The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

The War Between the Natures: What Does it Mean to be Spiritual (Part 2 & Part 3)

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Last week, we explored the “fruit of the Spirit” and began to hammer out a clearer idea of just what it means to be “spiritual.” We discovered that, as Christians, we have a flesh, as well as, a spiritual nature, and the two are at war. The Apostle Paul speaks to this in Romans 7:14–25, as he tells of his own struggle of “not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (7:15). He concludes this seemingly hopeless section of Scripture with these words:

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin (7:21–25).

We learn here that our two natures serve a different law. Our spiritual nature serves the law of God and our flesh nature the law of sin. That’s pretty easy; the two natures are two laws, or two ways of doing things, God’s way or sinful man’s way. As humans we are conceived in sin, so the law of sin is our modus operandi. But when God calls and justifies us by His grace, He writes the condemning law of stone on our hearts, and we serve this “law of God” from the heart (6:17–18). The very same law that condemns our flesh nature when written on tablets of stone, i.e. the Mosaic Law, is the law we now joyfully serve in our spiritual natures (2 Cor. 3). Same law, two different results.


If the flesh nature serves the law of sin, and the spiritual nature serves the law of God, then maybe Plato was right, and the physical world is merely a distraction. But this doesn’t square with what the Bible teaches. We are redeemed spiritually so that we may be redeemed physically. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1–2). A “spiritual” Christian is often thought of as one who has no involvement with the things of the world, but this is not what the Bible teaches.

Decrees such as “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” were set up by some as obligatory for the practice of a “true spirituality.” The Apostle Paul clearly stated that they “have the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of novalue against fleshly indulgence” (Col. 2:21, 23). In a word, true spirituality is not enhanced by abstaining from God’s good creation and those institutions He has ordained for the proper government of the world (e.g., Romans 13:1-4).[1]

The super-pietistic, Gnostic attitude of abandonment and neglect of the material world is not only illogical and counterproductive, it is unscriptural and sinful. We are redeemed in order to redeem … to “pay it forward”[2] in a sense. Our spiritual redemption should make a physical difference. Salt needs to come out of the shaker in order to be useful, and light needs to shine into darkness to be any help at all. The physical analogies that Jesus used were not meant to be taken as spiritual riddles to confound the church, they were meant to be acted upon.

In our previous studies of “spirituality” we have found that being spiritual according to the Bible does not mean a “person who is sort of ‘non-physical,’ who doesn’t get involved in ‘earthly’ things, who doesn’t work very much or think very hard, and who spends most of his time meditating about how he’d rather be in heaven.” [3] No, a spiritual person is one who thinks God’s thoughts after Him, who is “guided and motivated by the Holy Spirit” and “obey[s] His commands as recorded in the Scriptures.” [4] Biblically defined spirituality is not five hours a day in your prayer closet to avoid the mess of the world. It’s 24 hours a day in communion with the Spirit as you take God’s Word and apply it to God’s world. “Christian spirituality in turn entails a desire to allow one’s Christian commitment to shape every dimension of life.”[5] Since God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9), we need to first determine what they are, by reading and studying His Word, the Bible.

Although this seems fairly self-evident, most Christians don’t operate this way. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). Thoughts, ideas, beliefs—all of these are spiritual in a sense. “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD” (Isa. 55:7). Our natural thoughts are seldom in accord with God’s thoughts. This is why we are commanded to redeem our minds by saturating them with the Word of God (Rom. 12:1–2; Eph. 4:23–24; 5:1–21). Just as the proverbial blind squirrel sometimes happens to find a nut, we can sometimes happen to think something right as God sees it. But this is not the norm. The Bible tells us that we must be constantly checking our natural spiritual inclinations with God’s TRUE spiritual desires and demands as revealed in the Bible. The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:1 to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” If we are expected to test the spirits, then some standard must exist to test them against. This also means that not all spirits are of the proper “spirituality,” i.e. not all “spirituality” is Biblical spirituality.

As I hinted at earlier, thoughts and ideas are spiritual in nature. Before I wrote down the words in this article, they were ideas and thoughts floating around my brain, but they were only able to become tangible, physical entities because they were first spiritual entities. Look around you right now, everything that you can see, touch, hear, taste or smell was first an idea. Before it could be made physically, it had to be conceived of spiritually. We live and move and breathe in a physical world, but we think in a spiritual world and our spiritual inclinations and beliefs are either with God or against Him. If you think this is far-fetched or an over-simplification of the spiritual world, contemplate the concept of information. Dr. Werner Gitt has, and he writes this:

This novel concept of information is based upon an extremely important and fundamental fact, namely that this quantity represents not a material but essentially a spiritual phenomenon. Whilst information may be stored on matter and transferred by means of physical systems, it in no way originates in purely material processes, but always through an ideas-giver, that is, through employment of intelligence and will. [6]

Dr. Gitt ultimately makes this idea reach its own logical conclusion, that the spiritual nature of information once and for all disproves solely materialistic theories of anything, and that the Bible’s most profound statement is still its first: In the beginning, God. To exemplify his point, imagine the words of this article, or the newspaper, or the Bible, and all the letters and characters that make up the text and jumble them up. The exact number of letters and characters still exist on the physical medium that holds them, but they are now disorganized. The “information” is lost, but the physical “stuff” remains. The physical medium lost no weight or size, but something extremely important was taken away.

This is why Gutenberg’s printing press was so instrumental in making the Reformation take off like it did. Information is power, but only when it’s in a language you can actually read and understand. I could have written this article in French (not really, but theoretically), but it wouldn’t have done you much good if you didn’t read French. God didn’t give us His Word to confound us with high and lofty vocabulary that we can’t understand, just to show how smart He is. The most misquoted verse of the Bible tells us this very thing. Deuteronomy 29:29 says “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Too often this verse is quoted to get us out from under making sense of a seemingly difficult verse or passage of the Bible, but the last half cancels out that hermeneutic bypass. We are expected to understand and act on the “things revealed.” Do you see how the spiritual world is much bigger than we ever gave it credit for? Do you understand why God puts such a premium on our minds and thoughts? These are spiritual weapons that we use for or against His kingdom. This is why it is so imperative that we, as Christians, are studying God’s thoughts and making them our own, because, in reality, we are conducting “spiritual warfare” every time we use our brains!

Endnotes:

 

[1] Gary DeMar, Myths, Lies and Half-Truths (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2004), 17.
[2] Refers to the movie Pay it Forward (2000) starring Haley Joel Osment, Kevin Spacey, and Helen Hunt. The idea was to do three good things for complete strangers, and if everyone kept this up, the world would be changed rather quickly.
[3] David Chilton, Paradise Restored—An Eschatology of Dominion (Tyler, TX: Reconstruction Press, 1985), 3.
[4] Chilton, Paradise Restored, 4.
[5] Stanley J. Grenz, et al., Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 109.
[6] Werner Gitt, Time and Eternity (Bielefeld, Germany: Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung, 2001), 50.

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