The Spiritual Person…
1. Relies on Testimony to believe
2. Trusts that the Holy Spirit comes in ordinary ways
Spirituality – what is it? Perhaps the best answer is that it is a term that is used to define how we speak about the immaterial aspects of humanity. That’s probably the basic definition. But spirituality is often connected to religious belief. For us Christians, spirituality is firmly based in God’s Word. It’s where we get answers to our questions about the unseen elements of human existence – feelings, emotions, faith, the soul, and so on.
One interesting thing about our culture is that people are becoming more spiritual, but less religious. According to a Pew Research study, since 2012, we’ve seen an 11% decrease in people expressing themselves as both religious and spiritual, but an 8% increase in people who express themselves as spiritual but not religious. Today, about 27% of adults in the United States think of themselves as spiritual but not religious – that’s over a quarter of the adult population.
I guess a lot could be riding on how a person defines “spirituality.” If someone thinks of spirituality in terms of being an organism that is attached to and aware of non-material things, what we often call the meta-physical realm, then that would be true of every human. However, more often what we mean by spirituality is having more than just an awareness, but a connection, to immaterial things. Other words for these immaterial things are a person’s soul, or the supernatural realm, or a connection of some type to a divine being. When most people in our culture think of spirituality, they still think of these things. And that’s where a disconnect from religion is alarming.
Religion and spirituality have always been deeply connected. This is certainly the case in Christianity. But what we see is that religion is becoming more based in humanity, and farther detached from spirituality. Consider these thoughts as we now shift our focus to a section of God’s Word, from 1 John 5:4-13:
4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (ESV)
John calls the truly spiritual person, one who “has been born of God.” That’s a good definition for spirituality in the Christian sense of the word. But what exactly does that mean for our lives? We see two things today: 1. A spiritual person relies on testimony to believe. 2. A spiritual person trusts that the Holy Spirit comes in ordinary ways.
Let’s take a step back and think about John’s letter for a moment. Last weekend, we had a sermon text from John’s Gospel. We brought in the beginning of this first letter as a connection to what John saw on Easter. We notice this trend throughout his letters – there are many obvious connections between the two. The last verse of our text today is a great example as it’s almost a word for word copy of John 20:31.
The meaning of this is that it’s clear who the author is. These are both John’s writings, they fit his style. But there’s an even more important connection. John’s first letter builds upon the truths that were expressed in His Gospel. There certainly is a lot of application in John’s Gospel, that’s actually something that makes it different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But, there’s even more application in his letter. This is an instructional letter to Christians based upon the truths of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In that sense, the word “testimony” is vitally important to understanding John’s letter – and to understanding what it means to be a spiritual person, or one who is born of God.
There’s a very important verse in John’s letter to remember as we think of bringing all these thoughts together in our text. Right after John lays out a clear definition of the good news of forgiveness in Jesus, he writes, “but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (1 John 2:5-6).
This letter is about walking in God. This is the spiritual path. But, as we get to the final chapter of the letter, as John is summarizing all of this – what word keeps coming up? Testimony. Eight times John uses “testimony” in our text. That shows us how important this word is to our faith, and to what it means to be a spiritual person. The Greek word for testimony is martureo – where our English word for “martyr” comes from. A martyr is someone who gives their life for Christ – a believer who is killed for their faith. They received this title because offering their life was the greatest testimony to their Savior.
But we see something important in this for our lives. Testimony is not self-determined. The martyrs gave their witness because there was no other path. They died for the truth – not for what they chose. True testimony does not change from person to person – in either substance or in application. It means the same thing for all people. It’s not about what we feel. This testimony is the basis of our faith. We saw that last weekend as we talked about John’s eye-witness testimony of the resurrection and what that means for us who read his words today. Here in the letter, John brings in the application of that truth to our lives as it pertains to living with and under God’s grace.
Remember that although John emphasizes testimony here, our faith is not about assembling a bunch of random facts about God in our brains. Spirituality is about a union with God – being born of Him. As John said in chapter two of the letter– whoever claims to abide in God should be walking in His will.
This is one of the divine mysteries of Christianity – union between humans and God. Other religions have a semblance of this notion. Most well-known is probably Greek mythology, where the gods and mankind interacted regularly. But Christian union between God and humanity is completely different. It’s not just about coming into contact with the divine, but being changed and led by God. As John develops this concept in his letter, he does so in a very Trinitarian way. For example, consider
1 John 3:23-24 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (ESV)
1 John 4:13-15 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (ESV)
John mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – thereby expressing the true God – but then he also includes the believer. John says, “by this we know that he (God) abides in us.” John says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” This is the union of faith, not merely an interaction, but an indwelling of God in the believer. This is spirituality. The mystery is that our union with God is compared to the union of Trinity – a feature of God that completely transcends our comprehension. It’s not that we become God, for that would not be a union. It’s that every quality, attribute, and virtue of God completely influences our lives because we are in Him and He is in us – by faith.
The thing is, our text brings us back down to reality because it tells us that this spirituality comes in very ordinary ways. That’s what all this talk of blood of water is about. John says that Jesus came by blood and water, and that the Holy Spirit testifies with this blood and water about the truth. Although this is a somewhat mysterious section – John seems to be getting at the way that Jesus, as God and Man, manifested Himself in the world. Two pivotal points in His life involved water and blood. First, His baptism, which marked the beginning of His public ministry and sealed Him as the Messianic Savior, well-beloved by the Father in heaven. Second, His death, by which He shed the blood that washed us clean of our sins. Jesus came in these ways and they testify about union with God by faith. But, they’re also quite ordinary. Water and blood are common. They are earthly. Spirituality has an ordinariness to it too.
Natures shows depict the animated way in which animals show off to a prospective mate. Usually the more unique and flamboyant, the better it goes. A lot of people act that way with the Holy Spirit’s presence – that it must be supernatural and awe-inspiring because that’s the way it was for certain people in the past. The connection between that surreal outward experience and testimony is not popular today. Testimony seems boring. It requires reading and learning. It involves personal discipline and quiet moments spent in God’s Word. It’s demands obedience – being willing to listen to God speak, rather than choosing one’s own self-determining path of spirituality.
Water and blood bring us back down to reality and to what Jesus had to do on earth to redeem us from sin. Spirituality is ordinary and supernatural all at the same time. Just as Jesus was human and united with the Father and the Spirit at the same time. Remember, their union reflects your union with God by faith.
Remember, with every fact (testimony) comes an application – that’s spirituality. There’s no better way of expressing that mystery than in the ways God has given us – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Water and blood. Water and blood that find their true meaning and power in Jesus. When we baptize, we’re not tapping into the baptism of Jesus. When we commune, we’re not re-sacrificing Christ on the cross. The significance of water and blood in His life has happened and is complete. Our use of baptism and the Lord’s Supper is connected to Jesus, but it is also independent of His achievement of righteous and His death – which are both finished.
This is spirituality. This is true union with God. A constant lifeline of power from the things that Jesus accomplished for us on earth – the testimony of God’s love for sinners- with the expressions we use today to receive God’s grace. It’s not about showmanship and human esteem. That’s fake spirituality. True union with God is quite ordinary and common in appearance. As simple as water and blood. Yet, blessed with divine power from the eternal God through the testimony of His Word.
So, what does it mean to be spiritual? What does it look like to follow God? Look no further than His Word – the testimony of Jesus Christ. Amen.