I’ve been thinking recently about the difference between religion and Christianity. Often people talk about maybe being religious or not, but still affirm their admiration for Jesus. It is as if being religious comprises a set of righteous or devout activities which either fits them or doesn’t. What they mean by religion is a pseudo version of a faith in Jesus. It’s a faith based upon visiting a religious building and going through some religious activities, sometimes involving singing and sometimes not.
So what is religion and what is real faith? I would argue that religion is about bad people becoming better; faith in Jesus is about dead people coming to life.
One is based upon the saviour but is a twisted, manipulative form of the truth and the other is life in abundance based not upon what you do, but whose help you have accepted.
It is possible for someone to attend worship, hear the stories and pray, yet never know the life-giving reality that is found in Jesus. It’s like walking to the brink of a cliff but never seeing beyond it because of the fog.
Religion is ultimately the idol we use to control the uncontrollable. Religion is the box we have created to confine the divine. Jesus knew and understood this full well, this is why he challenged the Pharisees so much in his day. Lets make it clear, we often speak of the Pharisees as the bad guys, but they weren’t as such. These were people who loved the Lord and wanted to live out the Torah passionately. But there passion for the Torah had become rules for maintaining a connection to God rather than the life changing, fuel it should be and Jesus wanted to shake things up for them
Jesus isn’t about rules but about bringing us life in our death. Where are we dying? An addiction, a broken relationship, lies we’ve been caught telling or those that haven’t yet been found out? It’s in these places of our lives that God wants to be involved in bringing life, and life in all its fullness, wholeness and richness, a life now bursting with joy, celebration in its broadest sense. Jesus calls this being “born from above”.
This is what Jesus means when he told Nicodemus he needed to be born again. His religion was killing him, he was striving to be the best religious leader he could and it was killing him. Jesus tells old Nic that what he needs is to be brought to new life.
So what forms does this religion come in? It’s easy for us to see it in other more liberal or traditional forms of church. We could say it’s more obvious because of the lack of passion or something. But I wonder how much it infects the more charismatic Church too. Have our prayer ministry ‘techniques’ formed out of a desire to control, has our worship, with its big choruses and guitar response songs, grown from a man-made place of creating a religious experience. Is the charismatic Church any better than the traditional one?
Religion is simply a place where humans try to control and box God. Jesus says we need to be born from a new place. A place that revolves less around control, clocking in, saying the right words, looking the part and is instead born from a simple place of faith in Jesus being enough.
Religion is about us trying to be good, more holy and earning approval. It’s about us trying to get good or better at being good. Jesus is wanting us not to focus on being good, but on trusting him to bring us from death to life. We need to stop the doing and start the receiving.
Jesus says your religion will kill you. Stop it, drop it and allow him to do what is needed… resurrection.