I believe in Jesus Christ, or more specifically, in the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am not, however, religious, and I do not believe in religion. If you are vocal about your belief in Jesus or God, you are automatically deemed “religious.” Atheists see belief in Jesus Christ as religion. Even people claiming to believe in Jesus or God will usually identify their “religion,” be it Christian, Catholic, etc. I do not identify myself with a religion, because as I already stated, I do not believe in religion. How can that be? It is because I do not believe that true Christianity is a religion. Allow me to explain. We are going to break this down into two perspectives: How does man define religion? How does the Bible define religion? Man and the Bible usually do not share the same views, and the issue of religion is just another example of this.
How does man define religion?
Let’s look at a dictionary definition of “religion.” There are many slight variations on just what exactly defines religion, but I will share one that I believe encompasses a very accurate view of man’s definition.
Religion – “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” – taken from dictionary.com
Religion is often characterized by “devotional and ritual observances”. I’m going to pick on one religion in particular here, because Catholicism is simply the best known and most popular religion out there. You want ritual observances? Think of people performing the sign of the cross. Think of people on their knees in a Catholic church repeating a phrase such as “Lord, hear our prayer” over and over again. Think of people saying “Hail Marys” or praying the Rosary. Think of Mass, Confession, or the Eucharist (Communion). Think of the rituals carried out during Lent. The Catholic Church loves rituals. Did you know that none of these rituals are necessary to be saved? Actually, only one of these concepts has any application for true Christianity. That would be Communion, although the Catholic Church bastardizes the concept. Communion was something meant to be done as a simple remembrance of what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, but Catholicism turned it into another fancy ritual meant to enslave people to churches and priests. The Catholic Church teaches that believers must take the Eucharist in order to go to Heaven, which keeps Catholics in bondage to the church.
In true Christianity, you don’t need to perform any rituals. Once you believe on Jesus Christ, you are forever saved. There are many recommendations for the Christian life given by the apostle Paul, who was the apostle for the age of grace. (The age of grace is the period of time between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Rapture. Once the Rapture occurs, the Tribulation will begin. Read my “Dividing the Word” series for more on the age of grace.) Believers on Jesus Christ should stay away from sin as much as possible. Sin breaks fellowship with God (1st John 1:6), damages a believer’s testimony for Jesus (1st Corinthians 15:34), and keeps a believer in a worldly state instead of a spiritual state (1st Corinthians 3:3). Good works are encouraged for the believer as well, as these will result in rewards in Heaven (Titus 3:8, 1st Corinthians 3:10-15). But understand that none of this is ritualistic. A believer can pray to God anytime and anywhere. A believer can read his or her Bible anytime and anywhere. You don’t repeat memorized prayers and monotone chants when you talk to God (Matthews 6:7). You go boldly to the throne of grace, telling God what is on your mind (Hebrews 4:16, Philippians 4:6). You don’t place yourself in subjection to a church or a priest. You recognize who you are. If you have been saved, then you are a child of God (Galatians 3:26), and you are not under the jurisdiction of any man. There is one mediator between man and God, and His name is Jesus Christ (1st Timothy 2:5). You don’t gain favor with God by performing rituals. Jesus Christ died in order to set you free of this type of thing (Galatians 5:1).
Now, look again at the definition of religion: “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”
Religions are known for “usually involving devotional and ritual observances,” but they are not always present. Because of this, according to man’s definition, true Christianity would be considered a religion.
Allow me to get sidetracked for a moment. I would like to address one of the greatest ironies of all time. If a person is an evolutionist, they claim to believe in science, while saying that those who believe in God are trusting in religion. Here again is the first part of the definition for “religion” we are using: “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe”. Evolutionists believe in “The Big Bang,” the idea that a big explosion created the world. There are serious problems with this. If there was no matter, then what exploded? If there was matter that exploded, what created this matter? And when an explosion occurs, matter is always destroyed, not created. It takes a tremendous amount of faith to believe in something as ridiculous as “The Big Bang,” which could be defined as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe”. The cause? “The Big Bang.” The nature? It was a complete accident. The purpose? There is no purpose, so go do what you want and act a fool til you die, because nothing here matters. Though evolutionists look down on people who believe in God, it actually takes more faith to believe in evolution or “The Big Bang” than it does to believe in the Bible. How so? The Bible was written by men who witnessed many of the stories they recorded. Evolution and “The Big Bang” are theories, or complete guesses. They were never witnessed. They were imagined by people. Now while it is true that men tell lies, and a book stating the origin of the universe could contain lies, it is still more to go on than wild ideas that defy logic. The existence of God cannot be proven. The theory of evolution and “The Big Bang” cannot be proven. God has given each and every person faith (Romans 12:3). Where you will put your faith is up to you, because God believes in free will. God wants everyone to believe on Jesus Christ and be saved (1st Timothy 2:4, 2nd Peter 3:9), but God will not force you to choose salvation. Eternal salvation is available to anyone who simply goes to Jesus Christ for it (by believing on Him), but many people will not make this simple move (John 5:40). The credit for this goes to Satan, who blinds people from believing on the truth (2nd Corinthians 4:4). Satan knows that everyone has faith. His job then becomes to find religions for people to put their faith in. Whether you believe in evolution or a false religion that claims to follow Jesus Christ, the outcome is the same. If you don’t believe the truth, then you have fallen for a lie, no matter how close the lie might have been to the actual truth.
The New Testament writers believed so strongly in the things they had seen that they were willing to be put to death for their beliefs. Would you rather believe the collected testimonies of a bunch of men who were eyewitnesses to certain events? Or would you rather believe in a bunch of government-funded, biased, humanistic, theoretical mumbo jumbo stated by men that never witnessed their outlandish claims? These men also cannot prove any of what they say. Their only way around this is to say “Well, this all occurred over millions and billions of years.” If I want to get a dose of science fiction, I don’t need to listen to flawed “research” and fairy tales about “The Big Bang” and evolution. I can always just watch Star Wars. Scientists are like Catholic priests. They are men in fancy clothes hoping that you are impressed with their attire and positions of so-called authority. Don’t fall for it. Evolution is, by man's own definition, a religion. Do not call it science. Call it what it is: It is a religion by man's criteria. This goes for atheism as well. Atheists cannot prove that God does not exist, and so they have faith that He does not.
By man’s definition of religion, true Christianity is a religion, and ironically, so is evolution.
How does the Bible define religion?
The word “religion” only appears in Scripture five times, while the word “religious” appears twice. It’s funny how these words so often associated with true Christianity are used so rarely by the Bible itself.
In my “Dividing the Word” series, we look at how the apostle Paul was the apostle for believers in the age of grace. The law of Moses lasted until the ministry of John the Baptist began (Luke 16:16). John taught the Jews to believe on Jesus Christ (Acts 19:4), who was the King that the Jews were promised. This message was the Gospel of the Kingdom, and it was taught by John the Baptist and Jesus Christ (Matthew 3:1-2, 4:17, 9:35). Once Jesus Christ was rejected, He was crucified as a sacrifice for the sins of the world (1st John 2:2), He was buried for three days, and then Jesus rose again and took His blood to Heaven as the payment for the sins of the world (Hebrews 9:12). The Gospel of the Kingdom was put on hold, and the age of grace began, a period of time in which simple belief in Jesus Christ results in eternal salvation, given freely by God’s grace. This message is the Gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16). When the age of grace commenced, God no longer dealt exclusively with the Jews. Gentiles were invited into the family of God, and Paul was chosen to be the apostle to the Gentiles.
Ephesians 3:1-8: “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;”
One day, without warning, the Rapture will occur and finish the age of grace. Jesus Christ will descend partway out of Heaven and call every true believer off of the earth (1st Thessalonians 4:16-17). The Tribulation will begin, and God will return His focus on the Jews. Two prophets will begin their ministry for God during this time (Revelation 11:3-7), and the Gospel of the Kingdom will return (Matthew 24:14). This is all to say that for now, while we are in the age of grace, the writings of the apostle Paul apply to us. So what did the apostle Paul have to say about religion? Not much. Paul mentioned religion three times. Here is the first mention:
Acts 26:4-6: “My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God, unto our fathers:”
Paul was giving his testimony to King Agrippa, who wanted to hear from the man who had the Jews in an uproar. Paul admitted that he had been a member of the Pharisees, who were a particularly strict group of Jews who adhered to the law of Moses, as well as their own traditions (Mark 7:6-13). (See also Philippians 3:4-6, where Paul testified that he was circumcised, had persecuted those who believed on Jesus Christ, and was not known for breaking the law of Moses.) This was all past, as Paul had left his former ways behind and become a believer on Jesus Christ. So Paul’s mention of religion in this passage from Acts was referring to the lifestyle of the Pharisees. The only other mention of “religion” by Paul was made in the book of Galatians.
Galatians 1:11-16: “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:”
Paul makes mention of his past, when he belonged to “the Jews' religion”. Why did Paul leave the religion of the Jews? Paul was on the road to Damascus to persecute more believers on Jesus Christ, when Jesus spoke to Paul and opened his eyes to the truth (Acts 9). Paul claimed that God “called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me”. God showed grace, or mercy, to Paul by allowing Jesus Christ to be revealed to one who had dedicated himself to persecuting those who believed on Jesus. Once Paul was called by the grace of God, he left the religion of the Jews behind. Grace and religion do not mix. This is why Paul never refers to belief in Jesus Christ as religion. What else did Paul have to say about the religion of the Jews?
Romans 9:31-32: “But Israel (the Jews), which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;”
The Jews failed because they sought righteousness by obeying the law of Moses. The Jews did not understand that faith in Jesus Christ was how righteousness was to be obtained.
Romans 10:1-4: “Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel (the Jews) is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”
The Jews failed because they tried to earn their own righteousness rather than simply believing on Jesus Christ. Everyone needs righteousness in order to be saved. The only righteousness you can earn comes from obeying the law of Moses (Philippians 3:9). In other words, you have to be religious in order to earn righteousness. But the law of Moses cannot save anyone. No one will be justified by the law of Moses, because the law was given by God to make everyone in the world realize their guilty nature (Romans 3:19-20). The purpose of the law is not to be obeyed, but rather to cause us to realize that we are hopelessly in need of a Savior (Galatians 3:19-25). The Jews rejected the Savior, Jesus Christ, and instead placed themselves under the law. They chose religion over truth.
The book of Galatians was a letter written by the apostle Paul to the churches in Galatia. The believers there had been confused by fake Christians who had taught the true believers that they needed to obey the law of Moses to be saved (Galatians 2:4). Paul referred to this adherence to the law as “bondage” (Galatians 2:4, 4:9, 5:1). Remember, the religion of the Jews revolved around the law of Moses, in obeying rules and observing rituals and holy days. Religion is bondage. Jesus Christ holds the key to freedom.
Galatians 5:1-5: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty (freedom) wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised (a Jewish custom), Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”
Do you know how Jesus Christ set us free from the law of Moses? Jesus took the law of Moses and nailed it to His cross.
Colossians 2:14-17: “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances (the law of Moses) that was against us (by naming us as sinners), which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
Those rules and holy days were components of the law of Moses. The law was only a shadow of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:1 and 9:11). What do you think is greater? The shadow? Or the person casting the shadow? Jesus Christ is greater than the law. Salvation is offered to everyone who believes on Jesus Christ, by the grace of God. The religion of the Jews revolved around performing the works of the law. Grace and works do not mix (Romans 11:6). The law was meant to lead people to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and God’s grace, but the Jews stubbornly tried to obey the law and earn their own righteousness. True believers on Jesus Christ are saved by God’s grace. Religion tries to save people who perform certain works or rituals. There is a big difference between religion and belief on Jesus Christ.
Please note the only other instance where religion is mentioned alongside the apostle Paul.
Acts 13:43: “Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes (Gentiles who had converted to Judaism) followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.”
Paul had taught a crowd in the synagogue in Antioch about Jesus Christ. Afterwards, Paul and Barnabas were followed by a crowd of religious people. Paul and Barnabas told these people to “continue in the grace of God”, which was to say that they should believe what they had heard concerning Jesus Christ. Once you know the truth, you continue in God’s grace by settling it in your heart and mind that you believe on Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:23).
The only other place in the Bible where you will find “religion” mentioned is in the book of James. James was an apostle to the Jews (James 1:1), and the book of James was written to a Jewish audience. Here is what James taught concerning religion:
James 1:26-27: “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
According to James, true religion would require complete separation from the world (the cares and temptations of the world). This would be impossible to accomplish. Thankfully, God does not require religion for a person to be saved. God only asks that you believe on His Son, Jesus Christ.
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, mentioned “religion” when referring to the Pharisees and the Jews. James, an apostle to the Jews, mentioned “religion” because his audience was Jewish, and they were religious by nature. In either case, religion was never said to be the same thing as belief in Jesus Christ.
Allow me to share a few other thoughts and considerations on this matter:
If true Christianity isn’t ritualistic, then what is the “Lord’s Prayer”?
Jesus Christ demonstrated a sample prayer to the Jews he taught on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-13), and Jesus also taught His disciples this prayer (Luke 11:1-4). Please note that this prayer was an example intended for the Jews to follow before the age of grace began. Also, Jesus meant for this prayer to be a sample prayer, meaning that it wasn’t to be repeated word-for-word, but rather was meant to illustrate how a Jew should pray. Paul never gave a sample prayer for the age of grace, but he taught how a believer should pray in Philippians 4:6. The bottom line is that Jesus Christ never taught a ritualistic prayer. He was simply providing the Jews an example to better understand how to pray.
If true Christianity does not revolve around performing the works of the law, then why are we told to perform good works?
Titus 3:5-8: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his (God’s) mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.”
The works of the law earn righteousness (Philippians 3:9), but the law does not justify anyone (Romans 3:20). In the passage of Scripture above, Paul taught that believers are justified by God’s grace, and that believers should strive to perform good works. Good works are not the works of the law. Good works are what a person should do because he has been saved. Good works are profitable for believers because they will result in rewards in Heaven (1st Corinthians 3:10-15). Believers are like trees. Trees yield fruit to varying degrees. A believer who produces good works yields fruit.
Titus 3:14: “And let our's also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.”
Believers do not perform the works of the law to be saved. That is religion. Believers are, however, encouraged to perform good works, in order to be fruitful and receive future rewards. And most importantly, a believer who is living the way he or she should will have a good testimony for Jesus Christ. This is especially important for those who are not saved to witness, in hopes that they will come to receive the knowledge of Jesus Christ as well (1st Corinthians 15:34). The characteristics of a good believer are brought about with the help of the Holy Spirit, and they are listed in Galatians 5:22-23, while verse 25 teaches that those who are saved should choose to live as though they are. Here is yet another difference between religion and true Christianity. Works are necessary in religion. Works are encouraged in true Christianity. Religious works tend to be ritualistic and done for show, while true Christianity produces good works when a believer yields to God rather than sin (Romans 6:13). These good works benefit the believer and others.
What did Jesus say about religious people?
Here are a few examples of when Jesus Christ spoke to Pharisees, who were religious according to Paul.
Matthew 23:23-27: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.”
The Pharisees put on an outward religious show for the world to see. They didn’t understand that it’s not the outside, or the outer works, but what’s inside that’s most important.
Mark 7:6-9: “He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”
The Pharisees were more concerned with traditions that truth, and these traditions came from men, not God.
Luke 18:9-14: “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Publicans were tax collectors, and they were viewed by the Pharisees as being equal to common sinners (Matthew 9:10-11, 11:19, Luke 15:1-2). In the above parable, the Pharisee brags that he is better than others to God. Meanwhile, the publican brags of nothing. He simply acknowledges that he is a sinner and asks God to show him mercy. Jesus said that the publican was justified, while the Pharisee was not.
From these three passages of Scripture, we see that Jesus Christ was vocal about the problems with religion. Religion causes people to focus on outward appearance, accept traditions rather than truth, and be proud of their own self-righteousness.
Could true Christianity be turned into something that is ritualistic?
Yes. A believer could read the Bible without actually contemplating what they are reading, just going through the motions. A believer could pray the same way everyday, maybe even wording the prayer the same way each time. A believer could go to church each Sunday just to go to church, never getting any truth because they are not listening, or because they fail to realize the church is dead. A believer could have set times for doing all these things. Remember this: There’s a difference between routine and ritual. Keeping a routine is like following a schedule. Performing a ritual is going through the motions because something is expected. Routines are good in order to ensure that things get accomplished. But a believer should be careful to make sure that routines do not become rituals.
Due to what the Bible teaches about “religion,” I reject man’s current definition. Read my page “Repentance 101” and you will find a similar situation, where we must reject man’s current definition of “repentance” in favor of the Bible’s correct definition. Man’s definition of “religion” would deem faith in Jesus Christ a religion, placing it into a pile of many belief systems. The Bible disagrees with this idea. Paul recognized religion as a belief system that seeks to reach God but denies simple faith in Jesus Christ. James taught that true religion, as far as God is concerned, is to become separate from and untarnished by the world, which is impossible. The apostle Paul did not consider true Christianity a religion, and neither do I. Paul mentioned “religion” when referring to the Pharisees and the Jews, who rejected Jesus Christ in favor of the law of Moses. Simple faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ saves the soul of the believer. Any belief system that adds further steps is a religion, teaching that you must do something in addition to having faith in Jesus, forcing you to earn your own righteousness. Any system that comes to you in the name of Jesus Christ and demands you to obey the law of Moses, perform works, turn from your sins, attend church, etc., is a religion. If someone pulls teachings from the Gospel of the Kingdom and adds them to the Gospel of Christ, they have created a religion. Religion is all about man trying to earn righteousness. Religious people will one day find out that they never had salvation because "they sought it not by faith". Jesus Christ brought truth to the earth (John 1:17). Jesus Christ was the truth (John 14:6). People become saved by acknowledging the truth (2nd Timothy 2:25-26), which they accomplish by believing on it. God’s grace is what saves the soul. Man adds to God’s simple plan. Man corrupts God’s simple plan by rejecting the truth and creating religion. Believe on Jesus Christ and be saved. Say no to religion. God does not believe in religion, and neither should you. Don’t be religious. Believe on Jesus Christ. A religion is a system of beliefs that requires people to earn their salvation. Belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is faith, not religion.