What should Christian spirituality look like?
I often wonder how much damage works salvation has done to the churches over the centuries, not just in promoting a false gospel, but in also promoting a false spirituality. When you think you need to work your way to heaven, then spirituality is going to look very different for you than it would for someone who knows he already has, through simple faith in Jesus, everlasting life that cannot be lost. For us, since we’re freed from the pressures of becoming spiritual enough to earn salvation, we can concentrate on loving our neighbors. But what does that look like?
Here are three different translations of Rom 12:10:
Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another (NKJV).
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor (NASB).
Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor (CSB).
The key term in Rom 12:10 is philadelphia, which, I’m sure you know from the city of the same name. It means brotherly love. The CSB uses inclusive language to say we should love each other as brothers and sisters. Alexander Strauch notes that “The terms brethren, brother, or sister occur some 250 times throughout the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s letters” (Strauch, Hospitality, p. 10). If you want to know how to think of your fellow believers, think of your siblings. Your brothers and your sisters are your basic frame of reference. How would you treat them?
Of course, you might have a terrible relationship with your brothers and sisters. If so, I’m sorry. But that’s not unusual, even in the Bible. Think of Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, or Joseph and his brothers—those were all very unhealthy, unloving, relationships. Likewise, your relationships with your siblings might be a history of betrayals, abuse, and backstabbing. But even those bad experiences can help you know what it means to love other Christians like your brothers and sisters. How? As Ravi Zacharias might say, you cannot invoke evil without invoking good.
In other words, if you know that something is wrong, then you must have some idea of what is right.
If you know something is evil, then you must have some idea of what is good.
By application, if you know it’s wrong to murder or swindle or trick or betray or exclude or abuse your siblings, then you must have some idea of how to treat them well.
Depending on your family history, you might have to use your moral imagination to reason in reverse—going from the wrong you suffered to the love you should have received. No wonder Jesus said, “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matt 7:12). How would you like to be treated by your siblings? Treat other Christians like that. Look at the fellow believers in your local church as your brothers and sisters.
How does that change how you look at the people around you? Don’t you regard most fellow churchgoers as casual acquaintances? Is that the right way to treat them? No. You should be devoted to them. What are you doing to put that ideal into practice? What is your church doing? How much effort are you putting into brotherly love, as opposed to, say, contemplative spirituality?
Frankly, I’m not sure that God cares about what commonly passes for “Christian spirituality.” But I am sure that He cares deeply about Christians’ loving one another deeply.