Why all the confusion about religion? Why are we constantly under pressure to accept the religious viewpoints of others? What is it that makes religion so confusing? Most people, even throughout history, have struggled with religion. Wars have been fought between religions or even sects within the same religion. Those wars were fought to prevent one religion from gaining more influence over the people in a certain area. There is even an adage that tells us never to bring up politics or religion in the workplace or in polite conversation. Why? Because religion is divisive and everyone has an opinion about it. How do we clear up the confusion about religion? As Christians, our best response to the confusion is to abandon it.
What? Did I just suggest that we Christians need to abandon our faith; abandon Christ? No, I suggested that we need to abandon Christianity. There is a major difference. Before I go any further, I want you to consider a passage of scripture:
“The Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” – John 5:37-40 (NKJV)
You probably don’t see a command or even a suggestion to abandon Christianity in that passage. Let’s bring it into context. Back all the way up to the beginning of the fifth chapter of John. What has happened is that Jesus has healed someone on the Sabbath. That, of course, had the Jewish religious leaders up in arms to begin with, but Jesus made it even worse afterward because he then made himself equal to God. The above passage was a part of his response to them concerning His equality with God.
Jewish Leaders Were Caught Up In Religion.
The Scribes and Pharisees were so caught up in their religion that the very words that they were reading in the scriptures made no sense to them. The religion that they had built around themselves had made them blind. Here’s another passage of scripture that ought to rattle you a little bit when you consider your Religion vs. Faith in Christ.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” – Matthew 23:25, 26 (NKJV)
This passage of scripture is only a sampling of a series of judgments that Jesus pronounces upon the Jewish leaders because of their blindness. This entire chapter is an argument against religion. Even more sobering, however, is the fact that Jesus is pronouncing judgment upon religion. Are you ready to abandon religion yet?
God Hates Our Religious Practices
I’m pushing it a little bit too far now, right? Should I dare suggest that God Himself hates religion? I’ll give you a choice, you can either believe Amos Chapter 5 or Isaiah Chapter 1 on this one.
“I hate, I despise your feast days,
And I do not savor your sacred assemblies.
Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.
Take away from Me the noise of your songs,
For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.” – Amos 5:21-23
“I have had enough of burnt
offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle.
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
Or of lambs or goats.
“When you come to appear before Me,
Who has required this from your hand,
To trample My courts?
Bring no more futile sacrifices;
Incense is an abomination to Me.
The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
Your New Moons and your appointed feasts
My soul hates;
They are a trouble to Me,
I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.” – Isaiah 1:11-15 (NKJV)
Do either of those passages sound like God is pleased with religion?
What Does God Desire?
Since I’ve jerked the religious rug out from under you, I’ve either angered you or confused you further. If God does not want us to be religious, then what does he expect from us? Let’s look at two Psalms and then move on into what we should do to replace our religion with true faith.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17 (NKJV)
“The LORD is near
to those who have a broken heart, and saves such
as have a contrite spirit.” – Psalm 34:18 (NKJV)
If you’re starting to see a contrast here, that’s great, if not, let me point it out to you. The proud practice of religion is what God and Jesus are pronouncing judgment against. Though it is not always the case, going to mass, going to church, attending bible studies, taking communion and all of the various rites and practices of Christianity tend to puff us up and fill us with pride. Even keeping the law and being righteous can become a stumbling block to us.
We Are Not Christians Because We Are Christians Outwardly
Religion is an outward sign and not an inner one. The practice of our religion is our stumbling block; one equal to the stumbling block of the Jewish leaders that Jesus spoke so harshly to and about. The apostle Paul can help give you perspective in this passage from Colossians 2:11-14:
“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” – Colossians 2:11-14 (NKJV)
Our practice of religion actually works counter to our faith if we do not put our trust in Christ as the ultimate fulfillment of our own righteousness.
God Desires to Write His Law on Our Hearts
Earlier, you saw how God railed against religion, and then, in contrast, you saw how His desire is for us to have a broken and contrite heart. Why does God desire us to be broken? He desires us to be broken because He wants to write His law in our hearts. How? It’s a two step process. First:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 36:26 (NKJV)
“I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” – Jeremiah 31:33 (NKJV)
Religion is not only confusing; it is also a stumbling block. It not only divides Christians from one another, but it also separates us from knowing our Lord and pleasing our God. Though sound doctrine in the Word of God ought never to abandoned, because that is God writing his law on our hearts, those parts of our religion that make us prideful and make us believe that we are pleasing God ought to be abandoned altogether. God desires a broken and contrite heart upon which to write his law, not one that is cluttered up with religious rites and practices.