Are you “spiritual” or are you “religious?” On the one hand, no one would insist that these two terms are mutually exclusive. On the other hand, we have to admit that it’s become far more fashionable to be “spiritual” than strictly “religious.
Most people in today’s world are very accepting of Jesus—it’s just his followers they’re a bit more leery about. In a recent article for TODAY.com, a professor from the Methodist School of Ohio explains:
“Often, what they didn’t like [about religion were] some aspects of the theology…They felt that religion would require them to sign on the dotted line that would control their beliefs and their behavior.”
Similarly, Reverend Michael Beckwith explains the draw to his own “spiritual” community:
“There’s an old saying that religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell, and spirituality is for people who have already been there. So, often times, people are on a spiritual path because they’ve had some very, very hard times. Religion hasn’t provided an answer.” (Chris Serico, “Can You Be Spiritual Without Being Religious? ‘There Are Many Paths to Enlightenment,’ April 1, 2015, TODAY.com)
In today’s world, these aren’t just “outlier” positions; they’re increasingly becoming the norm as folks dismiss traditional religious labels.
And can you blame them? After all, the greatest “sin” for the broader culture is to be too committed to any one thing. It’s fine to have some religious beliefs—it may even be healthy. But no one wants to be a fanatic about it. It’s this attitude that rolled its eyes when Tim Tebow bowed in prayer on the field. And it’s this same attitude that pushes us to see spirituality as something of a spectrum: we can dial it up or down as our circumstances demand. Dial it up for church, dial it back for the workplace. Right?
Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus began to teach on the coming fulfillment of God’s Kingdom—a fulfillment that would come at Jesus’ second coming and God’s final judgment and restoration of the earth. Among his varied teachings, he tells a simple story:
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 23:28-32)
Actions speak louder than words. In the case of both sons, their actions did not match their stated intentions. But in the case of the first son, his actions pushed him toward sacrificial obedience; the second son’s actions pushed him toward self-satisfaction.
Here is the point: if Christianity is only a human invention, then I am liberated to adjust my spirituality in any way I desire. My spirituality serves me; I adjust my beliefs accordingly. But Jesus’ brief story reminds us that the gospel is not for the proud or the put-together. It’s for those who see religion not as a human invention, but a divine necessity. Only those who recognize their brokenness can find true restoration and healing.
This Sunday, join us as we look at two additional parables that highlight two ways of responding to the gospel: whether through hostility or through apathy.