Religion, simply defined, is a system of beliefs, not a to-do list. Relationship is easily defined. If we believe that Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus (keyword: believe*) then doesn't that make it a religion? Look, don't be afraid to call it a religion. Stop making up words. The book of James calls us to be religious.
I'm just gonna say it. Christians these days are scared. Not all of them. But many of them, and many of whom are in the spotlight. They don't want to speak truth for what it is. It's part of this new culture of "relevance" and "tolerance" that has crept into the Church and deceived some of Her members. It's another means of watering down the gospel message and to make Christianity more appealing, as if what it offers, eternal glory with God, wasn't enough.
Millennial Christians are doing much to break barriers between the Church and the world in attempts to mitigate the "us vs. them" mentality. I rejoice with that. However, we must remember that Jesus knew what he was talking about when He said that we would be hated for our Kingdom representation (John 15). We must show love (no Bible reference because there are too many so let's just agree) but we must NOT compromise truth. Remember, Jesus was the epitome of love but He never compromised truth. We must communicate truth in love to the world but if they do not receive it we must not blame ourselves. That said, here we go.
"Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship."
This has got to be one of the most false and potentially damaging phrases in the Christian blurbosphere. It's false, given the egregious syntax nightmare and potentially damaging because of the false undertones in it's intended message. In this post I will approach this phrase from two different angles and hope to ultimately reveal how this is not just me splitting hairs but rather me trying to surface a subtle habit that many have adopted– a habit that is doing NOTHING good for spiritual growth.
Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship is akin to me saying, I'm not a human, I'm a man. Regardless of my brilliant millennialesque reasoning or trendy rhetoric behind this human vs. man claim, it does not change the fact that I am indeed both human AND man, though some may harbor dissent on the latter. My male identity is merely a specification, not a contradiction, of my broader identity of being human; that is, the two truths are not mutually exclusive.
Let's zone in on the first clause: Christianity isn't a religion
Really? Is it not? Because given the consensus of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, dictionary.com, and Wikipedia (the final authority on all things scholarly), religion is simply defined as a system of beliefs typically involving a supernatural power. So to say otherwise begs the claimer to cite their source given it's contrast to the majority of wordy authority. That said, even if we subscribe to the basics of Christian theology such as the reincarnation of Christ, his death and resurrection, the Trinity, virgin birth, salvation through grace, Calvin was a heretic etc. then we have inadvertently orchestrated a religion...and that's okay! Also, I was being facetious about Calvin, I'm just trying to keep this post fun. So, can we now see how Christianity is indeed a religion?
"Okay, John, so technically the phrase doesn't make sense but who cares, you know the intent of the phrase!" (common response from my millennial adversaries)
Well, if there's supposed to be an intent revealed in this phrase then phrase it in a way that reveals the intent, not in a way that supposes it's antithesis. Especially when it's a one-or-the-other kind of a thing. It either is a religion or it isn't. There's no in-between. You either like coffee or you don't. Don't say, "I don't like coffee, but what I mean by that is that I do like coffee." Just put your big kid pants on and say it like it is.
(Also, there's really no reason whatsoever to say you don't like coffee. You do like coffee. You do. And if you don't just be still and say nothing of your anti-coffee heresy.)
Now the second clause: it's a relationship
It's actually not. And that's okay, too! To be fair, the relationship aspect of Christianity is indeed paramount to the point where, without the relationship, the entire institution would crumble. So at best we can say that Christianity is about a relationship by which we are justified through Jesus, sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit ultimately to the point of our glorification by the Father in heaven. See that? I just squeezed all three persons of the Trinity into one sentence, man I'm good! Sorry– back to the blog. Actually that's all I had to say here.
So now that we've seen how repulsive this phrase is to the english language and to anyone who subscribes to even the basics of logic, I will move on to explain why this phrase is very damaging to our growth given the attitude of it's unhealthy undertones.
The intent of the phrase
To be fair, the intent of this phrase Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship is to communicate that Christianity is not about doing things but rather about walking with Jesus. Okay, so regardless of the fact that the phrase in no way communicates that we still run into a big, big problem. The problem is that this intent communicates that we don't have to do good things and for whatever reason those who align with this thinking have drawn a false dichotomy between doing good things and being in a relationship with Jesus.
YES, dear Christian, you DO have to do good things.
Granted nobody is saying that your good works earn your salvation. I believe, as do most Christians, that salvation is by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9) but that is a separate conversation than doing good works on earth.
Let's hone in on this false dichotomy of "good works" and "being in a relationship with Jesus." Truth is, if you're living life as a Christian but you're also living in sin while producing no fruit (which would be evident in your works) you most certainly need to re-examine your faith. If you're in a relationship with Jesus then you will be doing good works and if not then you will feel deep conviction from the Holy Spirit.
Just like when a husband is frustrated or for whatever reason unenthusiastic about his wife, he still maintains his love (verb; service) for her because that's what love does. And in the circumstance that he wrongs her, he will feel greatly distressed and should desire and pursue reconciliation. Thankfully for us the one who is being asked forgiveness from is God, who invites us all to come before the throne of grace with boldness and confidence to receive healing.
We must always compare our theology to scripture. So I challenge this concept that we don't have to do good things to I John 2, John 14, and the entire book of James. Look 'em up.
Some of you may feel inadequate because you don't feel like you're doing enough "good things" for God. That is the lie from the pit of Hell. God see's you as beautiful as you have been credited the righteousness of Jesus. There is a difference between feeling guilt and feeling conviction. Guilt says "look what you've done." Conviction says, "you're better than this, now be restored." It's at these times where we repent. Such a scary word, huh? Our culture has made it pretty scary. The Bible on the other hand says otherwise.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. –Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV
That's a very comforting representation of repentance. It's God seeing his children who he has adopted into royalty with him and welcoming them into his courts to be restored.
penguineWhen it comes down to it, it's all about sounding sexy. We like to be trendy. We like to have cool buzz phrases. That's all good and well until our creativity trumps truth. This phrase pairs "religion" with "legalism." But "Christianity isn't legalism, it's a relationship" just doesn't sound sexy at all. So we replace it with "religion" to make it sound like Christianity isn't like all the other religious junk out there. Do we really have to make up false trendy buzz lines to prove this? Are our actions not enough!? Oops, I forgot, we don't have to do things. Look, religion is not legalism. Legalism is legalism. Religious people are not legalistic. Legalistic people are legalistic. Let's call stuff as it is.
"Religion says do, Jesus said done" is a catchphrase among signatories of this entire issue. It's a phrase that sounds great but holds no relevance. Again, hippos. "Jesus said done" is in reference to Jesus' words on the Cross, "it is finished." That, my friends, was talking about the sacrifice that had to be paid for our salvation. That was the "done" that was done. This is completely separate from our responsibility to do good while on earth. Otherwise Jesus would be in staunch conflict with the verses that tell us to "do" good things.
"JOHN, WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER!?"
It matters because when we become casual in our faith then we become casual in the Great Commission!
It matters because when we become lazy we assume an irreverent posture towards God and neglect the efforts and victories of those who have gone before us!
Christine Caine leads one of the most influential anti-human trafficking organizations in the world. Do you think she always felt motivated!? Of course not! But she didn't quit.
William Wilberforce fought for legislative victory for 28 years in order to see slavery abolished. He did this for God! You think he wanted to give up after many legislative failures!? Of course he did! But he didn't.
The greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength!
THAT IS WHY IT MATTERS!!
To be honest I couldn't think of a decent conclusion to this piece. So I'll call it here.
For the gospel //