Have you seen the wildly popular YouTube video, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus?” Watch it. It’s 4 minutes of well-produced spoken word video describing the author’s view of the essence of Christianity. It has people (about 14 million at this writing) talking about Christianity, spiritual life, and of course, Jesus – which is all good.
Of course the BIG question is the one assumed in the video title, “Is Jesus opposed to religion?” For Jefferson Bethke, who created the video, the answer is decidedly “yes.” I appreciate his perspective, and I love the way he communicates it. He wants to emphasize that really belonging to Jesus, really knowing Him, changes you. And he’s right when he says that when we follow a “DO” religion (as in, What do I have to do to earn a ticket to heaven?), we actually miss God because we forget that Jesus preached “DONE.” As in, “It is finished.” Amen to that, Jefferson!
❯ Either / Or?
When I was a young christian the same theme was taught to me. Back then I heard, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion,” which sounded like a great rallying cry for all that was wrong with “liberal” Christianity. But then I started reading good books by great Christians through the ages, heroes of the faith, really. Giants. And they got me all confused.
Why? Because for them religion wasn’t a dirty word. For them, there was no contradiction between the Christian religion, and having a relationship with Jesus.
❯ What Is a Religion?
So, what is a religion anyway? It’s just a set of beliefs, a Faith, taught by it’s founder and held by its adherents. This means a religion can be summarized by a creed. It can be explained to non-believers. It can be taught to children. It can be translated into different languages. It can be defended against opposing philosophies. And it can be applied to a way of life that harmonizes with those beliefs.
❯ Christianity Is a Religion
So by this definition, Christianity is a religion. It’s the religion Jesus taught when He claimed that He alone could secure God’s grace for us by His life, death, and resurrection. For example, He told His disciples on the night Judas betrayed him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) That is, by definition, a religious statement.
Similarly, the Apostle Paul taught us that certain beliefs about Jesus were at the very heart of Christian religion: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Here, Paul takes specific historical claims: Jesus died, was buried, and was raised. He invests them with religious meaning: Jesus died for our sins. And finally he says that this: is of first importance. In other words, Christianity is nothing if these foundational articles of religious belief are false.
Another example comes from the pen of the Apostle John, “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” (1 John 3:23). Here we are told what to believe: in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and how to live in harmony with that belief: love one another.
This is what a religion is all about: What to believe; and how to live accordingly.
❯ Christianity Is a Relationship
But (you knew this was coming), Christianity is also a religion about a relationship. It’s the religion that promises believers will experience God’s grace, presence, and joy through a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s what those giants I read called communion with Christ.
The Christian religion is experienced day-to-day as communion with God through Christ’s Spirit within us. The nature of that communion is God’s loving acceptance and lordship on one side, and our joyous surrender and obedience on the other. And that relationship is extended through the same Spirit so that believers experience communion with one another.
❯ But Not That Kind of Religion
But how can such a relationship exist? How does it happen? Is it something I can pull off? – No. It is a work of God. Through Christ. On the cross. By His resurrection. It is finished. I cannot create it. I cannot earn it. Period. That’s why WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) can be a dangerously misguided question. WDJD (What Did Jesus Do?) is a much more important question.
The Christian religion is the basis on which average sinners like me can enjoy a relationship with Jesus. It’s the basis, of first importance, not the antithesis.
So to me, religion isn’t the real enemy of Jesus; bad religion is – the kind that believes personal effort can achieve the righteousness (moral perfection) required to earn God’s acceptance.
But then, that kind of religion can’t even be called Christian.
Anyway, Kudos Jefferson, for drawing people’s attention (14 million and counting) to Jesus. May your relationship – and religion – always grow in Him!
What do you believe about Christianity as a religion and/or relationship?