With Amir Tsarfati and Barry Stagner
The word religion, just so we understand, does not appear in the Bible. Not at all. Religion is a man-made thing. It’s a way that man created to somehow express his faith or his belief in a higher entity. But, that word does not exist in the Old Testament at all. So, there was no Jewish religion at the time. And of course Christianity was never meant to be a religion also, but rather a way of life.
Mankind’s love of religion can clearly be seen in the fact that in a world of some 7.6 billion people there are only about 1.1 billion atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion. Less than 16% of the world’s population has no religious affiliation and that percentage is expected to decrease to 13% by the year 2050. (Statistics according to the Pew Research Centre)
That means 84% of the world’s population identify with some sort of religious group and 31.4% of them identify as Christian. What that tells us is that if you subtract Jews, Christians, Atheists and Agnostics 52% of the world’s population practice a non-biblical religion. The sad truth is what over ½ of the world’s population is searching for cannot be found through religion.
“…Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh…”
The Greek word translated as “religion” here in Colossians means; worship which one prescribes and devises for himself.
“…Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the law of our God, You people of Gomorrah: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, Who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them…”
The Lord makes it abundantly clear through Isaiah that humanly prescribed and devised sacrifices and rituals are not pleasing to Him. This was not the impersonal, ritualistic relationship He desired with the children of Israel.
“…My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee…”
Paul uses a different word for religion in his testimony and this word means; ceremonial observance or external worship. The problem is that God was not looking for ceremonial or external worship form Israel or the church. God was not looking for man to prescribe and devise for himself a religion. God was not looking to create a religion at all. He seeks a relationship which is evidenced by creating man in His own likeness and image.
Religion has been well described as; Man’s attempt to reach God. This description exposes the futility of religion in that God dwells in a realm that is outside of time and in a place that requires immortal incorruptibility of all its inhabitants. We don’t know where that place is nor do we have a means to get there on our own.
“…Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me…”
All religions include some type of belief about the afterlife. Some believe in a recycling process through reincarnation to finally arrive at Nirvana or a higher state of consciousness. Others believe in a weighing of good versus bad deeds after death and those who have the balance leaning toward the good arriving in paradise. There is only one way to Heaven and it is not through ceremony, external worship or self prescribed and devised religion. The way to Heaven is through Jesus.
“…This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you…”
There are certain things that indicate a friendship exists, time spent together, conversations and experiences shared, care for one another in times of need, but these things don’t create or earn a friendship, they are the manifestations of a friendship.
Jesus did not say to His disciples, I call you friends because you have earned the right by your ceremonial observances and rituals. He said I chose you as my friends and the manifestations of our friendship will be seen in you.
The greatest point to consider in this conversation of Jesus with His disciples is that He says to them and us; The greatest expression of a love between friends is to lay down one’s life for them. This, above all else, establishes for us God’s desire for relationship not the institution of religion.
“…For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life…”
“…But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…”
Does this mean there is no structure or ordinances to the Christian faith? Not at all, Jesus said your friendship with Me is expressed through doing the things I command. In other words, like any friendship we have, there will be evidence of that friendship expressed through actions. The actions don’t earn the friendship, the actions prove the friendship. Jesus proved His love and commitment to us by His demonstrated love on the cross. Our lives will demonstrate our love for Him in the form of things related to friendship.
Why settle for ceremony or self prescribed and devised religion when the God of the Universe has done everything necessary for us to have a personal relationship with Him?
Religion is man’s attempt to reach God, Jesus is God’s means of establishing a relationship with man. One will get you nowhere, the other will get you to Heaven. Religion or relationship? The wise choose relationship. Remember Jesus told His disciples He is coming again to receive them unto Himself that where He is they, and we, may be also.
Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!