Lately I have been reading through St. Nicholas Cabasilas’ book The Life in Christ as part of my daily devotional reading. Its an amazing book and it is divided into sections that make it easy to use as a devotional much like The Imitation of Christ. However, I like this book much better than Thomas a Kempis’ influential classic. In the reading today St. Nicholas was expounding on baptism as a door or an entryway that Christ himself did for us in order to cleanse us from sin and to seal us with the Holy Spirit.
One thing St. Nicholas mentions that struck me was a connection I had never made before in regards to walking in the Spirit. In Galatians 5:16 St. Paul writes, “But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh (NET) and in Romans 8:14 he writes, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God (NET).” I grew up in an independent charismatic tradition that believed “walking or living in/by the Spirit” meant empowered by the Spirit in the sense of not only being given the spiritual resources to crucify the flesh but also demonstrations of power and supernatural experiences. A premium was placed on the experiences and power to the detriment of the hard work of crucifying the flesh. This is incredibly interesting to me as the Pentecostal tradition that spawned independent charismatic churches taught that one had to experience entire sanctification before one could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in other tongues. In the reading this morning he made a link between “walking in the Spirit” and the holy Mysteries (Baptism and the Eucharist) which is a link foreign to my charismatic upbringing.
According to St. Cabasilas, when we partake of the Mysteries the life of God fills us and this dims everything else in us that is of the flesh and replaces the “beauty” of the world with his brightness. He then writes that this divine life overcomes the desires of the flesh enabling or accomplishing walking in the Spirit. This is a marked difference from one having spiritual experiences, feeling God’s tangible presence or “flowing in the gifts.” If he is right, and I think he probably is, then walking in the Spirit is a sacramentally powered gift of God’s grace which necessitates our continual coming to the table to receive it over and over again until the parousia. It is worth noting that there is no initial act of total sanctification one needs to receive before one can experience the illumining and empowering work of the Holy Spirit in the thought of St. Cabasilas because the Spirit is given and is sealed in Baptism. Granted most charismatics would reject that idea as well but since they do not have a robust understanding of eucharistic illumination the work of the Spirit will continue to be focused on the externals of what they believe life in the Spirit should look like in the hope that this external experience will somehow enable perpetual death to self.