Religious or Spiritual?
I am not sure how many of you have wondered about the differences between spirituality and religiosity. Now I understand that not everyone agrees on the definitions of these terms, so I will give you the notion I get from those I have interacted with, this would be my personal working definition of these terms.
To be religious means to align oneself with a specific religion or denomination and its beliefs and culture. The more religious someone is the more they adhere to the norms of their religion or denomination, and these include beliefs, rituals, vocabulary, culture as a whole.
To be spiritual means to have a personal connection with God that goes beyond the religious rituals and formalities. People who consider themselves spiritual life beyond the confines of any specific religious practice, picking and choosing aspects they like from different traditions, denominations, or religions.
With this in mind, I would like to take a look at a parable Jesus told about the kingdom of heaven, then we will address the differences between the two in a bit more depth.
In this very short parable, Jesus describes how the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. In Jesus’ davit was common for wealthy people to bury their treasures. This was a way to keep it from robbers who might come in searching for it, as well as a way to keep it from invading armies as you flee from your home. However, many times it would happen that the person would never return to the home, they would die or be taken as slaves, or get shipwrecked, or forget where exactly they buried their treasure, or they would never get a chance to pass on the information to anyone else, or just not give very good directions.
So every now and again, someone would be plowing their field and discover something odd, something different, that upon closer inspection proved to be a treasure! If you happen to be plowing land that didn’t belong to you, perhaps you were simply paying a fee to use it for a period of time the treasure would not belong to you, but rather to whoever owned the field.
Jesus describes this treasure as having such great value that the person who found it was happy to sell everything he had to buy the field and gain the treasure!
Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.
The person who was idle, watching Netflix and chilling did not find the treasure.
Sometimes we are tempted to expect spiritual growth, salvation, a great treasure, to find us while we idly waste the precious time we have here on earth. We go through life wanting to be entertained, served, catered to. We want deep insights to come into our minds while we scroll mindlessly through social media. I am not saying that you are watching anything inherently evil. What I am trying to say that at best you're failing to grow.
Here is an opportunity to share some of the dangers I have noticed regarding people who declare themselves to be spiritual and not religious. They tend to stay comfortable. They do what they feel like doing and often tend to be tired, too tired to be involved with any structured ministry. They do the whole God thing when they feel like they need it, they just don't seem to feel like it too often.
The way that I see it, finding a treasure requires luck. By that, I mean that you don't know where the treasure is ahead of time. However, those who are out there plowing the field are more likely to find the treasure. If the treasure is the kingdom of God, a greater understanding of who God is and of His will for our lives. In my life, most of the moments of great insight I had were when I was engaged in what could be described as a religious activity. I was at church, listening to a sermon, or preparing to teach a class, or giving a Bible study. I have also had great insights during my personal devotion time, but even that was developed as a discipline, so I am not sure if it would be considered religious or spiritual, but I'll talk more about this as we go on.
My main point here is that religion when it is doing what it is supposed to be doing places people in a situation where they are more likely to discover the great treasure.
The person who was already wealthy enough and had no reason to work did not find the treasure.
This is a trap that both can fall into. The religious person can trust in their position or status within a religious organization or church and feel like they no longer need to work, to search, to plow, to be involved in mission or seeking personal growth. They may be tempted to believe that because they belong to the club, their membership guarantees them the treasure, that is, the kingdom of God.
In a different way, the spiritual person can also feel no need for any extra effort. She may feel that as long as she is not an evil person she is fine. As long as he is not breaking any laws or hurting anyone his treasure should be guaranteed. The "spiritual" person may feel no need for any further study or involvement with the mission because after all, he is not an evil person, she is not breaking any laws.
The person who feels no need to search and seek and knock will not find the treasure.
Jesus chose to begin the sermon on the mount with blessed are the poor in spirit for a reason.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The person who owned the field didn’t realize the true value of the field, didn’t realize the treasure that was buried there.
This is something that I believe the religious people are more likely to fall into. They can feel like they own the field, it is theirs, they know there are treasures buried somewhere, but they are fine owning the field. Meanwhile, someone who recognizes her poverty decides to plow and work the field and finds a great treasure!
The problem with the treasure
We fail to appreciate the treasure. We don't want to sell everything to buy the field. That seems too extreme. Because we fail to appreciate the value, the true worth of the treasure, we are unwilling to sell everything to buy the field.
In the time of Jesus, the religious leaders had everything they needed to recognize the Messiah. They had the prophecies, they had the temple and its services, they had history, they had more special revelations from God than any other people on the earth at that time. There was no reason for them to miss the Messiah unless the cost of following the Messiah was too high.
Accepting that Jesus was the Messiah, which there was more than enough proof for anyone honestly searching, meant giving up everything they had worked so hard for. Generations had sacrificed to build the temple, and they fell in love with it, with the work of their hands. The religious leaders had political power, and wealth, and status, and they were willing to follow a messiah that would give them even more of what they had already acquired.
"Thy kingdom come" had become "my kingdom come."
The religion they had built became more valuable than Jesus.
The religious practices became more important than the spiritual lessons they taught. The religious leaders had lost sight of the spiritual significance of their ceremonies. The ceremonies that should have drawn them closer to God and opened their minds to spiritual truths became an end in and of themselves. They began to live and exist for the sake of their religion losing sight of the spiritual growth their religion was intended to foster.
We must always be cautious to continually seek God. To not settle for mere religiosity. Turning completely away from religion can also be dangerous because you are less likely to be held accountable and to be challenged to grow. Religion has its place and is beneficial, so long as it serves the purpose of spiritual growth and the mission of kingdom growth. Religion should help you find the treasure Jesus has for you, but must never be confused with the treasure. Religion is not the treasure, it does not guarantee the treasure, but it should help you find the treasure in Jesus.
So what do you do when you find the treasure?
Are you willing to give up anything that comes between you and the kingdom of God?
Or will you allow tradition and religion to get in the way of what God is calling you to do?