It really gets under my skin when people say they hate religion or that religion is all bad/evil. I get it, I do. A lot of “religious” people have done absolutely horrendous things in the name of religion. From the Catholic war on Protestants and vice versa, to the Islamic war on Christianity and vice versa, to a million other lesser-known “religious” acts of violence, there is a long history of evil.
So yes, I understand where people are coming from when they say that.
But according to Scripture, those people aren’t truly religious- they’re monsters.
Okay, the Bible doesn’t call them monsters.. but it does call them sepulchers (Matthew 23), which refers to dead things, which means zombies, so yeah. Monsters.
(^That was a joke, I do not actually believe in zombies… even after the stories of people eating other people’s faces that went viral several years ago.. actually.. maybe I do?)
There is a movement around thanks to the video, “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus,” that has captivated a lot of people with the idea that Christianity is entirely relationship-based. I agree with most of what he says in the video, but I can’t get past the dominant theme that religion is evil and anti-Christ.
Several weeks ago, when I shared my heart on worship, I mentioned Satan’s sneak attack method. He proposes a bunch of truth, sneaks in a tiny lie, and we fall for it because the truth blinded us. I can’t help but think about that when I see this video, or when I hear people (with disgust in their voice) say, “I’m not religious, I’m relational.”
Here’s the actual truth: if you have an honest relationship with God, you will become a religious person. Let me explain.
The KJV version of the Bible references “religion” or “religious” in six verses.
“Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.”
In this verse, Paul and Barnabas persuaded religious people to continue in the grace of God, as in “keep doing what you’re doing because you’re on the right track.”
“Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”
The context for this verse is Paul speaking to other Jews. Please notice he didn’t say “my old religion,” but rather “our religion,” as in “still practiced religion.”
“For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”
In this verse, religion is shed in a negative light, not because of the religion itself, rather because of the actions Paul took in the name of religion. As I mentioned before, it is because of people’s actions that religion is generally regarded with disdain, and such was the case in Paul’s time.
“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
This is the final passage of Scripture that references religion. Here, religion is regarded as something good, something righteous, unless it is done wrong. This verse speaks out against those evil acts done in the name of religion and then goes on to define what religion actually is.
The key difference between oddball “religions” that primarily use religion as a cover up for horrific acts of violence or use it as a method to make money off of people with guilty consciences and true religion is relationship. Relationship builds the desire for a walk of integrity, a walk full of good works, a walk in religion. Relationship and religion are not contrary to each other; they complete one another.
Don’t just take my word for it, let’s look at that verse again.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
– James 1:27
This Scripture is pretty straight forward- religion is good because at its root, it is loving and caring for people in need and staying separate from the world. All of this is the direct result of having a relationship with Christ.
The true tragedy is when people do things in the name of religion and cause a hatred for God because of it. Paul addressed this very thing, people trussing up religion and then acting against it, in Romans 2.
Now if you call yourself a Jew, and rest in the law, boast in God, know His will, and approve the things that are superior, being instructed from the law, and if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light to those in darkness, an instructor of the ignorant, a teacher of the immature, having the full expression of knowledge and truth in the law— you then, who teach another, don’t you teach yourself? You who preach, “You must not steal”—do you steal? You who say, “You must not commit adultery”—do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob their temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written: The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.
-Romans 2:17-24 (HCSB)
The issue is not with religion itself, rather religion that is participated in entirely for the sake of desiring to be superior to those around you. Evil done in the name of relationship is the result of putting the cart before the horse.
Your walk with God must start with a relationship, it must start with a sincere desire to please Him, to separate yourself out of the world for Him, and then true, pure, undefiled religion will begin to form.
For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter…
-Romans 2:28-29 (HCSB)
Once that circumcision of the heart takes place, when you have cut yourself off from the world and attached yourself to Jesus, then you will find it in yourself to love the people in need and to care for them. It is that love (relationship) that will define you as His, and it is your works (religion) that will build up your reward in Heaven.
He will repay each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality; but wrath and indignation to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth… affliction and distress for every human being who does evil… but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good…
-Romans 2:5-10 (HCSB)
What are your thoughts on religion vs. relationship? Do you agree that they are hand in hand? Please keep your comments kind. 🙂