Over the last several weeks, we have been talking about making emotional choices or "fleshly choices" as Christians. These are choices to follow what we think and feel and see, rather than choosing, by faith, to follow what God has asked us to do. These choices immediately quench God’s Spirit in us.
One of the reasons we are so prone to making these kind of emotional or fleshly choices is that our souls and our bodies are still dominated and controlled by what is called the "power of sin." Romans 7:21 tells us that the power of sin is the energy force that dwells in our unrenewed bodies, whose whole intent and purpose is to cause us to miss the mark - that of being conformed into the Image of Christ.
Consequently, when we make "fleshly choices," we open ourselves up to the enemy who uses the power of sin to gain access to our souls and bodies. And, by doing so, we not only give him access to our conscious thoughts, emotions, and desires, we also give him access to the things we have pushed down and buried in the hidden recesses of our souls - all our doubts, unforgiveness, fears, roots of bitterness, insecurities and so forth. These unconfessed sins and unresolved hurts form a chain around us that binds us. These are the "handles" that the enemy uses to his full advantage to keep us his captives. Proverbs 5:22 talks about being "[held] with the cords of sin."
Keep in mind, however, neither Satan nor the power of sin have access to our new spirit, our new heart or our new willpower. These areas are inviolate. He has access only to our "flesh" (our soul and body) and only if we have given him an entrance. It’s interesting to note that in the Temple of Solomon, the Holy of Holies, the Holy Place, and the Vestibule of the Porch were also areas that were inviolate to outsiders. Only the priests could enter them. The Inner Court and the Outer Court, however, were wide open and thus, exposed to many outside influences; i.e., the dove sellers, the money changers, Satan’s temptations, etc. It’s fascinating to compare the architecture of this Temple to our own interior makeup - heart, mind and soul. (If you are interested in learning more about this, see Be Ye Transformed, which explores our internal architecture in depth.)
The fact is that once we are born again, no one can ever take us out of the keeping power of God’s Holy Spirit -we have that eternal security -but we can, by our own fleshly choices, block God’s Power in us and open our souls and bodies up to the power of sin. (Colossians 1:13-14) And, this is exactly what it means when we say that God’s Spirit has been quenched or grieved.
A Classic Example: Sara
Let me give you an incredible example of a Christian sister who, in the worst of all possible situations, recognized her own bitterness, unforgiveness and anger, and by faith chose to give these to God so she would not risk quenching His Spirit when she needed Him the most.
I started corresponding with Sara many years ago when she wrote and told me her incredible story: Her two small children, a four- month-old baby son and a four-year-old daughter, had been kidnapped by her former husband and were missing for three and a half years!
When all of this occurred, Sara was in the process of divorcing this horrible man because of extreme physical abuse not only to her, but also to her children. He had even threatened their lives. After their separation, however, he went crazy and would not leave them alone. He followed Sara and the children everywhere, and one day, he kidnapped the children from their day-care center. The police became involved, but legally their hands were tied because there were no final custody papers.
One of the first things Sara said she had to deal with was doubt. She was certain that God had told her to leave this emotionally unstable man and get the children away. "Why, now, had this man won?" As Sara chose by faith to "take those negative thoughts captive" and to release her doubt to the Lord, He always ministered to her that peace "that passes all understanding." Repeatedly He gave her Psalm 71, which promises that He would restore her life and put to confusion those who wanted to harm her.
Next, she said, she had to deal with unforgiveness. Again, Sara chose, by faith, to unconditionally forgive her ex-husband. Obviously, she didn’t feel like doing this - it was purely a faith choice - but God was faithful to His promises to align her feelings with those choices. Soon, she found herself praying for his salvation and all the hate and bitterness just seemed to fade away.
Finally, there was the fear. Tormented, she continually worried about her children’s safety. "Do my children have a place to sleep tonight? Are they eating right? Are they well?" But, again, as she would make choices by faith to give these things over to God, His voice would always come back, "Don’t you think I love your children much more than you do? Don’t you think I can take care of them?"
She said she had to give her fears, doubts and unforgiveness over to the Lord about 50 times a day. But, as she did, He always changed her negative feelings to align with what she had chosen and gave her the strength to go on. Her continual promise from Him was, "...all things work together for good to them that love God [to those who totally give themselves over to Him]...." (Romans 8:28)
After three and a half years, a miracle happened. Through a series of events, Sara was able to locate her ex-husband and her children. At this point, the police took an active involvement in the case and the ex-husband was arrested. He was sent to prison, not only for kidnaping but also for many other charges as well.
Beautiful Sara is now married to a wonderful pastor back East and has an incredible ministry of her own. Her children have had their share of problems as they have learned to deal with their past, but through the Lord, they have grown into healthy adults who love Jesus and who are learning to forgive, love and pray for their biological father.
If Sara, in the midst of this horrific situation, can be set free from her fears, doubts and unforgiveness by going "against the tide" and making non-feeling choices, I believe any of us can! Sara is not a super saint, she’s just like you and me. But, she has learned through one of the hardest circumstances I can ever imagine that she mustn’t quench God’s Spirit, especially when He’s needed the most. And, the only thing that will keep her from doing that, is choosing to follow God’s will regardless of how she feels, what she sees or the situation she is in.
As Christians, we’re all in a mind battle. And, if Satan can just direct our thinking by our continuing on in our own natural emotional responses, then he has got us and he doesn’t need to do another thing! Remember "the chain reaction of our souls" that we talked about last month: our thoughts trigger our emotions; our emotions influence our choices; and, our choices produce our actions.
This is why 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 is such a critical Scripture, "...bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled." This is simply saying, catch the negative thoughts as they come in and deal with them. Don’t toy with them, mull them over, entertain them or act upon them. If you do, you’ll quench God’s Spirit.
"Conformed To The World’s Image"
God’s whole purpose in calling us is that we might be conformed into His image. Then, others will see God’s Life in us and through us and want what we have. Satan, on the other hand, is dedicated to preventing this transformation in any way that he can. He knows that if he can just keep us ignorant of the supernatural authority and power we have to put off our self and to put on Christ, then we’ll go on depending upon our own thoughts and emotions and end up being conformed to the world’s image and not Christ’s.
Listen to what a Messianic Jewish believer wrote me a few years ago about how she perceives most Christians:
"The thing that staggers me the most is that Christians don’t really know that they must choose to give up every scrap of self-protective, justified hurt, and that they cannot feel anything (negative) toward anyone.) but Christ’s Love. It seems to me that most of the Church is living "half" a Christian life. As a Jew, I always wondered why Christians were not more noticeable in the world."
I believe she is right! Most of us are living "half a Christian life" because we’ve not been taught that all the negative things inside of us (justified or not), will not only keep us half a Christian, but will guarantee our not being noticed in this world. And the reason is: We’re being conformed to the world’s image and not transformed out of it into Christ’s image, as Romans 12:1-2 tells us!
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And, be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed [how?] by the renewing of your mind (by choosing to put off the old and put on the new, regardless of how we feel), that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."
The only thing that will set us free from the power of sin and allow us to be transformed is learning how to make non-feeling choices to do God’s will, regardless of what is going on in our own lives.
Another Example: "It’s Almost Impossible!"
I heard recently from a precious woman who is a pastor’s wife. Linda and I have been corresponding for about 10 years.
Both Linda and her husband, Rob, grew up in the Jesus Movement some 25 years ago. When they first got saved, they were "on fire" for the Lord and, when asked, eagerly became elders of a youth house. Rob eventually became the head pastor for a large church in the area. He was a great husband and father, they both were really involved in the ministry and their children saw what it meant to be real "Christians." Up until about 10 years ago, their marriage was a "little bit of heaven," but during the last 10 years, it began to deteriorate.
Over Linda’s objections, Rob decided to leave the pastorate. He became lukewarm to things of the Lord, and quickly turned to other pastimes. At first, Linda, had tremendous hope because she remembered their first ten years. But, when Rob continued to stay in his backslidden state, she realized that those precious years would never come back, and her hope evaporated. She became very bitter towards Rob, because she felt he was ruining their lives. Rob simply closed himself off from her and pursued getting a master’s degree in counseling.
In Linda’s most recent letter, she states, "It’s so very hard not to blame him for everything because he is so blind and so self-centered. I feel like he’s a hypocrite, able to counsel others, but unable to see his own problems or spend time with his own family. I constantly fight feelings of what might have been. Each time I seek the Lord, however, He tells me to ‘forgive him and leave him to Me.’ Do you know how hard that is? I can’t do this myself. It’s impossible! I really feel my husband has ruined my life. So, my constant choice is: either to forgive him and leave him to the Lord, or run with my own overwhelming and ‘justified’ thoughts and emotions and quench God’s Spirit, which I know I should not do! But, oh, it’s so hard!"
Here’s a woman faced with a extremely difficult decision and one that she must make probably a hundred times a day: Either follow her own "justified" feelings (the flesh) and quench God’s Spirit, or, by faith, follow what God has told her to do and walk in the Spirit. No one can make those choices for her. But, as the Lord told me many years ago, when I asked Him the same question, "Why do I have to change first?" His answer was, "your life depends upon it." And, it’s so true, our life (before Him) depends upon our own willingness to change. We can remain where we are, full of "justified" hurts, resentments and bitterness, which quench His Spirit and prevent Him from working in us or through us; or, we can choose to make non-feeling choices to follow what He has told us and watch Him set us free. Remember Sara’s example!
The goal and purpose of all our lives as Christians, as we have previously shared, is to be "conformed into His image." Thus, it doesn’t matter who is the first to change, because God desires that we all reflect His image. Each of the circumstances He allows in our lives are simply meant to be used as a part of that transforming process.
Also included in surrendering ourselves over to the Lord, moment by moment, is the choice to unconditionally forgive those who have offended us. Scripture tells us that God is hindered from working in us and in that other person, until we release them. And, the way we release them is by unconditionally forgiving them, whether they have asked for it or not. Now, don’t misunderstand me, we are not "pardoning" them; only God can do that. We are simply releasing them into His care - again, so we don’t quench His Spirit in us.
As Linda expressed in her letter, it’s almost impossible to forgive that "other" person in our own strength and ability. But, this can be just another place we can trust God, regardless of how we feel, to give us the strength to forgive and the love to go on. (Read 2 Corinthians 2:10)
Scripture never says that we won’t have negative, ungodly and self-centered thoughts, emotions and desires. (Romans 7:15, 19) We’re all still human and we’ll continue to have these kinds of self-centered soulish thoughts and feelings until we see Jesus. We can, however, have victory over the "desires of our flesh" if we constantly make faith choices to give these things over to God, and choose to do what He wants.
Galatians 5:16 tells us that if we choose to "walk after in the Spirit," then we won’t carry out the desires of the flesh.
"At Thy Word, I Will"
Now, we might be saying under our breath, "God, I don’t see how You are going to do this. I don’t feel like doing it. And, I don’t want to do it. But, nevertheless I’m willing to choose to follow You!" What we are really saying is: "I’m willing to do what You ask me to do, simply because I know You love me and I know that You will be faithful to keep Your Promises."
Luke 5:5 is a perfect Scripture here. After Peter spent all night setting his own nets and not catching a thing, Jesus comes along and says to him, "Set your nets." Peter was probably thinking, "I’ve tried that all night long and it hasn’t worked," but nevertheless, he willingly and obediently replies to Jesus: "At Thy word, I will."
And, that needs to be our response also. "I don’t want to, I don’t feel like it, and I don’t think it will work; but, nevertheless, "at Thy word, I will"! This response is the only thing that frees God’s Spirit in us and releases the situation into His hands.
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To be continued next month: Whose Life will be Lived in your Soul? This article has been excerpted from Nan’s book, Against the Tide: Getting Beyond Ourselves.