It’s easy for religious people to confuse
spirituality and religion. It’s easy to suppose that because we’re
religious, we’re therefore spiritual. This is not necessarily true.
It’s possible to be religious by merely assenting to a
particular set of doctrines or by regularly attending a particular
church. But this doesn’t guarantee that we’ll be spiritual. It’s
possible to live a good life according to the rules and teachings of a
particular denomination—or even by the rules and teachings of the
Bible—and not be spiritual. It’s even possible to read the Bible and
pray every day and not be a spiritual person!
Such religion consists of mere externals. Spirituality, on the
other hand, is always concerned with the mind and heart. True
spirituality is the relationship between God and ourselves that no one
else can see.
In one sense every person alive is a spiritual being. God
created us that way. Spirituality involves what we are at the core of
our being. Deep down inside, everybody is some combination of good and
evil. Does it surprise you that I should use the word evil in connection with spirituality?
It shouldn’t. The apostle Paul spoke of “spiritual wickedness in high
places.”1 Even bad people are
spiritual beings. You and I can’t escape being spiritual any more than
we can escape being physical.
However, while everyone is a spiritual being, spiritual people
in the sense I’m speaking of it here are those who make a conscious
effort to cultivate the spiritual part of their nature. They meditate
and make an effort to “connect” with God. They’re eager to be more
honest, more caring persons. Spiritual people recognize that we’re all
imperfect, and they’re willing to see the worst in themselves in order
I believe God is far more concerned with spirituality than He
is with religion. God told His Old Testament people that He rejected
their observance of the very religious rituals He Himself had given
them hundreds of years earlier: “Your New Moon festivals and your
appointed feasts my soul hates,” He said. “They have become a burden to
me; I am weary of bearing them.”2 God
was tired of their religion because it wasn’t making them better
people, more spiritual people. They were going through the motions of
religion in order to look good rather than to be good.
Does this mean that it makes no difference what we believe or
whether we attend church? Does it mean we can forget about religion and
simply be spiritual?
That’s not what I’m saying.
Genuine religion can be a powerful spiritual force in our
lives. I’ve found that true religious experience makes my spirituality
deeper and stronger. Religion is an aid to my spiritual growth. My
experience in the Christian religion is so bound up with my
spirituality that I can hardly distinguish between the two. I could not
be spiritual without being religious, and the very idea of being
religious without being spiritual seems repulsive to me.
Some people say they want spirituality but not the church. The
question is, What’s the purpose of the church? Ideally, it’s a place
where people can get together and help each other to grow spiritually.
Often, people who reject the church will form their own small groups
for spiritual growth. Without realizing it, they’ve created a “church”
of their own to provide for them what the existing church failed to
supply—or what they thought the church failed to supply.
My response to this is threefold. First, I’m glad such people
have found their “church.” I know the value of small groups, because
I’ve belonged to several myself over the years. Second, I suspect that
many people who failed to find spirituality in their church weren’t
actively seeking it. I challenge them to look for it. And third, I
challenge the church to provide true spiritual nurturing for such
Some people reject the Bible because it’s been used as a club
over their heads to “beat them” into religious conformance. I don’t
blame such people for rejecting the Bible. However, correctly
understood, the Bible is a profoundly spiritual book, especially the
teachings of Jesus. When we read the Bible with spiritual eyes—with an
honest desire for insight and moral transformation—then it can be an
indispensable aid to spiritual growth.
If you’ve been burned out on religion by religious
people—well-meaning, perhaps—who were not spiritual, you might like to
take another look at religion and the church. Look for the genuinely
spiritual people. Maybe they and the church really can contribute to
your life the spirituality they’re meant to provide.
Do me a favor—write and let me know what you find out.