You hear people often say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” The Roseburg shooter who targeted Christians in his shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College last October identified himself this way.[1] Author Ann Rice, who at one point identified as a Christian,[2] began her walk away from Jesus in 2010 with this claim.[3]  She didn’t like church or organized fellowship, but she wanted to connect with Jesus on her own terms.  It only took two years just being “spiritual” before she denied Christ entirely.[4]

I’ve even met put themselves in the Christian camp who say this. Yes, they say, they are Christians, but they don’t want be labeled “religious” but “spiritual.”

What is usually going through my head is, “Well isn’t that precious” and I’m tempted to say, “So what spirits are you into?”

I'm religious but I'm not spiritual" What is "spiritual not religious"

I think it, but I don’t say it.

I love the way this author puts it in an article on the absurdity of this statement.

Of course the individual is spiritual–everyone has a spirit, thus everyone is spiritual. One’s personal conviction about whether or not they have a soul/spirit doesn’t change the fact that they actually do. ((Forest Hempen. “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is a Fancy Way of Saying “Deist”.  Forest Hempen Blog.  Published May 13, 2015.  Accessed January 18, 2016.

For some reason we have this idea in the U.S. that being religious is a negative, there is a connotation of being uneducated or unsophisticated in beliefs or understanding. On the other hand, if someone is “spiritual” they are more “enlightened,” “aware,” and have an “elevated consciousness.”

Getting Real

Let’s cut all the fluff and get real. Words have meanings. We use words to communicate meaning. When you tell someone you have a cat, the understanding is immediately communicated of exactly what type of animal you are talking about. If they later came across a dog on your street, they would know that is not your pet because you told them you had a cat. They are two very different things.

words have meanings

Sometimes we try to make very clear and very simple things complicated. For example, some people try to argue the definition of “married” and “single.” Facebook even has a relationship status reflecting this, “It’s complicated.” No, it’s actually very simple. It is only complicated because you are not in agreement on what those words mean.

Our society has gone so far into confusion that we are now even debating whether or not it is appropriate to call a man a man and a woman a woman.  The words “he” and “she” have now become offensive.  Again, it’s not complicated.[5]  You are born either a male or a female. (Genesis 1:27)  It is DNA, as cut and dried as math.

We may argue the obvious and not like what words mean, but that doesn’t change simple fact.

Communicating Clearly

When someone asks about your religion, saying you are “spiritual but not religious” communicates absolutely nothing. You could be an angry atheist ready to gun down Christians or a meditator like Anne Rice reaching out to some amorphous Higher Power. (She doesn’t know who that Higher Power is, but she is positive whatever it is will confirm her idea of right.)

What does it mean? Nothing. That is a completely useless collection of words.

If someone tells you they are Muslim, you know that they follow the words of Muhammad and believe that he was given a revealed truth that had been corrupted by the Jews and Christians.

If someone tells you they are Mormon, you know they follow the teachings of Joseph Smith and believe that he was a given a revealed truth that had been corrupted in the Bible.

If someone tells you they are a Christian, that should mean that they believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who came to earth in human form in fulfillment of prophecy throughout the Old Testament from the very first promise of a Redeemer in Genesis 3:15, lived a perfect life, died on the cross, rose again on the third day, and that he is the only way to the Father and salvation. (John 14:6)

People in each religion may have slightly different views about various doctrines within their religion, but there will be a general agreement overall. Upon hearing a person’s religion, you have some idea what they believe and where they are spiritually. Information that can lead to understanding has been communicated.

What Does It Mean to Be Religious?

But it goes even deeper than a matter of communication. Behind the statement, “I’m spiritual but not religious,” there is usually a spirit of pride and self-centeredness.

Have you noticed this? When people say this, they are telling you something very revealing about themselves, but not what they intended.

Reading a book on World Religions, it begins with defining the word “religion” itself:

The English word religion is derived from the Latin word religio, which refers to the fear or awe one feels in the presence of a spirit or a god.[6]

The fear or awe of God. Where have we heard that before?

Being Religious and the Fear of the Lord

Now then let the fear of the Lord be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.” 2 Chronicles 19:7

Then he charged them saying, “Thus you shall do in the fear of the Lord, faithfully and wholeheartedly. 2 Chronicles 19:9

“And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.’” Job 28:28

The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. Psalm 19:9

Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Psalm 34:11

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever. Psalm 111:10

How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, Who walks in His ways. Psalm 128:1

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7

Then you will discern the fear of the Lord And discover the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:5

“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverted mouth, I hate. Proverbs 8:13

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10

The fear of the Lord prolongs life, But the years of the wicked will be shortened. Proverbs 10:27

In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, That one may avoid the snares of death. Proverbs 14:26-27

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord Than great treasure and turmoil with it. Proverbs 15:16

The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility. Proverbs 15:33

By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, And by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil. Proverbs 16:6

The fear of the Lord leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil. Proverbs 19:23

The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord Are riches, honor and life. Proverbs 22:4

Do not let your heart envy sinners, But live in the fear of the Lord always. Proverbs 23:17

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. Acts 9:31

When the Bible talks about the “fear of the Lord,” it is describing the attitude, the mindset and the position we are supposed to approach him with. A recognition of the fact that He is the Creator of the Universe, worthy alone of honor and praise (1 Timothy 1:17, Revelation 4:11, Revelation 5:13). The One in whose presence the angels constantly sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8)

You don’t treat him with the same level of familiarity you would as someone giving you your coffee or sitting next to at a baseball game.

Peter and the Lord’s brother Jude both wrote about people like this. People who claimed to be Christians but were promoting their own false teachings and an enlightened spirituality. (2 Peter 2:12-13, Jude 1:8-10) Those who were full of pride and mocked things they didn’t understand (Jude 1:10).

People like this were a danger within the church then and they are a danger now. Peter’s final words in his letter were to “grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

In order to “grow in grace and knowledge,” we have to first walk in the fear of the Lord, to seek His presence in fear and awe.

In other words, it’s time to get religious.


[1] Michael E. Miller and Yanan Wang. Ore. shooter left behind online portrait of a loner with a grudge against religion.  The Washington Post.  Published October 2, 2015.  Accessed January 17, 2016.

[2] Gloria Gaither.  Anne Rice:  Interview with the Believer.  Crosswalk.  Published October 24, 2008.  Accessed January 17, 2016.

[3] Joan Frawley Desmond.  The Strange Inner World of Anne Rice: Vampire Novelist Leaves the Church.  The National Catholic Register.  Published August 4, 2010.  Accessed January 17, 2016.

[4] Stoyan Zaimov.  Anne Rice Explains Leaving Christianity, Says Belif is Not a Choice.  The Christian Post.  Published September 18, 2012.  Accessed January 17, 2016.

[5] Jeff Guo.  Sorry, grammar nerds.  The singular ‘they’ has been declared Word of the Year.  The Washington Post.  Published January 8, 2016.  Accessed January 17, 2016.

[6] Lewis M. Hopfe. Revised by Mark R. Woodward.  Religions of the World. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc. 2009) 3.