Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

What Is the Difference Between Religion and Spirituality?

top half of man's head with glasses looking up at many confusing lines wondering spirituality vs. religion

Everything around us speaks loudly of God as a great Creator. People know this deep down inside, so they figure out a way to live for something greater. However, they don’t always know what that greater thing is. They try to define it within their minds. Some define it as religion, and some use the term spirituality.

The dictionary defines religion as a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. It defines spirituality as belonging to ecclesiastical law or the church and having an attachment to religious values. According to Merriam-Webster, these words sound similar, but Wikipedia broadens the definition of spirituality and even says that the meaning has developed and expanded over time to include all religious traditions, belief in the supernatural, personal growth, and a quest for ultimate meaning in life.

The definitions are broad, but how you define that "something greater in life" idea means everything. So, what is the difference between religion and spirituality?

What Is Religion?

Religion is a belief in and worship of a superhuman-controlling power. That power can be anything. Religious beliefs tend to focus on the outside and how you’re perceived. These beliefs are governed by rules, tradition, membership, attendance, and good deeds. Good deeds and thoughts are a means to try to earn your way to heaven. A religion can have anything as its guiding principles. It can be a god, many gods, the universe, or even a human’s school of thought. Religion often leads to emptiness and loneliness because we can never do enough to reach God.

It really does matter who we worship.

What Is Spirituality?

Spirituality consists of being concerned with the human spirit or soul. It often entails seeking to be your best and living your best life. It focuses on the inside and how you feel. There are often no rules in spirituality, rather it can be whatever feels right to you at any given time. There is no absolute truth because truth is considered relative or something that changes based on who is thinking it. It leads to a feeling of self-empowerment and self-confidence. You are the god of your own life. Thinking like this is behind the “woke” movement where right and wrong are subjective and feelings mean everything. Your thoughts create your reality and things around you will bend to your will. Ultimately, spirituality worships yourself, and when your world revolves around your own thoughts, you will eventually become lonely and empty.

Again, it really does matter who we worship.

What Is the Difference Between Religion and Spirituality?

Religion puts an emphasis on rules and laws and rituals to earn something. Spirituality puts an emphasis on a love that is non-judgmental and non-opinionated. Religion punishes and inflicts guilt, so you won’t do bad things. Spirituality says you’re okay no matter what you’ve done. After all, everyone is human. We all make mistakes.

Neither religion nor spirituality deals properly with the reality of sin in everyone’s life. There is a fallen part of each one of us, so our thinking is always skewed. We need a plumb line to keep us on the straight and narrow. Without that plumb line, our walk is scattered and unorganized. Every idea we hear sets us off in another direction. We are lulled into false security when we follow religion’s rules. We think we’ll be okay. When we follow spirituality’s whims and what feels good, we also think we’ll be okay. Both are a trap to make you think that all is well.

It can be said that religion is about working hard to do good works, hoping that God will notice how good you are. Spirituality, on the other hand, is believing that there may be something higher but that something just wants me to be happy, so it really doesn’t matter what I do. There is an ounce of truth in both of these ways of living. God is a loving God that went to the extreme to show his love to his children. But he loves us too much to leave us in a state of doing whatever we want. He showed us a way to gain his undeserved grace and mercy, and also the power to go on from that point doing good things.

Christianity Is a Third Option

We don’t have to settle for only religion or only spirituality. There is a third option. Christianity deals with the sin in us all. God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son as atonement for the sins of the world. If you believe in him and his work on the cross, you are forgiven. Not only forgiven, you are also given the power to live the rest of your life for God. We cannot live for God and His ways on our own. We need God’s help every single day.

You can be born again into Christianity and a new life. You can have peace in God’s salvation. You can avail yourself of his power. You can be a part of the Church of Christ. You can live forever with God in heaven. By realizing your own insufficiency, you gain much more than you could ever earn. Then, with God’s help, you can do good works out of gratitude for His great love. Seeking God above all else is the way to everlasting peace.

This third option steers you away from loneliness and emptiness and into joy and peace.

The longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for people to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God. - Romans 10:1-4

Religion and spirituality are not all bad. Either or both can lead you to that third option. Both religion and spirituality get you to think beyond the here and now toward that ‘something greater’ seed that we all have planted within us.

The duties and tasks of religion can be a good thing because they can point you to God. The pondering and ideals of spirituality can also be good because they too can lead to God’s love. But both religion and spirituality need to be a means to an end, not the final destination. The Lord looks down from heaven to see if anyone is seeking after God (Psalm 14:2). He likes it when we earnestly seek. Keep on asking and God will grant answers. Keep on seeking and you will find. Keep knocking and the door of wisdom will open (Matthew 7:7-8).

Both religion and spirituality can lead to the Lord when you are humble and open to how he leads. Search for righteousness, love, and peace and the Lord won’t be far away. God created mankind, and he knows exactly what we need. Our own opinions are valid, but they’re not always based in truth. So, don’t get stuck in your own opinions. God’s opinion, found in the Bible, is the best opinion of all.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/phototechno 


headshot of author Jenni HeerenJennifer Heeren loves to write and wants to live in such a way that people are encouraged by her writing and her attitude. She loves to write devotional articles and stories that bring people hope and encouragement. Her cup is always at least half-full, even when circumstances aren’t ideal. She regularly contributes to Crosswalk. Her debut novel is available on Amazon. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband. Visit her at her website and/or on Facebook.




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