Philip Sheldrake’s book, Spirituality: A Brief History, is a good read. Yet it raises a question near the end. What do we mean by “spiritual” if we apply the term to a variety of faiths, as he does, including Christianity and various forms of Zen Buddhism and Hinduism?
With that question in mind I’ve done a brief reflective survey of how the Bible, and God, present the Spirit and spirituality.
To begin, in the Bible the Spirit of God births authentic spirituality. We first meet the Spirit in Genesis 1:2. His place “in the beginning” then continues onward. He later inaugurated the physical life and ministry of Jesus. The virgin Mary was startled to learn that the Spirit “will come upon you” (Lk 1:35) in forming her pregnancy. And later, as Jesus began his ministry, “the Holy Spirit descended on him” and God the Father also announced, “You are my beloved Son” at the same moment (Lk 2:22). Jesus was then “led by the Spirit” (Lk 4:1) to endure a set of temptations and after he weathered the tests Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee” (Lk 4:14).
The point is that Jesus, as the “Son of God,” relied on the Spirit in his human life. This was first promised in Isaiah 61:1-2 (cited by Jesus in Lk 4:18-19), “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…” Jesus said this verse was fulfilled “today” after he read it.
We also read in John’s gospel that meeting and knowing God only comes about by the Spirit’s work. Nicodemus, in chapter 3, was told he needed to be “born of the Spirit” (vs. 6-7). The Spirit, we learn, is the source of Spirit-to-spirit life in any soul—from the very beginning of time. Adam therefore “died” in Eden when he despised God’s word and the Spirit left him.
This is a key lesson. Eternal life comes through the Spirit. And every soul from Adam onward lacks the Spirit until a reconnection or “new birth” by the Spirit takes place. So from Adam onward the Spirit has been inviting souls to embrace God. One of these souls, King David, knew God but still sinned flagrantly. And here’s what he prayed afterwards, in repentance: “take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11).
A quiet but consistent premise in the Bible is that we were designed as spirit-motivated souls. The alternative term for a person’s deepest motivational center is “heart.” Notice the parallelism in Psalm 77:6, “I said … ‘let me meditate in my heart.’ Then my spirit made a diligent search.” Also in Psalm 78:8, Ezekiel 13:2-3, and elsewhere. In Proverbs 4:23 we read, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
Heart-protection is crucial when we recognize another Scripture premise. An antagonistic “spirit”—not from God—is busy manipulating human spirits with distorted ambitions. He’s in the business of capturing hearts with addictive desires: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following … the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind….” (Eph. 2:1-3).
So when we think of Spirituality there are options in place. And God distinguishes his own Spirit as “Holy” to discriminate his heart from competing options. God’s character then stirs other hearts with his own “Spirit” as in Galatians 5:23—”But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
If we want to understand and experience true spirituality it’s worth our while to ask Jesus to open our hearts to his presence. And try reading the entire Bible through sometime soon, with a highlighter in hand, to notice who this companion is and what he offers. For one, he brings the Bible to life!