Religious. Not “spiritual.”

Happy new year. At the beginning of the year I figure it’s not a bad idea to remind readers the point of The Christ Almighty Blog. (Or TXAB for short.) Remind myself too; I’ve seen many a blog where it began as one thing and evolved into another. God forbid, TXAB could warp into yet another blog where I’m bitterly ranting about Christian misbehavior. Plenty enough of those as it is.

TXAB is about following Jesus the Nazarene and his teachings. Since he’s our God-anointed king—or Messiah or Christ—we Christ-followers get called Christians. Though every once in a while some snobbish Christian insists, “No, not Christian; I want to be called a Christ-follower,” and once again we risk turning TXAB into a rant about Christian misbehavior.

To be fair, the Christ-follower has a point. Christian quite often means a Christ-fan. Someone who really likes Jesus, claims to love him (or at least love Jesus as they imagine him), yet doesn’t follow him any. Such people conform to popular Christian culture, and thereby become Christianist. They presume they know him, and don’t really. As we can see whenever they have an authentic God-encounter: Either they immediately recognize their error and repent… or recoil in horror and offense, and expose how they were never really interested in God to begin with. Those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit are one obvious example, but there are plenty of others.

So when we purpose to quit following the crowd and start following Jesus whithersoever he may lead, it’s called being religious. Problem is, irreligious people (particularly in the Evangelical movement) have turned “religious” and “religion” into dirty words. The way they describe it, religion only refers to works righteousness: You think you earn heaven by doing the rituals, being good, and amassing so much good karma God has to let you in. But God doesn’t work that way at all: Nobody earns heaven. We get in because God’s gracious. No other reason.

To be fair, most religions do figure you earn heaven (or a good afterlife, a good reincarnation, or oneness with the universe) because you earned it through good deeds. And a fair amount of this pagan point of view has leaked into Christianity. So we do have to be vigilant lest any Christian get the wrong idea, and think good deeds are how you get heaven—or worse, think bad deeds can undo your salvation. (You can undo your salvation, but it’s done by deliberately quitting Jesus. Not by sinning.)

Problem is, humans are creatures of extremes. It’s not enough to say, “Hey, that’s wrong; don’t do that.” Some people gotta go so far in the opposite direction, they’re doing the opposite. So while some of us Christians are gonna correctly say, “We’re saved by grace, not works; Ep 2.8-9 stop trying to earn karma for heaven,” others are gonna wrongly say, “We’re saved by grace, not works; stop doing good works.”

Um… we’re supposed to do good works. Ep 2.10 Had you read the bible? We’re told time and again to be good. That God hates sin. Even if he forgives all (and he does!), 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 these 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.

I’m not saying such ingrates can’t repent and be forgiven. Again, everyone can. But if people think we’re entitled to God’s kingdom regardless of how everything in our lives indicate we’re utterly opposed to this kingdom… is this kingdom truly where we’re headed? Jesus surely makes it sound doubtful.

So yeah, religion doesn’t save. That’s not its purpose whatsoever. But it’s not nothing! What it is, is good fruit. It 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 otherwise. 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” as a poor substitute.

For irreligious Christians, what they have instead of actually obeying God and following Jesus, are religious feelings. There are certain things they 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—their church, or their favorite places to pray. Like praying. Like playing their favorite Christian music. Like listening to Christian speakers, reading Christian books, hanging out with Christian friends.

Basically, they’re into any activities where it feels Christian. Because they’re going for a feeling. A vibe. An atmosphere. They’re seeking a certain emotional state which they identify with God’s presence, God’s influence, God’s approval; something divine. Something which makes ’em feel like God’s in their lives.

Yep, they’re seeking a feeling.

Because most humans really don’t know the difference between spiritual and emotional. God evokes certain emotions in ’em, and in their minds, they’ve linked these emotions with “being spiritual.” That is what they’re pursuing. Not the Holy Spirit; the feelings. The warm fuzzy feelings which remind them God loves them. Not because that is what they mean—God loves ’em whether they feel those feelings or not—but that’s what they’ve learned to pursue instead of God himself. Endorphins.

If good works don’t give ’em those endorphins, they’re 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 they use to highlight Jesus talking, plainly and bluntly, God wants them 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—by others, like the devil; but most often by us ourselves. It is so easy to psyche ourselves into feeling all kinds of emotions, yet people haven’t a clue this is so, and have no idea how much the “spiritual” feeling they’ve attached to things was entirely put there by them.

When a Christian describes themselves as “spiritual,” this is entirely what they mean. They’re led by their feelings, but think those feelings are the Holy Spirit. And they don’t know enough of the scriptures to realize their feelings lead them to be fruitless, easily distracted, apathetic, even sinful.

When a pagan describes themselves as “spiritual,” they pretty much mean the very same thing, without all the Christianese. “The universe” is directing their paths; really their emotions, which they’ve tied to anything which makes ’em feel connected with divinity, and feel good about it.

Now yeah, Christianity has a proper definition of spiritual; it means anything that really does have to do with the Holy Spirit or our own spirits. And many Christians truly do mean that when we talk about spiritual stuff. But that pagan definition is definitely getting around.

Which is why I prefer to describe myself as “religious, not spiritual.”

It definitely throws those people who define themselves as spiritual, not religious. It’s useful too: They ask me what I mean by that, and I tell ’em. I’m trying to follow Jesus, not the things which make me feel all happy inside. I’m not trying to feel good; I’m trying to actually be good. (Thankfully it has the side effect of feeling good… most of the time. But that’s not the point, y’know.)

True, this description bugs people who aren’t aware there’s a 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—and help the Holy Spirit make ’em doubt their wrong beliefs, and seek Jesus for real.

It’s a rather big nutshell, but that’s my goal for TXAB in a nutshell: Follow Jesus in a way which leads people to doubt their irreligion and unbelief. And if that idea appeals to you too, stick around.