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What God has joined together

April 2001 | by Paul Cook

Why then should Christian young men want to go to a night club? This is a worrying question, because we suspect their chosen entertainment is not altogether unusual for some Christians today, particularly on holiday.

A subtle change has come over many of our Evangelical churches in the last thirty years. The present emphasis is upon ‘spirituality’ instead of holiness. Little attention is given to the requirements of God’s holy law, but there is much interest in spiritual experience. Perhaps you have thought that spirituality is the same as holiness; they are certainly related, but they are not identical.

Holiness

Spirituality has to do with our experience of God and with spiritual experience in general. It mainly concerns the inward life, and is frequently preoccupied with spiritual thoughts and attitudes, with leadings and religious experiences.

The Christian life begins within the soul of a man, and nothing can be more important than knowing the divine life within the soul. Paul defines the Christian as one who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-10). This divine life comes as the result of a spiritual rebirth. Spirituality of heart and mind is essential to the Christian life.

But holiness concerns the outworking of spirituality in the life and behaviour of a Christian. The holy man delights in the law of God, and this enjoyment is expressed outwardly in his way of life.

He is visibly different from the ungodly, in the company he keeps and in what pleases him (see Psalm 1). Holiness is seen in the keeping of God’s laws, and in living and acting in a Christlike fashion. Speaking the truth, being faithful to one’s word, paying our debts, honouring our parents, fulfilling our duties, seeking to be pure in our speech and relationships, are all aspects of holiness.

Reaction

The man who claims to be spiritual without being holy is contradicting his claim. This is why Paul had to address the Corinthian Christiansas though they were carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). Their behaviour was a denial of their professed spirituality. Without holiness there can be no true spirituality, and all our claims to spiritual experience will have a hollow ring.

When I was a young man, the importance of holiness was strongly emphasised in evangelical circles. How the Christian lived and how he behaved were regarded as matters of great importance.

But the emphasis was somewhat legal: and by this I mean that Christians were mainly preoccupied with a series of ‘dos and don’ts’. Instead of Ten Commandments we were expected to observe many more.

The danger of all this was that mere conformity with certain patterns of behaviour satisfied expectations and gave rise to a self-satisfied smugness in which there was little true spirituality. Spirituality was neglected, and the inward work of the Holy Spirit rarely mentioned.

A strong reaction to this legalistic approach to the Christian life developed in the 1960s and has continued ever since. But like most reactions it has gone too far, with spirituality being stressed at the expense of holiness.

No commitment

In fact, claims to spirituality are actually being used as an excuse for breaking God’s law. Many years ago a woman, who had been booked to speak at a ladies’ meeting of the church where I was minister, phoned on the morning of the meeting to say that she could not come.

She gave as her reason that the Lord was telling her to visit someone whom she thought was needing her help. Not only was she deliberately breaking her pledged word, but she was adding transgression to transgression by claiming that the Lord had told her to do it.

Over a whole range of issues the call to holiness is being rejected in the name of spirituality. No longer are Christians careful to observe a necessary code of conduct in their relationship with the opposite sex as they used to. Church members are not as reliable and dependable as once they were.

And it is becoming increasingly difficult to get believers to commit themselves to anything. They desire open-ended ‘commitments’, which do not tie them to set purposes and objectives.

Bought with a price

The distinction between the way of the world and the Christian life is no longer clearly drawn. Everything has become permissible in the name of spirituality. But this ‘openness’ and flexibility is not spirituality at all; it is the modern existentialism that lies at the root of the moral and spiritual decay of our society. The world has swamped the church without the church knowing it.

The Scriptures always bring spirituality and holiness together; as, for example, in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 where Paul urges believers to ‘flee sexual immorality’ because now their bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Their outward behaviour should have been radically affected by their inner spiritual life, as should ours. And Paul produces a knock-out argument for such a change of life: ‘For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.