Here in the UK, I often get asked if I am religious, and I’m not sure what to say. I am not embarrassed by being a Christian, not at all, I am concerned about what the person asking the question thinks a Christian is. You see Christianity has sometimes not been the best advert for Christ, in fact it has been an absolute shocker at times, and some people have a very negative opinion of Christians and Christianity. Yesterday I approached someone whom I wanted to pray for and he said to me that he used to be ‘religious’ but not any more. I assured him that I wasn’t ‘religious’, but I believed that prayer does work, so he graciously allowed me to pray for him. This got me to thinking about what ‘religious’ means, and are we as Christians ‘religious’.
John 9:35-41 says: “Jesus heard that the proud religious law-keepers had put the man who had been healed out of the place of worship. He found the man and said to him, “Do you put your trust in the Son of God?” He said, “Who is He, Sir? Tell me so that I can put my trust in Him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him. He is talking with you.” He said, “I do put my trust in You, Lord.” Then he bowed down before Jesus and worshipped Him.
Jesus said, “I came into this world to say what is right from wrong. I came so those who do not see might see, and those who do see might be made blind.” Some of the proud religious law-keepers who were with Him heard this. They said to Him, “Are we blind also?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin. But because you say, ‘We see,’ you still are guilty of your sin.”
This is a tough bit of scripture to swallow. It separates ‘law’ and ‘religious behaviour’ from the freedom that Christ offers. The issue that this raises is the question of what is religion and does Christ oppose it. Now, there are books on that, and I’m not going to solve this issue with one blog post! I just want to explain some of my thoughts. I am not saying that religion is bad, or that Jesus hates religion or anything like that, I just want to clarify the situation for those who are confused.
Religion is a broad word for any faith or belief that has been formed, according to an online dictionary it is a fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects. This could mean just about anything. The problem with this is that each person has made up their mind as to what religion means to them. This description would include fortune tellers, in fact it would also include sports fans. Yes, you heard me, do sports fans not believe similar beliefs (about their team), meet together at an agreed time to do the same activities (watch their team)? Do they not even worship the players and sing songs about how great they are while (tithing) money to their team through the season ticket prices? Makes you think doesn’t it. I will go as far as to say that we all believe in something and we all worship something, it just depends on what that something is.
So why then is Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and a few others labelled with the title of religions, but other beliefs aren’t? You see that is what people generally mean by religious, they simply are determining if you have beliefs other than that of the general society. Now if someone asks me if I am religious because they want to establish if I am a Christian, then yes I am, but if they are asking if I follow a set of rules, then no. You see Jesus was trying to make the point here that He was the way to God, and not following a bunch of rules. If you’re unsure of this, just go and read Galatians. Pick a passage, Paul repeats himself so often in that book, you actually get bored reading the same thing over and over again.
The problem is that even Christians, who should know better, get caught up in rules and regulations that they feel the need to follow to keep God happy. We put rules in place ourselves (with the intention of helping), but then we spend more time trying to follow them than having a relationship with God and enjoying the freedom that He offers. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not an invitation to a free-for-all sinning session, but I want to make it clear that we are a new creation in Christ and we are not still under the law like they were in the Old Testament! We need to start doing works because we want to do them because we love Christ and are free in Him to use the authority that He has earned for us, and not because we think that it will somehow earn us a place in heaven or that God won’t love us if we don’t.
The word religious has a negative connotation because of how we as Christians have acted. I think it is time that we either shake the title of ‘religious’, or we re-brand it by being strong, Spirit-filled, born again, miracle workers that act in Jesus name. Then if people say are you religious, it will be with optimism and excitement, rather than pity.
Thanks for reading.