Some people reckon Australia is getting LESS AND LESS RELIGIOUS. And that might be true. It certainly seems like there’s a smaller percentage of people in churches than there were A GENERATION AGO.
But there’s lots of people who’ll want to say we’re becoming more and more SPIRITUAL.
But what does it mean to be SPIRITUAL? And what does a SPIRITUAL person look like?
I’ve been having a fascinating conversation with an ex-student of mine I re-discovered through facebook. I guess I last saw Michael about 15 years ago. He was always a joker at school, so I wasn’t TOO surprised to find out that, among other things, he’s now an aspiring stand-up comedian.
But what was MOST interesting was his attitude to Christianity.
The school I taught at was a Christian school, so by the time the students left they all KNEW what a Christian was, and been influenced by lots of Christian teachers. Of course, not all of them claimed to be Christians THEN, and there’s plenty I’ve discovered on facebook who seem like they’re STILL a long way from Christianity.
And Mike’s one of THOSE. Here’s what he says. “I’m kinda against organised religion, because I think it’s based on fear and guilt. And it’s the opposite of the true love and freedom that’s God”. But he sums up where he’s at, “I’m SPIRITUAL, I guess!”
But what does he mean by SPIRITUAL?
My guess is Mike would say something like, “It’s being OPEN to a SPIRITUAL DIMENSION of life.” The side of life that can’t be explained by what you can see and hear with your senses, or that can’t be proved by Science. He also told me his partner is a psychic! Perhaps THAT’S what he means.
Others might say a SPIRITUAL person is into MEDITATION and EASTERN RELIGIONS. Or perhaps into astrology, or séances, or crystals. Or maybe just someone who likes Ghost Whisperer.
All sorts of understandings. And that’s even before you start asking what CHRISTIANS means by SPIRITUAL.
Some Christians will tell you that being SPIRITUAL. Is about displaying impressive spiritual GIFTS. Like speaking in tongues, or healing. Or someone who receives VISIONS or PROPHECIES, or words of knowledge.
Others will say being SPIRITUAL is about getting so wrapped up in the JOY and EMOTION of WORSHIP that everything else just fades into the background. That a spiritual Christian is someone who has a deeply SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE on a regular basis.
Then there’s people from a TRADITONAL side of Christianity who’ll say a SPIRITUAL Christian is someone who appreciates the traditional rituals of Christianity. The reverent, contemplative side with candles, and choirs, and stained glass. With silence and meditation and sacraments. That’s what being a SPIRITUAL Christian is all about.
Which, when you THINK about it, perhaps isn’t that far from the charismatic view, the PENTECOSTAL view, as you might think.
But is that what the BIBLE says?
Here in the last part of his letter to the Galatians, Paul wants to show that a SPIRITUAL Christian looks VERY DIFFERENT from that.
A SPIRITUAL Christian is someone who’s allowing God’s HOLY SPIRIT to be guiding them in the everyday, ordinary decisions of life. Someone who’s making TOUGH CHOICES to SERVE OTHER PEOPLE in LOVE because that’s what Jesus would do. And it’s not really to do with AN EXPERIENCE at ALL.
What we’ll see is that spiritual Christians have SMALL HEADS, BROAD SHOULDERS AND SOFT HANDS, OPEN WALLETS, AND GOOD ENDURANCE. If you think that sounds a bit weird, just wait. You’ll see what I mean!
Remember Paul’s argument? He said back in Ch 5 v16 that there’s A CIVIL WAR going on inside every Christian. A constant battle between doing what your OLD RE, and the Spirit of God. Each one wants the OPPOSITE of the OTHER. V17.
17 For THE SINFUL RE desires what is contrary to the SPIRIT, and the SPIRIT what is contrary to the SINFUL RE. They are IN CONFLICT with each other, so that YOU DO NOT DO WHAT YOU WANT.
You WANT TO do the right thing, but you’re constantly tempted to do the WRONG thing. Instead, Paul says, the Christian needs to LIVE BY THE SPIRIT. There in v16. Which means moulding your behaviour and character and responses into the shape God’s Spirit wants. Listening to HIM.
Keep in step with the Spirit (5:25)
And down in v25, he says, since you’ve been MADE ALIVE by God’s Spirit, KEEP IN STEP with the Spirit.
If you’re a Christian, then you’re SPIRITUAL because God’s Spirit lives in you. He’s made you SPIRITUALLY alive. You’ve been BORN AGAIN. A spiritual person will KEEP IN STEP with God’s Spirit.
Like a dance partner. Dancing with the Stars has started again. When the dancers, (the soapy stars or TV personalities), team up with PROFESSIONAL DANCERS to perform all the different ballroom dances.
And they have to FOLLOW THE LEAD of the professionals. Listen to them. Copy them. Allow themselves to be guided. And when they do that, then they somehow manage to move around the dance floor, and not make complete fools of themselves.
A SPIRITUAL Christian allows himself to be guided by God’s Spirit. Listening to HIS cues and hints. HIS advice and priorities. Following HIS TECHNIQUE.
And when we do that as a matter of habit, then the dance doesn’t look half-bad. v22.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
A SPIRITUAL Christian is one who EXHIBITS THE CHARACTERISTICS OF GOD’S SPIRIT IN HIS OR HER LIFE.
And that’s where chapter 6 comes in. Paul gets PRACTICAL. Teasing out what these things LOOK LIKE in the messy day-to-day of relationships.
Have small heads (6:3-5; 5:26)
The PRINCIPLE is to keep in step with the Spirit. But what’s that look like IN PRACTICE? You can see that’s how ch 5 FINISHES.
Keep in step with the Spirit (v25). Then let us not become CONCEITED, provoking and envying one another (v26).
When you’re following the dance steps of the Spirit, when you’re SPIRITUAL, you’ll be gentle and kind and humble. You’ll be CONTENT. There’ll be no room for CONCEIT, because you know you deserved NOTHING from God, yet he showed you GRACE. YOU’VE been shown mercy. So you can show MERCY and acceptance to OTHERS, instead of judgmentalism and conceit.
Spiritual Christians will have SMALL HEADS. There’ll be no BIG EGOS among spiritual Christians.
The mark of a spiritual Christian isn’t some private mystical experience of our own. But it’s seen in our practical relationships of LOVE for OTHER PEOPLE.
And it seems PRACTICAL LOVE was the sort of area the Galatian church had specifically been failing at. Remember they’ve had false teachers telling that they needed to keep the Old Testament law as well as trusting Jesus? That God wasn’t satisfied with Jesus’ efforts; he wants US to chip in too. To MAKE SURE of our salvation by rule keeping.
Which Paul says is JUST WRONG. Like in ch 5 v1.
5:1 It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of SLAVERY. 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.
But that’s what some of Paul’s readers were falling back into. Living according to rules and regulations. A series of BOUNDARIES that marked out who was acceptable and who WASN’T. Who was OK, and who was to be LOOKED DOWN ON.
You see, when you’ve got that view about what makes you right with God, then it’s GOT to spill over into how you treat OTHER PEOPLE. Whether they measure up to your standards or not.
If they DO, then they’re on YOUR SIDE against the REST. And if they DON’T, then you JUDGE them. And proudly assume you’re better than THEY are.
Which, unfortunately, seems to describe the way Christians often treat people. Or at least that’s the REPUTATION we have.
Philip Yancey’s book “What’s so Amazing about Grace” opens with the story of a speaking to a counsellor. Who says to her, “you need HELP. Have you thought of going to a CHURCH?” To which she spits out the words, “I feel BAD ENOUGH ABOUT MYSELF ALREADY. A church would just make me feel WORSE.”
It’s the sort of attitude you can EXPECT from people who think that you’re made right with God by the THINGS YOU DO.
Have broad shoulders and soft hands (6:1-2)
But Christians shouldn’t BE like that. Instead, they should be SPIRITUAL. Have a look at v1 of ch 6.
6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are SPIRITUAL should RESTORE HIM GENTLY.
You know, I reckon the HARDEST THING about being a leader in a church is knowing how to deal with a Christian who’s LIVING THE WRONG WAY. Who’s continuing in SIN. It’s EASIER to say nothing. To pretend it’s between him and God. You’re less likely to make a mess of things if you just say NOTHING. Because you never know what sort of reception you’re going to get.
But Paul says SPIRITUAL Christians aren’t to do that. When we see a brother or sister who’s not following Jesus, we’re to RESTORE them GENTLY. To RISK being yelled at. To RISK the broken relationship. To RISK hurting their feelings because we want what’s BEST for them.
DON’T leave it between them and God. Carry their burden. Help them out. See it there in v2?
2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
The law of Christ. Is the law of LOVE. To love your neighbour AS YOURSELF. To put THEIR interests above YOURS. Better they be turned away from a sin and you get YELLED AT. Than you have a peaceful life, and they keep SINNING.
Carry each other’s burdens by TAKING RESPONSIBILITY for each other’s godliness. Restore each other GENTLY.
The word for RESTORE is used for setting broken bones, or for mending nets. It’s about straightening up. About bringing back to full health. Turning them around to head in the right direction.
It takes a special person to do that. A SPIRITUAL person. Someone with BROAD SHOULDERS to bear other’s burdens. But a TENDER TOUCH – soft hands – so they can restore people GENTLY.
Spiritual Christians have broad shoulders and soft hands.
How are we DOING at that? The first step is to be BEARING each others burdens. Are we DOING that? Or aren’t we involved enough with each other to KNOW what the burdens are? Home Groups, and showing hospitality are two great ways to LEARN about our burdens. Spend TIME with each other.
And then, how are we going at correcting each other GENTLY? It takes time and effort and an emotional commitment to do that GENTLY. It means treating someone with SOFT HANDS. Easier just to flick off an email, or an SMS, or make a sharp comment. Much harder to the time to LISTEN, and speak patiently. And support and follow-up and pray.
I wonder whether you’ve ever had anyone do that for YOU. Or whether it’s been done BADLY.
Which seems to be more common. At least among Paul’s readers. Which is why he goes on.
But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted
Which COULD mean, when you point someone’s sin out to them, watch out or you may be tempted by the same sin they’re falling in to. But I think the more LIKELY sin is the one of CONCEIT. Of JUDGING someone, and thinking you’re better than THEY are. Look at how he continues in v3.
3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.
Sometimes it’s just BUSY-BODIES who point out people’s faults. Not because they want to restore people gently. But because it makes THEM feel better about themselves if they can point out the weaknesses of OTHERS.
There can be a finger-pointing LEGALISM about the way some Christians go about showing people their faults and mistakes.
But Paul says Spiritual Christians will test their own actions. They’ll have SMALL HEADS. They’ll take a good look at their motivations when it comes to correcting others. To make sure it’s out of LOVE, rather than PRIDE.
Spiritual Christians will be concerned for their OWN responses and actions. Carry their OWN load when it comes to giving an account to God. And not try to improve God’s impression of them by comparison to anyone ELSE.
Have open wallets (6:6)
Next up Paul says Spiritual Christians have OPEN WALLETS. At least that’s what I think he’s getting at in v6.
6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
The principle is that those who TEACH and LEAD and LOOK AFTER a church have the right to be FINANCIALLY SUPPORTED by that church. That’s the way it works here at Western Blacktown. Members give money to support me and my family. And that means I can give my whole week to be doing those things. TO teach and leading and looking after. It’s a great privilege and something I’m very thankful to God for.
But there’s a temptation that goes with it. The temptation to HOLD BACK on saying the CHALLENGING things, the TOUGH WORDS. To hold back on CORRECTING people. Because if you don’t LIKE IT, you might stop GIVING. And if you stop GIVING, I’ll be out of a job!
Instead, Paul says, when you’re INSTRUCTED in God’s Word, share all good things with the INSTRUCTOR. SUPPORT him. Because he’s simply teaching you about GOD’S word. It’s not just HIS opinion. So don’t make it personal. Don’t get offended, and withhold your support as a way of getting back at him.
So there’s TWO sides to correcting and restoring each other. And spiritual Christians will have the right attitude on BOTH sides.
If you’re DOING the correcting. Do it gently, and without PRIDE. And if you’re BEING corrected, don’t take offense, and stop supporting your leader, who’s only working for your GOOD.
Have good endurance (6:7-10)
The LAST thing Paul says describes a spiritual Christian is that he’ll have GOOD ENDURANCE. There in v9.
9 LET US NOT BECOME WEARY in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Do good, and keep doing good, and keeping doing good. Don’t get tired. Don’t run out of steam. Don’t come up with excuses. “But no one seems to notice. But I’ve been doing it for 10 years I deserve a break. But I’m not seeing any DIFFERENCE. But I’ll get more joy if I start looking after MYSELF for once.”
Instead Paul says Don’t become WEARY. God’s promise is that we WILL reap a harvest if we don’t give up. We WILL see fruit. We WILL see what eternal difference we’ve made if we stick at it.
He says, back up in v7. That you reap what you SEW. You’ll never reap GOOD things if you keep SEWING with your old sinful re.
Stick at it. Work at doing good even when you don’t see any difference. Even when no one notices. Even when you’re not rewarded. V10.
10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
That’s what SPIRITUAL Christians do. In some ways it’s SIMPLE. There’s no great SECRET to it. But in OTHER ways it’s HARD. It’s a long, hard grind of, day after day, choosing to LOVE. Choosing to generously look to the needs of others. Of turning away from PRIDE, and choosing to follow the lead of God’s Spirit.
May we be a group of spiritual Christians who look like that. People with small heads broad shoulders and soft hands open wallets and good endurance.