“Spirituality” has become a buzzword these days among all kinds of folks who understandably do not like “religion,” but much of what is passing as “spirituality” is distinctly non-Christian, and sometimes overtly anti-Christian. It supposes the equal value of all religions, and in many subtle ways the superiority of Eastern religious thought over biblical Christianity. Accordingly, we thought it would be helpful to articulate our vision of sound Christian spirituality in response to these challenges.
Many will argue that spirituality can or should be developed without the notion of “sin,” which they view as a guilt-inducing throwback to a less enlightened era. But, obviously, without sin there is no need for a Savior from sin, and Christianity and the Bible are making many false claims about the spiritual problems of humankind and their solutions. For us, the Bible is the only credible witness to spiritual reality, and has stood the test of time. Indeed, we consider respect for the integrity of the Bible as the Word of God to be foundational to genuine spirituality. Because the subject of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is Jesus Christ, accepting him as one’s personal Lord and Savior is also fundamental to true spirituality. We consider it a true statement that what you think of Jesus Christ determines how far you will go spiritually.
These truths undergird our definition of “spirituality,” which is a real relationship with the true God, who is spirit, as He influences the affairs of human life. The true Spirit of God leads men and women toward an acknowledgment of the one true God, and toward a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even cultures that have not heard of the Lord Jesus have been influenced to look for a savior figure, and many have found in the celestial constellations signs of a coming Redeemer. God has not been playing “hide and seek” with humankind, and has always been “a rewarder of those who diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6 KJV).
God has been faithful to supply the needs of humanity all over the world, whether or not they have recognized Him as their Creator. It is an essential part of Christian spirituality to recognize that there is just one God, and that He is the Creator of all life. This is the God who lovingly provides for all humans, seeks to bless them, and leads them to know Him through His Son by the efforts of the Christian Church. Because we acknowledge the Bible as the revealed Word of God, we also say: “How shall they hear if there be no preacher?” (Rom. 10:15). God has given the Church “the ministry of reconciliation” and “the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18 and 19), and Christ commissioned his followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18).
The Bible asserts that without embracing the saving message of the Gospel of Christ, all men and women are “in sin” and therefore separated from their loving Creator. This state is described as being “without God and without hope,” spiritually lost without ultimate meaning and purpose for their lives. Jesus Christ came to redeem and rescue humanity from this state. His shed blood paid the full price for the redemption of mankind. Through faith (not works) in Jesus Christ and the work he did to redeem us, a person is born again and begins the process of making Jesus Christ the Lord over all of life. At the time of this new birth, his/her life becomes acceptable to God and s/he is given the free gift of everlasting life.
Spiritually, the Christian is no longer “in sin,” but “in Christ.” Though this brings the new believer into perfect standing in righteousness before God, it does nothing to the old habits of the flesh and the mind (Eph. 2:3). To grow in grace requires renewing the mind to walk in the fullness of the will of God. In short, the goal of the Christian lifestyle is to become more and more like Jesus Christ in attitude, thought, and action. This involves the development of a number of disciplines: study of Scripture; prayer; living in community with other Christians; giving of our talents, finances, and resources; and sharing our faith, among other things.
Though we have been delivered through justification from the penalty of sin, granted eternal life, and made “citizens of heaven” (Phil. 3:20), we must still contend with “the sin living in me” (Rom. 7:17) that “so easily entangles” (Heb. 12:1). Freedom from the overwhelming power of sin requires persistent faith and a lifestyle of obedience. To the degree that sin still governs and tyrannizes our lives, we are not free. We must therefore come to an awareness of how sinful habits still govern our flesh. This is “the truth” that will set us free from the tyranny of sin (John 8:31-36). In addition to an inborn tendency toward disobedience to the will of God, called sin nature, we have also conformed to the ways of this world. We have adopted too many of the sinful habits of our society and culture, which in many ways is at “enmity with God” (Rom. 8:7).
From this bondage of the flesh we need to be steadily transformed into his image (Rom. 12:2). Breakthrough, or real spiritual transformation, occurs in the heart with a sense of conviction of specific sins, and results from us accepting personal responsibility for our unbiblical attitudes and actions. This requires real openness of heart and mind and an honest accounting for the hurt we have caused God, the Lord, ourselves, and others. As it is written, we must confess and renounce our sins to experience the greatness of God’s mercy:
He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
This honest accounting is often a painful process involving “godly sorrow” and brokenness before the Lord (2 Cor. 7:8-11). Time and again we find ourselves without excuse for our disobedience, for God has provided all that we need to live in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24). From this place of brokenness and humility God begins a work in us that forgives, heals, covers, and restores. A new vision evolves. One receives a new sense of comfort in God’s goodness and power, and experiences a restoration of faith, and the joy of greater intimacy with the Lord. Transformation ends in a renewed commitment to obey God from the heart, and shows up in new and consistent behavior patterns. Insofar as we are living in Christ, all things are become new, and we walk in a “new life” (Rom. 6:4).
Repentance, accounting, and dealing honestly with our ongoing sinful condition are ways of “cleansing the temple.” Jesus zealously cleansed the physical temple in Jerusalem so that his Father’s house could be pure for worship. In like manner we are all called to present our bodies as living sacrifices or places of worship (Rom. 12:1). Cleansing our mind, heart, and body is a challenging process involving much hard work. But after our “temple” is cleansed, it becomes more useful as a place of deeper worship and joy as we experience more of the fullness of God’s presence. Embracing God more wholly and openly brings a sense of joy, hope, and celebration. We are once again transformed by his presence and power, and we move deeper into our true identity in Christ. Identification with Christ brings us more and more into a life that is a reflection of his life and ministry.
As we grow up in Christ, we learn to identify and interrupt unhealthy attachments to things, ideas, people, emotions, etc. that interfere with our ability to love God completely and our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus often addressed the idea of attachment, whether to riches, to religious ideas, relationships, or any other thing that might hinder wholehearted devotion to God. Attachments are at the root of addictions and idolatry, so it is imperative that we deal with whatever we might have in our lives that limits our freedom to love and be loved.
Learning to live in the “fruit of the spirit” is an important part of growing in authentic spirituality, and this moves us toward Christ-likeness. The holy spirit within us gently influences us to experience and evidence more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). As we learn to cooperate with the holy spirit within us, and have faith that the spirit is working within us, we find that these “fruit” become more and more a part of our character and personality. Authentic spirituality is also indicated by genuine growth in the fruit of the spirit, especially those areas that we most struggle with.
Evidencing the “manifestations” (often mistakenly called “gifts”) of holy spirit is also an important element of Christian spirituality. The manifestations of the spirit are speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, discerning of spirits, faith, miracles, and gifts of healing. As we learn to hear the voice of God within through gift of holy spirit, we grow in our ability to serve and bless others in ways that are supernatural and show forth the power and presence of God and Christ. Growing spiritually involves increasing in our faith to exercise the spirit within us in ways that benefit the Body of Christ.
As mentioned, one of the manifestations of holy spirit is “discerning of spirits.” We consider it fundamental to healthy Christian spirituality to learn to be spiritually discerning, and to recognize the reality and presence of a kingdom of spiritual darkness. This kingdom is led by a spirit being known as “the Prince of Darkness,” or “the Devil,” who organizes the activities of legions of evil spirits. These spirits are adept at counterfeiting everything the true God does, and hindering His purposes in every way they can. They attempt to saturate human societies with falsehoods, leading men and women away from the true God and the truth of the Bible. Authentic and mature spirituality involves faith and boldness to contend effectively with evil spiritual forces. It is also vitally important for a healthy spirituality that the believer not get out of balance in this area and “overspiritualize” adversity as if it were all the attack of the Devil. Healthy spirituality first emphasizes submission to God and Christ and their authority, then resistance to the Devil (James 4:7).
The cycle of transformation is an ongoing work of grace through the power of Jesus Christ that brings us closer and closer to the heart of God. In this new creation reality (2 Cor. 5:17-20), new possibilities are opened up. To the extent that we reflect Christ in our lives, we are radiant and transformed. This beauty is an internal and spiritual thing—not of the flesh. Our lives then shine with Christ’s love and light, and we become lights in a dark place.
In this process, we become living witnesses and “living letters” (“epistles”—2 Cor. 3:2). As Christ was the living Word, the image of God, so we are his representatives. In making him Lord and following his example, we embrace “the fellowship of his sufferings” and take up our own crosses. We deny selfishness and willfulness, embrace the will of God, and live to His glory. We develop ever-deeper commitment to the personal disciplines of prayer, service, Bible study, humility, obedience, forgiviness, mercy, and kindness to our enemies, to name a few. In short, we surrender to the will of God, cooperating fully with God, who works in us to will and to do His good pleasure. We become willing instruments of His grace, mercy, and love as we seek to help others to know His will.
Now we live a life of both suffering and glory, pain and victory. The fullness of the promise of glory occurs after the Rapture when we receive a new body fashioned like his glorious body (Phil. 3:21). This hope encourages us to remain faithful to seek transformation.