You Don’t Have to Be Religious to Serve God

Wow… I might get some responses on this one.  I suspect it will ruffle many feathers, and upset some apple carts.

Of course, everyone knows you have to be religious to serve God.  But, is that really true?  In order to answer this question we must find an adequate definition for the term ‘religious’ and ‘religion’.

One of the definitions for ‘religion’ is “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.”  That actually seems ok, for the most part.  But there is a secondary definition of ‘religion’ that I have some trouble with – “a particular system of faith and worship.”  Yes, this is the one that could cause some problems, and has caused problems.  The keyword here to make note of is ‘system’.  I’ll say more about that in a minute…

What about ‘religious’?  Well, one definition says, “very careful to do something whenever it can or should be done”.  Doesn’t sound too bad.  Another definition says, “believing in a god or a group of gods and following the rules of a religion.”  Ah, here we go.  Take note of the word ‘rules’.

Well, don’t we need systems and rules?  Yes, but they can be so easily misaligned and misinterpreted with what God originally intended.

Between the time the Ten Commandments were given to Moses and the days of Christ, the Jews had managed to create over 600 additional laws, rules, and traditions that were religious in nature.  In short, they were very religious.  In fact, the Pharisees and scribes of that time (the time of Christ) were the most religious people in Israel.  But, there was a problem

Being religious did not mean they were in close communion with God.  In fact, it might be successfully argued they missed knowing the Messiah because they were too religious.  One of the primary complaints the scribes and Pharisees had of Christ was that he broke many of their rules and traditions, and was, therefore, considered to be a sinner or godless.

It could also be argued it was because of misplaced religious beliefs which condemned Jesus to death and put Him on the cross.

So, is religion and being religious bad or wrong?  It’s not a question of it being bad or wrong, but a question of how it is used.  In the hands of man (including men and women here) religion and religious belief can be very dangerous, indeed.  Man has a capacity for distorting good things and turning them into things God never intended.  However, when guided by God, religion and being religious does not have to be bad.

So, how does one know when religion is bad?  It’s not really that complicated.  Does it follow the two commandments Jesus laid out?  1) Love God, 2) Love your neighbor.  Then it is good, otherwise, it is suspect.

Rules and laws do not have to be bad.  They can be good.  But, it is a constant challenge to ensure they do not get misused or distorted for the wrong purpose.

So, why do people in high religious authority put so much significance on following the rules, when it is clear Jesus tried to relieve the burden of trying to follow all 600+ rules and traditions the Jews had come up with?  The reason is pretty simple – it is in the nature of man to control people and things.  The pathway to power is to place ourselves in ever-increasing positions of authority and then to require those following to adhere to a set of rules, guidelines, laws, precepts, etc…  After all, we cannot assume people will simply apply the Bible to their own lives without detailed instructions, can we?  That would be far too simple.  Before we know what has happened we are applying our own rules to other people’s lives and passing judgment upon them.

The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day believed they had special access to God.  They were privileged and had special knowledge about God and what He wanted for the common man or woman.  When Jesus came along, and refused to subscribe to their doctrine and belief-system He was targeted as a ‘dangerous’ person.  Someone to be wary of.  And yet, He was sent as a direct emissary of God, an ambassador.  In the eighth chapter of the Book of John, Jesus gets into a lengthy discussion and argument with the religious leaders.  They see Jesus as one who is motivated and controlled by the devil, and not as the Son of God.  To bolster their argument and cement their authority they claim Abraham as their father.  But, Jesus declares that the devil is their father.  Both sides are utterly convinced of their divine relationship with God, but one side is wrong.  This is interesting as it illustrates that even the Son of God could not convince everyone of His divine origin and mission.  There are those who refuse to accept the true and living God, but who will accept man’s rules and laws concerning religion and serving God.  They were sincere in their belief, but they were sincerely wrong.

So, in summary, do not confuse being religious with serving God.  Do not confuse following rules and precepts with pleasing God.  Do not confuse man’s traditions with the traditions of God.  And avoid using religious beliefs as your basis for judging others.

Too often Christians forget that while we may hate the sin, we should love the sinner.  This certainly precludes pronouncing judgment on others by using our own belief system as judge and jury.

One Response to “You Don’t Have to Be Religious to Serve God”

  1. Bea McGuire Says:

    All I can say is that this was an excellent blog. They just keep getting better and better…if that’s even possible! Thank you and blessings to you and your family…..

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