Religious. Not “spiritual.”

by K.W. Leslie, 03 January

Happy new year; or since it’s 3 January, happy 10th day of Christmas. At the beginning of each year I figure it’s a good idea to remind readers of the point of TXAB, i.e. the Christ Almighty Blog. And remind myself too: I’ve seen many a blog which began as one thing, evolved into another, and it wasn’t an improvement. God forbid TXAB warp into yet another blog where somebody’s ranting about immature Christian misbehavior.

This blog is about following Jesus the Nazarene, our God-anointed king and Messiah, or Christ. The first of his followers became known as Χριστιανούς/Hristianús, “Christ-followers,” or Christians, because that’s what we’re meant to do, or how we oughta be identified: We follow Jesus. We teach what he taught, believe what he tells us, do as he says, and grow good fruit.

Except some of us don’t follow Jesus… yet claim the title anyway. Because we’re fans. We really like Jesus, claim to love him (or at least love him as we’ve re-imagined him), and immerse ourselves in popular Christian culture. And thereby become Christianist. Such people presume they know Jesus—really well, they’ll insist—and don’t really. As we can see by the fact all their fruit is “fleshly.”

There are so many misbehaving Christians, it’s no wonder various Christians insist, “No, don’t call me Christian; I’m a Christ-follower. Call me that.” They want it very clear they’re honestly trying to follow Jesus; they’re not just in it because “Jesus” conveniently dislikes all their political foes, nor for the spiritual perqs.

And the Christianists might claim they’re totally following Jesus too! (Certainly they’ll claim it whenever somebody does something they consider sinful.) But y’know, whenever you drop an authentic God-encounter on ’em, either they immediately recognize their errors and repent… or they lose their minds in horror and offense, and insist this has to be some kind of devilish trick. Yep, given the opportunity they’ll commit straight-up blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is why God doesn’t drop that on them as often as he could; why push ’em into sin? But we needn’t even bring up their near-blasphemies. Fleshly works prove ’em as frauds quite effectively.

Well. Once we quit following the crowd and follow Jesus whithersoever he leads, we call this being religious.

Religion and the irreligious.

Problem is, over the past 40 years irreligious people, particularly in the Evangelical movement, turned “religious” and “religion” into dirty words.

The way they describe it, religion only refers to works righteousness: The good works people do, which they’re only doing for the karma. And God doesn’t work by karma; we get salvation and heaven only because God’s gracious. No other reason.

To be fair, there are so-called Christians who think we gotta earn salvation, or work our way into God’s graces, by being good people. It’s a common pagan view which infests Christianity, and we gotta be vigilant lest any Christian think it’s true. Or worse, think bad deeds undo salvation. (You can undo your salvation, but it’s done by intentionally quitting Jesus, not sinning.)

But we’re still meant to do good works! Ep 2.10 Ever read the bible? We’re told time and again to be good. That God hates sin. Even though he forgives all, don’t do what irritates your Father. Stop sinning!

If we claim we belong to Jesus, if we claim to follow Jesus, what’s the proof of our claims? Well duh: We act like Jesus! 1Jn 2.6 We behave ourselves. We try to be good people. We do as he taught. What kind of rotten employees don’t do as their boss says? Employees who oughta be fired, maybe even sued, certainly kicked out of the building, that’s who. And that’s what Jesus describes in more than one parable. If people think they’re entitled to God’s kingdom regardless of how everything in their lives indicate they’re utterly opposed to this kingdom… is this kingdom truly where they’re headed? Jesus surely makes it sound doubtful.

Problem is, humans are creatures of extremes. It’s not enough to say, “We’re saved by grace, not good works.” Ep 2.8-9 Some people gotta go so far in the opposite direction, they’re actually doing the opposite. They’ll wrongly say, “We’re saved by grace, not works, so stop doing good works.” Basically they’re doing what Paul warned us not to:

Romans 6.1-2 NET
1 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Religion doesn’t save. But salvation isn’t the purpose, isn’t the point, of religion. We don’t get religious so God can look down upon us favorably, say, “Okay I’m letting you in,” and save us. Religion isn’t the cause of salvation. It’s the effect. It’s fruit. We get religious because now that we’re saved… what do we do? How now are we supposed to live? Duh; follow Jesus.

Religion reveals who takes Jesus seriously, and who doesn’t. It makes clear who’s truly saved. And irreligion makes clear… who’s really not.

If you wanna be religious, TXAB hopefully points you the right direction. And if you don’t… well that’s too bad. Hopefully you have enough of a relationship with God that the Holy Spirit eventually convinces you to get religious. Because if you’re satisfied with only being “spiritual,” y’might still get into God’s kingdom… but as the lowest person in it, with nothing to show for your “Christianity,” such as it was.

“Spirituality,” both real and fake.

In Christianity, spiritual means something connected to the Holy Spirit, or someone who follows the Spirit. And since the Spirit points to Jesus, if you truly follow the Spirit, you’re gonna ultimately follow Jesus. The Spirit is God, same as Jesus, so following one invariably follows the other. If not, we’re not actually dealing with the Spirit.

Outside Christianity, “spiritual” means all sorts of other stuff. Most commonly, it means you have religious feelings. There are certain things pagans do which make ’em feel really specially connected to God. Like going to sacred places where they’re fairly certain they can feel God’s presence—someplace in nature that’s relatively quiet, or some sacred building like an impressive church edifice, or a labyrinth or circle of stones, or the roof of their building where they have an impressive view. Someplace that makes ’em feel awe, or wonder, or peace, or anything positive. Somewhere that feels good.

Christians will do it too. We’ll have a favorite place to pray. We’ll play favorite Christian music, listen to favorite Christian speakers, read Christian books, hang out with Christian friends… basically any activities where it feels Christian.

’Cause we’re going for a feeling. A vibe. An atmosphere. We seek a certain emotional state which we can identify with the divine. Something which makes us feel like God’s in our lives. But it’s just the feeling we seek. Nothing more.

Because most humans really don’t know the difference between spiritual and emotional. God evokes certain emotions in us, so in our minds, we link these emotions to “being spiritual.” That’swhat people pursue. Not the Holy Spirit; the feels. The warm fuzzy feelings which remind us God loves us. Not because this is what the feelings mean (God loves us whether we feel these feelings or not), but it’s what we’ve learned to pursue instead of God himself. Endorphins.

And when good deeds don’t give us those endorphins, we’re all too quick to say, “I don’t think God’s called me to do this.” Even if it straight-up says in the bible, in the red letters used to highlight Jesus talking, plainly and bluntly, God wants us to do this. I’ve seen so many Christians claim they “aren’t called” to be evangelists and share Jesus with others, even though Jesus told his students—who include us!—to go to all the world and make him more students. Mt 23.19-20

If we’re not feeling it, we presume God’s not in it, even though he totally is. Y’see, Christianity isn’t Star Wars. We can’t trust our feelings. They’re so easily manipulated! Not just by the devil; movies and music do it all the time, and the best preachers and worship pastors are experts at it. So are salesmen. Heck, we can easily psyche ourselves into feeling all sorts of things. Yet people haven’t a clue just how easy this is, and have no clue how much their “spiritual” feelings were entirely put there by them.

When a Christian describes themselves as “spiritual,” too often this is what they mean. They’re not following the Holy Spirit; they’re following their feelings. They don’t realize they’re not the same thing. They don’t know enough of the scriptures to realize their feelings lead them nowhere. Or worse, to be fruitless, easily distracted, apathetic, even sinful.

When pagans describe themselves as “spiritual,” they definitely mean they’re led by their emotions. And think it’s “the universe” directing their paths—but really it’s their emotions, which they’ve tied to anything which makes ’em feel connected with divinity, and anything which makes ’em feel good.

Because the pagan definition is so commonplace, it’s why I like to describe myself as “religious, not spiritual.”

It definitely triggers a knee-jerk reaction in those people who love to call themselves “spiritual, not religious.” It’s useful too: They ask me exactly what I mean by that, and I tell ’em. I’m trying to follow Jesus, not happy thoughts. I’m not trying to feel good; I’m trying to actually be good. (Thankfully, being good has the side effect of feeling good… most of the time. But that’s not the point, y’know.)

True, this description really bugs people who aren’t aware there’s any difference between spirit and emotion, and think they are on the right path. There’s a fair amount of denial on their part. Oh well.

But my goal in bringing this up, is to get ’em to doubt themselves. To help the Holy Spirit make ’em doubt their wrong beliefs, and seek Jesus for real.

Anyway, that’s my goal for TXAB in a nutshell. (A big nutshell, but I guess I’m a big nut.) Follow Jesus in a way which leads people to doubt their irreligion and unbelief. And if this idea appeals to you too, stick around!