The Real Spiritual Face of Religion


Growing in Christ brings a spirituality that far exceeds mere religiosity. By Graeme Loftus.

He was 84 when he died, and I was asked to conduct his funeral. Very few people were at the service, mainly relatives who had all come for one purpose—to finish some unfinished business in each of their shattered lives. They requested permission to fill in the grave themselves and one by one took turns with the shovel. Angrily, they threw clods of dirt onto the casket below in a cathartic outpouring of rage and grief.

The deceased had sexually abused every one of his children and grandchildren at some stage of his long life, so they took turns burying a miserable chapter from their past.

The strange enigma, however, was that this man had been devout in his religious life. He studied his Bible and had a firm grasp of the propositional doctrines of his church, actively sharing them with others.

Dressed in a black suit with a Bible tucked under his arm, he attended worship services habitually and generously supported the church financially.

This tragic scene was an exaggerated example of many people who have not been aware of how—or able—to integrate the power of the gospel of Jesus into such personal dysfunction. This man was very “religious” in some of his activities, but not at all “Spiritual” in the way he lived. He went through the motions of doing things God wants us all to do, but he had no experience of the indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in his life that would have enabled him to transcend such wounds on his soul that stemmed from the power of sin in his inner nature.

I’ve intentionally capitalised Spiritual in its form, because the New Testament invariably uses the term spiritual to describe a person whose whole life is full of, and lived out by, the power of the Holy Spirit. Being “spiritual” in the Bible is an adjective for the Holy Spirit (that which pertains to, or belongs to the Holy Spirit) rather than an adjective pertaining to the person. When Paul uses the term “spiritual,” he doesn’t mean “spiritual” in the sense of a focus on a person’s inner life. For example, he does not mean: religious (over against secular or mundane); non-material (over against spooky or ghostly); mystical (over against the world of reality); or, elitist (over against an everyday, carnal Christian).

Thus, when he talks about a “spiritual gift” (Romans 1:11), he means a gift of the Holy Spirit. When he talks about “spiritual wisdom and insight” (Colossians 1:9), he means wisdom and insight from the Holy Spirit. When he talks about “spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19), he means songs inspired by the Holy Spirit.

When he talks about “spiritual blessings” (Ephesians 1:3), he means blessings that come from life in the Holy Spirit.

The Bible teaches that when we hear and believe the word of truth—the gospel of our salvation—then we are included “in Christ” and are declared right before God (see Ephesians 1:13). Along with that, however, comes the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is described as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance as a Christian right through time until the second coming of Jesus (see Ephesians 1:14).

Just before Jesus died He told His disciples that He would ask the Father to give them another “Counsellor” to be with them forever, whom they would know personally and experientially because He would live both “with” them and “in” them (see John 14:16-18). From the time of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost to empower the church, all Christians live in the “age of the Spirit” given to us and our children and all who are far off—all whom the Lord our God calls (see Acts 1:8; 2:1-39).

Some Christians are locked into a propositional knowledge about God, but are strangers to an experiential life with God through the indwelling and empowering of God Himself in the form of the Holy Spirit, who is called “the Spirit of Jesus,” the Spirit that brings with Him the liberating reality of intimacy with Jesus (see Acts 16:7; Philippians 1:19).

So Paul prays that God, the glorious Father, may give us the Holy Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know Him better. He asks that the eyes of our heart (our inner being, our human spirit) may be enlightened in order that we may know the hope to which He has called us, and the riches of His glorious inheritance for us and His incomparably great power for us who believe (see Ephesians 1:17-19).

We tend to wander through life oblivious to the resources of the Spiritual realm around us and available to us. He calls us to possess now the down payment on those possessions given to us through our union with Christ and inherit now the down payment on that inheritance kept for us by Jesus. If we were to receive an earthly inheritance from a long-lost relative, most of us would not waste a single moment to avail ourselves of its benefits.

How much more so should we do the same of a down payment on an inheritance from the Spirit? We universally underestimate the nature of that Spirit inheritance. Paul says it’s like the working of God’s mighty strength that He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all the rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given to every demonic power, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

That is awesome, amazing power— unimaginable power—and well able to break the bondage of any religious spirit or destructive habit. And in case we missed the personal availability of that power, Paul specifically spells out that God has placed all things under Jesus’ feet and appointed him to be head over everything “for the church.” The church, he says, is His body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (see Ephesians 1:15-23).

We should do everything in our power to nurture that intimacy with Jesus through the indwelling Holy Spirit. And we should not be kept in fear of deception from the practical gifts of Jesus for ministry through the empowering Holy Spirit.

No longer do we live in the darkness, fear of evil powers, ignorance and meaninglessness of our former way of life. In this new freedom in Jesus, we’re called to grow into the likeness of His character, communing with Him daily in prayer, feeding on His Word, meditating on it and on His providence, singing His praises, gathering together for worship, and participating in the mission of the church.

As we give ourselves in loving service to those around us and in witnessing to His salvation, His constant presence with us through the Spirit transforms every moment and every task into a spiritual experience.

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