A Study in Values and "Conflicting" Obligations and
Application of These Principles to the Bible's Use of the Words "Love" and "Hate"
The New Testament defines the Christian's "religion" as an expression of love for God and neighbor. In James 1:26-27, we can see both aspects of this love, in the definition given for "religion." First, the expression of love for God involves personal holiness (not being polluted by the world's influences). Second, love for neighbor involves a desire to help the helpless (such as impoverished widows and orphans). It is important to realize that a Christian's "religion" is not the cause of his salvation; rather, it is the result of his salvation. Don't confuse cause and effect!
"Religion," as the word is normally used, involves "religious activities," such as ceremonies, rituals, fund-raising events, committees, lessons, certificates, programs, membership lists, buildings, activities (sometimes every day of the week), man-made rules, contests, the practice of "good works" (in order to "get to heaven"), the use of gimmicks to "bring them in," and the like. These are just a few of the things that come to people's minds, when we talk about the "Christian religion" (as they would call it). Add to this the popular idea that the "Christian religion" is just one of many competing "religions" found in the world, all of which claim to be "the way"! (The word "religion," as normally used, brings Christianity down to the same level as man-made "religion.")
Quite clearly, very little of the world's concept of "religion" has any support in the Bible. Even the way most "Bible-believing Christians" use the word goes against the way the Bible uses it! The "religious" activities of many churches bear little resemblance to anything that the Bible tells us to do. And it bears even less resemblance to the Bible's concept of "religion."
Christianity itself is not a religion, but a relationship. Its primary focus is not centered around human activities ("religion") but on knowing Jesus Christ, as Lord, Savior and friend. It is based on the objective truth of Scripture, which reveals to us everything we need to know for life and godliness - not only for eternity, but also for life in this present world. This relationship comes into being because of the work of the Holy Spirit, who uses God's Word to lead us into the truth. And this is not merely some type of subjective, mystical "spiritual" truth, but solid, objective, historically accurate truth. The Spirit leads us not only to agree with it intellectually, but also to live by it, with all of our being. And all this is based on what Jesus did on the cross to save us, not on the works that we ourselves do.
The "religion" of Christianity (as defined by God) comes only after this relationship has come into existence. It is a response of gratefulness, expressed by those who love God, who's minds and hearts are becoming increasingly influenced by the life and conduct of their friend, Jesus, as recorded in Scripture.
Concerning the types of activities that most people consider "religious" (ceremonies, rituals, activities, etc.), most of these things are not commanded by God, but were invented by people. They would rate very low among the levels of priority. They could even be considered sinful, if they were being done, while God's commands were being neglected.
There are some religious activities mentioned in the Bible, which were commanded by God. Yet even these are given a lower priority than our obligations of love for (and obedience to) God, and love for neighbor. Furthermore, these activities often had limited applicability, and could be restricted to a specific context.
Examples of this limited applicability would include many of the ceremonial commands and rituals found in the Old Testament. They were applicable to Israel, because of an agreement the nation made with God, during the time of Moses. The Jews were required to do them. Yet at the same time, many of those regulations were never required of God-fearing non-Jews (except for those non-Jews who voluntarily chose to commit themselves to the Jewish way of life).
We need to remember that "religious activities" and "obedience to God" are not the same thing. Consider the following three examples:
Quite clearly, a person can do "religious activities" (as the world defines "religion") without obeying God. A person can do many of the "religious activities" found in churches without being saved! In contrast, the "religion" that Jesus requires is an expression of obedience, which can only occur after a person is saved. An unsaved person may imitate some of the things Jesus requires, but it would be impossible for him to do them for the reasons that Jesus wants them done. (He may, for instance, do them for "secondary" reasons - such as for the sake of "humanitarian good," while at the same time ignoring the "primary" reasons - such as the honor and glory of God.)
How does obedience to God express itself? Some of the ways include: 1) a morally pure lifestyle, 2) a desire to honor and glorify God in all that one does (1 Corinthians 10:31), 3) a lifestyle of relying on God (trusting him) in all that one does, and 4) an on-going fellowship with him (a focus on God's Word and on prayer). Even love is an expression of obedience. After all, isn't love for God and neighbor a response of obedience to the two greatest commands?
The first thing we must never forget is that religion and obedience are not the same, and that obedience must take precedence over religious activities. In terms of priority levels mentioned above, love and obedience to God, and love for our "neighbor," always takes precedence over love for (or devotion to) "religious activities." It is only when the more important expression of obedience (and the accompanying love) is being done, that the secondary expression of "religion" has any value.
The second thing we must never forget is that Christianity involves a relationship - a friendship - with the God and Creator of the universe. Many people have "religion." They fill their time with all sorts of "religious activities," but they never become friends with their Creator. So their religion is meaningless, and even offensive to God.
Dennis Hinks © 2001