God's Special Concern
This will help us to see that God's special concern is with the spirit in the believer.
Firstly, we must realize that His quest is for sons of His Spirit. The underlying and all-inclusive truth of what has come to be called the parable of the Prodigal Son is the transition from one kind of sonship, i.e. on the ground of law, to another i.e. on the ground of grace; from the flesh to the spirit. There is a sonship of God by creation on the basis of law. In this sense, all men are the offspring of God, and Paul used this phrase in quite a general way to the Athenians (Acts 17:28, 29). But by the Fall the "going astray," or "deviating" (Genesis 6:3) - all the Divine purposes and possibilities of that relationship is no longer of value. "He is flesh," hence he is separated from God - "alienated" (Ephesians 4:18), in a "far country," "lost," and "dead." Here grace enters and the Spirit through grace. The Spirit begins operations in that realm of death and distance, convicting of sin "against heaven" (Luke 15:21) (the only adequate conviction), compassing the end of the works of the flesh in despair and destruction, constraining, assuring, producing penitence and confession, and at length bringing to the place of forgiveness and acceptance: from death unto life, but not the same life as before. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). This man is the product of the travail and energizing of the Spirit, and everything in the relationship afterward is new; a "robe," the robe of Divine righteousness; "shoes," a walk and a way in the Spirit (Romans 8:2, 4); "a ring," the symbol of authority, the right or jurisdiction of a son (John 1:12, 13); "the fatted calf," food such as was not his before, the best of the father's house. Each of these points in the Scriptures has a whole system of teaching.
The spirit of man, being the place of the new birth and the seat of this only true sonship (Galatians 4:5, 6), is also therefore "the new man," for it is "in newness of the spirit" that we are to live (Romans 7:6). Here it is that all the operations of God in our education, fellowship and cooperation have their base.
The 'prodigal's' knowledge of the father after his 'new birth' was such as he had never possessed before. He really did not know his father until grace came in. His spirit had been brought from death, darkness, distance, desolation, chaos, and he then had not just an objective knowledge of one whom he had termed 'father,' but a subjective and experimental understanding and appreciation of him, because the spirit of sonship had been born within him or given to him whereby he cried "Abba, Father." There is no saving relationship to, or knowledge of, God except through grace and by new birth.
So, then, those who by being born anew have become "little children" (Matthew 18:3) or "babes" in spiritual things (1 Corinthians 3:1) - not wrong if we do not remain such - have to learn every thing afresh, because "all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18). Such have to learn a new kind of knowledge, to live by a new kind of live, "newness of life" (Romans 6:4). Paul says that we are to act as those who are "alive from the dead" (Romans 6:13). We have to learn that our life, our natural life, cannot do God's will, live as God requires, or do God's work. Only by His risen life is this possible. An element of offence in this truth is that it demands a recognized and acknowledged weakness; it requires that we have to confess that, in ourselves, for all Divine purposes, we are powerless and worthless, and that of ourselves we can do nothing. The natural man's worship of strength, efficiency, fitness, ability, meets with a terrible rebuff when it is confronted with the declaration that the universal triumph of Christ, over hierarchies more mighty than those of flesh and blood, was because "he was crucified through weakness" (2 Corinthians 13:4); God reduced to a certain impotency! And "God chose the weak things ... to confound the things that are mighty" (1 Corinthians 1:25-27). To glory in infirmity, that Christ's power may rest upon him, is a far cry from the original Saul of Tarsus; but what an extraordinary change in mentality! God has, however,always drawn a very broad line between natural 'might' and 'power' on the one hand, and "My Spirit" on the other (Zech. 4:6), and for evermore that distinction abides.
This 'new-born babe' has to learn a new walk, now in the Spirit as different from nature. There may be many slips and perhaps tumbles, but such are not altogether evil if they are marks of a stepping out in faith rather than sitting still in fleshly disobedience or fear. We have shown that the nature of this walk is that reason, feeling, and natural choice are no longer the directive laws or criteria of the spiritual man. For such an one there are frequent experiences of a collision and contradiction between soul and spirit. The reason would dictate a certain course, the affections would urge in a certain direction, the will would seek to fulfill these judgments and desires; but there is a catch somewhere within - a dull, leaden, lifeless, numbed something at the center of us which upsets everything, contradicts us, and all the time in effect says No! Or it may be the other way around. An inward urge and constraint finds no encouragement from our natural judgment or reason, and if flatly contrary to our natural desires, inclinations, preferences or affections: while in the same natural realm we are not at all willing for such a course. In this case it is not the judgment against the desire, as is frequently the case in everybody's life, but judgment, desire and will are all joined against intuition. Now is the crisis! Now is to be seen who is to rule the life! Now the "natural" man, or the outer man of sense, and the "inner" man have to settle affairs.
(continued with # 16)