Spiritual or Religious?

[16] And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. (Luke 4:16)

This passage is a great discussion starter with friends or family who say some variation of the following:  

  • I’m spiritual but not religious
  • I’m a Christian but not church member
  • I’m a follower of Jesus but not part of the institutional church

My friends and acquaintances who think along these lines describe Jesus as an itinerate preacher who challenged the institutional church. After all, Jesus’ most famous sermon was called the “Sermon the Mount,” not the sermon in the synagogue. Jesus’ most famous act in the temple was not offering a sacrifice but throwing out the money changers. Thus, they say, Jesus was spiritual but not religious.

I usually respond to such claims by asking what they make of Luke chapter 4, where there are four separate references to Jesus’ teaching in synagogues. In fact, verse 16 states this was Jesus “custom.” I explain that this makes sense, given Jesus said that He came to fulfill, not abolish, the law of God (Matthew 5:17). This same law includes the 3rd commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8).

According to Jesus, being spiritual means being religious. The two are inter-related and intertwined.  

(This devotion is part of a series called “A Second Look,” written for the congregations of the Ohio District – LCMS.)

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