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

Consider the Pharisees for a moment. Jesus referred to them as “white washed tombs, full of dead mens bones.” Outwardly they looked alive, but inwardly they were dead.

I think the fundamental difference between being religious and spiritual is this: Religion is about the externals, and being spiritual is a truer picture of the self, one that has been recreated in the image of Jesus Christ. I am religious about alot of things: the way, I eat, shower, brush my teeth, dress, relate to telemarketers, etc., these things are not neceassrily bad, right or wrong. They are just the routine ways I do things. Religiousity then is the routine ways we practice our faith. This certainly can be detrimental to our health. I think this is what happens to a large number of our congregants. Sunday, and Wednesday each have their own set of religious routines that we follow. I think in large part this mechanical way we go about church helps to keep people away. Outsiders want a Jesus they can see, touch, smell, and talk to, not one crafted to fit our idealistic, individualistic American oriented image of a Savior who dresses in red, white and blue and drivers a hummer. I think religion exalts tradition over the Word, and in some cases, religion is a bad thing for everyone involved. I will go one further and say that religion doesn’t have room for new expressions of faith, and certainly doesn’t have time for questions that challenge the status quo.

I think we needn’t be afraid of practing what it means to be spiritual. I see here the difference, between authenticity and churchanity. To me being spiritual is living out our lives as recreated beings, remade in the image of Christ.

Here is my two cents:


About Jason Retherford

The random musings of a youth minister.
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13 Responses to What’s the difference between being religious and being spiritual?

  1. Melissa K. says:

    Wow, you actually put into words what I feel!!! I’m so done with organized religion, I have a good soul and believe in God. I have a lot I would like to touch on in this reply but for now I’ll just leave well enough alone. I would like to thank you though for your beautiful two cents worth, so “THANK YOU!!!”

  2. Melissa,

    I am glad that you stopped by and that you feel some of my angst. I hope that in your quest to give up “organized religion,” that you rediscover the wonder of Jesus. He is the best thing going!

    But, please, don’t give up on the church. Even with her all her flaws and failures, the church is the body of Christ. The church is called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. Even though there are blemishes on her purity, the church is the tool to use to help other people find their way home.

    So, don’t give up completely. Keep searching, keep pursuing Jesus. As you continue to fall in love with Jesus, maybe you will one day be able to fall into love with Jesus’ people!

  3. Giorgio says:

    I am so troubled with the religious issues, as a person I am so sure in my heart that I am spiritual, I love my Creator God, but the plenty programmes from the church really want to change the way I think of my person and my love for spirituality. My wife wants me to be at every church program, but I don’t think I must be there to make good living out of my life. I believe in God and goes to church, but she insist i attend all church programmes. I have tried to make see reason with me, that being spiritual is ore adoring than being religious, please help me out

  4. John says:

    I’m trying to figure out weather I’ve been religious my whole life, spiritual or maybe just both. I strayed for years away from church and God somewhat intentionally. Looking back I was probably rebellious in my heart against god at younger teenage age. Seeing things from a new perspective I believed I lived in fear for most of my life of religion and never truly had a relationship with God. My fear kept me straight for a long time and I would assure myself that I was saved to justify my fear. Once I fully and openly rejected Christianity (much later in life) and its rules I felt more free than i had ever felt in my life. No worries of God squashing me and sending me straight to hell because I simply choose not to believe that “garbage” anymore. I spent the next several years of my life in total violation the bible. I mocked Jesus Christ and felt good about it. I Experimented with new age beliefs and other religions, even the occult. Eventually I found myself rock bottom. Depressed like never before and empty still searching for answers. I cried out to “God” and said I dont know who which God I’m talking to but I want to know the truth. Every since then I’ve had numerous run-ins and discussions with christian people. Ive recently started visiting a christian church and have felt a hope and peace like never before and fear is not apart of the equation this time.

    • carie says:

      wow, i was like reading a piece of my story in your revelation my friend. I am glad you found piecefulness atlast….

  5. Kajal says:

    I believe that spirituality is about finding your inner-self, your inner-soul and religiousness is about connecting with the supreme being or God.

  6. La Mar says:

    I believe what many of you are having problems with is legalism and not religion. Legalism, as seen by the Pharisees and a few Roman Catholics, teaches you must follow a set of rules in order to be considered worthy or a good believer. Religion, as paraphrased/summarized, in Webster’s dictionary is the worship of the divine or supernatural including a set of beliefs and practices. Christianity is a religion for it worships God and has a core set of beliefs concerning God, the church, the Bible, salvation, etc. and practices (striving to meet the standard of perfection and living which God has called all people to). To say that you are “spiritual” is a statement of the obvious. An atheist is spiritual for whether he/she realizes it or not he/she has a soul and is therefore a part of the spiritual world. What many are wanting is to go beyond the legalistic aspects of Christianity, into how it applies to our lives on a more personal level. But never say, “We don’t want all these lists of dos-and-don’ts!” In doing so you reject the entire Bible and God. If you don’t believe me, read the Sermon on the Mount and I John.

  7. Ellen says:

    In response to Giorgio. I don’t believe that you need to attend every single church program to be religious or spiritual. When I was a teenager, I used to go to a Lutheran church that a long list of youth group and other activities. My mother as well as the other parents were insistent on going to all activities. Needless to say, I wasn’t a happy person having orders barked at me constantly. I also felt that at the church I used to attend that the people were not as kind or “God serving” as one would expect. To me it was as if they expected everything unconditionally. And I believed that if I spent time at church, that I should expect (more) from people at church than from other places (such as school), etc.that people there would be more caring. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

    Going to every church activity does not make a person a Christian or more religious or spiritual for that matter. Every individual has a right and obligation to do what makes him or her happy.The church that I do attend regularly has said quite a bit that God is everywhere, not just in church. Truly serving God comes from what do and what you make of yourself on a daily basis.

    I have been attending a different church for almost 15 years, and I am happy there. Lately, I don’t go to church for two or three weeks at a time. I don’t why I started doing that. I have been feeling overwhelmed by what I thought was the large parish/congregation. I have also started reading philosophy books, that got me thinking about things. One of those two things or both could be the reason why I don’t always go to church. Deep down it might be the rules or the church and the chatter. I’m still not sure. I am not looking to change religions, but I do think that my beliefs have shifted from religious to more spiritual. I am more aware that there is more out there and I feel that I have the right to explore.

  8. Troy Riffle says:

    I feel that being spiritual is believing in something “greater” than ourselves, yet we have no method to explain or define or even truly show it. I have trouble believing that God created only this planet and that he built us to His image the way he did. i feel that if there is truly a constant battle between good and evil then God would be more known and show himself more to prevent murder and suffering. So i feel believing in something completly whole-heartedly is being spiritual which is what we should all be. Being religious in my opinion is like being apart of a cult.

  9. Konstantinos says:

    recreation of ourselves in the image of ourselves..
    Neither religious nor spiritual…..Just ourselves

    Everyone says to you be a jesus be a buddha….Nobody tells you….BE YOURSELF

  10. London Fog says:

    Troy couldn’t have said that any better!

  11. Deborah says:

    Please can someone explain the difference between a spiritual church affiliated with the spiritual national union & a christian spiritual church? have they the same principles? i understand they both believe your spirit lives on & you can communicate with spirit

    Thank you

  12. memoricprism says:

    I’m a cradle catholic who regularly goes to church, but being Asian, and a naturalist (ie: no shoes, no make up etc) many mistake me for being Buddhist and spiritual. Oftentimes I get the strangest looks for “confusing” Buddhism with Catholicism. But that’s me attempting to be spiritual.

    Thank you got this post. This will help me explain the way I live and think while still being extremely conservative and religious. 🙂

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