Tag Archives: Religious

It’s Ok To Be Religious

A friend of mine recently shared an article on Facebook. The article gave reasons why the author hated religion. The author of the article was a Christian, so it wasn’t an argument against Christianity. Rather, it was an argument against religion that chokes out faith. I’ve heard these statements many times over the years. In fact, I can remember saying, “I’m not religious, I’m a Christian.”

I understand the heart behind the statement, but I find the statement itself at fault. The believer who says this is usually reacting to the world’s understanding of what religion is. To the world, religion, and especially organized religion or church, is just a list of rules that you have to keep or things you have to do in order to be a good person and get to go to heaven or paradise and receive whatever reward is coming to you. That’s why there are so many memes out on the internet about how a person can be a good person without ever going to a church. I read one recently that said, “You don’t need religion to have morals. If you can’t determine right from wrong, you lack empathy, not religion.” If we allow the world’s definition of religion, then we are constantly on the defensive or may even find ourselves embarrassed to admit that we are a Christian.

Christians who make the statement that they’re not religious are usually trying to say that they’re not legalistic. The bible speaks clearly in both the Old Testament and the New Testament about how a believer is supposed to live. There are clearly things that believers should do and things that they should avoid. That is not legalism. Legalism is when the rules become the object of our zeal and worship rather than the God who authored those rules.

Christians, can we say that we’re religious without being embarrassed or afraid that we’ll offend someone? Yes! We can!  Jesus challenged the prevailing thought on religion by describing what a life defined by religion really is. Instead of telling people that they had to eat certain foods, worship on certain days, wear clothing that looked a certain way and was made from a certain material, Jesus defined true religion by the outward living of the inward change that takes place in a man or woman who truly believes. Don’t get me wrong. Jesus was born Jewish. He went to temple. He honored the Sabbath. In fact, Jesus calls himself the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus lived the rules laid out in scripture. But, he didn’t do them out of worship for the rules. He lived the rules to the glory of his father.

So, what does religion look like in the Bible? James tells us, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)” Paul tells us, “ Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21) In Matthew 5-7, Jesus taught a sermon that would forever change the world. In it, he shows what a life changed by grace received through faith in Him looks like. This is true religion.

So, let’s not think about religion or being religious as the world does. It is not a set of rules that teach a moral standard or make a person good. It is not a set of rules that you follow to earn your way to heaven or into God’s good graces. Instead, it is a lifestyle marked by faith and lived in thankfulness to the God whose grace saved us while we were yet sinners, set us free from slavery to sin, and gives us new life, new hope, and a new record.

Faith First

While listening to a sermon by Alistair Begg, I was struck by a comment that he made. He said, “Religious activities impressed upon the soul of man from the outside in cannot cleanse the conscience.” History is marked by men and women who have tried to reach God through outward activities rather than an inward commitment.

Martin Luther is a famous example. In his attempts to come close to God, he joined a monastery, willingly suffered many physical penances, constantly went to confession and often struggled with guilt in between times of confession, studied, prayed, and did everything he was advised to do in order to be close to God. When that didn’t work, he pursued mysticism, the idea that if he just loved God and loved Him as a father, he would draw closer to God. But, he had a strained relationship with His earthly father and found that he couldn’t relate to God in that way without feeling hostility and hatred. He was even made a pastor and professor in Wittenberg in the hopes that he would find peace. All of the outward experiences and activities he tried to force on himself only led him to realize how far away from God he was.

The change, for Martin Luther, came when he was teaching the book of Romans. As aware of his struggles to know God as he was, he was shocked when he realized that the righteousness of God and faith in God were both gifts imparted to us by God (Romans 1:17). No matter how hard he worked at being righteous and faithful, he couldn’t truly be righteous and faithful without accepting those gifts from God. God gives that gift based on His own righteousness and to His glory. When we realize that God’s gift comes first, that he reaches to us first, it changes things. It humbles us to realize that the gift He gives us has been totally paid for by His Son. No activity we do can earn it. We come as beggars and we receive the King.

In his letter, James tells us that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). Understand this, brothers and sisters, James is not telling us to work our way to faith. God graciously and abundantly gives us faith. We surrender in that faith and live in that faith. That gift of faith comes first and with that gift comes the declaration of our righteousness. It is an inward change, it is new life, it is a new heart, and a new record. From that faith, eternal life flows. It is only when faith comes first that the outward works follow. It is then, and only then, do the religious activities matter. Alistair is right, “Religious activities impressed upon the soul of man from the outside in cannot cleanse the conscience.” Our cleansing comes through the grace of God extended in the saving work of His Son. It comes through our surrender and acceptance of the faith that He offers and the righteousness that He imparts to us. And, finally, our activities flow from that cleansed heart and life!