The Peripheral Nervous System

April 26 – The Peripheral Nervous System

Please refer to the diagram in yesterday’s blog. The brain and the spinal cord make up the central nervous system, and stemming from that is a peripheral nervous system, which has two different channels. One is the somatic nervous system, and the other is the autonomic nervous system. The somatic nervous system is what regulates all our muscular and skeletal movements. It is what we have direct volitional control over. It correlates with our will. By choice we can move our arms and legs, and speak at will.

The autonomic nervous system is what regulates all our glands. We don’t consciously tell our hearts to beat, or our glands to secrete hormones into our blood stream. We don’t have direct volitional control over those functions. I believe that correlates with our emotions. We cannot directly change how we feel. If there is someone we don’t like, we can’t just say, “From now on I am going to like that person.” We can decide to love them, but that is not the same as liking them. To love someone is to do what is right on behalf of the other person whether you feel like it or not. Feelings will often change in response to what we choose to think and do.

Such reasoning is the basis for cognitive behavioral therapy. People are doing what they are doing, and feeling what they are feeling because of what they have chosen to believe and think. Therefore, if you want to change how people feel and what they do, you need to help them change what they think and believe. Being created in the image of God, we have the capacity to think and make choices, and that is how we can bring about positive changes in our lives. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds, not by our feelings. We are saved and sanctified by what we believe.

The apostle Paul wrote, Finally, brothers (and sisters), whatever is true,whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:8,9). In other words, live the truth by doing what is honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. It begins with what you choose to believe, but it has to be lived out if you want to experience the God of peace.

Dr. Neil

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Body, Soul, and Spirit

April 25 – Body, Soul, and Spirit

Christians have an inner person and an outer person. In other words we are part material and part immaterial. Obviously they work together in unison as body, soul and spirit. One correlation is obvious and that is the mind and brain connection. The brain is part of your physical body, but your mind is part of your soul. When Christians die they become absent from the body and present with the Lord. The brain will return to dust, but the soul with be with God.

The correlation of the outer and inner self

The correlation of the outer and inner self

To illustrate the brain and mind combination, think of any computer operation. It requires both the hardware and the software. The brain is like the hardware and the mind is like the software. We can certainly have “hardware” problems such as organic brain syndrome, neurotransmitter problems, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. However, the emphasis in Scripture is predominantly focused on the software, i.e. the mind. The focus of medicine in the States, however, is on the hardware for illnesses like depression and anxiety. I will have more to say later about the proper use of medication. For now I’ll just say that taking a pill to cure your body is commendable, but taking a pill to cure your soul is deplorable.

One of the biggest issues in medicine is psychosomatic illnesses. Over fifty percent of all illnesses are psychosomatic, and that is a conservative estimate. In other words people can become physically sick due to anxiety disorders, stress, anger, depression, etc. Medical professionals don’t question that hypothesis. It is common knowledge. The number one spokesperson on psychosomatic illnesses in the States is Deepak Chopra, who is Hindu. The medicine he espouses is Ayurveda, which is an ancient form of medical practice in India. His infomercials have been seen by millions. I believe the Church should be the primary contributor to psychosomatic conflict resolution, not some false and confusing religion like Hinduism.

Dr. Neil

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Traumatic Experiences

April 24 – Traumatic Experiences

In my last blog, I shared how prevailing experiences in our past create flesh patterns or mental strongholds. We assimilate them into our minds from the environment we were raised in over time. Even when raised in the same community we respond differently, because each person is unique and we interpret events from our own perspective. More deeply embedded are mental strongholds that result from traumatic experiences, such as incest, rape, mental and emotional abuse. For instance, children can blame themselves for years because of their parent’s divorce.

It took me years to realize that we are not in bondage to past traumas. We are in bondage to the lies we believed because of the trauma. I’m no good. God doesn’t love me. It’s all my fault. Such lies can stay with us our entire lives unless we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Becoming a new creation in Christ didn’t delete in our minds what we have believed in our past. It is tragic when the Church disavows this. I have heard many say, “We don’t have to deal with our past. It was all taken care of at the cross.” That is a half-truth usually stated by all those who are against any kind of counseling that meddles with their past.

Positionally it is completely true. We are new creations in Christ, but if we want to experience that we have to repent, which literally means a change in mind, and that doesn’t happen instantly. The fact that we can is the good news. Now that we are alive in Christ we can replace those lies with the truth, and the truth will set us free.

For some people the past is so painful that they just don’t want to face it, which is understandable, but unfortunate. Secular counseling digs around in the past for the purpose of gaining some understanding why someone is struggling. However, all the analysis in the world doesn’t set anyone free. It just explains why they are all screwed up, and tries to help them cope with the disastrous effects of traumatic experiences. What if you could visit the past with Christ as your guide in order to resolve the problem through genuine repentance and faith in God? You would be set free. That is where we are headed.

Dr. Neil

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In Summary

April 18 – In Summary

Has the sinful nature been eradicated at the time of the new birth? One cannot answer yes or no without defining terms. If someone asked, "Do you believe that the old man is dead?" the answer is yes. We are no longer in Adam; we are spiritually alive in Christ. If someone asked, "Do you believe that Christians no longer sin and cannot walk or live according to the flesh?" The answer is no. The Christian retains the flesh, which the editors of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible have chosen to interpret as "old nature," and even at times, "sin nature." This has created some semantic problems when discussing the nature or natures of a Christian.

If someone asked, "Do we believe that we have a new nature?" I would answer yes, because God has given me a new heart and my inner man is oriented toward God. I have become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), and "I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man" (Rom. 7:22). If they asked, "Are we a sinner or a saint?" I would joyfully respond, "I believe we are saints by the grace of God, and we intend to live our lives as His children in the way He intended us to live by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit."

Don’t forget that our entire being was morally corrupt before we came to Christ. Our minds were oriented to live independently of God and the desires of our flesh are in opposition to the Spirit of God. The flesh (old nature, NIV) has to be crucified by the believer and this is something we have to do on a daily basis. There is no such thing as instant maturity. It will take us the rest of our lives to renew our minds and conform to the image of God. The seed that was sown in us by God is only a beginning. Being a child of God and being free in Christ is positional truth. But how many are living like children of God, and how many are living free in Christ? Nobody can fix our past, but I believe that by the grace of God we can all be free from it.

Dr. Neil

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Balancing the Indicative and the Imperative

April 17 – Balancing the Indicative and the Imperative

The greatest tension in the New Testament is between the indicative (what God has already done and what is already true about us) and the imperative (what remains to be done as we respond to God by faith and obedience in the power of the Holy Spirit). That tension can be seen in verses like Romans 6:6: "Knowing this that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." You have to know and believe positional truth in order to successfully progress in your sanctification. Positional sanctification is the basis for our progressive sanctification.

The balance between the indicative and the imperative is about equal in Scripture, but I have not observed that balance being taught in our churches. We seem to focus more on the imperatives, i.e. instructing believers what they must do instead of balancing that with what God has already done. Many people attend evangelical churches for years and never hear enough positional truth to understand that they are children of God who are alive and free in Christ. Many have never repented of their old ways or resolved their personal and spiritual conflicts. Consequently, they are not maturing and the best messages from the pulpit are going right over their heads. Paul wrote, "I gave you milk to drink and not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not walking like mere men?" (1 Cor. 3:2,3).

We need to help Christians realize the incredible identity and position they have in Christ, and then help them repent of their own ways so that they can live a liberated life "in Christ.”

Dr. Neil

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Saved and Sanctified by Faith

April 16 – Saved and Sanctified by Faith

The apostle Paul wrote, “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified" (Rom. 6:6). Notice in this verse that the apostle is saying there is something we must know, not do, and the verb is past tense. Struggling believers try and try again to put the old man to death and they can’t do it. Why not? Because he is already dead! You cannot do for yourself what Christ has already done for you. Since many Christians are not living the abundant life, they incorrectly reason "what experience has to happen in order for this to be true?" The only thing that had to happen in order for that to be true, happened nearly two thousand years ago, and the only way you can enter into that experience is by faith.

A dear pastor who heard of our ministry asked for an appointment. He said, "I have struggled for twenty-two years in ministry, and I finally think I know what the answer is. In my devotional time I read, ‘For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God’ (Col. 3:3). That’s it, isn’t it?" I assured him it was. Then he asked, "How do I do that?" I suggested that he read the passage just a little bit slower. For twenty-two years he has been desperately trying to become somebody he already is, and such is the case for many other believers. It is not what we do that determines who we are; it is who we are that determines what we do. We don’t labor in the vineyard hoping that God may someday love us. God loves us and that is why we labor in the vineyard. We don’t serve God with the hope that God may someday accept us. We are already accepted in the Beloved; that is why we serve Him.

We must learn to accept what God says is true and live accordingly by faith. When we do, it works out in our experience. If we try to make what God says is true by our experience, we will never get there. Paul points out the futility of that thinking in Galatians 3:2: "I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" We are saved by faith, and we walk or live by faith. We have been sanctified by faith, and we are being sanctified by faith. We are neither saved nor sanctified by how we behave. Our behavior is just a reflection of what we are choosing to believe.

Dr. Neil

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A New Heart

April 11 – A New Heart

According to Scripture, the center of the person is the heart. In our natural state, "the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure" (Jer. 17:9). It is deceitful because it was born that way and has been conditioned from the time of birth by the deceitfulness of a fallen world, rather than by the truth of God’s Word. According to Proverbs 4:23, the heart is the "wellspring of life" in which wickedness must not be allowed to take root. For instance, that is why we are to forgive from the heart and not allow a root of bitterness to spring up by which many will be defiled (Heb. 12:15). You will not find a similar passage in the New Testament describing the believer’s heart in the same way as Jeremiah did, because we have been given a new spirit and a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26).

The believer is described as a new creation with a new life that has new desires and a new direction. The disposition of the heart of a true believer is oriented toward God. Although we still sin, this sin is related to a more surface level of our being. The flesh will act contrary to the real person of the heart. Even though we can still choose to live according to the flesh, doing so does not change the real nature of the heart nor our identity in Christ. H. Wheeler Robinson counted 822 uses of the word heart for some aspect of human personality. According to his categorization, 204 of the passages related to the mind, 195 to the will, and 166 to the emotion. Think of the heart as the center of our true self rather than the seat of our emotions. When the truth enters the heart, it immediately touches the affect and drives the will.

We can intellectually acknowledge the truth in such a way that it never touches the heart. Academia wants to enlarge the mind, but God wants to enlarge the heart. You can know theology and be arrogant, but you cannot know God and be arrogant! Knowledge makes arrogance, but love edifies (1 Cor. 8:1). Having knowledge as the goal is a major problem in Christian education. It will distort the very purpose for which it was intended. “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).

Lord willing, I’ll be back next Tuesday after a ministry trip.

Dr. Neil

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Self-Perception and Behavior

April 10 – Self-Perception and Behavior

People cannot consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with what they believe about themselves. We live according to who we really are and born-again believers are children of God. Understanding this is a critical part of our sanctification according to John: "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. . . . Beloved, now we are children of God . . . And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 Jn. 3:1-3).

Suppose you were a prostitute then one day you saw a decree from the King that all prostitutes were forgiven and you believed it. That would be good news and cause for rejoicing. However, knowing that you were forgiven would not necessarily change your perception of yourself or your behavior. You are now a forgiven prostitute. If you believed you were still a prostitute you would probably live like one. But what if the decree also said that the King had made you his bride and a joint heir in His kingdom. Would that change your perception of yourself? Would that change your behavior?

Spiritual growth in the Christian life requires a relationship with God who is the fountain of spiritual life, a relationship that brings a new seed or root of life. As in nature, unless there is some seed or root of life within an organism, no growth can take place. Unless there is a seed of life within the believer, i.e., some core spiritual life, spiritual growth is impossible. There is nothing to grow. That is why Paul’s theology is all based on our position in Christ. "Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him . . ." (Col. 2:6,7a). That is why salvation and sanctification are based on who we are in Christ. In order to grow, believers must first be firmly rooted in Christ. In order to grow and bear fruit, Christians, their marriages, and their ministries must all be spiritually centered in Christ.

Recall that Adam and Eve were born both physically and spiritually alive. Because of sin, they died spiritually. They were separated from God. From that time on, everybody is born physically alive, but spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). Paul says that everyone in that state is a natural man who cannot discern the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14). Like an ornamental orange, they may look good, but they cannot bear any fruit that isn’t bitter. The fruit will only drop to the ground and bring forth more natural stock that will only appear to look good for a season. Dear Christian we have been grafted in. We are the bride of Christ.

Dr. Neil

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A New Nature

April 9 – A New Nature

The apostle Paul teaches that we are a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), which has affected our nature, the very core of our inner being. Paul says, "You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light" (Eph. 5:8). He doesn’t say we were in darkness, he says we were darkness. We “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (Gal. 4:8). The apostle is referring to demons, idols, and people who we put on a pedestal. We are now “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), and bondservants of Christ.

The word “nature” doesn’t occur very often in Scripture, although it seems to in the New International Version (NIV) of the bible. In the NIV “flesh” is translated as old or sinful nature, but flesh (sarx) and nature (phusis) are not the same. In Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words “phusis” comes from “phuo” meaning to bring forth, or produce, signifying the nature of a person or thing. Our new life in Christ brings forth a new nature, but we still live in a corruptible body and retain flesh patterns. Perhaps an illustration will help sort out whether we have two natures or one.

In Arizona, city parks and boulevards are decorated with ornamental orange trees, which are a much hardier stock than the trees which produce the sweet oranges we eat. Because they can survive colder temperatures, they are used for rootstock. The ornamental orange is allowed to grow to a certain height, then it is cut off, and a new life (such as a navel orange) is grafted in. Everything that grows above the graft takes on the new nature of the sweet orange. Everything below the graft retains the physical characteristics of the ornamental orange. There is only one tree when it is fully-grown. The physical growth of the tree is still dependent upon the roots that go deep into the soil for water and nutrition. What grows above the graft takes on the nature of that which was grafted in to the root stock. If you looked at the whole tree it would appear to have two natures, i.e. ornamental orange below the graft, but sweet orange above the graft.

Nobody looks at a grove of navel oranges and says, "Actually that is just a grove of root stock!" They would call them navel orange trees because they would identify the trees by their fruit. Jesus said, "So then, you will know them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:20). That is how we should identify one another. Paul says, "Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh" (2 Cor. 5:16). In other words, we are not supposed to recognize Christians for who they were in Adam, but for who they now are in Christ. That is why the Bible does not identify believers as sinners, but instead they are identified as saints.

Dr. Neil

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