You have doubtless heard this phrase used by many people ( acquaintances ). You may have even used it before, in referring to yourself, but what does it really mean? Most, I fear, when they claim that they are 'spiritual but not religious', have cut most, if not all ties with what is traditionally known as 'Christianity'. They claim, to one extent, to have the work of the Spirit ( ? ) in their 'heart', but have not much if any fruit to show for it! Now, to be fair, not all who make this claim have taken on a 'lone-wolf' stance, and distanced themselves ( purposely ) from 'Christianity' in general, and the institutional church in particular ( can't say I blame them for that! ) Some of those, I believe, who say that they are 'spiritual, not religious', have simply become fed up with the antics that go on in much of the institutional church, and have thus withdrawn, taken a step back, so to speak, if not cutting all ties, whether by choice or not, from traditional ( orthodox ) Christianity.
Many, though, whether consciously or unconsciously, have molded their lives to this phrase, 'having a form of godliness but denying its power'; these claim the work of the Spirit in their lives, as we saw above, but disdain to show the fruit of that Spirit in their lives.
The online version of Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines the term 'religious' as 'relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity', 'a religious person'. Here is what the Wikipedia article that I read had to say on the subject of 'religion'; 'Religion is a collection of belief systems, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values'. Even apart from these 'secular' definitions, not to mention injunctions from Scripture itself, like 'Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees' ( Hebrews 12:12 ), to those who are spiritual, as Paul had written in his letter to the Galatians ( 6:1 ); 'Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who [ are ] spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted'. James wrote, most famously, 'faith without works is dead' ( 2:26b ). As intimated earlier, though, many who claim to be 'spiritual, not religious' ( in fact all of them; everybody is religious, just not all follow good religion ) are actually very religious about it, allowing their spirituality to flow out through their lives into the 'world' around them!
So then, a very pervasive and wide-spread misunderstanding of 'religion' is the real culprit! Although some that claim to be 'spiritual but not religious' will fall into the category of those who claim to be followers of Christ ( Christians ) but whose works do not show it, as many or more make that claim simply because of the belief that to be religious, one must follow some sort of institutionalized 'religion', or belong to some 'church'. For whatever reason, these people seem to have difficulty understanding that to be religious is to, as James, again, put it, 'Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to
visit orphans and widows in their trouble, [ and ] to keep oneself
unspotted from the world' ( James 1:27 ).
Religion, as we have noted previously, is ( or can be ) a good thing; it just depends what you base your religion on, and how your religion affects your actions. If you believe, as Hitler reportedly did, that only blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryans ( no Jews, gypsies, or commies ) should inhabit his Third Reich, and based on that belief ( his religion ) begin to exterminate any and all who did not fit those criteria, then yes, that religion would be wrong, and not to be followed. If you believe, on the other hand, that all men are created equal ( with equal rights ) in the eyes of their Creator, and act according to that belief, religiously visiting ( giving aid to ) widows and orphans in their time of need, then that is a religion to be followed, and is worthy of great commendation!
To be truly spiritual is to be religious! According to James' words at the end of chapter 2 of his letter, one who is not religious about their beliefs ( faith ) is spiritually dead! It is possible to be religious with being spiritual ( this happens too often ), but it is quite impossible to be truly spiritual without being religious!
Let us all do our best to be spiritual AND religious ( for otherwise, we are spiritually dead )!
Charles Haddon Shank