When someone says, “I follow Jesus, not religion”, many people in the Christian camp suddenly gasp, saying, “That’s just you trying to be relevant; Christianity IS a religion!” And yet, this is a flawed perspective that the church has peddled for far too long.
Not a Christian? You’re probably thinking, “OK Andrew, I get it…You’re trying to appeal to my dislike for religion.” Yes, yes I am. You know why? Because it’s true. Jesus isn’t about religion; in fact, he stood completely against the religious leaders of the day.
Although I don’t know much about Bonnie Raitt as an individual, she once said something that is incredibly accurate:
“Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” – Bonnie Raitt
Oddly enough, Bonnie stole this line of thinking from Jesus. Think not? Let’s examine:
“Jesus, overhearing, shot back, ‘Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit.’” – Mark 2:17 (MSG)
Jesus wasn’t here for the religious elite, the law keepers, and the self-righteous; he was here for one simple reason: to deliver us from death. This isn’t simply a call to escape hell, as many pastors proclaim from the pulpits. This is a call to return to the life we were created to live, in perfect unity with the Father.
I believe hell is very real, but it is also very clear in the Scriptures that hell was never meant for humanity; it was meant for Satan and his fallen angels (this gets too in-depth for this post, but for more, read Erasing Hell by Francis Chan). And yet, when we followed the deception of rebellion, we became children of the father of lies and future residents of hell. Hot Topic kids may think this sounds totally cool, but if the Scriptures are correct, that is another deception that can be incredibly tragic.
And yet, hell is not what scares me to know Jesus. I have known far too many so-called “Christians” who have prayed a prayer to escape hell, then go live like hell as if they have a get out of jail free card. It simply doesn’t work this way, nor is that the point of Jesus.
Religion, rules, and regulations were intended to drive us back to the Father of Life to be redeemed. It was never meant to “save” us.
“All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. but sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life – a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.” – Romans 5:20-21 (MSG)
This does not mean that we throw aside moral standards, as every belief system holds to a morality of a sort, including humanism, atheism, etc…What it does mean is that we are no closer to God when we “perform” religious acts, beat ourselves down in condemnation, and live in a self-righteous state. Morality is essential to humanity. Ultimately, your beliefs – whatever they may be – will drive the moral code you adopt.
As a follower of Jesus, it can be summed up in two very simple commands:
“‘Jesus said, ‘‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s law and the Prophets hangs from them.’” – Matthew 22:37-40
Religion says, “You must do this and that to become reunited with God, Allah, etc…” Jesus says, “Receive my grace.” Religion says, “Do these religious acts that we added to the Scriptures in order to be more righteous than others.” Jesus says, “Live in my grace.” Religion says, “You must perform to inherit eternal life.” Jesus says, “My grace is enough to provide you the life you were created for.”
The contrast between religion and Jesus is extremely complex, but I hope you will begin to examine this for yourself through the reading of Scripture, literature, and other influential leaders within Christianity.
Here are a few questions I would ask you to ponder:
1 – What do you believe? Are you a humanist, a Satanist, an Atheist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, or a believer in another system? We all hold to a belief in some sort of existential theory, so to which one do you belong?
2 – Why do you believe what you believe? What is the basis?
3 – Does your belief system require performance for connection to God? Does your belief completely abandon the belief in God? Why?
4 – Are you willing to search the God of Jesus, the God of grace, and the God of life, or are you completely set on your current belief system?