Humanity

You’re Not Spiritual

You’re Not Spiritual

Alienation from God

Recently, there has been talk about spirituality and Christianity, which has made me wonder what fellow Christians mean when they use the words “spiritual” and “spirituality.” When discussing these topics, it is important to focus on the very heart of Christianity—that we are not “spiritual.” We do not practice spirituality because we have climbed the ladder to God through human means. Rather, Christianity teaches that our alienation from God is remedied by Christ, who absorbs the sin that separates us from God. God came near to us in Christ, so that Christ could consume that which separates us from God, and thereby, draw us near to him.

Faulty Views

We are not “spiritual,” but Christ was “spiritual” for us. In other words, without God nothing is strong and nothing is holy. We are weak and unholy. Our natural inclination is to substitute anything for God. We repel the holy and opt for manageable and convenient versions of God.

We tend, by a secret law of the soul, to move toward our mental image of God. In his book, Your God Is Too Small, J. B. Phillips describes inadequate ideas of God. Just looking at the chapter titles can be helpful:

  • The Resident Policeman
  • The Parental Hangover
  • The Grand Old Man
  • Meek and Mild
  • Absolute Perfection
  • The Heavenly Bosom
  • God in a Box
  • The Managing Director
  • Second-hand God
  • Perennial Grievance
  • The Pale-Galilean

How many of these ideas have become prominent ways of understanding God both in the church today and in our contemporary culture?

Condescension

The incarnation eviscerates these faulty views of God. Through the incarnation, God disarms us of our self-reliant spiritual efforts. As a result, we have a problem with God. God is morally and spiritually separated from us, and we are separated from God and from one another. Christian spirituality, then, is ultimately created not by reason or emotion, but by condescension. John Calvin uses the notion of accommodation—“God accommodates to our human capacity.” God condescended and became a human. God condescended, spoke our language, and gave us a book so that we would remember the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.

Spirituality Properly Understood

The most fundamental spiritual lesson we learn from this is a caution against the fetish of spirituality itself. Spirituality includes beliefs and practices, theology and rituals, ideas and activities. These are all things that contribute to a rich and vibrant Christian life, both individually and communally. But at the heart of Christian spirituality is a reminder that no spiritual practice or ritual alone can draw us near to God. God must come near to us. That “God-coming-near” is what has happened in the incarnation and that is what we celebrate as Christians. Christian spirituality ultimately rests in God’s condescension to us. It is not that we have risen to spiritual heights, but that heaven has come down to us.

Follow Your Heart?

Follow Your Heart?

The Human Heart

The popular mantra, “follow your heart,” assumes that we have inherent goodness deep inside us that we just need to express to others. John Keats wrote: “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affection and the truth of imagination.” This is a modern version of the “Care Bear Stare” used to overcome “Dark Heart”—make sure to watch this video; you will not regret it.

 

 

Actually, Jesus has some bad news regarding what comes out of the human heart: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, false testimony, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (Matt 15:17-20; Mark 7:20-22). He concludes, “All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:23). In Galatians 5:17-21, Paul follows Jesus’ lead and tells us that inherent within us is sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

The Fruit of the Spirit

After Paul makes his list of sinful desires, he follows it with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. The fruit of the Spirit is not inherent in us but worked into us by the Holy Spirit. The natural human heart produces one kind of desires, and the Spirit produces another kind by giving us a new heart. And they are opposed to one another. Thorn bushes do not produce oranges. Weeds do not produce apples. And the human heart does not naturally produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Misconceptions

Unfortunately, some Christians treat the fruit of the Spirit like a new Law—expectations that we must strive to attain by our own effort. This is not Paul’s point. The fruit of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit, not us. This is a message of great hope, not pessimistic resignation. The fruit of the Spirit is what we can ask and hope that God does to us. The fruit of the Spirit is hope for the work of God in us; not duty. The fruit of the Spirit is anticipation of what God may do to us; not moral expectation with the threat of punishment. The fruit of the Spirit is God killing parts of us to transform them—cutting in order to heal, destroying for the purpose of rebuilding. The fruit is not our dedication to our pious intentions. If it is God who works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), then why do we begin with the Spirit but really try to attain our goals by human effort (Galatians 3:3)?

  • How do you conjure love when you hate your ex? Or the person who slanders you? Or your self-absorbed friend?
  • How do you make yourself joyful when you are paralyzed by fear and insecurities?
  • How do you summon peace when you are flooded by worries about your past, or present, or future?
  • How do you make yourself patient when your anxiety wakes you up at night or you can feel the anxiety in your body?
  • How do you invoke kindness when there are so many people who act like your enemy?
  • How do you strive for gentleness when you know that the meek are treated like doormats?
  • How do you stir-up goodness when badness erupts so naturally and feels more immediately fulfilling?
  • How do you enact self-control when your desire for quick pleasure is so out of control?

Transformation

Left on our own, we cannot do any of these because the fruit of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit, not our action plan for managing sin and achieving holiness (read Luther’s Bondage of the Will). What we need is not assistance by the Holy Spirit mixed with our spiritual effort. We need the Spirit to transform us. We need the Spirit to give us a new heart with new desires and affections: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of faith and repentance, not spiritual self-determination. The fruit of the Spirit is the hope that God may do what he promises to do: to restore that which has been destroyed, to be faithful when you are faithless, and to show up in your weakness with his strength.