The Apostle Paul, Christian Mysticism, and Meditation

by Joshua Tilghman on July 12, 2012


The Apostle Paul has come to us through history as the fierce Pharisee turned Christian. But what does this mean, exactly? We all understand the attitude of the Pharisee which Jesus confronted: that is, the Pharisee was someone who dictated to others what they had to do to please God. But the ultimate paradox is that many Christians have embraced this mindset which Paul turned away from.

To truly understand what I mean, we must ask ourselves, what was Paul’s version of Christianity?

For myself, I am positive that Paul’s version of Christianity would resemble the essence of Christian mysticism. How can I make such a statement? Paul’s own words tell us this, and in today’s post we’re going to discuss a few verses from Romans chapter 2 that reflect this sentiment.

Before discussing some of the verses from Romans Chapter 2, you should be familiar with Christian mysticism. Wikipedia has this to say about its modern interpretation:

“The present meaning of the term mysticism…is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimately reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct, or insight. Mysticism usually centers on practices intended to nurture those experiences.”

In other words, the Christian mystic understands that true spiritual transformation is realized by going “within” the kingdom, which is really about exploring the infinite nature of one’s true self (through meditation). Another way to put it would be to say it is about experiencing God beyond the ego. It is definitely not about a set of beliefs or doctrines, because experiencing God goes beyond these religious concepts. Beliefs and doctrines must remain in the realm of the ego because they are formulated and expressed by the ego. In other words, they are always a direct product of the ego, and when a Christian truly begins to realize this, they begin to awaken to a truth that will take them beyond the division which doctrines and beliefs create and into the truth that God is ONE. Then the esoteric meaning of the Law of Moses also becomes clear: the Law of Moses is not a set of rules put into the Bible to dictate a way of life for us, but rather, it is the divine expression of a soul that truly loves. All judgment and condemnation ceases. And this is the great truth that Paul was trying to express to us in one of the most beautiful books in the New Testament: Romans.

Let’s take a look at a few of these scriptures in Romans chapter 2.

“Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncirumcision be counted for circumcision?” (Romans 2:27).

Paul is unveiling the hypocritical nature of the human ego here. A Pharisee (a religiously ego-driven individual) believes one gets close to God through obedience to a set of rules. But rules and regulations can never bring us closer to God. In fact, they only serve to isolate us from God and one another because obedience to the rules of an external God is usually motivated out of selfishness. For example, the religiously-minded individual usually thinks as such:

If I am obedient to God, then I will be accepted.

But what this really translates to is:

If I do this, I will get that.”

Obeying a set of rules and regulations because you believe it is the right thing to do is NOT enough. It certainly doesn’t get you any closer to experiencing God. Actually, it’s not more than a justification for an individual belief. And isn’t this just ego?

This same mindset also brings division because it thinks as such:

“You better obey God or else you will not be accepted, and therefore, you are not of God.”

Again, this mindset brings separation, and just as important, it brings limitation to the concept of God. But God can never be limited to a set of beliefs. In essence beliefs and doctrines are limitations, and to associate God with a limitation is ignorance.
What Paul states in Romans 2:27 brings us to the heart of the matter: the “righteousness of the law” has nothing to do with following a set of rules and regulations. The “righteousness of the law” is about a transformation of the heart. A soul that loves becomes the “righteousness of the law” because that individual sees and understands that no one, not even God, is external from themselves, and what they do to others, they do to themselves. God is ONE and all is divine.

Now let’s review the last two scriptures in Romans 2:

“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter…” (Romans 2: 28-29).

I want us to focus on the word “inwardly” above. Paul is revealing that a true Jew (spiritual person) follows in the tradition of the mystic by going “within.” The understanding of circumcision by the mystics of old was always really about a change in heart, or a change in consciousness. It never had to do with a bloodline or physical lineage. To put it bluntly, Paul’s definition of a “Jew” is about the soul, and a true Jew for Paul is one who has realized the righteousness of the law and has turned to God by leaving the human intellect and ego through the act of meditation. This practice isn’t just about sitting on a mountaintop in the lotus position and observing the self. Meditation is about living in the divine, or living by the Holy Spirit as Paul explained it. It is about releasing the shackles of fear—of which trying to please a bearded man in the sky is about—and embracing love, which is living in the joy that each moment brings without condemning or judging that moment. To love is to accept that which IS, for God specifically said to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.”

In mainstream Christian thought, Romans chapter 2 has been used to argue against those who believe we are still under the Law of Moses. But what this traditional Christian mindset fails to understand is that everyone is under the curse of the law through the ego. But one is spiritually and consciously transformed INTO the Law of Moses—and is therefore no longer under the law— by going beyond the ego. Therefore I have a suggestion for you:

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10).

Meditation is the path we must take to achieve going beyond the ego. Meditation is how we turn within, and within ourselves is where we will meet God and be transformed into the spiritual Jew of which Paul speaks. Whether you see this process as a union with God or an experience of God, it does not matter. What matters is the conscious transformation you have as a result of it.

And what does this conscious transformation bring? It brings freedom: freedom from the law; freedom from sin; and most importantly, freedom from fear, which is the ultimate curse of the law!

Once we realize that the divine is within each person, we stop living by laws and regulations. Why? Because they are no longer needed. Laws and regulations are needed for those who live in the ego because it helps to keep the ego in check. But those who go beyond the ego realize that every expression in the outer world is an expression of the divine, and who are we to judge or harm that? I don’t know about you, but I would much rather live in a world where tolerance and peace is norm, not judgment and condemnation.

So I must ask you, if your God is truly outside of you, might he be just a creation of your ego? And if your God is really outside of you, then why did Jesus say that the kingdom is “within” you?

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. And remember, if you enjoyed this post don’t forget to spread it with the social buttons at the top or bottom of this post. Thanks!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Nielsen July 12, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Great blog Josh.
You pretty much nailed it.
It definitely is all about taking Jesus’ suggestion to see the self that is within.
Very Respectfully,
Eric Nielsen
The Mystic Post

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Joshua Tilghman July 13, 2012 at 1:52 am

Thanks, Eric. I am looking forward to learning more about your site as well.

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john kuykendall July 13, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Thank you for your site and this article. I also believe the Spirit is always there so we must transform and enlarge our personal consciousness and individual experience with the Holy Spirit.

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Joshua Tilghman July 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm

John,

Thanks for the comment. It seems like so many are getting this message and I am glad there are others like you who are doing the same!

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Suzy July 14, 2012 at 10:04 am

I really appreciate what you’re showing us in this post. Great questions and thoughtful answers. I especially love how you say, “It is about releasing the shackles of fear—of which trying to please a bearded man in the sky is about—and embracing love, which is living in the joy that each moment brings without condemning or judging that moment.” Beautifully put! This inspires me to not only stop judging the people in my life – my “teachers,” but each precious present moment. ~Suzy

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Joshua Tilghman July 14, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Suzy,

I really appreciate that. And yes, the present moment is so important. Learning to treat each moment as heaven on earth has truly changed my life. Judgment is in the mind, and when we learn to drop the judgment, we can just “be.” This is truly what the soul longs for.

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Chuck Dunning July 15, 2012 at 9:21 am

Amen! Well done, Josh!

One thing very valuable here is your understanding of ego. People often think of “ego” as roughly equivalent to selfishness, but there is something even more fundamental about ego. Your words show that you understand that ego is our illusion of a separate self, and that as long as we look through that lens without realizing that we are doing so, then we must suffer from the misunderstanding that God can only be related to as someone or something apart from us. Meditation is indeed a valuable way of penetrating that veil.

Good work!

Finally, I just thought I would mention Elaine Pagel’s book, The Gnostic Paul, which resonates very well with your insights.

Agape,
Chuck

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Joshua Tilghman July 15, 2012 at 11:08 am

Chuck,

You’re right. Sometimes as we begin the journey of the mystic, our understanding of the ego is often wrong. We have to learn how to transcend the ego, but we must also realize that the ego is not evil. Without the ego in the first place we couldn’t then move to enlightenment. The ego sort of serves as a vehicle then. It is part of the human experience which is a beautiful thing. It only becomes ugly when we get stuck in the ego and fail to realize its trappings.

Thanks for your kind words, Chuck! It’s always a pleasure to see your comments.

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Miky January 5, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Simply beautiful. I found your article when I was on the last legs of my journey. Letting go of my desires, mastering the body and clearing the mind and here I found your articles reinforcing what I had in mind. Now your articles have motivated me even more, I have been doing candle meditations and night to observes my thoughts and lose myself in the moment learning true patients and lighting that divine spark within. Thank you again for these articles keep them up.

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Joshua Tilghman January 5, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Miky,

It’s good to have you here, and thanks for the encouragement. I will do my best to keep up the articles. Don’t ever give up on meditation. The sessions will begin a birthing process crucial to realizing our true nature. My next article will be talking about Zazen meditation and scripture. I hope it helps. Blessings.

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IKWUEMESI OKECHUKWU March 12, 2016 at 7:16 pm

GOOD POST, YOUR SITE HAS BEEN VERY ESSENTIAL TO MY SPIRITUAL DEVELOPEMENT,I LIVE IN NIGERIA AND I KNOW HOW CHURCH IN NIGERIA HAS BEEN A PLACE TO DESTROY SEEKERS OF REAL SPIRITUALITY OR JUST NORMAL CHURCH GOER. PEOPLE NEED TO HEAR THE TRUTH AND I HAVE BEEN DOING MY BEST TO ALWAYS TALK ABOUT CHRIST…

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Joshua Tilghman March 13, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Ikwuemesi,

Just remember that the church there probably isn’t consciously trying to destroy true spiritual reality. Many times it is done in ignorance, and sometimes we just need to grow. Yes, literal doctrine and dogma kills the spirit, but we must be careful how and when we share what a person is not truly willing to accept. It can cause a lot of heart and headache when the other person isn’t searching for something deeper. Thanks for reading and I wish you the best. Share with those who are searching for something more than the literal doctrine and dogma, as you have.

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