Prof. Johan Malan, University of the North, South Africa
If we are not prepared to die for the world, the flesh and sin we cannot be useful disciples of Jesus Christ. In such a state we will be “alone” and “barren” (unable to bare fruit) and not meet our purpose as Christians. The Lord Jesus said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24).
There is a very important step that any Christian must take before he can truly bear fruit that is associated with repentance and that is to humble himself (self-examination) and to surrender completely to the Lord. The Lord Jesus commanded His disciples to have a period of prayer and self-examination and in this time to wait to be filled with the Holy Spirit before they could begin to work for Him:
“Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:45-49).
At this stage the disciples were already saved and had experienced the peace of forgiveness of sins. The evening after His resurrection the Lord Jesus appeared to them and said: “Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:21-22). Only one of the disciples, namely Thomas, doubted and did not believe at this stage and was not present at this first gathering. However, he was present at the next gathering where he emphatically confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus (John 20:24-29).
Even though the disciples had faith in Christ, which is only possible through the persuasion of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3), they did not yet have the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit. After ten days of prayer and humbling themselves the Holy Spirit came upon them, and the promise of being filled with power from above was fulfilled: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The same rule of prayer and humbling ourselves applies today before we will be filled with the enabling power if the Holy Spirit. Our old self (the flesh) must die so that the Holy Spirit can take control of our lives. When we completely surrender our lives, the principle of crucifying the flesh is applied in practice in that we become nothing and give complete control of our lives to the Lord. The flesh (the old sinful nature) is under the power of habit and wants to continue to be the dominant principle of life in us.
The flesh must first be surrendered to crucifixion before inner sanctity (holiness) will become outward sanctity. The corn of wheat of a self-centered life must die, so that I can be filled with the Holy Spirit and bear much fruit for the Lord. This self-denial and the crucifying of the old life is an absolute condition for discipleship. The Lord said: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
On the other hand it is an absolute disqualification for discipleship if someone were to neglect to deny himself and to crucify the old life: “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me, he cannot be My disciple” Luke 14:27.
How do I deny myself? Paul says that he does not glory except in the cross of the Lord Jesus, “by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). Paul does not glory in himself or in his achievements but only in the cross of the Lord Jesus. In complete surrender he lays down his old life so that he can die with Christ (Gal. 2:20). Together with this he also laid down his love for the world so that he may win Christ (Phil. 3:7-8).
Very few Christians are really prepared to deny themselves, take up their cross and die for the world. They want the best of two worlds and thus try to serve two lords. However it is totally impossible to please the flesh and the world and also to please the Lord Jesus at the same time. It is totally impossible for the flesh (the old life) and the spirit (the new life) to be reconciled to each other as they stand in opposition to each other. “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. And these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:17).
It is only after I have taken up the cross of self-denial and death in complete surrender that the Lord will fill me with His Holy Spirit. Then I will have the strength to carry out the next instruction: “I say, then, Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
The Corinthians were not Spirit-filled Christians and could not serve the Lord by bearing fruit that is in accordance with repentance because they still lived according to the flesh (1 Cor. 3:1-3). The flesh that was not crucified was a stumbling block in their lives. The Galatians served the Lord in the power of the Spirit only for a short while and then backslided into a fleshly way of life (Gal. 3:3). A similar spiritual stagnation occurred with the Hebrews, and because of this there was no spiritual growth or fruitful service in the Lord (Heb. 5:12-6:1).
Have you already in your life reached the point of true self-denial and crucifixion? If not, then you have not yet seriously waited on the Lord until He has filled you with power from on high. If the corn of wheat does not die, it abides alone. If you do not move on from salvation by grace and earnestly seek sanctification, you will not be able to lead a fruitful life in the Lord. You will abide alone and stand before the lord one day with empty hands – saved as by fire (1 Cor. 3:15). The problem with such a person is that he does not know that he is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit wants to empower him to bear much fruit (1 Cor. 3:16).
If you have already been filled with the Spirit and have since declined in grace (Heb 12:15), you can once again be filled with the Holy Spirit. In the case of a second filling of the disciples we read: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts. 4:31). They will not appear before the Lord with empty hands.