At Work

When Will the Church Overcome the Sacred-Secular Divide?

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Almost every opportunity I have to speak to Christian college students starts by asking, “Think about what you did yesterday. What percentage was secular and what percentage was spiritual?”

No one has ever answered, “100 percent spiritual.” But here’s the thing. They should.

The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 10:31:

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Everything we do should be seen as spiritual.

Why Do We Distinguish between the Spiritual and the Secular?

There is no word for “spiritual” in the Hebrew Old Testament. Were they not spiritual people? In the Hebrew worldview, everything was spiritual. There was no need to distinguish between spiritual and secular because no part of their existence was secular.

Our response as Christians to our Heavenly Father should be unlimited, all encompassing, and comprehensive. It should not be limited to church on Sundays and some personal devotions during the week. It should appear in every dimension of our lives.

The answer to this question gives us great insight into what could be called the besetting sin of the church in the 21st century. We have become double-minded, seeing a false divide between what would be called spiritual and secular. This divide is responsible for the popular misconception that our relationship with God can be reduced to church-related events and activities.

We have been tricked into thinking there is secular, neutral ground in our lives that is neither for nor against God. Nothing could be further from the truth. Portland pastor John Mark Comer writes in Garden City:

The cosmic, gargantuan 24/7 Kingdom of God cannot be shrunk down to a few hundred people singing songs in a nice building for an hour every weekend.

Our response to God should reverberate into every facet of life: at home, at work, in our families, in our communities, and at our churches.

This divide has also perpetuated the lie that working in the church or some other spiritual calling is the only “full-time Christian service.” All of life is spiritual and sacred for followers of Christ. To paraphrase Abraham Kuyper, “There is no inch of creation where Christ does not rule and consequently no dimension of our lives in which he is not present.”

This is not a new Christian doctrine. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said in a sermon in 1874:

To a man who lives unto God nothing is secular, everything is sacred. He puts on his workday garment and it is a vestment to him. He sits down to his meal and it is a sacrament. He goes forth to his labor, and therein exercises the office of the priesthood. His breath is incense and his life a sacrifice. He sleeps on the bosom of God, and lives and moves in the divine presence.  To draw a hard and fast line and say, “This is sacred and this is secular,” is, to my mind, diametrically opposed to the teaching of Christ and the spirit of the gospel.

By demolishing this dichotomy, we realize that God cares about everything we do. Our response to God’s power and glory can come from every thought, word, and action if we steward all we have to his glory and honor. In this we find purpose and fulfillment in even the most mundane things we do.

Overcoming the Spiritual/Secular Divide

On a practical level, how do we overcome the spiritual/secular divide in our everyday lives? We must understand this problem intellectually, then move this truth from our heads to our hearts. That is the hard part.

Here are three suggestions from someone who has been working on this for twenty years:

  • Understand that the real distinction in our lives is between righteousness and unrighteousness. Between living in union with Christ, conforming to God’s character and commands (righteousness) and not rebelling against God and his commands. This is not a struggle we will win on the strength of our own labor. We will only win it if we yield to the Holy Spirit working in each one of us. This requires much prayer.
  • Be reminded of what is required of those called to serve in God’s kingdom. The only way to do this is by being in God’s Word. Paul tells Timothy that the Word of God “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16)
  • Remind yourself throughout your day that what you are doing at that moment is spiritual. During this Christmas season, for example, let everything you see and hear (every Christmas decoration and every Christmas song) remind you that what you are doing at that instant is spiritual, and, in ways you might not completely understand, serves our great King whose birthday we are about to celebrate.

Now, tell me again about what you did yesterday…

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