I love grammar. I’ve even been accused of being a grammar nazi! One sweet friend told me that I wasn’t really a nazi – but I was close. As such, it sounds like nails on a black board whenever I hear a fellow Christian declare with fervency that he or she is “not religious, just in a relationship!”
You see, by definition, Christians are religious, and we are participating in a religion.
“The service and worship of God or the supernatural; commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance,” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says in one definition of the word. Also “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”
I don’t know about you, but based on these definitions, I’d have to say that I am definitely religious! Yet what people are trying to communicate when they say they aren’t religious, is that religion is an empty, moralistic word.
Though Christianity is a religion, it’s entirely possible to follow a religion without the Gospel. And this is what Paul addresses head-on in his scathing epistle to the churches in Galatia.
Paul founded the Galatian churches in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe (Acts 13:14-14:23), but after he left, false teaches came in. They began spreading the dangerous doctrine that Gentiles must become Jewish converts and submit to the Mosaic law before they could become Christians. The Galatian churches were surprisingly and openly accepting of this heretical teaching. Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia to defend the essential doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone, and to warn these churches of the dire consequences of abandoning the faith given once for all (Jude 1:3). He is passionately defending the Gospel of Christ, and fiercely denouncing the heresy of empty religion.
The only thing that can give religion a life-giving, soul-sustaining meaning is the Gospel of Jesus Christ – a gospel of justification by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8).
Dr. Henrietta Mears, one of the great Bible teachers of the 20th century said, “Religion is the best people can do. Christianity is the best God can do…we are pronounced righteous not by works of the law, but by faith in Him…we have found that when we have accepted the gospel with a thankful heart, then we get busy on good works.”
Indeed, the book of Galatians is designed not only as a declaration of independence from the Mosaic law and to proclaim the truth of salvation by grace alone, but also to state unequivocal freedom from sin, and enslavement to Christ (Gal. 5:18, 24, 25). The Galatians rightly understood that salvation ought to result in transformation, but they forgot that good works and obedience to the commands of Jesus are always a fruit of love, not the root of Gospel change (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).
Author Tim Keller writes, “Religion operates on the principle ‘I obey – therefore I am accepted by God.’ But the operating principle of the gospel is ‘I am accepted by God through what Christ has done – therefore I obey.’”
Nowhere in the Bible – Old or New Testaments – do the imperatives (commands) of God come before the indicatives of God (what He has done). Tullian Tchividjian explains the logic of the Gospel this way, “Imperatives divorced from indicatives become impossibilities.” The very nature of God’s grace is that life and heart transformation are not the cause of it, but rather the result of it.
Ladies, is there something you are grappling with today – something you fear that you must change before God can accept you? We will never truly change as long as we think we have to change before God will love and save us. Religion without the Gospel hinges on sin management; Christianity hinges on repentance and surrendering all to the indescribable grace of God, who has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Our pursuit of God may indeed be religious, but in His infinite love and mercy, the Creator of heaven and earth has offered us something more: Relationship. Relationship accomplishes what empty religion promises but can never deliver: A changed heart, a changed life, and a changed future.