I have, over the last several years, begun defining spiritual words to myself in a way I could understand–words such as love, faith, humility, forgiveness, reconciliation. These words already have definitions, of course–but the definitions often were theological or theoretical and not PRACTICAL. I wanted a everyday, working definition. I figured that if I didn’t understand them in a practical, every day way, how could I ever hope to LIVE them?
For example, what does it mean to love? Some people will tell you that love is giving and sacrificial–a laying down of our life for another. Others will say that love is “tough.” “Which is it?” I wondered. Is love “nice”? Is it “giving”? Is it “tough”? If love is sometimes one and other times another, then how do I know when to sacrifice and when to be tough? How do I know if I am really being loving or if I’m simply doing what’s best for ME and calling it love? I really struggled with this, especially when faced with people who were difficult to love.
With prayers for wisdom and with struggle through life, I began to define spiritual terms for myself so I’d know how to live them. Here are some definitions that I’ve come up with over the years:
Love is always doing what is best for another person, no matter what it costs me. Sometimes the thing that is best for another person is to sacrificially lay down my life for him, sometimes it’s bearing his offenses against me, sometimes it’s setting healthy boundaries, sometimes it’s confronting a person with “hard truths,” and sometimes–tough as it sounds–it’s even “handing them over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim. 1:20) How do I know when to do one and when to do another? I occasionally wish that there was some sort of formula to follow so I’d always know when to do a certain action–like when “A happens do B and C will result.” The truth of the matter is that there is no formula, but we have to walk closely with God and ask Him for wisdom.
Forgiveness is a complex topic and not easy to put into a brief definition. Maybe someday I will write more in depth about what I learned about it. But, in brief, I believe that I must not harbor hatred or bitterness in my heart. Forgiveness is pretty much allowing God to deal with the matter rather then me. I’ve been helped in my understanding of this by John Parsons of the Hebrew4christian website, who write that the Jews believe that (1) if we wrong someone, we must ask them for forgiveness, (2) if someone wrongs us and asks forgiveness, we must give it, but (3) if someone wrongs us but does not repent, we are not to forgive because to forgive an unrepentant person would allow them to continue in their sin.
Faith, according to my definition, is living as if what God says is true–because it IS truth. So often we SAY we believe something, but we aren’t living as if we do. For example, we quote 1 John 1:9–“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” We often don’t LIVE as if we are really forgiven, but instead we sink into guilt and despair. I certainly used to do this when I did something wrong. But then I realized that God’s words are TRUE whether I FEEL them or not, and the fact of the matter is that He says that “if we confess our sins…” He will forgive us.” So I began to live as if it was really true that He had forgiven me. And, please, I’m not talking about a cheap sort of belief in which a person sins one day knowing that the next he can “confess his sins” and be forgiven. That’s not true repentance. But when I truly repent, God forgives me, and I believe I ought to live as if I am forgiven.
I want to add to this: When I used to do wrong, I’d sink into despair and felt I didn’t DESERVE to be forgiven. I was guilty, and wanted to take my punishment. Then I realized that this didn’t please God. He had paid a high price to redeem me, and when I refused to accept it, I was, in effect, telling Him that His sacrifice wasn’t good enough. He, I believe, WANTS me to live as if I am forgiven. He wants my repentance, not my despair. He wants me to acknowledge my sin, accept His forgiveness, and move on.
Repentance means turning around, turning back to God.
Reality is God’s perspective. God is the only one who sees things as they really are. His perspective is true. Therefore, Reality is God’s perspective.
One definition of Humility, in my opinion, is accepting God’s reality. Whenever God says something, if I say, “Oh, no, God!” then I am saying, in effect, that God is wrong and that I know more than He does. This is pride. If God says, “You have sinned,” and I say, “Oh, no God!” then I have set myself above God. If He says, “If you confess your sins, [I am] faithful and just and will forgive you your sins and purify you from all unrighteousness,” and I say, “I am too bad to be forgiven,” then I am living in pride. If He says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9) and I say, “Not so, God” then I am calling God a liar. Humility is accepting what God says is reality–both the “bad” and the “good,” the “unpleasant” and the “pleasant.”
You get the idea, right? Developing my practical “spiritual definitions” helps me know how to live. It’s still difficult to live out these definitions–and impossible without God–but at least my definitions help me know what to reach for.