If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his own tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. - James 1:26
Today, I want to show you the difference between mere religion - what I like to call “rule-following” - and true faith. The two are very different but are often mistaken to be the same. Usually (but not always), they are mistaken to be the same by non-Christians. This discussion is going to be very lengthy, but in order to cover it all it sorta has to be. Please bear with me!
Webster’s defines religion as this:
“1b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and fait”
Faith is defined as this:
1a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty
b (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs
Even the dictionary recognizes a difference between the two. Religion is basically the practice of your faith. However, religion can become tainted and worn down by putting emphasis on tradition and routine. In the New Testament, we see Jesus refer - and talking - to the Pharisees frequently. He often calls them “hypocrites.” Why, you ask? Because since Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the 10 Commandments in his hands, the Pharisees became great rule-followers. Not only did they start following the rules, they also added laws to keep them from breaking God’s laws!! Laws upon laws! Over time, the Jews and Pharisees began focusing so much on the rules, they forgot why the original rules were made...and that they were supposed to be worshipping God, not priding themselves on being “good little rule-followers.”
I could paraphrase the Pharisees’ rule-following history and tell you all day how much Jesus wanted them to change their ways. However, I don’t think that’s the best way to make my point. Instead, I’ll show you through His Word. His is a whole lot more reliable than mine anyway. =)
In Matthew 23, Jesus talks only about the Pharisees. It’s pretty lengthy, so I am going to cut much of it out and leave you with what I feel are the most important points. I encourage you to go back later, though, and read for yourself. I should also note that I’m using the NASB version of the Bible.
“The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them... But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries [boxes containing Scripture texts, worn for religious purposes] and lengthen the tassels of their garments. And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi... But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in...” (verses 2-3, 5-7,11-13)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and uncleanliness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (verses 27-28)
In the middle of the verses I’ve just quoted, Jesus goes on to criticize them for following rules they have made for themselves. None of these rules - or laws - have anything to do with God’s purpose for giving them the law. They are all trivial and meaningless.
In Mark chapter 2, the Pharisees began to question Jesus’ actions and the actions of His disciples. Jesus was notorious for breaking their “rules” and - I’m assuming - that they found it odd that He would claim to be who He was and yet He broke their rules. I can just see them talking in groups to each other: “Did you see what Jesus just did?! I can’t believe he’s breaking these rules, and yet claiming to speak words from God!” I can only imagine. First they asked Jesus why His disciples weren’t fasting. (I’m not sure why the Pharisees were fasting in the first place, and that would take lots more research so I’m not going to dwell on that.) This is Jesus’ reply:
“While the bridegroom is with them [referring to a wedding], the attendants of the bridegroom do not fast, do they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” (verses 19-20)
Jesus often spoke in parables, metaphors and similes. If you read the New Testament much, you’ll come to find that. If you don’t do well with these types of things, I’ll explain what He meant. Jesus is referring to Himself as the bridegroom. He’s telling the Pharisees that while He is with His disciples, they do not need to fast.
A few verses later, the Pharisees are questioning Jesus because He and His disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath. He replied, saying that Dvid himself ate consecrated bread when he and his companions were hungry, which is illegal (verses 25-26). Then He said,
“...The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (verses 27-28)
Bam! I love that. =) He is Lord of even the Sabbath.
In Matthew 12, starting in verse 10 the Pharisees question healing on the Sabbath. Jesus replies, in verse 12 saying, “So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
See, the Pharisees are so focused on obeying the commandment that says “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy...the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord; in it you shall not do work...” (Exodus 20:8-11) that the didn’t do anything! Nothing! Nothing good, nothing bad. They just did nothing. Imagine how frustrated and disappointed Jesus must have been... Here these men have had the chance all this time to be doing good for the kingdom on the Sabbath and yet they did nothing. All the rules that they had set up were to keep them from disobeying the Ten Commandments, but along they way...they became more. The high priests and rabbis took pride in their rule-following... Putting themselves so far above others.
There are so many - so many - verses I could share. This is really what the difference between religion and faith is; the difference between the Pharisee and “the sinner.”
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all I get.’ But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)
The Pharisee is self-righteous, seeing himself as above all others. The sinner is humble, weak and believes that God will help him - have mercy on him. Faith is believing, without being able to see and know. Religion without faith is just that. Religious people go through the motions. Yes, they may believe God exists, that Jesus died on the cross to save us all, but they pride themselves on being Christian and having been saved. [Personally, I'm not sure I believe that religious people ARE saved.] Those with faith are different. They follow the rules as well, but with a deeper understanding of the rules.
It only takes believing in Him to become saved. Saved from what? Spending an eternity in Hell.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes* in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:16-17
In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says this of faith:
“...truly I say to you, if you have the faith as [big as] a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you.”
Faith is BIG - it is powerful. If you have faith, if you believe that Jesus truly did come to this earth to die for us, to save us from our own sin, you’ll be forever saved from an eternity of a burning, torturous Hell. It is a real place. It is so far from God, so terrible... The Bible describes it as a burning lake of fire. Personally, I’d rather spend an eternity worshipping and loving God than burning in a lake of fire with Satan himself.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8
There is nothing you can do to save yourself. You can follow all of the rules, give to the poor, volunteer daily, never kill or steal or anything. NONE - and I mean none - of that will save you from spending your eternity in Hell, separated from God.
All you need to do to be saved - to live the life that God has for you, with Him - is to pray to Him, letting Him know that you believe all that the Bible says about Him. You believe He came and died on the cross to save you - to forgive you of ALL of your sins (John 3:16), all the bad things you’ve done in your life and all that you will do in the future. You believe that He has a plan for you, a great plan (Jeremiah 29:11). And though it might not be easy, you trust that He knows what’s best for you. You know that, no matter what, He will NEVER leave you (Hebrews 13:5).
Dear friends, I hope you realize that I am sharing this with you because I care about you. I want you to know the truth - the absolute truth. I am not here to say “Look at me! Look at what I know and believe! You can be just like me!” I am here to say, “Here’s the truth. I want to share it with you because I know how wonderful God’s love, mercy and grace is and I want you to experience it too.”
All comments on this post are welcomed, as always. However, any unnecessarily rude or argument-starting comments will be deleted. Thanks for understanding.
*Note: all of the emphasis in quotes are mine, as well as the inserted explanations. They might look like this: [ ] or this ( ).
** I apologize for the length, but given the topic it was definitely necessary.
*** If you have ANY questions please feel free to email me. I may not always have the answers, but I know where to go for them!