What’s the Difference Between Religion and Spirituality?

Religion and spirituality are two approaches to spiritual freedom/perfection. Think of religion as a formal dress code for heaven (or whatever final destination is in view). One must clothe one’s self in good works and satisfy established ordinances to be admitted to a heavenly afterlife. Islam’s dress code is the Five Pillars (profession of faith, ritual prayer, alms-giving, fasting, pilgrimage).3 Jehovah’s Witnesses have four implicit essentials (accurate knowledge, avoiding debauchery, Watchtower membership, proselytism).4 Mormonism requires numerous works and fulfillment of ordinances to reach tiered levels of eternal glory (Telestial Kingdom, Terrestrial Kingdom, Celestial Kingdom). Buddhism prescribes the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, avoidance of the Four States of Woe, the Three Scourges, Eight Wrong Circumstances, Four Deficiencies, and on and on.5

If religion is a formal dress code, then spirituality is a T-shirt. Spirituality is casual, customized, and likely to be in flux depending on the individual’s changing preferences during his independent journey to enlightenment. Spirituality allows the individual to set the rules in which the deity of his choice will operate. Personal experience and lone discovery supersede the doctrines of “organized religion.” This view has been propagated by books such as William P. Young’s wildly popular and doctrinally challenged The Shack, which depicts a God who seems more tailored to the needs of the main character than to the Bible.

Whether the approach is formal, established religion or casual, customized spirituality, the critical concept linking all spiritual beliefs other than Christianity is spiritual perfection through works. Therefore, the Root Idea of Spiritual objections is:

“Good works get you heaven.”

But aren’t works a part of Christianity too? Yes, but there is a huge difference. Obeying the Ten Commandments and displaying the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.) are not formulas for reaching God, but are instead responses to God having reached us. Before God can have fellowship with us, we must admit that we are morally unfit to attain perfection ourselves. Until we recognize that our works are “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6), we can never be clothed in the righteousness only Christ can provide.