The liberty of the gospel is not the same as freedom from religion

It is becoming ever-increasingly more common to see posts authored by “spiritual” bloggers, hear about sermons preached by “spiritual” speakers or read about books written by “spiritual” writers who make the same spiritual mistake, as politically motivated atheists do, by championing the mantra of “freedom from religion” in such a way to convince others to agree with their point of view. Sounds like religion to me, but anyways. While understanding a person’s point of view is important, it is also true that an individual’s point of view can be easily skewed. That’s because our point of view (our experiences, our study or the lack thereof, our motivations, etc.) can make us completely blind to what we’re saying on a particular topic no matter how plain the truth really is because of the barriers that we self-erect with our position.

A case in point can be seen in the following “anti-religion” statement:

We find it fascinating that every single hostile encounter Jesus has is with highly religious people. Not one of them is with a so-called “pagan.” It was religious people who opposed Christ; it was religious people who had him killed. This ought to give you some idea of the pernicious nature of religion. There is relationship with God and life in his Kingdom, and then there is religion. They are not the same.” (here’s the link to the author’s site so you know I’m not taking anything out of context)

The above quote comes straight from the website of a seemingly fairly well-known author in religious circles…or should I say anti-religious circles? Depends upon your point of view I guess. Either way, the above quote also shows what happens when you want to make a point so badly that you don’t quite stop and listen to what’s being said because it sounds so good to the ears of those who believe it and who want to hear it. So what’s my point about the above point of view? Well it’s this – for multiple reasons, it’s just not biblical!

1) Of course Jesus dealt with highly religious people on a regular basis – he lived in Israel! Israel was where the very people who had the word of God committed to them lived (Romans 3:1-2). By the time Immanuel was born in Bethlehem, Israel was thoroughly finished with the pagan relationships of the past that are so apparent throughout many of the Old Testament letters. So there’s no real point with that point.

2) Contrary to the common belief, pagans did indeed cause grief in the life of Jesus even to the point of being co-responsible for taking it! It was the followers of Jesus who made this clear, and it is the very word of God that plainly says, “So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ.’ “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.” (Acts 4:24-28 – emphasis mine) Whether you call them religious or not, it doesn’t change the point – pagans (or non crediderunt in unum Deum) played a role in the death of Jesus. And even if Jesus would have gone beyond the borders of Palestine preaching the kingdom of God, he would have received the same treatment that the rest of the apostles and prophets and believers received while doing that very thing as can be seen throughout the book of Acts because that’s how the world has always reacted to God’s light whether in Jerusalem or in Jacksonville (John 3:19-21).

3) Pointing out a pernicious aspect of religion (driven by people and not the religion itself) makes pernicious behavior no more necessary than watching foul entertainment just because it’s available on the TV. It’s out of the heart that troubles come and not religion per-say. Religion can indeed be empty, and sadly with the majority of people it is, but the emptiness is found in the heart of the “religionee” and not the in the religion that comes from God himself. Again, it was the followers of God’s religion (which indeed was holy, just and good – Romans 7:12) that failed by ceasing to soak up the righteousness of God into the very places that God wanted his religion – their heart, mind and soul (Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Matthew 15:1-11; Mark 12:28-34).

4) We cannot have a proper relationship with God in his kingdom without having the (not a) proper religion in our life. To say otherwise reveals 1) a lack of understanding toward the biblical meaning of the word “religion” and 2) a lack of understanding about the word of God itself. After all, where did all of the instructions to meet in Jerusalem for the Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles come from? Where did the instruction of tithing and observing the Sabbath come from? Where did the command of loving God and loving neighbor come from? It all came from God! So no matter how badly individuals treated (twisted to their own benefit or even disregarded altogether) these principles, the principles were still given by God with the intent of governing his people – the principles were meant to be the principals in the formation of a truly religious foundation in the eyes of God. This is why Jesus preached a message that said “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14-15). Repentance is key – a repentance that leads an individual, whether initially religious or not, to get right with the program by being joined to the kingdom through the principles (I even dare say religious guidelines) that are being delivered from the king himself. You could not enjoy the kingdom without repentance and you could not enjoy repentance without religious principles.

To sum it up, I’m not trying to “pick on” the person that I’ve quoted above. I may have even been guilty of saying that only religious people “picked on” Jesus at one point or another myself. But regardless of who’s saying it, it doesn’t need to be said to defend an anti-religious position (which is probably more of an anti-religious establishment stand; which is not always a bad thing) because God’s people don’t need to be anti-religious. God’s people, for the sake of their salvation, need to be very religious in the biblical sense of the word when it comes to their relationship with God (2 Peter 1:1-12). For it is not possible for an individual to seek the kingdom of God without also seeking God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33); and it is not possible to seek God’s righteousness without following the righteousness that is revealed only through the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16-17); and it is not possible to follow the faith found in the gospel of Christ without being obedient to it (Romans 6:17-18, 16:25-26). And that my friend is why the liberty of the gospel is not the same thing as liberty from religion.

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Galatians 5:13-14)

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