What Is Real Spirituality?

What Is Real Spirituality?

Union with Christ is, as we have begun to see, one of those architectonic principles that shapes the fabric of the Christian life. In this article, I want to highlight a few of the implications of our union with Christ for our spirituality. To be sure, spirituality is fascinating to people today. Usually when we run across the idea, it suggests the pursuit of subjective spiritual experience, often linked to mental and emotional well-being, sometimes suggesting practices like Eastern meditation and mindfulness. But true Christian spirituality has little in common with that way of thinking. And the fundamental point of difference has to do with the center—the object, the focal point. In the models of spirituality common in our culture, the self is the focal point. We pursue spiritual experience for the sake of experience, or possibly for the sense of well-being it is alleged to promise. But in authentically Christian spirituality, experience—though present and vital, rich and real—isn’t the goal and the self isn’t the focus. In Christian spirituality, God in Christ by the Holy Spirit is the focus. Knowing Him and delighting in Him are our objectives. Insofar as thoughts of self have a place in Christian spirituality at all, it is a small one. This view of spirituality helps us see ourselves truly only insofar as we come to know God truly.

For our purposes, I am defining “spirituality” as the pursuit, by means of scriptural disciplines, of an ever-growing, deeply felt communion with the triune God. My argument is that the doctrine of union with Christ is at the very heart of all our fellowship with God and every discipline or habit of grace by which that fellowship may be cultivated.

Union Leads to Communion

In John 14:16, Jesus promised the disciples that He would ask the Father to give them another Helper, whom He identifies as the Spirit of truth. The phrase “another Helper” means another of the same kind. Jesus was departing to the Father, by way of the cross, but He would send another helper of the same character as Himself. This Helper is the Holy Spirit, who would dwell with the disciples and be in them. But in verses 18–19, we learn that the link between Christ and the Spirit is far more profound than we might first think. Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me” (emphasis added). Jesus, though departing, would come to His disciples. This isn’t a reference to the resurrection or to the second coming of Jesus at the end of the age. This is a reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit. There is a union between Christ and the Spirit such that the Spirit communicates to us the presence of Christ. Jesus comes to us and indwells us by the Spirit. When Jesus says, “Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I in you” (vv. 19–20), He is telling us the consequence of the Spirit’s mighty work. In the Spirit, we are united to Jesus Christ.

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