These days, it seems everyone has a different explanation about what God is like and what it means to be “spiritual.” We live in a world of competing gods, religious systems, and hundreds of years of traditions.
Yet, some of the very things sold and taught in religious institutions across the world are actually barriers to true, authentic spirituality, instead of doors to a God that really exists.
How do we know what true spirituality is? And how can we experience it?
The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, addresses this very issue in Philippians 3:1-9. Here’s how he defines true spirituality:
1. True spirituality is always rooted in relationship and results in joy.
Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. (v. 1)
True spirituality will always be relational. How do you know if a church or a denomination practices true spirituality? Their focus isn’t on religion, a leader, dogma, or rules – it’s on a relationship with Christ. It will always exalt the person of Christ and talk about the richness of the relationship with Him.
True spirituality also has everything to do with producing a by-product of joy. I remember when I got a phone call and found out that my friend’s wife had cancer and was going through chemo. Despite this devastating news, I heard them say, “We can’t explain the peace we have right now.” Were they happy about the cancer? No! But they had an abiding joy and peace that superseded their circumstances.
2. True spirituality isn’t about the external. It’s about the internal — connecting with God’s heart by means of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
Religious traditions – which are external — can actually be harmful to our spiritual health. Paul warns against this type of false spirituality that is focused on rules, laws, traditions and self-effort.
Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh… (v. 2-3)
Paul says, “watch out for those dogs,” referring to the Jewish Christians who were externally focused. They believed that in order to be spiritual and please God they had to believe in Christ and follow all of their rules and rituals. By doing this, they negated what Jesus accomplished on the cross and even hindered others from coming to know Him.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to define our own or someone else’s spiritual maturity based on certain external “boundary markers.”
For the Jews in Paul’s day, their markers were circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, and following dietary laws. For many Christians today, some markers might be regularly attending church, dressing a certain way, serving in a ministry, and abstaining from smoking and drinking. The problem with markers is that they produce pseudo-spirituality.
In verses 4-6 Paul makes a hypothetical argument, using logic to say that if external appearance, performance and self-effort could make us right with God then we wouldn’t need Christ.
Paul was a master at performance and following the Law. He accredits himself as being a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” yet, this is what he says this about himself:
…whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ… I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (v. 7-9)
Even our best and most sincere efforts in attaining God’s favor are powerless to achieve true spirituality.
The good news is that Christ has already made us righteous when he died on the cross for our sins. He did this so that He could have a relationship with us not based upon works or guilt, but upon grace.
Ultimately, true spirituality is not about self-effort and external appearances, or rules and religious activity. It’s about a relationship with Christ.
Founder & Teaching Pastor, Living on the Edge
Chip Ingram is the CEO and teaching pastor of Living on the Edge, an international teaching and discipleship ministry. A pastor for over thirty years, Chip has a unique ability to communicate truth and challenge people to live out their faith. He is the author of many books, including The Real God, Culture Shock and The Real Heaven. Chip and his wife, Theresa, have four grown children and twelve grandchildren and live in California.More Articles by Chip