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by Robert M. Smith

Chapter 7 - The Spirituality Game


Chapter 7 - The Spirituality Game

by Robert M. Smith

To some of us “looking the part” means far more than actually being real with our Christianity. In keeping with this thought – in another book called Cross Examination, - I wrote a final chapter entitled “Being Real”. Major portions of it could easily be utilized here as well because of the pervasive mindset among many North American Christians which goes something like this: “It matters not whether we truly are believers as long as we look like believers.” The whole idea behind this game is to put forth a good “front”; but one that is not too good lest we become delegated to some involvement in a spiritual work that may not be to our liking. The winner, as we often see it, is the Christian character that can dupe other players into thinking that he/she is what he/she is not! Innately knowing that spirituality is what God is truly after many so-called Christians try to perform it as they perceive it. Unfortunately for them, as Chambers writes: “Spirituality is what God is after, not religiosity. The great snare in religion without genuine spirituality is that people ape being good when they are absolutely mean. There is no value whatever in religious externals, the only thing that is of value is spiritual reality; and this is spiritual reality – that I allow God to work in me to will and to do His good pleasure, and then work out what He has worked in, being carefully careless about everything saving my relationship to God.”[1]

This game is quick and easy to play. It touches each one of us to some degree. The modern-day, North American version of Christianity contains the perfect atmosphere for its cultivation by offering the believer a wide variety of tempting alternatives to true spiritual living – a veritable smorgasbord of religious entrées. We are, as many have said before, continually led to believe that mediocrity should be the norm of a spiritual lifestyle accompanied by the modified, trimmed-down versions of the true “abundant life” that Jesus described and delivered. Fed with notions of material prosperity and immaterial poverty, we find it convenient to not only wear masks but to change them in accordance with our circumstances. Within such parameters we not only relegate ourselves to lower standards, the spiritual leaders to whom we owe these standards seem essentially unwilling to guide, motivate and urge us out of them. Indeed, without Christ and His cross as their center, they are quite incapable of doing so in any case. Tozer nailed it when he wrote: “Religious contentment is the enemy of the spiritual life always. The biographies of the saints teach that the way to spiritual greatness has always been through much suffering and inward pain. The phrase, ‘the way of the cross,’ though it has come in certain circles to denote something very beautiful, even enjoyable, still means to the real Christian what it has always meant, the way of rejection and loss. No one ever enjoyed a cross, just as no one ever enjoyed a gallows.”[2]

Accompanying this is the game of spiritual terminology; and with it comes additional false representation. It exists as a watered-down concept of Christianity in many places due primarily to a worldly assessment in the minds and hearts of North American Christians that holds anything and everything short of outright paganism to be ”Christian”. Our western alliance with postmodernism in all its forms is leading to the jettisoning of Biblical truth. Throughout the non-judgmental climate of accommodation that large sectors of evangelicalism in our time strive for, one can easily detect the stench of decay rising from the relativistic rubble. Contrary to some who see amidst sporadic popularity the signs of a new, latter-day “awakening” the lack of true discipular qualities within the movement are too numerous to ignore. When we finally work up the nerve and conviction to examine the truth, depth and relevancy of this issue we shall find that, unlike the North American rendition, early New Testament Christianity had no ties with nationalism; it was not a complement to a specific lifestyle; it was not a vehicle for the concerns of the middle-class; it was not a “majority”, moral or otherwise. These features have subtly yet surely distorted the truth of our faith till it no longer resembles New Testament faith. And these features are the first key humanistic ingredients in the demise of true spirituality.

What is happening here – at this time in North America – then? Through misrepresentation on a collective level we are formulating our own version of Christianity and subsequently setting it upon society for approval … caring more about its acceptance than God’s. It contains a little bit of legalism to give it a religious flavour, a smattering of politics to give it authority, a substantial dose of charisma to give it some pizzazz, a pinch of materialistic pride to give it general appeal, a few secular approaches to life to attract the masses, and a sprinkling of the name of Jesus Christ to top-it-off, in order that we may call the whole concoction “Christian”. Terminology may indeed be in the mix but is it really accompanied by any spiritual power (2 Tim 3:5)? It has become vogue in many parts of North America to “talk” Christian “lingo” while refusing to “walk” according to the Word of God. So many resources are at the disposal of every believer that our treasure has become trite! Our overabundance has not led to deeper understanding among the Christian status quo but has, in fact, led to a deeper complacency. It has become too easy to learn spiritual lessons from the spiritually gifted, so after a brief and fleeting initial enthusiasm [“The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time.” Matt 13:20-21 NIV] most North American evangelicals settle for spiritual nonchalance. John Wesley encapsulated this slumber thusly: “One general inlet to enthusiasm is expecting the end without the means; the expecting knowledge, for instance, without searching the Scriptures and consulting the children of God; the expecting spiritual strength without constant prayer and steady watchfulness; the expecting any blessing without hearing the word of God at every opportunity.”[3]

We must also consider misrepresentation on a personal level. This is not a recent phenomenon and the Scriptures lovingly give us a couple of warnings about resorting to it. In both, Matthew 7:21-23 [which shall be utilized in this book to eradicate many of the games we play] and Acts 19:11-17 we are given examples of false representation.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt 7:21-23)

“God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, ‘I adjure you by Jesus who Paul preaches.’ Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified.” (Acts 19:11-17)

Imitating disciples of Christ without truly knowing Christ as Lord as well as Saviour is utterly worthless. In the latter incident the imposters were severely beaten and in the former their ultimate destiny – Hell – is the sentence administered by none other than Jesus Christ Himself.

Today the scenario depicted in Matthew continues among those who regularly attend evangelical churches, leaving us to wonder why. Obviously the dangers of this game are not preached frequently enough to eliminate the problem and as a result a specific climate settles over congregations. Many want the benefits of being a Christian without exemplifying a commitment to Christ. We sometimes call such people “fire escape Christians” but, in truth, as Matthew 7:21-23 testifies, the position is far worse than our poor description intimates. Obvious misrepresentation comes in the form of acting or living a quite secular and carnal life throughout the week while becoming surprisingly spiritual on Sunday. Although various evangelical teachers in our time have spoken and written regularly about such, only modest results have been seen throughout the land. It would appear that more seriousness and spiritual dedication is required as opposed to more and more information about this problem; as it turns out, complacency is the real malady here. If given the power to choose – and Christ does indeed give us that option – we, western envangelicals, prefer to leave our heavy, filthy, horrifying, deadly and gruesome crosses right where they lie. “The believer’s own cross is one he has assumed voluntarily. Therein lies the difference between his cross and the cross on which Roman convicts died. They went to the cross against their will; he, because he chooses to do so. No Roman officer ever pointed to a cross and said, ‘If any man will, let him.’ Only Christ said that, and by so saying He placed the whole matter in the hands of the Christian. He can refuse to take his cross, or he can stoop and take it up and start for the dark hill. The difference between great sainthood and spiritual mediocrity depends upon which choice he makes.”[4]

In another instance, seldom considered I might add, is a lighter yet equally detrimental form of inappropriate behaviour. We tend to overlook this one because “nice people” are involved …but it is as false and as damaging as the game listed above. In this case we encounter the individual with the “painted smile”. To others this individual gives an impression that life is one, long, happy ride; to have any trouble at all would be deemed unspiritual and sinful. This projection is a vain attempt at promoting one’s self as a Christian superman, capable of leaping any mountainous problem in a single bound. Although it is true that believers have victory in Christ over many things and although it is true that we should be full of the joy of the Lord, we should never feel that sadness and trouble are components of a second rate spirituality. If that were so, our Lord – “the man of sorrows … acquainted with grief” – would be considered second rate also. What’s more, is the fact that a perpetually happy expression is a mask that can hide naivety, ignorance or pain when used as a permanent fixture.

Finally, the legalistic “do’s and don’ts” policy is another attempt at being spiritually mature. Many of us have forgotten that our spirituality is not founded upon a code but rather on a special relationship based on faith. The apostle Paul spent a lot of time emphasizing this to the believers in Galatia, Ephesus and Colossae. His intention was not to obliterate the Law of the Old Testament but to teach that those who believe in the efficacy of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection are not “under the Law”. Christians are to bring that Law, through our faith in Jesus Christ, to God as expressed in Ehp 2:8-10. We do not respond to the Law’s demands, but rather to the love, grace and Lordship of Jesus Christ by exercising faith (1 Jn 4:16-5:5). In his epistle to Roman believers, Paul under the guidance of the Holy Spirit penned this concept best with these words:

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1-4 NASB)

True spirituality does not depend upon things, projected images, knowledge or feelings. The accumulation of “material blessings”, the status and position one acquires among his/her peers, the intellectual prowess [to be dealt with in depth later] and the emotional highs associated with “mountain top experiences” are, all, counterfeits to true spirituality. By investing too much in any one of these components – for they can all be parts of the whole that is deemed “Christianity” – one jeopardizes the whole. We, of North America have given a lot of thought and effort toward theology but little, if any, toward true spirituality. Whenever I visit the United States in particular I am always amazed at how many church buildings are erected throughout the land. Whenever I visit a Christian bookstore I am always amazed at how many books are written to assist believers in their understanding of every conceivable aspect of Christianity; some specific aspects being reviewed and regurgitated several hundred times over! This overkill tells me a great deal about our current dilemma: we do not, even with our vast resources, know the difference between the theological and the spiritual … between the religious and the truth about Christianity. There is much religion in North America but there is very little truth. There is much posturing about the Holy Spirit, especially in these days of charismatic emphasis, but there is little evidence of an appropriate relationship with Him. There is much foolishness passed off as worship but extremely little of it from hearts that are right with God. There is much worldliness in evangelical gatherings but virtually no Spirit-guided truth from the Word of God that can actually resurrect these lowly lives of mediocrity. In defining the true balance of the spiritual and theological worlds, it was Tozer who wrote, “The sum of what I am saying is that there is an illumination, divinely bestowed, without which theological truth is information and nothing more. While this illumination is never given apart from theology, it is entirely possible to have theology without illumination. This results in what has been called ‘dead orthodoxy,’ and while there may be some who deny that it is possible to be both orthodox and dead at the same time I am afraid experience proves that it is.”[5]

Spiritual maturity is to be applied to life through the Word of God which instructs us to be guided by the Holy Spirit. It must be declared at this point that the Holy Spirit’s prime source of guidance is the very Word of God that He authored and not some personal dispensation that, amidst all the other impulsive behaviour, becomes the poor relativistic spiritualism so prevalent today. Ultimately we are to be transformed into spiritual beings, concerned more about a vertical relationship with God than a horizontal relationship with man. The latter will come when the former is fulfilled. In our day, however, the “witnessing” of a believer has deteriorated into personal and denominational preferences that relegate Christ and the Holy Spirit to a subservient role if, indeed, They are ever allowed a part to play at all.

[1] Oswald Chambers, The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, 2000, Page 586

[2] A. W. Tozer, The Best of A.W. Tozer – Volume 2, Christian Publications Inc., Camp Hill, PA, Page 78

[3] Thomas S. Kepler, An Anthology of Devotional Literature, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1977, Page 513

[4] A. W. Tozer, The Best of A.W. Tozer – Volume 2, Christian Publications Inc., Camp Hill, PA, Page 154

[5] A. W. Tozer, The Best of A.W. Tozer – Volume 2, Christian Publications Inc., Camp Hill, PA, Page 140

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