THE CROSS AND THE DEEPER WORK
OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Because the flesh is very subtle, the believers must moment by moment have the deeper work of the Holy Spirit through the cross. Once the believers see the standing of their own flesh before God, the cross and the deeper work of the Holy Spirit are indispensable. By the cross the believers are delivered from the sin of the flesh. By the cross the believers are also delivered from the righteousness of the flesh. By walking according to the Spirit, the believers will not follow the flesh to commit sin. By walking according to the Spirit, the believers will also not follow the flesh to do righteous deeds.
In fact, the work of the cross has been accomplished absolutely, perfectly, and infinitely; it cannot be deepened. However, the process of a Christian’s experience of this fact can be deepening step by step. Little by little, the Holy Spirit teaches the believers more of the principles of the cross. If one is faithful in submission, gradually he will experience more deeply what the cross has already accomplished. This means that the cross, from the objective side, is absolute, and nothing can be added to it. However, from the subjective side, it is progressive and can advance deeper and deeper.
Now the believers should see more clearly their having died with the Lord Jesus on the cross because the Holy Spirit can only work through the cross. Besides the cross, the Holy Spirit has no other instruments. The believers should have a fresh understanding of the teaching in Galatians 5:24. Not only the "passions" and "lusts" of the flesh have been "crucified," but "the flesh" (including all its righteousness and ability to do righteous acts) has also been "crucified." The cross is the place not only for crucifying the passions and lusts but also for crucifying the flesh, which brings forth the passions and lusts, no matter how it is respected and loved by man! When the believers see this and willingly reject all that is of the flesh (whether good or evil), they are able to walk according to the Holy Spirit and please God and attain to a completely spiritual life. This "willingness" is indispensable. What the cross has accomplished in fact is complete, but how much man has realized in experience is determined by his knowledge, willingness, and faith.
If the believers do not reject all goodness in the flesh, they will see that in many things, although the flesh seems to be very powerful and very capable in working, when the real calling of God comes, calling them to prepare to go to Golgotha to suffer, they will be as weak as water, shrink back, and not be able to go forward. No matter how good or how strong the flesh is, it can never satisfy the requirements of God. Why did the disciples fail in the garden of Gethsemane? Because "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41). It is the weakness here which causes greater failure later. The flesh with its power and work may be excellent, but it can only manifest its capability in matters suitable to its own taste. As to the actual requirements of God, the flesh inevitably backs away. Therefore death is unavoidable; otherwise, God’s will cannot be done.
Our flesh is whatever comes from within us—our desire, our opinion, all that aims at developing ourselves so that we may be seen and respected by others—all is of our flesh. In this flesh, there is natural evil and natural goodness. John 1:13 mentions the "will" of the flesh which can will, decide, and plan to do good to please God. Nevertheless, this originates from man’s flesh and needs to go to the cross.
Colossians 2:18 speaks about the "mind" of the flesh. All the self-confidence that Christians have is actually their trust that they have wisdom and that they know how to serve God and understand the teaching of the Scriptures. Second Corinthians 1:12 speaks of fleshly "wisdom." It is very dangerous for a man to receive the truth of the Bible with his wisdom because this is the most hidden and subtle method which causes the believers to perfect the work of the Holy Spirit by their flesh. A very precious truth may be stored only in the memory, which is merely in the mind of the flesh. Only the Spirit gives life; the flesh profits nothing. All truths, if not continually enlivened by the Lord, profit neither ourselves nor others. We are not speaking about sins here; rather, we are speaking concerning the things that come out of man’s natural life, even though it is a life in union with Christ. This kind of doing is natural and not of the spirit. We should not only reject our righteousness, but also deny the wisdom of our mind. This must be put on the cross.
Colossians 2:23 speaks about a "worship" in the flesh. Such worship is according to our opinion concerning the things of God’s Spirit. All the methods we use to stir up, seek, and acquire the sense of worship are all worship in the flesh. If we are not willing to worship according to the teaching of the Bible nor to be led by the Holy Spirit in Christian work, biblical knowledge, and saving souls, it is always possible to walk "according to the flesh."
The Bible often speaks about the "life" of the flesh. If this life of the flesh has not undergone the work of the cross, it lives in the believers just as it lives in the sinners. The only difference is that in the believers there is opposition from the life of the Spirit. The life of the flesh can become the vitality of the believers; they can draw strength from it to live on the earth. It can help the believers to have strength in serving God, in meditating on the truth, and in consecrating themselves for the work. It can become the motivation for doing many good works. In fact, it can cause the believers, on the one hand, to have it as their life and, on the other hand, to think that they are keeping the word of God’s will as their goal.
We must truly know that in man’s life there are two different principles of living. Many believers have a mixed life, sometimes obeying this and sometimes obeying the other. Sometimes they completely depend on the power of the Spirit, while at other times they also have a heart of self-reliance. There is no steadfastness. "The things which I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, so that with me there should be Yes, yes and No, no?" (2 Cor. 1:17). The characteristic of the flesh is its fickleness—Yes, yes and No, no. The will of God is to not walk according to the flesh even for a moment but to walk according to the spirit (Rom. 8:4). We should accept the will of God.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 12: The Spiritual Man (1), Chapter 10, by Watchman Nee)