“Oh, I’m not religious!” the young checkout clerk in the grocery told me, “I’m spiritual.” We hear it all the time these days. Religion has become a less than liked word for many.
Religion is something that all too often seems to involve wars, denominational disagreements, wealthy televangelists and scandals ranging from pastoral infidelity to church-related child abuse. Spirituality seems more neutral, somehow more rational, and often more politically correct.
On the other hand, when we look around the world in which we live, it is often religion that is making a difference. It is religion that is working in the slums, helping to feed the hungry, and carrying hope to millions who do not have it – while spirituality is often home alone, meditating or praying for insight and self-improvement.
None of what is said above is meant to offend anyone, but rather to suggest that each approach may have something that is needed and by itself lack something that is equally necessary. It helps us see that when we consider a few things the Bible says.
First, it comes as a surprise to many that the Bible disparages both religion and spirituality under some circumstances. If that seems hard to believe, consider the following scriptures which show that when they are not done right, either can be problematic:
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
“…do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).
On the other hand, the Bible shows that both religion and spirituality have their place:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Corinthians 2:13).
Both religion and spirituality have to be done right if they are going to be real and meaningful. Religion must be done with true spirituality and spirituality must be done with true religion. The apostle Peter summarized this situation nicely when he wrote:
“you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
It is only as we are built into a spiritual house (read church – read religion) that we can fulfill our true role in life, but it is only as we offer spiritual sacrifices (read spiritual behavior – read spirituality) that our lives are meaningful and acceptable to God. True religion and true spirituality go hand in hand. They are the outward and inner manifestations respectively of what God calls us to be, of what we were meant to be.
So next time you hear someone say “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual,” consider telling them you think that's too bad – because being only one or the other misses so much of what life is all about.