Many people balk at the idea of religion. They don't like it's connotation because it is the only way that they are familiar with the functionality of living life with God in mind much less with God at the center. Typically they are rejecting perceived hypocrisy or the perception that religion is just a bunch of rules to live by that cramp their style. Usually when I hear people say "I believe in God but I don't like religion" I respond with the idea that Christianity is about relationship and often, it is as if they have never heard that idea before. That says something at least about the way it is being lived out and presented by Christians today, if not how it is being preached sometimes. I would like to clarify my thoughts on the matter for anyone who may have similar thoughts. I believe you are missing out on a grand thing and I don't want you to. There is nothing sweeter or more exciting than living in relationship with Jesus. That is why I write this.
So, what do we mean when we speak of religion? Some people think of organized religion in general, no matter the belief system, i.e. Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism Mormons Jehovah's Witness, etc. Others, primarily Christians, talk about religion in regards to what makes you right with God, style of worship, structure of service, what you wear, what you eat or drink, what you do, how you think, etc. Still other Christians talk about religion in regards to what you have a right to be free from in Christ and how that relates to being right with God. Typically the last two take you too far in one direction or the other. Either they are legalistic in their efforts to be righteous or they have a distorted view of God's grace and in what ways it makes you free. Then there is relationship. Only one view effectively teaches a biblical approach to a relationship with God from which everything else that leads to holiness is derived.
Of the six faith concepts that I listed in the first list of religions, Islam, Buddhism, Mormons and Jehovah's Witness all have extra-biblical ideas of who their god or "higher power" is and what makes him a part of your life. Islam and Buddhism not only do not have Christ as central in their beliefs but they also do not believe he was the Son of God, fully God and fully man, or that he died and rose again. Mormonism and Jehovah's Witness, while claiming to be Christian sects, both have extra ideas of what makes you right with God and gets you into heaven. Ideas that are outside of the idea that the price Jesus paid on the cross is the only thing that can make us righteous before a holy God in our dreadfully sinful state. That is an oversimplification but it is sufficient to say that they should be considered cults and not Christian at all.
I have heard leaders in Roman Catholicism and Protestantism both elude, if not outright state, that God's mercy is wide and you don't need a definite, consciously aware, fruit bearing relationship with Jesus in order to have eternal life. That somehow people of all religious backgrounds, ignorant of the authority of Jesus as "the only name by which man may be saved" (Acts 4:12), will be reconciled to God in the end. This is unbiblical and heretical. It is a dangerous statement for the souls of those leaders. While Roman Catholicism is predominantly works based, meaning that there are things you must do in order to be right before God, i.e. the cross plus some other religious work, unfortunately it will depend on whom you talk to in Protestantism as to whether you hear statements that suggest what you do plays a role in your salvation outside of the finished work of the cross.
Now, among Christians there are two prevailing thoughts regarding religiosity. One is that your holiness and maybe your salvation is tied to what you do, wear, eat, drink, etc. Sometimes it is even based on whether you exhibit certain spiritual gifts or not. In this you find extreme, man-made, law driven, lifestyles and practices that are generally entirely unbiblical.
On the other hand you find an anti-religiosity process in which the idea of freedom in Christ causes people to rebel against being held accountable for sin in their life. Some will even understand "freedom in Christ" to mean you can do whatever you want and Jesus will forgive you and you will go to heaven because you "believe". Sometimes, in it's most extreme cases, it is the "big sins" like sexual immorality, stealing, things of that nature that have become permissible. More often however, it is the little sins like use of profanity, coarse joking, gossip, bitterness, jealousy or challenging what they watch or listen to on TV that raises eyebrows and causes people to become offended when challenged.. Even though these things are clearly challenged biblically in scriptures such as Ephesians 4:29-32 and 5:4 or Philippians 4:8. Generally these "little sin" people are the truly religious people who go to church and maybe even are involved somehow that are blind to their "little sins" and have forgotten that we are supposed to hold each other accountable for anything that is unworthy of representing the gospel of Jesus Christ appropriately. Their pride rears it's ugly head and they think themselves above such things. Most of the time I think they are not even aware that they are deceived in this thought process. I know this because I used to be one of them. I had lot's of religion but very little relationship. However, you could not have convinced me of that at the time.
In the interest of some form of brevity I am going to break this up into two posts. I will do a part 2, maybe even a part 3 regarding the most accurate and biblical understanding of Christianity which is a relationship with Jesus in which you are responsible for much and yet can do nothing because of your sin except that the Holy Spirit enables you to do it. We will discuss what it means to have a relationship with a holy, just, and jealous God and yet, a God who is also loving in a way we could never be, full of grace and mercy, and willing to extend that grace and mercy to us in order that we may know more of Him and be known by Him (Galatians 4:9, 1 Corinthians 8:3). It is a beautiful and most exciting depiction of the God of the universe that loved us enough to send His Son to die for us.
I pray you will stay tuned and continue reading. Because, relationship with this God has got it all over any kind of religiosity that man can create or rebel against. It is freeing and wonderful. It has much to do with your efforts and yet, it has NOTHING to do with your ability to do anything.
See ya soon.
Love in Christ,