Are you a spiritual person? To answer this question, we might take inventory of all the things we do and don’t do. We often associate spirituality with certain deeds. Spiritual people pray often, read the Bible, and go to church. We might add worship and meditation to our list or quiet times when we seek to hear God. Some people feel spiritual at special places or at special times. On the other hand, we might associate some deeds with being unspiritual or worldly, so we might also consider the things we don’t do in gauging our spirituality.
The problem with associating spirituality with deeds alone is that it can make us believe our closeness to God is our accomplishment. Thus, we are only close to God at certain times, certain places, or when we are doing certain things. If our deeds are the measure of our walk with God, we have made spirituality a law, something it was never meant to be. If self is measure of our connection with God, we will look down upon others as less spiritual than ourselves. This is a telltale sign that our relationship with the Lord is more about what we do than about what Christ has done.
In this article, I want to take our eyes off what we do to be spiritual and place them squarely on what God has done to make us of His Spirit. Spirituality is a gift. It is God’s accomplishment. It is not just something you do. It is something you are. We will see how we resist God’s gift and how we can better receive the gift of God’s presence.
God is spirit, and He is unseen. The realm of the infinite God is a higher reality beyond our finite existence. To be spiritual is to participate in God and to live in the realm of the infinite. To know God is not just to know about Him, but to participate in Who He is.
When we think of God’s blessings, we often think of the finite things He gives us. These are things we can see with our eyes. They can be measured and they are temporal. Such things are usually on our heart when we ask God to meet our needs.
Yet, God does not give us the finite alone. He gives us the infinite, the gift of Himself. He invites us to live in His realm, the realm of the Spirit, and to know heavenly treasure. God doesn’t give us merely a good life. He gives us Christ as our life.
This precious union is God’s heart for our lives. When we ponder God’s will for our lives, we usually set our eyes on finite things, but it is far better to set our eyes on Christ. He is God’s will for our lives. Love seeks to give itself away, and God is love. This is what God is working to do in our lives. If we can understand God’s great purpose, we can see Him more clearly in our lives. We will see Him both in the good things and in the bad. If we think God’s purpose only concerns finite things, God’s works will remain a mystery.
When we realize spirituality is the presence of the infinite in our lives, we know that it can only be a gift. The finite cannot grasp the infinite. The infinite must grasp the finite. In a sense, that is Jesus what Jesus came to do. He died and rose from the grave to make us spiritual people. On the cross He took our separateness from God upon Himself, and in return He gave us His union with the Father. He took our farness from God and gave us His place in the Father’s presence. Living in His accomplishment is what it means to be spiritual. God has made us spiritual people, and any deeds we do are merely the fruit of our relationship with the Lord.
In any discussion of spirituality, we would be wise to consider Paul’s thoughts on flesh and Spirit. Certainly, being in the flesh is the opposite of being in the Spirit. However, when we define flesh and Spirit, we often default to a good and evil paradigm. We think the journey from flesh to Spirit is the journey from the bad deeds of the flesh to the good things of the Spirit. To be spiritual we need to stop doing the bad things and start bearing the good fruit for God. However, this once again, makes our connection with God our accomplishment, and we are back to the Law.
The flesh is that which resists God’s gift. It can better be described as separateness than evil. A mentor of mine used to talk about good flesh and bad flesh. He meant that we can resist God with either good or evil. The flesh can do bad deeds rooted in lust, but it can also do very good deeds that are rooted in self-righteousness. A good example is the Pharisees in Jesus’s day. The average Pharisee spent two days a week fasting and paid his tithes to the penny, but these men were among Jesus’s worst enemies.
Recall Jesus’s parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The two went to the temple to pray, and the Pharisee boasted to God about his deeds, even thanking the Lord that he was not like the sinful tax collector. Ironically, this fellow who thought he was God’s hero was actually fighting the Lord, and his weapon was his own self-righteousness. It was the tax collector, who had no boast in himself at all, who knew God’s presence that day.
If we try to frame the great conflict of the New Testament in terms of good versus evil, we will run up against huge contradictions such as Jesus’s relationship with the religious leaders of the day . The conflict is far better described by flesh verses Spirit or separateness verses union. By refusing to lose self as their righteousness, men like the Pharisees could not gain Christ as their righteousness. They stood in their own works rather than the works of Christ and thus found themselves alone, and the flesh became their home rather than the Spirit.
We might say that self-righteousness is the good side of the flesh, but it also has its evil side. Putting self above God is not the only way the flesh resists the Spirit. There is also lust. Lust takes root in us when we put the creation above the Creator. We human beings have needs. We are like an empty cup that needs to be filled. We can look to the creation or finite things to make us whole, but only the infinite can truly fill our hearts. If we seek wholeness in the creation or through seen things, we will always need more. This was the condition of a young man who encountered Jesus. We know him as the Rich Young Ruler.
On the surface, it may appear that Jesus presented the Law as the way to enter the kingdom of God. However, a deeper reading reveals that Christ was not just leading the young man to a commandment but to Himself. He was trying to lead this man from flesh to Spirit. Jesus intentionally left out the first of the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before Me,” and herein was the problem. With a simple request, Jesus laid bare the weakness of this wealthy man’s heart.
If this fellow was to follow Jesus into the kingdom of God, he would have to leave behind his old definition of “the good life” for the new. His measure was money, and it had to become Christ. This is why the Lord commanded him to sell all he had and give to the poor, that he might have treasure in heaven. After all, he was not giving up money; he was giving up one life for another—the finite for the eternal, the old covenant for the new. Most importantly, the Lord beckoned him to give up his false god for the true God who is Spirit. Money left him lacking, but Christ would give him the never-ending bread of heaven.
We should note that Jesus did not promise the young man more money if he gave to the poor; He did not say, “Give and God will give back many times what you give!” We often view giving as an investment, believing that our gift of money will ultimately deliver more money from God in return. The problem with this view is that it assumes that God’s greatest concern and His greatest gifts are found in finite things.
Giving has a much deeper meaning, however. Whenever we give, we lay aside the old definition of life, saying that neither money nor our possessions define us; they are not our completion. If they were, we could no more let them go than perish ourselves. But because Christ is all of these things to us, we have the freedom to give—giving is worship. Giving is the product of a love relationship with God.
Though there are times when God may give more to us than we give, this is only a secondary blessing. God is our reward when we give; He is the heavenly treasure. If that young man had let go of his money, he would have gained Christ as his life and discovered what he was lacking. However, he loved his old definition of life more than the life Jesus offered, so he walked away grieved.
When the people strayed in the Old Testament, they returned to their covenant—the Law—to realign with God and His blessings. But the story of the rich young ruler reveals that repentance in the new covenant finds a deeper meaning than right or wrong. We stray when we wander away from grace. Our lives also get out of order when we love the finite more than the infinite, opening ourselves to other masters who enslave us and leave our spirits empty.
So, the point of following Christ is not to gain the life we want. In fact, the Lord will shake our lives to the core if necessary. Yet, He does so in love that the infinite might become our prize. Our journey with God is one from the finite to the infinite. God will bless our lives with many finite blessings, but the more we get to know the Lord, the more we see that the things we thought were so necessary and vital to our happiness and self-worth were not necessary at all, and they really weren’t the point. God does not want us to use our faith to save our lives but to use our faith to let go of the finite for the infinite. Our journey is not from a bad life to a good life. It is the journey to Christ, and we let go of all the finite measures of life along the way until we can say gratefully with Paul, “I have suffered the loss of all things that I might gain Christ.”
The mind of the flesh is that gaining the world is the way to life. It is the way of the flesh to gain more and more righteousness that we might be like God. It is the way of the world to indulge our desires thinking finite things will make us complete.
The scriptures say that Satan can appear as an angel of light. He can make that which opposes God look good, and the flesh is perfectly able to indulge him. Gaining more and more of one’s own righteousness looks good to natural mind. What could be wrong with trying to be more and more like God? Remember this is the temptation Eve faced in the garden.
Likewise, it is the wisdom of the world that God’s highest purpose is found in finite things. Certainly, if we have enough faith, He will fill our lives with finite blessings. Satan’s desire is to set our hearts on finite things, and if he can’t use evil things, he will use good things to entice us. Likewise, this is the way He also enticed Eve. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was delight to the eyes. Its temptation was to love the seen more than the unseen God.
If we follow such wisdom, we will end up trying to use our faith to avoid the cross! God is calling us to lose our lives, but we will use all the good in us to save them. What we mistakenly call spirituality is ego expansion in disguise. It is exalting the finite above the infinite.
It is the way of the Spirit to gain through loss. Following Christ is the process of losing your righteousness, not gaining it. Self-definition is a hard thing to lose, but it must die if we are to be God-defined. We forsake the measure of self for the measure of Christ. Blessed are those who have no righteousness but Christ. Such was the end Paul reached (Philippians 3:8-9), but the end of his finite measures was the beginning of the infinite measure of Christ.
Likewise, our journey from flesh to Spirit is the journey from our home in the world to our home in God’s presence. It is the journey from the finite to the infinite, from the seen to the unseen. The way of the flesh is that finite things complete us. It is the divine nature to set the infinite above the finite and to willingly lose all to gain God. This is the highest purpose of our faith.
Therefore, the wisdom of the cross is foolishness to the world. How can losing yourself and all you call life lead to freedom? Yet, those who walk in the wisdom of the Spirit know that quite the opposite is true. We can never expand our egos enough to be like God. No matter how good we become, we are left only with finite deeds, and consequently, we are left behind the veil. Likewise, anything that can be measured will leave us empty and needing more. Only that which is infinite fills the soul to overflowing. Therefore, the cross, which looks only like death to the world, is the way to life for those of the Spirit. This is the way Jesus walked before us, and we partake of His journey. We come to echo the words of Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20).”
It is through decrease that we gain Christ. This is the opposite of lust, and the way of love. The essence of love is self-sacrifice. Love willingly lets go of all things to gain the beloved. Such is the way Christ walked to gain us, and we walk likewise to gain Him. When two are given to one another, the two become one. Love willingly suffers loss for the sake of union. The way of lust and ego expansion is to avoid loss, but in trying to save self, the Beloved is lost, and the result is endless striving.
If we follow Christ, choosing the way of the cross, we live life in the Spirit. At journey’s end, when we stand before God, we will not stand before a stranger, someone we barely know. We will be able to look at the Lord, and say “I know you,” for to know God is to know the Spirit.