The False Dichotomy Between the “Sacred” and the “Secular”

“You need to make Jesus first place in your life.”

Growing up I heard things like this a lot. What people meant by it was that as believers we need to prioritize bible reading, prayer, and other “spiritual activities” above everything else. The implication is that “everything else,” although sometimes necessary, is “worldly” and therefore not as good as the “spiritual” things.

Now if someone thinks those “everyday life things” are actually bad, then they have a significant misunderstanding about God and life in general. Paul taught the Colossians to not follow rules such as “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”, which he identified as useless traditions of men.

But I’m not writing about that kind of mindset. Most people don’t think like that nowadays. But many people do have the mindset that says that the “other things” are good, but not as good as “spiritual things.” This mindset says there is a division between the sacred and the secular, a distinction to be made between what is spiritual and what is common.

I used to have this mindset. I valued things like journaling, bible reading, prayer, worship, and fasting above other things I liked to do such as sports, hanging out with friends, reading books, and gaming. I compartmentalized my life into “spiritual” and “common” areas. At one point I was so entrenched in this way of thinking that I felt guilty for doing things like watching movies because I thought it was a pure waste of time.

Silly me.

A few years ago a friend shared a revelation with me that revolutionized my perspective on life. He simply told me that we were meant to encounter Jesus in everything. When we eat, talk, run, study, play, and go to the toilet. In everything and everywhere, we meet Jesus.

When I began to understand and believe this, I also started to experience it. I began to encounter God in whatever I was doing, because I knew that’s what I was made for.

Encountering God used to be something I tried to make happen through my “spiritual” activities. But it became effortless. All I did was shift my perspective. God was always with me, and I decided to stay conscious of that joyous reality. Brother Lawrence called this the “practice of the presence of God.”

The way I approached “spiritual” activities changed too. They were no longer “special” or better than the other things I did. I also quit considering them as “disciplines.” They simply became another means of hanging out with Jesus. And hanging out with Jesus was not something I had to discipline myself to do; I did it when I felt like it. The more I got to know how ridiculously good he is, the more I wanted to hang out.

The idea of the dichotomy between the “sacred” and “secular” comes from the Old Covenant, in which the Law required the Israelites to set themselves apart from other peoples in the earth by following certain rules. We are not in that Covenant, nor are we under the Law.

The false dichotomy between the sacred and profane ahas been forever abolished in Christ. Such thinking belongs to both paganism and ancient Judaism. – Frank Viola
There’s no such thing as secular and sacred. The opposite of sacred according to its real meaning is “common” or “ordinary.” And there’s no doubt about it, you are truly uncommon if the life of Jesus Christ dwells in you. Consequently your environment becomes an uncommon, sacred environment because you are there. Jesus didn’t fear what we would call the secular world. In fact he plunged himself headfirst into it. By his presence in those environments, he made sacred those things that had been considered secular. The idea that there’s a difference between sacred and secular in the life of a Christian is not true. You live and move and exist in Jesus Christ. Consequently, everything about your life is sacred. – Steve McVey
One of the greatest hindrances to the internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas – the sacred and the secular. As these areas are conceived to exist apart from each other and to be morally and spiritually incompatible, and as we are compelled by the necessities of living to be always crossing back and forth from the one to the other, our inner lives tend to break up so that we live a divided instead of a unified life…I believe this state of affairs to be wholly unnecessary. We have gotten ourselves on the horns of a dilemma, true enough, but the dilemma is not real. It is a creature of misunderstanding. The sacred-secular antithesis has no foundation in the New Testament. Without doubt, a more perfect understanding of Christian truth will deliver us from it…We must offer all our acts to God and believe that He accepts them…All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be a priestly ministration. – A. W. Tozer

Jesus is not first place in my life, as if there were things that rank after him. He is not merely the most important part of my life. Jesus is my life (Colossians 3:3-4). There’s no sense in comparing Jesus with other things and ranking him as number one. He isn’t separate from all other activities. He is intimately involved in every part and every moment of my life. And that’s true whether I know it or not. But when I am aware of it, things become a lot more fun.

Some of you reading this might be wondering whether God can really be equally encountered through reading a bible and eating a sandwich. I’m telling you that you can. God’s a lot less boring and religious than we’ve made him out to be in our own heads.

Think back to Adam and Eve in the garden. I highly doubt that they had words like “sacred” and “secular.” Also, they didn’t have bibles to read, set prayer times, or worship sessions. They were given the job of tending the garden, naming animals, and multiplying. Pretty “spiritual,” ay?

Truth be told, everything you do is “spiritual” because you are a spirit. What is more, you have been joined to the Lord and are one with Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17).

And that’s precisely why we get to encounter Jesus in everything. Wee~


Also see:

One of the Lies Heard in Church Every Sunday

Erasing the Line Between the “Secular” & the “Sacred”

Worship: Epic Transitions in the New Covenant
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


4 thoughts on “The False Dichotomy Between the “Sacred” and the “Secular”

  1. Pingback: Devotion to Devotions « Supernatural Gospel

  2. Thank you, Ty, for this article. When I googled “the sacred and the common” your blog came up (tho’ you mention you’ve moved on to a different blogsite). This is well-written and concise. I wanted to converse more with you on this topic, however, because I’m not sure I agree with you, completely.

    Although I don’t disagree we Christians can and often do get ourselves mixed up trying to apply an OT version of distinguishing “the holy from the common, between the unclean and the clean” (Lev 10:10), because it is just so easy to get it wrong, to mis-judge things according to mere appearances (Jesus’ rebuke now comes to mind, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” Jn 7:24), I’m, nevertheless, not so sure there aren’t “holy and common” distinctions we NT believers also need to make. Hebrews 5:14, for example, mentions that the spiritually mature have “trained themselves through constant use to distinguish good from evil”. Why was Nehemiah so grieved by the state of Jerusalem’s walls? If you read his prayer, he connects the state of the city’s walls to the people’s devotion to God.

    I wonder if there, indeed, are “walls” we too ought to have as followers of Christ. I wonder if to the extent that we uphold what is good and righteous, to the extent that we “hate what is evil and cling to what is good”, etc., God doesn’t delight to shower us with his power, protection and provision. From the individual, to the family, to the society and country, there are “walls” we must carefully build and reinforce. In our world, walls have an all-bad connotation; we pride ourselves on tearing down walls. But one disturbing trend and example (of “walls” breaking/broken down) is our rapidly-disintegrating attitudes in the West toward gender, sex, and the sanctity of marriage. Biblically (at least, admittedly, from the OT), being without walls is a shameful, woeful condition to be in. Like a city without walls is a man who lacks self-control (Prov 25:28)

    (Also, in your “final blog entry” you say you’ll also be blogging in Japanese. Are you in Japan now? I would love to converse more with you; I’m in ministry to international students, esp. Japanese in the U.S. My wife, too, is Japanese. If you can blog in Japanese, I heartily commend you!).

    • Thanks for the comment, locknut. You quoted a verse about distinguising good and evil and seemed to write as if this bears directly on the issue of sacred and secular. To me, however, these two things are totally different, as good and evil apply to actions while sacred and secular apply to objects or ideas. And I assume you understand that I’m not saying that there’s no distinction to be made between good and evil. Cheers.

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