Religion Never Works
Tired of the religious proud? Tired of being held up to some sort of unwritten rule or compared with "so-and-so" who goes to church 3 times a week and throws it in your face whenever you see them? So are we. There is a famous saying that goes, "the single greatest cause of atheism is the Christian who honors God with their lips, but acts otherwise in their actions." Today I heard the statistic that only 10% of churches in America are growing, and only 2% of that 10% are new converts. In other words, the American church is dying - and I think we "churched folk" may have something to do with it.
I was fortunate enough to give a talk a week ago at church entitled, "Religion Never Works." In it I defined Religion as either the Old Testament law, or anything that human beings have added to the Bible itself. In essence, God has told us A,B, and C through the Bible, but man has added D, E, and F on his own accord. If you have been a victim of religion, or simply witnessed it in other people; I understand, and I sympathize. Religion as defined above leads to 1 of 3 things: 1.) Pride, 2.) Spiritual Death, or 3.) Frustration. Allow me to explain.
God has the following to say regarding religion (in fact the book of Galatians is packed full of plain advice on this subject):
* God judges the Heart, not the external appearance (Gal 2:6, 4:9-10). One does not have to follow strange rules or practices, observe certain days and special feasts, or get everything perfect in order to gain salvation.
* We cannot Earn our way to Heaven (Gal 2:20, 3:10). If we are relying on our own ability to follow the 10 commandments in order to prove ourselves worthy to God, then the Bible tells us we must not slip up even a little. If we have ever told a lie, then we have broken "the law" in God's eyes. If we have ever coveted or lusted after anything, we have broken the law. We are - in effect - powerless to secure salvation through our own works or actions. Being a fairly nice person isn't good enough.
* Religion can turn into Pride (Matt 23:6, 23:15). When Jesus was on earth, the people that REALLY ticked him off were the religious proud. They were called the Pharisees and the Saducees. Listen to what Christ says about people who act pious on the outside, but endorse the spirit of bondage and hatefulness on the inside, (Matt 23:27) "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean."
So then, now that we know what religion can do in our lives and in the church, what can we do to stop it? Essentially I believe the Bible commands us to do a number of things. We are to stay humble, stay in Christ, Love God and other people, and live by the Holy Spirit. We are saved by Faith in Jesus Christ alone. Not by trying really hard to be good, or by going to church as much as possible, or even by working in the church or teaching Bible study. It is by accepting Christ and being baptised that we gain the privilege of going to heaven when we die.
You will note, by the way, that going to church and teaching Bible study, etc are all great things. It's just that doing good things and being really nice to people isn't God's only criterion. If it were, then Jesus would not have had to die on a cross for humanity. And one more thing. Some have argued that because we are saved through Faith alone, we can throw out the Bible and any moral code therein. Here is the key difference between religiosity and Faith: we love God, so we obey Jesus (and his commands), we don't obey his commands, and then earn his love. Big difference. Religion doesn't work... Jesus does.
I'm sorry if this article has offended anyone. I am simply trying to convey the good news that the Bible teaches. If you are currently judging someone because they aren't living up to your religious expectations; please stop. If you are currently bad-mouthing other world religions or denominations; please stop. Instead offer love, and point people to Jesus. If you are reading this and are even remotely curious as to what all the hoopla is about, perform a search of this blog for the article "So... How Am I Saved?."
It's up to the people who attend church to actually "be the church." Remember what is at stake, and take it seriously. If you are saved today, it's because God extended you the grace to choose Christ, and probably because there was someone who took the time to help you and answer questions. Be that person.
The link below will get you to the audio of my sermon message, the same one that I have outlined above. There was an opening skit at the beginning of my talk, but it isn't included in the audio. It is roughly 24 minutes long, if you have time, click on the link below; and then select 'Religion Never Works' and give it a listen: