"Religion is the fashionable substitute for belief."
- Oscar Wilde
A recently released study by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, found that the number of adults who say they subscribe to no religion jumped from 14.3 million in 1990 to 29.4 million in 2001. This represents a 205 percent increase over the time period! According to study directors Egon Mayer and Barry Kosmin, "the present survey has detected a wide and possibly growing swath of secularism among Americans. These are the seculars, the unchurched, the people who profess no faith in any religion." To those who "profess no faith in any religion", I say praise the Lord!
Friends, the Scriptures tell us that through the person and work of Jesus Christ we have been saved from many, many things. He has rescued us from our sins (Matthew 1:21), from perishing (Matthew 8:25), from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40), from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9), and from death (Romans 6:23). Amen to that! However, there is something else He has delivered us from as well that seems to have gone unnoticed and unrealized by many for centuries and that is our deliverance from "religion."
Webster's Collegiate Dictionary traces the word-religion-back to the Latin word religio meaning "to tie, to bind, to restrain." The word is actually a combination of two words, re and ligare. The prefix re means "to return," and ligare, from which we get our word ligature, means "to bind." Perhaps no word more accurately describes the man-centered, performance-based, reward-punishment systems that men have devised to earn God's acceptance and favor than this word "religion," also known as, "return to bondage."
What Jesus Christ came to do almost 2,000 years ago was not bring us back into bondage, but deliver us from it. He didn't come to set up a new system of laws and regulations to live by. He came to blow them all away so that we might now serve Him in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6). In fact, it was to the religious and the self-righteous of His day that Jesus had the most condemning things to say. Why? Because they were leading so many away from a true relationship with God through the enticements of the most wicked deception Satan has ever used against mankind ? religion!
"The underlying foundation of all religion is performance ? whether it's a tribal dance around a campfire to satisfy the fire god, or a dead religious activity performed week after week by an evangelical Christian with the intent of impressing his God. It's all religious performance, and God isn't impressed by our performance. What impresses Him is faith." - Steve McVey, from the book Grace Land
In Paul's letter to the Galatians, he sternly reminds them that it was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). Like many still today however, the Galatians were not standing firm in the faith and had consequently returned to the bondage that Christ had rescued them from. They had become subject again to a yoke of slavery. Is it any wonder that Paul says these dear folks had been "bewitched"? After all, who in their right mind would ever want to give up the joy of freedom for the misery once again of bondage? It is only those who have been bewitched, deceived, and confused by something that appears to be the real thing?and that something is religion.
Religion is obsessed, first and foremost, with correcting the works of men. The gospel, on the other hand, is obsessed with the proclaiming the correcting work of one Man. Religion places man and what he can do on center stage. The gospel shines the spotlight on the One who has written the play. Goethe once wrote that "for a man to achieve all that is demanded of him, he must regard himself as greater than he is." In the same way, for a man to achieve all that is demanded of him by religion, he must regard himself as greater than he is. This is the lie of all religion, namely that man is powerful and capable enough to make himself right before God. Can Sir Richard Francis Burton be far off when he says, "the more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything else but himself"?
Believing the gospel saves you from the tyranny of religion's demands. It puts you in your right mind, a renewed mind nourished in the truth rather than contaminated with lies! It frees you to rest in all that He has done for you rather than enslaving you to the fear of not having done enough for Him. In fact, your moment-by-moment confidence in the gospel of the grace of God is the antidote to the poison of religion and all the symptoms that go with it.
The truth of the gospel is that you have been saved from religion and its endless demands, whether you know it, understand it, believe it or not. Jesus has given you that freedom! You now have the privilege of resting from your works so that you might marvel at His. However, it is only through faith in this truth that you will experience and enjoy the freedom that is yours. Tragically, there are many saints today and throughout history who have had everything in Christ for years and yet have wallowed in spiritual poverty because of unbelief.
Friend, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy (Titus 3:5). Don't be numbered among those who continue chained to the traditions of men seeking to work their way to righteousness. Throw off that yoke of slavery. Believe the gospel. You are righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works that you have done or not done.
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using) ? in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. Colossians 2:20-23
Do not substitute religion for simple faith in Jesus Christ. Religion offers no hope for the hopeless, no rest for the weary, no peace for the distressed, no deliverance for the captives, and no life for the lifeless. It is in believing the gospel that you are saved from the bondage to religion. The more you confidently rest and the more firmly you stand in the faith, the more clearly you will see religion for what it truly is ? a counterfeit.
Friend, through faith in Christ, you have been saved! Saved from your sins, saved from perishing, saved from this perverse generation, saved from wrath, saved from death ? and saved from religion! Now is the time, today is the day, to leave the "fashionable substitute" and its bondage behind for the freedom of the real thing?faith in Jesus Christ!
Grace and peace to you always!
Gospel For Today Ministries' president, John Moneypenny, is an ordained minister with a Master of Divinity degree who has traveled across the country teaching and preaching the liberating message of God's redemption of all mankind through the cross of Jesus Christ. John is the author of numerous teaching articles and the moderator of one of the most popular Christian Discussion Forums (Alexa Ranking: 52,000) on the internet. Visit Gospel For Today's main website at http://www.gospelfortoday.org/ and the Christian Discussion forum at http://www.gospelfortoday.org/gftforum/