Yesterday I began a short series on Passionate Spirituality. This is actually a revised version of a sermon I preached at my new church in Boerne, Texas this past Sunday.
In yesterday’s post, I introduced the theme of passionate spirituality, asking what the phrase passionate spirituality suggests to you, and explaining what the Natural Church Development people, who invented the phrase passionate spirituality, mean by it. They understand passionate spirituality to be living out one’s faith with commitment and enthusiasm. So, I asked, why call this passionate spirituality? What does spirituality have to do with living out our faith?
Passionate Spirituality According to Galatians 5
There’s a good answer to this question. It comes to us from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In this letter, Paul was fighting a version of what we call legalism. The young churches in Galatia – central Turkey in today’s world – had been hoodwinked by some theologically confused Christians who had taught them that faith in Jesus wasn’t enough. If you really want to experience God, they said, then you have to keep the whole Jewish law, especially the ceremonial parts. Legalism was their path to passionate spirituality.
Legalism continues to lure many Christians today. It’s a trap we easily fall into. People come to God through Christ, receiving his grace through faith. So far, so good. And they realize that God cares about what they do with their lives. That’s right on. But then they’re told that if they really want to have a relationship with God, they have to do all sorts of things to earn God’s favor. The Christian life becomes a long list of things to do, and especially things not to do. Soon, people who began their life in Christ with a passion for him and his mission become weighed down with endless dos and don’ts, and the life of Christ gets sucked out of them. That’s what was happening with the Galatians. (Photo: One of my favorite “don’t” signs from Hyde Park in London. Note the bottom: Do not allow your dogs to chase, worry or injure the wildlife.)
In response, Paul pointed to a new way of living, something he might well have called passionate spirituality. “Live by the Spirit,” he wrote in Galatians 5:16, “and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The NRSV translation here misses a couple of important nuances in the original Greek of Galatians 5:16. First, the imperative “live” (literally, “walk”) is actually a present imperative. It means, not just “live,” but “live and keep on living in the Spirit.” Paul is calling the Galatians to an ongoing experience of living in the Spirit of God.
Second, the part of the verse I read as “do not gratify the desires of the flesh,” is not an additional command, but a promise. Paul was saying this to the Galatians: “Keep on living by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” In other words, if you want to keep away from sin, don’t focus on the sin you wish to avoid, but on the Spirit of God who helps you to yearn for what is right and to shun what is wrong. Keeping on living in the Spirit and the sinful desires of the flesh will lose their grip on you.
These days, spirituality is in. People want to be spiritual, not religious. Spirituality can mean some sort of oozy transcendence, or mystical experience, or meaningful living. Spirituality can involve Eastern meditation, or happy self-talk, or wearing crystals, or burning incense, or whatever you’d like. Spirituality is rather like a Burger King Whopper: you can have it your way.
For the Christian, spirituality is much more specific than this. It is, quite literally, Spirit-uality. It is life lived in the Holy Spirit. It is living each day by the power of God’s Spirit who dwells within us. It is experiencing God, not in whichever way you choose, but in the God’s way through God’s own Spirit. Genuine spirituality is fellowship with the Holy Spirit. It happens as you read the Spirit-inspired Word, or as you join the Spirit-filled gatherifng of God’s people, or as you quiet yourself to hear the still, small voice of the Spirit. True spirituality is not merely some private, other-worldly experience. It is also a this-worldly encounter with the Spirit that we share with other believers. It includes, as Pastor John taught last week, ministering to others in the power of the Spirit.
Living in the Spirit is relying upon the Spirit. It is being open to the Spirit’s guidance. It is be available for the Spirit’s power. It is offering your whole self to God, so that you might be transformed by the Spirit into the very image of Christ. The more you live in the Spirit, the less you will engage in the so-called works of the flesh, including: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing” (vss. 19-21). (By the way, this seems to me a pretty apt description of college dorm life!)
On the contrary, as you live in the Spirit of God, you’ll find that your life is increasingly characterized by what Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (vss. 22-23). True spirituality, therefore, isn’t something hidden away in our souls. It impacts how we live in relationship with others: offering love, seeking peace, treating folks with patience, kindness, generosity and the like.
I expect most of us would like to have more love, joy, peace, etc. in our lives. So if this comes as a result of living in the Spirit, then we want to ask an obvious question: How can I live in the Spirit of God? I’ll begin to answer this question in tomorrow’s post.