I know it’s a provocative title. I know some people may be confused, if not offended when I say God hates religion because they may have identified God with religion. It is therefore important that the term religion is defined and differentiated from genuine Christianity and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The English word ‘religion’ is etymologically derived from the Latin word religo, meaning to ‘bind up.’ Now you can’t get much clearer than that right up front! Religion binds people up in rules and regulations or in ritualistic patterns of devotion. Christianity, on the other hand, sets us powerfully free and was never meant to be a religion. By stark contrast to religion, Christianity is the dynamic spiritual life of the risen Lord Jesus indwelling our spirit so as to create functional behaviour to the glory of God.
Sadly, mankind has attempted to force Christianity into the mould and forms of religion for centuries. That is evident by all the steeples and sanctuaries and ecclesiastical programs that dot the landscape of societies across the world. It is the propensity of fallen mankind to formulate religion to take that which is of the invisible God and attempt to make it visible, tangible and controllable which then produces man-made religion! The apostle Paul refers to it as “self-made religion” (Colossians 2:23), and goes on to indicate that it is of no value against fleshly indulgence. In essence, Paul is saying that “religion is of no value against man’s sinfulness.” In fact, religion is a co-dependent enabler of the sins of mankind. It is itself an addiction.
Religion is essentially idolatry. Men and women worship their man-made formations and structures their ideological idols formed in the concrete of inflexible minds. When the apostle Paul came to Athens (Acts 17:22), he observed their idols and exclaimed,“Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.” The Greek word that Paul used for “religious” literally means “to have great respect for demons.”
To see how God feels about religion, note the following passages of Scripture:
Deuteronomy 12:31 “.. every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.”
Isaiah 1:10-15 “I have had enough of burnt offerings .. Bring your worthless offerings no longer .. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts; they have become a burden to Me .. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you .. I will not listen ..”
Amos 5:21-24 “I hate, I reject your religious festivals; nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies…take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.”
Religion, as described by contemporary definitions and experienced by so many millions who claim to be God’s people, is so far removed from what God ordained and what God desires that it may very well be the exact opposite of true Christianity. For example, not one of the definitions of religion I found (and I found many!) contained the word relationship. That is very significant because a quick browse through the Bible will reveal to even the most unenlightened mind that the Christian faith is allabout relationships! From Genesis to Revelation we have the story of God creating us to be in relationship with Himself and with each other. The whole Bible is about relationships and where they went wrong and what God did to fix that and what we are meant to do (and not do) to participate in His global campaign to re-establish close, eternal, intimate relationships with His lost children. I am not talking about man’s relationship to God in some abstract philosophical sense.
That’s what religion does – that’s what philosophy does. I am talking about our personal relationship with God, one-on-one – an intimate communion. That concept is foreign to religion, but that is what the Bible is all about! That’s what the Great Commission and the Ten Commandments are about – and every teaching and instruction from Jesus and Paul and all the New Testament writers – it’s all about RELATIONSHIP and none of it is about religion! So to contrast genuine Christianity with religion, let me give you my simple definition of religion as I understand it from Church history and have seen and experienced in more than 40 years of front line ministry in the Church:
Religion is our feeble attempt to establish and maintain a relationship with God through every means possible other than that which He ordained, provides and empowers.
The Bible is not a book of answers and rules for life. It is the revelation of God’s love and a sharing of His thoughts and His heart. There may be a lot that we will never understand and appreciate about our Lord in this earthly life, but the Holy Spirit has preserved some of God’s most intimate and revealing thoughts on paper for us and that’s how we should approach the Bible and prayer and worship – from the point of a relationship. Loving God should be our only motivation for any of those activities and spiritual disciplines.
Jesus and Jesus alone is the gospel. Jesus and Jesus alone is our salvation. Whenever we add anything to Jesus and His finished work on the cross, we have removed ourselves from the power of the gospel and seek once again to save ourselves by our self-righteousness. We seek to related to God through our performance and behaviour. That is the essence of religious behaviour, which despises God’s grace. Religion is an ugly distortion of relationship. We fully experience the freedom we have in Christ when we look to Him alone, not just for our salvation, but for our ongoing walk in the Christian life, depending on Him in all things. Our response is love and gratitude for all He has done for us. God is enough and He wants us to live freely in His love and grace, free from the power and penalty of sin, free from guilt and shame and free from religious expectations and rule-keeping. He wants us to return His love freely, as we learn to know Him more.
How then shall we live? Quite simply we live by choosing every day between relationship or religion and the difference between the two is unmistakable:
Relationship causes us to be dependent
Religion drowns us in our own strength
Relationship produces passion in our lives
Religion produces complacency
Relationship compels us to serve
Religion drives us to apathy
Relationship draws us towards what’s risky
Religion draws us to something comfortable and predictable
Relationship drives us to our knees
Religion drives us to our platforms
Relationship births love for those who don’t know Jesus yet
Religion births love of our rules
Relationship brings change and freedom
Religion forces conformity and bondage
Relationship brings forth life and fruit
Religion brings decay and spiritual death
So that is why the word ‘religion’ should never, ever be used to describe anything to do with the Church which Jesus birthed or the gospel we are called to preach and to live. That is why I believe God hates religion because it stands opposed to everything He is and everything we are called to be in Christ, through Christ and for Christ.