The secret to being in Babylon but not of it is about being spiritual. But the word “spiritual” must be understood not according to popular concepts of the word but according to the biblical truth that spirituality results from being connected to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The popular concept of spirituality
The general understanding of spirituality is that it “is an individual practice that has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose. It relates to the process of developing beliefs and values around the meaning of life and connection with others. It is the quality of being concerned with the human soul and spirit as opposed to material and physical things.”
The subtle lie with this definition is that though the objectives are mostly true, the means of achieving is the human will or self-effort. The number of “Do It Yourself” books on the shelves of street-corner bookstores is an eloquent evidence for the popularity of the concept. While the will may help in some areas of life (e.g. “Seven days to lose weight,” "Play the piano in twenty easy lessons,” and even the Adventist program “Five days to stop smoking”), it cannot produce genuine, biblically-defined spirituality.
The word “spiritual” is used 19 times in the New Testament. Paul uses it 16 times, Peter two times, and John once in the book of Revelation. In all cases, it centers around God though mostly referred to without using his name. It, therefore, follows that spirituality is closely linked to one’s belief in, and one’s connection with, God.
Belief is not simply an intellectual concept like believing that the world is spherical. Belief is linked to attitudes and behaviors defined by God. The demons also believe but have no connection with God. Their attitudes and behaviors highlights the nature of their belief (James 2:19).
The Biblical concept of spirituality
An encounter with Christ reveals the beauty of his life and, by comparison, the meaninglessness of ours. The comparison produces either a fleeting or a lifelong desire for a life like his. The experience can be short-lived when the person turns away, or it can be life-changing when the person decides to know more and begins to walk with Jesus. Walking with Jesus means that the Holy Spirit is given the control, and one’s being in all its dimensions begins to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.
In 2 Thessalonians 5:23 Paul writes:
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit [spiritual dimension], soul [mental and emotional dimensions], and body [physical dimension] be kept blameless. . . . The One who calls you is faithful and will do it.”
In Philippians 2:13 Paul stresses the point that it pleases God to work in you to will (desire) and to act (behave) according to his pleasure. It is an awesome truth that it gives God pleasure to accomplish his purpose in one’s life if one will let him do so.
The amazing thing is that God does so in ways that never bypass human freedom. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul expands on the idea:
Therefore, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
God can only accomplish his purpose in someone’s life when the individual freely decides to spend time with him. In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Paul describes this as:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces (honestly and genuinely) behold the Lord’s glory, we are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
God’s Word identifies four sets of signs (attributes, qualities, mindsets) that show the transformation to be genuinely produced by the Holy Spirit because no human effort can ever produce them. These signs are like milestones that indicate the progress of one’s spiritual growth.
1. Matthew 4:3-9: The Beatitudes
The first four are attitudes of the mind. These attitudes produce a character with two attributes: purity of the heart which means absolute integrity and mercy which empathizes with the pains and sufferings of the people around. Service that brings peace (liberating people from all manners of slavery) is the behavior that is produced by the attitudes and the character.
2. 1 Corinthians 1:4-8: Agape
In 1 Corinthians, Paul enlarges on the Beatitudes. He uses the word love (agape) as the sure sign of transformation into Christlikeness.
Love is patient. James 5:9: “Do not grumble against each other, or you will be judged.” Love never frets because things are not what they should be.
Love is kind. Kindness says: “I am there for you no matter what.”
Love does not envy. James 4:1: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from the desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You covet and you kill but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. And when you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get for your own pleasure.”
Love does not boast. Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of self-ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
Love is not proud. Psalm 73:6: “Pride is the necklace of the wicked.”
Love is not rude. Colossians 4:6: “let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Love is not self-seeking. Philippians 2:4: “Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also for the interest of others.”
Love is not easily angered. Psalm 37:8: “Refrain from anger and turn away from wrath. Do not fret, it leads only to evil.”
Love keeps no record of wrong. Psalm 130:3: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord who could survive? But with you O Lord, there is forgiveness.”
Love does not delight in evil. Psalm 119:101: “I keep my feet from evil paths, so that I might obey your word.”
Love rejoices with truth. Psalm 26:3: “Your love is before me and I walk continually in your truth.”
Love always protects. Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do right…Defend [protect] the right of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
Love always trusts. Romans 4:18-19 shows that Abraham trusted when hope seemed to have died, and because he believed, he became the father of those who believe.
Love always hopes. Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Love always perseveres. Matthew 10:22: “He who stands firm [perseveres] to the end shall be saved.”
3. Galatians 5:22:
Paul adds two more qualities: gentleness and self-control. Christians live in a world where violence prevails and self-discipline is mostly a disappearing value. To swim against the flow is not easy, but with God everything is possible for those who believe (Mark 9:23).
4. Philippians 4:5, 8:
“Let your gentleness be evident to all.” “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy, let these be the thoughts of your mind. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Jesus identified the source of the above attributes and attitudes in John 15:7, 8: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, whatever you wish, it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit showing that you are my disciples.”
A challenge and a temptation
The first challenge is purposefully spending meaningful time connected with the Source of all good. This is not easy because of the hectic pace of modern life, and we are also blinded by the gods of this world, especially now that technology makes it possible to have these gods with us all the time. Our eyes and ears are glued almost 24/7 to our iPads and iPhones, preventing the soft whisperings of the Holy Spirit from being heard. Is it at all surprising that Paul, commenting on the realities of the last days, writes that the believers have a form of godliness (the trappings of religion) but deny its power?
The temptation is to think that personal connection with God is not necessary because many individuals who do not believe in religion and religious spirituality still have strong ethical attitudes, and they also have the will power that enables them to live a life similar to that of a Christian—at least in outward appearance.
The Bible addresses both problems. In 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul urges that believers face an ongoing battle to stay connected. “Fight the good fight of faith.” To fight involves purpose and resolve and in the spiritual war purpose and resolve must be constant. Faith is a relational word. It is difficult to maintain a relationship with ONE that our senses do not perceive. Not connecting with God is not an option for the believers. They must always remind themselves that Jesus told his disciples that they could do nothing apart from him.
It is vital to do so because our daily witness and our eternal life depend on it. The mechanics of faith are these:
- The study of the Word. “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from God” (Matthew 4:4).
- A meaningful prayer experience. To pray is as vital to spiritual health as breathing is for the physical health “…Allow nothing to hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7b).
- Sharing one’s faith is also vital to keeping that faith healthy and strong. “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
All the above scripture passages can be summarized in two words: Christian Values.
I am the manager of a community center which provides counseling to people who struggle with any number of issues. As a counselor, I am aware that it is ultimately about suggesting new values to the client. These values, which when internalized and used to interpret and deal with life events, dovetail into healthy emotions followed by healthy behavior and positive consequences for oneself and for others.
Living by these values makes believers the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
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Eddy Johnson is the director of ADRA Blacktown in New South Wales, Australia, and a retired pastor.
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