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Religion or Christ?

©1995 RBC Ministries  – Grand Rapids, MI 49555 Printed in USA

Religion or Christ? What's the difference?

Is there a distinction worth making? Or is it only a matter of terms? Should we be encouraged that one opinion poll found that 85 percent of Americans consider themselves somewhat or very religious? Should we take a second look in light of the fact that in Jesus’ day He was hated by conservative religionists?

This booklet is written with the conviction that there is a fundamental difference between Christ and religion, and that a study of the Pharisees of Christ’s day can give us insight not only into this difference but also into ourselves.

Martin R. De Haan II, president of RBC Ministries.

The danger of being religious

From the beginning, religion has been dangerous. Long before the Japanese nerve-gas cult Aum Shinrikyo, people of faith have been killing one another in the name of God. Long before Waco and Jonestown, spiritual fervour has created a battleground where some have been saved and others have been lost.

The danger of being religious can be seen as early as our first parents. Adam and Eve’s fatal mistake occurred in an attempt to be more like God. Their error was not that they stopped believing in God, but that they began believing in a way that had been forbidden.

Their first son also tried to trust God on his own terms. The Lord rejected Cain’s bloodless sacrifice but honoured the sacrificial lamb offered up by his younger brother. Burning with anger, Cain became so jealous that he killed Abel and ruined his own life in the process.

The people of Israel also got in trouble for trying to serve and worship God on their own terms. On the threshold of the Promised Land, some Jewish men accepted an invitation from the local women to be guests at a pagan religious event. Within hours, thousands of Jewish people had died (Num. 25).

Saul, the first king of Israel, was no different. He lost his kingdom by making religious errors. When Samuel the priest didn’t show up in time to offer a pre-battle sacrifice, Saul thought it was necessary to offer the sacrifice himself. He was wrong (1 Sam. 13:8-14; see also chapter 15).

Even David got in trouble for being religious. After being confirmed as King of Israel, he called for the sacred chest that contained the Ten Commandments of God. With enthusiasm, he led all Israel in a procession to bring the holy object to Jerusalem. Yet when the oxen bearing the ark of the covenant stumbled, and when a priest named Uzza put out his hand to make sure that the ark did not fall, God struck the priest dead. David reacted with fear and anger. How could he live with such a God? Only after rereading the Law of God did David realize he had done the right thing in the wrong way (1 Chron. 13; 15:12-15).

Why does God make an issue of what we believe and how we serve and worship Him? Because He is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), not ritualistically and ignorantly. God wants to be worshiped from a heart that is responding to the truth about His love and grace.

It may sound complex, but it isn’t. All God really wants is for us to know and love His Son. Good religion will follow (James. 1:26-27).

What's the real difference?

Religion and Christ are not mutually exclusive, but they are very distinct. James, a New Testament writer and brother of Christ, wrote, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Religion can be many good things, but it cannot be a substitute for Christ.

Religion is something to believe and do:

  • Attending religious services
  • Enrolling children in religious schools
  • Showing acts of kindness
  • Avoiding immorality
  • Believing in God
  • Having religious affiliation
  • Being baptized
  • Receiving communion
  • Studying doctrine
  • Reading the Scriptures
  • Offering prayers.
  • Celebrating religious events
  • Teaching religious classes
  • Giving aid to the poor
  • Singing in the choir
  • Being recognized as a godly person

Christ is Someone to know and trust:

  • Someone who is very near
  • Someone who has authority to help us
  • Someone who can forgive us
  • Someone who can declare us righteous
  • Someone who can set us apart for God
  • Someone who can bring God to us
  • Someone who can bring us to God
  • Someone who can include us in His will
  • Someone who can guide us
  • Someone who can teach us
  • Someone who can be our example
  • Someone who never leaves us all alone
  • Someone who can be trusted
  • Someone who can defend us
  • Someone who can intercede for us
  • Someone who can enable us
  • Someone who can respond to our emotions
  • Someone who can feel our pain
  • Someone who can give us joy
  • Someone who can give us peace
  • Someone who can give us hope
  • Someone who can give us love
  • Someone who has proven His love for us
  • Someone who has died for us
  • Someone who rose from the dead for us
  • Someone who can live His life through us
  • Someone who can take us all the way Home
  • Someone who can assure us of heaven

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