“What is the difference between spiritual and secular, if any?”

This question recently came to me from a minister to students in one of our state universities. From information from a number of other sources, I have come to realize that the blurring of the distinction between things spiritual and things secular is widespread among activistic ministers, men who seemingly feel that their primary calling is to bring about social change.

No one can exist without engaging in secular activities, and there is nothing inherently evil either in secular pursuits or in many of the material things that are a part of our life on this earth. But if we fail to understand the importance of the spiritual as compared with the secular, we can in that failure lose the meaning and values of Christianity.

The difference between secular and spiritual is the difference between time and eternity, between body and soul, between earth and heaven, between sight and faith. Our Lord brings this difference into clear perspective when he asks, “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26a).

The Apostle Paul states the difference in words no one should misunderstand: “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

Probably all of us have heard the cliché about the person who is “so heavenly minded that he is of no earthly use,” and there may be some people to whom it applies. But the statements and activities of many today show them to be so earthly minded that they fail to realize that after death there is an eternity to be spent, either in God’s presence or separated from him. God entered human history in the person of his Son not only to proclaim the concept of eternal life for man but also to provide the way whereby the transition from spiritual death to spiritual life could take place.

The welfare of the body is largely a matter of secular and material advantages. The welfare of the soul is a matter of man’s relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ

It is only through the Holy Spirit that man comes to a knowledge of and surrender to God. Unless the Spirit draws him, he does not come to God. Unless the Spirit instructs and enlightens him, he remains in ignorance. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor. 2:14).

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The distance between secular and spiritual is so vast that only God could span it. And this he has done. The secular is the realm of the body and its surroundings; the spiritual reaches beyond the horizon of this earth and on into the boundless vista of eternity.

The secular is apprehended by the senses, the spiritual by faith. The secular ends with death; the spiritual enters into its greatest glory after death.

The dominion of the secular is only temporary. The triumph of the spiritual brings an eternal weight of glory.

The primary concern of the secular is material welfare and comforts. The primary concern of the spiritual is redemption and obedience to God’s revealed will. And the Christian’s primary desire is that all men shall hear the message of redemption.

There is constant tension between the secular and the spiritual for they are of two worlds. Christ makes this very plain: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world … therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19).

What a man wears and eats and the condition of his external surroundings are all part of his secular existence. What a man is inside determines his spiritual state, and this needs transformation by the Spirit of God.

The Gospel is the message of God’s offer to transform a person from a secular man into a spiritual one. This means, not that he will no longer be concerned about secular affairs, but that he will regard them in the perspective of eternity.

The aged Apostle John makes the distinction very clear: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 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. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15–17).

The secular is man’s natural condition; the spiritual is his redeemed condition. This means not that all man’s natural condition is evil but that there is a state available to man that is beyond anything this world can offer.

For the secular mind, the Cross of Christ is utter foolishness. For the spiritual mind, it is the power of God unto salvation to all who accept its message.

The Christian must exercise certain secular concerns. He must have love and compassion that issues in help for those in need. Our Lord set an example when he healed the sick and fed the hungry. But the healing and the feeding were not ends in themselves, for Christ taught that man does not live by bread alone and that his highest need is met only when he becomes a new person in Christ.

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To ignore human need is to deny some of our Lord’s most clearly taught lessons. But to ignore man’s spiritual need is to deny the reason for his coming into the world.

The Church is in the world to bear a spiritual witness to the eternal verities. If she conforms to worldly standards and values, she loses her influence. She must stand as a spiritual light in a secular setting.

The Apostle Paul voices a truth and a warning as relevant today as it was for the people of Corinth nearly twenty centuries ago: “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:3, 4).

Secularism, as such, is a grave danger, and never has it been more so than today. Paul speaks of this danger, as seen in those “who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25).

Primary concern with the secular not only dims a sensitivity to spiritual values but also shifts the emphasis of the Gospel away from the Cross and to things that perish with the using. On the other hand, the individual Christian and the Church that keep the secular and spiritual in their proper perspective will be “salt” and “light” in the midst of decay and darkness.

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