The Apostle Paul was concerned about Christians in the Galatian church losing their true relationship with Christ. They were becoming religious. These Christians fell into the trap of observing special days and seasons thinking these activities would please God and make them holy. These believers were being misled by false leaders who used flattery to manipulate. After the Apostle Paul confronted their error with the truth, he wrote “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:16-17).
Typical false leaders use Christ’s name but avoid speaking all of Christ’s words. They glorify themselves and convince weak and naive Christians follow them, causing many to be at risk of being shut out at Christ’s coming and eternity. Why do so many believers follow false teachings? Because far too many Christians and people in general like to hear messages that are pleasing to the ear and do not challenge their waywardness and their love of this age. The false leader builds people up with smooth words so as to get Christians to follow them, not Christ.
Paul goes on in his letter expressing deep concerns about Christians at Galatia, writing: “My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19).
If the Apostle Paul were alive today, what would he write to us concerning Christians in America? Well guess what, here is what he foresaw about Christians today: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Christ Formed Within Us. What Does That Mean?
There are very few teachings available on how Christlike character is formed within the believer’s life. Most popular teachings encourage people to act like a Christian and follow the name of Christ. The mind becomes trained to suppress bad thoughts, temptations, and lustful desires. This causes Christians to form an outer Christian personality, burying the old-nature character structures even further down within the heart, personal spirit, and the spirit of the mind (unconscious mind). These carnal popular methods do not form Christ within.
No one can successfully mimic the life of Christ. Then how does God create within us new Christlike character? It is not instant at the rebirth, but rather bit by bit—being born-again is just the beginning. The Holy Spirit and the living word of God exposes the secret issues of the heart and personal spirit. This is accomplished by God leading us into the testing of our faith and trials to show us what is hidden within. This is part of the discipline of the Lord. This work is called sanctification and is made easier if there is proper support from leadership preaching and teaching sound doctrine, along with the availability of solid-mature Christian fellowship.
When we learn to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing up hidden issues from the inner being, we no longer need to work fruitlessly to suppress the old nature. We learn to rest in the power of God as the Holy Spirit brings to mind appropriate Scripture and especially bringing to remembrance the appropriate words of Christ to deal with the exposed issue. Then when the issue is exposed to us, we can work with the Holy Spirit in repentance that produces a cathartic (purifying) release of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual roots of the hidden old-nature structure. As it states in Hebrews: “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:11-13).
We must work with the Holy Spirit and learn to pay attention to the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We can also suffer as a born-again Christian from past wounds and defilements still lodged within our personal spirit. The Apostle Paul instructs us to: “Cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Also, Paul writes: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Filled with the Holy Spirit
To what extent?
For decades, since the early 1900s, Christianity has been flooded with Holy Spirit movements. Accept Christ, then get baptized with the Holy Spirit. Speaking in tongues became the major so-called indicator for some factions of Christianity, indicating that one actually received the Holy Spirit. Many other teachings led Christians to invest in being filled with the Holy Spirit and then seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, receiving the Holy Spirit, or being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and becoming filled with the Holy Spirit became the marching orders for Charismatic, Pentecostal, and Evangelical Christianity (Even some sects of the Roman Catholic Church subscribed to the Holy Spirit movement).
Over the years this mad dash for spiritual power paved the road for all manner of charlatans and deceivers working counterfeit gifts and false signs. Old and new Christians alike thronged to attend the so-called anointed meetings to somehow receive a spiritual experience. (One case the leader proclaimed that he had the ability to “download” God’s power by the laying on of hands.)
Very few teachings can be found on discerning the false and exposing a major doctrinal error throughout these years. That of leaving out Christlike character development as the most important aspect of walking in the true power of God.
The Only Role Model
Our old-nature and inner being is molded and shaped by our family of origin and the culture we interacted with through our formative years. Depending on our environment while growing up and the parenting we received (them being our primary role models) will determine how hard it will be for a believer to allow God to help us put off the old nature and allow Him to transform our inner being to become Christlike.
God sent his only Son into the world to be our savior and role model. Jesus Christ is our primary role model and supersedes all other role models. Knowing his words and his life will give us keys in allowing the Holy Spirit to create within us a new Christlike nature.
It is our inner being that we seldom come in direct contact with that must be renewed by the Holy Spirit with our cooperation. Study the following passage: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
The spirit of our mind (our subconscious and unconscious mind) holds the framework of our old nature (old self) and acts as a window for our outer conscious cognitive self. Jesus said that out of the heart come wrong and evil thoughts. As Christians we need to learn how to take every thought captive and investigate its source. The thought can be from our new nature, our old nature, the Holy Spirit, or the devil or a demon. The devil will inject a bad thought (usually disguised) to que up an old nature attitude or emotion, trying to get us to act on the thought.
David wrote in Psalm 51 how God desires to get at the secret issues of the inner being and heart: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). Through the Gospel of Christ, we now can approach our heavenly Father with confidence that he will show us what is in us that is not pleasing to him.
Unfortunately, the Gospel of Christ includes suffering and trials that God uses to reveal what our true condition of heart and spirit actually is.
Receiving the Crown of Life
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:12-15).
As suggested before, not many Christians are prepared for the coming trials that include persecution and trouble. Christmas season is upon us, and Christianity celebrates Christ’s humble birth, then later in the spring Easter will be observed where we honor Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.
This is all wonderful, unfortunately our attention to what God did in the past often overshadows the hour of his soon return. We are seeing sign after sign that Jesus warned to watch for. Then he said: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
Christ is no longer in the manger and no longer hanging on a cross, rather he is risen, ascended, and about to return. He is coming for those whom he knows, those who have Christ formed within them. Many are not ready for what is about to befall Christians. We see the end-time fires of persecution towards Israel and the Jews, and end-time persecution is about to befall every sincere Christian.
We will need the real power of God within us and upon us to navigate the coming terrible times. We need the glory of Christ upon us as his humble servants that other good hearted lost souls will see Christ in us (not us) and respond to Christ themselves.
The Apostle Paul wrote that having Christ formed in us is a mystery to the those who are not saved: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:27-29).
We urge Christians during this Christmas season to focus on the return of Christ and give God permission to do whatever it takes to get you ready to endure the coming trouble and stand at his appearance.
By Charles Pretlow
MC Global Ministries