I do not prescribe to Religion (with a capital R; as construed by general society). I do pursue (follow, worship) Christ religiously. Big difference. One is a noun that often implies that my practices and activities alone can get me to God and Heaven. The other is an adverb that describes the intensity and consistency of my desire for the things that can only come from Him to me. The latter indicates a relationship not unlike a child’s pursuit of a parent or, if that doesn’t grab you, a lover of their beloved.
However, I do think it is important to examine our notions about religion in order to understand and position Christ as a viable option to those who are skeptical of Christianity as a Religion.
My first thought when I hear people say that religion is the “opiate of the masses” is…then why isn’t everyone high? Because according to its definition, we all participate in religious activity…even the Christopher Hitchens’ of the world. Yep. I said it.
Religious: scrupulously faithful; conscientious; something one believes in and follows devotedly; ritual observance (dictionary.com)
In other words, most of us spend our lives pursuing [fill in the blank] religiously. If that weren’t the case, then some of us — not me, unfortunately— wouldn’t show up at the gym at 5am in pursuit of health, or maybe less prudent, the ideal body. Others of us wouldn’t show up at work on time, everyday, sometimes early — again, not me — in pursuit of money or purpose. Sundays find just as many people parked on the couch waiting for the next football game as it does people parked on a pew waiting for a sermon.
None of these are wrong (in and of themselves). Yet only one is scrutinized as foolish.
The difference between how people view these everyday things and the assessments made of those of us who follow Christ is the perceived value of these actions in relationship to the outcomes. When you go to the gym, to work, or watch a football game, there is an immediate satisfaction of a need or want through your own actions. So the idea that one’s spiritual hunger can be satiated by no action of their own…by something as seemingly abstract as God ‘s love and grace…is difficult to accept. Particularly in a world that, at best, identifies love as transitory and grace as unwise.
There’s a saying: Everyone wants to go to Heaven but no one wants to die. Well I submit that this is more of a problem for believers (who, in a post-restoration state, experience fully the struggle between their flesh and spirit) rather than non-believers. For those who are seeking, it’s more like this: Everyone wants to go to Heaven but EVERYONE wants to Drive. You see, we humans understand religious activity quite well. It’s the reason why religious institutions have been so powerful for so long and why we rebel against it so ardently. It’s the whole love, grace and mercy thing that we struggle with and against. And that’s what an authentic relationship with Christ conveys.
Therein lies the greatest opportunity to act out Christ’s great commission (Matt. 28:19-20). No matter the challenge or the push back we may get from those who have only seen our Religion (capital R) as representative of who we are… we MUST focus on sharing and showing God’s love, grace, and mercy. We must live it out in front of the world daily, in spite of our discomfort with the very people, places, and things that need Him the most. The Body of Christ can distinguish its Faith from other inconsequential religious activity and traditions (including and especially our own) by sharing the exponential value of the outcomes of accepting His free gift – an eternal relationship with Christ and the Father and the trustworthy guidance of the Holy Spirit day-to-day – all without doing anything but saying YES with your whole heart.