For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Rom. 8:5-6).
Most good dictionaries will define bipolar as “a condition of one having or being marked by two diametrically opposed natures or views.” In our Scripture today, we have two forces bidding for the affections of the Christian believer. It is urgent that we understand what the apostle Paul meant by the things of the flesh and life in the Spirit.
It is my understanding that by Paul’s use of the flesh he means our entire human personality under the control of our fallen nature including our mind and spirit as well as our body. I take this from John Wesley, who did not restrict his definition of the flesh to merely bodily or fleshly appetites, but to the corruption of human nature as it spreads through all the powers of the soul as well as to the members of the body.
While the apostle is faithful to warn us against a mindset on the things of the flesh, his real purpose in this classic passage on New Testament spirituality is to show us God’s plan of spiritual power for a new life in Jesus Christ. He called it Life according to the Spirit in contrast to life according to the flesh.
After yielding my heart and life to Jesus Christ in early July, 1946, I had struggled enough with the urges of my fallen nature so that with my mother’s counsel on Paul’s meaning of Life in the Spirit in Romans 8, four months later I went alone into the forest near our home and settled in my heart to know the New Testament experience for the believer promised both by John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ: the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11: Acts 1:5,8).
Immediately I knew the power promised for worship and prayer, for resisting temptation and living a holy life and for witnessing to friends and neighbors. A few months later I recognized the Spirit’s call to a preaching ministry. And it was only because of the power and joy and the sense of the Presence of the Holy Spirit in my life that I realized I could answer that call. I gladly answered the call when I read II Cor. 3:5-6: Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant …
Even though I was enabled to finish high school with an effective influence for Christ in the lives of my relatives and close friends, and even after experiencing the anointing of the Holy Spirit for preaching the Gospel on the streets and courthouse lawns of several southern cities and towns with a good number of people responding positively to the invitations to yield their hearts and lives to Christ, and even after enrolling in a wonderful Bible College, learning the Word of God under scholarly, spiritual teachers and then after a few years of pastoring a small church … after all these experiences of blessing and victory, I had to learn through daily weaknesses in myself and disappointments with others that just because I had once been baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire, that was no guarantee that I would always live according to the Spirit. I had to realize that although the enablement had been given for me to continue with the Spirit’s mind-set in a consistent life of holiness, I still had to rely completely on the Spirit Himself to strengthen my will to obey the command of the Word to by the Spirit put to death (die out to) fleshly desires so that you might remain alive spiritually (Rom. 8:13, free translation). In other words, I had to come to God’s provisions and terms for living in the Spirit, for keeping in step with the Spirit, for not grieving the Holy Spirit by obeying what Christ commanded, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23). I had to learn to die. I had to learn to allow the Holy Spirit to help me die.
Mortification (self-denial, true Christian cross-bearing) is not a popular subject, nor is it a pleasant experience. But, oh, the marvelous results! Listen to Paul’s testimony: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).
As demanding as self-denial is, I am glad I have learned it. But I must hasten to confess, I am not totally consistent in always allowing the Holy Spirit to help me crucify my pride or restrain me against an inappropriate remark. Like our theological hero, John Wesley, I am forced to disclaim “sinless perfection.” However, like him again, I have learned that when I am obedient to the Spirit, I am empowered by Him to not sin. I can testify to a joy unspeakable when the Holy Spirit in me is ungrieved, unquenched and unignored, so that He reproduces in me the Christlikeness of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
I have known bipolar days in my spiritual life. I know the misery of the confliction of the mind-set of the flesh and the mind-set of the Spirit. But I’m glad our New Testament Gospel promises freedom from this double-mindedness, this bipolar condition that all believers must face.
As a holiness preacher and as a passionate revivalist, in my praying and in my meditation I am wondering what might happen if our evangelical pastors in America would prayerfully seek to develop in their congregations a nucleus of believers who are tired of the bipolar, up-and-down, on-and-off, hot-and-cold double-mindedness in their spiritual history and lead them into a fresh baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire! But let no pastor attempt such a major move merely in his own strength. Satan will never let such a move go unchallenged by his principalities, powers, and hosts of wicked spirits operating in the unseen realms. Every congregation desperately needs a group of dedicated men and women who are spiritually prepared and resolved to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. They must put on the whole armor of God to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For they are not contending against mortals of flesh and blood. … Above all, they must pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, they must keep alert (be consistently aware, sensitive to opposition), making supplication for all the saints … (Eph. 6:10-12, 18). I can personally assure that pastors who train, lead and support such groups in taking their church directories and praying weekly over the members by name — praying for all the saints — that he or she will certainly sense a new climate of worship, love for God and one another, a new freedom to humble themselves and confess sin and seek pure hearts from the Lord, deep conviction and a spirit of revival in the services. Nor will it all end with the benediction in the Sunday morning worship service.
I feel a burning in my heart as I write that God is calling on our spiritual leaders to step forth humbly and boldly and call for days, nights, half-nights and seasons of Prayer, Repentance and Fasting. Such leaders must be supported by Spirit-filled men and women who will become examples of the kind of praying that releases divine power upon both the prayer gatherings and the public worship services. If we are faithful and persevering, a new movement of the Spirit of God will manifest itself in such measures that both the saints and sinners will acknowledge that God is doing a new thing!
When revival comes, it will be a great encouragement to a church member to realize that he or she is not the only one finding a cure for their bipolar spirituality; that even though we will always face temptation and opposition , there really is a cure, a deliverance, a freedom from our self-centered double-mindedness; that the Spirit-filled life is truly a life in which the Holy Spirit reproduces the life of Jesus in the believer, and that it really is joy unspeakable and full of glory; that attending the Lord’s House need not be a dreaded hour, but the most exciting hour of the week — not because of the large crowd being drawn by the Spirit, and not because of the powerful preaching or spirited music but because the prayer-covered hour will bring manifestations of the Spirit, revelations of truth, illuminations and insights into the will of God for many of us and the joy of seeing a sinner come to Jesus and a believer getting filled with the Spirit. These latter ones might even be someone of our own family or a neighbor.
Revivals are amazing events! But they don’t come from the whims of a Sovereign God nor by the magical skills of mortal man. They come from the heart of our Supernatural God who has been able to find a group of His children who are so hungry for Him that they grow humble, prayerful, passionate and obedient to His will. And then when He has been able to fill them with His Spirit, He can enable them to pray His will to pass in their personal lives, in their households, in their churches, in their communities and in their world.