Religion can be defined as man’s attempt to impress God. It is an attitude that says, “I can make something of myself, I can earn God’s favor.” Although it may lead to works that are charitable, this mindset is fatally opposed to grace of God. It causes a man to stand when he should bow and to strut when he should kneel. Worst of all, it causes him to see himself as a co-savior. His motives may be sincere, but he is an idol-worshipper.
Jesus didn’t suffer and die on the cross to make you religious. He died and rose again to give you a new life – His life. Anything that pretends to be a substitute for the thrill of knowing Him – of trusting Him, being with Him, and walking with Him – should be rejected as inferior.
If any of the statements in the test above describes you, then you might be a little bit religious. Here’s why…
Are you preoccupied with doing the right thing?
God is looking for relationship, but a religious person is more concerned with following the rules. Their motto could be, “Just tell me what I must do and I will do it.” Whether you define the “right thing” as the 10 commandments, the words of Jesus, your church traditions, or whatever, to live by a code of conduct is infinitely inferior to the life Christ wants to live through us. It is eating from the wrong tree.
Adam chose independence from God. An independent spirit wants to decide for himself and thus prefers rules to relationship. But someone under grace says, I trust Him from start to finish, He will lead me in the right path (Ps 23:3). Your choice is rules or relationship. You cannot reduce relationship to a set of rules. (Try it with your marriage and see how far that gets you!) Live by rules and you’re setting yourself up for failure, for any kind of law will stimulate sin and lead to death (Rms 7:5). Even when you do the right thing it’ll be the wrong thing because you’re operating in an independent spirit instead of walking by faith (Rms 14:23). But when you choose to abide in Christ – when He is your all in all – you’ll find yourself doing the right thing at the right time every time. If you haven’t heard this before, then take a moment to read the good news.
Do you act as if God is keeping score?
A performance mentality is central to all the religions of the world: Do good, get good. Do bad, get bad. The problem with this is your best is not good enough. If God was keeping score, all of us would fall short. Thus it is natural for a religious person to suffer from performance anxiety. God doesn’t grade on the curve and He’s not obligated to pass a certain percentage of the class. In fact, He expects perfection and nothing less. So either you must deliver a perfect performance or you must put your faith in a perfect representative. Jesus is our perfect High Priest (Heb 7:28). Trust Him!
Contrary to what religion will tell you, we are not justified by what we do but by grace alone (Rms 3:24). His grace and our works do not mix. Indeed, they nullify each other out (Rms 11:6). Grace is God’s part; faith is our part (Eph 2:8). Faith is saying, “thank you Jesus!” Faith doesn’t just get you started; it’s faith from first to last (Rms 1:17).
Are you sin-conscious?
Sin-consciousness is the strongest indicator of a religious mindset. Gifts and sacrifices will do nothing to clear the guilty conscience of a religious person (Heb 9:9). The only remedy is a revelation of the blood of Jesus shed for your forgiveness (Heb 9:14, Mt 26:28). Through His one-time sacrifice for the sins of the world, Jesus has done away with sin (1 Jn 2:2, Heb 9:26). Sin was a problem, but because of Jesus it is no longer a problem. So what is the problem? The problem now is whether you will choose to believe in the all-sufficiency of Christ and His finished work. Religion will keep the focus on you and your unworthiness, but grace focuses on Christ and His worthiness.
Are you motivated by your Christian duty?
Religion cries, “Jesus died for you. What will you do for Him?” I would do anything for Jesus, but if my motivation is a perceived debt, then I’ve missed grace. God didn’t send His Son to fetch an army of servants. Jesus came out of love. A religious person is motivated by their love for Christ, but we are to be motivated by Christ’s love for us. As Paul said, “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Co 4:14). God is not looking for us to impress Him with our love; He wants to impress us with His.
Whether they call it duty or responsibility, a religious person fundamentally believes that he is obligated or indebted to God. They want to work so that they no longer owe God. Indeed, they want God to owe them. They want to be in a position where God will have to bless them because of what they’ve done. This debt-consciousness is opposed to the grace of God for grace comes with no strings attached. There is no quid pro quo in the kingdom. Everything comes by the “exceeding riches of His grace” (Eph 2:7) and is received by faith. Don’t cheapen His grace by thinking you have a duty or responsibility to pay Him back. Your responsibility is to believe that He is good and true! It is not our obligation to serve the Lord, it is our royal privilege. It is not our duty, but our great delight.
Do you fear God’s anger?
Listen to a religious person and you might get the impression that God is a temperamental and abusive Father who sometimes lashes out in fits of righteous wrath. A religious person sees Jesus as a sort of go-between, someone who’ll stand in the gap and take the heat for us. But the truth is that God the Father, Son and Spirit are perfectly united in purpose and character. If you want to know what God the Father is like, look at the Son (Heb 1:3).
Does God get angry with us? Look at the oath He swore in Isaiah 54:9-10 for an answer. He has promised to never be angry with us or punish us. Do you believe that God would flood the earth as He did in the days of Noah? Of course not – He promised He wouldn’t. In Isaiah 54:9-10 God says, “this is like that – if you believe that promise, believe this one too. I will not be angry with you.” At great personal cost God has forged an eternal and unshakeable covenant of peace. We are the beneficiaries of this covenant. Why did He do it? Because He is love and He loves us. When you get a revelation of His love, your fear of punishment will evaporate (1 Jn 4:18). “But didn’t Jesus say He might blot some of us out of the Book of Life?” Nope. God doesn’t use correction fluid. “But what about that verse where He says He will spew some out of His mouth?” True, there is one thing that makes Jesus sick, and that’s religion. The Laodiceans had it in spades. Make sure you don’t.
Do you like doing things for God?
Contrary to what religion has told you, we are not called to work for God but to do the work of God (Jn 6:29). Big difference! Working for God reveals our initiative, but faith is always a response to what God is doing or has done. In the Bible there are “dead works” and “good works.” Dead works are those activities that seem right to us but which lead to death (Pro 16:25). Good works are those which have been prepared by God in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10). Dead works require no faith – if you have the resources you can do them. Good works always reveal the Father and usually involve healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and driving out demons (Mt 10:8). As always, Jesus is our role model. He did nothing on His own initiative yet lived a full and fruitful life in response to the Father (Jn 5:19).
Do you see yourself mainly as a servant of God?
Here is the question that separates the religious from the righteous: Do you see God as your heavenly Father, your Papa? A religious person will hesitate to respond, scandalized by the thought that he can speak of the Almighty in such familiar terms. Then a verse will come to mind and he will say, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God…” A religious person is content to be nothing more than a servant, and thus they miss the best thing of all.
There are only two kinds of people in the world: sons and orphans. Which are you? The devil’s desire is to have you so confused about your identity that you will relate to God in any way except as a son. A religious person will usually relate to God as a Master, but Jesus came to reveal the Father. Perhaps you left the pig trough with a prepared speech that began, “make me like one of your hired hands” (Lk 15:19). God is not interested that speech! He is not recruiting servants; He wants sons! Like the prodigal, you may see yourself as no more than a servant, but God sees you as a son (Rms 8:15, Gal 4:6). Don’t argue with your Father.