It is a crucial and necessary question; ‘How do I know what is true or false?’ In my last two articles I proposed three criteria for answering the question with regard to new spiritualities.
The criteria were ‘real revelation’, ‘relational revelation’ and ‘redemptive revelation’. A fourth criterion, namely, ‘restorative revelation’, is the theme of this article.
Biblical spirituality — where does it begin? It begins in the divine, radical and inward work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. This new life is then strengthened by the Spirit throughout our Christian lives. And this miracle of new birth rests on the foundation of Christ’s sacrifice for sinners.
I now want to set up a framework of three inter-related principles, which will enable us to understand and encourage biblical spirituality.
Relationship to Christ
The first principle is the believer’s relationship to Christ. The New Testament uses powerful pictures to illustrate the fact that Christians are ‘in Christ’, enjoying a spiritual union with him.
It likens the Christian’s union with Christ to the intimate relationship between husband and wife (Ephesians 5); to the closeness of the head to the body (Ephesians 4:15-16); to the organic relationship between a vine and its branches (John 15); and to the integration of stones to form a building, resting on the chief cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-5).
We need to underline two implications of this principle with regard to biblical spirituality.
Firstly, there is a relationship to cultivate. Christians tend to neglect what is at the heart of Christianity, namely, a dynamic, living relationship with Christ.
Early in 1950, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones explained what he desired most for the year ahead. Before all else, he emphasised, quoting Paul’s longing in Philippians 3:10, ‘I want “to know him” more’.
Six months previously Lloyd-Jones had known a greater reality in his relationship with Christ and an overwhelming sense of Christ’s glory and love in two different situations.
This is biblical spirituality: ‘that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (John 17:3).
Secondly, there are resources to appropriate. How can I know the Lord better? Do I need special techniques? Is there a book, a person or a special church that can help me?
The answer is ‘no’. In Colossians 2:10 the apostle declares that Christians ‘are complete in him’, that is, in Christ. He is all that Christians need for knowing, and living for, God in this world.
We are continually sustained and energised by his life and power. Or, as Colossians 2:7 puts it, Christians ‘are rooted and built up in him’. Here is plentiful life, grace and power for us.
Are you in an impossible situation? Christ says: ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). Do pressures overwhelm you? You may respond: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:13).
Christ is the answer — not techniques or new methods.
Paul wants Christians to have a more intimate knowledge of God (Ephesians 1:17). How is this achieved? Through the Word and the Holy Spirit.
That is why he prays for the Spirit to enlighten their minds to revealed truth (Ephesians 1:17-18). A greater understanding of the Word, and a more lively awareness of future glory and of omnipotent power at work in their lives, will bring them to a deeper experimental relationship with the Lord.
The resources of Christ and the means of grace are given to Christians to help them know him better and please him.
The rule of Christ
The second principle is the rule of Christ. Christ rules now. He rules over unbelievers as well as believers and over all nations. He rules everywhere as the mediatorial Lord: ‘All authority is given to me in heaven and earth’, he affirms as he introduces the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18).
How does this relate to biblical spirituality? Briefly, Christ’s rule is another essential part of spirituality. God’s purpose for Christians is that they will be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29) — to be without sin in glory.
That is God’s goal for Christians; it is achieved through Christ’s rule over them and the Spirit’s sanctifying power in them.
Christ rules over Christians essentially in two ways, by the Word and by the Spirit. Biblical spirituality is only possible in the framework of Christ’s rule by his Word and the Holy Spirit. I confine myself to three aspects of Christ’s rule over us by the Word.
Spirituality involves obeying biblical guidelines in all our relationships. Contemporary areas which, for Christians, must be brought under Christ’s rule in his Word include family and private life; work ethics; pre-marital sex; co-habitation; adultery; prostitution; homosexuality; the neglect of the elderly in Western society; physical abuse; pornographic and commercial exploitation of humans; and racism.
Are you spiritual? Then ‘love your wives … obey your husbands … obey your parents in the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:22-25; 6:1).
‘Do not provoke your children to anger’ (Colossians 3:21); ‘obey those who rule over you [in church] and be submissive’ (Hebrews 13:7); ‘be kind to other believers, tender-hearted, forgiving one another even as God in Christ forgave you’ (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Submit to civil governments (Romans 13:1-7) and pray for all in authority (1 Timothy 2). Biblical spirituality involves submitting to Christ’s rule over us in these and all other areas indicated by the Word.
The Indian guru mystic Sai Baba is famed as a ‘god man’ and miracle worker. The Times newspaper (27/8/01, p.3) reported that three British men committed suicide after placing hope in India’s most popular guru.
One was sexually molested by the guru in his ashram near Bangalore, and was found dead in London. Another hanged himself in his Cardiff home, devastated that the guru had not answered his mail.
A third man jumped off a building in India shortly after visiting Baba’s ashram. The guru is widely reported as sexually abusing teenagers and children. And he is a leader of one of the new spiritualities.
Biblical spirituality is vastly different. Christ’s rule over Christians in the Word is righteous and pure. He directs his people to become more Christlike in their lifestyle.
That is spirituality — knowing God and bringing one’s life and behaviour into line with what the Bible teaches.
Repentance is a daily grace exercised by Christians when the Word convicts them of inconsistent, unrighteous actions, speech and thought. ‘No longer live as the heathen live’, Paul exhorts the Ephesians (4:17). ‘Put away lying … anger … stealing … filthy talk’. Have done with bitter unloving attitudes and words (4:25-31).
Turning from sin in repentance, as we obey Christ in his rule over us, is evidence of a genuine spirituality. ‘Blessed are those that mourn [over their sin]’, said Jesus, ‘for they shall be comforted’ (Matthew 5:4).
The return of Christ
The third and final principle in this framework of ‘restorative revelation’ is the return of Christ.
History is not an unending cycle of events or reincarnations but is eschatological, that is, it moves towards a final culmination. This will occur when the Lord Jesus Christ returns in person, appearing visibly and gloriously as King and Judge of all the earth.
Christians look forward to, and long for, this glorious prospect. Peter describes them as ‘looking for’ and anticipating Christ’s return with eagerness and desire (2 Peter 3:12).
And the anticipation both stimulates and challenges Christians to live holy, righteous lives in the here and now.
John challenges us: ‘we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure’ (1 John 3:2-3).
Christ’s rule over us, the promise of his return in glory, and the prospect that all Christ’s enemies will be defeated and judged, stimulates Christians to holy living.
The hope of seeing Christ face to face, receiving resurrection bodies, and witnessing a re-created and restored earth — as well as the joy of unending bliss with all believers — becomes a powerful motivation to holiness and deeper spirituality.
Here, then, is the biblical context and pattern for genuine spirituality. It is to this dynamic, biblical, experimental, clean and eschatological spirituality that Christians are called. We are to live, enjoy and demonstrate it to our contemporary world.