Becoming God's Spiritual Person
Christian Spirituality: Promoting God's Values--Not Ours
If God chose our emphasis in being spiritual, what would God’s emphasis be? Question one: “Is that which we say is spiritually important and what God says is spiritually important the same things?” Question two: “Should the emphasis in being spiritual be determined by God’s emphasis or by our emphasis?”
Before you give the automatic, reflexive answer to those questions, consider an illustration. “Just a minute! Stop! What do you mean by answers that are automatic, reflexive answers?” I mean answers we are conditioned to give. I mean “the right” answers that tumble out of us without thought or evaluation. For example, what we would call the obvious answers to those questions would be this: (1) “God’s emphasis and our emphasis are the same!” (2) “God always should determine who we are and what we do!”
Do you personally know any person who considers himself or herself to be a part of the Church of Christ who would not give those answers? No matter what group within the Church of Christ you belong to, some form of those answers would be given by most of the people in that group. Why would they give those answers? Two basic things every faction agrees on are (1) that God determines the Christian’s emphasis, and (2) that God’s emphasis always should determine what we are and what we do. Is that not what you would say quickly? Have you not been taught that those are the “correct” answers?
No matter what the groups disagree about, the groups agree on those answers. Frequently a group “is sure” they are the only ones who have God’s emphasis and the only ones who allow only God to determine who they are and what they do. They say, “All the other groups ‘fail miserably as spiritual people’ because these Christians do not subscribe to our emphasis.” Yet, I have not met anyone who is serious about being spiritual in any group who does not avow loyalty to those two perspectives.
“Okay. I see your point. What is your illustration?”
Begin by reading 1 Corinthians12:1-13:3 and 14:1. For the context, keep considerations simple. Paul wrote to Christians in the city of Corinth. Spiritual gifts existed and were being practiced among those Christians. The issue: what is the # 1 expression of spirituality among Christians?
Among people who had no mechanically printed Bibles that included what we know as the New Testament (mechanical printing did not exist, and the letters we know as the New Testament were in the process of being written), what could be a more impressive evidence of spirituality than having the gift of prophecy?
God said there was one superior emphasis: God’s concept of love (12:31). In fact, Paul said love was (is) superior to tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, and self-sacrifice.
An Evaluation of Love’s Significance by Today’s Approach
First, note love is not “showy” as it seeks to focus attention (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). It is patient, kind, not jealous, does not brag, is not arrogant, and does not call attention to itself. It endures wrong quietly even if the wrong causes suffering. It merely is steadily there as it shares optimism in the face of distress. It has no end point, no termination date.
Love is not a temporary expression of spirituality. As an expression of spiritual maturity, it has value beyond physical death.
By today’s standards (and the first century’s), the existence and practice of love does not provide much bang for your buck. The genuineness of love takes time to verify its existence and reality. Enduring in the face of hardship requires enduring the times of difficulty to demonstrate love is real! If there is no “showiness” to generate a quick impression, where is love’s advertisement value? In a hostile environment, how can love possibly grab quick attention? Where is the quick fascination? Where is the declaration that screams, “Come here!” in a world filled with shouts of “come here!”? What sets love apart from the multitude of distractions in a world filled with distractions? How is love a quick fix in a world characterized by enormous need?
Second, note that all the above questions assume the race is a quick sprint, not a long-distance run. Those questions create the impression that time is too short and need is too great for the endurance and steadiness of love to be effective. They project an image that says, “If you cannot do something that fixes the problem ‘now’ you cannot serve God’s purposes in this evil, godless existence.”
As an illustration, recall the ancient story of the race between the tortoise and the hare. Consider God’s concept of love to be the tortoise and today’s emphasis on quick fixes to be the hare. Do you recall who won the race? Do you recall why?
Third, note that the focus reflected in a desire for quick fixes is on human anxieties, not on God’s involvement. Do we assume our concerns and timetable must be God’s concerns and timetable? Look at this as a Rook Game. The concerns reflected in those questions suggest we are involved in the “religious Rook game” with a “God involvement card” that is the ultimate trump. Those concerns suggest the “God involvement card” is to be played as the ultimate trump card only when a well-played human hand in a tight game faces defeat. This “religious Rook game” approach suggests we should plead for God to come to our rescue only when we find ourselves in a bind. In “the religious game” we are to say when the bind passes, “We are in control now. Thanks for helping when we needed You, but we have the situation under control. We need Your help no longer.”
The Christian concern is for God’s continual, deliberate involvement in what we are and what we do all the time, in good and bad times. It is the understanding that if God is not involved in all circumstances, we are nothing even if good transpires. It means the resistance of evil never means the absence of God’s presence or involvement. It declares that if we do not receive at the moment of request what we wish that all is not lost—regardless of our “at the moment” desires. Our attitude is reflected by the statement, “It will be intriguing to see how God uses this,” not by an anxious wringing of our human hands! As important as we think we are, God’s purposes are not focused on “today, right now” but on eternity. Because we die does not mean God’s purposes on earth come to an end.
Fourth, note it was NOT an either/or situation. 1 Corinthians 14:1 makes it undeniable that spiritual gifts had their place in God’s work. Notice, (a) love was more important than all spiritual gifts, and (b) prophecy was the most important spiritual gift. The problem Paul called to their attention dealt with priorities not exclusions.
In an attempt to express Paul’s point and concern, if the Christians at Corinth asked their enemies for a letter of recommendation that enumerated their impressive qualities, what would their enemies say? If their enemies compiled a list of the most impressive things about them, what would be # 1? Would # 1 be the fact that they obviously were a people of love, a love that even concerned itself with people who were not a part of them? Or would their enemies say (as the enemy spoke of their spiritual gifts), “They can perform the most incredible acts!”
What would be #1 on God’s list?
Determining God’s Priorities
Consider Paul’s list of God’s values he called the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, 23. The contrast Paul drew was between “the deeds of the flesh” stated in 5:19-21 and “the fruit of the Spirit” stated in 5:22, 23.
Things you should consider: The fruit of the Spirit had nothing to do with the size of a building, the address of the building, the material the building was built of, the way the building was furnished, the lots or acreage the congregation owned, the size of the parking lot, the number of leaders they had in roles of elders or deacons, the number of ministries they had, what they supported, the numerical size of the congregation, the number who were in attendance on Sunday morning, etc. Such things rank high on our desire/priority list. Sadly, sometimes some of those things become important gauges of spiritual success. The fruit of the Spirit addressed attitudes that controlled the person.
The “deeds of the flesh” focused on practices. The practices focused on sexual acts that excluded God, religious acts that excluded God, acts of human attitudes that excluded God, and acts of physical indulgence that excluded God. (Note the list does NOT suggest it is complete.) If a person excludes God in his (her) actions, that person excludes himself (herself) from God’s kingdom.
The contrast was between godly attitudes that controlled and focused the person and godless acts that controlled and focused the person. In context, the godly attitudes are not in violation of the Mosaic Law or any law based on godly moral concerns. For the concerned Jewish Christian, the attitudes that controlled Christian commitment did not place that person in violation of the moral commitments of the Mosaic Law. However, the godless acts of a godless person placed him (her) in direction opposition to God with the results that the person was excluded from God’s kingdom.
Being spiritual is NOT as simple as compiling a list of “God approved” acts, performing those acts, and checking off those acts on the list. It is a matter of having godly attitudes, acting constantly in ways that respect those attitudes, and maintaining a life focus that is consistent with those attitudes.
The person cannot combine godlessness with godliness merely by doing correct acts. The two cannot be combined! Being godly involves who you are as the result of a deliberate choice. “Accidental” spirituality does not exist in Christianity! If a person is spiritual, he (she) is purposely, intentionally spiritual. As Paul said in Galatians 5:24, the spiritual person willfully, deliberately executed the fleshly acts. Just as Jesus chose and accepted crucifixion, the spiritual person crucifies the “flesh and its passions and desires.” This execution is deliberate, not accidental. This crucifixion is focused on who he (she) wishes to be.
Being a spiritual person involves more than a fear of going to hell. The fear of hell must transform to an awe of God. Why? The converted person must be mystified by what God in His power did and does in the death of Jesus and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. If this transformation from fear of hell to awe of God does not occur, the result is a Christian who is terrified of God, who lives in terror of God’s wrath, and who regards God’s forgiveness to be inferior to God’s punishment.
If that happens, all God sought to accomplish through sacrificing Jesus is negated! If the converted person lives in terror of God, where is the peace, the hope, the being loved, the joy of being washed and made clean, the sanctification, the knowledge of redemption, the understanding of being made righteous, the sense of justification, the objective of forgiveness, etc.?
There are prices to be paid for using terror to convert people and leaving them in that condition of terror. There are prices to be paid if that same terror warps the biblical view of God, distorts the objective of obedience, questions the existence of divine grace, and attacks others in Christ in the name of God as such persons pursue “God’s will.”
Some may ask, “What prices?” (1) There is the common price of resenting physical expressions of God’s righteousness as the baptized person feels he (she) is forced to do what God says “or else bear the consequences!” (2) There is the price of a death filled with terror when the person dying is supposed to belong to God. (3) In worst-case scenarios, there is a rebellion against God because the baptized person becomes weary of terror.
Thus one who was supposed to be converted to Christ was never actually converted to Christ. Conversion never ceased to be “an escape from the consequence of hell” rather than “an appreciative acceptance of the joys of salvation.” The difference between the two is enormous! Do not forget that after contrasting Mount Sinai with its consequences to the heavenly Jerusalem with its salvation in Christ (read Hebrews 12:18-24), the writer also affirmed to his readers that God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28, 29). The converted live in both the awe of God and the fear of God. Does the Christian not come to “Mount Zion” to depart from God’s wrath?
This is NOT the suggestion that the “teddy bear” focus on God is the biblical view of God. “The ‘teddy bear view’? Whatever is the ‘teddy bear view’ of God?” In this view of God, He is a warm, cuddly, harmless being who is soft and only exists for our pleasure and comfort. Thus, everything God accomplished in Jesus Christ is about us. The relationship between Jesus Christ and the objective of restoring God to the position of the “all in all” (see 1 Corinthians l5:24-28) is too rarely considered. The existence of salvation is all about us—and nothing else!
God’s power is not negated by His love for us. He is not our servant; we are His servants. We did not create Him; He created us. He does not exist for our purposes; we exist for His purposes.
To me, the awesomeness of God’s power is more easily illustrated than explained. In awe I have peered into the vast depths of the Grand Canyon and marveled at the majesty of the Alps. I remember trying to imagine an ocean before I saw the Atlantic Ocean. My first sight of an ocean overwhelmed me! I cannot imagine what it must be like to look back at earth from the sea of darkness we call space. Yet, all of that is insignificant when compared to God’s power. The awe of all that combined cannot compare to the awe of the power that made all that!
Every morning I turn on a light switch as I step into the bathroom and prepare for the coming day. However, I never stand in a pool of water as I turn on that switch. I gratefully use electrical power to bless me, but I never fail to hold that power in awe. I realize abusing that power invites the power to take my life. Respect for the power blesses me.
Gratefully realize what God did and does for you in Jesus Christ, but never seek to abuse God’s power. Gratitude combined with awe produces spirituality. Abusing God’s power combined with considering Him your servant produces spiritual death.