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5 Questions about Biblical Spirituality

This article is part of the Questions and Answers series.

Q: How does the Bible portray spirituality?

A: There is no shortage of conversations surrounding spirituality—culturally and across various religious expressions—but a Christian understanding of spirituality must have its roots in the gospel, its moorings in biblical theology, and its focus in theology. The Bible begins with the clear emphasis upon a good and sovereign God creating a good world for the good of his creatures.

Humans are created good and blessed beyond measure, being made in God’s image, with an unhindered relationship with God and with freedom. God creates image bearers designed for spirituality—to enjoy a loving and personal relationship with the covenant Lord, as well as holistic relationships with themselves, one another, and creation. Though sin distorts God’s design, an overall biblical theology helps us discern how God reconciles sinners to himself, restoring the vitality and intimacy of his communion to them.

For Christians, the Bible often portrays our spirituality as a pilgrimage, referring to it as walking with God, walking in God’s ways, worship, holiness, obedience, discipleship, following Christ, life in the Spirit, maturity, and sanctification. Throughout Scripture we see the need for grace-given faith, love, growth, diligence, repentance, prayer, commitment, intentionality, and discipline. From babes in Christ to depth and maturity (Eph. 4:13), our spiritual pilgrimages take place over time; our growth is gradual. Paul prays that the love of the Philippian believers would “abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9–11). There is, then, a biblical trajectory in a Christian’s spirituality.

Q: How does sin distort spirituality?

A: In the beginning, God created a good cosmos with image-bearers who enjoyed intimate relationships with him, themselves, one another, and creation itself. As the poet Wendell Berry reminds us, once God completed his beautiful, bountiful creation, “the only new thing could be pain.”1And pain is exactly what appeared when sin entered the garden, creating disruption and alienation in each human relationship—with God, oneself, one another, and creation.

Biblical Spirituality

Christopher W. Morgan

This new book in the Theology in Community series looks at spirituality from the perspective of different books in the Bible and addresses practical questions regarding the workplace, embodied disciplines, and more.

As the Genesis 3 account explains, the tempter calls into question God’s truthfulness, sovereignty, and goodness when offering the forbidden fruit. Upon their initial enjoyment of that which was forbidden, they realized the fruit did not deliver what the tempter promised but brought new dark realities warned of by the good and truthful covenant Lord. Though humans are still made in the image of God, the reality is that indwelling sin distorts our perception of God’s righteousness and goodness, the depth and scope of our sin, and our utter reliance upon divine grace. Though we are far removed from the garden, sin continues to distort our thinking, our affections, and our will into believing the enemy’s lies. In Christ alone do we find freedom for spirituality.

Q: How does Christ’s saving work rescue our spirituality?

A: All journeys have a beginning, and Christian spirituality begins with new life in Christ. Jesus assures that all who hear his word and believe have the eternal life he grants, which leads to a passing from death to life (John 5:25). With repentance from sin and faith in Christ comes our justification—in which God, through the sinless life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection of Christ—forgives us of our sin, grants Christ’s righteousness to us, and judicially declares us righteous.

In Christ, our sins are forgiven, our status is righteous, and our new identity is formed: we are the children of God, adopted into God’s covenant family as heirs of the kingdom. God acts on our behalf, for our good and for his glory, to rescue us through Christ and his saving work. “Christianity is a rescue religion,” says John Stott, and the totality of Christ’s work—from eternity past to our future hope—supports every aspect of our spirituality.2

From one degree to the next, God is working in and through us to yield in our lives the love, affection, and intimacy that was ours to have as image-bearers.

He gives us new life/birth in Christ, fosters our repentance and faith, declares us righteous in Christ, and adopts us into his family. But God’s work on our behalf has not concluded. Using familial language, Peter expresses God’s purpose to sanctify us: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:14–16).

Q: What is the goal of Christian spirituality?

A: In salvation, our triune God breathes spiritual life into us. We who were alienated are now united to Christ, the perfect image of God, and in this union, we know and love him. Now the focus of spirituality is love—for God and others (1 Cor. 13). And the goal of our spirituality is being formed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Second Corinthians 3:18 elaborates: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” From one degree to the next, God is working in and through us to yield in our lives the love, affection, and intimacy that was ours to have as image-bearers.

While our Christlikeness is personal, it is also ecclesial. When the Spirit unites us to Christ, he gives new life, which produces fruit—a display of our new life of goodness. By connecting us to Jesus’ obedient life, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection, the Spirit produces the very character of Jesus himself. In Christ our lives are increasingly characterized by his character and life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, etc. The transformation God creates within us is for the benefit and blessing of the church. When Paul spoke to the church at Ephesus, he stressed traits that God’s people should embody over the totality of their lives. These marks—unity, universality, holiness, truth, love—communicate and reflect God’s goodness, which is why such attributes are sometimes called God’s communicable attributes. The church bears these marks precisely because the church displays God’s goodness in its life together.

Q: What are the rhythms of Christian spirituality?

A: The context of Christianity spirituality is the ordinary experiences of our everyday lives. This Christian pilgrimage is cultivated in, and is manifested in, our rhythms of sleep and rest, our vocation and leisure, our roles as wives and husbands, our roles as children and parents, our physical bodies, and more (e.g., Eph. 4:1–6:9). Though beneficial, the context of spirituality is seldom a spiritual retreat center or a week-long mission trip.

Instead, the rhythms of our spiritual life include maintaining joy while driving in congested traffic, living ethically at work, loving our families, cleaning the house, helping children with homework, paying the bills, and forgiving our neighbor. To buttress a healthy spiritual vitality in these ordinary rhythms, Christians fellowship with local churches and are strengthened through the means of grace, fight daily battles against indwelling sin, and they participate in the mission of God for the glory of God. Jesus’ teachings affirm that our spirituality is not only for ourselves but especially for others.

Through our union with Christ, the church, the new humanity, the firstfruits of the new creation, God’s redeemed image bearers, display how life ought to be and we make known the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10–11). As his people we respond by glorifying him, and in this God receives glory. Further, through uniting us to the glorious Christ, the perfect image of God, God transforms us and shares his glory with us. And all of this redounds to his glory, as God in his manifold perfections is exhibited, known, rejoiced in, and prized.

This article is by Christopher W. Morgan and Justin L. McLendon and adapted from “A Trajectory of Spirituality,” in Biblical Spirituality, edited by Christopher W. Morgan.

Notes:

  1. Wendell Berry, This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems(Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2013), 10.
  2. John Stott, Basic Christianity, 2nd ed. (London: InterVarsity Press, 1971), 81.
  3. NOTE.


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