by Calven Celliers
What has become increasingly real to me over the past few years, is that the longer I walk with Jesus – through both the highs and lows of life’s experience – the more I dislike religion. In fact, I’m growing to really dislike it. To some that may sound shocking, but before you think I’ve lost my marbles, please hear me out.
My greatest heartache and concern, is that we as Christians can go to church every Sunday, and follow all the rules but never truly follow Jesus. All too often we cheapen Christianity to behaviour modification, conformity to a moral code, following an extensive list of do’s and don’ts. That’s religion! That sounds more like the Pharisees modus operandi than it does about Jesus’ example. Jesus didn’t come to make us religious. As I read through the Gospel’s I have come to see that Jesus’ greatest opposition wasn’t the world, the heathens or the lost, it was the religious people. Those who look down their self-righteous noses at the very ones Jesus came to seek and to save.
Christianity was never meant to be a religion. Religion weighs people down by making them think they need to follow a bunch of rules and rituals to try to please God. It teaches that you have to earn your way into God’s good books, which is actually impossible. None of us could ever be good enough to earn a place in heaven, which is why religion is so exhausting, frustrating, and hopeless.
If you’re a Christian, and I’m assuming the vast majority of the audience reading this blog are, then I expect you have heard this all before. But, if you’re anything like me and most Christians I know, you struggle to let this truth penetrate your heart and permeate your day-to-day life, and your experience of God. Grace is a gift most of us don’t know how to receive. We’ve been so inundated with the earthly systems of give-and-get and work-and-earn that grace is a concept few ever fully grasp. There is something about us that wants to earn our own salvation.
But consider what the apostle Paul had to say in his letter to the Ephesians –
“8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2: 8 & 9NIV)
There again, I assume you’ve read that many times before, chances are you could probably quote a paraphrase of that very verse if required, but has it penetrated your heart and permeated your experience? In other words, is it real to you? Jesus came to free us from the futility of religion and to offer us something so much better — a real relationship with God. Through that relationship, we can learn what grace really is and how it plays out in both our relationship with God and other people.
As a pastor, who interacts with and comes alongside many people in ministry, I am deeply troubled by the number of testimonies that include despondency and pain caused by the Church (well-meaning Pharisees who have misrepresented God, and in the process hurt people). That’s religion! That’s what really irks me!
“For some people the solution seems to be that that church needs to be more outspoken about things that are wrong. But will that really help? Did all those sermons where fingers were pointed and wrong deeds were condemned really make a difference in the previous millennium? Will the church really attract new members if it is so busy being against everybody and everything that it has no time to be for Christ?” (Stephan Joubert)
GOD IS LOVE. Love is at the core of God’s divine nature. Jesus let heavenly love touch down in this dark world, and what is more, He let it touch the lives of the most unlikely, undeserving people: you and I! Jesus is the strongest evidence of the fact that God is love. Jesus does grace best. As followers of Jesus, we are called to graciously reflect the love of God to the world around us. This is very real to me!