What does it mean to be "spiritual" but not "religious"? Most people I talk to usually mean that they do not attend a religious institution and do not get bogged down in biblical dogma. They have little if any focus on religious rules, command, practices, or principles found in scripture. But is it possible to truly be spiritual without being religious?
It seems to me that if the Bible is God's word, then we need to refer to the Bible to tell us what it means to be spiritual. After all, the scriptures were written by those who were "moved by the Spirit" to communicate God's word accurately and with authority (2 Pet 1:20-21).
1 Corinthians 2:6-16 is one passage that describes true spirituality. Read it carefully, and note the following about spirituality:
1) Spirituality brings godly wisdom not the wisdom of the world: "…a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away" (1 Cor 2:6). The theme of wisdom is actually introduced in chapter one, where it says, "Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor 1:20). In applying it to today, we could add, Where is the college professor? Where is the celebrity? Where is the politician? Where is the news anchor? Etc. Our wisdom does not come from the world because we are " in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God" (1 Cor 1:29). Jesus is our wisdom, which is not the wisdom of the world.
2) Spirituality is knowing God's thoughts, what he loves, what he hates, and what his will is: "Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God" (1 Cor 2:11-12). One cannot be "spiritual" unless you know God. This means knowing God, and not some caricature of God one may make up in his mind, which amounts to idolatry.
3) Spirituality is communicated with words from the mind of God: "…which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" (1 Cor 2:13). This is why it is absolutely necessary to have the word of God in order to grow in spirituality.
4) Spirituality is what enables us to understand God's will as wisdom, and to see the world's way for what it is: "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things" (1 Cor 2:14-15). Worldly wisdom and Godly Wisdom are an eternity apart. To be spiritual means to apply God's wisdom in every circumstance.
After 1 Corinthians 1 introduces godly wisdom as a major theme, chapter 2 explicitly connects this wisdom to the Spirit. Spirituality and godly wisdom go hand in hand.
Using this as a template to understand everything else in 1 Corinthians, it becomes evident that 1 Corinthians is a book about being "spiritual." For each topic in 1 Corinthians, it is helpful to compare the "spiritual" way of thinking about and dealing with it to the "worldly way of thinking about and dealing with it."
Here are some examples:
In chapter 3, a spiritual person is humble and recognizes that he is one of many partners in doing the work of God. The credit and recognition goes ultimately to God who causes the growth and was the one who laid the foundation. Unspiritual godly wisdom would see personal ambition that calls attention to personal accomplishments as a good and worthy thing. However, it will not withstand the test because the foundation would be on the teacher rather than on Christ.
In chapter 5, a spiritual person understands God's view on sin and how ongoing sin not only devastates a relationship with God. He will not only mourn the sin, but take steps to motivate the brother to repent and keep the sin from spreading to others. Unspiritual godly wisdom would pride itself on being enlightened rather than archaic and backwards. It would brag about tolerance and acceptance. However, the end result of this would be eternal condemnation not only for the one brother, but possibly others to whom the sin might spread.
In chapter 6, a spiritual person recognizes that Christians are the ones with godly wisdom that can help with a dispute between himself and a brother. He will avoid going to worldly courts to try and arbitrate because they are of the world. If it cannot be resolved with his brother, he will simply swallow the loss and move on. However, unspiritual worldly wisdom would say to take your brother to court, call a news conference, and fight for what is yours. The former would seem like foolishness to the world, but to us it is a demonstration of the wisdom of God.
Spirituality according to the Bible looks very different than what many people call "spirituality." That self-made religion amounts to idolatry. Spirituality can only grow through regular meditation on the word of God with faithfulness and humility. This creates the environment in the heart for the Spirit to lead and transform us into a true "spiritual" person.