You may wonder what I mean by “Faith vs. Religion” in the title of this post. Aren’t they the same thing, sort of? Not necessarily. A religion is usually made up of a set of institutionalized religious practices and observances, rules of conduct and entrenched traditions. In a religion, some kind of faith is involved, but often that faith is placed on the effectiveness of religious practices, rules, observances, and traditions in appeasing or finding favor with a deity.
Christianity is a religion, of course, but more importantly it is a relationship with God based on our faith in a Savior. Because we have a Savior, we believe we don’t have to earn our way into God’s favor by scrupulously following religious observances, keeping traditions, and doing other works. We believe God reconciled us to himself through Jesus, and our response is to love God, keep his commandments, love our neighbor, do good works, and serve and worship God. Any worship or religious practices Christians do should be the result of that love, not to gain favor with God.
The Apostle Paul, addressed faith vs. works-based religion in Ephesians 2:8-9:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. NIV
In that important passage Paul explains that we don’t earn the right to be in relationship with God through any works we do, so we can’t boast about it. It is given to us only by God’s grace (unmerited favor) when we place our trust in Jesus, whom we believe is the way, the truth and the life.
Sadly, there are Christian leaders who add rules, regulations and “necessary” observances to God’s Word, laying burdens on believers. When pastors or churches do that, they are changing Christianity from a faith-based relationship with God (sola fide) to a works-based religion. Christians should think about whether our traditions and religious observances have more importance to us than our relationship with God.
So I believe true Christian religion must uphold God’s truth and not man’s ideas of what is necessary for salvation. True Christian religion is about trusting God, and being in relationship with him. Religious practices have their place, and worship is especially important. But for Christians, the motivation behind any religious practices or good works must be to honor God, and not on any self-sufficiency we think we have.
I believe God is more interested in us living out our faith than what our religious practices are. We read in Proverbs 21:3: To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Hosea 6:6 says something similar: For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
The Bible teaches that God loves all of us, but we must respond to God’s love by placing our faith in him, and then living out our faith. Most importantly, we must be in relationship with God, and that love bond is our motivation to worship and be obedient to God’s call to serve. As we continue through Lent, we Christians should ask the Lord to increase our faith, reveal where we need to change, and what God would have us to do for his Kingdom.