Even as I've only heard words of hate from your heart I love you deeply, tenderly.
Love will never allow Me to walk away from you.
Your love for Me is a free choice
The Bible versus Religion
There are many different religions in our world. Some older than others. Of the approximately 7.2 billion people in the world today 85% follow one of the religions. So what is religion that so many people in their billions would give attention to it?
And what is meant by the term ‘religion’?
According to the Oxford Dictionary Religion is the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power (deity), especially a personal God or gods. Religion, therefore refers to a particular system of faith/believe in and worship.
'belief in' is an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.
and 'worship of' is the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration.
and by 'system' is meant a set of things working together as a mechanism or interconnecting network - an organized scheme or method.
Does the above concept/definition/explanation fit in with what the Bible tells us about God and what He expects from us? One would think the Bible is all about religion. Not so! It is vastly different from this defintion according to the Bible though millions of 'Christians' do practice Christianity as a religion.
In fact the Bible warns us against religion as it has the real potential to alienate people from God, leave them with a false sense of security.
'A man can have vigorous faith rooted deeply in religion without knowing God. Without a personal relationship to God and despite all religious activities, one is as lost as the conceited atheist'
In II Kings 5 we read about Naaman who was a man of power, great power, the commander in chief of the largest army in the world at the time. He was a man of integrity; he was honest, a moral man. The Bible says that human goodness and morality is not enough to satisfy God. It’s not enough to be just a good person. We know there are many who consider themselves good persons and Naaman considered himself as one. But it’s never enough that one is religious. Not good enough that you pray. It’s not enough that you tithe. It’s not enough that you’re a teacher of religion.
You’ve got to be born again.
You are born again when you come to Jesus Christ through faith, that is, an absolute trust in Who He is, and this will bring you in a living love relationship with God and radically change the meaning, undertsanding and role of religion in your life.
Your spirit needs to be born into life as your body was born into life;
John 3: 1-15 'Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked. "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.'
It is part of human nature to seek meaning in life and deep inside of us we know there is something bigger than ourselves, outside of us, that can give meaning to our lives. But we all also know about the 'wrongs' in our lives and are seeking to 'come clean' of it and in this search religions have their origins and similarities.
Though the Bible is anti-religious in many ways.
A. The word 'religion' appears 7 times in the New Testament (NIV):
B. In the Old Testament the word 'religion' appears twice – In both instances God condemns the mere acts of religion as the hearts of the people were not right with God
Looking at the above, there seem to some conflict between what the Oxford Dictionary definition of the word 'religion' is and what God’s idea for us is in being ‘religious’ True religion is not about religious systems, the following of rules and rituals, believing and worshipping something without proof, but about a heart that lives in a loving relationship with God. Understanding God in terms of the definition of religion as in dictionaries is tragically deceitful. The definition is correct to understand the religions of the world but do not confuse the understanding of God with the understanding of religion.
Jesus Christ and Religion.
The misconception about religion, which still plaques our planet today, what God meant it to be, and what was taught about this very important concept was obviously of great importance to Jesus Christ. He was very often in conflict with the people as well as the religious leaders and teachers of the law of His day on this very point.
1. Jesus’ disciples picked grain on the Sabbath to eat and He healed a shriveled hand. When He was criticized He answered that God desired mercy and not sacrifice. Thus, to do good when God brings the opportunity is more important than to obey the strict rules of religion which are often misinterpreted for the sake of religion.
Matthew 12: 1-13 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."
He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
Going on from that place, He went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked Him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.
(Mark 2:23-28 Luke 6:1-11)
2. In Matthew 12 Jesus told the teachers of the law that one will be judged by what it in your heart, reflected in what you say, and not by the religious rules you teach or follow. He called the relious leaders a 'brood of vipers'
Matthew 12:33 "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
(Also Mark 13: 20-30 Luke 11: 14-26)
3. Jesus refused to give them a miraculous sign when they asked because they asked out of disbelief. If your heart is not right with God, He will not reveal Himself to you, your will not see His wonders in your life, nor hear His Voice. You need to be in a close trusting and surrendered relationship with Him to experience Him above what religion can offer.
Matthew 12: 38-41 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you." He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.
(Also Luke 11:29-32)
4. When the teacher of the law asked Jesus about following religious tradition He rebuked them. He rebuked them for being more religious than honoring God in their hearts.
Matthew 15: 1-14. Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death. But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'" Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' " Then the disciples came to Him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."
5. Jesus warned the people against the religious teachers of the law who can influence your mind and heart with pure religion and draw you away from what really matters; away from God.
Matthew 16: 6 and 12 "Be careful," Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Then they understood that He was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
(Also Mark 8: 11-21)
6. The chief priests and elders asked Jesus on whose authority He acted. Jesus pointed them to John the Baptist who preached repentance from sin preparing the way for Jesus’ atonement of us into a new relationship with God. But they would not accept what He said and Jesus told them that the tax collectors and the prostitutes would enter the kingdom of God ahead of them as they would repent and find God.
Matthew 21: 23-32 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you this authority?" Jesus replied, "I will also ask you one question. If you answer Me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John's baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?" They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?' But if we say, 'From men'—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet." So they answered Jesus, "We don't know." Then He said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. The Parable of the Two Sons "What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. "Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. "Which of the two did what his father wanted?" "The first," they answered. Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
(Also Mark 11: 27-33 Luke 20: 1-8)
7. Jesus instructed the people to listen to religious teachers, obey what they teach from the Old Testament Bible, but they must be careful and not do what they do. They must turn to God’s Word, which would give life and freedom, and not follow strict rules and traditions that can destroy your relationship with God. A life that should be lived by being led by the Spirit of God and not by rules.
Then Jesus continued to be severely criticize the religious leaders of the day and He was given over by them to the Romans to be crucified because of what He said and done.
Sadly still so applicable to today's religious teachers for whom religion is more important than an intimate relationship with God, even so priests, pastors and principles within Christianity and all the wrongs and atrocities done in the name of religion or from evil hearts far from God but ddeply caught in religion.
Matthew 23: 1-39 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.' "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. "Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
8. Jesus told a parable to show them that one can be blinded by religion, by finding comfort in following rules and concentrating on regulations and tradition and thereby not see the sin of one’s own heart. The tax collectors sin was not hidden by religion – he had no religion and could see the sin of his heart and repent before God.
Luke 18: 9-14 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
9. When the teachers of the law brought a woman caught in adultery to Him and wanted the law to be applied Jesus pointed it out to them that we are all sinners and all need to repent and come in a loving relationship with God. And so He forgave her and told her not to sin again. Jesus overrode the law, overrode mere religion, with compassion and forgiveness.
John 8: 1-11 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
What does the Bible say about personal sacrifices for the sake of religion?
Sacrificing your time, your money, your life to Him as a pure religious act of devotion? God looks through all these sacrifices into your heart – your relationship with Him, the love in your heart for Him, hearing His Voice and obeying Him from moment to moment.
1. Psalm 51:17 My sacrifice [the sacrifice acceptable] to God is a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart [broken down with sorrow for sin and humbly and thoroughly penitent], such, O God, You will not despise.
2. Proverbs 21:3 To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
3. Ecclesiastes 5:1 For to draw near to hear and obey is better than to give the sacrifice of fools [carelessly, irreverently] too ignorant to know that they are doing evil.
4. Jeremiah 7:22-3 For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this thing I did command them: Listen to and obey My voice, and I will be your God and you will be My people; and walk in the whole way that I command you, that it may be well with you.
5. Hosea 6:6 For I desire and delight in dutiful steadfast love and goodness, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of and acquaintance with God more than burnt offerings.
1. Mathew 9:13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
2. Mathew 12:7 And if you had only known what this saying means, I desire mercy [readiness to help, to spare, to forgive] rather than sacrifice and sacrificial victims, you would not have condemned the guiltless.
3. Mark 12:33 And to love Him out of and with all the heart and with all the understanding [with the]faculty of quick apprehension and intelligence and keenness of discernment] and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. (I Sam. 15:22; Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:6-8; Heb. 10:8.)
4. Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship.
5. Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, [esteeming and delighting in one another] as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a slain offering and sacrifice to God [for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance.
6. Philippians 2:17-18 Even if [my lifeblood] must be poured out as a libation on the sacrificial offering of your faith [to God], still I am glad [to do it] and congratulate you all on [your share in] it. And you also in like manner be glad and]congratulate me on [my share in] it.
7. Hebrews 9:28 Even so it is that Christ, having been offered to take upon Himself and bear as a burden the sins of many once and once for all, will appear a second time, not to carry any burden of sin nor to deal with sin, but to bring to full salvation those who are [eagerly, constantly, and patiently] waiting for and expecting Him
8. Hebrews 10:5-8 Hence, when He [Christ] entered into the world, He said, Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but instead You have made ready a body for Me [to offer]; In burnt offerings and sin offerings You have taken no delight. Then I said, Behold, here I am, coming to do Your will, O God--[to fulfill] what is written of Me in the volume of the Book. When He said just before, You have neither desired, nor have You taken delight in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings--all of which are offered according to the Law--
9. Hebrews 11:4 [Prompted, actuated] by faith Abel brought God a better and more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, because of which it was testified of him that he was righteous [that he was upright and in right standing with God], and God bore witness by accepting and acknowledging his gifts. And though he died, yet [through the incident] he is still speaking
God wants us to be a living sacrifice to Him in being totally devoted to Him, not devoted to religious rules and traditions, but to the person of God. Not to follow rules and regulations but by living a life guided every moment by God in a living and loving relationship to our awesome Creator. This, we can only achieve by being born again – transformed by Christ’s love through repentance of our sin and acceptance of Christ’s complete and final sacrifice on our behalf before God, Christ having removed the stumbling block of sin and we can approach God in full confidence. Ephesians 3:12 ‘In Him and through faith (trust) in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence’.
And our prayers will not be a result of discipline but a natural consequence of our relationship with God - to communicate with a loving Father.
This is what distinguishes Christianity from the world religions - it is different- it is about the Truth, a living relationship with a Person.