What Does it Mean to Be Spiritual?

I want to worship with that group across town--they are so spiritual. The devotionals on campus are so spiritual--the small groups are so spiritual--our youth group is so spiritual. Spirituality is almost an obsession in modern day America--New Age spirituality, angels, a renewed emphasis on spiritual side of humanity, even if such has little to do with God and Christ.

Do you know the word spiritual only appears in the Old Testament once (Hos. 9:7)? Do you know the word is in only seven of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament with 29 total occurrences? Twenty-nine occurrences in seven books--all God chose to write about spirituality!

Twenty of the 29 occurrences are in Romans and 1 Corinthians. Further, 26 of the 29 occurrences are in Paul. John's spiritual Sodom and Gomorrah in Rev. 11:8 sheds little light on spirituality, nor do Peter's two uses in 1 Pet. 2:5 with reference to a spiritual house and spiritual sacrifices. What does Paul mean when he uses the word spiritual, so infrequently used in the New Testament as a whole, especially by the other New Testament writers.

In 1 Corinthians 1-3, Paul distinguishes worldly wisdom from spiritual wisdom. Spiritual wisdom is God's secret wisdom, a wisdom hidden, wisdom which speaks of God's plans for "our glory." Spiritual wisdom is not discerned by worldly rulers, but is only revealed by the Spirit. Most obviously, whatever spiritual means, it has something to do with the spirit, either human, or divine--the Holy Spirit.

The revelation of the Spirit, taught in words by the spirit, expresses spiritual truths in spiritual words. One without the Spirit cannot accept these nor understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1. To be spiritual means TO HAVE THE SPIRIT OF GOD

The spiritual person possesses God's spirit, or rather, is possessed by God's spirit. The spiritual person is "drunken" on the spirit, expressed in life and worship (Eph. 5:18-19).

As Paul continues in 1 Cor. 3:1ff, he sets spiritual in contrast to worldly. To be worldly is compared to infanthood, to be spiritual is to be mature. Those to whom Paul writes are still worldly. How does Paul know? How does he draw his conclusion? He writes in 3:3, "you are jealous, quarreling, worldly." You are acting like men (in contrast to acting like God because of having his spirit). The Corinthian church is torn by division, disagreements, dissension. This is worldliness. This is the opposite of spiritual.

2. To be spiritual has to do with HOW YOU TREAT OTHERS

Paul also reflects this thought in Gal. 6:1ff. Spiritual people are unselfish as God is unselfish, giving as God gives. Spiritual people care for others, risk themselves for others. Spiritual people treat others right. Spirituality has to do with how we get along with others. The church characterized by dissension and strife, selfishness and arched backs, my way or no way, united turned to untied because the "I" gets out of place, red faces, raised veins, arguments, power plays--this church can never be described as a spiritual place. Spiritual people seek the restore the fallen, to lift up those who have quit.

These two things are obvious in the early chapters of 1 Corinthians. Spirituality relates to the spirit of God and how we treat one another. But ten of Paul's 26 uses of the word are in the last few chapters of 1 Corinthians. Rapidly moving over the ideas that spiritual is the opposite of material (9:11) and that spiritual is the opposite of physical (ch. 10), let us continue our search for answers to our question, what does it mean to be spiritual?

Paul's emphasis on spirituality continues in 12:1-3. While some details may make this a difficult passage, the overall conclusion is not so difficult.

3. To be spiritual means I ACCEPT JESUS AS LORD OF MY LIFE (1 Cor. 12:1-3)

Quick on the heels of this conclusion, Paul iterates another important aspect of spirituality.


In 1 Corinthians 13:1ff, Paul draws yet another conclusion.

5. To be spiritual means TO DEMONSTRATE LOVE (1 Cor. 13:1-8)

Continuing in 14:1ff, we note another connection.

6. To be spiritual means EDIFYING OTHERS. 14:18-19.

Stop thinking like children, for children seek their own good, not the good of others.

Ultimately, for Paul,

7. To be spiritual means TO HONOR GOD'S WORD, THE LORD'S COMMANDS (1 Cor. 14:37)

Two verses later, Paul suggests


Spiritual is not disorderliness, solely experiential, humanly contrived and planned. In our world with its emphasis on spirituality, this is not a popular message, but if we cannot learn what it means to be spiritual by reading God's word, how can we learn? Where would we learn?

Allow me to summarize these eight concepts:

1. To be spiritual depends upon the presence of God's spirit which is given to the obedient, Ac. 5:32. Acts 2:38 records the reception of the Spirit on Pentecost by those who were immersed for the forgiveness of their sins. No person can be truly spiritual without the Spirit of God which teaches the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

2. The presence of the Spirit in our lives alters us: How we treat others, cooperate in the body, demonstrate love, care for others, edify and encourage others.

3. The presence of the Spirit of God in our lives brings order to our lives through respect for and obedience to the commands of God, following the word of God. Spiritual establishes relationship with God through his spirit--thus we pray in the spirit, live in the spirit, walk after the spirit to avoid fulfilling fleshly desires.

There is much disagreement in today's religious world about the reception of Spirit, but Bible cannot be wrong (Acts 2:37ff). May I encourage you to accept Jesus as Lord, put him on as Lord in baptism through the obedience of faith, know the presence of the spirit, depend upon God's inspired, infallible word, decide now to obey him and live for him.

©, 2004, Robert J. Young. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For more information, please visit www.bobyoungresources.com