I hear it almost every day. Religion is the devil.
It's pretty mainstream news: Religion is out and Relationship is in... God didn't come to make life about rules, He came to make it about freedom, right!? Religion is apparently the diaper-rash of Christianity... whenever it flares up on the cheeks of Grace and Truth, church-goers tend to get pretty fussy. That's what I hear at least... It's trending in cyberspace and worming its way behind pulpits.
This isn't some overdue roast aimed at Jefferson Bethke's poem - because taking into account the one-dimensional definition of "religion" that he was working with, He made some pretty stinking great points. But I just can't help that when I read scripture and search the caverns of God's beating heart I'm compelled further and further into a life-style that is flat-out RELIGIOUS.
I'm not saying that we haven't gotten our understanding of what it means to be in relationship with God seriously twisted... because we certainly have. We've got this clean-tomb-complex that's as old as dirt - glorifying religion and not God. We've got our theological pants on backwards if we think that knowing about God automatically means we know God.
I heard it framed up pretty well today, listening to Judah Smith:
Some of you are obsessing over your devotional life and you should be obsessing over Jesus... If you would obsess over Jesus, that devotional life you always wanted would come as a response to what Jesus did for you.
When I was in high school I joked about a devotionally-obsessed life... every time I walked into church and was handed a bulletin, I would remark to the greeter: "I'm really just here to fill in the blanks." There's something eerily gratifying about filling in the blanks in your pastor's sermon-notes... Check-marks on a "good boy" list.
There's also something attractive about a torn-up Bible... penned-up, highlighted, and loved. But what if I told you I've owned a couple of torn-up Bibles... and the only thing it proved was that I knew a LOT about God. And the only thing it translated into was religious pomp. Puffed up, ugly, arrogant, brash, and still muddied with self. If you could have read between the lines you'd have seen that most of the underlined verses on those worn out pages really just said "Yes, I am pretty much awesome."
That kind of religion is... well, putrescent is the word that first comes to mind... But it's also not Christianity. It's not Christianity because at the heart-level it's not about Christ. It's Pharisaism. It's about self. And yes, God hates it with unparalleled hatred. Like, fire, brimstone, and the whole sha-bang hatred.
But religion is not the end... it's just the means. We don't worship the means... we worship the Alpha and Omega... The Beginning and The End. And true religion is the avenue by which we bring Him as much glory and honor as we can muster...
Religion is not just the means, it is an overflowing response to what Jesus did that says, "Lord, whatever you require of me I will do." If religion is a worthy response to Jesus paying for my sins, then sign me up! If devotions will glorify Him and get me closer to Him, then bring it on! If He loves the Church then I will learn to love her too! If doing good things makes Him happy, then I want to make Him as happy as I possibly can.
Sure, religion is about following rules... but consequently, it's not possible to have a fully-functional relationship with the God of Christianity without following His rules... which He makes abundantly clear:
If you obey my commands you will abide in my love.
And despite the remarks of trending Christian culture, following Jesus does constitute a religion... but it's not about the works, the prayers, the devotion... it's about the One for whom the things are done. It's about abiding in His love. The crux of Christianity is not about intimacy with the Holy Bible, it's about intimacy with the Holy Spirit, Father, and Son.
Religion is a broad term for any belief system... but the key to intimacy with God is not simply about believing in anything... it's about right belief in the right God. And right belief doesn't come easy... so press into your Bibles, go to church, pray, and obey God's rules... basically, what I'm trying to say is... get really really religious, but just remember: Religion is fine, but God is better.