Before I was saved, I thought going to church was all about religion; what did I know? People who went to church practiced their religion every Sunday or that is what I thought they were doing; I thought that was what it was all about. Religion is defined by Webster in this way: A belief in a divine or superhuman power/expression of such a belief in conduct and ritual. In conduct and ritual sounds like a way of behavior done in a repetitive manner. I think that says a lot about religion; a ritual is doing something the same way, as an act of observance, every time it is done. Well, that all sounds good concerning the Christian faith but is that all there is to it. Yes, Christians attend service every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening and in most local churches, the order of service remains the same. This is done in a very religious way or it is a ritual. But, is this what Christianity is all about? Isn’t there more to being a Christian than going to and from church services? What, then, lies at the heart of Christianity if there is more? The answer is, relationship. If you are married, you and your spouse have a relationship. In most cases, you knew each other for some time before you married and you learned many things about each other. At the time of your marriage, the two of you were in a well grounded relationship, knowing each other very well and thus bringing love into the relationship. Now, think for a moment about what that marriage would be like if there was not any knowledge of each others likes, dislikes, emotions, background and all the other stuff you should know about your spouse before you marry. Think of it this way, two people meet, they don’t know each other, they don’t spend a lot of time together, they don’t share anything about themselves with each other, they are simply just two people occupying the same space. Is there a relationship here? But, they respect each other and they meet all the legal obligations of the partnership (lack of better term) and they practice what is required according to the agreement. Is this religion or relationship? The latter is religion; they know each other, they believe each other exists, they meet all legal obligations of the marriage or partnership and they respect each other. The former is a relationship and the key ingredient is love. The two have taken the time to really know each other, become involved in each others lives and when they spend time together, it is not to fulfill legal obligations, it is out of love for each other. Remember, a relationship is built on love.
Now, think about the Christian life. When we were saved, we committed our lives to Jesus, we took Him as our savior and we began a relationship built on love. We realized He loved us enough to die for us; that is love. We don’t have a legal partnership with Jesus, we don’t have obligations to meet in order to get stuff from Him and we can’t buy or earn anything from Jesus. Salvation is free and we are in this relationship based on love, the love of God, an unconditional love. Jesus does not set any conditions which must be met to continue the relationship other than the mutual love He has for us and we have for Him. He will continue to forgive us when we ask and He never changes His mind about us. So, religion, you might say, is based on a continuing practice, meeting certain criteria or requirements and all without emotion or love. A relationship is based on love, that’s all, nothing else, just love.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Cor. 13:4-7 NKJV www.biblegateway.com
Religion Based On Works
We have established the difference between religion and relationship and now I want to elaborate on why religion is not what serving Jesus is about. There are some in the Church who believe and are sure that if they don’t continue to do certain things in their lives, they will loose favor with God. I spoke with a man the other day who was telling me about reading his Bible each day. I had shared with him how I read the Bible every morning before I leave the house. He was excited to hear that and said he did the same. He then proceeded to tell me years ago he had lost a job and was really upset about it but then he started to read his Bible every morning and he then got his current job. He told me he was afraid to stop reading the Bible for fear of something else happening, like loosing his job. I told him he was reading it for all the wrong reasons and he became somewhat agitated before I could explain why. In his case, he continued to read his Bible because he was afraid that something bad would happen if he stopped. This is a form of superstition; he was only reading the Bible to keep from loosing his job again. It is also a form of religion, doing something in a repetitive manner and achieving the same results. I wanted to tell him to read his Bible in order to know Jesus better, to learn more about Him and what He expects from us as Christians and, of course, how much He loves us. I have often heard the Bible referred to as a big, ongoing love letter from God. So, the man was reading for all the wrong reasons. I know if I’m running late some morning and I don’t get a chance to read, Jesus loves me as much as when I do read. My relationship with Jesus is not based on me reading or not reading His word every morning. This becomes a type of works religion and the thought process is, “I have to read the Bible every day so Jesus will love me!” That is wrong. While I encourage Christians to read their Bible every day, I know if they don’t, Jesus is not going to cast us aside. That is a works and legalism mentality. Chuck Smith expresses the idea of a legalistic do’s and don’ts approach to serving God,
“How beautiful it is to experience the freedom and joy of a love relationship with God! Yet how sad it is that there are so many who insist on relating to God in a legalistic way. Their righteousness is based on what they can do for the Lord instead of what He has already done for them. They carry around a huge list of ‘do’s and don’ts’ to keep them bound to God.
Chuck Smith, Why Grace Changes Everything, p. 7 Harvest House Publishers
That sums up what I was trying to say. We can do nothing to earn God’s love or the free salvation He offered to us all. The apostle Paul told the Ephesians this very thing,
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Eph. 2:8-9 NKJV
God knows if there was anything we could do to earn our salvation, we would brag and boast all about it; we would take all the credit for it. There are those religious organizations which believe we must do certain works as well as Jesus’ death on the cross to receive salvation.This degrades and denies the price paid by Jesus on the cross. He paid the price in full for our sin, no works or magic words or rituals can bring the free gift of salvation to us. Some within the Church believe they must be over active in a ministry to keep on good terms with God. Whatever the ministry is, they believe there is no room for error, absenteeism or lack of participation and they are extremely critical of those not involved. Sometimes they just become so involved in the work of the ministry, they loose sight of what the real purpose of the ministry is. This reminds of Martha in Luke 10,
But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” Lk. 10:40-42 NKJV
Religion is always going to be based on a works type system because it will require a person to be engaged in a ritualistic repetitive practice. This is what their faith is in, doing stuff to be accepted by God and it is totally unnecessary. This, at times, can also lead to a legalistic approach to doing ministry. There are many religious cults around the world which require members to dress a certain way, have established prayer times that must be attended, ritualistic worship practices, secluded from the rest of the world and many other legalistic approaches to what they do and the way they live. Jesus has given us the liberty to exist in the world among those who are not saved. This is how we reach them, we go out among them and tell them about Jesus. Jesus has set us free from the bondage of sin and has sent us into the world as witnesses for Him, not putting legalistic restraints on us, but freedom and liberty based on a relationship with Him.