It would be a terrible mistake to think I'm sitting at the end of the path, telling people how to arrive like I have arrived. Let's be clear that I write about things I've glimpsed, not things I've mastered.
Scripture warns about "a form of piety" without its power (2 Timothy 3:1–5). The more godly the path we attempt to walk, the more we need to be careful of this warning. We might remember Peter stepping out of the boat (Matthew 14:26–32). Had he stayed in the boat, he would have had no trouble staying above the water. But once he stepped out the boat, he was in a place where only Divine power could keep him up.
There is a path the vulture's eye hasn't seen (Job 28:7). We can't find it on our own. God doesn't really command us to do things we can do: He only really commands us to do what we can't. That's precisely why Jeremiah 17:5–9 warns against confidence in man. God's not interested in what man can do, but in what one Man has done. The more closely we try to walk with that Man, the more dangerous it will be to attempt it in anything but His power.
Here's an example: I've heard many, many talks about church order among "brethren". With very few exceptions, what I've actually seen are attempts by sincere believers to maintain proper church order in the power and energy of the flesh.
Of course church order is important, or Scripture wouldn't bring it up. Reading 1 Corinthians 14:26 was a real pivot point in my life, because I realized I'd never actually seen it practiced. Church order is absolutely part of the Whole Counsel of God, and learning about it should be life-changing.
But 2 Timothy 3:5 specifically warns about getting the form right while not having the power. It's warning about people who try to do the right thing from the wrong source. That's the error of the Galatians: thinking it's possible to start out in the power of the Spirit and finish in the power of flesh (Galatians 3:3).
J. N. Darby wrote:
[O]ur worship falls back into the flesh; our prayers (or praying well) form what is sometimes called a gift of prayer, than which nothing often is more sorrowful (a fluent rehearsal of known truths and principles, instead of communion and the expression of praise and thanksgiving in the joy of communion, and even of our wants and desires in the unction of the Spirit); our singing, pleasure of the ear, taste in music, and expressions in which we sympathise – all a form in the flesh, and not communion in the Spirit. All this is evil; the Spirit of God owns it not; it is not in spirit and in truth; it is really iniquity. ("Worship in the Flesh", Synopsis, Leviticus 3)
It's a very serious danger, but it's subtle. You can only fall into it when you're trying to do the right thing.
If you spend any time at all among "brethren", you'll hear guilt trips about silence in the meetings. For some reason, the very same people who most loudly condemn denominational churches for having clergymen ("they're not being led of the Spirit") hesitate least to pressure younger men to speak up. I'll be honest, the majority of times I've seen a younger man cave to the pressure and speak up in the meetings, I wished he'd kept silent.
We still haven't learned this lesson: it's not enough to do the right thing, we have to do it the right way. At the slightest provocation, we rest on the power of flesh. We still haven't learned Jeremiah 17:5–9. We allow our embarrassment goad us into trying to act when we should be sitting quietly, waiting on the Lord. I've heard Robert talk about Isaiah 40:30–31, pointing out that it's a promise. Think about that for a few moments. And then think about this: waiting on the Lord isn't easy. We're all willing to wait for about as long as it takes for the guy at the drive-through to make us a burger. But the Lord isn't on the drive-through schedule: He might make us wait a lot longer. Are we willing to wait for His timing?
Here I am putting the "assembly" back into "Assembly Quest".
Again, I am talking about something I have rarely seen, and even more rarely experienced. I'm not telling you to live like me, I'm telling you we both need to learn to wait on the Lord. And once the Lord has shown us something from His word, once we have seen a truth we need to live out, then we step into the truly dangerous realm: the place where we're tempted to have a form of godliness without its power.