“I think the Lord is leading me to….” “I feel the Lord is leading me to….” “I really prayed about it and I felt that….” You’ve probably heard these types of statements before. And if it is God leading, who is anyone to question? In many instances, it really is like questioning scripture at this point. Except for one big thing—it isn’t scripture. It is “I think,” “I feel,” and “I felt.” And if not that, then sometimes it is, “The Lord told me.” And that isn’t scripture either, even though, again, it is treated like it’s Bible.
One might hear these above type of statements from men in the office of the pastor. How did he know what the church was to do? How did he know what sermon he was to preach? “The Lord told him” or “he felt the Spirit leading.” One pastor I have known demanded the support of his congregation for every one of His sermons because it was Holy Spirit-preaching. When he preached, that was the Holy Spirit, so it should be unquestioned. Do you see a problem here? This kind of language from a pastor places a type of authority on his decision making that is authoritative on the level of God. Should we expect this kind of authority from the leaders of our churches? In one sense, a pastor represents the voice of God, but it is only insofar he preaches the Word. The people listen to God in those instances by means of the messenger. But every opinion out of the man’s mouth or even just the ones when he is behind the ‘sacred desk’ are not synonymous with scripture.
How do we know what we ought to do in the areas that the Bible is silent upon, like who I’m going to marry, where I’m supposed to work, or whether the reuben on rye or the 10 oz. NY strip steak? It seems that, “the Lord led,” is all we’ve got in those types of decisions? Or is it? How does the Holy Spirit actually work in these situations?
To detect true spirituality, first (part one) we proposed that all believers are spiritual. Every Christian is spiritual. There was a question of whether there were degrees of spirituality. No. Each genuine believer is indwelt by the one and only Holy Spirit, a Person. You can’t get more or less of Him once you have Him. However, He can have more of you. It’s not quantitatively more spirituality. No one is more spiritual in that sense. However, someone can, rather than yield to the Spirit, submit to his flesh. At that time, he is carnal, not spiritual, in a practical, not positional, way. When someone is controlled by the Holy Spirit, then there are manifestations of that yieldedness. We showed six of them. These are how we detect genuine spirituality. And now for the last aspect we will consider in the detection of true spirituality.
How Does the Holy Spirit Lead?
The Holy Spirit leads (Rom 8:14, Gal 5:18). We know this. But how does He lead?
First, He leads in accordance with Scripture. “The sword of the Spirit . . . is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). Parallel to the filling of the Spirit (Eph 5:18) is the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly (Col 3:16). Being controlled by the Spirit is being controlled by the Word of God. All of this fits within the sufficiency of Scripture (Mt 4:4, 2 Tim 3:16-17). God’s Word equips a person for every good work. If a decision attributed to the Holy Spirit contradicts the Word of God, disobeys scripture, it wasn’t or isn’t the Holy Spirit leading. The Bible is how we test to see if something is of God (1 John 4:1). Sanctification of the Spirit is also the sanctification of the Word of God (John 17:17-19). We are set apart by the truth, not by our feelings or opinions, which might be attributed to the Holy Spirit.
A corollary perhaps to the Spirit’s leading in accordance with Scripture could be “no private interpretation” (2 Pet 1:19-21). The Bible has one meaning and many applications; however, we ought to also look to history to see how the Spirit worked in believer’s lives to apply Scripture. The Holy Spirit isn’t going to suddenly accept a practice that has been forbidden by God’s people in the past.
Second, He leads in accordance with the church. I’ve asked many if they needed the church to know the will of God and most will say that they can know the will of God independently of a church. Often today I’ve noticed people think that they have the right to question a pastor in his preaching, but few think they should be questioned when they say ‘the Lord is leading.’ A church is to be of one mind, one spirit, one mouth, and one speech (1 Cor 1:10, Philip 1:27). People should not operate outside of the unity or unanimity of the church. Believers walk in the Spirit, but they do not walk alone.
In the Old Testament, Israel had the Urim and the Thummim for God to guide her in her decisions (Ex 28:30, Lev 8:8, Num 7:21, Deut 33:8, Ezra 2:63). Do we have anything like that today? I believe we do. The Urim and Thummim today is the church. The Holy Spirit indwells a church as the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16). The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). God leads through the church, not through single individuals. There is one Holy Spirit who indwells church members, the same Spirit, so the agreement of the church is the leading of the Spirit (Eph 4:1-4, 1 Cor 12). Dividing off of the opinion of the church is heresy (Tit 3:10-11, 1 Cor 1:11-17). Church members judge matters of believers (1 Cor 6:1-8). Matthew 18:18-19 suggests a supernatural leading through the agreement of the church.
In the freelancing spirit of the age, many today do not desire the agreement of a church in matters. They rather operate independent of church authority, appreciating the freedom of “the Lord’s leading.” It’s a free country. We can move about when and where we want. Many treat the will of God as a plaything, affording them freedom, which they label “Christian liberty.” Many pastors also use this freedom to move from church to church, again attributing the activity to the “will of God” in their life, when often it is discontent. Rather than just leave, people should be sent by the church for greater ministry (cf. Acts 13:1-5). Lesser ministry isn’t God’s will. But who determines that is the church, not the individual. Someone may ask, “Well, what if the church is wrong?” If the church is wrong, an attempt should be made to persuade the church from the Word of God. Sometimes men will just use scripture to excuse what they want to do. Jeroboam quoted Aaron to justify building calves at Dan and Bethel. The church should be able to determine whether something is the will of God or not.
When Paul discussed Christian liberty in 1 Cor 8-10, at the end of that section (11:1), he commanded the church at Corinth to imitate him as he imitated Christ. In areas of liberty, people of a church should look to the leaders of their church to know what to do in areas in which scripture is silent (cf. Heb 13:17). Rather than follow self, follow godly leaders in the church.
How did Timothy know he was to be a pastor? 1 Timothy 4:14 is a great verse on this. First, prophecy, that is, the preaching of the Word of God. I’ve had men tell me that they didn’t ask me what would be the right decision because they already knew what I would say. How did they know? The preaching of God’s Word. Preaching worked in the heart and life of Timothy. Second, the laying on of hands of the presbytery. Timothy got the unified guidance of godly men to verify the will of God in this matter. In many cases today, men say they’re “called,” in essence, “God told me,” and that’s their chief indication of God’s working. This isn’t the pattern in scripture.
Do you see how that Scripture and then the church puts objectivity to the will of God? This is how the Holy Spirit guides today. In answer to this type of presentation, often I’ll hear from men examples of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles. Do you understand that God doesn’t work with us like that any more? We have Scripture and the church now. God doesn’t speak to us that way. If He is going to guide you like an apostle or prophet, than you should also fulfill the qualifications of the prophet and the apostle. You don’t, so don’t see yourself as led by the Spirit the same way they were.
Some Specifics Concerning the Individual Will of God
Does Scripture teach us that God has only that one person for us to marry? Or does the Bible order us to obey God’s Word but give us liberty within scriptural parameters in those individual matters? For instance, Scripture prohibits a Christian from marrying an unbeliever among other instructions (2 Cor 6:14), but God would give freedom within the bounds of what He said in His Word. Paul says this in 1 Corinthian 7:39: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” “She is at liberty to be married to whom she will.” Of course, he adds, “only in the Lord.” Within biblical guidelines, someone can marry whoever he or she wants to marry, unless, of course, God sovereignly overrules otherwise.
The above exact teaching you’ll see in Proverbs 16:1 and 9:
The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD. . . . A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.
The idea of “preparations” is “plans.” It is God’s will for man to make plans. A man is to devise his way. The Lord may step in to change something, directing his steps, but he should go about making plans and devising his way. God allows people to make their own decisions within the bounds of the guidelines and principles He has set up in the Bible. The best way to ensure you do right is to obey God’s Word, practice it or apply it in every area of your life. If you do that, those unknown, individual things will work themselves out, very much like we see in Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
In short, if you will trust God and acknowledge everything He said, those individual, personal decisions will work out fine.
God has not left men without a basis for discerning true spirituality. 1 John 4:1 indicates that genuine Christians can test “the spirits whether they are of God.” At the same time, most people have been deceived in this area. The road is broad that leads to destruction (Mt 7:13-14). As a means of validating their condition, men seek after signs (1 Corinthians 1:22) that very often are counterfeits that lure men into a false sense of spiritual security. From the teaching of Jesus (Mt 7:21-23), we know that at the judgment seat, their tragic deception will be exposed with no future opportunity for correction. Men can be fooled into trusting in fraudulent indicators of their spiritual states.
In the first chapter of his epistle, James says men deceive themselves with the faulty notion that God accepts the mere hearing of His Word. This reveals the nature of people’s deceit. They can rationalize a tolerance of their own disobedience to what God said. Satan is a deceiver and liar, who would have men mislead by their own unreliable measurements of spirituality. And the Devil majors on spiritual subterfuge in particular—it’s his domain of activity (Eph 6:12).
On the other hand, the Word of God is sufficient (2 Tim 3:15-17). We don’t have to be deceived. We have the truth, which sets us apart from spiritual error (John 17:17).
Who Is Spiritual?
Sometimes you might hear someone say, “He’s a spiritual person.” Based on a scriptural evaluation, that would be the same as saying, “He’s a saved person.” Every saved person is a spiritual person, because at the point of his justification by faith, he has received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9, 1 Cor 6:19-20, 1 John 3:9). Only believers are spiritual. No unbeliever is spiritual, even if he says he’s “a spiritual person.”
No believer is any more spiritual than any other person. The Holy Spirit is a Person. When someone receives the Holy Spirit, he has all the Holy Spirit that he will ever get. He doesn’t need any fresh outpouring or anointing. The concept of “more spiritual” isn’t in the Bible. God does command believers to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), which is to be controlled by the Spirit (Rom 6). When a believer is controlled by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will manifest Himself in various ways described in the New Testament.
How Does the Holy Spirit Manifest Himself?
The New Testament indicates several different ways that we can discern true spirituality. We should expect all of these of someone who is spiritual. Because everyone has equal spiritual resources (Eph 1:3; 2 Pet 1:1-4; 1 Cor 1:7), everyone also has equal opportunity for manifesting true spirituality. In other words, no one is breathing any kind of pure spiritual air that sets him apart from any other believer.
God isn’t responsible for spiritual lack. When a man is tempted, he is drawn away of his own lusts (James 1:14). The Holy Spirit will show Himself through a believer, but more than any one thing, self gets in the way. Humbling self is an important first step to revealing true spirituality.
First, a person who is filled with the Spirit is letting the Word of Christ dwell in him richly. Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16 are parallel passages. Someone who is controlled by the Holy Spirit is also controlled by God’s Word. When we disobey Scripture, either in thought, word, or deed, at that moment we are also either resisting or quenching the Holy Spirit. True spirituality manifests itself in obedience to the Bible. A Christian life obedient to the Spirit will look like Scripture.
Second, the Holy Spirit will show Himself through the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). I don’t think the emphasis of “fruit” is in the nature of bananas, apples, or oranges. Fruit is production. The Holy Spirit will produce a certain type of attitude that will result in a right kind of behavior. That disposition is seen in the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t something you work on, but a work that the Holy Spirit does in and through you. And that fruit will show up because the believer submits to the Holy Spirit. The fruit is all or nothing. He either is manifesting the Holy Spirit or he isn’t. If he is, then all of the fruit will show up. Others will see the Holy Spirit and not self when the Christian is filled with the Spirit.
Third, when the Holy Spirit is in charge in someone’s life, this will show up in God-honoring music (Eph 5:19) and perpetual thanksgiving (Eph 5:20). The Holy Spirit directs the Spirit controlled person toward praise and thanks, both pointing toward God and away from self.
Fourth, the Holy Spirit will transform the relationships of those who are controlled by Him (Eph 5:21-6:8). This is how the Holy Spirit fulfills the law through love. The Christian is directed by the Spirit to meet other’s needs, which are all different by Divine design. A child has a different need from a parent, an employer from an employee, and a husband from a wife.
Fifth, the particular spiritual giftedness of the Spirit-filled person will show up in His church (1 Cor 12). The Holy Spirit divides to a church as He wills, providing it His own unique blend depending on its needs. When the Christian submits to the Spirit, he will fulfill his part in the body. The whole church is more important than his part in it. Jesus will be glorified by being manifested by the Spirit through the church in the world.
Sixth, he will preach the Word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). No believer has any more power than any other believer. He can be more bold, however, depending upon his submission to the Holy Spirit. If he’s bold, the Holy Spirit will work through the Word of God unto the salvation of souls. There is no unique power for evangelism. The power rests in the Scripture through the Spirit. Boldness will look, well, bold. Some may confuse this for pride, because proclamation of truth lacks the nuance that some expect of a fake humility.
We have these six means for detecting true spirituality. They could be faked for a period of time, but not for long. However, we should content ourselves with what God’s Word reveals as genuine indicators. The replacement gauges of spirituality provide people with false positives, fooling them into a dangerous spiritual ease.
How Does the Holy Spirit Lead?
Part of discerning true spirituality revolves around the discernment of the will of God. How does the Holy Spirit lead? We’ll approach this question next time.
Mormons have their burning in the bosom and Charismatics have their tongues and healings, their signs and wonders. Is it possible that others—evangelicals, fundamentalists, independent Baptists—have their own editions of these?
I started pastoring in 1986 first as an interim pastor in Southeastern Wisconsin and then in 1987 in our new church in the San Francisco Bay Area. After only a few years, I wrote a missions questionnaire for an initial screen for prospective missionaries—they were (and are) all multiple choice questions. One question asked how someone would know the will of God. Very few missionaries in the twenty plus years have circled the letter for the answer I was looking for on that questionnaire.
Many of the others that I referenced in my first paragraph have a very subjective approach or understanding to the will of God, and specifically the individual will of God. For the sake of knowing where I’m coming from here, I believe that there are three aspects to the will of God. There is the sovereign will of God, which is everything that ever happens. God will cause or allow everything that happens. If He didn’t want something to happen, He could or would stop it. And if He wanted something to happen, He would make sure it did just like He wanted it. If something “bad” happens, we can still say that it is the will of God, because God is sovereign. He has some purpose in either causing or allowing it.
There is the moral will of God, which is essentially the Bible. The moral will of God is what God desires for everyone to do, which is Scripture, since God’s Word is sufficient. And then there is the individual will of God, which are those events or decisions or circumstances in our life which are unique to us as individuals, like who we will marry, where we will live, and what kind of vacuum we will purchase. It is this third “will of God” that I’m talking about here.
I want to categorize here the abuses that I’ve witnessed. Some readers may be able to expand or add, which is fine, but here are some of what I have seen and still often do. I think these will be controversial, because I think there are people reading, who have depended upon these “burnings in the bosom,” perhaps Baptist edition.
“God Told Me”
A lot of damage has been done in the name of “God told me.” A corollary to “God told me” is “the Holy Spirit told me.” Do you believe that God tells you things? Now if you’re talking about something you read in the Bible, I’m with you there, but if it is something extra-scriptural, I’m not with you on that one. God isn’t “telling people” anything anymore outside of Scripture. Everything we need is in the Bible. That’s what God is still telling us. How do I know that? Because it is all over the Bible (Revelation 22:18-19; Jude 1:3). And important passage to this is 2 Peter 1:19-21 where Peter exalts Scripture above his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration as a “more sure word of prophecy.” The voice of God speaking to us is Scripture, and that alone. Even if we are hearing from the Holy Spirit, the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God (Eph 6:17).
These evangelicals, many of them, use language that the Bible reserves for direct verbal revelation from God to apply to their normal Christian living. They expect God to tell them what to do in their day to day lives like God at times told Abraham, Moses, and the apostles. And when I say “tell them,” I mean very specific instructions on what to choose or do on an everyday basis. They believe and practice this despite God pointing His people back to His Words that He already has given (Ps 19:7-11; 2 Tim 3:15-17). These same people believe that the Bible is the primary way God speaks to His people, but not the only way that He does.
Were the intertestamental periods actually silent years? Or did God keep up a regular chatter with His people? Was God still directly revealing anything between Malachi and Matthew? Or did He continue to expect His people to follow His Word like we read, well, everywhere in the Old Testament (Deut 4:5-8; Joshua 1:8; 1 Kings 2:3; Ps 119:11, 24). God did have His periods of direct, special revelation. This is not one of them. The last one ended in the first century. There hasn’t been one since.
Often in these experiences, these same people struggle to hear God’s voice, sometimes going through some type of sacrifice to get the direction they need from God—praying through, fasting, really wanting it earnestly. If they really are supposed to be hearing God tell them something like we read in the Bible, then there shouldn’t be any kind of struggle at all. When we see God speak in Scripture, it is always clear and understandable, not dependent on any lifting from the recipient.
If God is really talking to us and like what we see in the Bible, because that’s where we got that idea, then how is that any different than what occurred with either a prophet or apostle? Why would the Bible carefully lay out the qualifications of the prophet in Deuteronomy and the apostle in Acts if there wasn’t anything unique to the prophetic or apostolic experience? God did speak to Moses and Samuel and Peter and Paul. He isn’t speaking to us today. He completed all that with the last verse of the book of Revelation.
I think this “God spoke to me” thing is another version of continuationism—much more subtle and perhaps more dangerous than the Charismatic edition, because of that. A whole lot of both false teaching that “God gave” and horrible practice or behavior gets excused by “God told me.” There is a lot more I”d like to say here, but this is only a blog post. So next.
“God Is Really Blessing”
This second one or some version of it often accompanies the first one. Usually it comes after “God told me.” First “God told me,” then “I did it,” and third “God is really blessing.” “God is really blessing” validates “God told me.” Sometimes “God really blesses” false doctrine and practice, like 1-2-3 pray with me “evangelism.” The same kind of proof is offered for shows of Divine power, numbers of folks who ‘walked the aisle,’ how many decisions were made, and the “sweet spirit we felt there.” The sweet spirit was witnessed in the shouting, the hand or hanky waving, and the tears, among other excitements. Sometimes after “God told” someone something, he had explosive numeric growth that validated the following of what “God told” him.
“God is really blessing” our bus because “we had over 100 on our bus.” “God is really blessing” our bus ministry because we ran over 1000 during our special promotion. “God is really blessing” our Sunday School campaign because we’ve had over 100 kids “get saved.” “God is really blessing” the carnival we held for the grand opening of our new building because of all the people who showed up for the sno-cones and jumpers. “God really blessed” those promotions.
If you were to criticize “God is really blessing,” you might be a “tool of Satan.” You might be Sanballat and Tobiah (the guys who opposed Nehemiah in that book). You might be touching God’s anointed like David understood not to do with Saul. You might say that you don’t think that “God told” is a legitimate means of determining the will of God, but the answer could be, “how do you explain what happened with me then?” Almost always some experience is the validation of “God told me.” When we built, then they came. They came and they came like the rain on Noah’s ark. I was talking to a man who went to a Benny Hinn meeting, and now he can’t or won’t listen to Scripture because Benny Hinn cured him of his stuttering.
Sometimes the question might be asked, “Why aren’t we seeing anything happen?” By “anything happen” is meant lots of decisions, many new converts, or explosive growth. Why not? The assumption is often that you are missing out on some spiritual resource as a Christian or that you aren’t trying hard enough, praying enough, or reading your Bible enough, which results in not having the things that you need. God withholds them from those who won’t pay the price. Instead of one week meetings, go to two week meetings and by the time you get to the second week, then “God starts to break things open.” If you don’t get it in two weeks, why not go to three? If you won’t go to four, maybe you don’t want to pay the price.
Christians won’t experience the blessing of God when they live in disobedience to the Word of God. However, they actually have every blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3) and the moment they were saved by grace, they no longer lacked in any gift from God (1 Cor 1:7). Everyone who obeys Scripture is pinning the needle on God’s blessing even if their brook runs dry. The Bible tells us why church growth sometimes doesn’t occur. It can be because of disobedience, but the most common explanation from Jesus is the condition of the hearts of the hearers. You have nothing to do with that. And ultimately, you are irrelevant to more happening, because it’s God Who gives the increase (1 Cor 3:6).
The people who “God is really blessing” are often manipulating the results. It’s an election equivalent of stuffing the ballot box. And why not? It isn’t those who are careful with the Word who get attention in this system. In evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and young Calvinism, people want to hear from those whom “God is really blessing.” Even if you get to where you are through some combination of compromise, talent, or technique, you will most often be rewarded in some tangible way because God must be really blessing you. There is no better cologne than victory. And if you don’t agree, it’s probably because God isn’t really blessing you.
Two evangelical or fundamentalist churches could be nearly identical in their doctrinal statements but still be quite different, as much distinct in their view of spirituality as are the disparate understandings of “belief in Christ” terminology for a Mormon and a conservative evangelical. Yes, I believe there’s that much noncomformity. This undiscriminating approach to spirituality, I believe, may be the most damaging, though ignored, situation in the church today. One finds its reality in varying degrees of subjective experience, while the other looks to an objective faith, yet both, again, with the same theological creed. The similarity of the latter provides cover for the contrast of the former, the diversity explained as a matter of preference or taste.
Church members, professing believers, wish for an authentic spiritual experience in their church attendance. They judge authenticity by excitement and emotion, even enthusiasm, which might manifest itself in several varied ways. It’s not that feelings would be their chief criteria if they were asked to mark a box on a checklist. These same people don’t believe they are being guided by their feelings or that their emotions are being swayed by external factors to produce a false sense of spirituality. Their feelings, however, are what are telling them that their experience is authentic, especially in their “worship.”
Scripture shows that true spirituality is judged by God’s Word, by the truth. The two types of churches I’m talking about would both agree with that. However, that is not how the individuals often judge whether spirituality has been attained. They might ascertain the spiritual condition by means of release of emotion, shouting, tears, swaying, giddiness, head bobbing, jumping, toe-tapping, or hand waving, all possible indications of something happening in the realm of genuine spirituality. It also might show up with signs of power, that is, hands raised or movement toward the front at an invitation. What might not be considered is that all or some of these spiritual barometers might be caused or initiated by human manipulation of some kind, either through the rhythm of the music, the rise and fall of someone’s voice, a story, the lighting, clapping, or by the suggestion of the speaker to a wanting audience. The shared experience of the crowd further validates the authenticity. Something good must have happened.
Certain symptoms of legitimacy accompany the concoction of fraudulent spirituality—tightly closed eyes, head tilted heavenward, certain hushed tones, or the Clintonesque biting of the bottom lip. This is assembly line authenticity, Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Can realism. A trembling, purposefully scratchy voice, cries out a plaintiff wail with all the gusto that fake authenticity can muster.
The shared emotions of a church galvanize the people like some chant in the pregame ritual of a football team. This does have a sort of power. Many may think of this as heavenly power as they undergo its effects, persuaded that they must have connected with God. They may even mistake it for love between one another because of the shared warmth. It has the power to succeed at attracting or keeping people who wish for something more or different than faith. Churches not aligning themselves with these ways feel a pressure to use the same methods of provocation.
Many who choreograph these types of experiences, that replace true spirituality with the fake, know what they are doing. They know what certain rhythms do. They want the lighting in the building and the cadence of the speaking and the chords and the speed of the music to have their effect on a crowd. They manufacture the feelings with fleshly means and then call it spirituality. Some of the purveyors of these schemes are modern Calvinists, who, while trumpeting the sovereignty of God and bewailing the new measures of Arminianism, whip their own brand of religious ecstacy.
The faux spirituality conforms to a perverted view of Divine immanence, God’s relatedness, stemming from a post-enlightenment evacuation of Divine transcendence. The new emphasis on God’s immanence corresponds to a cultural shift in focus from God to man. Sin is less a concern in its offense of God as its psychological implications for men. The spirit engendered in a church service has the power to overcome a broken relationship or downcast countenance, providing the desired therapy.
Church music, and even all music, reflects the new view of spirituality. Man’s taste has become preeminent in musical composition and performance, both style and words. I believe the music has had a more detiorating effect on the perversion of spirituality than even the substance of the lyrics in church hymnody. Professing Christians have watered down the doctrinal content of hymns, but that has followed the use of popular tunes, which are popular because they lure where luring occurs—the flesh. Man’s flesh isn’t drawn away by his spirit, but by his flesh, and enticed.
Not only have churches been fooled in this particular false spirituality, but also an imposter in the realm of something perhaps even more wicked, that is, mysticism, a secret spirituality found in eastern religions and felt in the their music and worship. They produce natural, whispery, repetitious sounds that our culture has now accepted as something in touch with God. It sometimes takes on the calmness of the surface of a mountain lake or the lapping of the waves on the seashore. The connection isn’t with the God, Almighty God, the Lord of Hosts, but the god of this world, who is also the god of pantheism. These rhythms and sounds are now incorporated into modern worship music, again fooling people with a counterfeit spirituality.
In the 1960s, the Jesus movement portrayed itself as authentic Christianity, tapping into the counter-culture sweeping the United States and then the world. The emotions and even rebellion young people felt in their relations to traditional family and government structure and authority was revealed through their music. These feelings were real. The music itself became, to them, an expression of their inner yearnings. The people involved put on no airs—in their dress, with their hair, with their physical touch. They didn’t hold back, just let it hang loose, elucidating the kind of liberty they felt in Christ. They also talked “like so sincere.” The Jesus people took that music and incorporated it into Christian worship. The music itself became associated with authenticity and genuine spirituality. Other forms were stilted, repressive, and against the feeling of the movement. The music not only reflected the emotions, but produced or proliferated them. They were accepted as evidence of spirituality. This movement has bridged the gap for all forms of the world’s music as true expressions of man’s relationship with God.
Not every church takes the tactics to their furthest end. Don’t think that because someone is worse than you that you get a pass on these techniques and this warping of true spirituality. Many churches have stirred up their own unique stew of varied strengths and styles.
This attack on the meaning of spirituality is an attack on the truth. There is true spirituality defined by Scripture. Genuine spirituality is sanctified by God’s Word, not by people’s feelings.
I think that what we have here is equal to the perversion of false doctrine. We have dumbed down or altered spirituality and then many other theological concepts necessary for true worship and obedience to God, including love and the nature of God Himself. God does not receive the affection of which He is worthy. And many men through this deceit are further tangled in a web of pseudo-spirituality from which for many there is no escape.
We find perfect Christian balance in Jesus Christ himself. We are complete in Him, because in Him all fulness dwells (Col 2:9-10). In Jesus we are holy. In Him we will be holy and live holy. We will be changed and different. We will obey His Word. We won’t be ruled by the flesh any more. But we also are free. We are free from the religion of human achievement. We don’t attain spirituality by keeping lists of rules. With live righteous lives in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free.
A group of false teachers in the Colossae region went around making people feel guilty because they didn’t keep a list of rules not found in Scripture. To them, even if you had received Christ, you weren’t saved if you didn’t keep their pet menu of rituals and regulations and routines. External standards are always tempting. Unconverted phonies can conform to them, so they don’t provide a suitable basis to judge someone’s conversion. Salvation is by grace through faith, but spiritual bullies desire to coerce others into their own criteria for spirituality, causing confusion and doubt to a church.
So Paul tells these churches at Colossae and Laodecia not to restrict themselves solely because of these false teachers that want them to cramp their lifestyles to earn their way to righteousness (v. 16). This contradicted the sufficiency they had in Christ (vv. 9, 10). He wasn’t, by the way, saying to them that they could do whatever they wanted. Colossians 2 isn’t the only passage in the Bible on liberty. There are huge chunks of text on this in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians as well. For instance, he wasn’t requiring them to jump through the salvation hoops of the Essenes, but in other passages he does tell the church to look out for the welfare of the weaker brother. They didn’t have liberty to sin, to be worldly, to be a stumbling block, to be a bad testimony, to let their good be evil spoken of, to disobey church leadership, or to cause disunity in the church. But he didn’t want them to be bullied by the onerous self-serving dicta of genuine legalists.
You aren’t a Christian because you show up for church work day, men’s prayer time, and for both times of door-to-door evangelism. You aren’t a Christian because you are a regular kneeler at the front during invitations and you shout “amen” louder than anyone else in the church. You aren’t a Christian because you don’t go to the movie theater, don’t subscribe to Sports Illustrated, your hair doesn’t touch your ears, you don’t have a Christmas tree, and you’ve never read a Tolkien novel. You’re a Christian only because of Jesus Christ, because of His work on Calvary, because of His resurrection, because He intercedes for you on the right hand of the Father, and because of the righteousness with which you are robed in Him. That will all look like good works and holiness and love for God and others. However, nothing that we can do will add anything to the fulness that is in Christ.
The problem represented by Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:16-17 can raise its ugly head in any church, but I know it to be a particular one for separatist churches. The churches often have high, scriptural standards of holiness. People in those churches can replace actual salvation and spirituality with the rules of the church. Those rules don’t even exist, but they do in the minds of some. Some church members might live a double life buoyed by their ability both to wear the Christian uniform and nitpick others who don’t wear it like they do. Inside they hold evil thoughts and an ugly spirit. They’ve really developed their own religious system separate from the Bible and true godliness. This kind of culture can spread, either causing major difficulties in a church or verging on taking over. Paul says don’t let it happen.
Don’t let spiritual bullies have their way in a church. I know they latch hold of one thing that I say in a sermon. I might say that I don’t eat at some restaurant because of the prominent bar and they take that as “anyone who goes there isn’t saved.” They themselves aren’t devoted to God but they won’t go to a restaurant that maybe they don’t go to anyway, and they’ll condemn anyone else that goes there because they haven’t kept the rules of the church. I’ve found that they do very little to help anyone else. They will even bully the pastor into regulating himself for fear of the campaign they might start due to his inability to keep their ways. And yet they expect to be thought highly of because they know how to look and they keep all the regulations they know are important. Some of those standards might be helpful, but they don’t exist as a bar for measuring spirituality.
The Lord Jesus set us free from bondage through His death. Jesus delivered you from the captivity of Satan and his demons. Let’s not be bullied into another type of subtle, insidious imprisonment after all that the Lord has done.