WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SPIRITUAL?
By Mark Anderson
What does it mean to be spiritual?
A zealous young believer who tells of the time he spends in prayer and bible reading is said to be ‘super-spiritual.’ The well known celebrity being interviewed claims: “I consider myself to be a spiritual person!” Society has redefined the meaning of ‘spiritual’ and perhaps so has the church.
How then should we define ‘spiritual?’ The word occurs sixteen times in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He refers to the believer and unbeliever respectively as ‘the spiritual man’ and ‘the natural man.’ In Romans, he again draws this distinction by the terms ‘in Christ’ vis-à-vis ‘in Adam’ and ‘in the Spirit’ vis-à-vis ‘the flesh.’ From Paul’s perspective, to be spiritual simply means to be a person of the Spirit – one who has the Spirit – in other words a believer in Christ. True spirituality reflects that status as children of God in Christ Jesus. The Law is described as ‘spiritual.’ Why? It’s spiritual because the Holy Spirit – ‘the finger of God’ wrote it. As Pentecostals we desire spiritual gifts. The Greek word for gift is χάρισμα (Charisma). ‘Charisma’ does not mean ‘spiritual gift.’ It literally means a ‘grace-gift’ or a specific expression of grace. However when it is used in the context of the Holy Spirit, it is then said to be a ‘spiritual gift.’ Again, let me reinforce, that spirituality and being spiritual are understood in the context of the Holy Spirit and His activity.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians essentially addressed their understanding of what it meant to be spiritual. The Corinthians understood speaking in tongues to be the ultimate mark of spirituality and this faulty perception influenced much of their theology. They assumed that speaking in tongues afforded them angelic status (13:1), and convinced them that they had spiritually arrived, even causing some to deny the bodily resurrection at the last day. Such an incorrect view of spirituality spilled over into their day-to day living causing them to either deny healthy bodily appetites or indulge them in sinful activities. All this resulting from a wrong understanding of what true spirituality means.
The spiritual person does not live according to ‘the flesh.’ He doesn’t live according to the standard of this world. Life for the spiritual person, is life in the Holy Spirit.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2)
The believer is a citizen of the Kingdom of God which is essentially a spiritual kingdom.
“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom 14:17)
The church – the corporate people of God is described by Peter as a ‘spiritual house.’ We are a community being formed and fashioned by God’s Spirit to fulfill His purpose.
“In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Eph 2:22)
Paul understood salvation to be a dynamic experience of God’s Spirit. Note his words to Titus:
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;” (Titus 3:5,6).
Spiritual growth and indeed spiritual life involves spiritual practices and disciplines. As believers we are to walk in the Spirit – we are to let the Spirit direct our steps and way of life. We should as sons of God seek to be led by the Spirit which will produce and cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our lives individually and corporately as the church. All prayer should be in the Spirit. The Spirit after all intercedes for us and also empowers and directs us because we don’t know how to pray as we ought (Rom.8:26). When one prays in tongues, the Spirit prays through that individual building spiritual strength (1 Cor 14:4).
Hindrances to life in the Spirit are such that will grieve, quench and stifle the Holy Spirit’s work within us and His church. Obviously sin is the ultimate hindrance, and can be expressed in many ways. One such specific expression of sin which has a direct bearing in grieving the Spirit, is sin committed by the tongue. Note Paul’s words and in particular, the context.
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” (Eph 4:28-31)
The Holy Spirit is grieved through all unwholesome speech, such as characterized by bitterness, wrath and anger. The Spirit within us is wounded if we engage in such activity and as a result our life and growth in the Spirit is stifled.
The converse is equally true. When our speech reflects God’s love; when our motives are pure and our attitudes are right, a climate is created that is conducive for the Holy Spirit to manifest Himself and move in power in our lives. Such a climate enables the fruit of the Spirit to bud and blossom in our lives individually and corporately as the body of Christ. In essence this is the key to spiritual growth. We need to allow the Holy Spirit free, unrestricted access in our lives. ‘No go areas’ should not exist. Let’s allow the Spirit to minister deep within us, whilst we pray that God gives us the grace to cooperate with Him as we press through the pain barrier. Spiritual growth requires facing pain. We are familiar with the expression: ‘The Truth hurts.’ God’s word which is truth, is also “sharper than any two-edged sword” which pierces and divides. God wields that sword in love which may mean piercing and even generating division. God however does not pierce us ultimately to hurt us, but to heal us. He wants to heal, restore and transform us so that Christ be revealed in us more and more for His glory. We are a spiritual people – a people sealed, indwelt and empowered by God’s Spirit. We are to be continually full of the Spirit and live out our lives by the power of the Spirit. Let us yield to God’s Spirit and walk and live in the Spirit and so exemplify true spirituality to a lost and dying world.