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God is a Spirit (a spiritual Being) and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (reality).John 4:24 – Amplified Bible Classic
The word “spiritual” is used all the time in the Bible.
From John 4, we can see that God is a spiritual being, and learning to be “spiritual” is an important part of our relationship with him. But “spiritual” is one of those concepts that can be hard for us to understand and perhaps even harder for us to practice in our daily lives. So what does spiritual mean in the Bible?
Having an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of biblical concepts is not uncommon. For example, when I first started coming to church, I noticed that people talked a lot about humility. Everyone seemed to talk about it as if it were a good thing. People prayed for humility and admired others for their humility.
While I nodded my head in agreement when people talked about the value of humility, I was terrified by the concept.
My view of humility was very distorted. I thought “humility” was the same as “humiliation.” I was convinced that I could never experience humility until I failed at everything I tried to accomplish, lost everything I valued and became destitute.
Years later, I was driving with a couple of friends, one of whom was mentoring me in the ministry. He turned to me and said, “Do you realize you are not very humble?”
I got a pit in my stomach. He went on to explain that training for the ministry required humility and that humility was about having the heart of a learner, which I didn’t seem interested in having. I thought I was supposed to know everything already, so I spent a lot of time expressing my opinions and hoping to hide my inadequacies.
My friend went on to point out that I never asked questions. At that moment a light went on. Wait, what? Humility is having a learner’s heart? Humility does not require being a complete failure? I don’t have to lose everything I value? I’m not expected to know everything?
A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Suddenly I realized that humility was not only achievable, but it was a positive thing. I could happily work on being a learner.
This pivotal moment changed the way I saw an important biblical concept and inspired me to pursue what I had secretly feared my whole life.
When pride comes [boiling up with an arrogant attitude of self-importance], then comes dishonor and shame, But with the humble [the teachable who have been chiseled by trial and who have learned to walk humbly with God] there is wisdom and soundness of mind.Proverbs 11:2 AMP
Proverbs 11:2 tells us that the Bible’s definition of humility is about being teachable, not humiliated. When I learned what God really wanted, I was relieved and inspired.
I think the same is true when it comes to understanding what it means to be “spiritual.” We all have unique influences, experiences, and desires that shape our outlook and our outlook on spirituality matters:
Listen, your eye, your outlook, the way you see is your lamp. If your way of seeing is functioning well, then your whole life will be enlightened. But if your way of seeing is darkened, then your life will be a dark, dark place. So be careful, people, because your light may be malfunctioning.  If your outlook is good, then your whole life will be bright, with no shadowy corners, as when a radiant lamp brightens your home.Luke 11:34-36 Voice
Our view of spirituality can be shaped by our experiences and influences, and if we want to be “spiritual” people, we need to make sure we understand what the Bible really says about the topic.
Let’s explore several scriptures that can help us understand what “spiritual” means in the Bible.
- When you think of the word “spiritual,” what comes to mind?
- Is this image attractive to you?
- Does your view of spirituality make you want to pursue being spiritual? Why or why not?
Spiritual means living differently than the world around us
My brothers and sisters, I cannot address you as people who walk by the Spirit; I have to speak to you as people who tend to think in merely human terms, as spiritual infants in the Anointed One.  I nursed you with milk, as a mother would feed her baby, because you were not, and still are not, developed enough to digest complex spiritual food.  And here’s why: you are still living in the flesh, not in the Spirit. How do I know? Are you fighting with one another? Are you comparing yourselves to others and becoming consumed with jealousy? Then it sounds like you are living in the flesh, no different from the rest who live by the standards of this rebellious and broken world.1 Corinthians 3:1-3 Voice
I can imagine there were more than a few Christians in Corinth who received this letter and were surprised to be called unspiritual. After all, they were members of a church. They were followers of Jesus.
And yet, Paul tells them they were not spiritual. It should not be surprising to us that even the religious among us can be unspiritual and unaware.
Being spiritual fundamentally is the practice of living by God’s standards, and being unspiritual is living by the standards of the world. Paul wanted to talk to the church in Corinth as he would to spiritual people, but he could not because they were not spiritual.
They were fighting with one another, comparing themselves to others, and consumed with jealousy. These are all attributes we connect with “the world” – people who have not come to believe in Jesus, much less live according to God’s standards.
It should be noted here that “spiritual” does not mean looking down on those who are not spiritual, but working to meet people where they’re at and inspire them toward spirituality. Paul cared about the church in Corinth. He wasn’t critical of them; he wanted to help. But knew he had to change his approach on how he would talk to them to help or influence them. He met them where they were.
Paul called the Corinthians to evaluate how they were living and to change the areas of their lives that were not spiritual. How often do we reflect on or evaluate how we are living and what our actions say about our spirituality?
My first responses to my circumstances are usually based on instincts that come from my human experiences, wisdom, strength, or effort. It is a daily battle for me to reflect on how I am living and make decisions to approach my life with a spiritual mindset (more on that below).
- As you reflect on the way you live your life at work, school, or home, do you see any signs from 1 Corinthians 3 (jealousy, comparing, and fighting with each other) that you’re not living like a spiritual person?
- If so, don’t get discouraged. Telling ourselves the truth is freeing (John 8:31-32), and it’s the first step toward becoming more spiritual.
Spiritual means setting our minds on Scripture
Taking the time to reflect on and evaluate how I’m living helps me to set my mind to think spiritually:
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.Romans 8:5 NIV
Being spiritual requires that we set our minds on being spiritual. Spirituality is often not our first response. It is a conscious choice about where we will focus our minds. So how do we set our minds to be spiritual?
Every Scripture has been written by the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. It will empower you by its instruction and correction, giving you the strength to take the right direction and lead you deeper into the path of godliness.  Then you will be God’s servant, fully mature and perfectly prepared to fulfill any assignment God gives you.2 Timothy 3:16-17 TPT
This passage helps us understand that the Bible was written to empower us to become spiritual. When we live based on the Scriptures, we are being spiritual. This is a good time to reflect on your relationship with the Bible.
- Do you see the Bible as the pathway to spiritual thinking and living?
- Do you use the Bible every morning to set your mind?
- Do you have a daily relationship with the Bible to equip you to live each day spiritually?
- Are you able to draw on your Bible reading to guide you through your day?
Spiritual means focusing on the unseen, not the seen
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV
The spiritual is unseen, and it’s eternal. Yet we live in a world where our five senses are focused on the physical and the temporary every waking moment.
We can’t help but see the immediate needs and demands of our lives, our jobs, and our families. The anxiety produced by our to-do list is often much greater than the energy we have to accomplish it.
It seems impossible to tune out the discord and negativity streaming on all forms of media. And on top of all that, the pandemic and all the challenges that come with it are screaming for our attention and making it difficult to focus on the unseen.
Ours is not the first generation to struggle to keep our focus on the spiritual. Jesus addressed this challenge in his Sermon on the Mount.
“Don’t keep hoarding for yourselves earthly treasures that can be stolen by thieves. Material wealth eventually rusts, decays, and loses its value.  Instead, stockpile heavenly treasures for yourselves that cannot be stolen and will never rust, decay, or lose their value.  For your heart will always pursue what you value as your treasure.Matthew 6:19-21 TPT
The hard work of navigating our busy earthly lives is to keep our focus on the spiritual — the unseen, the eternal, what matters most, and what doesn’t lose value. The Bible helps us set our minds on the unseen. It helps us recognize what is spiritual and teaches us how to be spiritual.
Spirituality is valuable for every area and every need of our life.
For physical training is of some value, but godliness (spiritual training) is of value in everything and in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.1 Timothy 4:8 AMP
Choosing to value the unseen actually has value in every area of our lives. When I value spirituality, I’m less insecure at work, less stressed at home, and less anxious about everything I have to get done.
Being spiritual doesn’t mean ignoring the needs and responsibilities in our lives. It means changing our priorities so we’re not swept away by the anxiety of all the things we need to do each day.
- Do you believe that spirituality will help you in every area of your life?
- Do you take time to reflect on what is getting the majority of your focus or attention during the day? What are you learning about your focus?
- How much do you pray for God to help you see the unseen?
Spiritual means conviction that God is present, working, and intending good for my life
The one consistent thing in life is that life is always changing. As soon as we learn to adapt, more often than not, life changes again. As a result, life can feel random and unpredictable. Tomorrow may turn out to be encouraging or challenging, joyful or painful. Where is God in all this? Is God real? Does God know what’s going on in my life? Does he care? Is he involved?
Jesus answered all these questions in Matthew 10:29-31.
What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.Matthew 10:29-31 NLT
Having a conviction that God is real, aware of what is happening in our lives, cares about us, and is working to bring good into our lives is what spiritual men and women demonstrate on a consistent basis. This conviction may seem very basic, but it’s what helped the apostle Paul do well spiritually during an extremely challenging period of time that could have given him good reason to quit.
Paul saw God’s hand working through his overwhelming difficulties. As a result, Paul grew more confident in God during a time when life was unpredictable.
We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.  In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.  And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.2 Corinthians 1:8-10 NLT
Another good example is the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph was betrayed by his own brothers and sold into slavery, out of jealousy. Joseph could have easily become bitter, angry, and vengeful.
Even though he knew that his circumstances were produced by sinful motives, Joseph’s convictions about God allowed him to come through this experience with strong faith and no ill will toward his brothers. Joseph knew that God was aware of his circumstances and that God’s intent was to do good. Joseph was confident in God’s plan in spite of the challenges it created for him.
So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us  to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept.  But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.Genesis 50:16-17,19-20 NLT
Even when life was challenging for him, Joseph knew that God had a plan, and that plan was meant to end in good.
We cannot control how life goes from day to day, but we can know with certainty that our God knows everything going on in our lives and is working on a plan to lead our lives to good.
God made it clear to the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament that he has a plan and that plan is meant for good.
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.Jeremiah 29:11 NLT
- Do you believe that God is present, working, and intending good for your life?
- Have you developed your belief into a conviction? This means you believe even when life is hard and you’re going through a difficult time.
- How much does fear, uncertainty, pain, and or disappointment drive distrust or the desire to quit? Do you believe God cares about how you feel? Do you talk to God about how you feel?
Today, we took on the question, “What does spiritual mean?” We got our answers from the Bible and learned several lessons.
First, it’s possible to have an incorrect understanding of spirituality. It’s also important to reflect on how we’re living and evaluate what the way we live says about our level of spirituality.
In addition, we learned that spirituality is a mindset based on the Scriptures. It benefits every area of our lives and is different from the mindset of the world.
Finally, spirituality is a conviction that God is present, working, and trying to bless us. In our current world of uncertainty and change, spirituality makes us confident and hopeful that God is working on our behalf and will make our future bright.