Jesus, Not Religion

By Jonathan Fashbaugh

How many times do we hear Christians talk about their unsaved friends or family members and say, "Soandso isn't a Christian, but he's a good person"? It's a sign that, at some level, they don't truly believe that the only path to salvation is Jesus, and that lack of conviction is a symptom of a religious mindset that has not made room for the mind of Christ. The fact that the official religion of the United States is Christianity, but that our nation is filled with people who are not true Christians, is a testament to a church body that is largely just going through the motions. Our church leaders need to point out the elephant in the room that is the Church by discouraging religion and calling the church to true, abiding relationship with Jesus.

What Relationship Is and What Ritual Isn't
John 10:10 — "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
Christ came to give the church life — not ritual. We are called to worship Jesus, not the Church itself, and not some religious regimen.

Rituals can make humans feel good. The dedication of time and observing strict guidelines gives people a sense that they are reaching out to a "higher power." This is why ritual is part of so many religions across the world but, for Christians, ritual without a relationship with Jesus can lead to spiritual complacency and can lead to a lack of true spiritual fruit in our lives.
John 14:6 — Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
Jesus said, "I am the way." He didn't say that perfect church attendance, or a certain kind of music, or a certain way of praying was the way. He said that He was the way.
Revelation 3:20 — Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Here Jesus presents salvation as a person opening the door to their home and welcoming in a person — not an institution. He's illustrating relationship; not a ritual. In verse 19 of Revelation chapter 20, Jesus calls us to be zealous. The greek work is zēloō. It means to have warmth of feeling for or against: affect, covet (earnestly), (have) desire, (move with) envy, or to be jealous over. Zealous is very different from other words like fastidious, pedantic, or other words that might describe what we associate with following rules and regulations.

Righteousness and The Gospel

Jesus also said in Matthew 5:17-20:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
But, we know from the rest of the New Testament that we cannot work, or by ritualistic, religious living, obtain righteousness of any sort. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were no more righteous than the criminal who was crucified next to Jesus on Calvary. Yet, that criminal is in Heaven now because, in the last moments of his life, he started a relationship with his Savior.

Church leaders who want the best for their congregations must challenge the faith of their members. They must ask them to look inward, and they must not be afraid to regularly call their members to relationship with Jesus. It should not be easy for people to attend the church without hearing the gospel of Jesus, and be called to salvation. This has incredible value, even for believers who have already accepted Christ. It reminds us of what is important. Of course, messages about the walls of Jericho, the Good Samaritan, and other staples of the Bible have great value, but it is critical that church leaders bring it home to Jesus. We need to connect the dots for the congregation. If we don't, we run the risk of making it easy for people to come to our churches week in and week out, thinking, "Well, as long as I am a good person and keep going to church, watch my swearing, and don't break any of the 10 commandments, I'm doing okay."

Jesus doesn't want "okay" lives for his sons and daughters. He wants abundant life for us. He wants lives lived in zealous passion for His glory. He wants his sons and daughters to live in freedom from the bondage of sin, and none of this will happen without a personal, day-in-day-out relationship with Jesus — not religion.
Matthew 23:27 — Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which indeed appear beautiful outside, but inside they are full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.

Image Credit: Cassidy Lancaster; "Untitled"; Creative Commons

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Published 2-28-12