Did you know that religion (religio) means to bind or obligate?
The best way to describe religion is, it is an outward expression of the external ceremony, service and religious conduct (behavior) of a set of beliefs. There was a reason it was only used five times in the Word of God and each of those entries were related to Judaism – the external practices of the Law. If you remember, it was religion that nailed Jesus to the Cross.
The term religion is actually a Latin based descriptive. In these five references of “religion” in the Word, the actual Greek word used is ethelothreskeia, meaning will worship. Will worship was/is an external expression of worship by choice. The only location this word is used in a positive light is James 1:27, Pure and undefiled religion (worship) 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. The word originally used in this verse was threskei, meaning ceremonial observance, worship. Used in a positive or negative light, the word religion always expressed external actions in ceremonial observances. It was never used as a label for those in Christ or the body of Christ itself.
The thing about religion is there is no Divine person within it capable of manifesting Life. Those that are of a religion, their life source comes from the practices of their beliefs. This is accomplished by setting standards of practice to keep the Law. Could this have been the reason Jesus never spoke of this label? Probably. Jesus didn’t come to bring religion or the freedom of it. He came to bring Life (a person) and Life abundantly. Religion is man striving AFTER God, while Life is focused on releasing God (Jesus) through the man, which requires a born-again experience.
Religion is never a gift. It is a burden of rules and regulations. Life, on the other hand, is an authentic gift from Jesus. Can you imagine Jesus saying, I came that they may have religion, and may have it abundantly? The term Life is used forty times in John’s Gospel alone, 508 times from Genesis to the book of Revelation. The word Life originated from the Hebrew word derek, meaning, a road, mode of action or to go through. When we compare the word Life with that of religion, we are able to see the message of the Cross. Since religion is an external expression of what one believes, and Life is a road, action or passageway to go through, we see clearly why Jesus never spoke the word religion. It also gives us a rich understanding of Him saying, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)
Jesus worked to eliminate the ideology of religion.
Jesus came into this world to move those of religion into the abiding Life by way of placing the Holy Spirit within believers.
"I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)
If anyone understood that the rules of religion could not save mankind, it was Jesus. One of the most significant accomplishments of Jesus was He came to fulfill to Laws of religion in order to clear the pathway of transferring people of religion to a people of faith in Christ. His entire mission on earth was to encompass this.
People of religions “white-wash” their sins by keeping the established rules. People in Christ rely on the accomplishments of Jesus fulfilling the Law, indwelling the believer and acting out those fulfilled Laws through the indwelt by way of the Holy Spirit. The “effortless life” was now in motion. No more religion! The Old Testament was based in and upon religion. The New Testament is based upon fulfilled Law – thus Jesus eliminated the ideology of religion.
What is up with believers keeping the commandments?
This is fulfilled Law 101. Jesus doesn’t expect born-again believers to keep the commandments. That is simply a religious formality. Why would He expect the believer to repeat what He already accomplished? This is one of the leading purposes of Him giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit – to live out the fulfilled Laws. This is why the indwelt needs to focus on the obedience of releasing the Spirit.
Religion produces hypocrites. The reason why religion nailed Jesus to the Cross is, Jesus’s Life was/is Truth. Truth reveals hypocrisy. Hypocrisy fronted typically activates unbelief.
"But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.” (John 8:45)
These religious zealots use religious behavior to cover up disobedience to their own rules. Jesus was quick to say that a man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. This is why it was imperative for listeners to understand the difference between external (religion) vs. internal (Christ in you). Bottom line is, religions function under the Law or laws made up by their religion, while born-again believers function under Grace. Religion hides the intentions of the heart while Grace reveals the heart. A simple fact – anyone can act upon a Law but only one Person can fulfill it, Jesus.
As for man, the Law profits him nothing. As for Christ Jesus, the Law is everything. By fulfilling His Father’s Law, He opened a passage for His children to join Him in His perfection. It all boils down to the great Exchange.
"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
In my mind, this is one of the greatest questions Jesus asked. All of us must answer this question. As for me, I was willing to exchange my religious soul for the indwelling Life of Christ. I now watch Christ’s-life realized in my daily dying as I experience His daily living through my frail and vulnerable soul. What about you?
It is time for us to stop referencing Christianity as a religion! But on the other hand, maybe our Post-Truth version of Christianity is a religion. You decide.