God "cut" a covenant with our spiritual forefather,
Abraham (Genesis 15). That covenant finds its
completion and destiny in Jesus Christ. Through
Christ we are in relationship to God, on terms of
God's own making. We do not enter into relationship
with God except on God's terms.
There is a binding legal covenant, ratified by
the blood of Christ, between God and His people.
We have become "flesh of His flesh and bone of
His bone." We are betrothed to God. The earthly
marriage relationship reflects this covenant,
and that is why God has strong boundaries set
regarding the marriage relationship.
The line-upon-line letter of the Old Covenant
gives way to the indwelling relationship and
union with God of the New Covenant. Yet Jesus
said, "I have not come to abolish the law but
to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17)"
Throughout the Old Testament, God constantly
lamented Israel's lack of fidelity. She
shamelessly pursued spiritual experience outside
of the covenant that God had set up. Israel was,
indeed, having relationships with false gods
outside of her relationship with God. To be
blatant, she was having the spiritual
equivalent of sex outside of marriage.
No sooner was Moses out of sight but she had
taken up with the golden calf (Ex. 32). God sent
prophet after prophet to most graphically
put a mirror up to her adulterous face
(cp. Hosea 4; Ezekiel 16; Jeremiah 3;
Isaiah 1; etc).
What was her downfall? What exactly was the
nature of her sin? She did not cling to the
Lord but pursued spiritual experience apart
from Him! She lavished her love and attention
on gods of her own making and not on the Living
Spiritual experience, even false spiritual
experience, is not without pleasure. Knowing
and loving God within the prescribed boundaries
that He has designed is joy and delight forevermore.
But illicit spiritual experience also has its
pleasures, dangerous though they might be.
What, you may ask, would be illicit spiritual
experience? First, it would be any spiritual
experience that does not come from our
covenant relationship with God. Just as
one may have sexual relations outside of
marriage, and find pleasure in them, so
one can experience spiritual experiences
outside of our relationship to Christ.
Spiritual thrill-seeking is quite dangerous.
Seeking an experience apart from your
relationship with God is deadly (Ex 34:14-16).
Secondly, another kind of illicit spiritual
experience is engaging in anything that
God has forbidden us to engage in. There
are things we can engage in, spiritual
experiences that touch things that God
has asked us not to touch. God has forbidden
occult experience, witchcraft, wizardry,
summoning the dead, calling on spirits,
fortune telling,etc. (Deut. 17:3, Lev 19:31,
Deut. 18:10-13, Ezek. 13;18-23). There are
a whole host of things that cause us to look
to something other than God for information
or power. These are all spelled out in the
Covenant. God has not changed His mind.
A third form of illicit spiritual activity
is the use of formulaic, repetitive, or
methodical methods aimed at manipulating
God to do something. Such activity often
originates in the soul, but then can
encounter a warm welcome from demonic
forces. Obviously our spiritual lives
must have form and discipline, but
when we try to manipulate God through
some method, we are headed for a downfall.
We don't control God, God controls us!
As we move into a more spiritually active
season in history, and have more and more
opportunity to enter into experiences that
strongly affect our relationship with God, we need
to beware of undifferentiated and undiscerned
"mystical" experience. Everything that gives
you goosebumps is not from God.
Some of hallmarks of genuine encounter with
1) an acute sense of God's holiness and man's
sinfulness (Isaiah 6; Matthew 3).
2) lasting change that increases our reliance
on Christ, and decreases our reliance on ourself.
In right relationship with God, we always decrease
and He always increases! (John 3:30).
3) The fruit of the Spirit will increase and abide in
our lives. A counterfeit may produce something that
looks real, but it will be short lived (Gal 5:16-26).
4) We will have an integrated knowledge of God
that corresponds with His revealed Word.
Legitimate spiritual experience will not make
us overly sensual nor overly intellectual nor
overly soulish. It will not lead us to other
gods, to another "jesus', to angels, to men,
or bliss apart from relationship with Christ.
(cp. 2 Peter 1 & 2).
It will make us neither legalistic nor so
spiritually punch drunk that we can not be
about our Father's business. What we feel
as we experience God is not as important
as what God accomplishes in us as we
encounter Him. We cannot even come to God
unless He draws us (John 6:44). Strong feelings do
not automatically equal a strong sanctification
process although a robust relationship with
God will certainly provide you a fair share
of robust feelings. Enjoy! Still, just because you
don't "feel anything" does not mean that
nothing has been accomplished inwardly.
No matter what, we must stay within the
boundaries that God's covenant with us
prescribes. One simple act of obedience
is worth a thousand visions of angels.
If you are feeling a little fuzzy about
what God's boundaries might be, this might
be a good time to seriously look at the
Word of God.
Be ever faithful to God.
false spiritual experience