Religion. I am just going to come right out and say it, God HATES religion. If that sounds too strong, you don’t have to go any further than to explore the life of Jesus and his interaction with the religious crowd. God’s original intention was to foster and maintain a relationship with his creation, mankind. God so desired a right relationship with us, He gave everything to restore that relationship. What would you give to make sure your most important relationships were sustained? Would you give your life? That is exactly what HE did, for you, His son or daughter. For you, he cut through space and time and history to get to you, his precious creation. Let that sink in for a minute. The God of the universe pursued you with all he had to get you back. Do you know of anyone else in your life who has done that? And the most amazing part is, He did it all with the hope you would say yes, but in his infinite and inexplicable love, he doesn’t force you, he allows you to choose to say yes or no. But no matter what you say, it had no bearing on his decision to come after you, your heart, the very essence of you and where he placed the very desires of life.
Now, before we go any further, this is NOT a hit piece on denominational differences or disagreements among brethren as to the interpretation of scripture. What I am talking about is the rigorous placement of rules and regulations created by organizations and structures under the guise of Christianity that they use to control or argue from a place of self-righteous authority in order to attempt to persuade you to submit to their vision of Christianity.
The very essence of the mission of Jesus Christ was stated very clearly. Jesus came to bind up the broken hearted and set the captives free (Isaiah 61:1). But like any clear mission statement, there must be a reason behind it, The Why. Jesus said, so that you may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). If, this is the mission of Jesus and the Why behind it, and it is, all of which is encompassed in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus; then what is religion doing but adding to and on top of us additional rules or regulations that generally cause strife and steal the very abundance of life Jesus came to give us?!
Over and over again, Paul writes about the gospel, the good news. If the news is truly good, then should it not be enough? Why is more added onto us? To be fair to us today, this was a problem from the beginning of the ministry of Jesus and the one of the very first issues in the new church. Sidenote: the early church was called “The Way.” I absolutely love that phrase, because it reminds me that the Christian life is not just a set of beliefs, it is a way of living, radically different than the world. Most days, I believe the Church in America has lost its way and we desperately need to get back to The Way. I digress.
Jesus held his most fierce criticism for the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees. Before we go off and bash the Pharisees, I would be lying if I did not include myself in that group. Only within the last year have I realized how much of a Pharisee I have been. Wanting to follow a set of rules, knowing all along I am saved by grace through faith alone that there is nothing I can do to earn more of God’s love. Oh how my heart has been set free. I can attribute my new found freedom to my disdain for religion. Real, authentic Christianity is a way of living, a true understanding of who you are in and through Jesus. No rules, no levying on regulations, rather living for HIM with a true desire to honor him with my life. Can you feel the fresh air fill your lungs with hope and truth as you ponder on that thought? I can feel the hope flowing in my soul.
The early church faced that same dilemma. The first Christians, who were all Jewish, could not displace themselves from their religious past and understand why it was not a necessary requirement for the new Gentile believers to not follow Jewish laws and traditions, the very things the Pharisees had taken and expanded and that which Jesus had been preaching against. Jesus was only trying to get the Pharisees to see that they had replaced their hearts with rules which had taken God’s place in their lives, leaving no room in their heart for him. Jesus knew this would be an issue, so he called Saul, a Pharisee of Pharisees and defender of religion at all cost, unto himself and out of the religious fog. He gave Saul a new name, Paul, and a new heart. Amazingly, Paul became the Gentile’s greatest ally and helped mend this dilemma between religion and freedom through his letters and life. One of Paul’s greatest writing is 1 Cornithians 13 1-13:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
May we strive valiantly to love and turn from religion by going deeper and more intentionally in our relationship with Jesus. If God is love, and HE is, then love must be our first action. To bring love and healing and freedom to as many as God brings to you, through the mission of Jesus, is the most non-religious act we could ever hope to do. Love is the light that cuts through and lifts the fog of religion.