Perhaps one of the biggest stumbling blocks towards those entering into a relationship with God through Jesus are derived from religion. From my personal observations, a consistently communicated message towards this topic of discussion is, “I’m not religious, but…”. It appears that being religious is very stigmatized throughout an increasingly pluralistic western society. This is a real tragedy particularly for those living their entire lives afraid of entering into a personal relationship with God under the false impression that religion is somehow a necessary step in doing so.
The crazy reality is that Jesus was actually opposed to and by many of the religious leaders during His ministry (Luke 15:1,2). In addition, the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 11:6; Colossians 2:13; Titus 3:5; Romans 3:22). This crucial doctrine of justification is central to Christianity. Unfortunately, there are numerous churches that either fail to uphold this doctrine, or claim to teach it while practicing something entirely different. Frequently, people(even some church-goers) incorrectly believe that it is church that somehow saves us leading to a very deadly trap of works-based salvation. It is important to understand that we attend church for fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ in worship and to be equipped by the teachings from those commissioned to lead(Ephesians 4:12). Church attendance is merely the evidence of our salvation (the new life begun through the Holy Spirit), and it is never the means by which we are saved. Salvation is through believing in the Lord Jesus Christ Alone(Acts 16:31; also see Romans 10:9; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippines 2:11) ) like Paul and Silas tell one of the jailers whom asks “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”(Acts 16:30)
Christianity is designed to be a relational religion(for lack of a better term) where we focus on vertical and horizontal relationships. Our vertical relationship is between us and God while our horizontal relationships focus on relationships with one another.
In Matthew 15:8,9 Jesus recalls from Isaiah’s prophesy:
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules”. This scriptural text underlines the significance of pursuing Christ with all our hearts rather than through human traditions and rituals. We pursue Him with our hearts through having a faith-based relationship in Him. Furthermore, what is even more concerning with respect to this topic is that sadly religion is sometimes wrongly used as a cheap-replacement for an intimate relationship with God. In fact, it even has the ability to become an idol if you are not careful.
Matthew 5:17 reminds us that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but instead He came to fulfill them. Since it is impossible for any human being to live the perfect life (fulfill the Law), Jesus lived the perfect life so we don’t have to. Being justified by believing in Christ makes us perfectly righteous in God’s eyes. No matter how hard we try to work out our own salvation, we will always come up short.
I pray that people can identify the critical distinction between religion by self-effort and salvation by faith. Not only is it so much easier since by faith we are relying on God’s Mercy and Grace, but it truly is the only way by which we are ever worthy of entering into Heaven. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.