I know people who hate religion. They see it as the scourge of the earth, a trigger for division, extremist violence, hatred, war. I cannot say that I disagree. Jesus was no fan of religion.
So do we have religion or relationship, and how do we know the difference?
Religion is Us doing something:
- giving alms
- paying tithes
- praying so many times a day
- teaching, leading, serving
- doing good deeds
Religion is also Us not doing something:
- not drinking
- not cussing
- not fornicating
- not adulterating
- not stealing
Religion keeps score of what we do or don’t. If we don’t measure up, it says: “You’re out. God’s done with you!”
Jesus is less religion and more relationship. In the Bible, He is forever doing things with and for people that put Him on the outs with religion:
This earned Him the wrath of religious rule keepers as it still does. For Christ followers, life is not about what we are doing so much as what He has done for us to restore our relationship with God.
Here’s the story: We were dead in trespasses and sins, separated from God. We earned the just penalty sin deserves: death. Jesus stepped in with a sinless life, dying a brutal death in our place on a Roman cross. Atonement had to be made because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Jesus then got up from the grave, having paid our sin debt in full and bridged us back to the God who made us. It was God’s plan:
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
And what are we to do: Believe.
“Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:29)
Belief leads to relationship; and the basis of relationship is love. We spend time with the One we love, listening to Him, learning and becoming more like Him. We are changed, transformed into His likeness.
The basis of religion is behavior. Doing matters more than relationship.
Luke tells the story of a woman named Martha who welcomed Jesus into her home. Her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His words while Martha was distracted and busy serving alone. She got angry that Mary didn’t help. Mary was focused on relationship with Jesus. And He said Mary had “chosen that good part.”
Jesus never says religious service is bad. He does say we can do it and yet have no relationship with Him.
In Matthew 7, Jesus tells this story:
“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
Jesus did not say they did not do those things. He said He never knew them. No relationship.
Religion is service without relationship. We enter into right relationship with God if we confess our sins, repent and turn to Him with our whole hearts. We become sons and daughters of God, family.
Beware of “serving” God without knowing Him. “A servant is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever.” (John 8:35)