What does it mean to be spiritual? If I asked 10 people in this room that question, I bet I would get 10 different answers. To be spiritual is be one with nature. Or to be spiritual is to have deep and intimate fellowship with the divine force of the universe. Or to be spiritual is to be really friendly and outgoing and you just have a big capacity for people and you want to serve them.
Many people these days say, I am not religious, but I am spiritual. What they are saying is, I don’t believe in the institution of the church. The church is corrupt. Christians who attend churches are hypocrites. They go to church and act all pious on Sundays, but outside the church, they lie, they cheat, they’re just nasty people so why should I bother attending church? I don’t need church. I can be spiritual by myself. It’s just me and my Bible. Or I can just pray by myself. Or I will meditate. Or do yoga. People these days are into having mystical spiritual experiences as long it is private and personal.
What about Christians? How do we define spirituality? Who do you consider spiritual? What is your ideal spiritual leader? Maybe Rick Warren or John Piper or Francis Chan? Someone who can lead a megachurch and write books read by millions, or someone who knows his bible really well and has solid theology, or someone Asian, bald and funny. Someone charismatic who can tell a good story and draw a crowd. Although we may not articulate it like this, I bet most Christians would want as their spiritual leader someone with the charisma of a President Obama, or the tech/biz savvy of a Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, or the power and influence of a Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke said a few words this past week about our economy and it caused the stock market to plunge the following day. That’s power and influence. We want our spiritual leader to possess the same level of charisma, same level of savviness, power and influence as the secular leaders we admire. As long as they are Christian. We borrow from the secular world to formulate our picture of the perfect leader and we dress him up in a suit and tie and put him behind a pulpit and say, that’s what I want my pastor to be.
Don’t we idolize and look up to certain secular leaders and think, if these people were Christian, that’s the kind of person I’d look up to and follow? Deep down, many of us want spiritual leaders who never show weakness, who always have the right answer, they never falter, they’re always decisive, they have clear vision and know exactly what needs to get done in order to achieve certain milestones. Essentially, we want Jesus reincarnate. You want an ideal perfect spiritual leader? Then look to Jesus. That’s the end of the sermon. We can go home now. Okay, maybe that’s too high of a standard. After all, He’s the Son of God. He died and resurrected. Maybe we’ll lower our standard a bit and settle for Apostle Paul as our pastor. Wouldn’t that be nice?
How does Paul define spirituality? In this chapter, Paul lays out the contours of true spirituality.
First, a spiritual person is Spirit-filled.
1 Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are SPIRITUAL should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.
If you’ve been with us the past few weeks, I think this point is fairly obvious. Chapter 5 is all about contrasting the works of the flesh vs. the fruit of the Spirit. The works of the flesh, a fleshly person is characterized by things like moral impurity, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, and envy. In stark contrast, a spiritual person is quite simply one bearing the 9 characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control. Paul covers the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit in chapter 5 and then he says in chapter 6, you who are spiritual, you who are filled with the Spirit, you who bear the fruit of the Spirit should restore others with a gentle spirit. If you want to be a spiritual person, you need to get familiar with these 9 character traits.
None of us can will ourselves to be spiritual. You can’t try really hard to be loving and joyful and patient and display all 9 traits at the same time. It is humanly impossible. It’s like trying to will yourself to have the IQ of a genius. You either have it or you don’t. In the same way, for the fruit of the Spirit to be displayed in your life, you have to be born with it. You have to be born again. You either have it or you don’t. If you try hard to be a good, moral person, you might fool others because on the surface you might appear kind and patient and loving. But God will not be fooled.
At the core, deep down inside where no one else can see, the best of human intentions and effort cannot remedy a heart governed by the flesh. Only the Spirit of God can touch a person so deep, at the very root of their lives, and change someone from the inside so that that what comes out is unmistakably the evidence of the Spirit’s saving and transforming work. Fruit of the Spirit. In botany, a healthy root leads to healthy fruit. It’s no different in the spiritual landscape. A spiritual person is filled with the Spirit and displays the external fruit of the Spirit because the Spirit himself has come into our hearts and changed us at the invisible root level.
Second, a spiritual person restores others with a gentle spirit.
1 Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a GENTLE spirit, WATCHING OUT for YOURSELVES so you also won’t be tempted.
Why does Paul begin with a warning directed at the spiritual person and not the person who is caught in wrongdoing? It’s a bit odd, isn’t it? You would think that Paul would be concerned about the person who is sinning. But instead, his focus is on the person who is not in sin. The spiritual person. The minister, the mentor, the small group leader. Paul’s attention is on the healthy Christian, not the backslider. And his concern is the manner in which the healthy Christian restores or helps the struggling Christian.
Why is that? For those of us who want to help others spiritually, which I hope is every Christian in this room, this is really important. We all fall into sin. We all fall short morally. We all assert our rights and do what’s best for us at the expense of others. Assuming there is repentance and a willingness to get right with God when one sins, how should we as spiritual, Spirit-filled Christians restore those who have repented of past sins. With gentleness.
What’s so dangerous about restoring fallen but repenting Christians on the part of the one doing the restoration? The danger is self-reliance. As ministers, or as mature Christians seeking to restore others, you and I will be tempted to rely upon ourselves. We don’t verbalize it, but don’t we measure ourselves against others in a spiritual point system? That brother, that sister sinned major and that sin is a minus 50 points. I, on the other hand, have done my devotions all week and so I am plus 15 points. I haven’t sinned like my fellow brother or sister so of course I am in a position to restore them. I’m above them. I score higher in terms of spiritual maturity. I have been a Christian longer. I have a title at church. Let me restore the person.
Spiritual life and ministry is not about points, or spiritual performance, or who sinned more vs. who prayed longer in the past few days. Spiritual life is entirely dependent on the Spirit. He works in your heart so even the fact that you had a good week in terms of not committing any blatant sins and on top of that, you met a couple a few people to disciple them and you prayed and read your Bible for 30 min every day last week–the good week is a result of the Spirit’s activity in your heart.
We shouldn’t get smug because we’ve had a “good” week. When we think this way, we begin to pat ourselves on the back. I’m spiritual. We begin self-congratulating. Without knowing it, a shift occurs and we stop relying on the Spirit and we begin relying on our own self-righteousness. Just because you had a good week should not be a reason to rely on yourself in restoring other believers.
We are called to restore others with a spirit of gentleness. Gentleness, we covered last week, is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit of the Spirit is not something you can turn on and off like a faucet. You turn on the faucet and water comes forth because there is a tank of water right underneath the sink and so the hot or cold water is ready the instant you turn the faucet. Spiritual life is not like a faucet. There is no spiritual tank where you can store the fruit of the Spirit and it’s right at your fingertips the moment you need it.
If that’s your conception of Christian life, that you can turn a faucet or snap your fingers and you expect gentleness from the Spirit to gush forth, then you have the wrong idea of what it means to be spiritual or to walk in step with the Spirit. Yesterday, you might have had a great devotional time with the Lord. You prayed and you read Scripture and your heart was stirred. You were full of God’s presence. It’s like eating a buffet last night. You were stuffed. But you wake up this morning and wouldn’t you know it–your stomach is empty again. Our biology teaches us how spiritual life works.
In the Old Testament, when the Israelites were wandering in the desert, God supplied manna, bread from heaven. The Israelites thought this was the greatest thing. What a miracle! Bread from heaven. Some got smart and started hoarding manna more than they could eat for that day. Because they probably reasoned, what if God skips a day or He takes a Sabbath, what if God takes a vacation and the bread from heaven stops? Then, they’d go hungry so it makes sense. Let’s store a little extra for a rainy day.
What happened to the extra manna that was stored? It spoiled. God was teaching the Israelites an important spiritual lesson. I will supply your needs, but I will give you only what you need for that day. It was a daily provision. God was teaching them to depend on him for everything. The Old Testament manna is a picture of Jesus Christ in the New Testament because Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life. And just like when it comes to physical food, the meal from the night before was for yesterday, and today, you need a fresh supply–in the same way, spiritually, you need to feed on Jesus, the bread of life. You need to have fellowship with Jesus through the Word of God because Jesus is the Word. And as you abide in Christ and depend on Jesus for your spiritual sustenance, you will be spiritual, you will be Spirit-filled and gentleness will come out naturally when you are trying to restore others.