In parts of the Internet these days there is a lot of ranting about religion being the No. 1 problem in the world. That claim is a little dramatic and overblown, when any serious conversation and examination of the issue is hyperbole, particularly when you consider the many social services provided worldwide, freely and open-handedly by those of faith.
Yes, I know that is not always the case. And yes, I know that ask.com places religious deaths throughout history at about 809 million. And yet as a pastor I would be the first to point out that religion has a horrible impact on many lives. I see it daily as people struggle over “should” and “ought” that exceeds the true morality God has placed in each of our hearts, as blurred as that can become sometimes. Or because of some religious bias, a person thinks they have a right to treat another human being with anything other than dignity and respect for any reason, even being religious.
So let’s define religion this way: any philosophical, political, educational, economic or religious system that seeks to control and/or manipulate other human beings contrary to their own best interest. That is done by coercive manipulation and/or social injunctions driven by some arbitrary set of rules or guidelines, which is evil, and produces horrible consequences in lives. And is so very contrary to everything Jesus stood for.
Jesus was not about a “to do” list; when he died Jesus proclaimed that “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Jesus did not mean for us to live the “Christian Life.” This is clearly impossible! In authentic Christianity it is God who lives out the “Christian Life” through us, not a white-knuckled, gut-wrenching act of human effort.
The Apostle Paul clarified that in several places, “…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). God lives out our Christian faith by willing and working through our yielded lives. That is the key, our yielding, God’s will, not ours.
We see the same idea in Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Again, very clear that salvation is a gift, undeserved, and even our supposed good works flow out of our surrender that allows Jesus to work through us, thus making us “His Workmanship.”
Authentic Christianity is all about our relationship with God, not religion. Religion is what we create as humans to fill the “God-shaped vacuum” – a phrase coined by Blaise Pascal back in the 1600s. It is what we do instead of surrendering to a “…God (who) demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
God longs for relationship, but we seem to prefer religion, living out our will rather than yielding to God’s will. One thing is clear; Jesus’ call for authentic believers is to treat all with dignity and respect. That also includes being truthful and honest.
Who did Jesus have the most truthful and seemingly harsh words for? Those words were reserved for… the religious!