Spirituality vs. Religion
Spirituality, in its simplest form, is the relationship one has with God. It is where we build our faith; where we place our hopes; where we consecrate our lives; where we worship and pray. Spirituality is what Jeremiah prophesied about when he wrote:
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
– Jeremiah 31:33-34
Spirituality is what Jesus had in mind when he said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit [devoid of spiritual arrogance], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. . . . Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
– Matthew 5:3, 6, 8
And spirituality is what Paul had in mind when he wrote:
“Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
– Galatians 4:6-7
Spirituality is personal and must be cultivated, nurtured, grown, and evolved over time – time spent in personal communion with God by means of spirit. As Jeremiah wrote, spirituality is not taught by others. It is as Jesus promised:
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”
– John 16:13-14
It is as the Apostle John wrote:
“I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”
– 1 John 2:26-27
Spirituality comes from no man; it comes from the spirit of God that dwells within each one of us (1 Corinthians 3:16), and is ignited by the Spirit of Truth given by Jesus as Paul wrote:
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
– Romans 8:16
From this we know that we cannot gain spirituality ‘in church.’ No priest, pastor, reverend, elder or other spiritual advisor can teach us spirituality. It is a personal lesson given by means of spirit.
On the other hand, religion can be defined as the social expression of our spirituality. Religion is where we demonstrate to others in our daily activities the nature and quality of our spirituality. Religion is where we prove what sort of spiritual persons we are; where we manifest what we believe in; and where we walk the spiritual path we have chosen.
Religion is what Jesus had in mind when he said:
“You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:13, 14, 16
Religion is what Jesus demonstrated when he washed the feet of the apostles:
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
– John 13:12-15
And religion is what Paul and Peter had in mind when they wrote:
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
– Galatians 6:10
“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.”
– 2 Peter 3:11
In summary, we can say that spirituality is internal; whereas religion is an outreach. Spirituality is where we consecrate ourselves to do God’s will; whereas religion is where we actually do it! These two aspects are defined and enveloped in the two great commandments:
“[Spirituality] “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.
[Religion] And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
– Matthew 22:37-40
Thus, spirituality is experienced individually; whereas religion is experienced from the spiritual individual outward. Spirituality cannot be taught and religion need not be taught since religion is the natural expression of one’s spirituality. And, consequently, the quality of our religious activities in serving others and doing good to our neighbors is a reflection of the quality of our spirituality. If our religion is perfunctory or done begrudgingly, it is a demonstration that our spirituality is weak or non-existent. Conversely, if our religion is joyful and our interaction with our fellow man is genuine, that is a demonstration that our spirituality is alive and well!
We can see that both spirituality and religion can be practiced by an individual who simply goes about his daily activities treating others as he wants to be treated – the so-called ‘Golden Rule’ that Jesus left with his disciples:
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
– Matthew 7:12
From this, we can see that one does not need to join with others in order to be either spiritual or religious. Yet there is great value in joining with others. More good can be done by a community of spiritual people than by one spiritual person. Jesus, being a perfect example of spirituality and religion was not content to practice his religion alone. He sought out others to practice his religion with him. That is the nature of a true Christian fellowship.