The other day I went into Dunkin Donuts to get a cup of coffee. The man waiting in line in front of me was Jewish. I know this because he was wearing a kippah or yarmulke on his head. Then there was the lady taking my coffee order. She was a Hindu. I know this because she had the bindi dot on her forehead.
This got me thinking some about how people define their religious or spiritual life by certain signs. A person is somehow religious or more spiritual because of some identifiable mark they wear or carry with them in public. The hijab head-covering that Muslim men wear or the Rosary Beads many Catholics carry with them also comes to mind.
It would be easy to become hyper-critical of such people for thinking that we’re supposed to recognize their spirituality by those identifiable marks they wear or carry with them. But then I realize the ways in which protestant Christians, even Evangelical, and yes even in my own tribe, the Churches of Christ, can rely on such identifiable marks to say “I am spiritual” or “I am a Christian”. It’s done…
- Every time we judge another person by the way he or she dresses when “coming to church.”
- Every time we judge one’s Christianity by the number church activities they participate in.
- Every time we rely on a fish symbol affixed to our car bumper, a golden cross necklace, or the carrying of a Bible to identify our godliness.
- every time we insist that church leaders wear their “Sunday best” and judge their spiritual leadership by that standard.
The problem with all of this isn’t the symbols or marks themselves. The problem is that we can have a fish symbol displayed on our car, wear a taylor-made 3 piece suit, always carry our Bible in hand wherever we go, and be present in some way at every church activity…and still be the most unspiritual, least Christ-like and Spirit-filled people in the room.
In the New Testament, real spirituality is not marked by any external marker we might use to identify our religion. For followers of Jesus Christ, real spirituality is marked by the life we live. It’s a life that says “no” to the desires of the flesh and yes to the life lived by the Spirit of God (cf. Gal 5.13ff). It’s a life that puts away our old self and puts on the new self that is being created to be like God (cf. Eph 4.22-24). It’s a life that marks us as belonging to God by clothing ourselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. [Bearing] with each other and [forgiving] one another…” that is ultimately bound together by love (Col 3.12-14).
That is true spirituality. It is, I contend, much harder to do than settling for some form of pseudo spirituality even though the later seems very hip and even has the outward appearance of being right. May God grant us the grace from his love and the strength from his Spirit to pursue true spirituality!