When did ‘religion’ get a bad name?

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{/source}The dictionary defines religion as “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”  How do you define religion?  I am not going to write very much in this blog because I want all of you to take a few minutes and watch the video imbedded in this post.  In fact, you may have to watch it a couple of times.  I do think it is important for all of us to see.  At the time I am writing, this video has been viewed more than 16 million times on You Tube. 

Jefferson Bethke, the creator of this video, explains its origin.  “A poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion. In the scriptures Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it’s core Jesus’ gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights my journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can’t do your own list of rules and feel “not good enough” for God. With Jesus though you have humble confident joy because He represents you, you don’t represent yourself and His sacrifice is perfect putting us in perfect standing with God!” Why do his words and this video resonate with so many people?

When did religion get a bad name?  As best I can tell, it is when Adam and Eve decided to worship and obey what they “believed” was true rather than the One who is truth.  And people have been making that same mistake, since that time.  Famous preachers and theologians have voiced their opinions on the topic of “religion.”  Interestingly, most try to make the same point Jefferson Bethke speaks about in the video.  Father Andrew said, “Religion is not proficiency in the fine art of spiritual knowledge, but just the love of God and our neighbor.”  Billy Graham said, “Religion is like the vaccine that stops you from getting the real thing.”  Martin Luther said, “Do not call yourselves Lutherans, call yourselves Christians.  Has Luther been crucified for the world?”  (Right now…I’m glad I’m a Baptist!)  A.W. Tozer, one of my personal favorites said, “You can find more carnal, unregenerate, self-centered characters who have religion and are sensitive toward it than you can bury in the Grand Canyon.”  (There were many days when my husband, a pastor and theologian, would have liked to frame that quote for some people and hang it on their wall.)  He would sometimes say, “it isn’t the sinners who are getting to me…it’s the saints!”

I promised to be short, so here is the point.  There is nothing wrong with religion…but there is a lot wrong with the religious.  We are all sinners and if anyone hangs out with us long enough – we will give our “religion” a bad name.  So don’t act like religion has made you better than….just show people it has made you better.  Don’t think that religion will get you into heaven, only God’s grace through faith in Jesus will accomplish that.  And don’t think trying to look religious is fooling anyone.  Just watch the video a couple more times.  But go ahead and cut yourself some slack…and then tell the truth.  Don’t let people think you are religious…help them know you are a Christian.  Your best witness isn’t perfection…it is allowing people to see why you need salvation. 

James, the half brother of Jesus said, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).   We all need to try harder, to stay closer to God and walk in obedience to him.  Live a Spirit led life, but live it honestly.  The truth is: we all blow it.  Just look at me…I sinned writing this blog.  I said it would be short and I lied.  And I bet I rack up a few more before the end of the day!  I’m grateful for grace.

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