Hey, I know what you are thinking. And I agree with you. I am just as tired of the religion versus Jesus conversation as you are. I mean, how many ways can you milk a cow (don’t think too hard about that)?
And, let’s be real, at its very core Christianity is a religion. By definition, religion is “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
You see, saying religion and Christianity are two sides of the coin is theoretically true, but it’s not true in reality. It’s true on paper, but not in life. It’s like saying Duke (or Wisconsin) will win the National Championship in basketball because it has the best team on paper. Everyone knows stats and conclusions based on paper don’t win National Championships.
The same is true with Christianity. Christianity is much more than a set of beliefs used to worship God. Christianity is about a person, and his name is Jesus.
Religion breeds wars. Jesus breeds love. Religion says try harder. Christianity says stop trying. Religion says reach up to God. Christianity says God reaches down to us. This is why another post about religion versus Jesus is necessary. We need to be reminded. Often. While Christianity is a religion on paper, it is much more than a religion in reality.
Maybe you have drifted towards religion. Maybe you have always lived there. Maybe you have been hurt by religious people masquerading as Christians. Maybe you want to know how to love God more intimately and follow Jesus more passionately. Regardless, the dividing lines between religion and Jesus are clear.
Here are 9 reasons Jesus hates religion (and you should too).
1.) Religion sees people as the enemy. Jesus sees sin as the enemy.
Religion turns every argument and disagreement into an “us versus them.” Religion doesn’t allow for dialogue or open communication. Righteousness is based on knowledge and works, so righteousness is a product of self, not God. And when righteousness is a product of self, everyone must think like you. It breeds pride and arrogance. This is why religion causes wars. The more someone disagrees with you, the more offended and upset you become. Eventually, the anger and pride pour over into persecution and even murder.
But true, authentic Christianity has never started a war. It has never killed another person. Jesus didn’t come to draw battle lines between people. He came to draw battle lines between God and Satan. He came to destroy sin. Because sin is the enemy, not people. Too many times Christians fight the battle against the wrong enemy. Jesus loved people. All people. Even those who hung him on a cross (Luke 23:34).
Any action, thought, or decision that doesn’t view sin as the enemy is fake religion.
2.) Religion says showing grace is dangerous. Jesus says, “I know.”
“I preached 15 years before I ever mentioned the word ‘grace’ in a sermon.” That statement was told to me by a man who preached at a church where I worked. I think about the magnitude of that statement often. Mostly because I am not much different. I go seasons in teaching where I don’t mention grace either. Here’s why.
Grace is scandalous. It’s like a wild animal that can’t be tamed. Except the animal is full of love, mercy, and forgiveness, not huge claws, sharp teeth, and a big appetite. But religion doesn’t care. It just sees something uncontrollable. And religion doesn’t deal with uncontrollable. It’s too dangerous. Even if the uncontrollable is God himself.
So, religion keeps grace in a cage. Religion puts conditions on grace. It can only be seen during business hours. And if the weather’s bad, don’t even bother. This is how God intends Christians to use grace, right?
Wrong. Grace is unconditional. Grace is uncontrollable. Think about it. God totally exposes himself and makes himself vulnerable because he knows this type of grace is the only thing sufficient to truly transform hearts. Nothing else will work. True grace has the potential to be abused, but without this layer, it wouldn’t be grace. It wouldn’t transform. And it couldn’t save us.
Without the scandalous grace God offers and Jesus models, we are left with lifeless, “follow the rules” religion.
3.) Religion grades righteousness on a curve. Jesus grades righteousness on a cross.
True story. In college, I took a Calculus class graded on a curve. My test scores were 25, 52, and 67. That’s called flunking in style. But here’s the beauty of a curve. My final grade in the class? B. Needless to say, I signed up for the same teacher for my next math class. You see, with a curve you don’t actually have to pass the class or know the material. Just know enough to be average.
With Jesus, however, righteousness is measured by the cross. When righteousness is graded on the cross, everyone looks strikingly similar. Murderers. Candy thieves. Liars. When you realize the cross alone is the standard for righteousness, you will run to it and praise God for taking your filthiness and replacing it with his perfectness. And you will encourage others to run with you.
With God there is no curve. There is only a cross.
4.) Religion makes God the boss and you the employee. Jesus makes God the father and you the son.
Religion is a like a contract. Contracts have conditions. Do the right things, you are fine. Do the wrong things, you will be looking for another job. There is no intimacy or relationship. Often times, there is no dialogue. Just do your part (act right) and God will do his (allow you into heaven).
Jesus says God is your father and you are his son or daughter. Children don’t have contracts. I have two boys, and they are welcome at my house as long as I have breath in my lungs. I don’t care how far they go off the deep end. This is why Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). God not only allows his children to come home if they abuse his goodness, he throws them a friggin’ party! A party!
Now, that sounds like a God I want to serve!
5.) Religion says only listen to, attend, and watch “Christian” things. Jesus says look for truth everywhere.
Religion says anything that doesn’t have Jesus written squarely across the building, song, or movie is sinful. So, only go to Christian schools. Listen to Christian music. Watch lame Christian movies. And go to church events. And I am not against any of these things. I praise God for Christian schools and music.
But with Jesus there is no such thing as Christian and non-Christian schools, music, and movies. It’s interesting that many Christians say a sign on the outside of a building doesn’t make a church. Yet, these same Christians (myself included) turn around and say a school or movie is Christian because “Christian” is somewhere in the title.
Schools and music become Christian when Christians are present and truth is proclaimed.
Schools and events become Christian when followers of Jesus are present. Music becomes “Christian” when truth is present, even if the singer isn’t “Christian” (Phil. 1:18). Christians like to create distinct lines between secular and sacred, but those lines aren’t anywhere in the Bible. Neither are the terms.
This means we need Christians everywhere. Secular schools. Music. Movies. “Christian” schools. Law firms. Hospitals. Everywhere. God doesn’t create lines between “Christian” and non-Christian. Everything he creates is good. And every inch of the earth he wants to restore.
6.) Religion is fueled by fear and punishment. Jesus is fueled by love and mercy.
“The problem with fear-based Christianity is we only obey when the fear is present. Love, however, produces lasting joy.”–Jefferson Bethke
Religion uses fear and punishment as primary motivators. “You better do all the right things or God’s wrath is waiting for you. Come to Jesus or you will burn in hell forever.”
Religion paints God as an angry, spiteful cynic who sits around with the angels waiting for someone to screw up so he can turn them into salt or something.
But Jesus’s life and actions were driven by love. You see, what makes God amazing is not his infinite power. What makes God amazing is he chooses to love relentlessly even though he has infinite power.
I get angry (holy anger, of course) when I think about the way many preachers drive people to God through manipulation and scare tactic. And once people are scared into Christ, every decision is filtered through whether or not God will strike them dead.
I wonder if many Christians (myself included) will have to answer for not erring on the side of love instead of fear. Fear creates lifeless religion. Fear creates Christians who only want God so they can escape hell. And eternity with God is not a place for those scared of hell. It is a place for those who love God.
With religion, there is no need to take risks. Maybe go on a mission trip once in your lifetime. But, generally speaking, just do the right thing. Religion is very practical. It makes sense. There are no surprises. Five steps to salvation. Church the same time every week. Religion doesn’t ask much from you. It doesn’t deliver much either.
But Jesus? If Jesus had a middle name, it would be “Unpredictable.” Jesus kept everyone on their toes. He ate with tax collectors. He scolded the religious people. He interceded on behalf of prostitutes. He claimed to be…(wait for it)…God.
And ultimately God died on a cross. For me. And you. Now that’s radical.
8.) Religion says if you follow God, he will bless your life. Jesus says if you follow God he will give you life.
Religion promises to prosper your life. Jesus promises to give you life
Religion says if you behave, God will give you prosperity, a new house, and the hot guy or girl across the street. And Americans love to get stuff. Look no further than the two most important days on the Christian calendar. Easter and Christmas. Ironically (not really) these are also the two most materialistic days on the calendar. Jesus is overshadowed by Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? Why does the God of the universe have to share his birth, death, and resurrection with presents and candy? What the frick? How would you not conclude prosperity is dependent upon behavior?
Jesus came to bring you life, not stuff. And to follow Jesus for any other reason than new life is to belittle the cross. You see, all of humanity was dead before Jesus. No life. No hope. And this is what Jesus came to give. New life. This is the greatest gift you could receive.
Houses, cars, and bank accounts are never totally yours. Once you die, someone else gets them. But new life is a gift that lasts for eternity. I’ll take the latter. Every time.
9.) Religion says come to church and serve. Jesus says go into the world and serve.
Two things circulate over and over in my mind when it comes to the church. The first is Jeremiah 29:7. “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” The second is this question first posed in a book I read several years ago. “If your church closed its doors today, would the community even know (or care)?”
Religion doesn’t care about either of these. Religion says come to church. Serve in church. Protect your house. Don’t worry about anything outside the walls. And certainly not those bad sinners outside the walls. While I think it’s great to serve in church, this isn’t where the church’s responsibility ends.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells Peter the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Now, I am just thinking out loud here. But it seems for gates not to prevail, something (or someone) must be in a position to knock them over. This is where God’s people come into the picture. Christians are to go into the darkness and push down the gates of hell wherever they are. This is why the Great Commission tells us to “Go.” There is a direct relationship between the church’s mission of going out and hell’s gates coming down.
This post is not an indictment on Christians. This post is an indictment on religion. Again, Christianity is a religion on paper. But in reality, Christianity and religion are polar opposites. Jesus didn’t go to the cross so we would follow some doctrines and commands.
Jesus didn’t die on a cross so we could escape the evils of the world and hopefully end up in heaven. Jesus died to give us life. Jesus died to put the scandal of grace and love on full display. And once we experience this scandal, our lives will never be the same.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!