I’ve read a lot about religion lately.
The other day I remembered an orange button that adorned my leather purse when I was about sixteen. It claimed something like this:
Jesus is about relationship, not religion.
I recall when I saw it in a gift shop at youth camp, the concept grabbed my heart. It encompassed what I had been learning as a youth reading my Bible. Primarily the book of John, which I felt portrayed Jesus’ love for me the best because it was written by Jesus’ best friend on earth. I longed to spend time with my new friend and live in a way that made him proud of me. I didn’t get that his life for mine really meant just that. His blood covered over my sin. There was nothing I had do about it except accept it and be grateful.
But I grew up in an age of religion. Big time.
Right and wrong were about being right, and therefore someone else being wrong. Being right meant someone else had to be wrong. Good guys and bad guys. Church goers and “heathens.” Oh, I knew what the Bible said about grace and all that, but it also had plenty to say about not sinning. I took that to mean that the less I sinned, the more right I was. Which naturally meant other people who sinned more than me were wrong. Wasn’t that the standard?
No, that’s just plain dangerous thinking.
Does that mean I learned not to sin? Nope. I was pretty messed up and did a lot of foolish things based on my messed up perspective and my rebellion. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to get it right. Fighting to be right left me frustrated and hurt others as well as myself. Until I learned the simplicity of repentance. That coming clean about my stuff, all of it, with complete honesty to Jesus and those I hurt is the only way to freedom. But that’s not religion.
When God created people, he wasn’t starting a religion.
He wanted a relationship with us. And each other in the same way he, in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), enjoys relationship in heaven. He is love, therefore he longs for us to love him and others. He even tells us that those are the greatest commandments. Makes sense that if we recognize his love for us and love him in return, he will give us the ability to love everyone he created.
His ultimate showing of his love was to come to us, giving himself up as a sacrifice to make a way for us to still be in relationship with him even when we choose to sin – to cut him and others off. Because let’s be honest; we’ve all had thoughts of wanting to do harm to someone at some point in our lives even if we haven’t actually followed through with it. And at some point, haven’t we all decided that our ways or plans were better than God’s?
On that basis, we need God’s love and forgiveness in order to have a right kind of relationship with him and with others.
The problem with religion, whether it’s Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism or Mormonism (name any you want here), is they are all man’s way of trying to get to God when God already made a way for us to be in a relationship with him through Jesus. Even as Christians or followers of Christ, we can cling to our particular denomination and its traditions rather than the sacrifice Jesus made for us.
But we don’t need to figure out a way to make ourselves right.
God did that for us. So all of our rituals whether they be worshiping a particular way or bowing down the right number of times or wearing a specific outfit do nothing to create a relationship with the creator of us and our world. We miss the point if we focus on those things. We miss loving God and each other. Especially when we insist that our way is the right way. Jesus said that he is the way. He is the truth. He is how we live rightly loving one another. And he is the only one who gave the ultimate example and lived again to prove it.
If we chose a relationship over religion, how would that change the way we live?