When I was a child I attended Christian churches, which, although they preached the good news of the Gospel, nevertheless taught that we had to strive all of our lives to please God and conform to certain rules. So I was taught not to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, visit the cinema or to dance. We had turned Jesus into a religion.
Now we can drink as long as we don’t get drunk, and we can even dance in church. However there is still a risk of encouraging religion by expecting people to conform to our standards and rules.
For two thousand years, we have turned the good news into a religion. The process started with the early church when some were told they needed to be circumcised to really be saved. Others were told that they mustn’t eat meat which had been used as an offering to other religions. Others were side-lined into worshipping angels. Some tried to reconcile the Old Testament law with their new-found faith.
Religion does not work
The fact is that religion, rules, law and legalism do not work. We cannot achieve a life-style acceptable to God on our own. The old law is impossible to keep. Even Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount cannot be followed by willpower.
Religion has totally failed to control evil in the human race and religion will always fail. Wars have been fought in the name of religion. Terrorism draws support from religion. Religion is incapable of solving the problem of poverty, injustice and corruption. Religion can try to limit greed, violence and hatred but it has no solutions for these evils.
The world is crying out for the knowledge that we are not alone and that there is a God who really loves us, and has provided the answers.
The Good News
The good news of the Gospel is that the God of love loved us so much that his son Jesus died on the cross and then defeated death so that his relationship with all men everywhere could be restored. All we have to do is accept the truth of that and live in the good of it. We call that acceptance of the truth ‘believing’ or ‘faith’.
There is absolutely nothing we have to do except believe. We do not have to make a decision, keep any rules, attempt to be good or earn our salvation in any way. Once we try, we are caught up in religion, rather than live in the grace which God so freely gives to us.
What is religion
Religion is mankind’s attempt to manipulate God by trying to do good or be holy by our own efforts. Robert Capon defined it in this way:
Religion is an attempt on the part of human beings to establish a relationship between themselves and something outside themselves – something they think to be of life-shaping importance. (Note 1)
This definition includes organised Christianity, other main-line religions such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. It could also apply to vegetarianism, an obsession with keeping fit, and a belief in ‘Mother Earth’.
Why a follower of Jesus Christ does not need religion
A follower of Jesus Christ does not need religion. The fact is that through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, we have everything we need. We simply have to believe to live in the good of what Jesus did. And even that believing is a gift from God. Religion seeks to conform us to certain standards through our own efforts but God has already provided us with the power to free lives. We do not need to strive, but to simply rest, recognising that we cannot please God by trying to obey rules. We can rest in the knowledge that God loves us so much that he gave Jesus to die for us and then be resurrected that so that we can live.
(Note 1, Robert Capon, Health, Money and Love and why we don’t enjoy them)