A guy told me once that he didn’t attend church because he didn’t believe in organized religion. I promptly responded to him that he should come to our church, because we were terribly disorganized.
I think what he was trying to tell me was that he didn’t like religion. The fact of the matter is that I am not terribly fond of it either. Let me explain.
I am defining religion as a set of rules toward which we are supposed to aspire. I went that route for a little while in my younger life.
My mother decided we needed a little religion in our lives, so we trotted off to church, and were enrolled in catechism. On a given Sunday, we were instructed to sit in the front of the church. At a given time in the service, we were asked the question, “Do you profess faith in Jesus Christ?”, upon which, we stood. I guess standing meant we did. And I did, at least intellectually.
But life went on pretty much as before. Oh, I suppose there was a short-lived effort on my part to reform, but there was no life change really; just some rules “should dos” and “ought tos” that were now more a part of my conscious mind. I now belonged to the “religious,” I guess.
I wasn’t alone. The behavior of most others I saw in that church, not to mention other religious friends I had, was not any different than anyone else I knew. Intellectual assent was given, but life seemed to go on as always.
Three years later, I had a completely different experience. By this time, our family had blown apart. My father slipped out of town, never to return, and my mother was left to pay the bills and raise the kids.
She was now the lone provider. I was angry, frustrated, and demoralized, not to mention, beginning to go astray in my ways.
Someone pointed me to Christ, telling me He would help me. When presented with the opportunity to accept Him, I almost said “no,” based on my previous experience. But this was different somehow. I was told He would come into my life if I would surrender myself to Him.
I wasn’t sure about all of this, but I knew I was missing something. So, I gave my life to Him.
Almost immediately, I sensed something was different. My attitudes began to change, my goals and aspirations were different. Now, it wasn’t religion I had, but a relationship with Christ!
What made the difference? I soon discovered in the Bible what had happened. The Holy Spirit had taken up residence within me, believe it or not. The third person of the Trinity takes up residence within people, and he changes them.
The apostle Paul put it this way, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
We can’t do anything to earn this, and certainly will never deserve it. However, once we respond to this opportunity, it makes all the difference in the world. Deep change will come from the inside; a desire for (and the power to live out) the life of Christ within us.
Will we be perfect? No, but we will be changed, and changing, in the way we relate to others and live out our lives.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that the chief end of mankind is to know God, and to enjoy him forever. The way to that enjoyment is to surrender our lives to Christ. I know it works. It happened to me.
Anything else is not only unnecessary, it is also insufficient. Christ is the one that puts everything, like life and church, into perspective.
Religion or Christ? Choose Christ.