Religious or Christian?

As humans we seem to have an in-built tendency to religiosity and rule-keeping, often leading to a false notion re God, if not idolatry. Paul gives a good example of this in speaking of the religiosity of the Athenians in Acts 17:16ff. Contrast this with his magnificent introduction to the ‘good news of grace’ in Rom. 1:1-7, and his ‘pride’ (litotes) in v. 16-17, viz. the ‘gospel’ that declares man’s salvation arising from a revealed and alien righteousness, reckoned to believers by God, “a righteousness that is by faith from first to last…” This is why in his Galatian Letter he argues so cogently against Pharisaism (rife in the contemporary Church);  we began by faith in Jesus, we continue by faith in Jesus, and we finish by faith in Jesus! 
Just think of the emphasis on ‘performance’ and ‘excellence’ promoted directly or indirectly in so many churches today, all to the neglect of gracious relationship with God through Christ. 
Here in South Africa, with its nominal Christian heritage, people will often say to me, “But I’m trying to be a Christian…” 

There is such a thing as ‘a Christ-Less Christianity.’ So many ‘Christians’ are still trying to satisfy God by what they do. When will they fully ‘please’ God? When is ‘enough’ enough? (Rom. 3:23). 
This kind of Christianity is joy-less and severe. It produces insecure and defensive Christians, because they look to themselves rather than to Christ. The ‘good news’ is that Christ has dealt with our past, present and future! (Rom. 5-8). 
Does this mean irresponsible living? Of course not, for the simple reason that we live from relationship and gratitude, certainly not from religious performance. Think of the parent who parents by rules rather than relationship, and of the child who obeys parental rules but fails to love his/her parents… 
Further good news is that as we live for God and others out of relationship, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit Who indwells us – again by grace. We are able to obey because we have been given the Spirit! (Rom. 8:1-4 especially).  

Therefore we do not focus on ‘rules,’ church activitiessheer discipline, ‘not sinning,’ etc. but on the risen Jesus and His ‘good news.’ We bring ‘good news’ to a sad world, we live out of a love-relationship with Jesus. How do you and I come across to non-Christians, or even fellow-believers? Religious, pedantic, judgmental or gracious, generous and accepting? 

Prof. Jack Deere, in his ‘Surprised by the Power of the Spirit,’ tells his story of an encounter with God amid a professorship at a renowned evangelical seminary in the USA. In his book he makes some strong points about Pharisaism in the Church: 

  • As threatening as occultism and the New Age movement are to the Church, there is a greater threat from within the Body:  legalism, pharisaism and enslavement to tradition. (my own comment – whom did Jesus hit the hardest in the Gospels? The Pharisees!)
  • Even knowing the Bible is not the same as knowing God, loving the Bible is not the same as loving God, and reading the Bible is not the same as hearing God. The Pharisees did all the former things, but they did not know, love, or hear God. 
  • Some have even put the Christian life over Jesus. Deere cites seminary students who were converted to a way of life, but not to Jesus. They loved Christian ‘fellowship,’ ‘going to to church,’ giving to worthy causes, etc. However, Bible study, witnessing, caring for the poor, caring for the sick, and spiritual gifts must never replace Jesus. “Jesus is not a doctrine, a theology, an abstract principle, a ministry, a church, a denomination, an activity, or even a way of life. Jesus is a person, a real person. And he demands that we put him above all these good things. None of these things died for us; the Son of God did.” 

2 thoughts on “Religious or Christian?

  1. I don’t envy your working with disillusioned people…be it with church, minister or both!!
    I’m sure you know this but, in dealing with someone recently ( non-christian) who had 5 miilion complicated questions about predestination, evolution, suffering etc etc. i eventually said ” now listen accept the Lord Jesus for who he is and the questions will become molehills!”
    Atheists give me a pain !! They live in fear that Jesus might just be who He says He is !
    The ongoing march to glory for us , with all it’s challenges!! I serve a risen saviour and I don’t have to prove that to anyone 🙂 Blessings to you Erroll

    • Hi Rose,

      Yes, while their are many genuinely disillusioned folk looking for some answers, there are also many who hide behind their questions and objections, some of which you have listed! They do feel threatened by Christ and genuine Christians.

      At the end of the day I guess it’s the life we live that is the most powerful apologetic for the gospel. John Stott, in his last sermon (just a few years ago), made the point that while Christ’s incarnation in one sense was unique, in another sense it is universal in that *we* need to reveal Him to lost people by His incarnational example – see Phil. 2:5-8.

      Have a wonderful day, despite the challenges!


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