There’s No Difference Between ‘Spiritual’ and ‘Secular’

There's a better way to view life.

The sacred/secular divide is this idea that some things are sacred or spiritual, and they matter to God. But other things are secular or physical, and at least by implication, they don’t matter to God—at least, not all that much.

The problem with this widespread way of thinking is that, by this definition, most of life is secular.

The sacred stuff is a dinky slice of the pie—going to church, praying, reading the Scriptures, evangelism. What is that, five percent of our lives? The fact is, we spend most of our lives grocery shopping, walking the dog, working out or eating a burrito.

And so most of us feel a little bit frustrated, because we think that what we do every day—our work and our rest—how we play and unwind and enjoy God’s world—is meaningless and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of eternal life.

Or we feel a twinge of guilt, because every time we come home from work and drink a glass of really good wine or watch a great film or eat a delicious meal, we feel this nagging sense of shame because we enjoy it so much—it feels right and earthy and human—but it’s not “spiritual.”

The cosmic, gargantuan 24/7 Kingdom of God cannot be shrunk down to a few hundred people singing songs in a nice building for an hour every weekend.

Look up the word "spiritual" in Genesis to Malachi—the Bible used by Jesus. It’s not there. Why? Because in a Hebrew worldview, all of life is spiritual.

Even when you get to the New Testament, the word spiritual is really only used by Paul. In his writings, it means “animated by the Holy Spirit.” And for Paul, every facet of our life should be spiritual.

I think if you had asked Jesus about His spiritual life, He would have looked at you very confused. My guess is He would have asked, “What do you mean by my spiritual life? All of my life is spiritual.”

Jesus didn’t buy into sacred/secular thinking. To Him, life is a seamless, integrated, holistic experience where the sacred is all around us.

And because everything is spiritual, everything matters to God.

The cosmic, gargantuan 24/7 Kingdom of God cannot be shrunk down to a few hundred people singing songs in a nice building for an hour every weekend.

This is why we have to go to war with sacred/secular ideology—because it compartmentalizes God. We have our God box and then our work box and our rest box and our entertainment box; we cut our life up into tiny little pieces. God becomes a time slot in our daily routine, a building we go to every Sunday for a few hours. God is effectively shut out of the bulk of our lives.

Some people think of themselves as followers of Jesus, but only in the church. So at church, they’re all-in. They take notes from the sermon and volunteer in the kids’ wing. Maybe they even tithe.

But when they go to work or the car dealership or the movie theater, they are just like everybody else. They shop and spend and consume and get sucked into the same old tired uninteresting orbit of more, more, more like everyone else. They overwork and get burned out and unhealthy like everybody else.

But then, on the other side of the room, a lot of people think their work has to be overtly Christian. So if they are a musician, it has to be "Christian" music. If they start a business, it has to have an ichthus in the logo, or at least on the business card.

And that’s not all bad. Some of it’s really inspiring. But if all of us lived this way, we could end up in a world where the Church is a kind of cultural ghetto—a relic from the past, where we used to be known for stunning art and pushing the edge of science, but now we’re known for bad music and cheesy design and an odd tribal dialect that nobody else really understands.

I’ve heard it said that “Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective.”

There is no such thing as Christian music, because a melody can’t be a Christian, only a songwriter can. There’s no such thing as Christian art, because a canvas can’t be filled with the Spirit of the living God, only a painter can.

For those who are filled with the active, dynamic Spirit of God Himself, the line between heaven and earth is thin at best.

It’s easy to forget that Jesus was a builder, or a carpenter. And if working an ordinary, nonglamorous “secular” job wasn’t beneath the embodiment of the Creator Himself, why would it be below us?

Here’s what I’m getting at: If you’re a construction worker or a plumber or a teacher or a dental hygienist, you’re not a Christian construction worker or a Christian plumber or a Christian whatever. You’re a Christian—a follower of Jesus the Messiah and the Lord of the world. And you’re a dental hygienist. Or a professional football player. Or a you fill in the blank.

So do your work—whatever it is—as a follower of Jesus. Because there are no compartments. The way of Jesus should permeate and influence and shape every facet of your life.

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Maybe that means you’ll leverage your small business to work for justice and mercy—you’ll hire people from the local rescue mission and give away half your profits to low-income school-mentorship programs, and you’ll make sure your product is sustainable for the environment.

But maybe it just means that you’ll show up for your job as an accountant, and you’ll do your job really well, and the world will be a better place because of it. And every day when you show up for work, you’ll embody the way of Jesus so that your boss, your co-workers and your clients will all get a glimpse of what Jesus’ way is all about—and, hopefully, an invitation to join in.

For those who are spiritual—who are filled with the active, dynamic Spirit of God Himself—the line between heaven and earth is thin at best. The sacred is never far away.

And your job, your career, or whatever it is you do all day long, isn’t something outside of Jesus’ calling on your life—it’s right at the center of it.

Taken from Garden City by John Mark Comer. Copyright © 2015 by John Mark Comer. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

Top Comments

Philip Sturm

6

Philip Sturm replied to Joel B Ntwatwa's comment

I think you'd reconcile it by reading the whole epistle and figuring out what he was saying, who he was saying it to, and why he was saying it to them.

Joel B Ntwatwa

1

Joel B Ntwatwa commented…

How do we reconcile, words like 1 John 2:15-17Revised Standard Version (RSV)

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.

8 Comments

Steve Cornell

344

Steve Cornell commented…

Here are two biblical affirmations that form a basis for what you are saying, https://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/two-affirmations-for-agents-...

Joel B Ntwatwa

1

Joel B Ntwatwa commented…

How do we reconcile, words like 1 John 2:15-17Revised Standard Version (RSV)

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.

Philip Sturm

6

Philip Sturm replied to Joel B Ntwatwa's comment

I think you'd reconcile it by reading the whole epistle and figuring out what he was saying, who he was saying it to, and why he was saying it to them.

Carolyn Robe

9

Carolyn Robe replied to Joel B Ntwatwa's comment

God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.....

Carolyn Robe

9

Carolyn Robe replied to Joel B Ntwatwa's comment

God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.....

David Randall

16

David Randall replied to Carolyn Robe's comment

We have an equivocation on the word "world" here. In John 3 the "world" refers to all the world's inhabitants, mankind. In the epistle, "world" refers the mindset of the world without God and opposed to God. Two very different things.

Miles Protter

1

Miles Protter commented…

A Friday night shabbat meal with Jewish friends revealed an un-compartmentalised view of life. I asked, "When do you pray?"
"It's all prayer," was the response. "Drinking, eating, talking with your family, telling jokes, washing dishes. The whole thing."
Then they told me that work was sacred, if done with the right heart and attitude. God wants you to bless others with your work. Going to the movies could be sacred. Running in the park, playing with your kids, having a meal with your mates. All of it.

Christians know this. We have great teaching like 'Practice of the Presence of God' by Brother Lawrence, or the Rule of St Benedict or anything by St Francis. For me the hard part is doing it!

David Randall

16

David Randall commented…

You REALLY, REALLY, REALLY need to have a better headline editor. I know that you intend to grab a reader's attention, and saying something outrageously silly does that. However it tends to make thoughtful readers skip the article, since it is assumed the content of the article is on a par with the headline.

The point of the article is that the sacred is not some little subset of life that is isolated from everything else. This is obviously understood by by people who are concerned with the sacred aspects of all of life.

But the headline is something else entirely. It says that sacred and secular are the same thing which they obviously aren't. Sacred and secular do not speak of categories of things, but of world-views ABOUT those things. As such the two could not possibly be more different.

In the one version I searched it is true that the word "spiritual" only appeared once in the OT, but this is entirely misleading, since the word "spirit" occurs over 200 times, and the word "soul" (often a synonym for spirit) occurs over 400 times. The Jewish OT authors were deeply spiritual people and understood that spiritual matters transcended material matters. But they were very familiar with secular thinking, and the fact that there is a difference.

Neither would Jesus have been confused by the distinction. When the Samaritan woman asked how it was proper to worship, Jesus immediately identified her secular mind-set (proper place, proper procedures, etc.) and pointed her to the spiritual consideration. "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him."

I know the article is making a true and well intended point, but saying silly things like since the OT authors had a profound sense of the spiritual they wouldn't have any concept of the secular, or that Jesus would have been confused on the matter, doesn't help credibility. Nor does it help to appear to not understand that secular and sacred apply to world-views not primarily to objects.

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