The Bible’s teaching on fighting the good fight does not sit well with everyone because working out your salvation with fear and trembling involves hard work. The flesh is ingenious in its ability to create pious sounding rationalizations which enable believers to evade taking responsibility. Satan knows not everyone will fall to adultery, drunkenness, or murder, so he hits them from a different angle that allows them to avoid obedience to God and look humble and spiritual at the same time. I did not want to talk about this, but of necessity I must. It is a whole range of ideas that fall under the category of Higher-Life Theology. I will briefly explain it and give some familiar examples.
This teaching is based on the idea that the self is bad. Before you are saved the self rules your life. Once you are saved you have two forces in you. You have the good force, which is Jesus, and the bad force, which is self (you). The good force can do nothing bad and the bad force can do nothing good. The only difference between a saved person and an unsaved person, according to this thinking, is that the saved person is forgiven and has Jesus living in him. But the real self (the real you) is still just as wicked and unable to obey God as it ever was. The real you cannot understand the Bible, discern the will of God, make wise choices, or grow in grace. Therefore the thing to do is get out of the Lord’s way and let Jesus do it through you or tell you directly what to do. Let go and let God.
Here are some familiar expressions of higher life thinking. A preacher prays before his sermon that his hearers will not see or hear him today, but that they will see and hear only Jesus. A person is approached about possibly working in the Sunday School program, and she says she does not feel led to get involved. A man admonishes another believer for his diligence in Bible study, prayer, and service to the body, warning him of the dangers of striving in the flesh, as if doing anything himself automatically precludes the Lord’s working. A believer invites a friend out for breakfast, and the friend says he needs to go pray about it first to see what the Lord tells him. A man struggles with a bad habit for years and makes no progress. He concludes that as a believer he is unable to gain victory until the Lord enables or actually delivers him. So he stops fighting the flesh all together and waits on the Lord. If and when the habit is broken it will be because he got out of God’s way and let Him do the heavy lifting while he sat back and watched.
Higher-Life Theology teaches you must get to an elevated realm of spiritual experience where self is pushed aside and Jesus lives through you unobstructed. It is based on a misunderstanding of several key texts, such as John 15:5: Apart from Me you can do nothing. How true–but as a believer you are not apart from Jesus. He is in you, and when you abide in Him you can do all things with the strength He provides (Philippians 4:13). When you fight the flesh and resist sin it is actually you doing the work through the power God has already given you. It is not as if the real self (you) is sitting back watching as Jesus fights for you. Herein lies the utter stupidity of such thinking. The self (the real you) is all bad and can’t do anything good–remember? In that case the last thing the self would do is get out of the way to let Jesus work. The self hates Jesus–right?
It is true that we died with Christ and that He lives through us (Galatians 2:20). There is a sense in which our lives are hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3). It is also true that in my flesh–which is a part of me–dwells no good thing (Romans 7:18). But when these verses are understood in the context of the whole Bible they do not support Higher-Life thinking. Scripture teaches that when a person is born again he receives a new heart that is willing and able to serve God (Philippians 2:12-13; Hebrews 11: 10-11). He receives a new self, if you will, that wants to trust and obey the Lord–and this part of him is not the same as the sinful flesh that hates God. God tells you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. He does not tell you to get your evil self out of the way so He can do it. It is true that God is in us both to will and do; and when all is said and done He gets the glory because without Him we would not have succeeded. But God is in us; we are alive in Him; a real part of us does love Him and wants to kill the deeds of the flesh. We do not need to wait on the Lord to do for us what He has already given us the ability to do or to give us a direct word in lieu of us thinking for ourselves. So if you’re waiting on the Lord to fight the good fight for you, my advice is: While you’re waiting, get off your derriere and get busy! Do not continue in sin that grace might abound; for the result will not be liberty but lawlessness. You have been warned.
It is therefore nonsense for the preacher to say he wants people to see only Jesus and not him. They are going to see and hear him whether he likes it or not, and there is nothing wrong with that. The lady who says she does not feel led to teach Sunday school should just be honest and say she doesn’t want to do it. Don’t hide behind God just to avoid taking responsibility or being guilt-tripped. The guy who admonishes his brother for striving in the flesh needs to shut his mouth and open his Bible; then he will see that his false humility is a pretense for spiritual sloth. The man who wants to pray to see what the Lord shows him about the breakfast invitation needs to understand that it is ok to make a decision–God gave us minds, and He expects us to use them. The man who gives up struggling with his sinful habit and sits back to rest in the Lord and wait on Him for victory must stop believing the lie he has told himself–namely that as a believer he has no ability to resist sin and to love and obey God. When a person says this to himself he is calling God a liar and in so many words saying that he is not really born again. For,
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able,but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Don’t ever expect God to do something for you that He has already given you the ability to do for yourself. To do so is an insult to Him. If your airplane is going to crash and the situation is out of your control, fine: pray for a miracle. But don’t sit on your thumbs in the name of spiritual humility and wait on God to bail you out when you are able to do something to remedy your situation. That is just an evasion of responsibility plain and simple. It is spiritual laziness, one of Satan’s three trump cards. To put a twist on my dad’s favorite saying: If you give a lazy man a job he will find a way to get out of doing it.
Don’t fall for Higher-Life Theology. Glorify God by working up a sweat in His name. Keep on fighting for Team Jesus. YOU can do it with the strength, wisdom, and ability He has already made available to you.
As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue (2 Peter 1:3).