, indignant, vexed, ticked-off, agitated, aggravated, disturbed, hot under the collar, or blowing off steam, etc." Whatever word we might use, James advises, "The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). The "anger of man" is based on selfish attitudes of self-protection and self-assertion. On the other hand, there is the "anger of God expressed in a man," that allows us to "be angry and sin not" (Eph. 4:26). There is no doubt that Jesus expressed the emotion of anger without sin when He cleansed the temple of the merchandisers (Jn. 2:13-17), and when He pronounced the woes against the Pharisees (Matt. 23:13-37). There are times when the anger of indignation must be expressed against religious charlatans who are deceiving and using people. Paul exhibited such anger toward those who were using the girl who had a spirit of divination (Acts 16:16-18).
Much of our anger, however, is the "anger of man" that stems from our patterns of selfishness, when we "take offense" that our so-called "rights" have been violated. We may become bitter and resentful of weakness in others. We may become critical, argumentative, impatient, intolerant, and complaining. We may become envious, jealous, hateful, or vengeful. And then there are those who bombastically "blow up" with a quick temper and a sharp tongue, cursing and yelling to make their point. The "anger of man" does not express the character of Christ in us. We must allow God to do what He wants to do in other people. "Vengeance is Mine, says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). Christ is the Forgiver in us. He is patience in us. He is meek, but not weak. Soul-rest frees us from having to react negatively to defend ourselves in any way.
We all have our own varieties of emotional insecurities. We don't have to be held hostage by these uncertainties, or retreat into "comfort zones" of safety. Our security of relationship with God is not to be found in a past "decision," or in church membership in a particular denomination, or in a particular doctrine of "eternal security" or "once saved always saved." Our security is in Christ, the solid rock (I Cor. 10:4), the sure foundation (II Tim. 2:19), where the anchor holds (Heb. 6:19). Oftentimes God means for us to live in the insecurity of not knowing what God is doing or will do next, willing to take God's "curve balls," and to trust Him as we walk on the "swinging bridge of grace."
Another set of emotions that we all experience at one time or another is discouragement, disillusionment, and despondency that may even lead to depression. These often come as a result of some kind of loss - a job, an object, physical ability, a relationship, reputation, freedom, opportunity, or the loss of a loved one in death. It's okay to be "down." Paul wrote, "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed" (II Cor. 4:8,9). There will be times when we have "dry spells," and seem to be "hoeing dry ground" in the "valley of dry bones" (Ezek. 37:1-6). Don't let the guilt-inducing religionists send you on a "guilt trip" by their statements, "If you feel distant from God, guess who moved." It may be that God intends for you to have a "dark night of the soul," to appreciate His light. Sometimes when we experience loss, we have the emotions of sorrow and grief. These are legitimate human emotions. It was at the news of the death of His friend, Lazarus, that scripture records, "Jesus wept" (Jn. 11:35). Granted, Paul wrote, "We do not grieve as those who have no hope" (I Thess. 4:13), but that means that we do not wail and mourn, and fail to get beyond the loss because we have a selfish attitude that what happened to us is unfair.
The emotions that we experience in soul-rest are not a giddy happiness or a euphoria that "everything's going my way." The objective is not to get "high" on Jesus, paste on an "evangelical smile," and walk around with a Cheshire cat grin as if we just swallowed the canary. But neither do we want be sour-puss Christians, who look like they've been sucking on a dill pickle. Our countenance should reveal that we have the joy of the Lord (Jn. 15:11). Joy is far greater than happiness. Happiness is derived from the old English word hap, which meant "chance." Happiness is based on the chance that "everything's going my way." As the happenings and happenstances happen haphazardly, perhaps you might be happy, if you have no mishaps. The desire for happiness is a selfish desire.
As we said previously, the experience of emotions is part of being human. The objective of the Christian life is not to negate our humanity or make us superhuman, but to allow the Christ-life to be lived out in our humanity, which includes our emotions. We need to embrace our emotions, and allow them to be the expressive conduits of the character of Christ. That will include the emotions of perplexity, frustration, confusion, frustration, fear, anger, discouragement, and sorrow, as well as the emotions of excitement, elation, amazement, amusement, wonder, awe, satisfaction, pleasure, jubilation, etc. Emotions allow us to have passion and vibrant expression. Granted, those passions can be tainted with evil character and become "degrading passions" (Rom. 1:26), "sinful passions" (Rom. 7:5), or "lustful passions" (I Thess. 4:5), but they can also express our passion for Jesus Christ, our passion for life, and our compassion for other people. The Greek word for passion is pathos, which refers to affection or suffering. Compassion is to have passion together with God in His love for others, which may involve sympathy and empathy for those who need such.
Contrary to what some of us were taught, that "those who show emotions are sissies," and "big boys don't cry," God intended for us to express emotions, and even to weep. Emotional expression is not reserved for the feminine gender. Jeremiah was known as "the weeping prophet" (Jere. 9:1,10; 13:17). Jesus wept (Jn. 11:35; Lk. 19:41; 21:62). Paul was weeping for his readers (Phil. 3:18). We are admonished to "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15). There is nothing wrong with emotional passion that causes us to weep.
Though the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22,23), such as love, joy, and peace, are not essentially emotional feelings but the character of Christ indwelling our spirit, the expression of these character traits without emotion or passion can be cold, sterile, and impersonal. God's love should be shown with passionate embrace. The joy of the Lord should be enjoyed emotionally. God's peace can be a settled serenity that is beyond the comprehension of the world around us (Phil. 4:7). When our soul is at rest in the sufficiency of our spirit-union with Christ, our emotions can be utilized as passionate expressive agents for the expression of the character and "affection of Christ" (Phil. 1:8).
Soul-rest and the Will
The human will within the soul, the psychological function of man, is where we choose and decide how we will act within the context of our willingness to be receptive and contingently derivative from a source beyond ourselves. There has been much debate and argument about the so-called "free-will of man." My position? I categorically deny that man has "free-will." Only God has free-will; i.e., the absolute freedom to will anything into being in accord with His character (Who He is), and to put that willed determination into action out of His own Being. That's free-will, complete with the will-power to put it into action! Man does not have free-will in that sense. God created man with "freedom of choice," and our choices are choices of willingness to derive power and character in our behavior from one spiritual source or the other - God or Satan. Martin Luther wrote a classic book, The Bondage of the Will.15 In that book he does not advocate the Calvinistic idea of depraved inability to choose (as many have thought), but argues against his contemporary, Erasmus, a humanist, who taught that man could will into being in his own behavior the character of righteousness or sinfulness. Such a thesis of "salvation by willed works" is at the heart of all humanistic thought. Martin Luther argued that the will of man is bound by the context in which God created man as a choosing and derivative creature, to be contingent and dependent on God. Only God can auto-generate. Only God can self-actuate. Only God can spontaneously create. Only God can be a prime-producer or mover out of His absolute divine free-will, having the will-power to bring into being that which is expressive of His own Being. Oh, what "rest" there is in recognizing that we cannot and do not have to bring things into being with our will. We don't have to exercise so-called "will-power" that allegedly makes things happen, produces character, or generates righteousness. There is certainly no "soul-rest" in the false thinking that we have to willfully make things happen, create goodness, and hold it all together.
Many people fret in "unrest" that human life here on earth is constituted of "decisions, decisions, decisions." Without the capability of decision-making, we would be automatons or marionettes - puppets on a string. The frustration of decision-making is usually due to a desire to avoid responsibility and accountability for the decisions we make. There is no doubt that decisions have consequences, and we have to live with the consequences of our choices. Paul wrote, "He who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done" (Col. 3:25).
Our choices are often cast into the categories of true and false conclusions, right or wrong decisions, good or bad choices. Relativism argues that "whatever is true and right in your determination is truth and righteousness for you." Utilitarianism suggests that "it's right, if it turns out all right," for the results are the ultimate criteria. Pragmatism operates on the premise, "Whatever works and whatever pays off; that's good." Rather than determining legitimacy, accuracy, and propriety by individual and social subjectivism, there has to be some objective reference for identifying these choice-categories. Some would find their foundation in moral codes, ethical formulations, behavioral rules and regulations, or even in divine "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots." The absolutism of fundamentalism argues, "We have figured out the true, the right and the good, and all of your choices must now be made in the parameters of our determination." The determination of the propriety of our choices and decisions is best established, however, by the character of God Himself, allowing divine justice, love, and authority to be the basis of the proper course of action. The prophet Micah declares, "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
Different Personalities and Decision-making
Different personalities have differing patterns or traits of decision-making. Some are strong-willed and tend to make quick, impulsive decisions based on expedience. Believing that change is always good, they are often confrontational and assertive, saying, "Just do it!" Others want to make decisions in the context of a committee, where they can talk out the issues and enlist others to make the decision with them. They want to avoid the individual blame when others do not like the decision they have made. Then there are those who would rather let others make decisions for them. "Whatever you want; it's fine with me." They are ambivalent and procrastinate, for they dislike change and seek the status-quo. They will passively acquiesce, seeking "peace at any cost." Another pattern of decision-making is that of those who are very idealistic and think that they must make a perfect choice every time, never making a wrong choice. They research their options meticulously and often end up in the paralysis of analysis, but they are convinced that their conclusion and choice is always right. None of these approaches is more right than another, for they all expose our self-oriented, self-assertive, and self-protective tendencies in decision-making.
Decision-making for Christians
Decision-making among Christians seems to be even more complicated. Christian religion often advocates that we need to choose to be more committed, to decide to be more dedicated, to consent to be more consecrated. There's no "rest" in that, for it is never enough. Evangelical humanism fails to understand that human commitment is just another form of "works" salvation. All we can commit is sin, and even that is derived from the diabolic source. Our only consistent choice is to be submitted to God for whatever He is committed to be and do in us. The commitment is on God's side. James wrote, "Submit yourselves to God" (James 4:7), and thereby we can "rest" in His sufficiency.
Christian religion suggests that we must discover, know, and make decisions in accord with the "will of God." This precise "will of God" is often viewed as if it were a predetermined plotted course, and we must go orienteering with our spiritual compass to find God's plotted course for our lives. Some consider searching for the "will of God" to be somewhat like water-witching for the source of God's hidden rivers. Others approach the "will of God" as if it were a maze wherein we are like rats trying to find our way to God's goal. Still others view the search for the "will of God" to be a random process of bouncing off of the walls of life. Christians are looking for the "will of God" in all the wrong places. As previously noted, the "will of God" is within us by spirit-union, and it always has to do with the expression of the character of Christ. We have the freedom to make any choice within the context of the empowering character of God. God doesn't care whether you drive a Chevy, or a Ford, or a Toyota; but He does care whether His character is exhibited while you drive whatever you choose. God doesn't care whether you choose a white shirt or a colored shirt, a print dress or a pant-suit; but He does care whether you allow for the "fruit of the Spirit" in your behavior while you wear whatever you wear. We have great latitude and liberty in our decision-making as Christians - even in our relationship choices. Does this mean that everything is not black and white, but that there are "gray areas" of decision-making? No, behavioral expression is only expressive of godliness or sinfulness, but God's pure white character of godliness has myriad possibilities. Christians can "rest" in the freedom they have in Christ.
The contortions that many Christians go through in their decision-making are a mockery of human function. Many Christians seem to be hog-tied with an endless list of limitations and perfectionistic expectations. They are "putting out fleeces" (cf. Judg. 6:36-40) to see if God will jump through the hoops and confirm their decisions. Others are "waiting on God" in indecision, failing to understand that indecision is itself a decision not to decide, and that is often a decision not to rely on Christ within. The passivism of sitting on our duff, twiddling our thumbs, and waiting for divine dynamite is not Christian decision-making. It has been said, "You can't steer a ship unless it's moving." Some are paralyzed and immobilized by the fear of making a mistake, of making a wrong choice, or a less than perfect decision in accord with the hidden "will of God." They become paranoid in their questioning, "Is this what I want to do, or is this what Jesus wants to do?" How do I decide? Such troubled restlessness is the neurotic norm of Christian religion.
On the other hand, there are Christians who put on a Pharisaical show of piety, claiming to have a "perfect God-sniffer" for their decisions, for they repeatedly say, "God told me to do this; God told me to do that." Have you noticed that their God often appears to be fickle in His change of direction? I have concluded that those who have to broadcast God's alleged direction in their lives are usually covering up for their own self-determined direction and decision-making.
It sounds so spiritual when a Christian says, "He chooses best who leaves the choice to Him," or "He chooses best who chooses what He chooses." God always chooses to express His character by the dynamic of His Son, Jesus Christ, in human behavior. That does not relieve us from decision-making. Perhaps it is better to say, "He chooses best who chooses to be receptive to the character expression of God by allowing the life of the living Christ to be lived out in his behavior." We are choosing creatures who are responsible to make choices in life. I have a statement that I repeat every morning as I begin a new day, "I am only responsible to be and to do what God wants to be and do in me today." This is a variation of Jesus' statement, "Not My will, but Thine be done" (Lk. 22:42), which does not deny the responsible choice that Jesus had to make in facing death.
So, how do we make choices in our will in accord with the "will of God" within us? I am convinced that the elusive "will of God" is only hidden or unknown to those who fail to recognize and affirm who they are in Christ and all they have been given in spirit-union with Christ. When we are secure in our identity in Christ and the sufficiency of Christ within, we face the choices of life by realistically considering the available options and alternatives, consulting with others if we consider such helpful (cf. Prov. 15:22; 20:18; Lk. 14:31), "listening under" that inner voice of God's personal revelation in spiritual discernment and obedience, and then following through with a decision of receptivity and availability to God, despite how foolish our action might seem both to our own minds and to others. We make a decision, trust our decisions, and act with confidence - willing to take responsibility for our willed decisions without blame-shifting, and willing to live with the consequences of our choices. Sure, we make some stupid, unwise choices (perhaps even selfish and sinful), and we may not like the consequences, but we are still God's children who move on to make additional choices of availability.
Christians will find soul-rest in their decision-making when they realize that their decisions are not earth-shattering, God-destabilizing, choices set in concrete. Christians need to be willing to make choices in accord with their intuition when "it just seems to be the right thing to do." Christians should feel free to "follow their dreams," for God has often given them those aspirations as "the desire of their heart" (Ps. 20:4; 21:2). We can take comfort in the words of Samuel's commissioning of Saul, "Do for yourself what the occasion requires, for God is with you" (I Sam. 10:7). In Augustine's words, "Love God and do what you will." We are free to walk through life with the confidence that the divine "Yes" is operating within us. Having made a decision, we reckon it to be of God and assume it to be right, unless God makes an obvious exposure to the contrary, which He has every right to do, and even when He does so it does not impinge on the legitimacy or propriety of our decision. There is great "rest" in that recognition.
There are some Christians who seem to think that because they have the "mind of Christ" and the "will of God" in spirit-union, every decision they make is automatically and spontaneously God's determination. They think that in spirit-union their will is fused with God's will, and all their choices are direct-drive determinations of God. On the contrary, I believe that our will, in conjunction with our mind and emotions, has been patterned with old choice-channels of actions and reactions of the past. After becoming Christians our will-switch is spring-loaded to the routines of past choices. If we do not purposefully, moment-by-moment, choose and will to make a choice of faith to allow God to be operative in our behavior, then we will spontaneously revert to the old patterns. We are continuously responsible to make faith-choices to be receptive to the activity of Christ in our lives. Faith is a choice, a decision. It is not just the believing of accurate historical facts and theological doctrines. It is not a mystical devotion of attachment and reliance. Faith doesn't DO anything; it just receives God's character and activity. The Christian life is comprised of such faith-choices that allow for our receptivity of Christ's activity. In such a "walk of faith" (Col. 2:6) our wills can "rest" from the pressure of performing and producing Christian behavior, and simply continue to receive the character and empowering of Christ. We do not "rest," however, from the necessity of having to make choices.
Soul-rest and the Conscience
Some consider the conscience to be an internal tormenter, a troublesome disturber of one's inner peace. It is regarded as a restrictive guilt index or a condemnatory resident judge. Those who regard the conscience as "the voice of God," and suggest, "Let your conscience be your guide," usually surmise in the midst of their failures that God's voice and direction are unrealistic and impossible, and God is extremely disappointed with their ability to listen and follow directions. There is certainly no "soul-rest" when we are suffering from the condemnation of past sins or present inadequacies and failures within our conscience.
What is the Conscience?
The conscience is not a substantive organ within our physiological constitution. It is not a separate entity, property, utility, or faculty within our psyche. It is not an intrinsic authority wielding the whip of punitive consequences, nor is it an objectified compass of superintendence and direction. When the word "conscience" is used in the New Testament, it is a translation of the Greek word suneidesis, which means, "to know or perceive in conjunction with." The English word "conscience" is derived from the Latin word conscientia, which has the same meaning. What, then, does the conscience "perceive in conjunction with"? Is it regulated by an intrinsic awareness of the universal will of God, an innate natural law acquired by natural revelation? Paul explained,
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God has made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that all are without excuse" (Rom. 1:18-20).
Making the case for the culpability of Gentiles as well as Jews, Paul continued,
"For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, those, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them" (Rom. 2:14,15).
Does our conscience "perceive in conjunction with" societal and familial norms and standards of propriety and morality? Does our conscience "perceive in conjunction with" a religiously imposed form of punishment for violating the parameters of a particular behavioral code of conduct? Yes, the conscience "perceives in conjunction with" what we have learned by natural revelation, and by familial, social, and religious recommendation, for the conscience "perceives in conjunction with" our individual "established attitudes and affections" in our mind and emotion. This individualized referent point of the conscience explains why some can have a "clear conscience" while others have a "guilty conscience" while or after engaging in the same activity. The conscience serves as a personal barometer forecasting back to the consciousness of our mind when we are contemplating the violation of what we believe to be true, or feel to be right. It seems to throw up a red flag of caution whenever we consider a volitional choice that is contrary to our established thoughts and affections. The words "conscious" and "conscience" are derived from the same Latin root, and this is understandable when we recognize that our conscience "perceives in conjunction with" our self-conscious awareness of our conscious thoughts and feelings.
We would be consigned to perpetual psychological restlessness if the conscience was an objectified and arbitrary regulator that issued a compulsory sense of "ought," or obligatory "must," or divine "thou shalt/thou shalt not" of performance. When we recognize the individual and subjective basis of the function of personal conscience, then we are not hopelessly caught in the bind of an imposed standard, but have the freedom and responsibility of rebuilding established attitudes by the "renewing of the mind" (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23). When we develop established attitudes that correspond with God's attitudes as revealed in Christ, the written revelation of scriptures, and the personal revelation of the Holy Spirit, the conscience can serve as an open conduit of the certification of God's character, all the while guarding against the thoughts introduced by the tempter to accept a temporary self-oriented attitude in the present circumstance.
What about those who do not seem to have any prick of conscience? Repetitive violation of one's established attitudes can result in a "seared conscience" (I Tim. 4:2) that cannot locate any genuine "established attitudes" to "perceive in conjunction with." This is also true of those who adopt an attitude of relativism that refuses to accept any attitude or opinion as better than another. Such a "seared conscience" is also evidenced in those who refuse to question or evaluate the motives of why they decide to do what they do, and what kind of character is being expressed in their behavior.
Behavior Evaluation in Conscience
The conscience functions prior to our decision to act, serving as a warning indication of decisions and actions that would be contrary to established attitudes, and then functions subsequent to our choice and action to evaluate whether our behavior was consistent or contrary to our established attitudes. Evaluating our behavioral choices, the conscience either commends us for acting in a manner consistent with our established attitudes, or condemns us for acting in a manner contrary to our established attitudes.
When our conscience condemns us we feel guilty. But there is a difference between "feeling guilty" and "being guilty." The Greek word for "guilt" is enochos, "to be caught in" the violation or trespass of a standard. A person can be objectively guilty of the trespass of God's character, or the violation of a civil law, or of transgressing social mores, and not feel guilty subjectively because he has not developed established attitudes concerning such laws or standards, or is unaware that he has violated such. On the other hand, a person can feel guilty because he has violated his established attitudes, but those established attitudes may not be founded in legitimate understanding of divine, civil, or social standards, in which case their guilt feelings in the conscience are a form of false-guilt. Since many Christians have established attitudes that are based on the recommendations of family, society and religion, or on the expedience of personal reflection, there is an abundance of false-guilt experience in the consciences of Christians. They may feel guilty for drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, wearing makeup, or uttering an expletive. Because they have been encouraged to love and do good for others, they may feel guilty for not having done more for others - for their parents, for their children, or for their church. There may be guilt feelings for not attending church services every time the doors are open, for not serving on church committees, for not putting more money into the offering plate, or for not spending more time reading their Bible, praying, and evangelizing.
Various methods have been proposed for dealing with our guilt feelings. Some chastise themselves masochistically, thinking that such self-beating will remind them not to repeat the action. One form of this reaction is to penalize oneself by volunteering and working harder for charity, or giving more to the church. To apologize for our action may be in order if we have wronged another, but apology is not necessarily repentance or confession. The world often encourages us to minimize our guilty feelings; "It's nothing, forget it." Or we may be advised to rationalize that "Everybody's doing it. You didn't get caught, so don't worry about it." Encouragement to compromise is a method proposed by many psychological counselors, for they understand that if you lower your standards, and get a more "enlightened" attitude, you will no longer feel guilty. Sigmund Freud considered all guilt feelings to be false-guilt necessitating the compromise of falsely imposed moral standards. Christians need to recognize that there are both genuine guilt feelings and false guilt feelings in the conscience, and these are dependent on whether our established attitudes are based on accurate standards. Genuine guilt feelings require an admission or confession of the violation of an accepted and legitimate standard, whether a social law or God's character. False-guilt, on the other hand, cannot be confessed to God. We cannot "agree with God" that something is wrong, if God has not deemed it to be wrong. When Christians recognize that conscience functions in conjunction with established attitudes in the mind, some of which may be left over residually from their unregenerate days, they can then re-cognize their established attitudes in conscious and cognitive "renewing of the mind" (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23). They can confess and agree with God that their spirit-union with Christ has made them a "new creature" (II Cor. 5:17) that desires that the "mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16) be practically implemented in their mental attitudes. True repentance is realized in this process of "a change of mind that leads to a change of action," allowing us to recognize that the source of our actions is not out of ourselves (cf. I Cor. 3:5; II Cor. 4:7), but the faith receptivity of God's activity.
Religion thrives on false-guilt. It is the manipulative tool that religion uses to motivate people to try harder to reach the impossible standards of perceived perfect behavior, allegedly generated by human will-power. Often regarding the conscience as an independent regulator, guilt feelings are regarded as a sign that God is disappointed, disapproving, and angry at man's failure to measure up to His expected behavior norms. God's "frown of disapproval" in our conscience is alleged to evidence that God is holding us accountable and is acting punitively against us because of our failures. The preacher often berates the people for their sin, and the people in the pew masochistically delight in such chastisement and condemnation for failing to live up to the legalistic regulations, commending the preacher for another "good sermon" that "cut to the bone" of their consciousness. There is certainly no "rest" in this repetitive scheme of religion, striving to perform according to prescribed and perceived standards.
Christians have often been taught that their sins have been forgiven (Col. 2:13), and they have been "washed whiter than snow" (Ps. 51:7; Isa. 1:18). When Christians do not accept God's forgiveness as an established attitude, they might continue to suffer restlessness from the guilt and condemnation of past sins, saying, "I believe God has forgiven me, but I just cannot forgive myself." What audacious arrogance to think that we should hold ourselves to higher standards than God's standards, or to suggest that God was wrong or ill-advised in forgiving us. These Christians need to quit deifying themselves, accept God's forgiveness, forgive themselves as God has forgiven them, and enjoy His life and sufficiency.
Romans 7 Condemnation - Romans 8 Freedom
Even when Christians can accept God's love and forgiveness, they often commence the Christian life and complain that there is no "rest," "life is now more difficult than before I was a Christian." They find themselves in the "Romans 7 syndrome" of exclaiming, "The good that I would I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do" (Rom. 7:19). With constant guilt feelings of inadequacy, and an inner judgment of condemnation in their conscience, they exclaim, "O, wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?" (Rom. 7:24). This constant condemnation of conscience is based on the religious lie that humanistic religion is founded upon, an unrelenting reinforcement of the established attitude that, "I am responsible to live the Christian life. I have to perform with the best of my self-effort to live like Jesus. I have to exhibit love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, etc. to please God. I have the free choice and will-power to implement Christian behavior." These attitudes are a diabolic religious lie that creates constant agitation and unrest in the conscience of Christians. Religion often indicates that this is the "normal Christian life," to be unsettled by inability, preoccupied with failure, striving against unfulfilled expectations, and to have a perpetually restless and guilty conscience. Not so! The hellish experience of restless religious striving is contrary to all that God intended for those identified as Christians in spirit-union with the living Lord Jesus Christ.
Christians can experience a "cleansed conscience" (Heb. 9:14) by allowing their established attitudes to be cleansed from false attitudes of having to perform religious "good works" of moral behavioral conduct in order to please God. A "clear conscience" (I Tim. 3:19) will allow the unrestricted free-flow of God's character when we have an established attitude that "the mystery of the faith" is the dynamic life of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:27; 2:2). The resultant "good conscience" (I Tim. 1:5,19; Heb. 13:18) is based on godly attitudes that recognize that goodness is derived only from God (III Jn. 11) by faithful receptivity of His activity.
The restless morass of living in the Romans 7 delusion can be overcome by developing established attitudes in accord with God's revelation in Christ. This must begin by recognizing that we are helpless, unable, and incapable of doing any good. We cannot choose to generate goodness. We cannot achieve goodness through religious exercises. We can only "rest" in the goodness of God's character, and faithfully receive the grace expression of His goodness. Our established attitudes must affirm that by our spirit-union with Christ we have a derived identity of being conjoined with the indwelling presence of the Righteous One, the Holy One, the Perfect One, the Good One, Jesus Christ. In our established attitudes we recognize (re-cognize) and remind (re-mind) ourselves that the Christian life is a re-presentation of the life of Jesus Christ. As the risen and living Lord Jesus lives and acts in us, He cannot do anything other than Self-generatively express His character. He does not act out of character!
When we affirm our identity in Christ and the sufficiency of Christ, we can begin to experience the triumph of Romans 8. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). Those who are "in union with Christ Jesus," and understand their spirit-union identity, and have a settled established attitude that 'I can't; only He can," are relieved of the harping condemnation of false-guilt in their conscience for an alleged failure to live the Christian life. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (Rom. 8:2). The indwelling function of the Christ-life sets us free from the religious performances of self-effort by which we are admonished to produce what only God can produce. We are set free from the obligatory compunctions of the "ought," and the restrictive restraints of the "ought nots," from the mandates of the "must," and the moralism of the "must nots," which always create condemnation in the conscience when we fail to meet the religious regulations.
Freedom from religious constraint allows the Christian to experience a "liberty of conscience" in the freedom to be the personal expression of the Christ-life. This is not an advocacy of libertarianism, libertinism, or license. Our freedom is always prescribed within the context of the character of Christ. Religion is always afraid of this "liberty of conscience," claiming that it leads to novelty, uniqueness, variety, non-conformity, eccentricity, and Spirit-spontaneity which cannot be controlled by man. True, the "no condemnation - liberty of conscience" allows the living Lord Jesus to be uniquely Himself in each Christian, and no religion can control Christ.
Within the freedom and liberty of conscience that is the privilege of every Christian, we do not mean to imply that the Christian will never feel guilty. Though we may avoid the condemnation of false-guilt, there will be genuine guilt feelings whenever we listen to the tempter and violate the known character of God in sin. Our response should then be to confess our sin, agreeing with God that it is misrepresentative of who we are in Christ, and immediately move on in restful freedom in Christ with a clear conscience.
Soul-rest and our Desires
Our needs, drives, and desires within the soul are God-given channels to provide ultimate fulfillment of God's intent for each individual. There is nothing wrong with these desires. They are amoral - neither good nor evil. They are not meant to hassle or harangue us, to make us miserable, or to "drive us crazy." Every person is born with a full set of pure, clean, open channels of need, drive, and desire.
Some examples of the basic needs and desires of human beings are: the need for acceptance; the desire to love and be loved; the needs for personalization, and relationship, and social community; the need to communicate and to know; the desires for meaning and purpose, for excitement, uniqueness, and identity. In addition, there are the desires for freedom, worship, and appreciation of beauty; the need for creativity, motivation, and responsibility; the desires to work and achieve; the needs to give and to serve; and the needs for hope and destiny. This listing is not exhaustive, but only representative of the basic needs and desires that are part of our created humanness.
Human desires have often been misunderstood. The tenth commandment, for example, states, "You shall not covet. . .anything that belongs to your neighbor" (Exod. 20:17). The word for "covet" is translated into Greek with the word "desire" (epithumeo). Paul found the tenth commandment the most difficult (Rom. 7:7-13), for it forbade even the desiring of anything that did not rightfully belong to him, or anything that was not God's desire for him. In older English usage the words for "desire" were often translated as "lust," a term that developed sexual connotations, and served to give the entire consideration of human desires a negative cast.
Within the New Testament the Greek words translated "desire" are epithumeo, meaning "to urge upon" (cf. Matt. 13:17; Lk. 22:15; Phil. 1:23), epipotheo, meaning "to yearn upon" (cf. II Cor. 5:2; Phil. 1:8; I Pet. 2:2), and hedone, meaning "pleasure" (cf. Lk. 8:14; Titus 3:3; James 4:1). Our desires are the behavioral conduits that God designed in order to provide the yearning and urging for the fulfillment of human life. God intended the yearnings and urgings of our desires to be pleasurably fulfilled by the fullness of His character. Satan, on the other hand, tempts us to satisfy these yearnings and urgings of our desires in God-forbidden ways of selfishness and sinfulness.
Whereas God lovingly desires to "supply our every need" (Phil. 4:19) and "fulfill our every desire" (cf. Ps. 37:4; 145:16,19) in correspondence with His desires, the tempter is always prompting us to indulge our desires in selfish ways or to deny that we have certain desires - the extremisms of indulgence or denial. The devil's world system is full of epithumiologists, specialists in psychological and physiological desire fulfillment, who entice us to selfish satisfaction of our desires. These advertisers, promoters, politicians, and preachers suggest that every selfish want is a desired need, and set themselves up as false saviors for every perceived problem.
There is no soul-rest when we are selfishly striving to fulfill our desire for provision with the acquisition and accumulation of material things, which become idols. When our God-given desire for dominion (cf. Gen. 1:28) is being indulged in a selfish quest for political, social, or economic power, we can never be satisfied, for we are competing against God's sovereign power. The desire for loving relationships often seeks satisfaction by "searching for love in all the wrong places," and engaging in casual sexual experiences that only bring dissatisfaction and broken hearts. Attempts to find our identity in personal abilities, accumulations, or associations will never bring settled fulfillment to our spiritual need for identity and "knowing who we are." The desire to appreciate beauty can never be sufficiently fulfilled through the creations of men, or the sexual images of pornography. When our desire for knowledge is bloated (cf. I Cor. 8:1) with exhaustive searches for correct and accurate information, we are still left with the inadequacy of our finite understanding. Even the desire for a greater "spirituality" and knowledge of God, sought through spiritual disciplines and so-called "spiritual gifts," can leave an individual with a restless dissatisfaction.
The Desires of the "Flesh"
The New Testament writers, especially Paul and Peter, connect our desires with the word "flesh." Paul refers to "the flesh and its desires" (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:24) and "the desires of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 2:3), whereas Peter advises Christians to "abstain from fleshly desires" (I Pet. 2:11). Since the Greek word for "flesh" (sarx) originally referred to the muscles or meat of the bodies of animals and men, there has been a persistent tendency to identify "flesh" as the physicality of natural and earthly physical bodies. Popular terminology refers to "flesh and bones," "flesh and blood," and "mortal flesh," for example. To understand Paul and Peter's usage of the word "flesh" in the New Testament, however, we must note that three centuries earlier the Greek philosopher, Epicurus, began to use the Greek word sarx to refer to the "seat of man's desires" fulfilled in the sensation or pleasure of hedonism. So, the common usage of the word in the first century A.D. went beyond the corporeality of physical bodies and the descendancy of natural heritage, and was used in association with behavioral desires. Without falling prey to the later Gnostic tendencies to create a dualistic antithesis between physicality and spirituality, Paul does establish an either/or antithesis of "the desires of the flesh" and "the desires of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16,17) in conflict within the behavior of the Christian.
This new covenant usage of the word "flesh" recognizes that the God-given desires of mankind have been repetitively subjected to the urgings and yearnings of "the prince of the power of the air working in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2), creating individualized patterns of selfish and sinful tendencies or propensities to act and react. In other words, our desires have been warped, bent, twisted, or kinked into unique idiosyncratic patterns of selfish indulgence or denial. Accepting the humanistic lie of Satan, we naturally develop a pattern of behavioral desires wherein we believe that by the independent generation of self-effort we can perform, achieve, and accomplish the self-satisfaction of our basic desires in self-righteousness. This fallacious humanistic understanding of independent self-ability and self-potential to fulfill our own desires is obviously antithetical to the Christian gospel of the Christ-fulfillment of our desires by the grace of God.
Understanding this conjunction of "flesh" with our desires, and recognizing that everyone during their unregeneracy has developed particular patterns of selfish desires, allows us to avoid many of the common misconceptions of the "flesh" so prevalent in popular Christian teaching. This theological and behavioral understanding of "flesh" disallows it to be equated with the physicality of our body or features of our human creatureliness. "Flesh" is not something we are born with; it is not innate or nascent. "Flesh" is not an inherent or intrinsic evil, or generative source of evil, within man. "Flesh" is not a substantive or partitive "hunk of evil" or "dirty old man" within. Nor is "flesh" to be equated with spiritual depravity, or to be identified with an alleged "old nature," "Adam nature," sin nature, self-nature, or human nature. The "old man" or "old self" (cf. Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9) is not synonymous with the "flesh." Although Christians are "dead to the flesh" (Gal. 5:24) and "no longer in the flesh" (Rom. 7:5; 8:8,9), having been disconnected from the vortex of self-orientation as "slaves of sin" (Rom. 6:17) by the spiritual exchange (Acts 26:18) of regeneration, the patterns of the "flesh" are not eradicated at regeneration in perfectionism, nor in a second-blessing experience of "entire sanctification." Christians continue to have the patterns of selfishness and sinfulness within the desires of their soul.
These "flesh" patterns of self-orientation and self-reliance in the warp of our desires cannot be religiously reformed and made better. They cannot be subdued or restrained by willed suppression, denial, or cover-up, for this would be the self-contradiction of attempting to overcome selfishness and self-reliance by self-effort. This exposes the absurd masochistic attempts of some Christians to "die to self" or "crucify the self" in their efforts to counter the "flesh."
Since there is so much "self-talk" in contemporary Christian vernacular, we will be well served to note that "self" is a relatively recent word in the English language, having evolved as a truncated form of the word "selfishness." The word "self," as used in contemporary English, has five primary meanings:  personal identity (cf. Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10),  personal individuality (cf. I Tim. 4:7),  personal embodiment (cf. Matt. 4:6; 8:4),  personal potential (cf. II Cor. 3:5; Rom. 14:7), and  personal interest, i.e., selfishness (cf. Rom. 15:3; II Cor. 5:15; Phil. 2:3,4,21). Christians certainly do not want to die to their personal identity as "new creatures" (II Cor. 5:17) in Christ, nor to their personal individuality that distinguishes them from another. To seek to die to personal embodiment is suicide. It is impossible to die to personal potential, for that is but the lie of humanism. Yet, this absurdity of trying to kill the non-entity of a "straw man" is what much religious teaching is advocating. The only legitimate sense of dying to and "denying yourself" (cf. Lk. 9:23) is the endeavor of allowing for the termination of selfish behavioral expressions. This denial of selfishness is not a denial that disavows reality (popular psychology), or the self-denial that would "dismiss the now" for an ethereal nirvana (Eastern philosophy), but is the choice of faith to disallow selfish expression.
To disallow and overcome the selfish expressions of the "desires of the flesh" is not a battle that the Christian must fight. There is no soul-rest in constant attempts to fight against the "flesh" (or the devil), or in repetitive endeavors to overcome the obsessive preoccupations, the compulsive patterns, the addictive tendencies, the life-dominating indulgences, the enslaved fixations, or the habituated "hang-ups" of our selfishly patterned desires. What Paul refers to as the "flesh," modern pop-psychology terms "addictions," the older psychology identified as "neuroses" or "psychoses," and some charismatic Christians label as "demons." Oftentimes at least one of our desires has developed a deep rut of habituated selfish behavioral obsession, which some Christian teachers have called "besetting sin" (cf. Heb. 12:1) or a "stronghold of sin" (cf. Ps. 89:40; Jere. 48:18,41) that seems to defeat us again and again. All of these patterns of selfishness in the desires of our soul can only be overcome by the power of the Spirit of God. That is why Paul explained, "the Spirit sets its desires against the flesh" (Gal. 5:17). "The battle is the Lord's" (I Sam. 17:47). The Christian can rest in the admission that "I cannot overcome these patterned desires; only God can win the victory in my life, and manifest His character by the power of His Spirit."
Christ our Desire
Our focus, as Christians, should not be on the identification and evaluation of our needs and desires. This results in a mind-set that regards God and the Lord Jesus Christ as "needs-providers" or "desire-fulfillers." All of our God-given desires and needs are fulfilled in the context of "Christ as our life," and our focus should be Christocentric, directed at the living Lord Jesus, with a singularity of a clear and "single eye" (Matt. 6:22) that seeks Him above all else, and desires only what He desires in our lives. Paul's statement, "My God shall supply all your needs" (Phil. 4:19), can certainly be generalized to recognize that all our needs and desires are fulfilled in Christ, and we lack nothing necessary before God when Christ has become our "all in all."
All of the basic needs and desires of mankind are spiritually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Our need for love is fulfilled in the realization that "God demonstrated His love for us" (Rom. 5:8), and Jesus "loved us and gave Himself for us" (Gal. 2:20). Our need for acceptance is fulfilled for we are "acceptable to God through Christ Jesus" (I Pet. 2:5), and "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6-KJV). The need for belonging is satisfied as we "belong to Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:29; 5:24) within the "people of God" (Titus 2:14; I Pet. 2:9). Our desire for security finds fulfillment in God's promise to "never desert or forsake us" (Heb. 13:5). As the "Spirit teaches us all things" (Jn 14:26; I Jn. 2:27), our desire for knowledge is satisfied. Our desire for identity is completed in becoming "new creatures" (II Cor. 5:17) that are "sons of God" (Rom. 8:17; 9:6; Gal. 3:26). The need for approval is satisfied as we are "holy, blameless, and beyond reproach" (Col. 1:22). Freedom is experienced as "Christ sets us free" (Gal. 5:1,13). Achievement is realized as "we overwhelmingly conquer through Him" (Rom. 8:37); and our need to work is fulfilled in "the good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). The need to serve is satisfied in "the work of ministry" (Eph. 4:12) through which we "serve one another" (Gal. 5:13). Hope and destiny are fulfilled as "the God of hope fills us with all joy and peace," countering all dysfunctionality, hopelessness, and restlessness.
Christians can rest in the single focus of allowing Christ to be their ultimate desire, and desiring that all their God-given desires find their satisfaction in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. God can "fulfill our every desire for goodness" (II Thess. 1:11), as we "desire to live godly in Christ Jesus" (II Tim. 3:12). Though we have twisted "desires of the flesh," we experience soul-rest only by ceasing to fight the selfish bent of fleshly desires, and allowing the Spirit of Christ to "set His desires against the flesh" (Gal. 5:17).
Soul-rest and Temptation
Some Christians seem to think they would be able to achieve soul-rest if only they could avoid temptation. Henry Drummond is quoted as saying, "The greatest of all temptation is to want to be without any." To be exempt from temptation would only foster apathy and indifference. Created as choosing creatures, we are meant to be tempted. It is in the midst of temptation that we are afforded real alternative options in order to respond with the decision-making of faith. Christians should count it a privilege to be tempted, for the antichrist solicitations and seductions of Satan are always directed at Jesus Christ. The temptation of Christians serves as an affirmation of our spirit-union with Christ. This is why the most pointed temptation for Christians is the temptation to question our spiritual identity, and to doubt that we really are who we are in Christ. Satan is the "accuser of the brethren" (Rev. 12:10). Particularly in our thought life, he accuses us, saying, "Your behavior certainly doesn't look righteous, or holy, or perfect." If we fail to reckon on the fact that we are righteous, holy, and perfect in spirit-union with Christ only on the basis of His Being, and not on the basis of our doing, we will be tempted to find our identity in our performance rather than in Christ. There is never any soul-rest in that religious endeavor.
Having lost on the first front, and having retreated into exile when we were receptive to the spiritual exchange of regeneration in the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives, Satan redoubles his efforts to tempt us to misrepresent the character of the triune God Who now dwells within us as Christians. From without he launches his "flaming missiles" (Eph. 6:16) or "fiery darts" (KJV) over the wall, attempting to energize the expression of his selfish and sinful character in our behavior. Though not all-knowing, the Evil One does know the particular patterns of propensity and tendency that have been developed in the desires of our "flesh." He is the one who led us down those paths of desires that turned into selfish ruts. He is the one who commissioned the building of those bunkers of self-indulgence. He knows where our weaknesses are, for he prompted the development of those personally warped patterns in our desires. It is via those twisted patterns of our desires that the tempter now attempts to seduce us to "act out of character" and misrepresent our identity in Christ. Though he does not have the power to reinvade the control room of our spirit and cause us to revert back to being an "old man," he is able to solicit us to revert to the "old ways" of the selfish behavior of our past.
Tempted to Act and React
From his inception, the devil has been an egocentric "I" specialist. "I will ascend to heaven. I will be like the Most High God" (Isa. 14:13,14). As the necessary negative of God's positive character, the "ruler of this world" (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), the "spirit of this world" (I Cor. 2:12), the "god of this age" (II Cor. 4:4), foists his character of selfishness upon derivative mankind. His self-oriented "personal interest agenda" is employed in tempting Christians to act with personal aspiration, personal gratification, and personal reputation. We are tempted to act by possessing for ourselves, pleasing ourselves, and promoting ourselves. The apostle John explains, "All that is in the world, the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world" (I John 2:16).
Temptation to react is equally freighted with selfishness. In response to the circumstances of life or the actions of other people, we are tempted to react with fight, fright, or flight. Satan seeks to inflame our emotions with anger, hostility and rage as he tempts us to react with resentment, blame, and retaliation. As an alternative, he may prompt us to react with fear, anxiety, or paranoia, or to take flight in withdrawal, retreat, avoidance, or escapism. It is often when our self-indulgent actions are thwarted, that the second wave of temptation to react to people and situations with self-protection and self-preservation follows immediately.
Identifying the Enemy
Christians have often misidentified the enemy of their souls. Though we are tempted to act and react with selfish motivations, we must avoid the conclusion that we are our own worst enemies, or that a distinct entity of "self" is seeking to undermine God's action in our lives. Drawing such a fallacious conclusion, Christian religion has often pictured man with (or as) his own inner devil, causing the Christian to be auto-tempted or self-tempted by this alleged diabolic "self" or "dirty old man" within. This tragic misrepresentation of the completeness of our identity as a "new man" in Christ creates a dualism that projects man to be a Christ-one and a devil simultaneously. Impossible!
Who, then, is the enemy who is tempting us? James explicitly states, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt any one" (James 1:13). Though God does "test" us, as He tested Abraham (Heb. 11:17), and as Jesus tested Philip (John 6:6), He does not "tempt" us with the evil intent of causing the expression of evil character. The same Greek word, peirazo, is used in the New Testament for both "tempt" and "test," and this has created some confusion, but the meaning can only be determined by the contextual intent of the solicitation and the character that is being elicited. God does not tempt us with evil intent.
Are we tempted by circumstances or events that we encounter? Does the attractive person of the opposite sex tempt us? Does the lemon meringue pie in the display case tempt us? No, these are just objects or persons in the world around us, and they have no personified capability to draw us or seduce us to evil. Christians are "in the world, but not of the world" (John 17:11,14,16), and neither the objects of our environment or the corrupted "world system" with its perverted values has the power to tempt us to evil.
Many would suggest that we are tempted by the "flesh" patterns within our soul. This cannot be. Jesus was "tempted in all ways as we are" (Heb. 4:15), and He did not have those developed "flesh" patterns of selfishness and sinfulness. Neither did Adam have such "flesh" patterning when he was tempted in the garden (Gen. 3). But Adam and Jesus did have basic human desires, so can we surmise that we are tempted by our desires? The words of James are often used as documentation of this thesis that we are tempted by our desires, "Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own desire" (James 1:14). A better translation might be, "Each one is tempted under (Greek preposition hupo) his own desire, being drawn out and lured (or baited)." Who (or what) is doing the tempting? Not our desires, for they are just the location where the tempter goes fishing, seeking to hook us with his lures of selfishness.
The subject of the verb "tempt" is always the "tempter" (cf. Matt. 4:1; Mk. 1:13; Lk. 4:2; I Cor. 7:5; I Thess. 3:5). Throughout the New Testament the subject of the action of temptation is always Satan, or religionists serving as his agents to solicit and seduce for his evil intent. Some might object that this seems to make the devil an omnipresent tempter. No, only God is everywhere present, but since Satan is "the spirit of this world" (I Cor. 2:12) and "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), he cannot be localized in the singularity of space and time, as are human creatures. Satan is a spirit-being not limited by the same confines as humans, and can thus tempt people around the world at any time.
So, to answer the question posed above, "Who is the enemy who is tempting us?", the only legitimate answer is, "The devil." Jesus identified the devil as the enemy (Matt. 13:25,28,39) who attempts to sabotage the work of God. The one who tempts us is always the diabolic tempter.
James continues his argument by explaining, "When desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death" (James 1:15). Switching metaphors from one verse to the next, James moves from the fishing metaphor to the conception/birth metaphor. In the seductive process of temptation the seed of selfishness is available to be fertilized with the egg of intent in the will, and if we allow that connection to be made, the sin-decision gives birth to a sin-expression. The choice to be receptive to such fertilization allows for a gestation period that might be measured in microseconds. The consequent birth of a sin-expression does not bring forth life, but death - the "dead works" of sinfulness that can never express the life and character of Jesus Christ. The sin-decision that gives birth to a sin-expression may never be "acted out" in bodily behavior, but Jesus said, "every one who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). Such a sin-decision that reasons, "I would if I could; I'm willing," has already conceived and given birth to an internalized sin-expression.
Temptation and Sin
It must be noted that temptation is not sin. Despite those who would say that the experience of temptation is indicative of not having sufficient faith, it is not wrong to be tempted and does not evidence a lack of faith. Temptation evidences that we are still alive as a human choosing-creature. Those who cannot differentiate temptation from sin often experience the false-guilt of thought-association, concluding, "Well, I've thought the thought, therefore I might as well do the act." Definitely not. Temporary thoughts are introduced to our minds in temptation, but sin only occurs when we choose to entertain those thoughts or act upon them.
When we abide in soul-rest we need not be threatened or shaken by temptation. We expect to be tempted, recognizing that in every situation where Satan "tempts" with evil intent, God is using the same situation to "test" with the divine intent that gives us the opportunity to demonstrate that His is the life that wins. In every temptation there is an occasion to prove that "Greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world" (I John 4:4).
Settled in the sufficiency of our spirit-union with the living Christ, the Christian can have soul-rest that is not shocked, surprised or immobilized even when we do succumb to the solicitation of the devil's temptation and choose to sin. We all "blow it." There are deep-seated patterns of sin that we fall into time and time again. We can be honest with God, confessing, "Leave it up to me, and I will do it every time. But Lord, the deepest desire of my heart is to glorify You, and I do want to avoid such misrepresentation of your character. I do not have the strength in myself to overcome such, but You do. I can't; but You can! I want you to do so by Your grace." That is the cry of faith, when we are receptive to His activity. We must not try to hide or gloss over our sin-expressions in religious piety or increased ecclesiastical activity. When there are evident inconsistencies and misrepresentations of the character of Christ in our lives, we can remain settled in the awareness and affirmation that "Christ is our life" (Col. 3:4).
Christian religion has often fostered an undue sin-consciousness among Christians. Instead of focusing on Christ, they advocate a navel-gazing self-introspection that leads to obsessive confession of sin. Believing in the false-identity of "I'm just a sinner saved by grace, whose heart is deceitful and desperately wicked" (Jere. 17:9), they wallow in a confessionalism that moans and groans, crying, "Oh God, You won't believe what I did now!" God must roll His eyes and think, "What do you expect when you do not allow Me to act in you?" When we sin as Christians, and we all do, we should simply agree with God, i.e., confess, that we have misrepresented His character and our spiritual identity; thank Him for the reminder, and move on in grace! We should not focus on sin, but on Jesus Christ. Though sin is contrary to God's character, He is not shocked by our sin, nor is He angry with us for our sin. God is always FOR us! The soul-rest that is built on our spirit-union with Christ can accept failure as the stepping-stone to spiritual success, can accept weakness as the prelude to His strength, can accept doubt as the precursor of faith, and can accept death as the springboard of life.
The foregoing comments are not meant to minimize or diminish sin, but are intended to maximize and elevate Jesus Christ in Christian awareness. The provision and sufficiency of the indwelling Spirit of Christ means that we do not have to sin. Sin is not necessary or inevitable in the Christian life. This is not to say that we cannot sin, but that we can, if we so choose, not sin. We are not saying that it is not possible for Christians to sin, but that it is possible for Christians not to sin as they faithfully allow the living Lord Jesus to live out His life in their behavior. We are not advocating perfectionism, but we are promoting the perfect and plenteous provision of the Person of Jesus Christ living out His life as us and through us.
When a Christian is inordinately concerned about the power of the devil, the presence of demons, or the perversion of the world system, that person's restlessness exposes his improper fear of temptation and focus on sin. Frankly, I seldom spend much time thinking about the devil, even though I know he is tempting me every day. I want to "fix my eyes on Jesus" (Heb. 12:2), recognizing that the Victor lives in me, and that I can rest in the awareness that I am a "safe son."
A Christian is "kept by the power of God" (I Peter 1:5), being "strengthened and protected from the evil one" (II Thess. 3:3). "The evil one cannot touch" (I Jn. 5:18) the inner identity and real spiritual being of a child of God. When the Christian is tempted the living Lord Jesus "comes to the aid of those who are tempted" (Heb. 2:18), and "knows how to rescue the godly from temptation" (II Pet. 2:9). "God is faithful and will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able (in Christ), but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it" (I Cor. 10:13).
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