Read an Excerpt
What Is True Spirituality?
Reading by John Ortberg
Let's call him Hank. He had attended church since he was a boy, and now he was in his sixties. He was known by everyone--but no one really knew him. He had difficulty loving his wife. His children could not speak freely with him and felt no affection from him. He was not concerned for the poor, had little tolerance for those outside the church, and tended to judge harshly those who were inside.
One day an elder in the church asked him, 'Hank, are you happy?'
Without smiling, he responded, 'Yes.'
'Well, then,' replied the elder, 'tell your face.'
Hank's outside demeanor mirrored a deeper and much more tragic reality: Hank was not changing. He was not being transformed. But here's what is most remarkable: Nobody in the church was surprised by this. No one called an emergency meeting of the board of elders to consider this strange case of a person who wasn't changing. No one really expected Hank to change, so no one was surprised when it didn't happen.
There were other expectations in the church. People expected that Hank would attend services, would read the Bible, would affirm the right beliefs, would give money and do church work.
But people did not expect that day by day, month by month, decade by decade, Hank would be more transformed into the likeness of Jesus. People did not expect he would become a progressively more loving, joyful, winsome person. So they were not shocked when it did not happen.
How Is Spirituality Wrongly Understood?
Think of the irony: spiritual life leading to lifelessness. Spiritual growth producing misery. A life supposedly yielded to God rebelling against him! Obviously it's not supposed to be this way, yet for many, it's the sad truth.
When people are not being authentically transformed--when they are not becoming more loving, joyful, Christlike persons--they often settle for what might be called 'pseudo-transformation.'
We know that somehow we are supposed to be different than those outside the church. But if our heart isn't changing, we will look for more superficial and visible ways of demonstrating that we are 'spiritual.' We might:
We need only to hear Jesus' words to the religious leaders of his day to know that pseudo-spirituality is a deadly disease--and a common and contagious one at that.
What Is a Right Understanding of Spiritual Life?
When someone asks you, 'How is your spiritual life going?' what comes to mind? How do you define spirituality? How do you assess spiritual progress?
Amidst all the confusing and distorted notions, Scripture speaks with brilliant clarity. 'Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did' (1 John 2:6). To pursue spiritual life means simply this: To know Jesus more intimately and to live as if he were in your place. It is to order your life in such a way that you stay connected to Christ, thinking as he thought, speaking as he spoke, and walking as he walked.
Certainly, this imitation of Christ will look different for each person, expressing itself through that person's unique temperament, abilities, and circumstances. But there is a common denominator. At the core of Jesus' teaching is the command to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love other people as you love yourself (Mark 12:30--31).
When someone asks you how your spiritual life is going, the real question is, 'Are you becoming more loving toward God and people?' Regardless of anything else you measure, how you stand up against that statement will reveal your true spiritual stature. This measurement is the supreme spiritual diagnostic for Christ-followers who want to please him.
Doing Life in Jesus' Name
What would this kind of life look like if you actually lived it out? Let's face it--you could chalk up this concept as another idea that sounds good but isn't really practical. Yet God is inviting you to make each moment of every day a chance to learn from him how to master the art of life.
Your spiritual life is simply your whole life--every minute and detail of it--from God's perspective. In other words, God isn't interested in your spiritual life. God is simply interested in your life. And every moment is an opportunity to do life in Jesus' name.
Here is an experiment for putting Colossians 3:17 into practice. This week: Memorize Paul's words in Colossians 3:17: 'And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.'
Think about what it would mean for you to live the ordinary moments of your life as if Jesus were in your place. How would you do each of the following activities in Jesus' name?
• Waking up
• Greeting those you see first in the morning
• Working outside the home or caring for children while at home
• Watching TV
• Doing household tasks
• Reading the paper
• Going to sleep
1. Describe the picture Jesus paints in John 10:10 of what should happen in the life of all who follow him.
2. Read Matthew 23:1--28. In this passage, Jesus has some harsh words for the religious leaders of his day. These scribes and Pharisees were well versed in Scripture and considered to be spiritually 'in the know.' If anyone understood what it meant to be spiritually mature, it was them--or so they (and those around them) thought. Yet Jesus was extremely frustrated by their spiritual shallowness and obsession with externals.
What specific behaviors does Jesus confront?
3. What heart attitude(s) do you think all these behaviors have in common?
4. As you read through this passage, was there any point at which you said, 'Ouch--I have a tendency in that direction'? How do you think such distorted views of spirituality have crept into your life?
5. In your opinion, why is it easy for people to think that acquiring knowledge, following formulas, and obeying rules will automatically lead to true spiritual maturity?
6. According to the following words of Jesus, what must be at the heart of any concept of spirituality?
John 15:4--17 (hint: look for repeated words or phrases)
7. Being as candid as possible, how would you assess the state of your spiritual life right now?