Jesus Is More Interesting Than Anything ‘Religion’ Has to Offer

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”
Matthew 23:27

The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
John 5:15-18

Looking back over the span of about 50 years, I think I can say with confidence that one of the larger impediments that served to keep me away from pursuing a personal relationship with Jesus was a tremendous amount of confusion caused by the often-interchangeable use of the terms “religious” and “Christian.” These days, if a person refers to me as “religious,” I understand he or she intends no harm – quite often the contrary – but that term brings with it a sting for me, nonetheless; I don’t much care for it.

"Christ and the Woman Caught in Adultery" by Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1565)

“Christ and the Woman Caught in Adultery” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1565)

For the record, I have zero interest in being known as a “religious” person, and it has taken me a number of years to heal from a strong aversion to religion and a deep, corresponding distrust of religious people. One of the more unlikely events over the course of my lifetime is that I awoke to the fact that I am, in spite of myself, a “Christian.” It would seem as though it’s entirely possible to belong to God and yet be wary of religious people – it was, after all, the “good, religious people” who conspired to murder my Lord Jesus.

I think that wariness comes from the fact that, even from an early age, I intuitively understood that all of mankind’s efforts to somehow become acceptable in the sight of God were futile. I could see the depravity in my young soul clearly, and the equally-depraved workings of the people all around me – even those who called themselves believers.

Nowadays, I have the language to wrap around a settled conviction that God is “wholly other” and that not one of us has a prayer of attaining God’s holiness through our own efforts. And yet, what’s interesting is that it’s the words and actions of people claiming to know God that most often gives us a glimpse into the heart of a “religious” person.

  • Religious people often reveal a divisive nature, while the actions of authentic Christians tend to reveal at least an attempt to reconcile.
  • Religious people hijack airplanes loaded with jet fuel and crash them into buildings, slaughtering thousands. Christians build the hospitals to which the survivors are rushed.
  • Religious people like to argue passionately about theology while ignoring the very real needs in the community around them. Christians see the deep brokenness all around them and take steps to help address it.
  • Religious people are very interested in how their faith is perceived by others; “Can I have a tattoo, if it’s the ‘right’ tattoo?” “Should I be drinking beer in public?” and so forth. Christians care progressively less about how they appear to others and progressively more about how they minister to others.
  • Religious people can make all sorts of distinctions between people, favoring those who seem “more likely” to belong to God. Christians tend to live out of an understanding that they have no definite knowledge as to who among us truly belongs to Jesus…and thus they are “freed up” to care for everyone, whether they are perceived to be a believer or not.

One of the more painful things I’ve also come to realize about religious people is that, sometimes, I am one of them. We all have a tendency, if we aren’t vigilant, to become a Christ follower who thinks he or she has somehow attained a position of superiority and can therefore begin to make distinctions between ourselves and others as we look at the brokenness all around us. It’s an insidious (and often subtle) disconnect from Jesus.

The more I meet and talk with people, the more I become convinced that “religion” tends to get in the way of people actually coming to know the Person of Jesus. Jesus warned us not to put artificial boundaries between Himself and others (Matthew 23:1-4), but on the contrary, to spend our lives bringing more and more to Him, the only source of true life.

Jesus, help us all walk faithfully alongside You, to participate in Your work of saving grace in the lives of others, and to beat back the repulsive inner religious man when we find him at work within us. Help us to live our faith as Christians…not as religious people. Enable us to present You to people as You truly are…and then trust You to do the rest.

Secular movements…try to avoid myths and rites. How shall Christianity face them? Shall Christianity tell them: Come to us, we are a better religion? Shall we make of the Christian message a success story, and tell them, like advertisers: Try it with us, and you will see how important Christianity is for everybody? Some missionaries and some ministers and some Christian laymen use these methods. They show a total misunderstanding of Christianity. The apostle who was a missionary and a minister and a layman all at once says something different. He says: No particular religion matters, neither ours nor yours. But I want to tell you that something has happened that matters, something that judges you and me, your religion and my religion. A New Creation has occurred, a New Being has appeared; and we are all asked to participate in it.
Paul Tillich, The New Being (1955)

3 Comments

  1. Sherrill Schlimpert said:

    Wow, Warren – right on. Am eamiling this to a friend who is really down on Christians.

  2. Sherrill Schlimpert said:

    emailing!!! That is – in a hurry to do it!!

  3. speakupif said:

    Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father, but through me.” John 14:6. Each one of must learn what that means. John 14:15 “If you love me, keep my commands.” John 15:12 My command is this: Love one another as I have loved you.” Matthew 5:43-45 “Love your enemies. Pray for those who treat you badly.” James 1:27 ” James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” For me, doing these things are not always easy, but I pray as the publican mentioned in Luke 18:13, God be merciful to me, a sinner. Lord I believe, help my unbelief.
    Mark 9:24. Even though I came to Christ at a young age, I was caught up in the “Hollywood” fantasy world, which inflicted many wounds. This is epidemic today. Warnings abound in Scripture. Pray for people to take them seriously. Jude 1 and 1 Thessalonians 4 for example. http://www.biblegateway.com

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