Thursday, April 19, 2007

Outward Signs of Inward Godliness - Part III

I concluded the previous post by saying that many Christians believe the following proposition:

(4) If I perform certain activities such as prayer, Bible study, fasting and so forth with a properly oriented heart, that is, having yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit of God prior to performing the activities, then the end result will be godliness.

I also said that an unsettling question which comes to my mind is:
Am I not a godly man at the moment that my heart has been properly aligned by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit?

Part III . . .

I feel that the best way to answer this question is to look at the process by which God uses the regenerate man for His glory:
a) First, you reject (repent from) the sinful nature and its sinful desires. This seems to be the biblical first step. It’s preached from thousands of pulpits every Sunday morning. For the brother in Christ who wants to pursue godliness, the first step is repentance. He must turn away from his sinful self. He cannot pursue godliness and sin at the same time. The one must be rejected in favor of the other. It is here that he opens the door of his heart to the possibility of godliness. At this stage, the desire for godliness gives way to the potential for godliness, and the potential for godliness awaits realization.
b) Second, in rejecting the sinful nature you have no option but to submit to the new nature. You must choose the nature to which you would submit. It cannot be both, and it cannot be neither. The natures are mutually exclusive. It makes no sense to say that I choose to follow God and my sinful self simultaneously. On the other hand, anything that has no nature is not a thing at all; it does not exist. Therefore, rejecting both natures is tantamount to self annihilation! For the Christian person, turning away from the sinful self means turning toward God. Not submitting to the old nature means submitting to the new one. At this stage, God’s work of heart alignment begins; the work necessary for you to lay claim to godliness.
c) Third, submission to the new nature triggers a reorientation of the heart. The new nature, which is controlled and directed by the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, removes (for the moment) any motivation you might have to pursue and satisfy the desires of the old sinful nature, and reorients your heart toward God, thereby motivating you to serve Him. I say “for the moment” because this process has to take place each time we make a decision. In this life, we are continuously confronted with a dilemma, should I follow myself or God? This is why self-discipline is so crucial in this area. Once you have fully submitted to the new nature, you now have a properly oriented heart. At this stage, God finishes His work of alignment and godliness is realized. At this moment, you are godly. Your pursuit of godliness has been successful.
d) Fourth, our godly heart now seeks to perform those activities that are pleasing to God. Your heart, because of God’s work, is able to participate in the activities listed above with the proper motives, which is key to their being pleasing to God and their being performed for His glory. At this stage, godliness, under God’s guidance, strives to impact the world through living acts of worship.
e) Fifth, the activities that you perform become fruitful and fully efficacious. They are performed properly, that is, with the proper motivations. They effect the ends for which they were intended. It is here that the godliness to which you have already laid claim impacts your life and the lives of others. The process begins with the rejection your own sinful desires, your sinful nature. It ends with God’s will and work being actualized through you.

The process above accounts for man’s freedom to make decisions and God’s sovereign work within his heart. If the first step is performed properly, then it will necessarily result in the last step being performed properly because the Holy Spirit is in control throughout the remainder of the process. Conversely, the last step will never be achieved apart from the first, because a) the sinful nature/heart will never pursue the end of the process, and b) even if it did, the Spirit would not be driving the process.

Godliness is actualized in the third phase. Once a person has relinquished control to the Holy Spirit, God is in control; and God always acts godly. The phrase “properly oriented heart” is synonymous with the phrase “godly heart.” If a man has a “properly oriented heart,” he has a “godly heart;” if he has a “godly heart,” then he is a “godly man;” if he is a “godly man,” then he has been successful in his pursuit of “godliness.” All of this occurs before he ever moves a limb or even takes a breath. Godliness is the result of a choice that occurs in the heart, the choice to follow God. The new nature is already godly because it emanates directly from the Holy Spirit. In order to achieve godliness, all one ever needs to do is put it on.

3 comments:

Juan said...

I am getting ready to preach on the Holy Spirit and this is great; "once a person has relinquished control to the Holy Spirit, God is in control; and God always acts godly." Paul tells Titus in verse 12- "It (grace) teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. Paul talks about endurance in verse 2 "2Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.
I was wondering about that and again you hit it dead on "I say “for the moment” because this process has to take place each time we make a decision.

Thanks for a great post

Daniel said...

Gary

This paper hits on a crucial issue. It attacks the idea of a works based sanctification. As Protestants we trumpet the idea of Justification by faith, but I guess we assume from that point on it is up to us. This paper really attacks that idea. Awesome!

I do have one question though. You made the point that once a person's heart is aligned properly that "the activities that you perform become fruitful and fully efficacious. They are performed properly, that is, with the proper motivations. They effect the ends for which they were intended." I guess now that we do not see these activities as a means to produce godliness I would ask what purpose DO they serve?

Thanks for the post man, and keep the goods coming!

-Dan

Gary Harris said...

Dan,

That is a great question! Believe it or not, I debated for some time over whether I should attempt to explain the proper ends of these activities. As I thought about it, however, I realized that the subject was too important to gloss over.

I am not trying to dodge the question. In fact, I am thinking about dedicating a post to this topic, because I think it needs to be fleshed out. For now, however, I will leave you with the thoughts of a mutual friend. At the very least, these activities serve as a display of the godliness within us in that they are acts of pure obedience to God. (Thanks for the profound thought Alan!)

Gary