The Apostle Paul was inspired to mention four times in the New Testament that all things are lawful to the believer in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 6:12a&b and 1 Corinthians 10:23a&b), because the Holy Spirit knew legalism would be such a deadly snare for so many. However, there is a disclaimer that goes along with this truth: All things may be lawful to the believer, but all things do not edify the spirit. All things may indeed be lawful, but the follower of Christ must not allow himself to be brought under the power of any of them.
According to scripture, the man or woman who is led by the Holy Spirit is the true child of God (Romans 8:14). God fills His children with the Holy Spirit so that they can walk in Him and mortify all things that edify not the spirit. As we walk with the Lord in the beauty of holiness, careful to keep our consciences clean and thoughts pure, our inward man is afforded light, divine strength and wisdom. The Spirit of Christ fellowships with our spirits in a holy abode, and as we continually abide in Him we are informed as to what is edifying for our spirits and what is not.
It is not so much the physical acts that are subject to holy mortification as it is the impulses of the mind. When we are young and immature in Christ, the Holy Spirit deals more with our brute actions than with our thoughts: He deals primarily with our speech, our manifested doings in the flesh – in short, the physical results of yielding to temptation. But as we mature, the focus gradually shifts to our hidden thoughts and to our unseen motives. He zeros in on hypocrisy, white-washed religiosity, selfishness, greed, spiritual pride, unspoken malice. Before we commit a deed, while it is yet in the embryonic stage of our mind’s evaluation, God scans the motive and then prescribes for it either liberty or mortification. Responding to His judgment with an “amen” constitutes a spiritual sacrifce acceptable to Him. The deed in question may be a perfectly legal one, but not expedient to our growth in grace or to the edifying of our spiritual nurturing, which is the reason God compels us to mortify. Other believers may be permitted to do that which God forbids you to partake of, but this is because He deals with us as individuals, according to the light we have, and not as a collective group.
A man with a floodlight can see a much greater area in circumference than a man with a candle. Spiritually speaking, the former will have much more to mortify in depth and detail than the latter. The greater the maturity in Christ, the more meticulously God impresses His mortifying scalpel to the soul of all that which edifies not. With the depth of the light, also comes the corresponding empowerment for us to comply with His impressions of mortification. We find we are able to obey; we are able to put the thing to death and continue on with Him in unbroken fellowship. This power is given to us through the in-filling of the Holy Spirit. The man or woman who is filled with the Spirit of God can instantly know what is edifying and what is not; that is, what is expedient and edifying for their inner man and what is not. It is God Himself who instructs them, woos them, exhorts them and then empowers them to mortify.
We know from the letter of God’s Word those things which are universally forbidden for every believer. Namely, the outward manifestations of sin: fornication, lying, adultery, theft, sorcery, etc. We need to understand that these goliath infractions are but the result of a negligence in mortification at the inner level of inception; they are the outer volcanic eruptions of molten strongholds, of deep and dormant unmortified lusts.
Scripture shows us that the end result of seed sewn to the flesh is a corrupt crop (Galatians 6:7). As our walks flourish in Christ, we are given more wisdom as to the dealing of the seed before it hits the dirt of our flesh to germinate into corruption. Advanced mortification begins at ground-level: at the nucleus of differentiation between that which edifies and that which does not. God’s Spirit leads us to put to death the non-edifying impulse at the point of entry, before it can vivify the flesh and sink its talons into the soulful logic of our Adamic nature.
We may use soulish things for our intellectual stimulation and enjoyment, but when it comes to the feeding of the spirit, we must be able to tell the difference between that which merely refreshes the soulish outer man to that which revitalizes the spiritual inner man. Just as you would not pump diesel into a gasoline engine, the fuel for the soul is wholly incompatible for the edification the spirit. Conversely, spiritual sustenance is often bland (if not foolish) to the soul’s taste if the spirit is yet dead in trespasses and sin.
There is a host of material and pursuits we indulge in which edifies the soul but does nothing for the spirit. If we are attempting to feed our spirits with soul food – and pass such nutrients off as inner-man edification – we have deceived ourselves. There is much Christian wrangling, debating, theorizing and speculating that masquerades as spirit-food for edification, but which is, in reality, non-edifying vanity that should be mortified. Such activity may be legal to the believers, but legality does not always presuppose expediency. The way to differentiate between the two is by submitting yourself to the mortifying influence of God’s Spirit in the “little things” of your walk.
Little by little, you will begin to see the difference between that which truly edifies, and that which does not. By putting the right fuel in the right engine, we will make strides as far as redeeming the time and maximizing the productivity of our meditations.
May the Lord God bring us into the deeper light of this area.