The (dark) heart of religion…

I’ve liked David Foster’s definition of “religion” since I first heard it: Religion is man trying to boss God around…  During the message last Sunday, I believe the Lord gave me another distinguishing characteristic of religion:

Religion is one believer saying to another, “You can’t be pleasing to God until you are pleasing to me.”

And the truth is that at the dark heart of religion is the need to control — either God, as in Foster’s definition, or other people, as in my definition…

“You’ve got to look like I think you should look… do what I think you should do… read what I think you should read… worship like I think you should worship…”  The list of stuff religious people want to make sure others are doing is endless.

Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:1 that “it was for freedom that Christ set us free…” and that we should stand up to any attempt to put us back into slavery. 

I don’t know about you, but it took me too long to shake off the chains of “performing” and “conforming” to gain the approval of whatever “religious authority” was trying to control me at any given time.  I had to learn – and I’m still learning – that when I came to Christ, I didn’t get a rule book or a to-do-list… What I got was a relationship with a Person who loved me at my worst behaved moment enough to sacrifice His life for me.

“But, but, wh- wh- what about obedience?”

Excellent question — the answer to which involves learning the difference between “in order to” and “because of.”  I want to grow in my walk with Jesus, be conformed more and more to His image, and be obedient, not “in order to” achieve some status, standing, or acceptance, but “because of” His loving, graceful pursuit of me.

When we no longer “do to be” but “do because we are,” then we’ll know we’re a little further down the road in our journey from religion to relationship with Christ.

  1. spadinofamily
    March 26, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    I love that quote. I may re-use it.

    “The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome… religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted’. But the Gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure you’re accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference.” — Tim Keller

  2. March 26, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Well said. My “knee-jerk” reaction to your opening comments was just that…Christianity is all about relationship, not religion. Paul and James are talking about works on opposite sides of salvation. We don’t work to earn salvation, rather we do works because of our salvation in Him. Ephesians 5:1-2 says it best. Let’s be imitators!

  3. fiercegrace
    March 26, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I love the Keller quote.

  4. Jon Spadino
    March 28, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    I have something more on this in the following Web Notebook.

    The Gospel is…
    We are more sinful and weak than we ever dared to admit and…
    We are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope.

  5. March 30, 2008 at 11:27 am

    The more I read your BLOGS I realize I like it.

    Performance based Christianity destroys our intimacy with God and each other as we realize we dont need a Savior.

    More From Tim Keller. Check out the link for his complete article

    Implication #2- The sufficiency of the gospel. Second, Paul is showing that we never “get beyond the gospel” in our
    Christian life to something more “advanced”. The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like
    the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the
    minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.
    We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal.3:1-
    3) and are renewed (Col.1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every
    barrier (Rom.1:16-17). It is very common in the church to think as follows. “The gospel is for non-Christians. One needs it
    to be saved. But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience.” But Col.1:6 shows that this is a mistake. Both
    confession and “hard work” that is not arising from and “in line” with the gospel will not sanctify you-it will strangle you. All
    our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel. Thus when Paul left the Ephesians he committed them “to the word
    of his grace, which can build you up” (Acts 20:32)

  6. fiercegrace
    March 30, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Good stuff, Jon, thanks for sharing it.

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