In last weekend’s sermon, Pastor Kong Hee taught the congregation about the importance of adopting new lifestyles and establishing spiritual disciplines to conquer spiritual warfare in the flesh.
In his farcical novel The Screwtape Letters, Christian author CS Lewis created Uncle Screwtape, a senior demon and his apprentice Wormwood whose job is to seduce mankind away from the “Enemy” (God). In one chapter, Screwtape admonishes Wormwood for carelessly allowing the human he was looking after to become a Christian. However, Screwtape followed by telling Wormwood not to worry as these adult converts merely switched allegiance to the kingdom of God temporarily, but they would soon return to the realm of darkness because “all habits of the patient, both mental and bodily are still in our (the demon’s) favour.”
This scenario may be funny, but it also rings true, as Kong Hee, the senior pastor of City Harvest Church noted during his sermon on the weekend of 20 and 21 November.
“You may be a converted Christian today, but if your physical practices and bodily habits remain the same, you will experience very little of the new life in Christ and soon you will fall back into the camp of darkness,” he said, reiterating his message for the past three sermons which is the importance of a strong spiritual life.
It is insufficient to merely believe in Jesus, said Pastor Kong, noting that even demons know about God and shudder in His presence but do not change (Jas 2:19). Salvation is not just about the forgiveness of sins, but also living a brand new life through guidance and strength from the Holy Spirit. Grace must translate into a change in habits in a believer.
“Don’t just know what Jesus has done for you on the cross,” the pastor urged, quoting Romans 5:10. ” You must imitate Christ in how He leads His life. You are saved in the sense you’re changed as you follow Jesus and live the way He lived and practice what He practiced. If you cooperate with Him willingly, He will completely transform you,” he continued.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ESTABLISHING SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES
Spiritual disciplines, modelled by Jesus through the four Gospels, are exercises in godliness (1 Tim 4:7). They are time tested and proven to be effective in forming Christlikeness (2 Cor 3:18), experiencing the easy yoke and light burden (Mt 11:29), finding rest for the soul (Mt 11:29) and bringing about an unspeakable joy (1 Pet 1:8).
Pastor Kong gave a few instances of spiritual disciplines such as fasting, prayer, silence and solitude, the study of and meditation on the Bible, and the confession of sins. These practices are not works of righteousness to gain favour with the Lord, but intentional activities of the mind and the body to draw closer to God.
“The secret of these spiritual disciplines is that they all involve our bodies—they have to do with our habits and practices,” he explained. “Some days, the Holy Spirit may lead you into a time of fasting—you will feel hungry in the body, but if you persevere in your fast, you will become sensitive to the Holy Spirit and grow powerful in faith.”
Sometimes, the Holy Spirit leads the believer to meditate on Scriptures through the night. Other times, He wants the believer to praise and pray aloud; yet on other occasions, He wants them to be in a season of total silence before Him.
The busyness of life makes the body tired and Pastor Kong acknowledged that it is difficult to submit completely to God and practice spiritual disciplines, which involves a yielding of all body parts. However, 1 Corinthians 6:13 and 19 teach that a believer’s body is to be in union with the body of Christ. Pastor Kong pointed out that one’s body must cooperate with his spirit.
“This was how God created and designed us from the very beginning,” he preached. “The moment there is contact between the divine and the dust, the soul becomes alive.”
That is why it is important to encounter God. St Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in You.” Pastor Kong noted that encountering God is the permanent cure for worry, fear, anger, frustration and depression. When a person’s mind is preoccupied with God, all concerns and worries are forgotten as there is heavenly rest in His love, joy and power.
Pastor Kong recounted how, in 1999, he was in India for a gospel crusade with his wife Sun. They were seated at the back of the stage behind the preacher who was ministering, enjoying the service as many were healed and saved with the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit. Little did they know that outside, there were gangsters planning to disrupt the meeting. When the event ended, the police commissioner hurried Pastor Kong and Sun to leave—they had caught snipers who were planning to kill the pastors. He told the pastors they were very lucky to be alive.
Pastor Kong reported that they did not worry at all because they were just loving God and enjoying the crusade.
“When you are preoccupied with God, you become absent-minded about scary things, worldly things and unspiritual things because His perfect love casts out all fear and worries,” he explained. “You will find the easy yoke and light burden of Christ and you will live your life out of rest.”
SPIRITUAL WARFARE AGAINST THE FLESH
Since the soul is attached to the body tightly (Rom 12:1), the body is a fierce battlefield, with cravings for food, sleep and approval.
Pastor Kong brought up the example of Simon Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. Although Jesus had asked Peter and the other two disciples to keep watch for an hour, they fell asleep. Although Peter’s spirit was willing and he wanted to be there for Jesus, his flesh was weak. “His body was not trained and conditioned to submit to the rule of God,” reasoned Pastor Kong, highlighting the importance of spiritual disciplines.
The New Testament describes this struggle as the battle between the flesh and the spirit. The flesh refers to cravings of the body and desires for wrong and sinful things, which prevent good intentions. Like Simon Peter, Apostle Paul also experienced this. He wrote in Romans 7:17-19 that his spirit desired to accomplish the right things, but he was driven by his flesh in repeating mistakes and committing sinful things.
“This is not only the story of Simon Peter and the Apostle Paul but it is also our story,” Pastor Kong said. “This is the constant frustration for all of us, the cravings of the flesh which fight us daily. However, the good news is that this is not the story of Jesus Christ.”
Jesus was born sinless, but He also practiced spiritual disciplines to emerge victorious over the flesh, modelling for His believers what they must do. He exercised Himself onto godliness, instructing His disciples to imitate His habits and develop a greater capacity to contain the love and power of God.
“However, it won’t work if you are unwilling about it. If you are unhappy and pressured to practice them, it is not going to work for you,” said Pastor Kong frankly, stressing that the practice of spiritual disciplines is not to earn forgiveness or favour, but to imitate Jesus and experience a deeper intimacy with God.
In Galatians 6:8, Paul taught that if Christians were to give themselves over to the flesh, they would destroy themselves. However, if they were to offer their bodies to please the Spirit through spiritual disciplines, they will be overwhelmed with love and joy, and they would be transformed into Christlikeness. However, this takes time through habitual reaping and sowing.
“You cannot be impatient about it; there cannot be any strings attached,” Pastor Kong taught. “We set no time limits. We have no expectations on how God is going to change us through it. We simply offer the disciplines to the Lord as an expression of our love.”
Practising spiritual disciplines is not easy and those who try it will soon find themselves in spiritual warfare. “This is harder than casting out demons!” the pastor laughed.
He candidly shared that when he fasts, he wrestles with the thought of food. When Jesus was undergoing silence and solitude, the devil appeared and tempted Him. To engage in spiritual warfare, Pastor Kong advised the people to deny themselves, pick up their cross, follow Jesus daily, and present their body as a living sacrifice unto Him regularly.
In Romans 6:19, the word “present” in Greek means to keep doing and practicing and there will eventually be a breakthrough. Pastor Kong’s breakthrough after presenting his body as a living sacrifice came when his bondage of anger was broken and never returned.
“The Holy Spirit will transform your deadness to life, your brokenness into holiness, and your bondage into the freedom of Christ,” concluded Pastor Kong. He urged the congregation to yield their bodies as instruments of righteousness and to crucify their flesh through spiritual disciplines.