|HOLINESS IN SPIRIT
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Jun 5 2009 08:00AM
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all
filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
II Corinthians 7:1
A number of years ago in campus evangelism, we (Jerry Bridges and company) used an illustration calculated to make
our collegiate audiences vividly aware that they were personally sinners. We would say, "If I could flash on a screen
before us tonight all of your thoughts of this past week, you would have to leave town." This remark not only made the
point, but always drew a laugh. But for the Christian, such a charge is no laughing matter. Our thoughts are just as
important to God as our actions, and are known to God as clearly as our actions (Psalm 139:1-4: I Samuel 16:7).
Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount that God's commands are intended not only to regulate outward conduct,
but inner disposition as well. It is not enough that we do not kill; we must also not hate. It is not enough that we do not
commit adultery; we must not even entertain lustful looks and thoughts.
Just as we must learn to bring the appetites of our bodies under control, so we must also learn to bring our thought lives
under obedience to Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul warns us against misguided and wrongly motivated attempts to control
the body that leave our thought lives unrestrained (Colossians 2:23). It is possible to curb the natural appetites of the
body outwardly and yet be filled with all manner of inner defilement.
The Bible indicates that our thought lives ultimately determine our character. Solomon said, "For as he thinketh in his
heart, so is he..." (Proverbs 23:7). An old well-known verse puts it this way:
It is because of the importance of our thought lives that Paul said, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely,
whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
As Christians we are no longer to be conformed to the pattern of this world but we are to be renewed in our minds
(Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23; I Peter 1:14). Holiness begins in our minds and works out to our actions. This being
true, what we allow to enter our minds is critically important.
The television programs we watch, the movies we may attend, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to,
and the conversations we have all affect our minds. We need to evaluate the effects of these avenues honestly, using
Philippians 4:8 as a standard. Are the thoughts stimulated by these various avenues true? Are they pure, lovely,
admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy?
The world around us constantly seeks to conform our minds to its sinful ways. It is earnest and pressing in its
endeavors. It will entice and persuade us (Proverbs 1:10-14). When we resist, it will ridicule and abuse us as "old-
fashioned" and "puritanical" (I Peter 4:4).
Too many Christians, instead of resisting, are more and more giving ground to the world's constant pressure. A few
years ago sincere Christians were quite selective about the movies they attended, if they attended them at all. Today
the same movies that were avoided are being shown on television in the living rooms of Christians across the nation. A
friend of mine told me of a young couple in full-time Christian work who came to him wanting to know if it was wrong to
attend X-rated movies! That the questions should even be entertained illustrates the degree to which the world has
infected our minds.
The music we listen to often carries the message of the world, and the world uses the medium of music to squeeze us
into its mold. And a Christian cannot help being gradually influenced if he continually listens to the world's music.
Perhaps it should go without saying that Christians are to abstain from indulging in or listening to suggestive stories and
jokes. But Paul could not take this for granted among the early churches, and neither can we in this century. Listen to
Paul's clear warning on the subject: "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named
among you, as becoming saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather
giving of thanks." (Ephesians 5:3-4). "Not even a hint of immorality" places any suggestive speech whatsoever outside
the bounds of a holy walk.
Another stimulus to impure thoughts we must be alert for is what our eyes see. Jesus warned against the lustful look
(Matthew 5:28). Job made a covenant with his eyes (Job 31:1). David's wanton look was almost fatal to his spiritual life
(II Samuel 11:2). Not only must we guard our own eyes; we must be careful that we are not the source of temptation to
others. For this reason, modesty of dress and actions is required among both men and women (I Timothy 2:9; 5:2).
But Philippians 4:8 speaks to more than just immoral and unclean thoughts. Our thoughts must not only be pure - they
must also be true, lovely, and praiseworthy. Just as we can commit adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:28), so we can
also commit murder in our hearts (Matthew 5:21-22).
In one of his letters, Paul listed some acts of the sinful nature. These included defilements of the body - sexual
immorality, impurity, debauchery, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. Others in the list defile the spirit: hatred, discord,
jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, and so on. We must purify ourselves not only from the gross sins of the body,
but also from the more "acceptable" sins of the spirit.
Alas, here again we Christians have so often failed miserably. Focusing on our particular group's list of do's and don'ts,
we neglect the inner life where envy, pride, bitterness, and a critical, unforgiving spirit may reign unchecked.
The elder brother in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) is a classic example of one who led an exemplary outward
life but who was consumed by a spirit of envy and self-righteousness. He could claim never to have disobeyed his
father's commandments, yet his jealousy and anger over his father's joy in the return of his prodigal brother marks him
to this day as an example to be shunned rather than followed.
The spirit of envy was the root of King Saul's unrelenting warfare against David. Initially Saul was highly pleased with
David and set him over his men of war. But one day Saul heard the women of Israel singing, "Saul has slain his
thousands, and David his tens of thousands" (I Samuel 18:7). Saul was very angry that they had ascribed ten
thousands to David and to him only thousands. And the Scripture says, "And Saul eyed David from that day and
forward." (I Samuel 18:9). God has placed each one of us in the body of Christ as it has pleased Him (I Corinthians 12:
18), and has assigned to each of us a place in life (I Corinthians 7:17). To some God has assigned a place of
prominence, to others a place of obscurity; to some a place of wealth, to others a place of daily struggle to make ends
meet. But regardless of our station in life or place in the Body, there is always the temptation to envy someone else.
The elder brother would one day inherit all his father's possessions, yet he became jealous over a banquet to celebrate
his brother's return. Saul was king over all Israel but could not stand someone else receiving more praise than he.
The cure for the sin of envy and jealousy is to find our contentment in God. Asaph in Psalm 73 was envious of the
wicked as he saw their apparent prosperity (verse 3). He felt his pursuit of a holy life was in vain (verse 13). Only when
he was enabled to say to God, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside
thee." (Psalm 73:25), was he delivered from the sin of envy.
Another defilement of spirit that has shipwrecked many Christians is bitterness. Bitterness arises in our hearts when
we do not trust in the sovereign rule of God in our lives. If ever anyone had a reason to be bitter it was Joseph. Sold by
his jealous brothers into slavery, falsely accused by his master's immoral wife, and forgotten by one he had helped in
prison, Joseph never lost sight of the fact that God was in control of all that happened to him. In he end he was able to
say to his brothers, "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this
day, to save much people alive." (Genesis 50:20).
We can become bitter against God or against other people. Asaph was bitter against God because he felt God was not
giving him a fair shake in life (Psalm 73:21). Job was bitter because he felt God was not recognizing his righteousness
and even came to the place where his attitude was described as, "...It profiteth a man nothing that he should delight
himself with God." (Job 34:9).
Bitterness toward people is the result of an unforgiving spirit. Someone has wronged us, either apparently or actually,
and we refuse to forgive that person. Instead we harbor thoughts of bitterness toward the person. We refuse to forgive
because we will not recognize that God has forgiven us of far, far greater wrongs. We are like the servant who, having
just been forgiven a debt of several million dollars, had a fellow servant thrown into prison over a debt of a few dollars
Closely akin to bitterness is the spirit of retaliation. When we are wronged, the tendency is to retaliate - often in our
minds if not in actions. When David was fleeing the insurrection of his son Absalom in Jerusalem, Shimei of the family of
Saul came out to curse David and throw stones at him. One of David's men wanted to retaliate by killing Shimei, but
David restrained him with these words: "...let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that
the LORD will look on mine affliction, and that the LORD will requite me good for his cursing this day." (II Samuel 16:11-
Paul wrote, "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, VENGEANCE IS
MINE; I WILL REPAY, saith the Lord." (Romans 12:19). Peter said of our Lord, "...when he was reviled, reviled not
again; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously." (I Peter 2:23). This is the way to cleanse ourselves from
the defiling spirit of retaliation: to entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly and who said, "It is Mine to avenge, I will
One of the most difficult defilements of spirit to deal with is the critical spirit. A critical spirit has its root in pride.
Because of the "plank" of pride in our own eye we are not capable of dealing with the "speck" of need in someone else.
We are often like the Pharisee who, completely unconscious of his own need, prayed, "God, I thank you that I am not
like other men" (Luke 18:11). We are quick to see - and to speak of - the faults of others, but slow to see our own
needs. How sweetly we relish the opportunity to speak critically of someone else - even when we are unsure of our
facts. We forget that "a man who stirs up dissension among brothers" by criticizing one to another is one of the "six
things which the Lord hates" (Proverbs 6:16-19).
All of these attitudes - envy, jealousy, bitterness, an unforgiving and retaliatory spirit, and a critical and gossiping spirit -
defile us and keep us from being holy before God. They are just as evil as immorality, drunkenness, and debauchery.
Therefore, we must work diligently at rooting out these sinful attitudes from our minds. Often we are not even aware our
attitudes are sinful. We cloak these defiling thoughts under the guise of justice and righteous indignation. But we need
to pray daily for humility and honesty to see these sinful attitudes for what they really are, and then for grace and
discipline to root them out of our minds and replace them with thoughts pleasing to God.
The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges, Copyright 2006, NAVPRESS.
|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES