In all teaching and learning there is a very clear principle: no learning takes place until the student exercises himself in the teaching. Nothing becomes part of us until we put into practice what we are taught. This is true in physical exercise and skills, mental learning, and spiritual matters. Instruction is an important part of learning, but it is only a part. The thoughts held before us through instruction will soon be lost unless they are immediately put into practice in some manner.
In traditional school learning, these principles are well known and forced upon the students. Lectures are given, homework is assigned, and laboratory sessions are scheduled. Accountability is required at every turn from both student and teacher. Progress is required, and if it does not take place, changes are made until it does take place. We are very familiar with these things in the natural realm, but how should these principles be implemented in spiritual matters? Our Father is in heaven, and it is not so obvious where the laboratory is. The instruction also does not seem to be so obvious. How shall I know whether I am responding to God or to man?
There is only one mediator between God and man, and that is Christ Jesus our Lord. This is an absolute truth that must never be violated. No matter how much we may want to help another, we must never come between a member and Christ. This is easily stated but not so easily done. In our desire to help another grow faster in the Lord, it is a great temptation to take control, to keep things on the right track and speed up the process. This is where we are utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit to give us discernment and wisdom so that we can move in union with God. God wants every member to be connected to Him, and all ministry that comes through one member to another member has the goal of attaching that member to Christ.
This same truth must also be the controlling factor when seen through the eyes of the one receiving from another member. For God's results to be realized, we must see the supply coming from God, not just the member. This means we must know one another according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh. Our spiritual eyes must be firmly fixed on Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit we must be able to recognize the gift of God coming to us through earthen vessels. This is essential, for us to be nourished in our relationship with God and not become focused on man. If we only see naturally, we will either withdraw and become critical because we see faults in the vessel, or we will become attached to a gifted man and lose our vision of Jesus. Either error deprives us of the grace that should be coming to us through other members according to God's choosing.
If both the member giving and the member receiving are functioning properly, direction will come and we will recognize God as the source. At this point, the question is whether we will act upon the word coming to us. Our teacher is the Holy Spirit, and it is God with whom we have to do. Are we under His authority? Are we submitted to Christ our Head? If we are, we will obey because we love Him and we delight to keep His commandments. As we obey, the word becomes the "engrafted word" and the result is that Christ is formed in us. We are changed into His likeness, and our roots go down into God so that we cannot be shaken. But let this truth sink deeply into our heart: this growth does not take place unless we exercise ourselves in the word that is coming to us.
If we are seeing properly and believe that God is working all things, we will recognize the opportunities immediately before us to work out the instruction God has brought to us. So often the opportunities present themselves in the laboratory of life, but we do not see the connection. There may be many reasons for this, but let us mention a few common ones. First, do I believe that God is working all things together for good? Do I love Him? Have I accepted His calling? If so, I should be seeing God in all things, not just on Sunday morning. Do I have my mind set on serving God in another place, rather than where I am? This can cause me to miss the opportunities right before me. I may be dreaming of serving God somewhere else, while He wants to do something in me (and through me) today, right where I am. Is He my God of today? Am I content as Paul was in whatever circumstance I find myself, or am I chafing at the limits of the laboratory? Brethren, let us move in faith in all things, even the little things before us. If we will, we will grow up into Him and be ready for what God brings our way tomorrow.
In spiritual learning (as in all learning), the word does not take root in me just because I obey one time. I must consistently and deliberately exercise myself over a period of time if there is to be any permanent change in the expression of God's life. Let me give an example. Suppose that in some way the Lord makes real to me that worrying is not of Him and I realize that I do a lot of worrying. That moment of revelation may be very dramatic. I may come before God in sorrow and deep repentance as I realize how much I have been doubting God and hurting His heart through unbelief. As I experience the mercy of God, I rise from prayer sensing that my relationship with God is cleared, rejoicing in His goodness and mercy to me.
Unfortunately, many times this is as far as we go. We think the work is done because we have dealt with God and confessed our fault or sin. But this is only the turning point. This revelation must now be walked out. Because my mind has been exercised in a certain way, an hour later a thought may come and my first response is to start worrying again. It is only normal; this is how we are made. At that moment, the Holy Spirit is faithful to show me what is taking place. Now I have a choice. Will I obey what God has revealed to me and walk in His word, or will I entertain doubt again? If I love God, and if I am serious about my relationship with God, I must consciously pull my thoughts back and make them subject to Christ. Only I can do this. God is there, shedding light to my heart, and His grace is there to strengthen me as I obey, but I must obey. Then, not only must I obey once, but again and again. As I do so, I start to catch the thoughts more quickly. If I am consistent over a period of time, I will see my normal patterns of thinking altered, and eventually I won't even begin to doubt and worry. When a problem comes, I have become exercised in God so that my first response is to take the matter to Jesus and leave it there.
We always have a choice, and we will always need to be attentive, but we should come to a place where the normal expression of our life is to "think in God." We will think according to who we are in Christ and who Christ is in us. We are in union with Him, and we think from that place. We are being transformed by "the renewing of our mind." As our minds come under the discipline of God, it opens the way for the other members of our body to be brought under His control. This process does not happen overnight. As we have already said, it also does not happen automatically because we have believed in Jesus or have been filled with the Holy Spirit. It only happens as we submit to the discipline (training) of the Holy Spirit and respond to God as He speaks and sheds light on our paths. Those who do not respond do not grow, and in this place of weakness they are vulnerable to the enemy and his devious ways. God wants us to be strong in Him.