In 2008 I said the Problem with Religion is that it’s easier than following Jesus. Posting a list of rules or setting up a routine to stick to is often easier than imitating Christ. Jesus challenges us to love unconditionally, to love the unlovable, to consider others before ourselves, to act in humility, to seek God’s will about our own and all others for that matter, and the list goes on. “Keep these 10 commandments” is predictable; following Jesus is not. Your family at home and your boss at work probably appreciate rule following and predictability; acting Christ-like may not make friends and influence people.
The problem with religion I have in mind today is that religion is all about what we do. Posting a list of rules? You look at the list and think “I can do this.” Probably not, but let’s say you do a pretty good job most of the time. Whatever we do will never be enough. The prodigal son in Luke 15 came to his senses and made a plan. He would go back to his father and declare himself unworthy to be called a son. He would work for his father and pay back everything he had wasted. We do the same with God. “Let me have this job” we might bargain in prayer “and I will give above my 10% tithe.” “Let me met a girl and we will attend church together.” “Heal my mother and I will never miss a Sunday service again.” If God will A, B, C then we will do/give/quit to X, Y, Z. The prodigal son returned home and the father didn’t even listen to his plan. He called for a robe, shoes and a ring. He declared that his son was dead but now alive again. Working as a servant in his father’s house he would have never been able to repay the fortune he had wasted. Nothing he could do would ever be enough and it didn’t matter – the father wasn’t interested in what the kid could do for him. God owns the cattle of a thousand hills; your 11th % does not impress.
Salvation cannot be bought at any price. It is a precious gift that God enjoys giving. That’s why Jesus was born on this earth, then suffered, bled and died. Religion is about what we do, the Gospel is about what God has already done. God has already given his only Son, and the Son has already been obedient to his father’s will, even to the point of death on a tree. Christ is already risen to sit at the Father’s right hand where he ever lives to make intercession, and the Comforter is already here convicting of sins and drawing us toward God. Look into Isaiah 1. We can replace burning incense and trampling the temple courts with our acts of worship, such as singing hymns and attending Sunday service at 11 a.m. In Isaiah’s day they were lifting their hands and saying many prayers, just as we might do as well. And God wasn’t listening. All of their “worship” was to him an abomination because of their guilt and wickedness. He finally implores them to “Cease doing evil and learn to do good.” They were busy doing a lot of things thinking the things they did pleased God. Their hearts were not in the right place. Faith pleases God – when we believe God is who he says he is and that he will do the things he has promised to do. It was true for Abraham in Genesis 15 and remains true for us this day.
Religion is about what we do, from keeping rules and performing rituals to saying the right things when we think people are listening. The Gospel is about what God has already done. If we confess our sins and repent, when we humble ourselves and make much of Jesus, when we love God and love our neighbor, then all of those worship things we do honor God. The Pharisees placed money in the offering box but it was the poor widow that loved God and trusted him to provide.