It’s a well-known fact where I work that I believe in God. I’d only been there a couple of weeks when people started telling me how unusually enthusiastic I was at my job, and a few weeks later, after I casually mentioned what the Bible says about something during an everyday conversation, they were given a clue about why I was a bit different. Since then the news has slowly filtered through and people often ask me what I believe about specific things (not that I’m complaining by the way, I think it’s great!). Anyway, last night one of my colleagues randomly said to me ‘so you’re into religion, then?’, to which I replied ‘yeah I am’ and told him a little bit about what I believe. In retrospect, that was the wrong answer. What I should have said was ‘nope, I’m a Christian’…
See, being a Christian, to me, is a way of life. The primary definition of ‘religion’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘a state of life bound by religious vows’, implying a life of restriction and containment. However, the way I see Christianity is very different. Rather than following traditions and performing rituals every so often, my faith spills over into every aspect of my life, transforming my attitudes, my decisions, and even my most intimate thoughts. As G.K. Chesterton once said, ‘just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car’, and I would extend this to cover other forms of following tradition for tradition’s sake. While being involved in a church is obviously an important part of being a Christian, it’s not about just turning up for a couple of hours every Sunday and forgetting about God the rest of the time.
While this standpoint may sound a bit controversial, we only need to look to the Bible for a rather well-known figure who thought along similar lines. Jesus opposed religious hypocrisy wherever he found it, criticising the Pharisees for their self-righteousness (a good example being Matthew 23:27-28) and choosing to hang out with the people who were marginalised by society instead. We have to be clear on one point, though. Jesus didn’t come to abolish religion; rather, he wanted to deal with the problems we’d created within it.
My argument can be summed up in a nice little phrase I heard a guy called Michael Ots say the other day: religion says “do”, but Jesus says “done”. Rather than having to follow an endless list of rules and regulations to win favour with God, we are saved already because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, sacrificing Himself to atone for our mistakes. So while God still calls us to be obedient, being a Christian doesn’t mean a life of anxiously following religious traditions; instead, it means a life of joy and freedom, safe in the knowledge that putting our trust in Him is enough. Yes I still try to do good things and live in a way which pleases God, but because I want to, not because I have to. I know I’m far from perfect, and I don’t claim to be, but I believe God forgives me and loves me anyway, wiping away my mistakes with His grace.