Spiritual, Religious, or New Life?

New life

As we move into the new year, many of us establish new year’s resolutions. We want to be better people. Perhaps even more spiritual or religious. But what about wanting new life?

But is being spiritual the same as being religious? Are either of those the same as being a Christian? And where does new life in Christ fit in?

A recent Barna Group study revealed that despite a growing indifference among millennials, they have an openness to different forms of faith-sharing among the less religious. And there’s a spiritual curiosity among Millennials in particular.

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….” It reminded me of the substantial difference between spiritual, religious, and Christian.

Spiritual or Religious?

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 sometimes also identify as Christian. But these terms are not synonymous. Religion can refer to a belief in a variety of gods. And it’s 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?”

Spiritual, Religious, or New Life in Christ?

Biblical Christianity goes far beyond both spirituality and religion, even though all three terms are often used interchangeably. True Christianity is about new life. An intimate relationship with the one, true, living God—the God who gave us the greatest gift possible. This gift is 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 new life makes!

So how do you identify yourself? Spiritual, religious, or having new life in Christ?

* A version of this post first appeared on Ava’s inspirational blog.

Ava Pennington

After a 20-year corporate career, Ava Pennington is thoroughly enjoying her second career as an author, teacher, and speaker. Her book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is published by Revell Books and endorsed by Kay Arthur, founder of Precepts Ministries. Ava has also written for numerous magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse. Her work has been published in 30+ anthologies, including 25 Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Ava also teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class. When she’s not writing and teaching, Ava enjoys playing with her mischievous 5-year-old Boxers, Duke & Daisy. For more information, visit www.AvaWrites.com.

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