Within the Church there are two opposing ideals concerning an individual Christian’s walking in the Spirit, concerning God’s guidance as well as for a Christian outlook on life in general. In their moderate forms these ideals both have more or less sound biblical arguments but taken to their respective extremes they are both prone to demonic interference. In this study I endeavour to show the strengths as well as built-in potential pitfalls in both of these mindsets, where they are in danger of being misused by the devil for his purposes. I also intend to show some kind of a golden middle way.
One I call the ”Fly-High-Super-Spirituality” type and the other one the ”Hanging-Head-Dream-Killing” type.
1. The ”Fly-High-Super-Spirituality” mindset rightfully claims thorough biblical support from all Bible narratives dealing with persons dealing decisive blows to Satan’s kingdom, by courageously moving forward by faith against all visible odds. It is the daring faith-mentality of Peter stepping out of the boat and walking on water with Jesus. It is the pioneering mentality of Joshua and Caleb focussing on God’s possibilities instead of on limitations, dangers and problems. With Christ we can do all things, we can move mountains by faith, conquer fortresses of thinking that oppose themselves to obedience towards Christ and destroy the works of the evil one. Thousands may fall to our right and tens of thousands to our left, yet we have God’s promises of maintaining us if only we dare to put to use the faith that He has given us for His kingdom.
The problem arises once all these wonderful walking-by-faith things are used to build up one’s personality instead of going along with the being-dead-together-with-Christ which is the prerequisite of attaining to the power of the resurrection. The issue then becomes one of cultivating techniques of how to live a wonderful and exciting life and avoiding boredom at all cost. The ”Fly-High-Super-Spirituality” then becomes a Gnostic programme of finding something MORE exciting than taking up one’s cross and following the Crucified King. What then comes into being, is a ”Christ, AND...” angelic gospel. Not before long its adepts boast of experiences of ”Super-Spirituality” that supersede the dullness of ”ordinary Christianity”. To be sure, large portions of the Church lack the good, biblically sound aspects of the ”Fly-High” spirituality, but the ”Super-Spirituality” part is where things really get off the track.
In Denmark there is a Christian College which once printed a prospectus featuring the slogan ”Fulfil YOUR dreams”. Below was the face of a pretty girl with closed eyes. Should we not rather humbly ask God to give us HIS guidance, ”...YOUR will be done, YOUR kingdom come...”, not MY dreams be fulfilled? To be sure, Joseph did have dreams of HIS OWN, which were given to him by God, yet were HIS OWN, not someone else’s, which were fulfilled by God in due time, but prior to that fulfilment he was kidnapped, sold, dragged through the desert, innocently accused, thrown into jail, in other words he had his share of dying together with Christ in Old Testament times. Maybe that particular college had been thinking of enabling students to fulfil the dreams, God had already put into someone’s mind (in the same way as unleashing God-given gifts, etc.), but then that should be stated somewhere, because in a country like Denmark, where biblical knowledge is scarce, many potential students could very well understand that publicity slogan in a New-Age-spirituality kind of fashion – and one might wonder whether that was intended to some degree.
Today many churches offer some kind of a pop-psychological angelic gospel, which help the individual to enjoy life, to have success and get their little problems all patched up and repaired to everybody’s convenience and satisfaction. Many new ”converts” actually never heard the Gospel of the Cross of Christ, they fell for a programme of self-help-technique-gimmicks. This kind of marshmallow-Christianity obscures the necessity of sanctification, without which no one sees God. On the other hand, offering all kinds of help to the community can very well be used to introduce people to the Church and thus help them get knowledge about God (”Friendship Evangelism”).
The real danger of extreme versions of this mindset is that in the worst case Christians can actually end up with a completely unbiblical concept of Jesus and God, worshipping another Jesus and another God, who is a mere counterfeit.
2. The ”Hanging-Head-Dream-Killing” mindset can be just as dangerous, when taken to its extreme and isolated from the previous one. This mindset strengthens the necessity to be faithful, to have ”stick-to-it-ness”, the ability to be persistent, even when things get tough, boring, strenuous. In other words, to have ”hypo-menee”, the ability to stay under God’s authority and the authority of people, God may have put over us for our good. All abilities and strengths that one can find ample biblical support for and which every Christian ought to pray for. Also, often times our dreams have to be destroyed by God, so that God can open our eyes for His method, for His plan, for His dream. Moses had his way of dealing with Egyptians brutalizing his fellow Hebrew kinsmen. But that was not God’s way. Moses then lived a rather dull and strenuous life in the wilderness for 40 years. After that, God opened Himself up to Moses, talking to Moses from out of a burning bush. I believe that in the following mind-boggling supernatural events with Moses and Aaron challenging Pharaoh, Moses was as far away from crediting anything to his particular gifts, ambitions, personal features, etc., one could possibly be, he was indeed truly ”dead in Christ” in Old Testament times. It was through that dead-in-Christ, dead-to-himself personage of Moses that the power of God, the power of the resurrection could reveal itself in such a dramatic way. Moses had no personal anticipation of an exciting, interesting, inspiring, successful and entertaining life left, he ”hated his own life” and gave it all away to God, as it were, and that’s where God could give everything to Him, the full authority to do miracles, to pronounce judgments, to supernaturally liberate Israel, to become God’s megaphone and channel of revelation. When Pharaoh met Moses, he actually met a dead human being with no personal ambitions left. Pharaoh met the resurrected Christ in the Old Testament, he met the second Adam, arising from the ashes of the old Adam. Thus, Pharaoh ultimately met God, when he met Moses. Have you met God like this in the ”burning bush”?
Christians taking all these wonderful biblical truths to a one-sided extreme (and thus move them out of the biblical context) become the source of a form for spiritual paralysis in the Church. Whenever one gets some new and exciting inspiration from God, they suspiciously stab to that one, maybe even exercising some form of heavy shepherding, until that person submits again to the same old stamped-off-the-mill spirituality securely put in place. This mindset is generally against all kinds of renewal, Christ knocks at the door and wants to give some surprise gifts, but the door remains securely shut, lest any alien spirit could come in. A biblically sound exercising of the gift of spiritual discernment is here getting off the tracks, in that ANYTHING new is judged as potentially dangerous. What is more, some actually are plain blank envious about another Christians life, if they consider it to be less monotonous than their own lives. Once I was applying for a teacher job at a huge Christian school with a thoroughly evangelical profile in Germany. The academic dean had invited me for talks and he and the teachers were enthusiastic about me. The interview was seen as a mere formality, I was told that I was more or less chosen for the job already. On the board, however, were some people who had a ”Hanging-Head-Dream-Killing” mindset. To them, spirituality was measured by the level of regularity and predictability in one’s life. Now I came to that interview hitchhiking all the way from Denmark and that of course was looked at as quite kinky already. But more irritating was the fact that I had lived in four countries and had worked with rather different Christian denominations (although the ability to think cross-culturally and be able to work with differing denominations had been seen as an asset rather than as a threat by the academic dean). In fact one woman on that board asked me, whether I was truly born again – of course she had not been reading any of the material, including my personal testimony, I already had submitted. Of course there are ”church-hopping” people, one should beware of, but in my case I often merely decided to join another church, because I had to take up another job at another location, etc., after having driven thousands of kilometres in order to faithfully join church activities in my previous church three times a week. But with the ”Hanging-Head” mindset at work, all the less regular looking aspects from my CV were seen as a threat. Needless to say that I did not get the job.
The ”Hanging-Head-Dream-Killing” mindset limits God’s possibilities, kills fellow Christian’s dreams and aspirations as being mere outworking of their own wishful, carnal thinking. It is a judgmental mentality and often leads to, or goes hands in hands with a counterfeit ”para-tomee” kind of mutilation-phoney-sanctification programme, where the individual does not die with Christ, but is lobotomised all together. It is like having your feathers cut off so you cannot fly any longer. The dying-with-Christ is then often seen as denying not only one’s personal right to have personal ambitions and desires, but also as denying one’s possibility to LIVE by faith. In other words, one is not be dead to sin only, one is also asked to be dead to faith, and nothing can be farther from what God intended. Paul says talks about a life that he NOW lives in HIS BODY, which he wants to live in the Holy Spirit, in Christ (Gal. 2, 19-22). He is not levitating in the Spirit, but WALKING in the spirit. Now walking in the Spirit can mean some moving around for some people – although God often uses one’s personal ”carnal” lust of travelling in order to fulfil His purposes. Once I participated at a Church retreat in Norway and was struck at the ease and frankness some young people admitted, that they were filled with enthusiasm at the possibility to travel to all kinds of places and do all kinds of things for and with churches and mission societies. Their lust of adventure, of meeting other cultures, was not seen as something unspiritual by the elders of that church. Clearly, there is a mentality factor involved as well, Scandinavians with their Grundtvigian mentality, according to which one is allowed to be a human being first and then gets confronted with the claims of the Gospel and with their pioneering spirit in general tend to give more freedom to young people than German Christians in general do. In Germany, that same young man or girl would have stammered something about being felt led by God, perceiving an irresistible urge to do this or that for God, even if it meant having to travel abroad, my-oh-my, what an ordeal!
3. I think that a golden middle way between these two extremes can be found, when one first of all keeps in mind that while the Holy Spirit gently puts His finger on particular sins, Satan always attacks a person as a whole. Dying with Christ is not the same as getting denigrated and verbally abused by persons through whom demons speak. These are the kinds of people Christ wants to set us free from. Christ did not say to the disciples that whenever they were rejected, they should sit it out and get verbally abused, no, they were to shake the dust off their sandals and move on to another place. Dying with Christ really means dying to all that kind of earthly ambition, which prevents me from following Christ. Dying with Christ means to give up on one’s earthly heritage and buy that unique precious pearl, everybody will be envious about. In the end, walking in the Spirit DOES have its exciting parts, and that’s what makes the devil even madder.
Secondly, one has to keep in mind that while Moses was in a way ”dead in Christ”, God had chosen Moses because of individual features not to be found in another person. Moses had been trained in all the sciences and wisdom of the Egyptians, and that was for a reason. So dying with Christ does not mean getting brainwashed and becoming some religious Frankenstein zombie. To be sure, many thinking patterns we will thrown overboard during the sanctification process. But the Holy Spirit is not a tranquilliser – He is an Illuminating Spirit, a Spirit of true Enlightenment. One may very well have keen ambitions about missions and about the church and yet be dead in Christ. But being dead in Christ means that this person will not function according to the principles of this world in order to see those ambitions pursued and fulfilled. In other words, no pushing elbows, no denigrating others, no mobbing, no boss-leadership, no bullying, no deceit, no double talk, no vain glory, no boasting in oneself; instead: All the glory to Christ, not my will, but Your will. The apostle Paul was not sitting around all time with his head hanging, grumpily accusing others of fulfilling their own desires on the mission field (although he may have had such a period in his life as well). He had great ambitions and courage, but he does not give himself any credit for all that, he credited everything that was happening in his life to the dead and risen Christ working and living in Him.
Thirdly, both mindsets have to be brought together in a balanced way, excluding, of course, the unbiblical extremes. Christians celebrate both Long Friday and Easter Sunday. We are now walking in the Long Friday reality, but Easter Sunday is coming! One does not make sense without the other.
Fourthly, as already mentioned, we are to die to SIN, not to faith. God is in fact perfectly satisfied about the fact that we are alive. Only now we have to live no longer under sin, but unto faith through God’s power (Rom. 6, see especially verse 19). Satan, of course, wants to get rid of us altogether and in order to make us impotent for God’s plans, he either makes us super-humble or super-spiritual or both. Either we become so super-super-humble, that we do not dare to do anything for God, not even exercise our faith. Or we become so super-spiritual, that we become spiritual bungee jumpers, boasting about our extra insights and intimidating others who do not want to undergo the same kamikaze training that we are so proud about. Both extremes may render us inefficient for the kingdom of God and open us up to demonic interference.