It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.” I’ve read that phrase in numerous places, and I’ve also had many people repeat those words to me personally. It’s usually mentioned when I’m asking about religious background or church attendance.

What do people mean when they say that? I can’t read minds, of course, but their follow-up comments have helped me understand what some of them are thinking.

For example, many will point back to a church situation that offended them. Perhaps another church attender (or a pastor) was unkind, unethical, or hypocritical. Maybe the church’s policies made no sense to them.

Jesus gave us a helpful warning that applies here. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2). Many people use a far stricter standard in evaluating churches than they use anywhere else. Think about it this way. If you are poorly treated at a restaurant, would you refuse to ever go to any restaurant again? Of course not! It seems hypocritical to apply that standard to church attendance and to nothing else in life.

The phrase “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious” is also a way to deflect any serious discussion about eternity, forgiveness or what God is like. Those are subjects these people apparently don’t want to talk about. It is intended as a conversation stopper. They don’t want to defend their beliefs, and they don’t want to have them challenged. If they start talking about what they believe, they know that they can be held accountable. Down deep, I suspect that most of them know that their understanding of God is shallow, and they don’t want to face that fact.

Here is the underlying problem. Saying, “I’m spiritual” means “I am the final authority about spiritual things.” It is a way to declare that truth comes from within us, not from outside of us. In other words, we make ourselves the final authority of what God is like. When we do that, we are actually putting ourselves in the position of God. That was the main sin that Adam and Eve, our first parents fell into. The Tempter told them that if they acted independently of God, they could become their own god (see Genesis 3:5-6).

Making ourselves the final authority in spiritual matters is fatal because “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick…” (Jeremiah 17:9). Life, real spiritual life, does not come from within us because we come into this world without any spiritual life: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air…” (Ephesians 2:1–2).

Thankfully, God Himself has already provided the solution to our spiritual deadness. Real spiritual life can only come from the Creator Himself. As the Scripture says, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

There are lots of religions out there. Almost all of them rely only on mankind and human rules. Given the brokenness of our world, are you surprised that they are filled with broken and hurting people who often disappoint? The answer, however, isn’t NO religion. The answer is TRUE religion, and that is what God has revealed to all of us in the Bible.

Only Jesus claims to have the power and the solution that can meet our need for spiritual life. “When you were dead in your transgressions… He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13–14).

There is nothing but discouragement when we are separated from the One who made us. Why not admit to God what He already knows? You have no spiritual life apart from Him. Why not turn from your sin and trust in the Cross of Jesus Christ for the spiritual life you need?