’s Sunday morning. You wake up, begrudgingly, and drive to church. You greet people with the basics: “How are you? How’s work? Did you do anything fun this weekend?” You don’t get much for real answers, but you’re fine with that because honestly you don’t want the real answers. You sing worship songs for 20 minutes. Sit down, then throw a check in the offering basket and zone out while your pastor gives the announcements. You listen to a message in which you hear the “5 Steps to … Being a Better Person, Praying More, Serving Your Community, Getting Into Heaven.” You get the idea. Sing one last song, and stand for a blessing. You head out the door, pleased with yourself for going to church and getting in your weekly “God time.” Ticket into heaven = punched. You feel that your duty is done, and now you can go on with your life for another seven days with no interruptions.
Does that sound like a typical Sunday experience for you.
Guess what? It does for me too. Well, not necessarily typical, but it certainly happens.
What I’ve described above is religion. What does it evoke when you think of it? What does it look like when you picture it? What does it feel like when you experience it?
For me, it looks like rules. Like big fancy church buildings. Like priests wearing all white and reading a Bible in Latin.
Religion (in an admittedly strictly Christian sense of the word) is a verb. It is an external act without internal change. It means living a life where God only exists in our daily habits, but not in our heart. It is an easy way into heaven. A way in which we give nothing up, except maybe an hour a day for a devotion. Maybe it’s even just that hour per week that you make it to church.
That, my friends, is a lie. Here is the truth:
“The most important one [command],” answered Jesus, “is this … ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31, NIV).
I am sure most of you have heard this at some point in your life. The gist is quite easy to figure out actually: love God first, love people second. That is it. Do you see anything about going to church? Here’s a hint: I don’t.
Sadly, our culture has turned loving God into a one-hour per week coffee date. We’ve turned it into something we simply put on our to-do lists and weekly calendars. Think about what would happen if that was what your relationship with your spouse looked like. Or with your best friend. Would it get the job done? I won’t even give you a hint for that one because the answer is too easy.
If you are someone whose spiritual life revolves around a checklist of going to church, reading your Bible, praying, evangelizing or even serving the homeless, you are living a religion.
“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Revelation 2:2-4).
Read that last line carefully. “You have forsaken your first love.”
Jesus uses very strong language to describe the people He’s speaking to. He’s saying that they do all the right things. They don’t tolerate wickedness. They persevere. They endure hardships. They don’t grow weary. It seems like they have accomplished everything on their checklist.
Yet, there is something missing.
They are lacking love. In fact, according to the word Jesus uses, they are not just lacking—they have entirely deserted it. They have, in my own interpretation, exchanged Jesus for a set of rules. They have traded Him in for a religion. They are living the externals and neglecting the internal.
Why would they do this?
Because religion is easy.
Following a set of rules is easy.
Checking off a list of things to do is easy.
What true Christianity looks like is loving people the way Jesus did. It means living the way Jesus did, in the midst of this messy world.
That, my friends, is hard. That is being a disciple of Christ and not just a doer of religion.
Jeremy Anderberg is a senior at Drake University. He blogs at religioniseasy.com and loves Jesus, coffee, reading, big cities and his girlfriend Jane.
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