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What is spiritual development?

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Both New Age teaching and biblical Christianity wholeheartedly affirm that there is more to the human being than just the material and the physical. Both would agree that the human being has a spirit and that there are other spirit beings that can interact with the world and with people. Both agree that human beings need to develop spiritually or they will miss out on the most important things in life. However, the similarities between New Age thought and biblical Christianity end quickly at the discussion of how and in what direction one should develop spiritually.

The Bible teaches that God desires our spiritual development. Human beings are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:28–29). We were made to have fellowship with Him, but that fellowship was broken by sin. Sin, or rebellion against God’s law (1 John 3:4), is the obstacle to our spiritual development. Every human being’s spirit is separated from God, the Author of life, so human beings are described as spiritually dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). The only hope for dead spirits is that they be made alive in Christ and then start to grow and develop into the kind of spiritual people God intended for us to be—people that accurately reflect His image.

The goal of the Christian life is to become more and more like Christ, as the Holy Spirit works in our spirits, producing fruit (Galatians 5:22–24). As we yield to the Spirit, He will guide us (Galatians 5:16, 25). Spiritual development occurs through reading God’s Word, prayer, fellowship with other believers, and active participation in a local church. Christians do not choose the direction or the means of their development; the means have been chosen by God as revealed in His Word. Through the church, God equips His people “for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants. . . . Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:12–15).

The Christian’s spiritual development is based on the promises of God’s Word and the willing participation of the individual believer as he submits to Christ. The goal is to leave sin behind and increase in Christlikeness: “He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:4–8).

New Age spiritual development starts with a completely different premise. Rather than seeing mankind as created in the image of a personal God, New Age spirituality sees human beings as independent manifestations of an impersonal spirit (energy, force, or chi) that energizes the universe. Spiritual development, according to New Age teaching, is simply tapping into this energy to achieve greater fulfillment and harmony here on earth and possibly in life to come. One New Age website describes the goal of New Age spiritual development like this: “The world is a magnificent cornucopia, filled with wondrous and delightful items. Here we can find exactly what we are looking for. If we seek enjoyment of the senses, there are many opportunities. Similarly if we seek to learn and draw closer to our higher self, this opportunity exists as well. In part, the earth phase of our existence is an opportunity to learn, create and experience all the parts of self and grow closer to that which we wish to become.” The direction of New Age spiritual development is chosen by the individual. By properly aligning oneself with the spiritual force, the individual can become anyone or anything that he or she desires.

New Age philosophy teaches that aiding one’s spiritual development are spirit guides and angels who can provide direction and strength on the journey toward self-actualization. Physical items such as crystals may help focus the psychic/spiritual energy. Properly arranging items in one’s home (the idea behind feng shui) can also help the flow of energy. Psychic abilities such as ESP can be developed.

Whereas biblical spiritual development has as its goal becoming more like Christ, New Age spiritual development’s goal is determined by each individual, empowering each individual to become the master of his or her own fate. It is the difference between the Holy Spirit’s sanctification and the individual’s self-realization. It is the difference between submitting to God and seeking to become one’s own god. It is the difference between hearing God say, “Commit your way to the LORD” (Proverbs 37:5) and hearing Satan’s lie “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022