“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”—James 1:27
Half of the people my age have a negative impression of religion. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, only 55 percent of millennials (ages 18-34) think that religious organizations have a positive effect in the United States. This is down from 73 percent in 2010. I believe that this decline is due to the church’s failure to live out its calling among the general public. I also blame the trendy phrase, “I am spiritual but not religious.” The church in America needs to reclaim a Christian understanding of the words “religion” and “spirituality.”
Young evangelical Christians often say they are spiritual but not religious to emphasize their personal relationship with Jesus Christ over rules and commandments. I have also heard it from my friends who acknowledge a spiritual nature to their existence while rejecting the dogmas of major religions. I am for religion so long as it is the one based on Jesus Christ. I am all for spirituality so long as it is Holy Spirit filled.
Calling someone religious may be a nice way of saying that person is a bit weird, boring, or judgmental. When we think of “religious” people, we may imagine people like the Pharisees and Sadducees, whom Jesus decried for being hypocritical and legalistic. Pharisaical behavior is what the Christian religion is called to condemn—not exhibit. For, Christianity is about loving others as Jesus Christ loves us. In its pure form, it is taking care of those in society who cannot give you anything in return.
Simply because something is spiritual doesn’t automatically make it a good thing. In fact, there are a lot of spiritual things that go against God. However, where the Holy Spirit is at work, God is present. Peace, love, joy, and kindness are the results of the work of the Holy Ghost (Galatians 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit unlocks the mystery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and enables us to cry out to God as our Abba, Father (Romans 8:15). We cannot be Christian apart from the spirituality that is gifted to us by the Holy Spirit.
Let us call ourselves religious so long as it is based on Jesus Christ. Let us call ourselves spiritual so long as it grounded in the Holy Spirit. This is the type of religion and spirituality for which humanity is created.