Recently, President Trump declared that church services (and religious services of all faiths) are “essential” to our nation. I’m pleased that our religious freedom was given such staunch support at the presidential podium, and I agree that our ability to exercise our faith is crucial to our personal and national well-being. However, I think the COVID-19 pandemic has given us Christians a unique opportunity to evaluate what’s really essential to our faith.
I say “faith” and not “religion” for a reason. The word “religion” in the Bible (the Greek word “threskeia,” Strong’s 2356) simply means a “ceremonial observance, religion.” The words “religion” and “religious” are used seven times in the Bible, mostly in regard to Jewish beliefs and practices. When it comes to Christianity and the New Testament Church, however, the word “religion” is used only once, in James 1:27.
“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26 – 2:1, NAS).
In this verse, James draws a distinction between the kind of religion man practices in his own strength (and fails) and that which pleases God. It’s as if he’s saying, “If you want to be religious, then be religious in the way you serve those in need and in the way you avoid sin.”
From Religion to Faith
While the word “religion” doesn’t appear in the Old Testament, you can easily follow the formation of the Jewish religion through the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, in which God outlines hundreds of commands, including detailed requirements for sacrifices, feast days, and other observances. But then Jesus came along, and He distilled the commandments into two:
“‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets”” (Matthew 22:36-40 NAS).
When Jesus rose from the grave, He fulfilled the Law of the Old Testament and ushered in a new period of faith. No longer would people have to follow strict religious guidelines to seek God’s forgiveness and favor.
“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:24-26 NAS).
Once we accept Jesus as Savior and are filled with the Holy Spirit, we have access to God in a deeply personal way. That’s why the disciples of the New Testament exhibited an unshakable faith after they received the Holy Spirit. Even when they couldn’t fellowship with other believers, even when they were being persecuted and jailed, they worshiped God and remained true to Him. However, they did not identify themselves as followers of any religion but as something holy—as part “of the household of faith” (see Galatians 6:10).
Unfortunately, many self-professing Christians today are relying on religion to get to Heaven. They think that by participating in all the ceremonies and functions church offers and by being a good person they’ll gain God’s favor. But these folks don’t actually have a relationship with God. They have plenty of religion but no faith.
Throughout the past few months, it’s been my prayer that families would rediscover their faith in the absence of religious services. That we would come to rely on Jesus even as the stress has mounted and the uncertainties have increased. That we would begin to share our growing faith with our little ones who are now forced to be home with us. That we would tell an anxious world all the good things that God is doing for us. Thankfully, I’m hearing some reports that these things have actually been occurring—praise God!
But now the church doors are opening. Sermons are being said and ceremonies are being held. The comforts of community are in reach (or at least six feet away). Christians do need these things. We need fellowship. We need to uplift one another, to offer encouragement and prayer, to share our testimonies, and offer thanks in a communal setting. We need these things because God has called us to love and serve one another. But these things are acts of faith, NOT the source of our faith.
Before you jump back into the trappings of church life, I encourage you to do a little soul searching to determine if you have a personal faith in God or if you’ve relied on the religion. Go through the following list and identify any statements that are true.
- You feel lost without the ceremony or structure of church services
- You never read your Bible (or if you do, you never internalize its teachings but see them more as history lessons)
- You never say “original” prayers to God, as if you were speaking directly to a loved one
- You think Christianity is a good thing, but it’s hard for you to identify as a Christ follower
- You consider yourself “saved,” but you’re uncomfortable with the idea of having a personal relationship with God
- You rely on a pastor, priest, worship leader, loved one, or some other person to explain the things of God
- You think faith is important but you fail to see what it has to do with your life
- You think that everyone ultimately goes to Heaven or some other happy place after death
- You fail to see the point in reading the Bible
- You think your good deeds are sufficient to get you into Heaven
If you’ve marked any of these statements as true, then you’re probably relying on religion, not faith. The good news is that Jesus still wants to have a personal relationship with you. Reach out to Him today by saying a prayer like this: “Jesus, I ask you to be the Lord of my life today.” The first step of faith is that simple—and that essential.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 NAS).Are you relying on religion or faith? Take this simple self-assessment today: https://wp.me/p5RmGL-1jh. Click To Tweet
Pin it for later
Ready to share your faith with your little ones? Download my free eBook now: