Spiritual + Religious
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 9:49AM
Jeff Smith in Conversion, Discipleship

We hear many people today who believe in God – 86 percent of Americans do after all – proclaiming that they are spiritual, but not religious. They mean, I think, that they believe in a god that is an amalgam of the God of the Bible and the kind of god they would create if they got the chance – which they are taking. They see little personal need for the church, with its schedules, offerings and discipline, and instead seek out a warm feeling in nature, Eastern philosophies and their own self-ordained system of tolerant ethics. They are spiritual, in their own estimation, but not religious, in a systematized way. And they feel secure, if not superior. And they’re missing out, because the religion they so disdain is essential to salvation.

I. Religious, Spiritual or Both?

    A. Being Religious

        1. being religious has a negative connotation in this age of politicized faith, denominational devolution, and rejection of authority and tradition

            a. hearing that someone is religious conjures up images of an intolerant, self-righteous hypocrite, finding fault with everything except what they themselves do

            b. in short, people who are considered religious today are perceived to be little different from the Pharisees of the first century, and that shows why so many people who claim to believe in God want to reject religion – and if it is even a little true that we are turning people away from the church because we are behaving like Pharisees, then we ought to be ashamed (Matthew 23:13-15)

        2. no doubt, there are some just like that, both in churches of Christ and out, but such people do not reflect the truth of the New Testament, and of religion

            a. our English word, religion, is derived from the Greek threskeia (pr. thrace-ki'-ah, Strong’s #2356)

            b. Thayer defines it as, “religious worship esp. external, that which consists of ceremonies …  religious discipline, religion”

            c. ultimately, the root is threskos (pr. thrace'-kos, Strong’s #2357), which means “fearing or worshipping God … to tremble … trembling, fearful”

        3. religiousness is rejected today because of a connotation of simpleness and intolerance, but maybe there is something to the word’s origin that makes it unpalatable to a generation of people about which it might be said, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

        4. and perhaps we are only witnessing the second coming of the characterization of the days in which the judges lived: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).


    B. Being Spiritual

        1. if the root of being religious is fearing God, we can understand why so many are rejecting the descriptor, for many have rejected the very notion of fearing God at all

            a. not the penitent thief on the cross, however, who rebuked his partner in death, “saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation’” (Luke 23:40)?

            b. nor the apostle Peter: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (First Peter 2:17).

            c. fear of God is what motivates us to be not only religious, but also spiritual: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (Second Corinthians 7:1).

        2. what is the difference between religious and spiritual?

            a. spiritual is also an adjective form of the Greek word pneumatikos (pr. pnyoo-mat-ik-os', Strongs’ #4152), meaning “relating to the human spirit, or rational soul, as part of the man which is akin to God and serves as his instrument or organ … one who is filled with and governed by the Spirit of God”

            b. pneumatikos also means windy or blowing in the Greek, and opting to be spiritual and not religious as a rejecting of self-righteousness and hypocrisy is itself a pretentious and self-serving distinction

        3. the real difference in people’s minds between religious and spiritual is the system, the organized nature of Christianity or most any religious system – many modern people would prefer something less authoritative and regimented, in which they can mold the god, amend the scriptures and judge the ethics, all the while feeling morally superior to everybody trapped in a system


    C. Church

        1. it is the church – Protestant, Catholic or even biblical – that many wish to reject, but the church is designed for both religious and spiritual purposes (First Peter 2:5-9)

        2. individual believers are living stones that compose the church belonging to Christ, trembling before him as a benevolent, yet omnipotent redeemer and judge, seeking to carry out spiritual deeds

            a. because the saved are added to the church, the organization is not optional (Ephesians 1:22-23, 3:20-21)

            b. the system itself is integral to carrying out God’s will regardless of how much people think it would be more fulfilling to write their own system (Jude 3-4)

        3. if we can accept that the misbehavior of some disciples is part of the cause of the rejection of the church, we can understand how important it is that we remain true to our convictions and that we express patience and gentleness toward those who are struggling to come to the truth, and to do so somehow without compromising our convictions in the name of ameliorating their complaints

        4. what we really must pursue is a spiritual religion – a system of faith that trembles before the power of God and is useful to him as an instrument of good


II. Spiritual Religion

    A. Vain Religion

        1. we must confess that not all religion is right, that some religious effort is so ignorant and misguided that it should be discarded (Acts 17:16-17, 22-23)

        2. the deification of objects, whether intentional idols or people and things that reign in the imagination, is nothing more than vain religion (Romans 10:1-4)

        3. it is not spiritual to reject Jehovah and devote your life to things that perish with use


    B. Self-Made Religion

        1. so many who embrace spirituality at the expense of religion are creating their own ad hoc system, an eclectic mix of customs and ethics that have personal appeal, but lack divine mandate (Colossians 2:20-23)

        2. Paul addressed spiritual people in Corinth, but was not above correcting their habit of dissecting the body of Christ (First Corinthians 3:1-4)

        3. it is not spiritual to embrace the division of the body of Christ anymore than it is to abandon it by forsaking the church for lone wolf spirituality


    C. Self-Serving Religion

        1. while we want to defend the concept of religion against false accusation, our defense cannot extend to religion that is defined by apathy, inconsistency or selfishness (James 1:21-27)

        2. we learn here that God values religion and does not distinguish it from spirituality; pure and clean religion is to be both charitable and ethical

        3. one of the essential things that the church does is worship and corporate worship depends upon the saints assembling and worshiping together (Matthew 15:7-9)

        4. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). 


    D. The Spiritual Person

        1. we all want to be spiritual people – attuned to the will of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, bearing in our bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus (Galatians 2:20-21)

        2. but rejecting his body – the church – is not going to enrich anyone’s spirit; religiousness, however, is not biblically distinguishable from spirituality

        3. the spiritual person … 

            a. makes judgments (First Corinthians 2:14-15)

            b. is obedient (First Corinthians 14:37-38)

            c. grows in knowledge and application (Colossians 1:9-11)

            d. corrects and restores others (Galatians 6:1-2)

            e. worships according to spirit and truth (Romans 12:1-2)



Spiritual, but religious, is not a lifestyle that is going to please God, although it probably thrills the devil who strove to shut the doors of Hades upon the spirit of Christ and the establishment of the church. He failed then, but enjoys daily successes whenever a believer turns his back on the faith once for all delivered in the pursuit of a form of religion more acceptable to him personally.


Questions For Review

  1. What does it mean to be religious? What is the negative perception?
  2. What does it mean to be spiritual? Why do people prefer that?
  3. How does the fear of God figure into the alleged distinction between them?
  4. What made the Athenians’ religion vain?
  5. What are some self-made religions that are popular today?
  6. What makes for pure and undefiled religion?
  7. What five things did we learn spiritual people do?
Update on Monday, June 13, 2011 at 1:32PM by Registered CommenterJeff Smith

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