This post is focused on religion and religious people. Before going further I think it is important to say that most of what I will write here is in the immediate context of Evangelical Christianity. If you think I’m way off base along the way, remember the context of the post.
You would expect that during the time of a man’s life when he is keenly aware of his mortality, his religious posture would be the strongest of his life. Not so with yours truly. I am less religious than I was many years ago. At least that is the case the way I think of and define religion.
Religion = Human desire to have favor with God, both now and at the end, expressed by rites, rituals, routine church related activities, and ethical and moral boundaries in daily living.
The opposite deserves a definition too.
Christianity = What God has accomplished through Christ for undeserving sinners.
Its a given that both of these definitions are very brief, and not complete by any measure but they are mine and I believe they are fair representations of two polar opposites.
Now my earlier statement “I am less religious than I was many years ago” might make a bit more sense. This idea is true precisely because of my understanding of what it means to be a Christian today vs. about 30 years ago.
In the past few years I have heard from many sources that young people (teens and young adults into their 30’s) are becoming more and more turned off by “organized religion“, or “church” in the traditional understanding. I get it! And, I largely agree. They can see a phony a mile away! Today’s young people will no longer accept people who live double lives as legitimate. I think I know why, at least in part.
In the not so distant past, pre-internet, people largely had only one source for religious teaching, the local church their family attended. Even for those who did not attend church what was heard at the corner market, in the work place, or in public school, was likely sourced in the local pulpit or Sunday school class room. The community had its morality shaped by the local churches its people attended. Most of that dynamic was very good. With the advent of the internet and the accompanying knowledge explosion that ensued came at least two generations of younger folks who get their information from many sources.
People (not only younger people) learned that there were people out there who were just as devoted to Jesus Christ as they but expressed their devotion differently than how they or their parents or grand parents did. Preachers shed the J C Penny suits and hand saw blade ties for polo shirts and casual slacks. The community of faith started finally to do tangible things to help the homeless, addicted, and otherwise downtrodden. In many churches worship included more upbeat singing, “worship music”, and more personal expression in worship.
I think most young people today will not believe you are a true disciple of Jesus just because you are outwardly moral and attend church faithfully. Unless they see you serving, living somewhat sacrificially 7 days a week they are not favorably impressed. I tend to agree.
Here is the bottom line. There is nothing wrong with ritual, rites, and church activity. But, what is your motive? If your motive is to try to get God to like you more, or to attempt to tilt the scales of divine justice your way, you are wasting your life. The Bible says the “Truth will set you free..”. Jesus has already fully accomplished all that ever needed to be done for you and me to be saved. We either receive the gift offered by the gospel or we continue to work feverishly to strike a “deal” with God about our eternal destiny. If that describes you I have bad news. You are in no position to barter with God.
My salvation is complete. My task is to “work out my salvation” now with reverent awe before God and a watching world. At age 64 I am no longer willing to just go through the motions just to appease those who value tradition. I want to be charitable and kind but I am not wearing a suit, even when I die I hope. I love going to worship with the saints each week and meeting other times as well to be encouraged and built up. None of these activities however are done to impress God. He knows me completely and is NOT impressed. But He loves me with a steadfast love that is quite enough for me.
The greatest obstacle to God’s redemptive plan is not the people down at the corner bar or the crowds at the casino, it is the religious crowd. It was true in Bible times and it is true today. Our modern day Pharisees are up to the same schemes to divide and destroy. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day thought they were the only ones doing God’s will. Not much has changed has it? The human condition is common to all ages.
It would be very stupid to have a car in your driveway with plush leather seats, a built in GPS, a top of the line sound system, and the most expensive wheels and tires and NO engine. It would be all show and no go! So, I ask myself what is under the hood of my spiritual life? I don’t want it to be style over substance. I am forsaking the trappings of religion on purpose in pursuit of authentic Christian discipleship.