The story of the quest for a life that is spiritual begins when mankind is created by God. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27, ESV) He creates two humans named and Adam and Eve and gives them a task to bear His image, and to be fruitful and multiply. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28, ESV) Therefore, this task becomes representative of the task for all mankind to fill the earth with the image of Him. Thus, this task and quest becomes personal for every believer.
This quest is extremely difficult because of the nature of God. He is Holy, which means He is distinct from us in several ways. He is a creator that existed before anything. He is outside of everything else that exists, and is not of this world. He is eternal and infinite, and we are temporal. He is Spirit and we are physical flesh. “…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2, ESV) God is also loving, just, merciful, gracious, angry, and jealous. He is all these things perfectly at every moment, always; one characteristic never sacrificing another. In being Holy, He has called us to demonstrate these characteristics perfectly, always, and everywhere. This is something we cannot do, yet we strive for it because this is the quest for a life that is spiritual that He called us to live out.
Adam and Even quickly fail at this quest and rebel against Him because they chose to image and exalt themselves. This was the original sin of mankind. The results of this sin is that we live under curse (Genesis 3:16-19) and God’s wrath that gives us over to our sinful desires (Romans 1:18-32). This means we are dead and not able to do anything on our own to give ourselves life. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1, ESV)
Since this original sin, or fall, mankind is repeatedly given a chance to image God and repeatedly mankind fails by seeking out self-exaltation instead of exalting and imaging Him.
One example of this rebellion and consequence is when God sees how corrupt mankind has become and how they have filled the earth with violence. Because of this rebellion, God commands a righteous and blameless man named Noah to build and ark to save his family while God floods the earth and destroys mankind. God saves Noah and his family to start over with the quest for mankind to live a life that is spiritual and gives them the same task to be fruitful and multiply and image God. (Genes 6-9:17) Noah lasted only a few verses and then fails at this too. (Genesis 9:21-24)
God gives mankind another chance, but they rebel again by building the Tower of Babel, specifically designed to exalt themselves. As a result, God decides to confuse their language and disperse them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)
Yet God does not give up on mankind and the quest. God calls Abram to lead the chosen people of Israel to carry on the quest:
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” (Genesis 12:1–3, ESV)
Later, God pulls the chosen people out of Egypt and they come to Mount Sinai and God says they will be a Kingdom of priests. “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”” (Exodus 19:6, ESV) The rule of God upon the earth is now going to be established through Israel to function as a kingdom of priests to bring the other nations forward in imaging God and the quest for a life that is spiritual. Yet Israel rebels.
These are just a few examples and, as you can see, mankind continues to rebel and fail, and God continues to give mankind another chance when He would be so clearly justified in giving up and canceling the quest. However, God sends His Son to come to earth and demonstrate the rule of God on the earth, and what it is really like to image and love God and love our neighbor. His Son lived with mankind in fully human form (and fully God also) and fulfilled the law perfectly. In response, His Son, Jesus, is put on trial for blasphemy and insurrection (accused of leading a rebellion against the rule of Rome), and mankind sleighs Him. The act of God sending His Son to die is an intentional sacrifice and exchange of a perfect man who died for the sins of all mankind.
In this sacrifice, God gave us grace. Grace invigorates us and seats us with Christ in heaven. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:4–5, ESV)
Yet, we do not like grace because we cannot contribute anything. Grace always comes from superior to subordinate. To accept grace is to say, “I cannot do this without you,” and recognizing we have nothing to contribute because of our sin. There is only one way to overcome the curse, wrath, and death; and this is complete dependence on God and his grace.
In The Grace Awakening, Chuck Swindoll explains grace this way:
“In order for anyone to stand securely and be at peace before a holy and just God, that person must be righteous. Hence our need for justification. Remember the definition of justification? It is the sovereign act of God whereby he declares righteous the believing sinner while still in his sinning state. It doesn’t mean that the believing sinner stops sinning. It doesn’t even mean that the believing sinner is made righteous in the sense of suddenly becoming perpetually perfect. The sinner is declared righteous. God sovereignly bestows the gift of eternal life on the sinner at the moment he believes and thereby declares him righteous while the sinner still lives a life marked by periodic sinfulness. He hasn’t joined a church. He hasn’t started paying tithes. He hasn’t given up all to follow Christ. He hasn’t been baptized. He hasn’t promised to live a sacrificial, spotlessly pure life. He has simply taken the gift of eternal life. He has changed his mind toward Christ (repentance) and accepted the free gift of God apart from works. Period. Transaction completed. By grace, through faith alone, God declares the sinner righteous (justification), and from that moment on the justified sinner begins a process of growth toward maturity (sanctification). Day by day, bit by bit, he learns what it means to live a life that honors Christ. But immediately? No way.”
This is grace. Grace reigns over us and must reign over us the entire quest because we have nothing to contribute for our spiritual progress.
The prior law of the Old Testament does not even help us on this quest, because the flesh responds to the law with rebellion. Furthermore, the law inflames the disobedience of our flesh.
As Swindoll alluded, the quest for a life that is spiritual does not end with grace or Jesus’ death. God raises Jesus from the dead and He sends the Spirit to create a new people (the church) to continue the quest of being a kingdom of priests to image God. In this we have been identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. This makes sin our master no longer, because that relationship is dead. The new relationship is with grace as our master. (Romans 6) Furthermore, through Christ, we are no longer under law, but under grace (Romans 7).
Yet we still sin because the flesh did not die with us. The flesh is a set of sinful desires that rebel against God. We are not free from the flesh until Jesus comes back and gives us a new body. Until then, we must engage in this battle against flesh (Romans 7:21-25). What delivers us from this is living according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-11). The Spirit has some primary ministries of use in this battle on the quest: indwelling (the highest level of intimacy that two beings can have – God has given us the Spirit of Jesus so that His presence is as close to us as possible), transforming us to be like the image of Christ, leading us in this battle with the flesh so that we might have deeds that lead towards eternal life instead of death and unrighteousness.
So, it becomes our responsibility to practice certain spiritual disciplines that help us become more and more Spirit lead. Dallas Willard in The Spirit of the Disciplines names a few disciplines in categories of abstinence (solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice) and engagement (study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission).
In Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Cultural Liturgies), James K. A. Smith argues that the human person is a “lover.” He states, “The point is to emphasize that the way we inhabit the world is not primarily as thinkers, or even believers, but as more affective, embodied creatures who make our way in the world more by feeling our way around it.” This in mind, it is important to have at least a few spiritual disciplines engrained in our lives to help us practice and train our desire to be more Spirit lead. Without them, we do not grow in the Spirit. Smith points out “habits are inscribed in our heart through bodily practices and rituals that train the heart, as it were, to desire certain ends.”
The trick is to balance on the tightrope of being disciplined without being legalistic. Legalism is the idea that you need to follow rules to obtain holiness and blessing. This abuses the concept of grace because God says we are already blessed and our performance does not matter. A pure heart does not come from standards, rules, and laws. Impurity comes from the heart.
Thus, the quest for a life that is spiritual still carries on with the same mission of imaging God, but we have been given the powerful gifts of grace, eternal life, and the Holy Spirit to aid us on this quest and guarantee a glorifying conclusion. Said conclusion is being united with God in Heaven, experiencing perfect shalom, for eternity.