Article of the Month

April 2013




Common usage is difficult to combat. But followers of Jesus have a need to understand the meaning of words in the Bible regardless of how those meanings are corrupted by everyday usage.

It is likely that most of us have heard the word “spiritual” used widely and freely these days. Unfortunately, its usage by most people has no relationship to the Biblical use of the word. “Spiritual” seems to have taken on a meaning in the world’s vocabulary of “emotional” or “peace-producing.” Thus someone might be sitting in the magnificent scenery of Yosemite Park and exclaim, “It’s so spiritual!” Or, “It makes me feel so spiritual.” The fact is, that despite its grandeur and inspirational qualities, Yosemite is not spiritual! It is the epitome of EARTH and man’s comfortable relationship with natural or earthly beauty. It causes a wonderful emotional, but human, reaction.


In all fairness, it is important to acknowledge that we UNDERSTAND what a person MEANS regardless of the words used to convey that meaning. When our friend in Yosemite makes his exclamation, most of us probably realize what is meant. But some do not. Some confuse the word “spiritual” used in the sense we have noted with things celestial rather than terrestrial. They might say, “It’s my connection with God” — or some such thing. Here again, there is nothing wrong or improper about an acknowledgment that what we see is His handiwork. But our point for this article is that, Biblically speaking, “spirituality” has nothing to do with the love of God’s visible handiwork or with the feelings they evoke. It has nothing to do with great writings of poetry by talented men whose writings probe deeply into our emotions.



First of all, “spiritual” and “spirituality” (King James Version) are exclusively New Testament words. There is one exception in Hosea 9:7 referring to prophets, and meaning a man who transmits communication from the spirit world to those who hear him on earth.

There is a reason that “spiritual” and “spirituality” are New Testament concepts.  It is not until the Holy Spirit is given to disciples at Pentecost that some men are said to be “new creatures” in Christ. (II Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) The true Christian experiences a MIND RENEWAL (Romans 12:2) which God uses as the beginning of something VERY NEW. In His reckoning, He is creating something that will become A SPIRIT BEING (in other words, will eventually go to heaven). This is so much the case, that God calls these disciples “the sons of God” — a term not attributed to other humans. (I John 3:1, 2) In this sense, these “new creature” disciples are said to be “begotten of God.” (I John 5:18)

A person who will become a spirit being will have to first develop a mind consistent with the body he will attain. This is the essence of the Biblical use of spiritual or spirituality. Thus seen, spiritual refers to the understanding of things in heaven; and spirituality means a connection with and reflection of that unseen world. These words have nothing to do with emotions — even though emotions can certainly be stirred when we realize the weighty magnificence of things we have been privileged to see and love.

A person becomes “spiritual” when the bulk and focus of his thinking is not about things on earth or about good human emotions, but rather on things in heaven. Spirituality is a mind focused on the service of God and THINGS TO COME; it is not focused on visible beauties or on things current (other than its current relationship with God).



A few of the texts which use “spiritual” or “spirituality” can help us understand their Biblical usage:

In I Corinthians 2:13 the Apostle Paul uses the expression, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” He points out that it is the influence of the Holy Spirit which allows us to do this. His point? It is that spiritual things are not earthly or human things. They should not even be compared to earthly things. In other words, the new mind of the Christian is learning how to ABANDON its earthly inclinations and to realize the separateness of the holy from the mundane. Paul goes so far as to point out that spiritually-discerned things are “foolishness” to the natural man. (I Corinthians 2:14)

In I Corinthians 2:15 Paul makes the astounding claim that the spiritual mind can discern things that no man can understand. In the 16th verse he attributes this to a Christian’s having “the mind of Christ.” 

The entire third chapter of I Corinthians is devoted to this same concept. In the first verse, Paul contrasts spiritual with carnal (fleshly).  Then he proceeds to show how a spiritual person would never exhibit the normal tendencies of humans. Spirituality is ultimately contrasted with human thinking in verse 19 where Paul says, “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”

In the same book (chapter 12:1) Paul refers to “spiritual gifts.” These were the miraculous abilities the early church was granted: healing, speaking in tongues, knowing things without having studied them, etc.  They are called “spiritual” because they were gifts from the spirit realm in order for the church to be established. They were not natural human abilities.

In I Corinthians 15, Paul uses “natural” and “spiritual” in order to distinguish the pre- and post-resurrection bodies of the saints.

In Galatians 6:1, Paul admonishes those “which are spiritual” to help brethren who have erred. His meaning here is that the more spiritually-developed (that is, those whose humanity does not dominate their thinking) can help those whose humanity has gotten in the way.

In Colossians 1, the Apostle prays for the Church at Colosse that they might attain “spiritual understanding.” This is in harmony with what we have been trying to define. All people have human understanding; it comes naturally. But “the knowledge of His will” is something that will come only as our spirituality (our growth in non-human thinking) progresses.

Romans 8:6 points out how VITALLY IMPORTANT this matter of spirituality is to the true Christian. His words:

“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

Because the true Christian has sacrificed his hopes for a human resurrection, failure to develop the Biblical spirituality will mean his destruction. But the development of this “spiritual mind” (prepared for its ultimate spiritual body) means even NOW a peace — “the peace of God which passeth all (human) understanding.” (Philippians 4:7) 

One final example in order to give a more complete understanding:

In Revelation 11:8 we have the peculiar words:

“The great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.”

Because the Old Testament (the Law and the prophets) was a “shadow,” or type, or picture of things to come, Old Testament events were very real, very earthly, very visible. (Hebrews 10:1) But they were meant ALSO to foreshadow things in this Christian Age — an age dedicated to the development of the spiritual class — Jesus’ disciples who will become spirit beings. 

The Revelation text is simply saying that events in Egypt and in Sodom (very earthly events), pictured things that were to occur in this Gospel Age which have SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE. It is obvious to all that Jesus was not crucified in Sodom or Egypt! The “great city” of this prophecy likely is a reference to the antitypical “Babylon” (not the actual Babylon). This “great city” is named in Revelation 14:8 and is a reference to Roman Catholicism. But, we might argue (!), that Jesus was not crucified in Babylon or in the Catholic Church either! But, in effect, the erroneous doctrine of Transubstantiation of the Mass, practiced daily in Catholicism, is (according to Catholic theology) a re-crucifying of Jesus. Thus the word “spiritually” is a reference to things in Christianity which are supposedly devoted to things of the spirit. And John is informing us that the errors of Sodom and Egypt pictured these abominations. 

Our objective for this article is simple. To Christians, the words spiritual and spirituality must have a meaning far above the daily societal use of those words. It is imperative for a Christian’s success.


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