There’s a story of a young Buddhist monk who sat outside his temple two thousand years ago, with his hands clasped in prayer. He looked very pious and he chanted ‘Amita Buddha’ all day. Day after day he intoned these words, believing that he was acquiring grace.
One day the head priest of the temple sat next to him and began rubbing a piece of brick against a stone. Day after day he rubbed one against the other.
This went on week after week until the young monk could no longer contain his curiosity, and he finally blurted out, “Father, what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to make a mirror,” said the priest.
“But that’s impossible!” said the young monk. “You can’t make a mirror from brick.”
“True,” he replied. “And it is just as impossible for you to acquire grace by doing nothing except chant ‘Amita Buddha’ all day long.”
Like the young monk, there are many who think they can attain spirituality through mere rites, rituals, and religious routines. It was a problem that Jesus encountered in His day and one that continues to exist.
While the Bible speaks of “pure religion” that is “undefiled” (Jas. 1:27), there’s an abuse and misuse of our religious beliefs and practices called religiosity. Yes, that’s a word.
Religiosity is defined by the Collins dictionary as “affected or excessive devotion to religion… If you refer to a person’s religiosity, you are referring to the fact that they are religious in a way that seems exaggerated and insincere.” It further adds that “religiosity is the quality of being excessively, ostentatiously, or mawkishly religious.”
Religiosity was a problem of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. In His Mountain Message Jesus charged them with charitable giving, fasting, and praying to be seen by others and receive human glory. He called them hypocrites. And instructed His followers “do not be like them” (Matt. 6:1-18).
In Matthew 13, Jesus said the hearts of the religious leaders had “grow dull.” They heard but didn’t understand. They saw but didn’t perceive. They projected a religiosity but did not possess spirituality.
On another occasion, Jesus denounced them with this stinging rebuke.
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”
Sometimes, we can get a clear view of a virtuous quality by observing the opposite. The Pharisee’s religiosity is in stark contrast to the nature of spirituality.
- Religiosity is concerned with EXTERNAL PERFORMANCE Spirituality is concerned with INTERNAL CHARACTER.
- Religiosity is overly concerned with RULES. Spirituality is concerned with a RELATIONSHIP with God and others.
- Religiosity is PRETENTIOUS and FIXED, while Spirituality is PROGRESSIVE and GROWING.
- Religiosity is ARROGANT and CLOSED. Spirituality is HUMBLE and TRANSPARENT.
- Religiosity is JUDGMENTAL and OFFENSIVE. Spirituality is ATTRACTIVE and COMPELLING.
- Religiosity mirrors the mind of the PHARISEES. Spirituality possesses the attitude of CHRIST.
Jesus’ emphasis was on the heart, the inward motivation, not external actions motived by pride and the praise of men. When you read the Sermon on the Mount, you get more than a casual glimpse of what spirituality involves. It goes beyond “the letter of the law,” mere ruling keeping, and outward religious exercises.
W. Graham Scroggie was right when he wrote, “If you appear to be what you are not, you are not what you ought to be.” This raises the question, “Why do you do what you do?
- Why do you attend church services?
- Why do you preach a sermon?
- Why do you teach a class?
- Why do you lead singing?
- Why do you contribute your money?
- Why do you engage in ministry?
- Why do you participate in fellowship?
- Why do you support charitable organizations?
If we engage in these activities to receive the accolades of others and appear religious, then our religion has devolved into religiosity, instead of being directed by spirituality.
One final thought by the prolific author anonymous.
“People are like stain-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out. But in the darkness, beauty is seen only if there is a light within.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman