Imagine. You pull the door open a crack and peer into the church sanctuary. Near the back of the room, a young woman stands with her hands raised high and her eyes shut tight, singing with much enthusiasm. Closer to the front, an older lady sits in her seat singing quietly with her head bowed and her hands folded in a position of prayer. Who is more spiritual — more Spirit-filled? Or perhaps the truly spiritual person is the young man playing guitar and leading worship from the stage. No, probably not. Surely one of these two ladies is the picture of spirituality. After all, who would really think of a man as spiritual, unless it was, perhaps, the pastor?
Spiritual = Strange?
What does it mean to be spiritual? In popular culture, this usually indicates some sort of mystical experience or spooky encounter. If you meditate regularly, believe in ghosts, or feel you have an unusual connection to nature, you might be considered spiritual. It also seems to help if you like crystals and butterflies. Even within the church, many people think that the word spiritual must indicate something or someone a little strange. Depending on how much exposure people have had to the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, they might associate the word spiritual with people who claim to be inspired by the Spirit to bark like dogs, scream, or roll around on the floor. Such people exist — I’ve seen them! Whether inside the church or outside the church, it seems that spiritual sometimes just means “strange.”
Some people try to justify their conclusion that it is spiritual to act strange by pointing to the eccentric behavior of prophets in the Old Testament. For example, Isaiah walked around naked (Isaiah 20:1-4) — some scholars say, wearing only an undergarment — and Ezekiel lay on his side for 430 days (Ezekiel 4:4-6). Some also point to Saul, who “changed into a different person” when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he prophesied (1 Samuel 10:6, 1 Samuel 10:10). These examples, however, don’t prove that one should expect to act strangely if one is to be truly spiritual. First of all, Saul might have just “changed into a different person” in the sense that “God changed Saul’s heart” before he prophesied (1 Samuel 10:9). Furthermore, when you read about the prophets in the Old Testament, you don’t get the sense that the prophets were usually ecstatic and acting strangely. To illustrate the point, when Elijah had his standoff at Mount Carmel, it was the prophets of Baal who “danced around the altar they had made,” shouted, slashed themselves with swords, and engaged in “frantic prophesying,” while they endeavored to get Baal to send fire on their sacrifice (1 Kings 18:26-29). By contrast, when Elijah called on God to send fire on his sacrifice, he merely “stepped forward and prayed” (1 Kings 18:36). Strange or out-of-the-ordinary things might happen when people experience the Spirit — like speaking in tongues, dreams, or visions (Joel 2:28) — but such experiences are not the primary indicator of spirituality.
In the Bible, the word spiritual isn’t a generic word used to refer to the nonphysical world or to a “religious” person. Rather, spiritual means specifically something that is related to the work of the Holy Spirit.(1) For example, the Bible refers to people who make up the church as “a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5) since the Spirit dwells in the church (1 Corinthians 3:16), salvation is a “spiritual blessing” (Romans 15:27) because a person is born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:6-8), and one can sing “spiritual songs” as they are “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18-19 ESV). Again, spiritual simply means having to do with the work of the Holy Spirit.
This definition of spiritual implies that to be Spirit-filled is not the same as being emotional. Certainly, the Spirit may be experienced in a way that stirs the emotions and leads a person to exclaim, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:25). Nevertheless, when the Bible mentions experiencing the Spirit, it rarely discusses what the experience was like or the emotions it might have aroused. Instead, the focus is placed on the life-changing results of the experience.
Biblical spirituality refers first and foremost to the ways in which the Spirit shapes us to become more like Jesus Christ.
After the Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism, Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1), even “without limit” (John 3:34). As a result, Jesus cast out demons “by the Spirit of God” (Matthew 12:28), and He engaged in all kinds of ministry “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).
All Jesus was and did when He walked on earth, then, indicates what it means to be spiritual.
- Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 29.
Excerpted with permission from Simply Spirit-Filled by Andrew Gabriel, copyright Andrew K. Gabriel.
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“Spirit-filled” isn’t a bad word, it isn’t a scary word, or a weird word. It just means the Holy Spirit of God is living within us and we are becoming more and more like Jesus every day. Are you spirit-filled? Come share your thoughts on true spirituality on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily
Simply Spirit-Filled by Andrew K. Gabriel