If you’re like me, you have probably heard spirituality expressed in many different ways, both from Christians and non-Christians alike.  Many non-Christians will make the claim that while they don’t believe in Christ, or religion for that matter, that they are spiritual.  Christians will make distinctions about what is or is not spiritual.

Spirituality is sourced in the work of the Holy Spirit.  Being spiritual means we are of the Spirit.  The spirit of man is connected with immaterial part of us that gives us life, will, emotions, and thoughts.  It is our heart, soul and mind.  Apart from God, man’s spirit is dead in sin and cannot respond to God properly  (Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 Corinthians 2:14).  This person is not of the Spirit.  This is why I believe an unbeliever cannot be spiritual – existential or experiential maybe – but not spiritual.

Therefore, it necessitates understanding the work and purpose of the third person of the trinity in relation to the believer.  We are unable to accept God’s gift of salvation without the work of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3).  He baptizes into the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26) and resides within the believer a mark they are God’s (Romans 8:9). The Holy Spirit gives gifts to every believer to be used for his purpose (1 Corinthians 12:6-7). He brings the ministry of Christ and the presence of God into our being (John 15:26) so that we may walk out a life that increasingly represents that connection into our lives – in thought, word and deed.

With the Holy Spirit residing in the believer, being spiritual means the believer is following after the spirit instead of the flesh because the two are opposed (Galatians 5:16-17).  The flesh here is not our physical bodies but it is a that nature endemic in humanity that opposes God and does not want to subject thoughts, words, or actions to him (Romans 8:7).  Being spiritual is opposite of carnality, which is allowing the flesh to dominate.  We are being carnal when we allow our thoughts, words and actions to mold themselves after that nature of flesh that wants to put us first instead of God, so that the ministry of Christ is not the predominating motive for us.  This is why Paul told the Corinthian church they were being carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).

However, I believe many have turned the idea of being spiritual into an esoteric concept that divorces thoughts towards God from the reality of living in a physical universe in a physical body.  Spirituality becomes some type of mysticism that opposes the elements of reason and participation in culture.  It treats the material world as evil.  It becomes a way of attaining to a higher secret knowledge that others do not have.   But that is not spirituality it is gnosticism, which is based on ancient Greek philosophy of dualism whose fruits led to heretical ideas about Christ in the early church.  Nor is spirituality putting a God or church label on everything and dismissing what doesn’t have it as non-spiritual.  Spirituality is not just doing ministry; ministry can be carnal.  Spirituality is not separating from the world we live in and creating our own subculture but it is endeavoring to live in that world to bring Christ to it.  That is the purpose of allowing the Holy Spirit control of our lives.

Being spiritual means we are allowing the control of the Holy Spirit in our lives so that in all we do, points others to Christ.  Being spiritual means we are allowing the the gifts of the spirit to be used in a manner that glorifies God.  It means we are not allowing ourselves to be dominated by a system of thought that puts us and our desires at the center of the universe.  Being spiritual impacts all of our material and immaterial faculties so that Christ is represented in every area of our lives.  Being spiritual means that we can use reason and intellect in a way that puts God at the center of our thoughts instead of flesh. Being spiritual is maintaining an unbroken fellowship with God in the midst of a broken and fallen world while not allow its system of thought to motive our thinking.

So if we are performing our secular jobs in a way that glorifies God, that is spiritual.  When we sacrifice our time for the work of ministry, that is spiritual.  When we use our intellect to learn and understand more about our faith, that is spiritual.  When we make a choice towards God and away from ourselves, that is spiritual.

In his book, He That is Spiritual, Lewis Sperry Chafer says this

The spiritual life is not passive.  Too often it is thus misjudged and because of the fact that one, to be spiritual, must cease from self-effort in the direction of spiritual attainments and learn to live and serve by the power God has provided.  True spirituality knows little of “quietism”.  It is life more active, enlarged and vital because it is energized by the limitless power of God…Living in unrealities is a source of hindrance to spirituality.  Anything that savors of a “religious pose” is harmful.  In a very particular sense the one who has been changed from the natural to the spiritual sometimes needs to be changed to a naturalness again, meaning of course, a naturalness of manner and life.  The true spiritual life presents a latitude sufficient to allow us to live very close to all classes of people without drawing us from God.  Spirituality hinders sin, but should never hinder the friendship and confidence of sinners….True spirituality is an adorning.  It is most simple and natural and should be a delight and attraction to all. (Chafer, pp 140-141).

I think Dr. Chafer makes some good points about being spiritual.   I highly recommend reading his book.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    7 replies to "What Does it Mean to Be Spiritual?"

    • Joe

      I think 2 Peter 1:3-11 has alot to say about Christian spirituality

    • Dr Mike

      I appreciate what you’re saying here, Lisa, although I take issue with both your anthropology and narrow use of the word “spiritual.”

      But I’m sure you know where I’m coming from on those two issues, so I won’t belabor it here.

      A good post, nevertheless, for the world’s concept of spirituality is not only wrong-headed, but desperately dangerous.

      I read Chafer’s book c. 35 years ago, within a year of being saved. It has guided a lot of my thinking about the Christian life from that point forward.

    • jim

      Hi Lisa:

      Great article, don’t know if I’ll get to the book though, there is sooo much I would love to read but time is hard to find.

      I really like the idea you mentioned of performing our secular work to the glory of God being spiritual. I see a big emphasis(search) being put forward on finding God’s special path (his will) for a christian as if we should all be searching for a ministry or missions work, etc. Isn’t the purpose of the christian walk to glorify God in all that we do…even our secular jobs. Maybe, wherever our God given talents or personalities lead us in our career choices is OK, as long as it brings honour to our saviour.. I guess I see such a big issue made out of seeking God’s will for your career that it often leaves one misunderstanding that most of us do not get lead into missions or church work as a career.

      Thanks for your insight,

    • carl Peterson

      Spiritual and spirituality is such an ambiguous word. It has so many definitions. One is like you claim. Another one is how the Westminister Standards state that God is spirit. That he is a spiritual being.

      It was a good post. I just think that the many definitions of spiritual and spirit that even Christians use can cloud discussion and understanding.

    • r.herodotou

      I disagree with the Old Nature doctrine you seem to be hinting to– for nothing happened to Adam other than his submission to Satan and a moral fall. Adam had the same body, soul, and spirit after the fall as before. The only difference was a change of masters,

      but I do agree being spiritual means being Spirit filled and producing the fruit of the Spirit.

      22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

      Your post brought to mind a song by the Newsboys

      Spirit Thing

      It’s not a family trait,
      it’s nothing that I ate,
      and it didn’t come from skating with Holy Rollers,

      It’s an early warning sign,
      it keeps my life in line,
      but it’s so hard to define,

      It’s just a spirit thing,
      it’s just a holy nudge,
      it’s like a circuit charge in the brain.
      It’s just a spirit thing,
      it’s here to guard my heart,
      it’s just a little hard to explain.

      It pushes when i quit,
      it smells a counterfit,
      Sometimes it works a bit like a teleprompter…

      When it’s telepromting you,
      I pray you’ll let it through,
      And I’ll help you with the how,
      But for now…


      I took the long way,
      bent back down again,
      Some things will never
      ever be explained.
      no they can not be explained…

      (Chorus) x3

    • […] training in pastoral care, theological education and integrity.  As I indicated in my recent post here on what it means to be spiritual, it is not a promotion of an esoteric experience but a development […]

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