Genuine Christians

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Dt. 10:16 π Mt. 7:13-14 π Jn. 4:24 π Jn. 15:5 π Rom. 2:5-11 π Rom. 2:28-29 π Rom. 7:18 π Rom. 8:6-7 π Rom. 14:23 π 1 Cor. 1:26 π 1 Cor. 1:26-31 π 1 Cor. 1:29 π 1 Cor. 1:30 π 1 Cor. 2:14 π 2 Cor. 4:7 π Phlp. 3:3; 2nd π Heb. 11:6; 2nd π 2 Pet. 3:9

Paul experienced much difficulty with the Judaizers - those who attempted to mislead Christian believers back under the precepts of Jewish law. For this we can be grateful because, if Paul had not had to combat and correct their errors, we might not have such a clear picture of what genuine salvation in Christ is.

However, this picture is a double-edged sword - it cuts into the claims of so many people around us, even "pastors," "elders" and "leaders," and displays the fraudulence of their claims of being a genuine follower of Christ. But this picture of genuine salvation is also a mirror for ourselves. If our own life does not match up to this description, judging others for their shortcomings will only add to our own condemnation.

The True Circumcision

To the Philippians, Paul wrote, "For we [Christians] are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit and by the Spirit of God and exult and glory and pride ourselves in Jesus Christ, and put no confidence or dependence [on what we are] in the flesh and on outward privileges and physical advantages and external appearances." ( Phlp. 3:3 Amp.; top)

Let us take careful note of what he is saying here. "For we Christians are the true circumcision..." Circumcision was the outward sign that a Jewish male was consecrated to God. But it is the obedient and consecrated heart that God is after, not mere physical and outward signs. ( Dt. 10:16 ; Rom. 2:28-29; top ) Anyone can practice legalistic and ritualistic adherence to some religion, even "Christianity" - and, in fact, the fallen nature of man loves to be religious. But to be truly consecrated to God is entirely another matter.

Paul here gives us three characteristics of those who are truly consecrated to God in the heart and not just in outward show. The genuine Christian

1) worships God in spirit and by the Spirit of God,

2) glories in Christ alone and

3) puts no confidence in the flesh.

Let's look at these one at a time.

In the Human Spirit and By the Spirit of God

First, Paul wrote, the genuine Christian worships "God in spirit and by the Spirit of God," as the Amplified version says it. The reason for the two different ways of saying this is not because Paul said all those words but because it can be translated either way - and we will never know for sure exactly which spirit, the human spirit or the Holy Spirit, he had in mind when he wrote this. When the Greek New Testament was originally written, there was no usage of the capital letter to signify when the writer was speaking of God.

But from the simple fact that it cannot be distinguished whether Paul was writing about the human spirit or the Holy Spirit we can draw some insightful conclusions. Chief among these would be that it doesn't matter to which one he is referring because, once a person has been given new life from above, the human spirit and the Holy Spirit are inseparable. That is not to say they are indistinguishable - but they are inseparable. Another place in Scripture where this inseparability between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit is seen is throughout Romans 8 where the word "spirit" appears some 19 times. And the theological arguments as to which spirit is being referred to in some of those verses is older than the English language.

From such ambiguous statements, here and elsewhere throughout the New Testament, we can conclude that both usages are equally true. In this case, one must worship God in spirit and one must worship God by the Spirit of God. That is to say, worship must be an action done in the spirit of the man and it is an action which must be done with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

We must recognize that worshiping God in and with our spirits is not an option. Jesus said, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." ( Jn. 4:24 - emphasis added; top) For an action to be done in the spirit of the man, it must transcend both his body and his soul. The body is that obvious, outward vehicle that transports both the soul and spirit through life. The soul is the mind, will and emotions of a man. The spirit is that transcendent element of his existence which is most like God and is the most difficult to define. But it is the spirit of a man which often leaves us with an impression of the overall characteristic of that man. Thus a man might have a gentle spirit or an angry spirit or a wounded spirit and each of these would leave a distinct impression upon us if we were to meet that man. The spirit is that part of the human which truly comes to life when the Holy Spirit of God comes to live inside that person in the process the New Testament calls the new birth.

When it comes to recognizing what is soulish and what is spiritual, one must turn to God. If the human turns to himself and asks this question, it will only cause an endless loop in the human's logic circuits and internal programming. There is no way that self, that is the soul by itself, will know which is spiritual and which is soulish. Paul wrote, "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." ( 1 Cor. 2:14; top ) Thus it is utter foolishness to attempt to wrest from ourselves an answer to the question of whether we are acting soulishly or spiritually. Only God can answer that question.

This fact dovetails directly into Paul's third characteristic of a genuine Christian - that of putting no confidence in the flesh. At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves in examining this list of characteristics, we must recognize that the flesh and the soul are not entirely synonymous though they too can be inseparable at times. The "flesh" refers to the sinful nature which exerts great influence over the soul it but it is not exactly the same thing as the soul. Anything done independently of God, that is through the strength of the flesh and apart from the empowering grace of God, is a sin. This is because every action done in obedience to God is done in faith and every action done outside of faith in God is sin. (see Heb. 11:6 ; Rom. 14:23; top )

For example, the mind controlled by the sinful nature is enmity against God but the mind controlled by the spirit is peace and joy. ( Rom. 8:6-7; top ) So we see that the mind, a part of the soul, can be controlled by the sinful nature or by the spirit brought to life by the Holy Spirit. Those who put their faith in their own soulish abilities - to answer the questions of life, to give direction in life - are being controlled by the flesh, the sin nature inherited from Adam, and thus open to influence or control by demonic spirits as well. Thus one who continues to ask himself, "Is this a soulish action or a spiritual action?" is already operating in the realms of the flesh from which he will never escape until he directs that question to God. And this is but one example of how religious thoughts can still keep one trapped under the power of the sinful nature or perhaps even the demonic.

But Paul is equally saying that the genuinely consecrated Christian must worship God by the Spirit of God. That is to say, that a person cannot truly worship God without the assistance of the Holy Spirit. This statement will strike many people as odd - but that is because, for the most part, we have a warped idea of what worship is. Worship is not singing songs in unison before someone gives a Bible-based lecture, though one can indeed worship God in that setting. Worship is not reading the Psalms aloud to a crowd of people, though one can indeed worship God in that setting.

These vocal and corporate aspects can be a part of worshiping God, but if they involve only the mind, will and emotions, never reach the spirit of the man, and are not given life by the Spirit of God, they are just as carnal an act as anything else the religious soul can do. Nor is worship just the outward acts of singing and reading. True worship is how we live each and every moment of our lives. But again, if we only live our lives in the soul - in the activities and powers of our mind, will and emotions - we have not relied upon the Holy Spirit, there is no faith in our actions and we have not pleased God for "without faith, it is impossible to please God." ( Heb. 11:6; top )

It is the failure to distinguish between soulish "worship" and true worship which makes many modern "churches" dangerously deceptive. One can practice all these religious things and never touch or be touched by the Spirit of God. Those warm fuzzy feelings one gets when one is surrounded by people singing in the power of their soul will seem, to the uninitiated and unwary, to be the very Presence of God. Only when one has truly been often aware of the Presence of God will one be able to recognize the difference.

But neither is any of this to say that a genuine seeker cannot be in the Presence of God even while everyone else in the group is doing something in their soul. Jesus is the perfect example of always being aware of God's Presence and taking His cues from God even in the midst of the most soulish activities of others. Our worship is performed in each and every action we take in our life. Every act done in obedience to God is an act of worship, ascribing to God the worth that He is due. He is worthy of all of our lives - and to give Him only a portion of our lives while reserving some portion to ourselves only makes any outward, vocal acts of worship an act of deception and hypocrisy.

The genuinely consecrated Christian will continue to grow in dependence upon the work of the Holy Spirit. He knows that apart from Christ, he can do nothing. ( Jn. 15:5; top ) He cannot even worship God appropriately without the help of the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that the soul - the mind, will and emotions - has no place in worshiping God. Rather, it is that the soul, without the human spirit and without the Holy Spirit, is incapable of presenting an acceptable offering to the Lord in much the same way as Cain's offering, generated by his own labor and tainted with the curse upon the ground, was unacceptable to God while Abel's offering, brought in simple obedience and faith in the cleansing work of God, was acceptable.

Christ Is All

The second characteristic of a genuine Christian is that they "exult and glory and pride themselves in Jesus Christ." Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God - and righteousness and sanctification and redemption - that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord." ( 1 Cor. 1:26-31; top )

In this passage we see some of the same words appearing as we have been discussing. Paul says that "not many wise according to the flesh" are called by God. (v. 26; top ) This is the same flesh as we spoke about above. It is the control of the sinful nature. So not many of those who are wise according to the sinful nature are called. That is, not many of those who are highly skilled in business machinations nor those who are highly articulate and persuasively eloquent are called by God. It is not that God is disinterested in such persons - for He is not willing that any should perish ( 2 Pet. 3:9; top ) - it is that such persons are most often disinterested in the things of God.

Instead God calls those whom the world calls foolish, weak and base - and He does so for a very distinct purpose: "that no flesh should glory in His presence." (v. 29; top ) It is God's expressed purpose that nothing of the sinful or flesh nature will glory in His presence. This word "glory" is the same word Paul used in his description of the genuine Christian. The word carries the idea of boasting. Often, when we hear this word "boasting," we immediately associate this with the negative and evil pride and boasting of the sinful nature. But this is not what Paul has in mind. There is another kind of pride and boasting which, when focused on the right object, is simultaneously appropriate, beneficial and honoring to God. But again, if we turn to ourselves and ask, "Well, is this the right kind of pride or the wrong kind of pride?" we will only find ourselves in that endless loop that some call "introspective paralysis."

This pride and boasting is in the Lord. As Paul wrote, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord." This word "glory" is still the same word Paul used in his description of the genuine Christian. The genuine Christian knows that Christ is his "wisdom...and righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (v. 30 ) He knows that in his flesh dwells no good thing ( Rom. 7:18 ) and that he carries the priceless treasure of Christ in what could only be called a clay pot so "that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us." ( 2 Cor. 4:7; top )

What a different attitude the true believer must have from that of the world! The world focuses on "me" and "what I can do." The genuine believer counts all that as a loss, a waste of time and focuses instead on Christ and what He can do.

No Confidence in the Flesh

And this is the essence of the third characteristic of a genuine believer - he places no confidence in his flesh.

In discussing Philippians 3:3 , Watchman Nee has said:

Circumcision was a sign that marked out the Jew from the rest of mankind. What is the corresponding mark of our Christian life before men? Is it charity? wisdom? sincerity? zeal? Other men have these. None of them is peculiar to the people of God; but there is one that is. It is a seemly absence of self-confidence! What distinguishes God's own is that their confidence in the flesh is destroyed and they are cast back upon Him. I have known Christians who are so sure they know the will of God that they will not for one moment consider they may be mistaken. I tell you they still lack the supreme sign of the spiritual "circumcision," namely, no confidence in the flesh. The spiritual man walks humbly, always aware he may be wrong. He assents gladly to the apocryphal beatitude: Happy are they who realize they may be mistaken! (Table in the Wilderness)

Let's consider that just a little more. If we are so sure of our doctrines or our practices - as many "churches" and "church" leaders are - that we will not even consider the possibility that we could be wrong, we walk in a most supreme arrogance. When we can not even discuss the Scriptures with other brothers in the Lord who hold differing views than ours, or when we refuse to be confronted with the Scriptures when our practice is different from the teachings of the Bible, we can be assured that there is sin in our heart.

The genuine Christian is not so self-assured that He won't listen to other brothers and return to the Lord to hear what He has to say on the subject. I suspect the real problem is that so many of us have never heard the Lord in the first place, let alone know how to go to Him after a confrontation to seek confirmation of the truth. It is just much easier to hold onto our own opinions and our own comfortable practices. But that is another subject for another day.

We must be able to see that these three signposts are going to be found on the road of being a genuine believer. The genuine believer must worship God in spirit and by the Spirit and must glory only in Christ and have no confidence in the flesh. If these signposts are entirely missing from the road you're on in life, you are not on the road to eternal life.

There is a famous saying floating around these days that says, "All roads lead to God." And this is true. Whichever road in life you take, you will come face to face with God. Then, as either your Savior or your Judge, He will send you to one of two places based on how you have lived your life. Paul wrote:

But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who "will render to each one according to his deeds": eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness - indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. ( Rom. 2:5-11; top )

Salvation is not about "church" attendance, Bible knowledge or even simple morality - it is about truth, righteousness, and selflessness.

And Jesus Himself said, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." ( Mt. 7:13-14; top )

By all means, be one of the few who finds that narrow gate and difficult way which leads to life.

I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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