Religion or Spirituality?

February 17, 2019

Let’s start with religion…  In Jesus’ day people respected the Pharisees who acted very overtly religious by the standards of that time.  But what did Jesus have to say about them?  In Matthew 23 He said, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’  What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.  What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!”  So back in Jesus’ day, while the religious leaders knew God’s Word very well, they did not teach it by example because they did not truly love God or others.  And therefore, they led their followers astray.

Today, we often see the opposite extreme in doctrine, but the same motivation.  The most popular preachers are those who tell you consistently that God is going to bless you - and nothing more.  “Cheap grace” and the “Prosperity Gospel” are exactly what the apostle Paul was talking about in 2 Timothy 4:3 when he wrote, “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”  ‘Sin’ has become an archaic term replaced by ‘mistake’.  Religion is perverted into a sort of universalistic belief that since God is love, he would never send anyone to hell, no matter what they believe or how they live. 

And there are also too many people today who think religion is best kept as nothing more than having their name on a church membership list because they were baptized as a baby.   Therefore, they can claim they are whatever denomination that church happens to be if they are asked.  Perhaps they even go to church on occasion, and maybe throw a few dollars in the plate, especially at Christmas; so someday their eulogy can say they were a member of such and such church.  They figure they are ‘covered’ that way.  But they certainly don’t want to be like one of those folks who is a ‘religious fanatic’.  You know, like those of us who love Jesus, and live for Him.

So what does the Bible say ‘religion’ should be?  James 1:27 says, “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.”  So does that mean that any religion that helps others and keeps your spirit pure will get you into heaven?   Religions other than true Christianity might encourage folks to help others, but only Christianity can purify your spirit.  Only the blood of Christ shed on the cross can remove sin from your heart, and the stain of the world from your spirit.  Just as Jesus told Nicodemus in our 3rd Scripture reading (John 3:1-21 NLT), we must be born again.  Born of the Spirit…

And so we come to ‘spirituality’.  In times past, monks who locked themselves away in a monastery were thought to be spiritual.  Those who inflicted pain and poverty upon themselves were thought to be spiritual.  Some of today’s religions were born from people who taught self-enlightenment, and cults have risen up from those who claimed revelations from ‘higher beings’.  People bored with the same old religion taught by the mainstream churches drift into enticing new philosophies which promise greater spirituality, possibly even a sort of spiritual euphoria.

But to seek spirituality from any source other than the Holy Spirit is to be seduced by demons, as the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 which says, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”  So what does Paul say about true spirituality?  He says in 1 Corinthians 2, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.  We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 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. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”  We cannot understand the Bible, grasp its message of salvation through Christ, come to a saving faith, or live a life that will bring glory to His name, without the Holy Spirit.  We must allow Him to have full control of our very being.  That is true spirituality!

So in regards to my original question - Religion or Spirituality’?, the answer is both.  To be ‘religious’ by the world’s definition, without the Holy Spirit, who only true believers in Christ have within them, is only superficial mumbo gumbo that might make you look good, but gains you no eternal benefits.  And to be ‘spiritual’ by the world’s definition, without faith in Jesus Christ, the one true religion, might gain you some temporal benefits, but you will still be on the wide road that leads to hell.  And so my prayer is that the Holy Spirit has revealed to every one of you the truth of God’s Word, granted you a saving faith in Jesus Christ, filled you with the Holy Spirit, and a desire to glorify God with your lives and share His love with others.  Amen.


“One Way to Heaven”  (Brandon Heath)

“Do Something”  (Matthew West)