Is there a difference between religion and spirituality?
Religion and spirituality are two related yet distinct terms associated with faith. Religion denotes "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances and a moral code." In contrast, spirituality can be defined as "the quality of being spiritual" (both definitions adapted from www.dictionary.com).
Based on these definitions, the major difference between religion and spirituality is one of believing versus being. Religion's focus is the content of one's belief and the outworking of that belief; spirituality's focus is the process of becoming more attuned to unworldly affairs. It's possible to be religious without being spiritual and spiritual without being religious.
A religious person accepts a certain set of beliefs as true and observes a certain set of rituals. A person of the Christian religion believes Jesus is God's Son and observes baptism and Communion. A person of the Muslim religion believes Allah is God and observes Ramadan and salat.
In contrast, spirituality is the fact of being spiritual and is usually evidenced by the act of doing spiritual things. Praying, meditating, reading Scripture, and giving to a charity are all things that a "spiritual" person might do.
Spirituality is more abstract than religion. Religion usually promotes a creed and has a defined code of ethics; it is tangible. Spirituality exists in the nebulous realm of the undefinable. Because of this, an increasing number of people in postmodern Western culture view spirituality as good and religion as bad. Ambiguity is "in" today; dogmatism is "out."
Yet neither spirituality nor religion is inherently good or bad. The practice of religion may lead to good (the founding of Christian hospitals) or to evil (the mass suicide in Jonestown). Likewise, one person may claim that feeding the poor is a spiritual act, while someone else claims that murder is a spiritual act.
Biblically speaking, religion and spirituality should be united, and the end result should be good works to the glory of God (Matthew 5:16). James 1:27 teaches, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." Here religion is associated with the application of one's belief in ways that help the needy and lead to a more spiritual lifestyle. The verse also carries an implicit warning against false or empty religion. Since James specifies "pure" and "undefiled" religion, there must also exist "impure" and "defiled" religion. True religion is godly; empty religion only has "the appearance of godliness" (2 Timothy 3:5).
Spirituality is also defined more clearly in Scripture. There's nothing vague about Romans 12:1-2: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (emphasis added). True Christian spirituality is to dedicate ourselves to the worship and service of God and to be supernaturally transformed.
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