As part of what I do as a pastor, I read, study, and meditate a lot. I do so in order to be able to lead the believing community which God, through His Spirit, has called me to lead. In all of that, one reality which I constantly encounter is that Christianity is called a religion; and that saddens me for it is so inaccurate.
Unfortunately, it has been often the case that it is the church which gives rise to this description. It has been often the case where leaders and others of the church throughout the history of the church and even today have transformed Christianity and the pure message of Christ’s gospel from one truly based in Christ’s gospel as He taught it to Paul into a system of regulations, codes and requirements, much like that of Paul’s opponents, against whom he spoke in his letter to the believers in the region of Galatia.
It has been and is far too common (I would describe once as being far too common) that a person’s adherence to the gospel and measurement of spiritual maturity is based upon what a person does relative to a religious system with its requirements and dictates.
For example, one who doesn’t do any work or shop or some other activity on Sunday, the “Christian Sabbath” as some erroneously call it, is seen as more spiritual than one who does. One who chooses to not drink alcohol nor support an establishment which serves alcohol is seen as more spiritual than one who chooses to drink alcohol in moderation. One who reads 5 chapters of the Bible daily is seen as more spiritual than the one who only reads a few verses daily or weekly.
All of these rules and codes, whether explicit or implicit, have been made a part of what it means to be a follower of Christ by leaders and others within the church.
The problem is this: that is religion, and not the gospel as Christ taught it to Paul and Paul proclaim it to others. Because of the gospel Christ revealed and then taught to Paul, Paul threw off the yoke of religious rules and regulations which the Jews had been living under since the giving of the Mosaic Law. Because of Christ, the focus was back to where God truly wanted it to be – whose nature resided in a person’s heart.
When a person believes in the message of Christ and becomes a child of God through the adoption available to anyone who believes in Christ, the Spirit of Christ enters into his/her heart along with the Spirit’s nature. That nature now becomes the operative nature because the old me with my old nature has been crucified with Christ.
So, my nature becomes one in which I am loving, patient, kind, joyful, peaceful, gentle, good to others, faithful, long-suffering and in control. No code of conduct or religious system of regulation can bring about this nature, and, if this nature is now the nature from which I live, no code of conduct or religious system with its regulations, requirements and obligatory practices is even necessary in the first place.
So, when Christianity is termed “a religion” because it is transformed into one due to the teachings of leaders and others in the church, I am saddened because it now transforms Christianity into something which is inferior, pointless, and useless when compared to the true and pure good news of Christ.
In the latter part of the 4th chapter (verses 21-31) of his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul speaks to how the true gospel from which true Christianity comes is superior to that of the religious version.
Religious Christianity True Christianity
symbolized by Hagar, the slave woman symbolized by Sarah, the free woman
from the son of the bondwoman, Ishmael from the son of the freewoman, Isaac
emanates from natural birth emanates from supernatural birth by promise
symbolized by Mount Sinai, the Law symbolized by Mount Zion, the Law of Christ
The earthly Jerusalem The heavenly Jerusalem
Fruitful Barren (at first)
Small offspring Large offspring
Judaism a bondage Christians free
In every way, true Christianity is much superior to the religious version, so it truly saddens me when the reality is that Christianity is seen as a religion because of being transformed into one through the teaching of leaders and others in the church.