We desperately need spiritual men and women. When churches are filled with spiritual people, everyone benefits in at least two ways. First, churches avoid the trap of legalistic flesh-catering. Second, churches fulfill their purpose of reconciliation through restoration and burden-bearing.
This is what Paul says in Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
The challenge lies not only in finding such men and women, but in identifying the necessary qualifications to be considered a spiritual person.
What Is a Spiritual Person?
A spiritual person is often an enigma. For some, the phrase may conjure images of a monk or a priest, arrayed in clothing befitting the occupation. For others, it may bring to mind images of a well-dressed person constantly carrying her Bible and praying. And for others, a spiritual person may appear calm, having it all together and attending to others because his life isn’t filled with difficulties.
There is a sense in which all Christians are spiritual, since we’ve been granted the Spirit as the down payment of our inheritance (Eph. 1:13–14; Rom. 8:9). And yet we have a distinct sense that some Christians are more spiritual than others. Paul seems to imply as much.
Is there a biblical basis for establishing the qualifications of a spiritual person? I think there is. The surrounding context of Galatians provides it.
Spirituality According to Galatians
As we study the incredible gospel found in Galatians, we find that much of Paul’s argument is built upon the Holy Spirit’s work in believers’ lives, beginning with conversion. In Galatians 3:2, Paul asks the question in what might seem like a strange way: “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” A spiritual person is someone who has heard the gospel, believed it, and received the promised Spirit by faith (Gal. 3:14).
We have a distinct sense that some Christians are more spiritual than others. Paul seems to imply as much.
But being spiritual doesn’t end with receiving the Spirit. When we come to Galatians 5, Paul instructs believers to “walk by the Spirit” (v. 16), “live by the Spirit” (v. 25), and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25). In chapter 6 he also speaks of “sowing to the Spirit” and thereby reaping eternal life (Gal. 6:8). These instructions are powerful guides to establishing a biblical view of spirituality.
Many churches place a massive emphasis on being “Spirit-led,” yet what they practice is actually feelings-based theology. If we wish to know what spirituality looks like, we should look at “the fruit of the Spirit” rather than listening to our feelings (Gal. 5:16–26).
The practical basis of a spiritual life is found in Galatians 5:26: “Let’s not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (NASB). Paul has been confronting the Judaizers throughout this letter, while at the same time clarifying the gospel message. The Judaizers “want to make a good showing in the flesh,” and “would force [people] to be circumcised . . . so that they can boast in [their] flesh” (Gal. 6:12–13). Paul identifies the spiritual person as one who does not find his value through comparison to others.
Many churches place a massive emphasis on being ‘Spirit-led,’ yet what they practice is actually feelings-based theology.
According to Galatians 5:26, the Spirit-led person doesn’t become boastful through an attitude of superiority or inferiority. These attitudes, sadly, describe too many today. Somehow, we have come to believe that spirituality is like climbing the corporate ladder. Instead of spending our energy in ministry to others, we spend our energy evaluating where we are in comparison to others.
Those who “challenge” others have an inflated confidence. They tend to look at others as not having achieved their level of spirituality—and are therefore willing to challenge others to prove it. Conversely, those who “envy” others have an inflated confidence in other people’s abilities. They tend to look at others as having achieved something that they couldn’t (or at least haven’t at this point). And yet both of these attitudes lead to what Paul warned against in Galatians 5:19–21—“the works of the flesh.” When we look at others to determine what we can boast about, we step into living in the flesh.
Wanted: Spiritual People
No wonder Paul instructs the spiritual to restore those caught in sin. No one is better qualified. Someone with an attitude of superiority will boast that he’s not been overcome by such a sin (he may not even face such a temptation). And someone with an attitude of inferiority will live in shock that the presumably superior person has failed.
But our spirituality is never based on our human accomplishments or grounded in other people’s actions. Our spirituality rests in the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us at salvation, and is cultivated by humbly walking by the Spirit, sowing to the Spirit, and bearing the fruit of the Spirit to the glory of God.
May God fill our churches with such people.