Is being spiritual different than being religious?

Many people would say that they are spiritual, but not religious. The way the world uses these terms, I would say that the “spiritual” person usually believes in a higher power, but doesn’t see the need to join a formal religious organization or church gathering. This “spiritual” person usually has a hodgepodge of beliefs cobbled together from various sources. This person does not need any proof for the validity of his beliefs. “You have your truth and I have mine,” is his mantra. For this “spiritual” person, truth is subjective, not objective.

On the other hand, religious people (again, I’m using the word “religious” the way the world uses it), usually subscribe to a set of beliefs and practices related to their God. With Christianity, that usually means that the Bible is God’s word, which tells its adherents how to live their lives. (Some factions of Christianity have seemingly done away with the use of the Bible.) Ceremonies and symbolic practices are usually part of their religion.

The Bible does not see spiritual and religious as contradictory – it defines the terms in a way the world does not. According to Vine’s dictionary, the Greek word used for “religion” refers to the external observances of one’s faith in God. This includes worship and helping others.

However, the New Testament makes a difference between spiritual and carnal. The carnal are living with the flesh as the foundation. They look to other men and women (1 Corinthians 3:1-4), and thus are “behaving like mere men.” Their values are usually no different than the world’s. Just about every Christian starts out this way. The carnal are also called “babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1) because they have not grown enough in their faith to look beyond their own needs and desires to the will of God.

On the other hand, the spiritual have Jesus as the foundation for their thinking, motivations, and works. They have moved away from self-centeredness to living their lives for their God. They are biblically religious in that they practice their faith in the real world. Their spirituality is not internal; they show by their lives that Jesus influences their choices in far-reaching ways.

Carnal and spiritual are not just interesting Bible terms. Leading carnal or spiritual lives has eternal consequences. The spiritual life is based on Jesus. The carnal life is based on self. According to 1 Corinthians 3:10-17, our works will be judged. If they turn out to be works of the flesh (outlined in Galatians 5:19-21), the works will be discarded and we will not receive a reward for all that labor. The spiritual works that spring from love for Christ and a desire to honor him according to his will shall receive everlasting rewards.

What Do You Think?

a. Are you spiritual, or carnal?

b. What are you doing that demonstrates your belief in the Christian God?


Vine, W.E., Vine’s Expository dictionary of New Testament Words, MacDonald Publishing Company.

About Steve Husting

Steve Husting lives in Southern California with his wife and son. He enjoys encouraging others through writing, and likes reading, digital photography, the outdoors, calligraphy, and iced coffee. He has written several books and ebooks, and hundreds of Christian devotionals. Steve is also having a great time illustrating God's Word with calligraphy.
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