Recently a prominent Christian leader made a comment that he knew people in overt sin who had “as good a spiritual life as I do.”1 When a Christian can say someone in wanton sin has as good a spiritual life as we do, we should be alarmed. Statements like this suggest we’ve sacrificed spiritual growth at the altar of spirituality. It is easy to make this exchange, so we must be vigilant. How can you know if you’ve sacrificed spiritual growth for spirituality?
You’ve sacrificed spiritual growth if your opinions and beliefs are not being conformed to God’s WordThe leader I mentioned above said his statement in an interview in which he explained his change of mind about a certain hot-topic issue that is very clear in the word of God. Our opinions on morality reflect our understanding of who God is. The truth about God is an objective truth that is true regardless of what we think. God exists and has revealed to His creation who He is and how He sees things through the created order (Rom 1:20) as well as through His Word (Ps 19:7). Because sin corrupts our thinking (Rom 1:21), part of the quest of holiness is to change our mindset and beliefs so that they conform to what God says. To be able to call evil good (Isa 5:20) publically demonstrates that either we’ve failed to comprehend what God has said, or we’ve sacrificed truth for something else. A failure to conform our beliefs to what God has said in His Word, indicates we’ve sacrificed spiritual growth for mere spirituality.
Failure to conform our beliefs to what God says in His Word indicates we’ve sacrificed growth for spirituality.
You’ve sacrificed spiritual growth if you’re not emotionally moved by sinKnowing what God has said about sin should also move us emotionally. If we belong to Christ and have His Spirit in us (Rom 8:9), then His desires and affections are also in us. Contrary to popular opinion, God is emotionally moved by sin. God not only hates sin (Prov 6:16-19), but He also hates sinners (Ps 5:5-6, though He has also demonstrated that He loves mankind by sending Christ, see Rom 5:8). If God hates sin and dwells in us so that we have the desires of the Spirit inside us (Gal 5:18), then we too should grow to hate sin. The author of Psalm 119 models this when he says in verse 104, “From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” Because the Psalmist learned from the word of God, his emotional life changed, and he grew to hate sin. In Romans 7, Paul said that he agreed with the law of God (Rom7:16) and therefore when he committed sin, he described himself as “doing the very thing I hate.” We will not hate sin as we ought to in this life. But if our spiritual life doesn’t move us to hate our sin, then we’ve sacrificed spiritual growth for mere spirituality.
You’ve sacrificed spiritual growth if your behavior isn’t changingObedience is a whole-personed response to the word of God. Obedience includes our beliefs and thoughts, but it also includes our desires and affections. However, obedience is never just thoughts and affections. If our behavior doesn’t change, have we changed at all? Jesus makes this clear when he tells a parable about two sons who were asked to go and work in their father’s vineyard (Matt 21:28-31). One said he would go and did not go; the other said he would not go and did. Jesus concludes the story by asking, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” The answer was obvious. The point is that the son whose behavior aligned with the desire or will of his father was obedient. It was irrelevant in this case what each of them thought or said. What counted was what they did. This is the same point that James makes in James 2:14 and 2:18-20. If we mentally assent to what God says but don’t act on it, we’ve sacrificed spiritual growth for spirituality.
If we mentally assent to what God says but don’t act on it, we’ve sacrificed spiritual growth for spirituality.
You’ve sacrificed spiritual growth if your relationships don’t improveObedience in thought, affections and actions will be noticeable to others. Therefore, our relationships should change. When we align our beliefs, affections, and actions with what God says in His word, we will become better husbands, wives, sons, daughters, employees, employers, leaders, followers, servants and members of society. This does not mean that others will change. But as a rule of thumb, if we change and become more Christlike, those who know us will notice the change and our relationships will improve over time. Personal holiness extends to every part of our life, including our workplace, families, and community. The Lord has addressed all these relationships in His Word, and we should be submitting each part of our life to Him. If we’re holding some of our relationships away from the word of God, then perhaps we’ve sacrificed spiritual growth for spirituality.
You’ve sacrificed spiritual growth if your spiritual life is about how you feelWe’ve seen that our feelings or affections and desires should be changing if we are growing spiritually, but we need to be careful not to make our spiritual life all about our feelings. It is tempting to measure our spirituality by how spiritual we feel. Consequently many speak about feeling “close to God” in their quiet time or even in general. However, our feelings in this sense have nothing to do with our objective relationship with the Lord. Using this kind of phrasing suggests that we consider life to be primarily about how we feel. We have to remember that our heart is deceitful and we can’t trust it. Therefore, we can’t always trust how we feel (Jer 17:9). Theologians say that God is omnipresent, which means that God is present where we are. He doesn’t come and go, and because He is unchanging, His perfections, purposes or promises don’t change. Therefore, “feeling” close to God is an unreliable indicator of our relationship with Him.
‘Feeling’ close to God is an *unreliable* indicator of our relationship with Him.The problem we have in our relationship with God is our sin, not His presence or our feelings. If we don’t feel close to God, the reason is not that God has deserted us, it is because our heart is proud and likes to declare independence from God. Often we don’t feel close to God because we’ve exchanged what God says about us for what the world says about us. If our spiritual life is driven by a concern for feeling close to God, then we’ve sacrificed spiritual growth for spirituality.
You’ve sacrificed spiritual growth if you don’t pray for othersPride is a curious thing. We can be willing to confess sin and ask for the Lord’s help, and yet be entirely ambivalent to the needs of others. Recently I was convicted of this. In my quiet time, I was willing to confess my sin and pride, but reluctant to spend time praying for others. I might have an appropriate concern about my own spiritual life. But I was not concerned about the spiritual well-being of those I know. However, the Lord has a plan and purpose for my relationship with those people, even you, dear reader. Therefore, I have a responsibility to pray! By failing to pray for others, I have sacrificed spiritual growth for spirituality.
ConclusionWe all fail in many ways. The challenge every Christian faces is to continually evaluate ourselves to look for areas of our lives that we need to grow in. If we are no longer conforming our beliefs, affections, volition, relationships, and worldview to what God has said in His word, it is possible that we have sacrificed spiritual growth for mere spirituality. Mere spirituality has condemned many to an eternity of damnation. It has robbed so many of the richness of life that the Lord has for us. Mere spirituality is a substitute for what God wants of us, and it risks leading us into opposition with God.
Mere spirituality is a substitute for what God wants of us, and it risks leading us into opposition with God.Can I encourage you to examine your own spiritual life? Look for signs that you may have sacrificed spiritual growth or growth in Christlikeness for mere spirituality. What areas of your spiritual life suggest you’ve exchanged spiritual growth for spirituality?