Spiritual, Religious, or Christian?
Spiritual, Religious, or Christian

Is being spiritual the same as being religious? And are either of those the same as being a Christian?

A recent Barna Group study, revealed that despite a growing indifference among millennials, they have an openness to different forms of faith-sharing.

The Barna Group noted,

“For instance, non-Christians and lapsed Christians who say spirituality plays a significant role in their life, and / or that they have unanswered spiritual questions (more “spiritually curious” types), tend to be more open to a variety of settings to explore questions of faith. On the other hand, those who say otherwise (less “spiritually curious” types) are less open.”

The phrase that caught my attention is, “non-Christians and lapsed Christians who say spirituality plays a significant role in their life….” This quote reminded me of the substantial difference between spiritual, religious, and Christian.

Many people identify as spiritual who want nothing to do with religion in general or Christianity in particular. Spirituality is related to an interest in humanity’s inner condition—the non-material facet of our existence. But spirituality can also include interest in psychic or mystical activity.

Those who identify as religious may also identify as Christian. But these terms are not synonymous. Religion can refer to a belief in a variety of gods and is usually related to a particular method of worship.

These worship practices are often transactional in nature. For example, worshippers follow certain practices in return for expected blessing from the God or gods they worship.

Many Christians can fall into this trap, as well. It’s why they become angry or bitter at God when bad things happen. They expect a quid pro quo for their good deeds, saying things such as, “I’ve gone to church every week and served in ministry. I give money to charity. So why did you allow this to happen to me, God?”

Biblical Christianity goes far beyond both spirituality and religion, even though all three terms are often used interchangeably. True Christianity is about an intimate relationship with the one, true, living God—the God who gave us the greatest gift: the gift of a restored relationship with Him through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. This relationship is based on the new life the Holy Spirit brings, not on what we demand God to do for us in exchange for our worship. 

Timothy Keller once said, “Religious people find God useful. Christians find God beautiful.” What an accurate description of the difference!

So how do you identify yourself: spiritual, religious, or Christian?

Do you find God useful…or beautiful?

Spirituality or Christianity?

I was thirteen years old when a friend invited me to her youth group. It was there I first learned the difference between religion and relationship in describing Christianity.

That was also the year I read Fritz Ridenour’s book, How to be a Christian without Being Religious. The youth group, combined with Ridenour’s book, challenged my view of Christianity.

Being religious isn’t the only thing confused with becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. Today, spirituality is often used as a synonym for Christianity.

After 9/11, it became popular to be spiritual. But spirituality is not the same as being a Christian. In the past ten years, books such as A New Earth, A Course in Miracles, and The Secret sought to take bits and pieces of biblical Christianity and merge them with other belief systems. But these books, and others like them, quote Scripture without believing it. Phrases are taken out of context while denying the Bible accurately reveals the character of God as well as our relationship to Him and our place in the universe.

Teachings such as “the universe meets all my needs immediately” (Rhonda Byrne), or spirituality “has nothing to do with what you believe” (Eckhart Tolle) seek to draw us to a new religion leading away from a personal God who can be known through His Word, through His Son, and through His Spirit.

The buzzword of today’s culture is tolerance. We’re told it’s intolerant to believe Christianity is right and all other religions are wrong, that it’s narrow-minded to believe there is only one way to God. Celebrities become spiritual leaders by virtue of their fame. When Oprah Winfrey said, “I am a Christian who believes that there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity,” many of her admirers followed her “teaching.” She – and they – ignored the direct contradiction with Jesus’ declaration, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Ultimately, the difference between Christianity and every other belief system – whether New Age, Buddhism, Islam, or any other religion – boils down to one truth. While all other belief systems are based on a foundation of being good, Christianity proclaims that no matter how hard we try to live a good life, it will never be good enough. Jesus Christ had to die for us because we could never earn heaven on our own merit. The Bible tells us “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Our belief is not in Christianity. Our belief is not in doing good things to be saved from sin and death. Our belief is in a Person – Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the One who is who He said He is: the only way to the Father.

It’s not politically correct. But it’s true.