Let us consider something about the difference between being religious and being spiritual. Perhaps, you have never thought about it, but the difference is very important for us to understand.

We read in God’s Word that, ‘‘In the last days there are going to be a lot of people who hold to a form of Godliness but having denied its power’’ (2 Tim. 3:1, 5). Take for example someone who wants to poison another person, he would not give him a full glass of poison but perhaps a glass full of milk with, may be, just two or three drops of poison that is enough to kill the man. In the same way, when Satan wants to deceive people, he is not going to give people what is an obvious error. He is not going to come preaching sin and unrighteousness. The Bible says that Satan comes as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14, 15). There are many forms in which he comes; he comes as a lion, as a dragon, as a serpent. When he comes in these forms we can easily recognize him. He may frighten us but he cannot deceive us. You are not frightened when you see a lion, or a serpent, or a dragon concerning their intentions. But you can be deceived when you see Satan coming as an angel of light and when his servants are servants of righteousness.

Satan, in order to fulfil his purpose of leading people astray from the true God and from the truth, has invented so many religions. He has also invented versions of Christianity which are different from what we see in the Scriptures. We use the expression nominal Christians to people who are born into a Christian family, whatever denomination they may be, but who have not come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ. Yet many of these people can have a form of godliness. Even those who have accepted Christ as their Saviour, if they fail to distinguish between religiosity and spirituality, may develop in becoming more and more religious and not spiritual.

Religiosity is a human thing whereas spirituality is divine – it is from heaven. The Old Testament Law, for example, could not make anybody spiritual. There were people in the Old Testament who rose above the standards of The Law. People like Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist became spiritually minded, knowing the heart of God. But The Law itself could not make anybody spiritual, because The Law only demanded that you conform to certain standards externally. If you kept the Ten Commandments, i.e. you didn’t have any other gods, you didn’t worship idols, you didn’t take the Lord’s name in vain, you kept the Sabbath, you honoured your father and mother, you didn’t commit adultery, theft, murder, or bear false witness, or covet something which is your neighbour’s, you are okay. Externally The Law cannot find fault with you. If you kept all the commandments concerning the ceremonial law, you would be accepted as a person in very good standing; you would be an outstanding Jew in Israel. But you need not be spiritual.

Now the same thing can happen today. A person can go to the meetings regularly and can conform to the external demands of a particular Christian denomination or a church and have a good standing there. He could even be a board member or an elder there in the church but not necessarily be spiritual at al. He may be only religious. Then he would be the equivalent of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. They conformed to all the requirements of The Law, externally, in the eyes of the people, but were not devoted to Jesus Christ in their hearts. They were not spiritual. They were not devoted to God. They did not love God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind. They loved money (Lk. 16:14). That is just one example.

Religious people can pray, read the Bible daily, attend all night fasting and prayer meetings, tithe their income, give out tracts, but, along with all that, they will also seek honour from men, live for themselves, love money, be interested in gossiping, etc.. They don’t seem to see that there is a contradiction between these two aspects of their lives. There doesn’t seem to be a connection between these two. On one side, there is a form of godliness, but on the other side, the inner power that delivers a person from a self-centred life and makes him really godly is not there. These are some examples. If you are more interested in the opinion of men; in what men think about you than in what God thinks about you, the chances are, my friend, that you could be just religious.

It is good to face up to it. We are not saying anything insulting to anyone but when we expose our life to the scan of the Word of God and God’s Word shows us that our Christianity is only superficial, it is good to face up to it. It is better to recognize it now rather than when Christ comes again and we stand before him. That will be too late. If we recognize today that we are only religious and not spiritual, we can do something about it.

A spiritual man is more interested in God’s opinion of his life than the opinion of all men. A spiritual man is more interested in living a godly life than even in attending the meetings. His attendance at meetings is only to help him to live a godly life, because godly life is more important than a meeting. The way he behaves with his wife and children at home is far more important for a godly man than whether he preaches on a Sunday morning in the meetings or not. There you can evaluate yourself.

If you are very careful to prepare your sermon for your Sunday morning message but not careful in the way you speak to your wife at home, you are probably just religious, not spiritual. It is people who have a form of godliness who have got a reputation that they are very holy people, but they not really spiritual. If a person is satisfied that he fasts and prays and tithes, but doesn’t seem to bother whether he can control his speech during the day or not, is not disturbed by the fact that he is a lover of money, then he is religious. A person could be interested in evangelism – reaching out for the lost, which is a very good thing and a very necessary thing, but if he, along with that, not interested in personal sanctification, he is just religious. A spiritual man will be interested in both.

A lot of these activities which the religions people are involved in are very good, but the question is of priorities. Priorities are what make a man spiritual. You see a religious person is very often interested in the written word – the letter of the law. Bible says that ‘‘…. the letter of the law kills, but the spirit brings life’’ (2 Cor. 3:6). That means, God’s word, if taken just according to the letter, without understanding its spirit, won’t bring life, it will kill you. Have you thought of that? We must understand this in the context of entire verse, particularly the first part; ‘‘We are servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but the Spirit, because the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.’’

Remember once when Jesus said, ‘You have got to eat my flesh and drink my blood’, a lot of people got offended, as they thought Jesus was preaching cannibalism. We read this in John 6.  They got so offended that they went away and they never walked with Him anymore. Jesus said one last word to them before they left. He said to them, ‘‘The words I speak to you are Spirit and life, the flesh profits nothing’’ (Jn. 6:63). And so, what Jesus spoke was spiritual.

You can take the word of Scripture – the letter, and obey it down to the last detail, and just be a religious person, not spiritual at all. It takes more than just keeping the letter of the law. It takes a heart attitude towards God – towards His words for a person to become spiritual. Our goal in life should be to be spiritual, not a religious person like the Pharisees of old. They were more interested in justifying themselves before men and proving to men that what they were standing for is right and what they were doing is right. The spiritual man is not really bothered about what people think about him.

Jesus never lived wondering what people were thinking or saying about him; He lived only to please the Father. A spiritual person cares for God’s opinion. Religious people can often meditate for years on the words of praise that somebody has said about them. A spiritual person, on the other hand, refuses to receive testimony from men. They know that other men do not know the corruption that is in their own heart. They know that the praise of men is worth less than nothing. So they live for God’s opinion, they live to please Him.

If our goal in life is to please God, that is not easy, we have to fight a battle and say, ‘Lord, I do not want to please man, I want to please you.’ And if that is our determined goal, then we will find that Spirit of God shows us the way to be truly spiritual. Then we will not only have the external form of godliness, but the inner power as well.

This is part of the Basic Christian Teachings Series, a set of 72 short messages presented by Zac Poonen.  You can download the audio mp3 files or listen to Basic Christian Teachings by clicking here.