Spirituality and Religion – What are You

By Dr. Ron Jenson

Hi friends! This is Ron today from Rome and the beautiful Vatican City. Over my shoulder you see St. Peter’s Square, where hundreds of thousands come together for the Pope’s blessing. Of course this place is just filled with history.

As you may know, the Vatican is a nation unto itself. It’s the center of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church and it’s a place where many deeply religious and spiritual things happen. My wife and friends are touring St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, the Museum and these beautiful grounds, things I’ve seen before. So I’ve been walking around just thinking about and contemplating the power of religion and spirituality.

What’s the Difference?

I want to make a distinction between the two. I’ve heard someone say that the religion is man’s best attempt to reach God, and spirituality is God’s best attempt to reach man. That’s an oversimplification, but maybe a starting point as we look at the difference and distinctions between religion and spirituality, and how you think about it.

The world religions, like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism have been around for a long time. There are a number of other religions in the world, including Atheism, Agnosticism, and even a secular humanism where people turn their work or their family, power, money, or self-gratification into religion.

Religion has context and story to it, along with some healthy rules and principles that guide our life. It has the depth of history, bringing something reliable and dependable to our lives. Religion in all those senses is good.

The question arises, what are the foundational principles of the religion you follow, and then, what are the sources of those principles? Are they universally true? Are they absolute? A principle by definition is a truth that is always true everywhere and at all times. Can you say that about the principles around which you’ve built your life?

Religion becomes dangerous when you don’t take the time to evaluate the principles, and when you pursue it to make you look good, like what you think a religious person ought to look like. When you live in a way that is inconsistent with your heart — but try to “fake it till you make it” — you end up shooting for a very low bar, which is not a good way to live.

The core of spirituality is relationship. It’s building a relationship with God not unlike the way you’d build a relationship with a friend. Principles are a vital part of that relationship but they come in the context of loving God. It’s putting God, not religion or tradition, in the center of your life.

In my case, being a follower of Jesus means that he’s the God of my life so I want to love him with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. I want to build a relationship with him. Spirituality is seeking God in a personal deep way, but letting God also penetrate your life and impact you and fill you in order to create in you an incredibly strong spiritual core.

The dangers of spirituality come when you relax into this new relationship with God but do nothing to pursue him, to learn what he says about himself in the Bible, and how he wants you to live your life. The freedom that comes with a relationship with God can easily morph into a feelings-oriented, love-fest that has no direction or conviction to it.

RELIGION

  • Man’s best attempt to reach God.
  • Brings tradition, laws, and principles to your life.
  • Every religion has its own code of ethics or rules.
  • Can have a negative impact, if you find yourself following rules with no heart behind it, and just for looks.
  • “You never know a line is crooked unless you have a straight line to put next to it.”

SPIRITUALITY

  • God’s attempt to reach man.
  • Spirituality also brings foundational principles to life.
  • It is a relationship with God and it looks like a relationship—-learning who God is through the Bible and prayer
  • It involves your whole life—-heart, mind, soul, strength.
  • The primary difference between a lake and a swamp is a border. If you want a life of growing clarity, order, and purity, commit yourself to a relationship with God.

So my assignment for you is to think about religion and those things that are attractive to you. There’s great value in religion. But focus in on your spirituality. Not just a general, generic spirituality but something that’s rooted in deep meaning with history and credibility to it. So that you’ll be living from the inside out. A life of spirituality. A life of grace. A life of integrity. A life of love.