Defining Religion

Posted: March 9, 2015 in End of Religion
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The distinction between religion and relationship is are not just about new or different ways to “do church,” or learning new techniques or principles for “advancing the kingdom.”

While the role of external religious structures plays a significant role in unraveling the distinctions between religion and relationship, ultimately it is our religious attitudes and behaviors, and whether we will allow God to dismantle and dispose of them from our lives, that tells the tale. And this is not entirely unfamiliar territory. Many of us at one time or another have heard a preacher say, “It only took 24 hours for God to get the children of Israel out of Egypt—but it took him 40 years to get Egypt out of the children of Israel.” And this illustration is exactly accurate. One can walk away from institutionalized Christianity overnight, and yet continue to be a prisoner to religion in one’s heart and mind for the rest of their life.

Jesus did not come to start a new religion or even to perfect an existing one. Frankly, Jesus came to put and end to religion in favor of relationship with him and the Father. Jesus has invited us to a new life—to live in him by the power of the cross that frees us from sin, frees us from shame, and teaches us again how to trust him, so that he can shape our lives as we journey forward.

So what does religion look like? How do we define it? Where do we start?

Well first off, we don’t start with the dictionary definition of the word religion (See What Is Religion?)—That’s not the definition of religion we’re talking about. We’re talking about the definition of the word religion as it is being used in the context of our quote—religion as an antithesis of relationship.

As we continue on this journey, we will discover that “religion” has many interconnected shades of meaning. To share them all at once would be too technical and over burdensome, so I will simply add a new shade from time to time. But as a starting point, let’s begin with this.

Religion is: Attempting to use human effort (engineering, ingenuity, initiative, ability, ambition, etc.) to try to stand approved before God.

The redundancy is deliberate because I want to emphasize the shades of meaning. Although similar, effort is not the same as ability, or is ambition the same as initiative.

Additionally, we can also reveal some of the various shades of meaning by exchanging the phrase “stand approved of God,” with:

• Accomplish God’s work
• Gain God’s acceptance
• Earn God’s approval
• Obtain God’s affection

So now we have…

Religion is: Attempting to use human effort, engineering, ingenuity, initiative, ability, and/or ambition to try to stand approved before God, accomplish God’s work, gain God’s acceptance, earn God’s approval, obtain God’s affection, etc, etc.

I think you get the idea.

In short, religion is substituting human effort (engineering, ingenuity, initiative, ability, ambition, etc) for God’ s ability to carry out his purposes and intentions. (And as I said, I will keep adding and revealing shades of meaning to this definition as we go along.)

Yet Jesus spent almost the totality of his earthly ministry teaching his disciples how to live in relationship with him (and therefore each other) as he lived in relationship with his father. But this is in direct contrast to how they had all been raised in the Hebrew religious tradition. Under the Mosaic covenant, they were all obligated to keep certain rules—eat this, don’t eat that—dress like this, not like that—worship in this place, at this time, in this way, etc, etc.

As a matter of fact, if there could be such a thing as a perfect religion it would be the Law of Moses—it was, after all, written by God. All you need to do is keep all 613 ordinances, and you’re right with God. But therein lies the rub. Although written by God, keeping the 613 ordinances was accomplished by…

… wait for it…

… human effort.

And this of course is the primary point hammered on repeatedly throughout the New Testament. The irony is that we should already know this, but maybe it never really sunk in.

More to come…


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