The problem with religion is that it’s easier than following Jesus. I know the title is a little misleading, and perhaps a few disappointed atheists are hitting the back button right now. And to keep this essay manageable, let’s deal only with the religion of Christianity being easier than Jesus, not all of the religions, although I think the same premise is still true.
How can I say that Christianity is not the same as following Jesus? Because there are huge churches and many very popular pastors and leaders in this country promoting the Christian religion while almost totally ignoring Christ. When sermons are preached on even Palm Sunday and Easter that do not mention sin, the cross, the blood, or even the fact that Jesus died, then we are not teaching the Gospel that Paul instructed us not to leave. His goal was to know Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2) and nothing else was that important. The shed blood of Jesus Christ is the most important thing we have to share with the world we live in, and for the most part the church in the United States is not teaching Christ and His crucifixion.
A good sermon series on marriage is beneficial from time to time to help couples understand the Biblical precepts of marriage. A youth group that meets on a regular basis, attends concerts, and makes trips together gives kids and teen-aged youth healthy alternatives to being on the street, roving the mall, or cruising. But if thousands of members are involved in hundreds of activities, and they never hear about how Christ died to save sinners we have failed to do God’s work. A million activities offered to the community only make the Church a social gathering. A long list of rules to follow, or principles for living will only create legalism. Legalists are very religious; just look at the Pharisees in Jesus’s day. But Jesus reprimanded them for keeping the letter of the law while missing the spirit of the law.
I’ll probably make enemies quick if I start naming names, but let me throw out just 2 that illustrate the point I’m making. John Piper is known for being radically God-centered. He teaches that the very existence of the universe points towards a God that deserves honor and glory. Piper’s ministry is so God-centered that I am challenged to live up to its standards. Now consider the ministry of Joel Osteen. I’m not making a personal attack on his character; he seems like a great guy. But in his church, his interviews on television and in print, his televised program, and his books (best sellers on the New York Times list) there is little glory and honor directed toward Jesus. It’s motivational. It makes you feel great about yourself. But what each individual is meant to do is reflect God’s glory, and there is less and less of that teaching in our world.
John the Baptist, after Jesus began his public ministry, said that “He must increase and I must decrease.” The problem with religion is that it’s often about what we can do for ourselves, not about what Christ can do in us or through us. When the rich young ruler told Jesus he had kept all the commandments from his youth, Jesus said he must sell all that he had and follow. When it came time to deny self and rely totally on Jesus Christ, he left very sad. You see he came to Christ with religion – Here’s what I did. What he needed was Christ. The bad news for “religious” people, is that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done; it will NEVER be enough. The good news is (the Gospel message) is that Christ has already done it. We can’t do it, but we don’t have to. Jesus Christ did enough on Calvary to satisfy God, which is good for us because we never could anyway.
Jesus said some things in His ministry that even he described as hard. Jesus I think was testing the rich young ruler to give up depending on what he had made and depend entirely on Him. Jesus said on one occasion that one must hate even father and mother to be his followers. Rather than explain to a congregation example by hyperbole, it is easier to teach 5 principles for better finances or 10 steps to a happier you. It is easier to be religious, to attend church service, to follow a long list of rules, than to follow Jesus and be conformed to His image. To tell someone they must take up their cross, or die daily, those things are hard. It is easier to teach tithing 10% than honoring God with all you have. Religion is easier than Jesus.