Have you ever spoken to someone who said, “I’m not religious but I consider myself a spiritual person?” I have encountered this many times. People who say this usually mean that that they are not part of an organized religion but believe there is something beyond the material world. They may even call this something “God” (though sometimes this can be a god made in the image of what they think God should be). The meaning of the word “spiritual” in American culture is slippery at best.
In turning to the Bible, one sees the word “spiritual” used in several ways. It is sometimes used in contrast to the material world. Consider Romans 15:27: For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.
Ephesians 6:12 speaks of the Christian’s struggle as conflict against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. This battle of the Christian, sometimes described as “spiritual warfare,” is in contrast to one fought against flesh and blood.
However, the vast majority of the uses of the word “spiritual” in the Bible mean that which is associated with the Holy Spirit. Look at these verses as examples:
-I Corinthians 12:7-11 “spiritual” gifts are those given by the Spirit
-Galatians 6:1: those who are “spiritual” are not super-Christians but those walking in the Spirit
-I Corinthians 2:13-15: thoughts and words taught by the Spirit explaining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words
So being “spiritual” might be defined as allowing the Spirit of the living Christ to transform you and, through you, those around you (Notice the association of the Spirit’s work with transformation in verses such as Romans 12:1-2; II Corinthians 3:18).
The focus on the Holy Spirit when speaking about spirituality is critical because many Christians invest a great amount of time and energy looking for the “key” to the Christian life, that one thing that will finally enable them to turn the corner and be a successful Christian. They look for it in churches, at conferences and retreats, in books and CD’s. There is no “key” to the Christian life that will move us from our present state into that of being a super-Christian.
God’s plan for maturity, for sanctification, is a process empowered by the Holy Spirit using the means He has provided for us. When you are walking in the Spirit, you are spiritual.
Next time I will discuss the Spirit’s transforming work in three arenas. Here is a preview:
- The Spirit’s work in us (personal): the Spirit regenerating, empowering, reshaping us from the inside out.
- The Spirit’s work among us (communal): the ministry and dwelling of the Holy Spirit among the fellowship of God’s people.
- The Spirit’s work through us (missional): the Spirit using us to show God’s glory to the world and fulfill Christ’s Great Commission in the world.