The Way To Abide
We are admonished in the New Testament to walk as Jesus walked; yet most Christians are painfully aware that they fail, especially in day-to-day living. This article, reprinted from The Liberating Secret, presents the Biblical solution to this seeming impossibility: a victorious life, based not on a one-time experience, but a "moment by moment walk based on a moment by moment cleansing."
Faced with life as this daily combat with temptation, and the need of daily conquest, it is not surprising that so much space is given in the New Testament letters to our daily walk. Almost every letter mentions it. The writer usually progresses from some exposition of our standing in Christ to detailed instructions concerning the daily walk.
In Romans, for instance, the walk is not mentioned till chapter 8, where we are warned to "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." In Galatians, after the fundamental doctrine of justification has been magnificently reaffirmed and vindicated, Paul adds, "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit….If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit."
Ephesians takes us to the summit of revelation in union with our ascended Lord, and then says: "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called….Walk in love….Walk as children of light….Walk circumspectly."
The Daily Walk
The walk is a picturesque metaphor for our daily Christian living. We have entered by the straight gate, now let us walk on the narrow way; and for this walk we know no better instructions than those given in 1 John 1. The great revelations of God’s grace are usually summed up in some special passage of Scripture. We turn to John 3 to explain the new birth; Romans 6 for identification with Christ; 1 Cor. 13 for love; Heb. 1 for faith; 1 Thes. 4 for the Lord’s coming; and for the daily walk of victory to 1 John 1.
The whole emphasis of this letter of John’s is significant. He had seen Eternal Life walking this earth, and records that fact for us. We are now to live that same life, if we say He is in us. It is a call to the highest standard of Christian living, four times over described to us, as walking as He walked, being righteous as He is righteous, pure as He is pure, perfect in love, for "as He is, so are we in this world."
But who is sufficient for such things? The answer is first in the union relationship of us in Him and He in us, which John takes for granted in this letter. But then it is in the daily abiding, the daily walk which he expounds to us in his first chapter by a fifth comparison. We are to walk in the light, as He is in the light. If we do this (and he tells us how to do it), and while we do it, these impossible standards are being reached; for he says, "Whoso is keeping His word, in him verily is the love of God being perfected." Not, mark you, some standard of perfection which can be claimed as ours once for all as a result of some specific experience, but the product of a moment by moment walk based on a moment by moment cleansing.
This present-tense eternal life, John explains, is a two-way fellowship, with God and with each other (1:3). A vertical and horizontal relationship we might call it. The vertical is the fellowship "with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ"; the horizontal we will look at later on.
Living fellowship, he then says, always brings fullness of joy (1: 4). Where hearts are free and open, when there is nothing between Him and ourselves, we testify with David, "My cup runneth over." A heart at rest, a sense of His presence, the joy which overflows, is the evidence that the fellowship is undimmed. An unbroken walk with Jesus, therefore, means a cup continuously running over. This is most important.
It is the red or green light in the daily walk. When the inner life is choked, when the heart is heavy, disturbed, hardened, the red light is showing. Something has come in between. How often that happens!
Just here is the danger. It is at this spot that we so easily slip into dishonesty, hypocrisy. What can stop that cup running over except sin? What is that inner flow of peace and freedom and joy but the Spirit witnessing to the presence of Jesus in our hearts? Nothing can stop Him bearing that witness, except sin. Our physical condition, circumstances, other people, can never stop Him. Only sin in the heart. But the trouble is that, through the subtlest of all hidden sins, the sin of pride and self-righteousness, I don’t want to admit that I, a believer, have slipped into sin. So I call it by another name. It is my nerves; I was born like that; it is my physical condition, my tiredness; it is the pressure of home and business life; it is my difficult relatives and neighbours–but not sin!
John, however, closes the door to such dishonesty in simple fashion, if we will walk in it. Note particularly, he says, the character of the One with whom we walk in fellowship (1:5); it is the very heart of my message to you: God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If John had said "God is love," we could have understood it. He does say that later on, but that does not come first. The revelation of God as light precedes that of God as love. Meet Him as light, then we meet Him as love. That is the eternal order.
God is light. What does that mean? Eph. 5:13 tells us, "Whatsoever doth make manifest is light." When light shines into a darkened room, its one function is to make plain what is in that room, and its one demand of us is that we respond honestly to it. In a darkened room we can call anything anything. When the light is turned on, we can by no means call a table a piano! We must call it what it is. In other words, all that God has ever required of a human being, whether saved or unsaved, is honesty. It is all we can contribute to our own salvation. We cannot remove our guilt or change a habit. But we can discern good from evil, and we can admit the truth about ourselves, as we are brought to see it.
Conviction by the Spirit
So when Jesus talks of the new birth with Nicodemus and shows him how it can be obtained, he adds one warning. There is a condemnation, He says, that condemnation is not the fact of sin, because full atonement has been made, not for our sins only, "but for the sins of the whole world." But the condemnation is (John 3:19) "that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light and hate the light, neither come to the light."
Dishonesty, not sin, damns a soul. It is unwillingness to part with sin and therefore refusal to admit ourselves to be what God shows us we are by His word, by preaching, by the Spirit that sends us to hell. This is true, as we have already pointed out, for the power and horror of sin is that we love it and hate that which would turn us from it.
But just as the sinner can refuse to come to the light, so we who have come may refuse to walk in the light (1 John 1:6, 7). We may easily try to deceive ourselves and others. We may say we have fellowship with Him, but really walk in darkness, and refuse to admit what light is showing us to be sin. We may say we have no sin or have not sinned (1:8, 10). But one thing we shall certainly learn, the blood of Jesus does not cleanse excuses. It cleanses, but only sin admitted to be sin, for it was shed for that purpose alone.
Note, however, that conviction of sin does not come from the inward, but the upward look. Sin is not seen to be sin by self-examination, but by the light of God. Conviction and repentance are gifts of God as much as salvation is (Acts 5: 31). There is a world of difference between the nagging, corroding condemnations of the devil, and the clear convictions of the Spirit. The devil speaks in generalities, seeking to smear us by a general sense of failure, uncleanness, confusion, heaviness of spirit. The answer to that is there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. The Spirit speaks specifically, and His voice, although rebuking us, is sweet and clean and true and acceptable. He points out some exact and immediate action by which we have given temporary entrance to sin. Satan points downward to despair, but the Spirit points upwards to cleansing.
So the detection of sin in our daily lives is no difficulty. If the cups do not run over, the red light is on. There is sin somewhere. But the One with whom we walk is light. Look honestly and frankly to Him, and it won’t take Him long to clarify for us the point where we have sinned.
Confession, Contrition and Cleansing
Now comes the crucial moment. Having seen the light, will we walk in it? Walking is not standing still! It is progressing. Will we now walk forward, take the next step, and admit the truth about ourselves? That is what John calls confessing (1:9), which is the same word in the original as "saying," but with the preposition "con" attached–saying with. Saying not what I think, but what the other person thinks: saying the same as God. Such confessing, of course, implies shame and contrition for the sin.
If we do that, we are walking in the light and, says John, immediately another fact of permanent validity comes into automatic operation; "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1:7). That is a fact for all time since Calvary. The blood is always cleansing. But we only see and realize our title to the glorious fact when we are fulfilling the condition of walking in the light, as He is in the light. That means the specific confession of specific sins. We are then told in an equally specific way that "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." The light that first shone on the sin is also shining on the blood. While we are walking with Him in the light with nothing known between, the blood is automatically cleansing unrecognized sin. Where known sin intervenes, there is this simple way of confession and cleansing.
Sometimes we may wonder just what is the meaning of that phrase, "the cleansing blood." Why is the blood called precious? And why is it the glory of the saints through eternity? Moses had the priceless privilege of being the first in human history to reveal the blood to the world. To him was given the wonderful symbolic sacrifice of the Passover, with its constantly quoted word, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." He gave Israel all the details of the sacrifices, according to the pattern shown him in the mount, and culminating in that great revelation of Lev. 17, "for the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." Perhaps the greatest contribution Moses made for the blessing of the world was not the deliverance of Israel, nor the mighty exploits of faith, but the revelation of the centrality of the precious blood.
The completed revelation of the meaning of the blood, given us in the New Testament, is found in Heb. 9. The life is in the blood, therefore the shedding of the blood means the pouring out of the life. It is the public evidence of the completed sacrifice (9:22). Thus whenever the blood of Christ is mentioned as the ground of our salvation and cleansing, the meaning is that the shedding of that blood in public two thousand years ago was conclusive evidence that He paid the full price for the remission of sins. To make the evidence unmistakable is the reason why John so stressed that he saw the blood and water come from His side, and "bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe"; and says again that "there are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood."
The sacrifice once made, completed and witnessed, is our solid ground and title for having no more consciousness of sins. This is the cleansing in the blood, and this is what it means when we say a thing is "under the blood." For this reason we glory in the blood, and count it supremely precious. Our consciences, defiled and guilty through conviction of some sin committed, are freed and cleansed as we see with the eye of faith that blood shed on Calvary, and its silent message to us over the years that full atonement was made by the outpoured life of our Saviour. "How much more shall the blood of Christ cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God."
So now in our daily walk with Jesus, we have come full circle. Undisturbed fellowship means the cup running over. When it doesn’t run over, it means that there is sin in our hearts. God, who is light, is revealing to us what that sin is. Recognizing that sin, we confess it and repent of it. Where there is confession, there is also the revelation of the cleansing blood, the token of the completed remission. And where the blood is applied by faith, the Spirit always bear witness. The fellowship is restored, and the cup again runs over.
Fellowship Among Men
This daily walk in the Spirit is not merely a matter of continuous fellowship with God. It is also with one another. To abide in Christ is to be at one with the body as well as the Head. There is the horizontal relationship, as we saw, as well as the vertical. Indeed, the former is the acid test of the reality of the latter.
John makes that plain when he says that our righteousness among men is the proof of our righteousness before God (3:7); and our love for our brother of our love toward God (4:20); and our testimony before men of our faith in God (4:15). In every case the visible horizontal is the practical demonstration of the unseen vertical.
So John says, "If we walk in the light we have fellowship one with another." Now we have seen that this walk demands quick recognition of sin, followed by confession and cleansing. But this also means that when the sin has affected a brother, the confession must include him. That is really obvious, and we but mention it in passing. A repentance before God which said, "To You I confess, but not to my brother" needs no comment on its unreality.
David called repentance "brokenness." That leaves no place for establishing my own righteousness. Down I go before God, and before man where necessary. A bent tree can spring into place again, a broken one cannot. That is repentance. This is no light challenge to face, for so many sins I commit affect my neighbour: an untruth, irritability, harsh criticism, stress and strain, an unquiet spirit, even the heaviness of unbelief, affect home, church or business. I must be ready to confess, and under God’s guidance will often do so. Yet confession to man should be under His guidance. Satan can whip God’s saints and drive them from behind to unwise action, whereas the Spirit gently leads and goes before. There are times when confession can do more harm than good. There are earnest folks who embarrass by their constant references to their failures. I must be truly willing. That is the point. The rest we can leave to God.
But fellowship in the light includes more than confession to a brother. It includes testimony one to the other. Confessing with the mouth of the Lord Jesus, as Paul commands us to do. The emphasis then is not so much on the thing that needed cleansing in our daily walk, although that has to be mentioned, as in the cleansing received and the joy that followed. This is almost an atrophied limb in our church life, with a consequent limp in our fellowship. In early Methodism the weekly class meeting was used for this purpose as the most vital method of keeping the congregations walking close to the Lord and to one another. Each member was required to tell of his week’s progress, sins, temptations, and victories. There are those in various parts of the world to-day who maintain this form of open fellowship, and prove how richly the Spirit seals it.
To confess with the mouth is a principle of living faith, and it is meant to be the natural habit of the believer to tell of the Lord’s daily dealings with him, both in fellowship meetings and in the normal contacts of life. Confession to those against whom we sin is an obligation: testimony is a continual privilege. Some of its important effects are worth noting.
It always magnifies Christ and gives glory to the precious blood, when we tell of its power in our lives, and give the homely details. At fellowship meetings of this kind there is a constant stream of praise ascending to the Throne, as one after another tells of up-to-date experience. But it needs to be down-to-earth testimony with the practical details both of the failure and victory. Vague generalities have little life in them.
Bringing into the light the Lord’s dealing with me over a particular sin sensitizes me to that sin, and indeed to sin in general, as nothing else can. It is the fulfilment of the law of faith that, when we confess a thing with our mouth, it stands before us in its stark reality: we see it in clear outline as never before.
Those who have begun to learn this way of open fellowship find they become sin-sensitive and thus can quickly be cleansed. They discover why they were so often in bondage and heaviness of spirit for no apparent reason. Sin always binds and usually blinds. Formerly when we sinned, we often did not recognize it was a sin, yet it bound us. "Whoever commits a sin is a slave to that sin" (John 8:34). Now by a quicker recognition, there is a quicker appropriation of the blood and a quicker deliverance. That is a direct result of learning to walk in the light with one’s brethren.
Honesty and Openness
Walking in the light helps me to keep free and honest. All too easily I slip into unreality, appearing before others better than I really am. I become a partial hypocrite. Jesus gave special warning against that subtle leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, adding that most striking summons to openness, "For there is nothing covered which shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be made known." It is all coming out one day. Better the small blush now, than the big blush later on! Better the burnings of a purging humiliation now, than to have all burned up that day!
Then, only true openness brings heart into true unison with heart. When barriers are really down, and fellowship has gone below the surface to where we are living our daily lives and meeting our daily temptations, there is a sense of brotherhood and understanding nothing else can give. Such fellowship in the light, costly though it is, gives us all a new understanding of one easily missed truth–that He fashioned our hearts alike, and that we are all men of like passions. One of the devil’s commonest lies to us is that I am the only person who would do or think such a thing. If my brethren knew, wouldn’t they be horrified! And I am shut up in a prison of secret shame, and maybe struggle against some temptation which I imagine assaults no one as it does me. But when we walk in the light, how different we find it to be! We are all alike. There is level ground at the foot of the cross. Like temptations come to all of us, and we all need the same cleansing blood. Here we find unity indeed. Not in some artificial attempt to claim some special standard of spirituality, but as fellow sinners all rejoicing daily in the same Saviour.
In this lies the humanity of the Bible biographies. We can understand these men because they were like us. It was actually said of both Elijah and Paul that they were men "subject to like passions as we are." We know all the intimate failures of these men. How Sarah persuaded Abram to take Hagar; how Moses disobeyed God; how Jonah ran away; what the still small voice said to Elijah when he had fled from Jezebel; and even what Satan said to Christ on the mount of temptation. How do we know these things? The answer is obvious. Those who experienced them must have told them. The walls were down in those days!
The Mote and the Beam
Then again, one of the weakest links in the believer’s witness is disunity. Christ foresaw that when He made it one of His last two commands that we should love one another, and when it was the chief petition of His last prayer. In families, between husband and wife, parents and children, in congregations between individual believers, and between sections of the assembly, we all know our constant failures. Walking in the light is the solution for this. Disunity manifests itself in me by a hardness in my heart towards a brother. I may feel I am justified, and I may really be so: I may have strong and rightful differences of opinion: I may have dislikes founded on mannerisms, on personality quirks, or on more serious manifestations of the flesh. But my hardness is sin, when I am told to have perfect love, to love as He loved me. The only primary solution to such constantly arising fellowship problems is for me to walk in the light. When I learn to face my hardness as sin and, if so led, to admit it to my brother, I am paving the way to a meeting place at Calvary.
Whenever I see faults in my brother as something bigger than the fact of Christ in him, I am sinning. When my eye is single, it is full of light. In looking on my brother, my eye is single, when I am seeing Christ in him, and only then. In God’s sight that is all He sees, for "by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." My eye is evil when it is so fixed on faults and failings in my brother that they obscure my clear sight of Christ in him. And how easy it is to do that! It is the beam in my eye which hinders me from taking out the mote from my brother’s eye. Motes are there (as also in me), but they are fiddling compared to my sin in making more of them than Christ in him. He is the apple of Christ’s eye! Let me therefore get my sin out of the way, by confession and cleansing, and if led, by confession to my brother. Then let me renew my faith in the One within him who is busy conforming Him to His perfect image. That is perfect love. It is not blindness concerning those motes, but it is clear-sighted faith and love. It surrounds the brother with love, and contributes a living faith to the fact of a transforming work of the Spirit going on in him. That is the difference between criticism and discernment. Criticism sees the flesh or devil in a brother. It tears down and condemns. It has self-superiority at its roots. Discernment sees Christ in a brother. It edifies. It combines loving appreciation of the present with hope for the future. If I do that, I am fulfilling the love commandment, so far as in me lies, and demonstrating the unity of the Spirit.
Such are some reasons for the horizontal walk in the light, as well as the vertical. We are not under the law. We are not bound or commanded at set occasions to bear testimony one to another, or in our gatherings. We are led by the Spirit, and He will show the right occasions and right things to say. There may be times for restraint or silence: times when such a testimony might merely be misunderstood or hurt the hearers: some things that might be unseemly or embarrassing. But if there is a ready heart, understanding and accepting both our privilege and duty to walk in the light with our brethren, God will guide aright.
One of the hindrances to such ready testimony is sometimes the deep-down sense that we ought not to be the kind of people that are tripped up and have to admit the need of cleansing in this or that. But the fact is that we are. The flesh is weak, and we walk in it, though not of it; and often even our sense of shame is really pride, and our condemnation is that we have failed. We will do well to get this constant fresh sight of our nothingness, even though born of His Spirit, and to recognize how quickly we are caught out by flesh and devil. Then our testimony will have more in it of a glorying in His grace than of confusion at our fall.
One other aspect of fellowship in the light is mutual exhortation. Twice over in the letter to the Hebrews we are told to "exhort one another," with particular reference to the danger of unrecognized backsliding. "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." And when we are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, it is again "to exhort one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching." We are to help each other to the highest. But we at once recognize the dangers and difficulties of such reciprocal challenging. On the one hand we could do it in a wrong spirit, as a form of retaliation, to put a person right, to give them what we think they deserve. We can be certain that no one is in a position to challenge another on something in their lives or attitudes, who is not equally ready to receive a challenge themselves. Only those who readily and continually "break" and admit their own sins, are in a place to point out those of others.
On the other hand, it is truly costly to be faithful to a brother. It is much more comfortable to pass things by, say nothing, and thus not risk disturbing the peace. A challenge may not always be accepted in the spirit in which it is intended. It is costly to give, costly to receive.
-The Liberating Secret
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 25 No 2
- The Way To Abide
- The Crisis Experience
- Bible Study: With Bended Knee and a Broken Heart
- My Spiritual Waterloo
- The Prodigal
- True Repentence: Testimonies of Young Lives Transformed
- Quick Down, Quick Up
- Conviction, Confession, Cleansing
- False Condemnation
- Unexpected Visitors
- The Joy of Hosting a Zerubbabel Get-Together
- It Remains Tough
- Godly Sorrow Leads to Repentance
- Words to Live By