A young person told me not too long ago that he “has no use for religion.” While my initial thought was, “neither do I. In fact, I have less use for it and interest in it than you do,” his comment got me thinking. I have proclaimed for decades that Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship; and, no, I didn’t originate it, nor am I the only one who holds that position.
The word religion commonly refers to some concept of reverencing God, or gods. It can refer to a particular set of beliefs, or a system of beliefs, or set of behaviors revolving around a concept of deity. It can also refer to “any object of conscientious regard and pursuit.” In other words, one can be “religious” about pretty much anything. Frankly, some of the most religious people I have ever known are atheists who fervently seek out ways and opportunities to deny the existence of God. Some pursue science with a passion more intense than that which drives most Christians. Many are aggressively “evangelistic” in proclaiming their message.
Here’s the kicker. The word religion comes from the Latin word “religare,” meaning to bind back, to restrain. It suggests the use of strong force or authority to hold back, prevent, suppress or control.
Jesus said He came to give us abundant life. He said we would find freedom in Him. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul said, “the love of Christ constrains us.” Of the three Greek words that could be translated “constrain,” two hold the idea of using force or entreaty to make something happen, even against nature, somewhat like the Latin religare. The one Paul chose means “to hold or keep together, confine [as opposed to allowing to fall apart], to secure.”
In other words, we are not forced or manipulated or otherwise made to believe in Jesus, we have found His love, and it embraces us, hold us together, and we revel in it. It is a relationship, not a set of rules or beliefs, not a system of beliefs or behaviors. It is not law, it is Spirit and life and grace. Rituals, systems, or methods can be used to help us learn and grow. They may help some enrich and better understand their relationship. But when these things get in the way of grace, when they become laws to live by, they are just dead works without any positive, eternal effect. (That’s why Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, see Gal.5:4).The apostles were willing to die for their risen Lord. Religion didn't make them do that Click To Tweet
The apostles all died for their faith, most by cruel, unthinkable torture. They did not die for a system of beliefs. They did not die to defend a set of rituals, or even a way of life. They certainly did not die just to hide a lie. Do you really think if they had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb they would have allowed themselves to be persecuted, tortured and killed without confessing? They knew the resurrection was real, and they were willing to die for their risen Lord. Religion didn’t make them do that.
So, to my young friend, believe me, while you may say you have no use for religion, no one has less use for religion than one who has experienced the love of Jesus. Do you have any use for love? You will never find deeper, wider, higher, longer love than the love of Christ. You will never find greater, more lavish, more intimate, more liberating love than you will find through Jesus.