Most people think that Christianity is a religion, so much so that I hesitate to even call myself a Christian. I would rather say that I am a Jesus-follower. I have experienced both sides of this coin. There was a time in my life that I prayed a prayer and decided I was a Christian. I went to church, and if you asked me, I would have told you that I was a Christian.
But I didn’t know Jesus.
The thing about religion is that it will work for you for a while. Consider this:
If you are lost, stumbling in darkness, with no peace in your life, religion will help. You will gain new friends, a new place to hang out, a new set of rules, a feeling of belonging to something, and maybe some order to the chaos of your life. Really, think about how many people turn to gangs, cults, Islam – all for the same reasons.
Unfortunately, none of these communities, including the Christian church, can actually bring us salvation, healing, deliverance, or peace. That’s why so many fall away from the Christian church. It promises a lot that it can’t deliver. Eventually, we will discover that those new friends aren’t perfect, the new place loses its attraction, the rules are too hard to follow, the feeling of belonging doesn’t last, the chaos of life returns, and we still aren’t happy.
Let me share with you 7 reasons why I believe religion doesn’t work.
1. You can go to church and never know whom you worship.
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands (Acts 17:22-24, NIV).
Or you can come to Christ and know Him as the Lover of your soul.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:7-9, emphasis added).
2. You can be aware of sin, but not your own.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
Or you can humble yourself before God and allow Him to change you.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to you unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:1-2, 10).
3. You can know the Word and not walk in it.
Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what is says, is like a man who looks at himself in a mirror, and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1:22-24).
Or you can allow the Word to transform you into the likeness of Christ.
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11).
4. You can pray to God but never seek Him.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full (Matthew 6:5).
Or you can seek God’s presence with all your heart.
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple (Psalm 27:4).
5. You can try to follow the rules but never follow Jesus.
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?…These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matthew 15:1-3, 8-9).
Or you can follow Jesus and be led by the Spirit.
Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments'” (Matthew 22:37-40).
6. You can look right but not be right.
But mark this: there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:1-5, emphasis added).
Or you can seek to have a heart that honors God.
Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).
7. You can sacrifice your time and money and never surrender your life.
Does the Lord delight in offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22).
Or you can offer yourself in surrender to the One who holds you in the palm of His hand.
Therefore I urge you,brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).
No, religion doesn’t work, but Jesus does. The church is the place for broken, messed-up sinners to come together in God’s grace and mercy and build one another up in love as they worship Him with all their hearts.
We’re not perfect here. We can’t fix your problems. We don’t have all the answers.
But we know Someone who does.