When it comes to spirituality, you do what you do because you believe what you believe.
Regardless of the importance you consciously place upon it, theology drives and determines your spirituality. For example, you pray the way you do because of your theology. And there are certain ways you do not pray, more because of theology than tradition.
Recognize, therefore, the connection between good theology and good spirituality. Don’t turn to people as models and teachers of spirituality if you could not also turn to them as mentors of theology and doctrine. For their spirituality is also connected to their theology.
It’s very easy to be impressed by someone’s piety and think, “Surely anyone who is so pious, so devoted, and so committed to prayer, couldn’t be very wrong in his theology.” But I have seen more than one person come to reject biblical theology—even regarding the doctrine of salvation—after they became impressed with the spirituality of a particular writer or speaker who eventually led them astray. As Jesus said, “Take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:24).
• If anyone makes experience authoritative over the revelation of God in Scripture—turn away from him.
• If anyone adds another book or experience to the Bible, making it equal in authority to God’s Word—refuse to believe him.
• If anyone teaches that God can be experienced directly, that is, without the mediation of Jesus Christ and the Bible—don’t listen to him.
• If anyone says that there are many paths to God and that Jesus isn’t the only way to Heaven—avoid him.
Each of us needs both sound theology and passionate spirituality, because theology is the fuel for spirituality’s fire. Theology provides the discernment to protect us from unbiblical or unhealthy spiritual practices (such as regularly seeking to experience God without the guidance or influence of Scripture). Theology can protect us from fads in spirituality.
How do you pursue theology? Read and meditate on Scripture. Listen to biblical preaching and avail yourself of the opportunities for Christian education at your church. Read Christian books that teach, not just those that entertain. These include not only books about doctrine, but also biographies of those who were, like Apollos, “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24).
Theology is God’s truth. Don’t try to grow your soul or simplify your spiritual life without it.
Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 59-60.
Also related to this theme: Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014).
[To read part 1 of this post, click here.]
The Role of Spiritual Disciplines
Although the Holy Spirit gives a believer the desire and the power for a biblical spirituality, a certain reformatting of the life and habits must also take place to practice a Gospel-centered piety. Thus Paul also wrote, “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). This doesn’t refer to physical training, for mere bodily activity—despite its health benefits—does not by itself build godliness, as the very next verse makes plain. Rather, the kind of training or exercise that promotes godliness (that is, Christlikeness) is spiritual training.
No Christian coasts into Christlikeness. Godliness, according to this text, requires training. Some Bible translations render “train” as “exercise” (KJV) or “discipline” (NASB). Thus the biblical and practical ways in daily life of living out this command to “train yourself for godliness” have often been termed “spiritual exercises” or “spiritual disciplines.” (Note: some false teachers have also used these expressions, but that doesn’t invalidate such biblically-derived terms any more than a heretic’s use of the word “Trinity” nullifies our orthodox use of that term.) What was true in Paul’s day is still true: it is by means of the spiritual disciplines found in Scripture that we are to pursue godliness.
Of course, legalism is always a danger in spirituality. Anything a Christian can count, measure, or time can be twisted into something that falsely assures a person that by this—instead of the sufficiency of the life and death of Jesus—they’re more spiritually secure or favored by God. But just because the disciplines of godliness can be misused doesn’t mean they should be neglected. “Train yourself for godliness” is God’s command, therefore it must be possible to pursue obedience to it without legalism
Gospel-Centered Spiritual Disciplines in Practice
So how do Christians practice a Gospel-centered spirituality? First, practice the right disciplines—those personal and interpersonal spiritual disciplines found in the Bible. A Gospel-centered spirituality is a sola scriptura spirituality. For individual practice, the most important personal spiritual disciplines are first, the intake of Scripture and second, prayer; all the others relate to these two. The interpersonal spiritual disciplines we’re to observe are primarily those biblical practices related to life together in a local church.
Second, practice the right disciplines with the right goal. Consciously practice these disciplines with Jesus as the focus—pursuing intimacy with Christ and conformity (both inward and outward) to Christ. To put it more succinctly, by means of the biblical spiritual disciplines seek to be with Jesus and like Jesus.
Third, practice the right disciplines the right way. Emphasize the person and work of Jesus in each one. Through them, learn from, gaze upon, and enjoy who Jesus is and what He has done. Let your soul be restored through by the truths of the Gospel.
Engage in the spiritual disciplines given by God in Scripture so that you are continually shown your need for Christ and the infinite supply of grace and mercy to be found by faith in Jesus Christ.
As you’ve surely noticed, everyone is “spiritual” today. I saw a USAToday survey where even a majority of atheists consider themselves “spiritual” people. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard anyone say, “You know, I’m just not a spiritual person.”
What is spirituality?
Perhaps for many spirituality simply means spending time occasionally in personal reflection. For others maybe it means consciously trying to live by certain principles, or attempting to be thoughtful on important issues like the environment or homelessness.
However, the common perception of spirituality is not the biblical one. I’m writing from the perspective that spirituality includes—but transcends—the human spirit, and involves the pursuit of God and the things of God, through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit in accordance with God’s self-revelation (that is, the Bible).
Spirituality and the Gospel
This kind of spirituality is not self-generated; rather it is one result of the new spiritual life that God creates in the soul as He works through the Gospel. In other words, Christian spirituality is part of a life lived in response to the Gospel. In theological terms, spirituality is an aspect of the sanctification which necessarily begins at and follows justification.
Think of it this way: we come to God through the Gospel and we live for God through the Gospel. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Colossians 2:6). It is through the Gospel by faith that we receive Christ, and it is through the Gospel by faith that we walk in Christ.
The Gospel—in a word—is Jesus. In a phrase, the Gospel is the person and work of Jesus Christ. That’s why we can speak of the Christian life as a Gospel-centered life. We come to God initially on the basis of faith in who Jesus is and what He has done for us. And we continue to come to God and to live a life pleasing to Him on the same basis. To paraphrase Paul in Galatians 3:3, having begun by the Spirit through the Gospel, we are perfected (that is, sanctified; made like Christ) in the same way—by the Spirit through the Gospel.
In part two of this post, I write about the role of the Spiritual Disciplines in a Gospel-centered life and also Gospel-centered Spiritual Disciplines in practice.
To read part two of this post, click here.
I once read an article that quoted a TV star as saying, “I consider myself a spiritual person.” Almost everyone nowadays is “into spirituality.”
Try to find someone who says, “I’m just not very spiritual.”
I saw a survey where even a majority of atheists consider themselves “spiritual” people. By this I assume they mean they often rely on intuition, consider feelings important in decision-making, and try to disassociate themselves from a merely materialistic view of life.
But spirituality is much more than learning to look within one’s soul. It goes far beyond just trying to live more by intangible values and principles. True spirituality, in contrast to the popular, self-defined spirituality of today, is above all a God-centered spirituality. Any spirituality without God is just self-worship by another name. It is the ultimate self-centeredness, and in fact, often uses terminology about “centering.” But the focus of the centering is upon oneself, not God.
The spirituality of Scripture is a Trinitarian spirituality. Biblical spirituality is centered on the triune God: God the Father who is reached through God the Son who is magnified by God the Holy Spirit.
Jesus taught us that eternal life (the ultimate in spirituality) is knowing the God who is revealed in the Bible. “And this is eternal life,” Jesus’ disciples heard Him pray, “that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). But He also explicitly maintained that the only way to the Father is through Himself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
Further, Jesus said that when He returned to Heaven that the Holy Spirit would come and His role would be to magnify Jesus: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me” (John 15:26). In other words, the Spirit will call attention to Jesus and cause those whom He influences to love and obey Jesus.
Any other pseudo-spirituality is merely self-effort, self-love, and empty. It is good to have a zeal for spirituality, but if it’s a zeal “not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2), that is, the knowledge God gives through His Word, it’s a spiritual mirage.
It is good to desire a simple, uncomplicated spirituality, but a spirituality that’s simpler than that taught in the Bible is simply wrong.
So away with any spirituality without God—the one, true God. Away with any spirituality without Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Embrace a Trinitarian spirituality.
Bill often wonders whether he is a second-class Christian because of the less-than-Christian atmosphere where he works. His occupation is good and necessary for society, but it’s also one in which liars, cheats, and thieves seem to flourish. Vulgar and blasphemous language typically fills the air of Bill’s workplace.
For other believers, the problem at work is not a godless environment; it’s the gnawing lack of meaning to their labor. They trudge through tedious days on a job that often feels intolerably unimportant.
Can followers of Jesus work in these conditions and still maintain a close relationship with Him? Or is the Lord somewhat disappointed in them because of where they work or what they do?
God ordained work. Before sin entered the world, “the Lord God took the man [Adam] and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). People must grow food, care for children, make clothes, tend the sick, construct buildings and roads, transport goods, govern the cities, and so forth.
Obviously, therefore, God intends for most people to devote themselves to what’s often called “secular” employment. Only a small percentage should be vocational pastors, church-planting missionaries, and the like (even though more are needed). Otherwise, who’d work the fields, deliver the mail, build ships and cars, develop water systems, and make medicines?
Because God has ordained it, all work has a spiritual dimension. The Bible repeatedly commends useful, honest labor (see Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:10), which shows God’s intense interest in it. When we actively recognize His presence in our workplace, we acknowledge His sovereignty over all of life. And that’s basic to true spirituality.
Even if your daily responsibilities seem dull and unimportant, or cause you to associate with and support worldly, God-hating people, remember that “the Lord takes pleasure in His people” (Psalm 149:4). And He takes pleasure in us not just at church, but at work, too. He’s as attentive to us in our work routines as He as to Joseph in his service as Potiphar’s slave, to Jesus in the carpentry shop, and to the apostle Paul when he was making tents.
Work is not a hindrance to spirituality; it is a part of it. Even slaves were instructed by Paul not to fear that their awful condition in any way diminished their spiritual standing with God (see 1 Corinthians 7:22). Our spirituality depends upon who who are in Christ, not the circumstances of our workplace. God’s presence and favor are not limited by coworkers or job descriptions.
Enlarge your vision of your spiritual life to include your daily work. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of inheritance; for your serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24). Present your work to God. You are working for Him.
Taken from Donald S. Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), 155-156.
This post is available as a free bulletin insert in PDF format here.
Your thoughts on the spirituality of work?
“He’s very ambitious.”
Is that a compliment or a criticism?
Do you want to be known as ambitious?
Would you prefer to be known as (more…)
In a person’s quest for true spirituality it’s important to define the term. I’m writing from the belief that spirituality is the pursuit of God and the things of God, through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit in accordance with God’s self-revelation (that is, the Bible).
The words of the apostle Paul in Colossians 2:16-3:2 provide inspired guidance on true spirituality. False teachers in Colossae were saying that spirituality involved not only the pursuit of God through Jesus, but also included the worship of angels and other types of mystical experiences. They taught a number of elaborate rituals and ascetic practices which anyone serious about spirituality was required to observe.
Paul admits that while “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion,” in reality “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (2:23). In other words, these activities may look like marks of true spirituality, but they’re worthless for changing one’s heart or relationship with God.
But then Paul directs us to the basics of biblical spirituality—“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that on earth” (3:1-2).
Unlike the common belief that many people are “spiritual” by nature, notice Paul’s teaching that spirituality has a definite starting point—“If then you have been raised with Christ.” This is biblical language for being united by faith to Jesus Christ in His life, death and resurrection. Until a person comes to the place where spirituality begins and receives the benefits that flow from this union with Christ—namely eternal life and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit—that person has no real spirituality, regardless of his effort or desire.
Notice also that genuine spirituality seeks the things of God, or more specifically, “things that are above, where Christ is.” Any spirituality that does not seek things like the will and glory of God in everything, intimacy with and conformity to Christ, and love—and does not seek them above all other pursuits—is a false spirituality.
But true spirituality doesn’t just propel the heart toward the right activities; it also pulls the mind in the right direction. For in verse 2 Paul continues, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” True spirituality is characterized by a mind preoccupied with “things that are above.” And not “things that are above” merely as we might imagine them, but rather as God has revealed them in Scripture.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about earthly things, for Paul himself gives lengthy counsel about such matters just a few verses later, from 3:18 to the end of the letter. Rather the spirituality that flows from Heaven causes “things that are above” to become a magnet for the mind. So that no matter what we think about, eventually we relate it somehow to “things that are above.” For instance, we often find ourselves asking questions like, “What would the Lord have me do in this situation?” or “What is God’s view of this?”
Don’t be deceived by a complex spirituality that gives the appearance of wisdom but doesn’t start with “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). And don’t become entangled in any spiritual practices that sound good but incline your mind and heart away from the “things that are above.”
Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 24-25.