How do we, as Christians, understand what it means to be “spiritual?” Oftentimes, spirituality takes on an arbitrary and undefined quality that is more emotional than it is intellectual. We are sometimes admonished that being spiritual is not an intellectual pursuit, it is something of a passive state where we “step aside and let the Holy Spirit lead.” But is this accurate? Just what is being “spiritual” according to the Bible?
Most Christians immediately associate spirituality with the Holy Spirit. Being spiritual must mean exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. Is this right? In Galatians 5 we read that the fruit of the Spirit is: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” First, note that they are referred to as “fruit,” not “fruits.” The fruit of the Spirit is not a buffet. We don’t work on love one day, joy the next, and peace and patience the week after. No, Paul tells us that these nine qualities are the fruit of the Spirit. A “spiritual” individual should exhibit all of them. Second, this spiritual fruit is discussed at the end of Galatians 5 (vv. 22–23). The verses that precede this section are vital to our understanding of what being spiritual really means.
The chapter begins: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Paul writes to the Galatians as ones for whom Christ had died. He tells them not to turn back in subjection to a yoke of slavery again. But from what yoke of slavery did Christ free them? In verse 13 Paul continues: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Paul says even though you are free do not allow your new freedom to give an opportunity to the flesh, which is what Christ liberated them from. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (vv. 16–18). Here we begin to see clearly the “old man, new man” dichotomy that Paul discusses elsewhere (more on this next week). The flesh and the Spirit are set up as polar opposites, antagonists in a grand battle, and we are the battleground.
Paul then goes on in Galatians 5:19–21 to list the “deeds of the flesh” and warn that “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The flesh yields “deeds” but the Spirit yields “fruit.” While we do not possess the power to grow the fruit of the Spirit on our own, we are able to pull the weeds (deeds) of the flesh. “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (vv. 24–25). It’s not enough just to say that you believe something. Put up or shut up. True faith will produce works (James 2:14–26) as well as fruit. Spirituality then, is not an emotional state or a surrender of one’s mind to a deeper state of consciousness. It is thinking God’s thoughts after Him and actively crucifying the flesh so that the Spirit of God can move in and plant fruit-bearing trees. But how is this accomplished?