Set Your Hearts

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

THE SPIRITUAL LIFE IS to be lived no matter the cost, as it is the means through which Christians participate in the Kingdom of God while still in the flesh. Redemption and sanctification rescued us from the bondage of sin and set us apart for divine service. Paul said, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:13-14, ESV). Jesus provided an exemplar for Christian living, telling the disciples, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26-28). In fact, life is supposed to be shared. We are called to step out in faith and put others first.

The power to live a successful Christian life is found only in Christ, but it requires effort on our part. We need to stand firm against the forces that pull us back to a carnal, fleshly, worldly life. Jesus related how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:23). It is not easy to live as Christ lived. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul” (Matt. 16:26). Accordingly, a spiritual life must be a disciplined life. In the eyes of the LORD, it is better to obey than to present sacrifices (see 1 Sam. 15:22). The word “obedient” comes from the Latin word audire, which means “listening.” Spiritual discipline involves a concentrated effort to firmly establish an effective boundary between spirit and life. It is only through patiently waiting on God that we are able to hear His voice and understand His will for our lives.

D.A. Carson said, “People think of themselves as ‘spiritual’ because they have certain aesthetic sensibilities, or because they feel some kind of mystical connection with nature, or because they espouse some highly privatized version of one of any number of religions” (1). Religion tends to be a word with negative connotations while spirituality has positive overtones. Typically, we wonder how much of ourselves we must give up to live a spiritual life. We ask ourselves if “being good” is an effective sign that we are living as Christ would have us live. We attend church services, participate in church groups, visit the sick, and volunteer to make burgers at the annual church picnic. Maybe we participate in neighborhood outreach efforts or support missions. Yet, we wonder how much of our natural self can remain without impacting our spiritual life. C.S. Lewis said, “Make no mistake: if you are really going to try to meet all the demands made on the natural self, it will not have enough left over to live on. The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier” (2). The flesh battles the spirit, demanding satisfaction no matter the cost.

We come to Christ as new believers dragging our “self” with us to the cross. Lewis said, “Some of the things the ordinary self wanted to do turn out to be what we call wrong” (3). He pulled no punches regarding battling sexual impropriety. He writes, “…a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute” (4). The Christian life is both hard and easy. Jesus asks us to “give all.” He says to take up our cross and follow him. Lewis said, “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ” (4). As Christians, many of us neglect the mind and heart while we’re striving for a spiritual life. This is precisely what Christ advises us not to do. The average churchgoer objects to giving all, saying not everyone is called to pastor, or teach, or lead. Lewis was known to ask Christians, “How would you feel if Jesus came to you and spoke the words, Give me your all?I have stood at that crossroad many times, wondering how much all I have to give without giving all.

The grace of God, while free, is not cheap. Consider what Jesus endured during the last twelve hours of His life on earth in order that we might be justified before the Father. Our discipleship to Jesus costs nothing less than everything. Unfortunately, you would be hard pressed to find a sermon or teaching series on discipleship in the church today. To side step discipleship is to miss out on spiritual maturity. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt.28:18-20). Unfortunately, the Body of Christ has been drifting away from this commission. If the church fails to disciple new believers, it is impossible for them to learn how to live as Christ lived. Willard said, “Though costly, discipleship once had a very clear, straightforward meaning… there is a decision to be made: the decision to devote oneself to becoming like Christ” (5).

A Matter of the Heart

Paul writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2). Proverbs says, “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:21,23). Not surprisingly, the best way we can defend our heart and set it on God is to guard our thoughts. Paul said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (1 Cor. 10:3-5). Solomon admonished, “Above all else, guard your heart.

Someone once said, “Sow a thought, reap a deed. Sow a deed, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.”

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jer. 17:9). We cannot hope to share the gospel, or to teach others about the ways of Christ, without first setting our hearts on Jesus. The kind of spiritual existence God asks of us cannot be weak, dull, rudderless, lifeless. It should cause an engagement of the heart. Paul notes, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom. 12:11). Fervent means “having or displaying a passionate intensity.” If we are not fervent in our spiritual life, and if our will and inclination are not strongly and consistently applied to our affairs on a daily basis, we will wither and die on the branch. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2). The Father does two things to ensure a maximum yield: (1) He removes unfruitful branches, and (2) He prunes the remaining branches. Unfruitful branches are gathered and burned in the fire. Fruit is an illustration for good results coming from the life of a believer.

As believers, our fruitfulness requires having our hearts engaged in Christ. Every true disciple of Christ must love the LORD above his or her father or mother, sister or brother, spouse or children; yes, even above his own life. Merely having knowledge of doctrine and theology without religious affection for God will avail us nothing but the acquisition of data. Augustine of Hippo said, “My inner self was a house divided against itself. Why does this strange phenomenon occur? The mind gives an order to the body and is at once obeyed, but when it gives an order to itself, it is resisted” (6). Ours must always be a living theology. The believer is to be considered fidelis quaerens intellectum: a believer seeking understanding. Hart said, “Theology is the attempt by faith to understand itself, its object, and its place in today’s world” (7). Theology involves far more than the mind; it is more than collecting data. Hart said, “Faith—when it is truly faith rather than a mere intellectual assent to some proposition or other—will always seek to enter into a fuller and deeper knowledge and understanding of that which matters most to it” (8).

Set your sights on His kingdom first.

Nouwen believes the spiritual life is not that which comes after or beyond our everyday existence. We must not pigeonhole spirituality. He said, “The spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now” (9). Martin Luther wrote, “It is through living, indeed through dying and being damned, that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading or speculation” (10). Of course, such an orientation clears the path for setting our hearts on Jesus. Vanhoozer says Christians learn doctrine in order to participate more deeply and passionately in the drama of redemption, adding, “Intellectual apprehension alone, without the appropriation of the heart and hand, leads only to hypocrisy” (11). Our spiritual life must begin with something firm to place our feet on (see Matt. 7:24-27). Without being grounded in Christ, we risk faltering at times of challenge or crisis. Moreover, we are ill-equipped for making a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope we have in the gospel.

God willingly created man and all that exists in the physical realm. Under the warmth of His creative action and care, our first parents were invited to walk in complete fellowship with God; to get to know Him and to love Him. This is worship at its most pure. But through an act of rebellion, which was fueled by a desire to know as God knows, exist as God exists, sin entered in and tore a hole in the soul. Man became broken. Kapic writes, “It would be a dangerous misunderstanding to assert that we can only worship God once we have understood all the important doctrines” (12). Further, we do not need to be like God, or be on even footing with Him, to have a relationship with Him. Despite rebellion in the past, we must mend fences with God and allow Him to fill the God-shaped hole in our soul. Growing in our knowledge of God changes our view of every aspect of our lives. Kapic said it’s not as though we lose sight of all except God; rather, we see everything in the light of God. This degree of humility and submission is required for living a truly spiritual life.

All of life’s preoccupations and “what ifs” tend to enslave us; distract us from the metaphysical and spiritual realms of life. Our minds become filled with anxious thoughts as we struggle to do it all, be it all, and plan for it all. Nouwen writes, “Much, if not most, of our suffering is connected with these preoccupations” (13). It is as though we are always preparing for “eventualities,” such as career changes, serious illness, failed economy, domestic unrest, possible family conflicts, natural disasters, and the like. Anxiety can cause us to be fearful, suspicious, greedy, angry, defeated. In this sad state, we pay more attention to our physical surroundings, our aches and pains, our daily challenges, which prevents us from feeling real inner peace and freedom—the very shalom our LORD promised. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). When we are in a predisposed state of “what’s next” we fail to live in the moment. It is impossible to enjoy today if we spend the day regretting our past and worrying about our future. Existence certainly features periods of transition, but it is not productive to live our lives “in the corridor” on the way to somewhere else.

First Things First

Interestingly, Jesus does not address our worry-filled way of living by saying we should cut back on engaging with life’s affairs. Nor does He say we need to take a monastic sabbatical. Early Christian fundamentalism taught “coming out from among them” and safely existing within the walls of our churches. I believe the command “be ye separate” is not suggesting off-the-grid spiritual communal living. Nor does it mean stay away from all non-believers. We simply cannot reach those we despise and run from. Rather, Jesus wants us to change our center of gravity so that we seek Him first. This requires a change in focus. As noted in Scripture, we need a change of heart. Certainly, change in activities are often necessary as we grow in spiritual maturity and reach toward the goal of emulating Christ. Simply, this is a matter of setting our hearts on His kingdom first. Nouwen believes a heart set on the Father’s kingdom is also a heart set on living the spiritual life.

To set our hearts on the kingdom therefore means to make the life of the Spirit within and among us the center of all we think, say, or do.

Consider this. Jesus led a very busy life during the three years of His ministry—teaching, preaching, healing, expounding. He was so busy He had to “steal away” for alone time. Moreover, He did not lead the life of a zealot marching toward a self-imposed goal. He was concerned with one thing: putting the Father’s will and kingdom first. Remarkably, despite being God Himself in the flesh, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). The works Jesus did are the works the Father sent Him to do; the words Jesus spoke are the words the Father sent Him to speak. His was a ministry of obedience, sacrifice, and humble submission. Paul tells us, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom.5:18-19).

Concluding Remarks

Nouwen writes, “His Kingdom first. I hope that these words have received some new meaning. They call us to follow Jesus on his obedient way, to enter with him into the community established by the demanding love of the Father, and to live all of life from there” (14). The kingdom of the Father is now; not something to be achieved at a later date. It is the place where the Holy Spirit guides us, empowers us, instructs us, equips us, and renews us as we move through this world serving Him. As I mentioned above, a spiritual life without discipline is impossible. The practice of spiritual discipline allows us to exercise “silent prayer,” where we are content to sit quietly and wait on God. It is only through listening that we develop a life of obedience. It is critical that we establish a routine of solitude every day. The amount of time we spend pursuing “spiritual fitness” is less important than having the routine. Start with 10 minutes, 20 minutes; whatever you can set aside at this point. Remember, we are pursuing “spiritual fitness” much like an athlete seeks physical fitness. Increase the duration of each prayer session. Learn to exercise “silent prayer” where you wait quietly for God to speak to you. Simplicity and regularity are the best building blocks in finding your way to the Father. Create space for God in your life.

References

(1) D.A. Carson, “Spiritual Disciplines,” Knowing and Doing (Springfield, VA: C.S. Lewis Institute, Winter 2017). URL: https://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/6134
(2) C.S. Lewis, “Giving All to Christ,” in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups, Richard J. Foster & James Bryan Smith, ed. (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1993), 8.
(3) Ibid., 7.
(4) C.S. Lewis, “Sexual Morality” in Mere Christianity (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1952), 95.
(5) Ibid., 9.
(6) Dallas Willard, “The Cost of Nondiscipleship,” in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings, Ibid., 15.
(7) Augustine of Hippo, “Complete Surrender,” in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings, Ibid., 55.
(8) Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1995), 1.
(9) Hart, Ibid., 3.
(10) Henri Nouwen, The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2016), 7.
(11) Martin Luther, in “The Inseparability of Life and Theology, A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 41.
(12) Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Doctrine (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005).
(13) Kelly M. Kapic, A Little Book for New Theologians, Ibid., 24.
(14) Nouwen, Ibid., 9.
(15) Ibid., 21.

Henri Nouwen and The Spiritual Life

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer, and theologian. He focused on integrating Christian theology, philosophy, and psychology. He unfortunately died of a massive heart attack while traveling to Russia to participate in a documentary about his book The Return of the Prodigal Son. He authored a total of thirty-nine books and hundreds of articles during his ministry. He struggled with loneliness, but had an uncanny ability to describe his personal struggles in a way that resonated with his many readers.

“I wanted to know how we could integrate the life of Christ in our daily concerns. I was always trying to articulate what I was dealing with. I thought that if it was very deep, it might also be something other people were struggling with. It was based on the idea that what is most personal might be the more universal.

In his seminal book The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles, Nouwen described a persistent urge to enter more deeply into the spiritual life, but said he was confused about the direction in which to go. He desperately wanted to be among the believers who have a deep desire to “know” and experience the “story of Christ.” He noted that heart-knowledge was necessary over head-knowledge in order to accomplish this. He intimated that the method for accomplishing this was to “…set your hearts on [H]is kingdom first.”

I hope to expound on his journey and the results of his search in a way that incites you to do the same.

All These Other Things

I think it is natural for the layperson (indeed, even the young minister) to determine that “the spiritual life” can only be realized through monk-like study and contemplation. Many believe we must sell our earthly possessions, quit our jobs, leave our family and our paramour, and walk into the dessert to confront our flesh and yield to the Spirit. First of all, if this were indeed the only way we can live a truly spiritual life then there would not be many among us who could achieve it.

Nouwen taught that the spiritual life is not a life “…before, after, or beyond our everyday existence.” Instead, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains, joys, difficulties, and successes of the here and now. We simply must begin our search for a Spirit-filled life by taking a careful and thorough look at the way we think, speak, feel, and act from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and year to year. It is only through this exercise that we can become more fully aware of our need for the Spirit in our lives. While earning my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I learned about a rather unique concept called metacognition. Essentially, this is an awareness and understanding of one’s thought processes. I like to call it thinking about what I’m thinking about.

When we are not content with the way our lives are going, we are not really very happy. There is no joy and no peace. Indeed, Christ said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27, NASB). We must understand that any mood of resignation to our “lot in life” will prevent us from actively searching (and ultimately finding) the life of the Spirit. To get there, we need instead to be honest, show courage, and trust in a positive outcome from our journey. We must honestly unmask and courageously confront our many self-deceptive games.

From a psychological standpoint, we tend to bury (repress) our true feelings. We “stuff them,” hoping that ignoring them will work. That somehow this “baggage” will take itself out to the trash container. In addition, we are prone to project unwanted feelings and attributes within ourselves onto others. In other words, we “displace” our emotions. We also tend to use denial to cope with uncomfortable emotions and, sometimes, actions that have been perpetrated on us. Because many of our so-called defense mechanisms are subconscious and (accordingly) automatic, finding them and bringing them to the light of day requires us performing a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. I first heard of this concept while attending 12-step meetings in Alcoholics Anonymous. Believe me, this is a lot harder than it sounds.

The Essence of Spirituality

Spirituality is described by J.M. Houston as “the state of deep relationship to God.” It is noted that prior terms like “holiness” or “discipleship” tended to turn believers away from seeking a spiritual life, liking it to intense dedication at the expense of the day to day life. In addition, “spirituality” is somewhat abstract. It seems Catholic devotion was a spin-off of spirituality. Interestingly, the influence of secularism, atheism, pluralism, and moral relativism into virtually every avenue of Western life caused enough alarm among ministers and believers that many began to take devotion to Christ more seriously.

Christian heresies within the early church all won popularity because of the ascetic and mystical properties they featured more than the “doctrine” they espoused. Some heresies responsible for this reaction included Gnosticism, Greek mystical thought (especially during the period of Diaspora when the Jews were forced out of Israel), Trinitarian and Christological belief, Arianism, Docetism, and others. In fact, Islam is considered by some biblical scholars as a heresy of Judaism. You may remember the story of Abraham and God’s promise to him to bless him with a vast land and countless heirs through his otherwise barren wife Sarah. God said Abraham would be blessed and he would bless many. It was through Abraham that God instilled his plan for the redemption of mankind. Unfortunately, Abraham grew impatient and his faith waned. He and Sarah agreed that he would have sexual relations with Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar. As a result, Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, through whom the Muslim faith was established.

The Nature of Christian Spirituality

According to J.M. Houston, there are six aspects that characterize Christian spirituality:

  1. Asceticism as such does not define Christian spirituality because much of asceticism involves contempt for the material world. The biblical doctrine of creation recognizes that God created all things, and they were “good” (see Genesis 1). God does not ask the believer to detach from this good life.
  2. Biblical revelation of God as “personal” leaves no place for relying on human wisdom. Moses spoke with God face-to-face, the temple was filled with the Glory of God (Gr. shekinah), and the prophets all manifested God’s will and developed a degree of Christian spirituality never seen before.
  3.  Christian spirituality must be Christ-centered. Paul frequently talked about being “in Christ” to emphasize the union Christians can have with Jesus. The synoptic gospel writers describe following Jesus to mean being in union with love. God’s original purpose was to create man in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28). Moreover, redemption is interpreted as being “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).
  4. Christian spirituality by definition is life in the Trinity: believers accept God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as one triune God. It is through the Holy Spirit that Christians can cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).
  5. Christian spirituality is the outworking of God’s grace in the human soul, beginning with conversion and concluding with having been killed, buried, and resurrected (to new life) with Christ.
  6. Christian  spirituality engenders fellowship, and the communion of saints. This aids in deepening the believer’s character. After all, iron sharpens iron. Spirituality can be tested by measurement of a believer’s public behavior and worship (Acts 2:42-47). Frankly, godliness and spiritual fellowship compliment each other. Christian worship is primarily a matter not of special practices or performances, but of lifestyle (Romans 12:1; 14:6; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

Nouwen speaks of being “filled” or “unfilled” relative to the spiritual life:

Filled

It seems that today’s believers are always busy. This is true for all of Western society. It is practically a badge of honor to be “too busy” to get everything done in a day. The fallout is a nagging sense that there are unfinished tasks, unfulfilled promises, unrealized potential. As if that were not enough to distract us, Nouwen says “more enslaving that our occupations, however, are our preoccupations. To be pre-occupied means to fill our time and place long before we are there.” I’ve been there many times. All those “ifs” running through my brain. What if that persistent left lower abdomen pain is cancer? What if I get killed in an automobile accident? What if my mother dies suddenly? What if I can never own a home? What if I can’t find a job in my chosen vocation? This habitual negative prognostication makes us wonder constantly what to do and what to say in case something happens in the future. We ruminate, making us anxious, fearful, suspicious, greedy, nervous, and morose.

What would our lives be like if we were to stop worrying? If we could ignore the urge to be entertained, to travel the world “in search of ourselves,” to buy so much, and to arm ourselves, perhaps our society as it exists today would fall apart. Unfortunately, we all seem to get caught up in materialism, wanderlust, competition, contrived needs, self-sufficiency, and workaholic behavior. We become so filled with the world and our selves that there is no room for God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. When this happens to a follower of Christianity, his or her walk with Christ is sorely compromised. This pervasive materialism can quench the Spirit and lead to a continual walk in the flesh.

Unfilled

Beneath our worrying lives, however, something else is going on. Our minds and hearts are filled with many things, and we wonder how we can ever hope to measure up to the hype. While busy with “this and that,” we seldom feel truly fulfilled. How can we? The material world is experienced solely through the flesh. The result is a gnawing sense of being unfulfilled. Nouwen says, “Boredom is a sentiment of disconnectedness.” He believes to be bored doesn’t really mean we have nothing to do. On the contrary, we question the value of the things we are so busy doing. He writes, “The great paradox of our time is that many of us are busy and bored at the same time” [italics mine]. The most debilitating expression of our unfulfillment is depression. Perhaps we can call this the spirituality of boredom.

This pervasive depression raises it’s ugly head in thought: “Is my life worth living?”

Boredom, resentment, and depression are sentiments of disconnectedness. There it is, plain as the nose on our faces. Man was created to be in fellowship with God and with each other. When we feel unfulfilled, our life is perceived as nothing more than a series of broken connections. Loneliness is one of the most widespread social diseases of our time. It affects not only retired life (although my father was never bored during his retirement), but also family life, neighborhood life, school life, and business life. Frankly, it is because of this sense of separation that many among us are suffering. This is true because when we feel cut off from the human family, we quickly lose heart.

We cannot, however, think of ourselves as passive participants in life who have no contribution to make. I’ve been there way too many times. Not unlike others, I have a need to feel relevant. Without that, we start to believe our pains are no longer growing pains and our struggles no longer offer the potential of a new or changed life. Our past is pointless, dead to us; our future seems to be leading us nowhere. It simply leaves us worried, preoccupied, and without promise.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

One of the most notable characteristics of worrying is that it fragments our very existence, cutting us off from everyone and everything, troubled by events that may never happen. But in our minds, we’ve come to believe we’re no longer destined for success or happiness. We’ve essentially “gone fleshly,” forgetting how to walk in the Spirit. The minutiae of our daily empirical world takes us in a million directions. We struggle to make sense of it all. Nouwen puts it this way: “…most of us have an address but cannot be found there. We know where we belong, but we keep being pulled away in many directions, as if we were still homeless.”

The proper way to address this inescapable spiritual malaise is through Jesus Christ. He responds to this condition of being filled yet unfufilled, very busy yet disconnected, running and looking, yet never leaving home. He wants to bring us to the place where we belong. But His call to live a spiritual life can only be heard when we are willing to honestly admit our own “homelessness” and fretful existence, and instead recognize that we are all from God, and He loves us much more than we could ever comprehend. He gave His one and only son to die a gruesome, painful death on the cross in order for us to live a life for salvation. A spiritual life. Not a life in the flesh, competing, compiling, coveting, stealing, worrying, or amassing material possessions just so we can “become fulfilled” in the flesh.

Instead of feeding our flesh, essentially our ego, with money and fame and “things,” we need to work at feeding our souls with the Spirit of Christ. When our treasure is with God, we will have no reason to worry—economic recession, falling stock prices, government shutdowns, pollution, extinction of various species, failing health. It would be more productive to realize nothing in this world, indeed in the entire universe, is as God intended. Man’s fall has impacted virtually every realm of physical existence, and it has shut us off from communion with God.

Christ did not die to fuel our material desires. He is not pleased with televangelists who speak only of “having it all,” indicating God seeks to bless us with wealth and success (which He does so long as it doesn’t own us, and we use it to bless others) but forgetting to talk about the wages of sin, the essential need for living in the Spirit denying the lusts of the flesh, and moving toward becoming Christ-like. He died an excruciating death on the cross to provide the means by which we can become redeemed and have the power to crucify the flesh. There is no other way to lead a true spiritual life.

References

Houston, J.M. (2017). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Nouwen, H. (1985). The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles. New York, NY: Harper One.