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6 surprises about biblical spirituality

| by Jim Farrer

Spirituality is in vogue today. According to one survey, 82 percent of Americans report that they want to become more spiritual. However, the term “spirituality” lacks a precise definition.

In current society, religion is often seen as living by the rules of an outdated system. In contrast, being spiritual relates to having the freedom to search anywhere and come up with one’s mix of ideas.

1. The Bible prefers other words

Eugene H. Peterson in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (p. 40) says that the main Old Testament phrase for living appropriately before the God of the Bible is “the fear-of-the-LORD” which occurs at least 138 times. Psalm 24:6 calls our response “seeking God’s face.”

Surprisingly, in the Bible, much of responding to God is described in ordinary ways. Abraham is to “walk before God.” (Genesis 17:1) Young Samuel is called upon to listen. In the Beatitudes, we are to “hunger and thirst for God.” Mary of Bethany sits at Jesus’ feet. In Matthew 11:29, the apprentices are to learn from Jesus and find rest. In 1 Thessalonians 3:8 we are to “stand firm in the Lord.”

2. Contract or covenant

Much of spirituality within the church, other religions and the New Age movement is perceived as a contract: If I do _____ , then God/the gods will do _____. In Islam, one only needs to do four things regularly. Also, if time and money permit, one can go on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

When pagan witches cast a particular spell, they expect a certain spirit or power to come and carry out that wish or task. Unfortunately, Christians, as well, can fall into the belief that salvation depends more on their actions than what God in Christ has already accomplished.

The biblical God is a covenant God. In Ezekiel 36, one might circle all the “I” phrases spelling out what God does on behalf of his chosen people. In Ezekiel 37:26 God declares: “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” Ephesians 1:4 reads, “… he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world….” Titus 3:5 proclaims, “He saved us not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy.”

If at least 51 percent of our salvation is not accomplished by God in Christ, then we are living by religiosity, works righteousness and not by God’s gracious gift.

3. Keeping it simple

While many perceive that the Bible is full of confusing and complicated “dos and don’ts” careful comparisons show quite the opposite. The PBS series The Long Search which explored religious experiences around the world revealed that in Hinduism there are 330 million or more gods or facets of gods from which to choose.

G.K. Chesterton commented that when people choose not to believe in (the true) God, it is not that they believe in nothing, but are capable of believing in anything. Ephesians 4:4 reminds us that the God of the Bible makes spirituality simple. There is one body, one spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.

4. Spiritual high

Many New Agers are on a frantic search for the real God. Even popular Professor Andrew Weil of the University of Arizona College of Medicine snorts the secretions of a special toad from the Sonoran Desert in order to get a hallucinogenic high. The Bible teaches us about the Most High God, (Genesis 14:19) the Holy One who deems to be in our midst. (Hosea 11:9) This God continues to search for us and is breaking through to people of many religions in their dreams and visions.

When St. Brendan was sent from the Holy Isle of Iona to evangelize the Pictish leader, King Brude asked: “If I commit to the Gospel of Jesus what shall I discover?” Brendan responded: “You will discover wonder upon wonder and every wonder true.”

Today, church members report that their real thrills come when someone new commits to Christ, when lives are turned right side up and when they observe demons cringe at the feet of  Jesus.

5. Spirit, Bible and church community

Over the course of church history, some enthusiasts have gone overboard by listening to what they determined was the voice of the Spirit in their heads. The genius of the 16th-century reformers such as Luther and Calvin was to check what the spirit seemed to be doing with the Holy Scriptures and with the Church of Jesus Christ through the ages.

6. Poor in spirit

Instead of the constant yearning for a psychedelic or spiritual high, Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” William Barclay translates the word “poor” as the need of the destitute with their only resources being the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What we are given is a joy that is not quenched even in the dark valleys of life and death.

Lesslie Newbigin in The Good Shepherd (p. 140) reminds us: “The church is not an organization of spiritual giants. It is broken people who want to or can lead others to Christ’s cross.”

Christian spirituality can be summed up in the words of the hymn Rock of Ages: “Simply to Christ’s cross I cling.”

Photo source: istock

Jim Farrer

A broadly-trained church consultant, Jim Farrer is the founder of Vital Signs Church Consulting and a member of the Society for Church Consulting. A veteran of ministry positions in Canada and the U.S., he has trained leaders from 18 denominations and led seminars and coaching sessions nationwide. His articles have been published in the Journal of Evangelism and Missions and the Great Commission Research Journal. You can reach him by e-mailing or calling 814 629-5211.

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