Christian Spirituality

//Christian Spirituality
Christian Spirituality2017-03-30T17:07:01+00:00

The Spiritual Person

The goal of the Christian life is to become more like Jesus Christ.  The scriptures call us to move towards Christlikeness by highlighting many characteristics of the virtuous life.  Of course, the only person who ever perfectly lived out these virtues was Jesus.  However, we can grow to be more like him as we practice Christian virtues in our lives.  Most of us know people we consider to be spiritually mature.  These people tend to exhibit certain outward qualities in their lives such as character and good relationships.  They regularly attend worship, pray, serve, read their Bible, give, share their faith and other commendable practices.  Thus, most Christians would define a spiritual person as looking something like the following diagram.

These concepts and diagrams were developed along with Timothy Harben.

the-spiritual-person

This diagram is accurate, but incomplete.  Mature Christians often practice these activities.  However, it is possible to practice these activities from an insincere posture.  Jesus repeatedly criticized the Pharisees for this fault.  They did the right things for the wrong reasons.  Instead, Jesus focused on the heart.  He focused on virtues like love, humility, holiness, righteousness, generosity, kindness, self-control, honesty, patience, forgiveness, etc…  These virtues exist in our hearts and lead to right behavior.  If we get our hearts right, our walk will follow.

The reverse is not always true.  Doing the right things does not always reflect a right heart.  Again, this was Christ’s critique of the Pharisees.  Still, practicing the right things in the right spirit can train our hearts to move towards Christ.  This is how spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship and giving work.  In and of themselves they are not necessarily virtues because they can be compromised.  However, practicing spiritual disciplines in an attempt to better know God enables us to experience his grace and grow closer to him.  Thus, there is a definite reciprocal relationship between internal and external virtues; although, the primary flow is from internal virtues outward towards activities. This dynamic is reflected in the following diagram.

the-spiritual-person-2

Notice how internal virtues like love, humility, faith, honesty and goodness lead to the outward practice of healthy relationships, worship, prayer, sharing one’s faith and service.  Authentic spirituality starts with the heart and moves outward.  Jesus indicated that a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit.  He also said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”  Luke 6:46.

One of the strengths of Thrive 316 is that we address the heart.  This is difficult to do with a purely cognitive approach to discipleship, which typically involves a focus on knowledge or behavior.  These are both important, yet the heart is key to spiritual growth.  If God’s word does not change our hearts it lies fallow like the path or stony ground in the parable of the soils.  If our behavior is not motivated by the right heart it is useless and carnal (1 Corinthians 13: 1-3; Matthew 5: 21-30).  In other words, it is possible to know a lot about God or do a lot for God, but not look very much like God.  Authentic spiritual growth involves knowledge, heart and behavior, but the key is the heart.  A discipleship method that is personal, spiritual, relational and dynamic is far better suited to deal with whole person, including the heart.

Thus far, we have only dealt with half of the equation.  It is important to strive for spiritual virtues; however, it is just as important to flee carnal vices.  The spiritual man has an opposite.  We do not naturally seek Christ in our lives.  Our natural spiritual state is one of self-interest and sin.  The carnal man is illustrated by the following diagram.

the-carnal-person

Of course, we are not all completely given over to all of these vices in the extreme.  Not that we are not capable of such a thing.  All people are somewhere between the Carnal and the Spiritual person.  If the Carnal Person and the Spiritual person were two ends of a continuum, we would be somewhere in the middle.  If Christ were the measure of the spiritual person, then most of us must admit that we are far closer to the Carnal Person than we are the Spiritual Person.  The goal of discipleship is to move people along the continuum towards the Spiritual Person, which of course is Christ. The way we do this is by changing the heart which in turn impacts our behavior.

The following list was based on work by Timothy Harben and added to by this author.

christian-spirituality-01

christian-spirituality-02

christian-spirituality-03

These nine movements represent the nine categories outlined in our spiritual inventory of the heart.  The idea being that we identify the areas where we are weak and intentionally focus on moving to the right in these areas.

How People Grow Spiritually

Moving from the carnal person to the spiritual person is ultimately a work of the Holy Spirit.  We are under no illusions that any of us can change another’s heart.  Still, we are called to make disciples; hence, God in his grace chooses and desires to use us in His sanctifying work.  Thus, we are responsible to be faithful and diligent in helping others towards the goal of Christlikeness.

Moving towards Christlikeness involves the whole person: their mind, heart and actions.  Thus, genuine discipleship is theological, spiritual and behavioral or as what I sometimes refer to as relating to knowledge, attitude, and action.  Furthermore, there seems to be a direct correlation as to how these aspects of self relate to one another in the process.  A simplified way of looking at this process is to note that revelation leads to repentance which leads to righteousness.  If any of these aspects are frustrated, genuine spiritual growth does not occur because the individual does not complete the full movement towards Christlikeness.

Spirituality = Mind + Heart + Actions

or

Spirituality = Christ-like Thoughts + Christ-like Attitudes + Christ-like Behaviors

or

Spirituality = Spiritual Understanding + Purity of Motive + Integrity of Actions

Thus, Christian growth takes place as Spiritual or Biblical understanding moves our hearts to desire God and the things of God in a way that moves our lives to reflect Christ to the external world.  Again, revelation leads to repentance which leads to righteousness.  Furthermore, as our lives grow to reflect Christ more, we grow more in understanding as God reveals additional insights and challenges regarding Christlikeness.  Thus, the entire process loops back on itself to fuel additional growth.

Thus, Christian growth takes place as Spiritual or Biblical understanding moves our hearts to desire God and the things of God in a way that moves our lives to reflect Christ to the external world.  Again, revelation leads to repentance which leads to righteousness.  Furthermore, as our lives grow to reflect Christ more, we grow more in understanding as God reveals additional insights and challenges regarding Christlikeness.  Thus, the entire process loops back on itself to fuel additional growth.

revelation-righteousness-repentance

We see this process played out many times in scripture.  For example, in Acts 26 Paul gives a defense to King Agrippa regarding the nature of his ministry.  In both verses 18 & 20 Paul alludes to this dynamic regarding how people move towards Christ.

Acts 26:15-20 – Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.

Paul indicates that his understanding of the great commission, or his mission from Christ, is to first preach so that people will grow in their understanding of God’s Word to open their eyes, or bring spiritual understanding, regarding God and his will.  Second, this new understanding leads them to turn from their dark ways or to repent.  After hearing God’s Word, they have a change of heart and now desire to live pleasing to him (see Ephesians 4:17-29).  Finally, this repentance results in changed lives or deeds consistent with repentance.  God’s Word has produced fruit in the life of the disciple through a life lived in light rather than darkness.

Thus, genuine spiritual growth is holistic: involving knowledge, attitude, and actions: the intellect, the soul and the external life.   It is important to explore each of these aspects of self to better grasp our role in the process.

Knowledge

Knowledge represents the mind, intellect or understanding.  How much do we understand about God and his will for our lives?  Growing in spiritual understanding is often referred to as revelation as God reveals himself and his truth to us.  The most obvious and direct illustration of revelation is exposure to God’s Word through reading, hearing, teaching, preaching, etc…  However, the Holy Spirit is also constantly moving in the lives of believers to reveal spiritual truth to better understand God’s Word and how it relates to us.

John 16:13-15 – But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

Thus, the Holy Spirit is active in the lives of believers enlightening us regarding God’s Word and how it impacts our lives.  For example, we may read a passage of scripture and not immediately understand its implications.  We may not grasp the nuance of the passage or how this passage speaks to us personally.  At a later time, something happens that enables us to understand the passage in a whole new light.  The Spirit gives us an “Aha” moment as he connects the dots between the scripture and our lives.  We may listen to a sermon about gratitude and think nothing of it.  Months later, however, a friend shares how she regularly practices thanksgiving in her time with God.  You realize you have never expressed gratitude to God.  You may read a passage on grace, and never fully appreciate how amazing it is until you meet a Christian with a dark past.

The dynamic way in which the Holy Spirit moves in our lives to reveal God’s truth to us drives home the absolute necessity of belonging to a growing community of faith.  It is important to be a part of a church that faithfully teaches and practices God’s Word.  It is important to be exposed to those who model authentic spirituality and encourage us to move towards God.  The Holy Spirit uses these relationships to challenge and grow us spiritually.  A good church is in effect a dynamic community that empowers us to work out our faith.  The Thrive 316 relationship takes this dynamic to an entirely different level through intentional relationships that focus on the healthy aspects of a spiritually growing community.

Colossians 3:16 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

God may use a Thrive 316 coach (someone intentionally discipling another) to facilitate understanding or revelation in a variety of ways.  The most obvious way is teaching or directing the disciple towards various scriptures that assist in growth.  In fact, this is one of the primary roles of a Thrive 316 coach.  The coach is constantly looking for scripture or insight to help his or her charge in their quest towards Christlikeness.  Of course, in the context of a one on one relationship this typically plays out through give and take.  The coach is introducing scripture, concepts or insights.  He or she guides, reflects, synthesizes, mirrors, and challenges.  The coach recommends articles, sermons, books, experiences or even relationships that he or she feels will build up and instruct the disciple.  This is both a theological and practical role.  We help our disciples understand what the Bible teaches, we also help them understand what it teaches about us and how we live and relate to God.

In Thrive 316 we will focus on nine key doctrines.  These are not meant to be exhaustive.  Our goal is to focus on the key theologies that benefit every Christian.  The nine doctrines we emphasize in Thrive 316 are as follows:

The Doctrine of God
The Doctine of Salvation
The Doctrine of Grace
The Doctrine of the Bible
The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
The Doctrine of the Kingdom of God
The Doctrine of the Church
The Doctrine of Eternal Things
The Doctrine of Following Jesus

Again, these doctrines are not exhaustive; nor is each doctrine presented done so in an exhaustive manner.  Each doctrine is presented as an introduction and overview.  Countless volumes have been written on nuances within each of these theologies.  It is not our purpose nor intent to delve into the finer points of each theology.  Furthermore, each doctrinal overview is presented to reflect mainstream Christian thought and avoid controversial differences held by some faith traditions.  Our goal is for these doctrines to be presented in a way as to be biblical, edifying and beneficial for people of various faith traditions within the Christian community.

Attitude

Attitude represents the desire or will.  Who are we really on the inside?  Do we truly desire God and the things of God or do we desire to please self.  Attitude represents much of what we presented earlier regarding spirituality.  It can be filled with love, self-control, kindness, humility, faith, purity, mercy, generosity, patience, forgiveness and honesty or it can be filled with lust, selfishness, anger, indulgence, pride, doubt, fear, envy, greed, dishonesty, unforgiveness and discouragement.  The truth is that all of our hearts are typically filled with various degrees of all these things: both good and bad.  The heart is the real key to spiritual growth.  It is where the deciding battles for the soul are fought.  This is why we earlier defined spiritualty as moving from pride to humility, fear to faith, and so on.  In light of this, it is interesting to note that most of our intentional discipleship in the church is focused on the mind by teaching theology or it is focused on our behavior by teaching practical Christian principles.  Very rarely does anyone find an intentional discipleship effort that includes the heart.  Yet once the heart is right, spiritual growth towards Christlikeness flows easily and naturally.  If the heart is not compliant, no amount of theology or practical biblical principles will lead to spirituality.

Matthew 5:8 – Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Proverbs 23:7 – For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. NKJV

Luke 6:43-45 – “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

The crucial movement of the heart in moving towards Christlikeness is repentance.  We repent of sin and self in order to commit to God.  For example, we repent of apathy to move towards faithfulness.  We repent of bitterness to move towards forgiveness.  We repent of duplicity to move towards authenticity.  Of course, repentance starts with revelation.  We must truly understand how God feels about things in order to change our heart about them.  The ultimate goal being a genuine inner transformation.  We no longer lust or envy because God says so, but also because our hearts have transformed towards love and gratitude.  The growth of the heart can be a slow and subtle process, but it is the real work of Thrive 316.  As coaches, if we can impact the heart, we impact the entire life.

God may use a Thrive 316 coach to impact the attitude/heart in a variety of ways.  The question is how does repentance come?  It comes through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.  It involves a desired submission to God borne out of a hunger for God.  It involves an intention to change key thoughts, attitudes and behaviors in order to follow God.  This is a very spiritual process that occurs at a soul level. So how then does a fellow human being touch the soul?  The difficulty of this assignment is likely why we often overlook the heart in our discipleship attempts.  However, there are ways coaches can impact the heart of their disciples.

We impact hearts through encouragement, edification, admonishment, reflection and prayer.  We are privy to the most sensitive and private thoughts and struggles people have.  This requires understanding, compassion and true friendship.  We are in there with them.  We do not judge them for their transparency and problems.  We sympathize, we empathize, we comfort, and we wrestle with them in the dark places as they struggle to ascend to the light.  We are on their side.  Think of the AA member who limps into a meeting to confess they have lapsed since their last meeting.  Does the group shame them and throw them out into the cold implying they must now go it alone?  No.  They surround them with support and love.  Sometimes this means tough love and hard truth.  Other times it means putting your arm around them and crying with them.  Yet, under no circumstances do we judge them and abandon them to their demons.  We hang in with them as long as they are willing to hang in with us.  Finally, because we know that ultimately only God can change their hearts, we pray for them: sometimes we pray a lot because it is all we can or know to do.

Thrive 316 emphasizes nine virtues that reflect the condition of our hearts.  We have already discussed these virtues in length.  However, we will list them again as a reminder.  The nine Thrive 316 virtues are as follows:

Humility
Joy
Faith
Faithfulness
Patience
Self-Control
Love
Goodness
Truth

Again, this list of virtues is not intended to be exhaustive.  We do feel that people who grow in these areas will grow spiritually to better reflect their Lord.  Thus, Thrive 316 will focus on these virtues and their related virtues as presented on pages 400 through 402.

Action

Action represents our behavior or ability to live the Christian life.  Do our actions and relationships honor God?  Do we exhibit integrity of character?  How well do we embody or live out the qualities listed in our diagram of the spiritual person: holiness (godly character), righteousness (right relationships), worship, prayer, Bible knowledge, generosity, fellowship, service, sharing our faith, and having a kingdom focus for our lives.  Of course, this is in contrast to the carnal person, who instead exhibits poor character, broken relationships, a disregard for God, discontentment, hedonistic behavior, an uncaring or unsympathetic view of others, apathy, vulgarity, bitterness, and general selfishness.  Once again, everyone is somewhere between the two images of the perfectly spiritual person and the perfectly carnal person.  Our goal is to assist people in moving towards the spiritual person on the continuum.  The Bible often uses the idea of good deeds to summarize genuine Christian behavior.  Most often good deeds or Christian behavior refers primarily to holiness and righteousness or godly character and right relationships.

Matthew 5:16 – Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Ephesians 4:24 – Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Hebrews 10:24-25 – And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.

So, how do we spur one another on towards love and good deeds?  How do we, as coaches, help facilitate character and right relationships?  How do we move people towards love, service, generosity, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, faithfulness, purity, and so on?

Moving people towards love and good deeds starts with an understanding that our behavior is the final stage of a process that first involves spiritual understanding through God’s Word.  Next, it involves a change of heart or repentance after processing this new learning in the context of our lives.  In other words, it is difficult for us to expect another person to change their behavior if the proper groundwork has not been laid.  For example, how can we expect someone to remain sexually pure if they have never truly repented of this behavior?  How can they repent if they have little understanding of what the Bible teaches on the subject?  The same holds true for any outward expression of the Christian life.

A person changes their behavior through an act of the will.  There exists a determination to live out new convictions in the real world.  This involves a realization that good intentions are not good enough.  However, living rightly before God and others presents certain challenges: specifically, the real world!  It is often easy to learn what to do, or even to determine to do the right thing.  However, actually attempting new behaviors presents unforeseen challenges: our hearts are not quite where we thought they were, the habits of our flesh strongly resist, our new behavior is not popular with others, and so on.  This is why righteousness or attempting to live out new learning and convictions often leads to further revelation or understanding.  When living out the Christian life is challenging, which it almost always is, we learn more about ourselves and the dynamics of our hearts and how we function spiritually.

Spiritual coaches can play a huge role in helping people cross that final hurdle of integrating spiritual truth into their lives.  Once again, friendship is key.  Just knowing there is someone pulling and praying for us makes a huge difference.  In essence, it is positive peer pressure in action.  In fact, the more people openly encouraging another towards righteousness the better.  The moral support garnered by this dynamic is powerful.  Coaches encourage their disciples to do the right thing.  They hold them accountable when they fall short.  They model the desired behavior.  In fact, modelling is important because much of Christian spirituality is better caught than taught.  Coaches help their charges reflect on practical successes and failures to work out why things happened the way they did.  Coaches challenge by giving tasks and assignments to be completed.  Coaches invite their disciples into life and ministry with them, to build relationships and model righteousness.  This also provides teachable moments and shared experiences for further reflection.

In Thrive 316 we will focus on nine behaviors or fruit in the Christian life.  We have already identified these behaviors, but it doesn’t hurt to present them again as a reminder.  The behaviors we focus on in Thrive 316 are as follows:

Righteousness or Right Relationships
Holiness or Godly Character
Worship
Prayer
Bible Reading and Study
Giving and Stewardship
Fellowship
Service
Kingdom Focus/Evangelism and Missions

When presented together; knowledge, attitude and action; we have the full scope of the Thrive 316 discipleship approach.

Knowledge/Doctrine

God
Salvation
Grace
The Bible
The Holy Spirit
The Kingdom of God
The Church
Eternal Things
Following Jesus

Attitude/Virtue

Humility
Joy
Faith
Faithfulness
Patience
Self-Control
Love
Goodness
Truth

Action/Behavior

Relationships
Character
Worship
Prayer
Bible Study
Generosity
Fellowship
Service
Kingdom Building

Of course, there is more to the Christian life than just these doctrines, virtues and behaviors.  However, these 27 emphases are a great place to start and are beneficial for all Christians.  A Christian well versed in these areas can navigate most anything that comes their way.