Monday, October 19, 2020

Anonymous Asks (115)

“What’s the difference between being spiritual and being religious?”

The answer to this question very much depends on whether we come at it from the perspective of the man in the street, or from that of the scriptures.

The Man in the Street

The man in the street thinks a mystic is spiritual and a priest religious. He sees the religious person as a cog in the ecclesiastical machinery, observing traditions and doing his duty as part of a larger religious community. The “spiritual” person, on the other hand, is someone operating outside institutional religion; thought to be in harmony with the natural order, and communing with the universe or some such. The religious person would always be in church on Sunday (or Saturday), while the “spiritual” person may or may not.

If we consider the matter at any length, we may come to the conclusion that spirituality and religiosity are not necessarily things to be set in opposition. A person might be religious, or spiritual, both or neither. And if we think deeper, we may acknowledge that there are good spirits and bad spirits, so that calling a man or woman “spiritual” isn’t always a compliment. Equally, there are real religions and dead ones. Neither adjective on its own tells us with any certainty which state is better, nor do they help us figure out whether it is the “religious” or the “spiritual” person who is more likely to lead us to God.

In fact, we need something more than this sort of spirituality or religiosity. We need to reorient our definitions to something more biblical.

The Terminology of Scripture

In Bible parlance, “being spiritual” is not simply a matter of being mystical, of having one’s head in the clouds, or of being perpetually conscious of the powers and principalities operating in the background of life.

Being spiritual is being characteristically led by the Spirit of God. It is behaving as a mature Christian person, one whose default thoughts and reactions are God-like. To act spiritually is the opposite of acting naturally or carnally. To be spiritual is to demonstrate godly discernment, to show a likeness to our heavenly Father. So we read that those “who are spiritual” should be in the habit of restoring Christians who are caught in transgressions, just as God does. Spiritual people offer up spiritual sacrifices, as opposed to the mere physical and literal sacrifices offered under the Law of Moses. They see beyond natural appearances to the underlying super-reality, discern good from evil, then consistently choose the good.

Likewise, in the language of the New Testament, a “religious” person is not merely one given to traditions and the repetition of ecclesiastical observances. It is a man or woman who has been changed internally by the things he or she professes to believe. A truly religious man, for example, controls his tongue. His faith makes him a better human being. He keeps himself from evil and cares for those in need. His experience of God comes out in his everyday conduct and makes the world a better place.

Being Spiritually Religious

For the Christian, then, being spiritual and being religious may effectively amount to the same thing. The word “spiritual” simply refers to what is inside, and the word “religious” refers to the way that spiritual reality shows itself in the world.

Put another way, religion is the form and spirituality the substance.

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