What is Spirituality?

2020 Oct 30

Spirituality (generically speaking) is learning about and becoming involved with the Divine. As a Christian, what does real spirituality look like?

Spirituality (religiously speaking) is often seen as what you do or experience. A spiritual person is often seen as one that does spiritual practices like praying to God, or doing things that show their devotion like praising God. A person is often seen as spiritual if they have particular experiences such as special knowledge being revealed to them directly from God, or if they experience ecstatic or emotional times as they seek God.

However, these things are not what the Bible teaches as being spiritual.


The Bible teaches us that spirituality has to do with the person that you are. You are spiritual if your character is like God’s character. If you are not like God in your being, then your are unspiritual. This makes sense because God, who is the cause of everything, is a spirit. It is evident from this that it is critically important to know and understand the character of God.

We can see God best through Jesus (Heb 1:1-3 note), and the best image we have of Jesus’ values in practice is that he loved others so very much that he made the ultimate sacrifice; he died to save those he loved. It is from this that we clearly know that God's motivating value is sacrificial love for others.

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV

Spirituality as taught in the Bible derives from the values that you have and live by. It is consequently evidenced by the actions you take that come from those values. Real spirituality is learning, adopting and doing God's value system. This is because this is what it is like to have a character like God's, and because it is what he has asked us to do. When we learn, adopt and do this, we are growing spiritually and becoming spiritually mature.

In contrast, being unspiritual has a connection with law in the Bible. (Rom 7, Col 2 note) It may be intuitive that breaking God’s law is associated with being unspiritual. However, what about if you do follow rules (the law)? Following law, of its self, does not make you unspiritual. Our own natural state, however, is unspiritual and the law gives absolutely no help to overcome this. Being a good follower of the law does not enable us to be spiritual. In fact it can become connected with pride and the resulting sinful attitudes and actions.

“Did that which is good [the law], then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭7:13-15, 21, 24-25‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.”

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭2:16-18, 20-22‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Being unspiritual is definitely connected with selfishness. (James 3 note) This makes good sense because God’s values are specifically unselfish. God’s unselfish values are spiritual, our selfish values are unspiritual.

“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” ‭‭James‬ ‭3:14-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The only way we can become spiritual is by dropping our selfish values (repenting of them), and adopting god’s unselfish values (with and by his help). As we change to be more like God in our values, then it will be shown in our actions. If you claim something about yourself, you show it to be true only when you do it. The values you claim as your own will truly be your values, as you live them out.

What about practices or experiences that we associate with our spiritual life? What is their value or purpose? They can be personally meaningful and encouraging (which is a good thing). Things we do can be part of a personal practice which helps us remember our commitment to god and the process of becoming like him. However, doing these practices are not your spiritual growth. Things we experience can be remembrances that bring us back to our desire to grow spiritually. However, they are not indicators of growth. These things can be useful to some people, but they do not make you more spiritual.

The important thing to note is that likeness to God and spirituality comes from what is on the inside. It is possible to hold on to evil inside while only seeming to be a good person on the outside. It is because of this that spirituality is not measured by your practices or experiences.

However, if you have good values on the inside - values that are like God’s values - then good actions will inevitably come out. The measure of spirituality is how much we are like god in our character, and the evidence that we are spiritual is the degree to which we act on it to do it. Living out God's value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others is evidence that we are spiritual.

 


Some of the ideas on this page are based on the work of Darren Twa, pastor at Life Fellowship and author of several books including God's Value System.

20201030 updated 20210102   © 2021 Larry Grove