True Spirituality

The question before us is what the Christian life, true spirituality, really is, and how it may be lived in a twentieth-century setting.

The first point that we must make is that it is impossible even to begin living the Christian life, or to know anything of true spirituality, before one is a Christian. And the only way to become a Christian is neither by trying to live some sort of a Christian life nor by hoping for some sort of religious experience, but rather by accepting Christ as Savior. No matter how complicated, educated, or sophisticated we may be, or how simple we may be, we must all come the same way, insofar as becoming a Christian is concerned. As the kings of the earth and the mighty of the earth are born in exactly the same way, physically, as the simplest man, so the most intellectual person must become a Christian in exactly the same way as the simplest person. This is true for all men everywhere, through all space and all time. There are no exceptions. Jesus said a totally exclusive word: “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

The reason for this is that all men are separated from God because of their true moral guilt. God exists, God has a character, God is a holy God; and when men sin (and we all must acknowledge we have sinned not only by mistake but by intention), they have true moral guilt before the God who exists. That guilt is not just the modern concept of guilt-feelings, a psychological guilty feeling in man. It is a true moral guilt before the infinite-personal, holy God. Only the finished, substitutionary work of Christ upon the cross as the Lamb of God—in history, space, and time—is enough to remove this. Our true guilt, that brazen heaven which stands between us and God, can be removed only upon the basis of the finished work of Christ plus nothing on our part. The Bible’s whole emphasis is that there must be no humanistic note added at any point in the accepting of the gospel. It is the infinite value of the finished work of Christ, the second person of the Trinity, upon the cross plus nothing that is the sole basis for the removal of our guilt. When we thus come, believing God, the Bible says we are declared justified by God, the guilt is gone, and we are returned to fellowship with God—the very thing for which we were created in the first place.

Just as the only basis for the removal of our guilt is the finished work of Christ upon the cross in history, plus nothing, so the only instrument for accepting that finished work of Christ upon the cross is faith. This is not faith in the twentieth-century or Kierkegaardian concept of faith as a jump in the dark—not a solution on the basis of faith in faith. It is believing the specific promises of God; no longer turning our backs on them, no longer calling God a liar, but raising the empty hands of faith and accepting that finished work of Christ as it was fulfilled in history upon the cross. The Bible says that at that moment we pass from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son. We become, individually, children of God. We are children of God from that time on. I repeat, there is no way to begin the Christian life except through the door of spiritual birth, any more than there is any other way to begin physical life except through the door of physical birth.

Yet, having said this about the beginning of the Christian life, we must also realize that while the new birth is necessary as the beginning, it is only the beginning. We must not think that because we have accepted Christ as Savior and are therefore Christians, this is all there is in the Christian life. In one way physical birth is the most important part in our physical life, because we are not alive in the external world until we have been born. In another way, however, it is the least important of all the aspects of our life, because it is only the beginning and then it is past. After we are born, the important thing is the living of our life in all its relationships, possibilities, and capabilities. It is exactly the same with the new birth. In one way, the new birth is the most important thing in our spiritual life, because we are not Christians until we have come this way. In another way, however, after one has become a Christian, it must be minimized, in that we should not always have our mind only on our new birth. The important thing after being born spiritually is to live. There is a new birth, and then there is the Christian life to be lived. This is the area of sanctification, from the time of the new birth through this present life, until Jesus comes or until we die.

Often, after a person is born again and asks, “What shall I do next?” he is given a list of things, usually of a limited nature and primarily negative. Often he is given the idea that if he does not do this series of things (whatever this series of things happens to be in the particular country and location and at the time he happens to live), he will be spiritual. This is not so. The true Christian life, true spirituality, is not merely a negative not-doing of any small list of things. Even if the list began as a very excellent list of things to beware of in that particular historic setting, we still must emphasize that the Christian life, or true spirituality, is more than refraining from a certain list of external taboos in a mechanical way.

Because this is true, there almost always comes into being another group of Christians that rises up and begins to work against such a list of taboos; thus, there is a tendency toward a struggle in Christian circles between those who set up a certain list of taboos and those who, feeling there is something wrong with this, say, “Away with all taboos, away with all lists.” Both of these groups can be right and both can be wrong, depending on how they approach the matter.

I was impressed by this on one Saturday night at L’Abri, when we were having one of our discussion times. On that particular night everybody present was a Christian, many of them from groups in countries where “lists” had been very much accentuated. They began to talk against the use of taboos, and at first as I listened to them I rather agreed with them, in the direction they were going. But as I listened further to this conversation, and as they spoke against the taboos in their own countries, it became quite clear to me that what they really wanted was merely to be able to do the things that the taboos were against. What they really wanted was a more lax Christian life. But we must see that in giving up such lists, in feeling the limitation of the “list” mentality, we must not do this merely in order to be able to live a looser life; it must be for something deeper. So I think both sides of this discussion can be right and both sides can be wrong. We do not come to true spirituality or the true Christian life merely by keeping a list, but neither do we come to it merely by rejecting the list and then shrugging our shoulders and living a looser life.

If we are considering outward things in relation to true spirituality, we are face-to-face not with some small list, but with the whole Ten Commandments and all of God’s other commands. In other words, if I see the list as a screen, and I say this small list is trite, dead, and cheap, and I take hold of the screen and lift it away, then I am not face-to-face with a looser thing; I am face-to-face with the whole Ten Commandments and all that is included in them. I am also face-to-face with what we might call the Law of Love, the fact that I am to love God and I am to love my fellowman.

In the book of Romans, in the fourteenth chapter, verse fifteen, we read: “But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.” This is the law of God. In a very real sense there is no liberty here. It is an absolute declaration that we are to do this. It is perfectly true that we cannot be saved by doing this, we cannot do this in our own strength, and none of us do this perfectly in this life. Nevertheless, it is an imperative. It is the absolute command of God. The same thing is true in  1 Corinthians 8:12–13: “But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” Therefore, when I take hold of the screen of a trite list and say, “This is too superficial,” and I push it aside, I must see what I am doing. I am not now confronted with a libertine concept, but I am confronted with the whole Ten Commandments and with the Law of Love. So even if we are dealing only with outward commands, we have not moved into a looser life; we have moved into something much more profound and heart-searching. As a matter of fact, when we are done with our honest wrestling before God, very often we will find that we will be observing at least some of the taboos on these lists. But having gone deeper, we find that we will be observing them for a completely different reason. Curiously enough we often come around in a circle through our liberty, through the study of the deeper teaching, and find we do want to keep these things. But now not for the same reason—that of social pressure. It is no longer merely a matter of holding to an accepted list in order that Christians will think well of us.

However, eventually the Christian life and true spirituality are not to be seen as outward at all, but inward. The climax of the Ten Commandments is the tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.” The commandment not to covet is an entirely inward thing. Coveting is never an outward thing, from the very nature of the case. It is an intriguing factor that this is the last command that God gives us in the Ten Commandments and thus the hub of the whole matter. The end of the whole thing is that we arrive at an inward situation and not merely an outward one. Actually, we break this last commandment, not to covet, before we break any of the others. Any time that we break one of the other commandments of God, it means that we have already broken this commandment in coveting. It also means that any time we break one of the others, we break this last commandment as well. So no matter which of the other Ten Commandments you break, you break two: the commandment itself, and this commandment not to covet. This is the hub of the wheel.

Francis A. Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1971), 3–7.

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