The Religion About a Relationship

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?

And the Bad News Is…

A few weeks ago in the post, Jesus Came Preaching Bad News, I wrote that Jesus came preaching both good news and bad news. Many people in his audience were all ears and found out the good news was waaaay better than they had expected. But most of them hadn’t expected any bad news, and it sounded waaaay badder than anything they (or we) wanted to hear.

What’s the Big Deal?

The good news Jesus announced was that people can have a right relationship with God through Him. The big deal trouble was this: people couldn’t receive the good news about Jesus unless they believed the bad news about themselves.

Here’s one reader’s comment on what the bad news was:

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive because it dares to trumpet truth claims such [as] what Jesus himself said when telling his hearers, I am the Way, the Truth, the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14: 6). – Jim

Here’s another:

The BAD news, in my opinion and probably the opinion of anyone who looked at the true meaning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was the rude, sudden awakening of the fact that the way they had been attaining spirituality, no matter how pure the motive, was no longer the status quo! – Kathy

Pretty thoughtful comments from Jim and Kathy. (And thanks you two, for contributing). That Jesus dared to claim to be the only way to God is an offensive truth claim. That the gospel challenges our perception of how to attain spirituality is a rude awakening.

The Offensive Truth & Rude Awakening

If the good news is that anyone can have a right relationship with God through Christ, then the bad news must be that no one naturally has a right relationship with God. (You might want to let that sink in…)

Jesus came preaching that the default state of the human heart is that it doesn’t have and can’t achieve a right relationship with God on it’s own. To Jesus’ Jewish audience 2,000 years ago, that claim was shocking and offensive – and they killed Him for it. To His modern, individualistic audience, that claim remains offensive – and we ignore Him for it.

We ignore it because we don’t like what it says about us. We don’t want it to be true that:

  1. We’re a lot more out of touch with God than we know.
  2. We’re a lot more spiritually dysfunctional, broken and needy than we’re willing to admit.
  3. We’re incapable of earning God’s approval and acceptance.
  4. We’re wasting our breath trying to achieve a right relationship with God through our good deeds.
  5. We’re wasting our lives trying to fix our brokenness with behavioral self-improvement.

The Wonderful, Amazing, Saving Power

Have a nice day!

Have a nice day!

But this bad news about us is what makes the good news about Him so wonderful. That Jesus makes us right with God when we were not right with God makes the gospel amazing. Without the bad news, the gospel is a powerless sentiment – God’s version of “Have a nice day.”

But with the bad news, it is the saving power of God.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” – The Apostle Paul (Romans 1:16-17)

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