Spiritualizing vs. Spiritual Application

Justin Johnson

Bible application concerns how you use the Bible. There are three different applications from scripture:

  1. Historical
  2. Spiritual
  3. Doctrinal

The historical application looks for facts found in scripture that help us learn about who, what, and where. It separates true descriptions of persons, places, and events from erroneous ones.

The spiritual application looks for discernment between good and bad. It separates good and bad behavior, thoughts, choices, and things. It is the moral application.

The doctrinal application looks to understand God’s specific will and purpose. What is God doing and what does he want from men? It separates right doctrines from wrong through progressive revelation. It is the dispensational application.

The Problem with Spiritualizing

Each application requires taking the Bible literally. Without reading the Bible at face value teachers can teach anything. This latter wrong use of scripture has been described by others as spiritualizing the Bible.

Spiritualizing can be defined as detaching the Bible from its literal sense by:

  • Denying God meant to say what was actually recorded in scripture.
  • Changing the Bible into an allegory that addresses the current events, movements, politics, or ideas.
  • Removing the contextual limitations so that any passage in scripture can be used to help anyone in any way at any time.
  • Diminishing any sense of dogmatism. No one can fully understand God, and so no one can claim to know right or wrong, truth, or good and bad for everyone.
  • Making the Bible a mystical book interpreted by ones feelings and emotions. There is no absolute meaning.
  • Spiritualizing will occur when people fail to let God be true, see God is good, or rightly divide the scripture.

    Without taking the Bible “at its word” there is no fact of history. Spiritualization presents the Bible as fictional stories without any basis in true history or events.

    Without God saying what he means to say there is no reason to reconcile the doctrinal differences through right division. Dispensational Bible study is the enemy of spiritualization.

    Without real figures in a real context then good and bad exists only in the eye of the spiritualizing interpreter.

    Spiritualizing vs. Spiritual Application

    Sometimes spiritualizing and the literal spiritual application are confused, but there is a difference.

    How can the spiritual application be literal?

    When the Bible speaks of something spiritual, it is speaking of real non-physical things. It is not speaking about unreal, unknowable, unbound things created by our imaginations.

    Though the spiritual application is not restricted to one dispensation, it is bound to the literal words on the page, the literal characters in the context, and God’s definition of what is good and bad.

    The spiritual application is bound by God’s literal words in a context. Spiritualization is not.

    Spiritualization does not require the words of the Bible to be inspired, preserved, or remain intact.

    People spiritualize when they tell historical, doctrinal, or spiritual lies because they do not have the spiritual eyes to take the Bible literally.

    A First Commandment Example

    We can use the first commandment given to Israel as an example (Exo 20:2-3; Deu 5:6-7; Deu 6:4-5).

    Historically, we ask what actually happened. The first commandment was written by God on tables of stones given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. This tells us that God can write on stones, that Israel had laws from God, that Moses was in God’s presence, and that there are no other gods before the LORD.

    Spiritually, we ask how this helps discern between good and bad. We know that it is a good thing to worship and serve the one true God, and a bad thing to serve other gods.

    Doctrinally, we ask what is God doing and how he wants men to respond. Under the law, God required they keep the first commandment or else be punished and removed from the nation. Under grace, there is no nation, we are not under the law. God is granting sinners who serve other gods grace if they trust the true God’s gracious provision in Christ.

    Spiritualizing this passage rejects the Bible literally. They might say, Israel received the law from other nations, we are still under this law “spiritually”, and the real lesson might be for everyone to serve with faithfulness the god in whom they find help.

    Do you see how the literal reading of the Bible brings forth truth, and the spiritualization of scripture actually contradicts the truth by allowing people to serve any god they want?


    It is common to spiritualize the scripture in liberal churches that reject the Bible, but there is just as much a problem in churches that think the spiritual application means we can take any doctrine in the Bible as ours.

    Knowing how to use the Bible is important, as well as knowing the difference between spiritualizing and the spiritual application. It all begins with taking the Bible literally.

    Learn more about how to study the Bible from our nine week series here.

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    Published: April 30, 2016
    Last Modified: April 30, 2016
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