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In his Banner article “Got Religion?” (January 2010), Rev. Randy Blacketer raises some good points about the word religion, but I don’t think he takes seriously the reason why it has become a bad word in the first place.

While he’s right that religion in and of itself is a good creational thing, we also need to recognize that religion has been distorted by sin and, as a result, it can easily become a harmful thing. When people speak against religion today, they are not speaking against the heart’s innate need for the Ultimate, but rather against religion gone wrong. In a word, they’re speaking against religiosity.

Whether churchgoers or not, people are tired of a “gospel” that is no gospel at all, of a “church” that is no church at all, and of churchgoers who are not disciples of Jesus at all.

The problem is that sin not only distorts the seed of religion, it also distorts our reception and appropriation of the gospel. We sinfully exchange the gospel of Jesus Christ for a religion of our own making. Rather than being the hope-filled message of new life in Jesus Christ, the gospel becomes a set of do’s and don’ts—

a list of doctrinal shibboleths and an attitude of moral superiority that makes us respond to sinners as the Pharisees did rather than as Jesus did.

Religion in this sense is not the human heart’s desire for something Ultimate; rather, it’s a shallow copycat of the gospel we profess to believe. In this religion we trust that our good performance of church attendance, tithing, and moral spotlessness will help God to love us. And we bristle when someone breaks that illusion.

But when the truth of the gospel reaches down into our hearts—where the seed of religion is planted—it transforms us. We begin to know with utter seriousness that “I am more wretchedly sinful than I understand,” while simultaneously being joyfully assured that “In Christ God loves me more than I can possibly imagine!”

It’s one thing to believe the gospel on a surface level, where it leads only to “churchianity” and religiosity—the “religion” that our society rightfully detests. It’s another thing entirely to drop our pretence of good performance and allow the gospel to permeate our hearts and transform our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Are you settling for religion?  

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