Everyone, it seems, is interested in being spiritual (even many who don’t believe in God). Understanding what is meant by this isn’t always easy. Spirituality can be quite a fuzzy term.
It’s not so fuzzy when it is used to indicate a deeper dimension that what is commonly associated with formal religious practice. Much of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7 contrasts the religious formality of doing with His call of being. It’s good not to murder, but it’s better not to be angry in a way that causes us to harbor destructive thoughts and ill will against others (5:21-22). It’s good not to commit adultery, but it’s better not to be sexualizing others for our personal gratification (5:27-28). Of course, Jesus isn’t minimizing doing—He’s making the point that true righteousness starts in the heart, at the level of being (This is especially apparent in the Beatitudes). Disciples of Jesus should pursue this type of spirituality over and against the mere doing of things.
The word gets a little fuzzier when people say they don’t believe in organized religion but quickly assure us they’re spiritual. By definition, spirituality seems to become none of the bad things that religion is (the Crusades, televangelists, sexual abuse, etc.,while the good of religion is almost always ignored). While it’s clear what spirituality isn’t, what is it in the positive sense?
This is where things get more vague. While spirituality is peaceful and accepting (except towards organized religion), its main feature seems to be that it’s highly personalized. Not only does this mean that there is no community to share with and be accountable to, but for all practical purposes the word becomes user defined. This makes it the ultimate in a consumer culture where choice is venerated and spirituality becomes nothing more than a label that is put on an individual’s set of preferences. It possesses the chameleon like quality of blending into any belief system or lifestyle.
When Paul speaks of those who are “spiritual,” he has something much different in mind (1 Corinthians 2:13 ESV). He makes it clear in the verses that follow that spirituality is not whatever we want it to be; it is being sensitive to the Spirit of God as He speaks to us through the Scripture. He later says in the same letter, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord” (14:37).
To live by the Scripture in the manner Jesus spoke about is to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). It is to open our lives for the Spirit to produce His fruit (5:22). Paul refers to this as being “in step with the Spirit” (5:25). Not only does the spirituality the Scriptures speak of a meaningful specific, it is rooted in the revelation from God and modeled by Jesus. It is not a word that changes to conform to us but rather describes those who choose to be transformed by the Spirit’s word.
That’s the spirituality we should all seek.