Our Spiritual Senses

2015-Nov-Dec Front coverOverview

“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14).

Todd Alexander

The Apostle Paul teaches us that spiritual maturity is required to understand the deep things of God. To help us get there, he indicates that we use a mental faculty called “senses” to discern the difference between good and evil.

In his message to the Ephesians, he speaks of this mental faculty as the “eyes of your heart” and he prays for our enlightenment to understand the hope of the high calling. “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people” (Ephesians 1:18 NIV).

What are these spiritual senses? How are they strengthened by maturity? How are they organized? How do we exercise them to discern between good and evil? How do we activate them? How do they guide us?

This Herald magazine issue will address all of these questions. The next five articles will take a close look at how the scriptures use our five physical senses — sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste — to point to our five corresponding spiritual senses — perception, understanding, discernment, desire, and experience.

This introductory article will explore the overall concept of our five spiritual senses to discover how they provide a beautiful context to help us better understand several familiar scriptures.

Perception and Understanding

The Prophet Isaiah records a conversation between God and the Logos in which God uses our two physical senses of seeing and hearing as metaphors to point to their corresponding spiritual senses. “And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed” (Isaiah 6:9-10).

On this solid scriptural authority, we may conclude that our physical sense of sight points to our spiritual sense of perception and our physical sense of hearing points to our spiritual sense of understanding.

Discernment

The Apostle Paul uses the sense of smell as a metaphor to help us comprehend the purity and the richness of Jesus’ sacrifice. “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Ephesians 5:2). We find a similar description of a sweet smell spoken of by God while delivering the instructions for sacrificing a Bullock. “And the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD” (Leviticus 1:9). Our Heavenly Father also uses the standard of a sweet smell to indicate His approval of other tabernacle offerings and of the burning of incense.
From this and other scriptures, we may conclude that our physical sense of smell.

Desire

The Apostle Paul uses the physical sense of touch to point to our spiritual sense of desire. “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27).

Experience

Finally, King David uses the physical sense of taste to point to our spiritual sense of experience.
“O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (Psalm 34:8). It is interesting that this scripture combines our physical senses of taste and sight in an invitation to begin to trust in God.  David learned to trust in his knowledge and understanding of God’s almighty power after many difficult life experiences.

Strengthened by Maturity

The Apostle Peter indicates that we are responsible for strengthening our own spiritual senses. “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). By pairing this scripture with both the Isaiah and Hebrew texts, the need for us to be more aware and focused on developing our spiritual senses is sharpened in our mind. Our part in our sanctification
is to exercise our spiritual senses properly, to be spiritually strong and to be diligent about developing mature faith.

Perhaps this sharpening of the mind is the purpose of Jesus’ admonition to his disciples. “Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying” (Luke 9:44-45). Notice how this scripture uses our senses of hearing to indicate understanding and eyesight to indicate our perception.  Understanding these sensory metaphors provides deeper insights into our consecrated life experience.

Organized for Our Growth

Our five spiritual senses also provide compelling insights into the sequence of our calling
and the pathway of our faith, from its earliest stages to the end of our earthly walk.

Jesus said to his followers; “blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear”
(Matthew 13:16). Without first receiving knowledge (seeing) and then understanding (hearing), authentic faith cannot grow into discernment (smell), desire (touch), or experience (taste). Seeing and hearing are the first two steps of our faith and Jesus here emphasizes their importance to his disciples.

Consider that at the beginning of our Christian walk we used our spiritual eyes of perception to see the truth when we appreciated the calling of God. Second, we used our spiritual hearing ears to understand the truth. Third, we discerned the truth with our nose for what seemed reasonable according to what we knew of a wise, just and loving Creator. Fourth, we used our spiritual sense of touch by feeling after the truth, desiring it like we would a buried treasure hidden in a field. Fifth, we tasted the truth by participating in it and experiencing its power. We found that it tasted wonderful! With this order, we find a beautiful sequential process for a growing, authentic faith.

Examples of Faith

Consider how this sequence of faith was manifested in the lives of three groups spoken of in John chapter six. The miracle of the loaves and fish drew different responses from the Pharisees, the crowds, and the disciples.

The Pharisees, did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah. They were simply observing Jesus out of curiosity, at best. The Pharisees did not even perceive the miracle or understand His words as proofs that he was the Messiah.
The Pharisees could not get past the first two steps of faith, of perceiving or understanding the truth. Through his ministry, Jesus gave the Pharisees ample time to see his works and understand his words. He finally proclaimed them to be blind guides: “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). In essence, Jesus declared that they failed at step one. They could not perceive the truth with their eyes because they were spiritually blind.

The second group, the crowds of people that saw the miracle, were moved by Jesus’ words.  With their eyes they saw
this powerful miracle and with their hearing ears they heard Jesus’ teaching. With perhaps little religious training, the common people both perceived and understood that Jesus was the Messiah. They were even compelled to make Jesus their King! (John 6:14-15). However, when Jesus offered to lead them to the next step in their new faith, they did not follow. Jesus told them that they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood. They were repelled by this thought because Jesus’ words didn’t “smell right” to them. They stopped after step two and did not desire his words because they did not discern them to be truth.

The third group, Jesus’ disciples (eleven of whom would later become his Apostles) were not repulsed by Jesus’ declaration that they should eat his flesh and drink his blood. They left the door of faith open because their spiritual eyes and ears were open to building an authentic faith. They were not there simply for the meal. We know how their faith continued as they went on to properly discern, desire, and experience the High Calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Similarly, the process of our own calling began with a knock on the door of our heart.  “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Looking at this scripture through the lens of our spiritual senses, and recalling the five-step sequence to our faith, the lesson is clear and the timeline of our faith becomes apparent. The last step of the process is in “supping” (tasting, experience) with Jesus.

For example, we first learned the truth by trusting in Jesus’ blood after perceiving Jesus to be our Savior. We took this first step through our eye of faith. Then, we understood the truth with our hearing ears. Afterward, we discerned that the meat in due season was present truth because our nose for discernment told us that this was the truth we had been seeking! At this point, we touched the door that Jesus was knocking on and opened it with great curiosity and desire. Then Jesus came into our heart and we “supped” upon spiritual food from Jesus.

A Timely, Intimate Experience

Consider how Jesus gave his disciples a timely, intimate experience at the end of his ministry by washing their feet (touch) and instituting the Memorial emblems (taste). The feet-washing experience illustrated Jesus’ desire for each of his disciples with the physical sensation of his touch. Through the act of touch, Jesus communicated both his desire for each of them and his desire that each of them would in turn desire to serve each other. Instituting the unleavened bread and the cup gave his disciples an unforgettable and complete sensory
experience before he left them. Jesus was preparing his disciples for their own ministries in the years ahead with one last intimate appeal to their final two spiritual senses, desire (touch) and experience (taste).

It is beautiful to see the scriptures come alive with new meaning when we see their hidden beauty revealed in the context of our spiritual senses.

Exercised to Discern Good and Evil

To demonstrate the relationship between our physical senses and our spiritual senses, we might consider the exercise of cleaning out our refrigerator.

When we open the refrigerator door, we can usually tell if something in it is spoiled. In fact, we would discern it immediately with our nose! If we were not sure about which food is spoiled, we would use our eyes to make a visual inspection of the items or our hands to touch them or even our nose to gently isolate the direction of the smell.

However, we would never taste an item to determine if it were spoiled, we would simply throw it out based on how it looked, felt, or smelled.

This exercise provides a pattern for how we should exercise our spiritual senses to evaluate spiritual food. We should first examine spiritual food with our spiritual eyesight, then we should use our nose for discernment, and then we should use our touch only if we suspect it to be good spiritual food. If the idea or opportunity does not “make sense” to these three spiritual senses, we would do well to throw it out and reject it. We should never taste (experience) rotten concepts or things because they are certain to make us spiritually sick. The Apostle John
gave us some good advice: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NIV). We “test” these teachings with our first three spiritual senses.

Perhaps James warned us about allowing sin to escalate through this process of our spiritual senses. “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). Though we cannot help but perceive (see) sin in this world, understand it (hear), and discern it to be sin (smell), if we then let sin become the object of our desire (touch), it is very difficult for us to stop our slide into sin with the final stage of the process, experience (taste). It is likely that our desire and our experience in sin are the stages that James carefully warned us about. These last two stages describe the sin of the fallen angels noted in Genesis 6:2.

Our Responsibility

While we are responsible for activating and sanctifying our spiritual senses toward God, He promises to guide us if we but properly submit ourselves to His sanctifying power. “But the Comforter, which is the holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). This is our opportunity now to receive the pure language that is promised to guide the world after the Time of Trouble. “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9). Now is the time for us to listen to that still small voice that whispers to us through the scriptures and through the holy Spirit in the midst of a noisy and violent world. “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11).

We would do well to follow Jesus’ admonition to feed our spiritual senses by watching and praying. Jesus gave us this formula to guide the “eyes of our heart” to open our eyes and be sensitive to God’s leadings. Satan can also activate our spiritual senses and our part in our sanctification is the work involved in submitting them to God.

The next five articles of this Herald issue will explore how the scriptures use each physical sense as a metaphor to describe the conclusions we make with the mental faculty of our spiritual senses. When we understand the spiritual sense behind each physical sense, the scriptures come alive with a richness of meaning.  Both the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter enlightened us about our spiritual senses. Their encouragement to develop into maturity is impressed on our heart as now more important than ever.

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