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And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?" (Lk 9:23-25 ESV) (Picture credits http://cornerstone-marion.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/mission-website-cross.jpg)

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Lk 9:23-25 ESV)
Picture credits http://cornerstone-marion.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/mission-website-cross.jpg

To begin with, I want to make a distinction between the carnal believer who is fully carnal and spiritual believers who can be both carnal or spiritual. That might sound a bit strange in the beginning, but I am going to explain it right now.

  1. If a believer is merely carnal, he is content with what he thinks serving God is all about. He rather follows tradition and rituals to keep his normal life going and draws a security of sorts by his never changing habits that can be seen, felt, heard etc. He lives in and for the sensual realm of this world, religion included. If there is indeed more about (spiritual) life, he does not want to know about these things because it scares him.
  2. But there are also believers who have tasted already that God is more than man might imagine. They had one or a few more spiritual experiences that kindled their interest in spirituality. Alas, since they have not been baptized with the Holy Spirit as yet and thus being sealed as His own possession that is eager to obey His leading, they are still carnal (cf. 1 Cor 3:3) and tend to use any spiritual knowledge they acquired according to their old self’s interests. Thus they either tend to be prideful about being better than the normal carnal believer or they get deceived by piling up more spiritual knowledge than it would have been appropriate for them. Indeed, it can be very confusing to gather countless contradicting “truths” in our minds due to a lack of experiential foundation that could confirm what The Truth really is.
  3. The spiritual believer, finally, is not another kind of human being than believers found in these other two groups I just introduced above. Instead, he went through a long and life-changing process. Right at the outset he was fully carnal like any other. Then he made his first experiences with the Living God and he started to search for (more of) God. But eventually God through His Spirit’s power transformed him into a living image of Christ by killing the Old Adam nature completely. Without being baptized in the Holy Spirit, no human being will ever be inclined to accept such dramatic changes, even more, such “cataclysmic” transformation like dying to one’s own self which means a lot of suffering and denial.

So, what might be ‘Satan’s Counterfeit Spirituality’, then? Actually, the first group of believers is no real threat for Satan since they are not interested in the spiritual realm at all. It is mainly the second group of believers where many people can be found who are still undiscerning because they tend to take almost everything that sounds somehow spiritual to their ears as having come from God. Here the devil keeps spreading his poison in order to keep them from ever reaching the third group. In fact, if one has gone through the purifying and deeply sobering process of coming to grips with seeing our old self as totally depraved regarding divine matters (cf. the “wretched man” of Romans 7), Satan knows he lost the game. Here we can say that these people have overcome the world by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit alone.

The counterfeit problem arises because we as human beings are usually not that patient by nature. Instead, the old self wants to have ALL of God’s blessings, immediately at that! Normally, we do not want to wait on God. Therefore, Satan who knows about this, sneaks in and offers everything which the old (and seemingly spiritual) self wants to have. He offers spiritual experiences like dreams and visions that are pleasing to the eye and keeps us focused on our imaginary magnificence and our imaginary spiritual virtues. Yes, the devil is a people pleaser. He whispers some pleasant things into our ears until we believe him. It is only later that he begins to discourage and destroy the soul. Yet in the beginning Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and tells us that he is God who loves us. He even appears as “Jesus” at times and leads astray whomever he can by doing so. In fact, Satan also offers a kind of spirit baptism and “bestows” several powerful “spiritual gifts’ on such deceived believers. Actually, as soon as someone has fallen in love with possessing such gifts, it is very difficult to convince them that God was not the author.

One might wonder here about how to discern the difference between true and false spirituality and I admit it is not always easy to recognize it right at the outset. However, we can say if someone is not used to dying daily like the apostle Paul told us he was doing (see 1 Cor 15:31), but (mis)uses his ‘gifts’ in his old and unchanged self, he cannot grow in loving God and his neighbors, either. We do more damage to God’s case and the kingdom of God when we follow our soul’s desires to become someone. If our focus is more on our (old) self and on what God (or not God?) is doing through us instead of enduring those necessary and painful changes in our hearts that always direct us away from our self toward God, we might have been deluded by Satan. Since it is not a rare thing to be deceived by the devil, I thought I needed to point that out, once again.

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thes 2:7-12 ESV)

If we want to be found as “winners” of the third group, we need a deep work of the cross in our lives. Watchman Nee put it this way.

When we forsake physical happiness and mundane pleasures, we are apt to conclude that the cross has finished its perfect work in us. We do not perceive that in God’s work of annulling the old creation in us there remains a deeper cross awaiting us. God wishes us to die to His joy and live to His will. Even if we feel joyous because of God and His nearness (in contrast to being joyous because of fleshly and earthly things), God’s aim nevertheless is not for us to enjoy His joy but to obey His will. The cross must continue to operate till His will alone is left. If we rejoice in the bliss God dispenses but renounce the suffering He also dispenses, then we have yet to experience the deeper circumcision by the cross.
During the initial stage of a Christian’s experience God allows him to delight in His joy; after he has advanced somewhat in his spiritual walk God withdraws His joy, since this is profitable for the Christian. God appreciates the fact that should the believer seek and enjoy this kind of bliss too long, he shall not be able to live by every word which proceeds from His mouth; instead he shall live wholly by that word which makes him glad. Thus he abides in the comfort of God but not in the God Who gives comfort. For this reason God must remove these pleasurable sensations so that His child may live exclusively by Him.
For this reason, after a Christian has made some progress spiritually, God commences to withdraw the consolation and delight which He gave him in the hour of suffering and obedience. Now the Christian must suffer without any ministration of comfort from God: he suffers externally while feeling bitter inwardly. He is to do the will of God without the least thing to stimulate his interest; indeed everything is dry and uninteresting.
This is a practical cross by which the Lord reveals to us whether we are living for Him by faith or living for ourselves by feeling. Frequently have we heard people say, “I live for Christ.” What does this really convey? Many saints assume that if they labor for the Lord or love the Lord they are living for Christ. This is far from being exactly so. To live for the Lord means to live for His will, for His interest, and for His kingdom. As such, there is nothing for self-not the slightest provision for self-comfort, self-joy, or self-glory.

If you like, read more here http://www3.telus.net/trbrooks/lifeoffaith.htm.