mountainsBy Dr. Rick Flanders

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever: even the Spirit of truth: whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”

(John 14:15-17)

“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”

(John 14:21)

“If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love…”

(John 15:10)

“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

(Romans 8:4)

In times of renewed interest in the real experience of New Testament Christianity (spoken of in the words of Jesus in John 10:10 as living “life more abundantly”) believers in Christ meet the challenge, not always successfully, of discerning the connection between the subjective and objective aspects of the Christian life.  Revived believers are introduced in their experience to the ministry of the Holy Spirit enabling them to live the real Christian life.  They also experience emotions and perceptions that seem to be from God.  These things were promised us and are explained to us in the talk Jesus gave to His disciples the night before He died, particularly in His words recorded from John 14:12 through John 15:11.  The ones who “abide” in Christ will experience supernatural things (a study of the Christian life leads the Christian to conclude that the abiding-in-Jesus life in the writings of John is the same as the filled-with-the-Spirit life in other places, viewed from the perspective of two different Persons of the Trinity) Some of them are discernable objectively, and some subjectively.  There will be “greater works” (objective—14:12) and answers to prayer (also apparently objective—14:13-14).  There will be power to obey the commandments of Christ (objective—14:15-17), but also the experience of seeing Christ when the world cannot see Him (subjective—14:18-23).  We can expect spiritual discernment of Bible truth (subjective and objective—14:24-26).  We will also experience His peace (subjective—14:27), His love (subjective—15:9-10), and His joy (15:11—subjective).  Abiding in Christ always produces His fruit through our lives (perhaps both subjective and objective—15:1-8).  These things are all undeniable, and can be experienced by any Christian who lives in dependence on Jesus and is committed to do His will.  But some of them are more felt than seen.  All of the evidences of the abundant life are real, but it is important for us to connect the subjective aspects with objective evidence.  When we don’t, we are always in danger of going astray.

The power of the Holy Spirit is given to the Christian to help him keep the commands of Christ.  So He taught us.  He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-17a). If we love Him, we should keep His commandments.  And the Spirit will be our Comforter, which means our Helper (in Greek, parakletos).  When He came to live in believers on the Day of Pentecost, the role of the Holy Spirit was to enable us to do what the Lord Jesus had taught us to do (see also Luke 24:45-49 and Romans 8:26).  Sometimes we suppose that we can feel divine power, but the proof of our being filled with the Holy Spirit is in our overcoming the flesh and keeping the words of Jesus.  Spirit-filled living produces biblically-defined, objective results.  So learning to live the abundant life should produce a different way of living.  The First Epistle of John states this fact in very clear terms:

“He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.”


“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.  And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.  Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not…”


When a believer is abiding in Jesus, wrote the Apostle John, he is living His life and not sinning.  When he sins, he is not abiding in Jesus.  The subjective concept of living by faith is tied unquestionably to living the life, something that can be judged objectively.

But often sincere and zealous followers of Jesus get caught up in the new experience of “abiding in Jesus,” and being “filled with the Spirit,”  or knowing Christ in a more intimate way and living in victory, when in fact their testimony of spiritual experience does not match what is going on in their lives objectively.  They seem happier, but don’t always seem to be holier.

Anybody can be caught up in this deception.

Charles R. Erdman was a Christian well known to many and loved by no small number of church folk in the first decades of the twentieth century.  He served the Lord as a pastor and as a seminary professor.  He believed and defended the Bible at a time when a disturbing number of influential voices in the churches were expressing their doubts.  He called himself a fundamentalist, and a premillennialist, and was an outspoken proponent of so-called Keswick holiness theology, the belief-system that supported victorious-life teaching.  He was likeable and persuasive.  He wrote about important subjects such as the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Second Coming of Christ, and was a blessing to many.  His father (William Erdman) was a leader in the pre-millennial, dispensational, and victorious-life movements, and served as a consulting editor of the Scofield Reference Bible.  And at a time of crisis he played an important role in directing the future of his lifelong denomination.

Erdman was a Presbyterian, and as such may not be interesting to people who are not, but his decisions in the controversies within his denomination in the 1920s have affected the lives of every American living today, regardless of church affiliation.  These were the days of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies.  At issue in several of the major evangelical denominations was the presence and influence of men with “liberal” theological views (called Modernists) both in the pulpits and within the denominational machinery.  The grassroots reaction against the infiltration of liberalism came to be known as “Fundamentalism,” and manifested itself when the nature and power of liberal theology came to the attention of the rank-and-file members and ministers of the churches.

Actually, the liberals, as shown by Princeton professor J. Gresham Machen in his classic work, Christianity and Liberalism, were not believers in Christianity at all.  They had lost their solid faith in the Bible through the influence of European scholarship, and they had exchanged a passion for the salvation of individual souls for the dream of saving society.  As a result, they no longer affirmed belief in the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith.  Although presenting themselves as proponents of an updated version of the religion of Jesus, they had actually abandoned historic Christianity altogether.  As a result of the toleration of liberalism in their ranks, the churches lost their faith, their heart, and their authority.  In a few decades of the decisions to accept liberals as Christians in the mainline denominations, Christianity lost its influence in our country, and we have all paid for this retreat in the moral collapse of our society.  Did you know how the rapid decay of our society came about in the past century?  It came from the diminishing influence of the churches which no longer believed in their own message.

However, the fault of weakening of religion in our country cannot to be laid solely at the feet of the Modernists.  Some of the Fundamentalists were to blame, too.

Charles R. Erdman called himself “a fundamentalist,” and stood up for conservative theology in the disputes at the Presbyterian assemblies in the 1920s.  However, he came to adopt an attitude of mild reproof instead of sharp rejection toward the liberals, and eventually found a way to tolerate their continued presence in his church.  This kind of “inclusivism” destroys the doctrinal soundness of a church or organization of churches.  A church can only be said to believe what the members who believe the least say they believe.  If you can deny the virgin birth of Christ and be a Presbyterian, for example, it cannot be said that the Presbyterian Church believes in the virgin birth!  If a member in good standing or a duly-ordained minister can go on without a certain belief, it cannot be said that his church believes in it, even if most of the members do.  The answer to the question, “What does your church believe?” must be based on the lowest common denominator.

And the Bible is not unclear about what the churches ought to do about false teachers who have “crept in unawares” (Jude 3-4).  Jesus told us that they are “false prophets” and wolves in “sheep’s clothing,” and that we will know who they are by “their fruits” (see Matthew 7:15-23).  The fruit (product) of a prophet is his prophecy, and of a teacher, his teaching.  The Apostle Jude told us to expose and expel the false teachers in our midst.  The Apostle Paul wrote under divine inspiration that “a man that is an heretic” must be rejected (Titus 3:10-11).  The Apostle Peter wrote that “there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them…beware lest ye also being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness” (read Second Peter 2:1 through 3:18).  Christians are not to accept deniers of the faith into the membership or the ministry of the church, and unbelievers who are already there must be put out.  It is the divine principle that light must be divided from darkness (see again Genesis 1:4, Second Corinthians 6:14-18, and Ephesians 5:8-11).  The truth is that there is no place in the church for a preacher who does not believe in the fundamental doctrines of the Faith.  This scriptural principle is absolutely clear.

But our American church officials generally failed us in their responsibility to keep the Christian church Christian.  The Methodists refused to do anything about the liberals in their midst.  In their only heresy trial, Borden Parker Bowne was charged by the Methodists with rejecting sound doctrine in 1904 for defending a professor at Boston University who taught an approach to Bible study that denied the accuracy of its statements.  The bishops at his trial acquitted him unanimously, and the Methodists never addressed false doctrine in their church again.  Bowne was a notorious liberal who spoke against the cardinal doctrines of the historic Christian faith, but he was allowed to be a Methodist.  Today you can believe almost anything and be part of the United Methodist Church.

The controversy in the Presbyterian Church dealt with the hiring of liberals to the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary.  The governing board of this primary educational institution for Presbyterian ministers (founded in the era of the Great Awakening, and home to some of the most prominent defenders of the Bible in earlier days) was considering changes that would open the door for putting liberals into the classroom to train pastors.  This debate, as well as the trouble over the liberal Baptist, Harry Emerson Fosdick, having permission to pastor a prominent Presbyterian church in New York, dominated the General Assembly meetings in 1923, 1924, and 1925.  Fosdick, who publically and in print denied the virgin birth of Christ, His blood atonement, and the verbal inspiration of the Bible, brought the Presbyterian fussing to the newspapers and to the attention of the American people.

Prominent conservatives such as politician William Jennings Bryan, evangelist Billy Sunday, and Princeton professor Machen loudly opposed the toleration of heresy.  Among the other conservatives who were leaders in these national meetings was Charles R. Erdman.  Although conservative and orthodox in his theology, and a vocal proponent of the life of abiding in Christ, Erdman’s approach to the annual battle was less militant than that of other conservative spokesmen.

“The best defense of the truth is found in the influence of a holy life.  Of course the Christian beliefs must be carefully studied and clearly stated, misrepresentations must be denied, and false charges must be answered,” he said, “but the way ‘to contend earnestly for the faith’ is not that of physical force or bitter denunciation or social ostracism, but that of consistent living.”

“This is therefore a time,” he had written, “not for unkindly criticism of fellow Christians, but for friendly conference; not for disputing over divergent views, but for united action; not for dogmatic assertion of prophetic programs, but for the humble acknowledgement that ‘we know in part’; not for idle dreaming, but for the immediate task of evangelizing a lost world.”

What happened reminds us of what occurred among the Baptists.  In the 1920s, the Northern Baptist Convention was embroiled in a similar fight over liberalism.  And Pastor J.C. Massee was a prominent conservative voice at each year’s convention.  He was a leader of the Fundamental Fellowship, a pre-convention assembly of Baptist preachers that aired the issues and made plans for action to rid the denomination of liberals, year after year.  Eventually, Massee was elected Convention president, but when he took office, be backed away from plans to deny liberals their place in Baptist life, based on the argument that the denomination must stop fighting and get back to evangelizing the world.  The ones who gave the Baptist Convention to the liberals were not theological liberals, but conservatives with “peace at any price” as their theme.  And the peace they achieved did not result in a revival of evangelism.  It turned the Northern Baptist Convention into a compromised, splintered, and disappointing caricature of what it might have been for Christ.

Charles R. Erdman, who was called “the best loved man in the Presbyterian Church,” was elected moderator of the 1925 General Assembly.  His administration opened with his plea “to feel that we are one great court of the Lord.”  He pledged to “allow you to exercise Christian charity,” and affirmed “to believe that there is not one man here who is not absolutely loyal to the Divine Lord and Master whose presence we wish to acknowledge.”  He was passionate to prevent a schism, something understood to be very likely, either to the right or to the left.  As a result of many of his actions as moderator, the Presbyterian Church was put into the hands, not of orthodoxy, nor of liberalism, but of what has been called by historians, “tolerant evangelicalism.”

Erdman thought that a Christ-like spirit would prevail, and that the church would be purged of heresy as liberals were won over.  But it did not happen that way.  The Presbyterian Church he led for a year is now a thoroughly liberal denomination, and no friend of the gospel.  He preached the victorious life, but saw no victory in this trial, which may be said to have defined his life and work.  The disaster and defeat came because many claimed to be spiritual, but were not spiritual enough to do the right thing.

The Spirit-filled life always ends up in obedience.  Remember that Galatians 5 says, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (verses 16-23).  The Holy Spirit in the yielded Christian will produce wonderful subjective things (such as love, joy, and peace), but this fruit will bring about practical results that will never contradict the objective law of God.

Revival without standards of Christian life and ministry is not the best kind of revival.  It can produce good things, comes short of the will of God.  Legalism can destroy the life of faith, but unbiblical license will do the same thing.  We must always keep our noses in the Bible to find the will of God, and the fruits of true revival.  We must not fool ourselves with the subjective while ignoring the objective teaching of the Bible concerning what is right and what is not.  Spiritual people may differ over what the right thing is according to the Bible, but they are off-base when they suppose that it doesn’t matter.

The filling of the Spirit is for the evangelizing of the world and the multiplication of Christians (remember Acts 1:8 and John 15:1-8).  We believe in order to do.  Faith and works must be put together.  Revival that stops short of bold evangelism is not what the Lord had in mind.  Revival among the saints is for the winning of sinners.  There are objective, predictable products of the victorious Christian life.  Learning from Jesus what that life looks like is just as important as learning from Him how to live it.  The “Upper Room” discourse (John 13-17) enables the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  The two go together.

Missing this point has led to disaster both in cultural and church history, but also in our personal lives.  Don’t get the idea that you can live on a higher plane without obeying the commands of Christ.  The law of the Spirit liberates us from the law of sin, but this freedom means that we can live right (review Romans 8:1-4).  Don’t preach a victorious life without biblical standards of life.  Don’t divorce revival from holiness and separation.  To try to live like a Christian in the power of the flesh and the strength of our character is certainly vain, but to say we are abiding in Christ while objecting to setting objective standards of life is self-deception.  The revived life will be the obedient life lived out of love for Christ.

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