I’m starting a new feature, “Books you should read”. Christian books can be a very helpful way of learning to understand the Bible. I’ve found many books to be helpful in my own life, and I’d like to share the most helpful with you. One of the most helpful books I’ve read has been True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer. Let me explain what the book means to me and why you should read it.
In short – I think that no book has had a more profound effect on my understanding of the Christian life than this one.
True Spirituality is more than knowledge
Schaeffer’s primary consideration with True Spirituality was that of living a Christian life. He realised that we couldn’t simply ‘keep the rules’. We can’t just look at the 10 Commandments and say, with the rich man who came to Jesus, “all these I have kept since I was a boy” (Mark 10:20). The problem is not that we don’t know the 10 Commandments – the problem is that we don’t have the power to be able to keep them.
It’s the same thing with the Bible in general: it’s not enough simply to know about God. We need to know him and the power of the Holy Spirit. We need a deeper transformation than simply trying really hard. We need to be transformed from the inside out, so that we might obey God’s deeper laws of love.
True Spirituality is the life that comes, not from our own efforts, but walking in step with the Holy Spirit. We don’t have the power within ourselves, but only through God’s power working in us. When we do walk with God, we can have a true (if imperfect) love for him and for others. Our obedience does not have to be grudging or perfunctory but heart-felt.
Let’s look briefly at his argument.
The gospel is more than simply forgiveness
I think many churches teach that the gospel is about forgiveness. Forgiveness is good – but it’s only half the story! Jesus died that we might be forgiven, but he was also raised to new life so that we might have new life in ourselves. This is what Schaeffer says:
This is the basic consideration of the Christian life. First, Christ died in history. Second, Christ rose in history. Third, we died with Christ in history, when we accepted Him as our Saviour. Fourth, we will be raised in history, when He comes again. Fifth, we are to live by faith now as though we were now dead, already have died. And sixth, we are to live now by faith as though we have now already been raised from the dead.
We are to live as though we have now already been raised from the dead. In other words, one day we will be raised immortal, at the resurrection of the dead. However, we can begin living the resurrection life in the here and now. We aren’t simply forgiven of our sins, but we are given a new power to live a risen life while we are still in this body.
What is it exactly that gives us the power to live a risen life now? The Holy Spirit.
The power of the Holy Spirit in us
What makes the difference? This is the Holy Spirit, not just a ‘new idea’. It is not to be in our own strength. … Surely, as we look at the book of Acts, we find in the early Church not a group of strong men labouring together, but the work of the Holy Spirit bringing to them the power of the crucified and glorified Christ. It must be so for us also.
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, the one who brings the very presence of God to our lives. We don’t labour and work in our own strength. Schaeffer makes the point that the early church (in the book of Acts) was not comprised of a “group of strong men”. In fact, the first time we meet the disciples in Acts, they are hiding away in a house out of fear! What changes them into men of courage is the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives them power to proclaim the gospel boldly, to go out into the streets and preach the good news.
It’s really important to understand this. The Christian life is not a life where we need to feel strong: we are supposed to feel weak. We are supposed to know our own limitations, and to depend on God. It is, in fact, only when we come to the limits of our own strength that we recognise our need for God.
We should live ‘supernatural’ lives now
Our lives now, then, should be supernatural:
Whatever is not an exhibition that God exists misses the whole purpose of the Christian’s life now on this earth. According to the Bible, we are to be living a supernatural life now, in this present existence in a way that we shall never be able to do again through all eternity. We are called upon to live a supernatural life now, by faith.
What does it mean to life a supernatural life? It means living a life which is free of the constraints we impose upon it. Too often we limit life to what we think we can make of it. We limit ourselves to what we think we can do, or what we think is reasonable to achieve. But what if God really is there? What if God really has called us? What if we really can pray for anything, and God will answer (John 14:14)?
Living a supernatural life now is living a life believing and trusting in God’s promises. It is taking hold of God’s promise that he has transferred us from the domain of darkness into his marvellous light. We believe and trust that he can sanctify us and give us the power and freedom to love God and love others. We are no longer slaves of sin but slaves to righteousness.
This is what it means: not just simply knowing about the promises of God, but believing them.
In the rest of the book, Schaeffer goes on to apply his thinking to areas of life including our own lives, our relationships, and the church. You’ll have to read the book if you want to find out what he says!
But I think his book, despite being first published in 1972, is still of enduring relevance today. Much of Schaeffer’s experience of the church back then is also true today. Unfortunately I think a lot of people know a lot about the Bible and the Christian faith, without necessarily putting it into practice. His work stands today as a challenge to the church to put down deeper roots into the gospel.
I think this book is doubly important in 2020, when our society is being driven further and further apart: so many issues are divisive today. We are divided about politics, about the economy, about the coronavirus. What the church needs to do is show the world what a true community of love looks like – not divided, but united. Not standing in our own strength, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.
There are lots of cheap second-hand copies of the book available on AbeBooks.