Spiritual sobriety (cont.)

One point I want to clarify from yesterday’s post is the word “worldliness” in the line I quoted from Piper’s sermon. I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the way the word is used among Evangelical churches, partly because the word has multiple meanings, as well as because of the tendency to create a dichotomy between the “spiritual” and the “secular.”

Before I began attending a Baptist church, the only meaning for “worldly” that I knew was “experienced; knowing; sophisticated.” It may be the second definition in the dictionary, but it was the only one I was familiar with. I didn’t consider being “sophisticated” something to aspire to, but certainly there was nothing wrong with being “experienced” or “knowing.” Yet the pastor at the Baptist church talked of worldliness as an affront to God.

I quickly became familiar with the use of “worldly” to mean “of or pertaining to this world as contrasted with heaven, spiritual life, etc.; earthly; mundane.” We were cautioned against worldly attitudes such as longing for money or status, or having a casual attitude toward dishonesty or sexual sin. Even “worldly” music and other forms of entertainment were thought to draw people away from God, so it was better to listen to Christian music and read Christian books. Dancing and going to movie theaters were strictly off-limits for a spiritual Christian.

At the Baptist college I attended I learned a new perspective. Life wasn’t meant to be divided into mutually exclusive spheres known as “sacred” and “secular.” Cleaning toilets could be just as spiritual as singing in the church choir, and the measure of a work of art was not whether it was “Christian” but its artistic quality and the extent to which it expressed truth. There were certainly worldly attitudes to avoid, but the way to do it wasn’t by belonging to a Christian sub-culture and venturing out of it only to evangelize.

Among evangelical Christians, the word “unspiritual” can often be substituted for “worldly,” but that has its own drawbacks. Too often “spiritual” is equated with “non-physical,” so enjoying physical pleasures is seen as unspiritual. But God created the physical world, and us as physical beings, and called it all “very good” (Genesis 1). Enjoying the good gifts of food and sunshine – and yes, even sex (within marriage) – is a spiritual activity.

It’s the corruption of good things that constitutes “worldliness” in the sense that Piper means. When pleasure becomes an end in itself, when fulfilling my own desires becomes more important than the people around me, that’s worldliness. Or when I give in to discouragement or despair instead of trusting God.

I tried to think, yesterday, of what contributes to spiritual sobriety, besides help from other people. While I have never had to try to “sober up” after getting drunk (I slept it off that one time), I have read about the things people do try. From what I’ve read, only time actually reduces the level of intoxication, but there are things such as black coffee that can counteract some of the effects.

I don’t know that time, per se, is much help in the case of sobering up spiritually. It works with alcohol because a healthy body is good at getting rid of toxins. I’m not so sure that it works with discarding wrong thoughts and attitudes – if anything, it seems that the longer they stick around, the more surely they take hold. But the antidote to a skewed perception of reality is truth, whether delivered by a caring friend, the pages of Scripture, or the Spirit reminding us of truths learned long ago.

To be able to listen to truth, it’s best to get away from the voices that try to seduce us with untruth, which is why silence and solitude are spiritual disciplines to use in conjunction with prayer and study. Getting enough rest is important too – I was amazed, as a graduate student, to realize how much my depression dissipated when I got enough sleep. There are people who seem to function well on relatively little sleep, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to try to emulate them.


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