Spiritual Theology

The sixth window onto divine revelation is the core of them all.

The Disciplines of Knowing: Theology (7)

Growing in the knowledge of Jesus is from the inside-out.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5.23, 24

The work of the Spirit
We have been looking at the various disciplines of theological study as windows on divine revelation, practices that allow us to seek the Lord and His glory from a wide range of perspectives – Biblical, creational, historical, systematic, and practical.

Foundational to all these is Biblical theology, which provides us with the understanding of God’s Word essential for guiding all our other efforts at increasing in the knowledge of the Lord. But at the core of all theology, and of every discipline – whether of the humanities or the sciences – by which we grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, is spiritual theology, the sixth and final window on divine revelation.

Spiritual theology is concerned with how the Holy Spirit, working in our soul, makes it so that Jesus increases in us and we decrease. Thus, the Spirit fills our lives and Personal Mission Fields increasingly with Jesus, which is why He has been sent to us (Eph. 4.8-10). Spiritual theology is concerned with what the Spirit does in us, and how and by what means He accomplishes that work.

In a nutshell, we can say that the Spirit’s work is to transform us, from the inside-out, into the very image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18). Take a moment and re-read that sentence, then sit back and relish the wonder, mystery, delight, awesomeness, and power of this incredible privilege. Is this what you want for your life? It’s what God is seeking for you, and why He has sent His Spirit to be in you and with you always.

The Spirit enables us to access the mind of Christ, so that, more and more, we think the way Jesus does. He renews us in the heart of God by convicting us of sin and teaching the things of Christ to us. He firms up our conscience by rewriting the Law of God on our heart, and training the conscience – or will – to value God’s will above all else. The effect of the Spirit’s work in us is that we become encouraged and empowered to stretch out beyond our present experience of the Lord into new areas of sanctification, fruitfulness, and service.

The Spirit of God is the power of God at work within us to enable us to will and do that which is pleasing to the Father – that is, to be more like Jesus (Phil. 2.13). Our responsibility is to make sure we understand the goals the Spirit is pursuing, and that we devote our time – all our time – to working out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2.12; Eph. 5.15-21).

Focus on the soul
Paul’s phrasing in these verses may be a bit confusing, since he refers both to the spirit and the soul as being entities within us, which are being made whole in Jesus. Mary seems to have equated these in her response to the angel’s message (cf. Lk. 1.46, 47), and Calvin provides an insight that assures us there is only one spiritual dimension within our bodies, consisting of the interacting entities of heart, mind, and conscience (will): “The word soul means often the same with spirit; but when they occur together, the first includes all the affections, and the second means what they call the intellectual faculty. So Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, uses the words, when he prays God to keep their spirit, and soul, and body blameless until the coming of Christ; he meant no other thing, but that they might continue pure and chaste in mind, and will, and outward actions.”

The heart is the seat of our affections; the mind processes, stores, and synthesizes information; and the conscience holds our values and thus serves as the arbitrator between heart and mind to discern the will of the Lord.

In spiritual theology we are interested in understanding as much as we can about each of these aspects of the soul, so that we can exercise proper care and nurture for them. If we neglect any aspect of the soul, that aspect will surely yield to the law of sin, which remains at work within us (Rom. 7.21-23), thus gumming up the holy working of our soul, and impeding the Spirit’s work of sanctification.

To make sure our soul is healthy and growing in Christ, we must impose on it certain disciplines, which we repeat, refine, and increase in order to subdue the soul to Christ and allow the Spirit to do His work within us. These spiritual disciplines infuse all the time and work of our lives with the Presence of Christ, and thus help us to be increasingly sanctified, blameless, and whole as followers of the Lord.

The care and feeding of the soul
Many good books are available to guide us in the use of spiritual disciplines. But we can see in the Scriptures various recurring disciplines that the Spirit has recorded there for our learning. Chief among these is prayer.

Prayer is communing with the Lord, whether in spoken words, words uttered within the heart, or by waiting on and listening for the Lord. For the strengthening of our soul, we need daily prayer, as well as prayer without ceasing. We need prayers of praise and thanksgiving as well as of supplication and intercession. We must work to be people who travel in an ambit of prayer, so that we are always connected with our Lord, and open to His leading or prompting; and we can always turn to Him in any situation for mercy and grace to help (Heb. 4.16).

Of equal importance is daily reading and study of the Word of God. Here also we include other disciplines, such as meditation and journaling, that enable us to dig deeper into the Bible, to discover more of Jesus there (Jn. 5.39). Also in this connection, we include listening to the Word taught, reading the comments and studies of others, and participating with others to grow in our understanding and use of the Word day by day (Col. 3.16).

Other spiritual disciplines are also mentioned in Scripture, such as solitude, fasting, giving to the Lord’s work, assembling for worship, and singing. Each of these should have some place in our lives. These disciplines make unique contributions to the nurture of the soul; and they can be especially helpful in accessing the Lord’s Presence at any time during the day, that we might refocus on Him and be renewed in Him regularly.

If we are feeding our soul as the Scriptures command, we will find a hunger for the Lord growing there. We will pant like a deer at the brook to come into His Presence and sink ever more deeply into His truth and love (Ps. 42.1). We will find His Word and Presence increasingly the joy and rejoicing of our lives (Jer. 15.16; Ps. 16.11). We will want to make increased use of all the theological disciplines, and to seek the Lord in other arenas as well, as we shall see.

We must not neglect the care and feeding of the soul, for as the soul thrives, so thrives our pursuit of the knowledge of God and His glory, our increase in Christlikeness, our love for and enjoyment of Him, and our witness to the watching world.

For reflection
1. Why do we say that growing in the Lord is from the inside-out? Is it ever from the outside-in? Explain.

2. Summarize the work the Spirit does in helping you to increase and be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

3. Why are spiritual disciplines so important for increasing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ?

Next Steps – Preparation: Review your practice of spiritual disciples. Where do you need to improve? What can you do to make better use of these resources?

T. M. Moore

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This is part 4 in the series, “Know, Love, Serve”. All installments in this series may be downloaded for further study by
clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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