Spirituality is a person’s lived beliefs. It's part passion, pursuit, and practice of a creed, "I believe ___." If you think crystals impart spiritual cleansing, like we see trending in what is simply modern paganism, you will trust and clutch a rock. But if you think Jesus paid for your sins, you will trust him, knowing you are in his grip. We can think of spirituality as beliefs + behaviors, or inputs and outputs. Information.
The Three Areas
For Christians, our spirituality is an initial and ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. It entails our knowledge of God, how we pursue knowing him, and how we live for him. As we live in response to our union with the risen Christ—and all that has been revealed in him, with him, through him, for him, and from him in the Scriptures—a biblical spirituality involves three areas:
- Doctrinal: What we believe about God, humans, sin, salvation, grace, and more. Our knowledge of God, his word, his ways. Simply: Our Learning of him.
- Affectional: Our emotional, heart-level, internal, and soul response to God’s word and ways. Simply: Our Loving of him.
- Experiential: How we live out the Christian life—spiritual disciplines, good works, repentance, study, singing, and more. Simply: Our Living for him.
All three of these components constitute a biblical spirituality. What we believe from the Bible, how we love and respond in the heart, and how we live and practice in life—that's true spirituality. All that we may glorify God, commune with God, and grow in relationship with God.
Psalm 27:8 and Psalm 111:2 capture this trivium of spirituality:
- “You have said (doctrinal), ‘Seek my face.’ My heart (affectional) says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek’ (experiential).” — Psalm 27:8
- “Great are the works of the Lord (doctrinal), studied (experiential) by all who delight (affectional) in them.” — Psalm 111:2
The Danger of Imbalance
If we get out of balance in these three areas, we drift into an unsavory spirituality. If we lack love, it’s hypocritical and legalistic. If we lack experiential living, it's a drift into license or a hollow spirituality. If we are dismissive of doctrine or learning unhealthy doctrine, the danger of liberalism and heresy is very real.
There are many examples of this imbalance in Scripture, especially in the churches in Revelation.
Danger of License, Lacking Faithful Living. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21).
- Church in Revelation: Sardis had the reputation of being alive but was dead (Rev 3:1–6).
- Summary: Obedience is a hallmark of discipleship with Jesus.
Danger of Hypocrisy, Lacking Genuine Love. “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matt 15:7–9).
- Church in Revelation: Ephesus forgot the love they had at first (Rev 2:1–7).
- Summary: Hearts for the Lord is a hallmark of true worship.
Danger of Liberalism, Lacking Faithful Learning. “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:3–6).
- Church in Revelation: Pergamum and Thyatira permitted and embraced false doctrines that led to sin (Rev 2:12–29).
- Summary: Sound doctrine accords with godliness. Unhealthy doctrine accords with sinfulness. Malnourished in sound theology is a danger too.
Spirituality is a Harmony
But when all three are together, it is the pursuit of true holiness, Christlikeness, and godliness. It’s vital to see how all three areas feed into one another. There is a reinforced triangulation, a feeding, and a domino-effect growth that occurs.
If we begin at the experiential/practical circle: As we read the Scriptures for our personal discipleship with Christ, we are struck by the total forgiveness afforded us by the work of Christ (doctrinal circle). This moves our hearts to respond in thanksgiving and praise (affectional circle). And this moves us to forgive others and to be patient and gracious with our children (experiential circle).
A biblical spirituality sings in harmony. It’s theological, doxological, and practical. A faithful spirituality works in concert, revealing a whole life walking with Christ.
Where are we off-pitch? Help us, Lord, to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:16–26).