How Christianity is not a religion

Not_religionChristianity, in the purest sense, is not a religion. I like how Robert Farrar Capon put it, “Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.”

I’m not against religion per se, but I am trying to distinguish Christianity from religion because when people think of it as one, they conclude that they know what it is when they most likely don’t.

And I understand that there are religious practices that people might do in the name of Christianity, but that doesn’t make them a Christian nor does it define Christianity. And there are people who actually are Christians, who treat it like a religion, but that’s doesn’t mean that it’s one either.

On a personal note, I lived my so-called “evangelical, Spirit-filled” Christian life as if it were a religion for 25 years, until I found out it was something altogether different.

So how can I say this?

Well, let’s start by looking at how the dictionary defines religion:

“a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

On a side note, using this definition, a lot of things could be considered a religion–including science and philosophy.

But while there are things that Christians do or believe that would fall under this category, Christianity itself is none of those things.

Christianity is NOT….

– found in a worldview or philosophy

– found in ritual observances

– found in a moral code

– about doing things so you can go to heaven when you die

– about anything whatsoever to do with our behavior–good or bad.

Okay then, what IS Christianity?

In one word, Christianity is Christ.

You see, Christianity has nothing to do with all the aforementioned things that usually define a particular religion. It’s about Christ’s life lived in human beings.

There are (at least) five ways this distinction is revealed in Scripture.

First, you cannot join Christianity or become a member. You must be spiritually born into it. You do so by receiving God’s grace through faith in Christ. For God is Spirit, and He can only have spiritual children. Without His Spirit, we’re still religious orphans; Christians are sons and daughters of their Father in heaven.

“Jesus answered and said to him,
“Most assuredly, I say to you,
unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
…6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh,
and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:3, 6)

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18)

Secondly, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection is our death, burial and resurrection. In other words, Jesus didn’t just die for us, He died as us.

“Therefore we were buried with Him
through baptism into death,
that just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Rom.6:4)

“I have been crucified with Christ;
it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;
and the life which I now live in the flesh
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal.2:20)

“For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col.3:3)

 Third, Christianity is not about doing things in order to attain to some human standard of righteousness, it’s about obtaining God’s very own righteousness as a free gift. And you get everything the moment you become a Christian.

“For if by the one man’s offense
death reigned through the one,
much more those who receive abundance of grace a
nd of the gift of righteousness will reign in life
through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Rom.5:17)

“For He made Him who knew no sin
to be sin for us,
that we might become
the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor.5:21)

“and you are complete in Him,
who is the head of all principality and power.” (Col.2:10)

Fourth, Christianity is not so much about living for God as it is about Him living in us. So we don’t build temples, we are the temple.

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word;
and My Father will love him,
and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23)

“Do you not know that you are the temple of God
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor.3:16)

 Finally, Christianity is not about living from earth to heaven but living from heaven to earth.

“And God raised us up with Christ
and seated us with him in the heavenly realms
in Christ Jesus.” (Eph.2:6)

“For our citizenship is in heaven,
from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil.3:20 – bold-type added for emphasis)

Again, Christianity is defined by one word–Christ. Paul told the carnal and religious Corinthians that he wanted to see nothing among them except Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor.2:2). In other words, to be a Christian means you died and your life is now Christ’s life.  You have been placed in Him, and as Christ is right now, seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, so are you in this world (1 John 4:17).

One last thing. This is not some high and lofty spiritual version of Christianity that we might attain to someday if we do everything right. It’s the very foundational reality and beginning of the Christian life. All other versions are only religious rituals and props designed by man so we can stay on the treadmill of trying to save ourselves.

Christianity is not a religion; it’s receiving the invitation to a completely new life in Christ.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 42 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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15 Responses to How Christianity is not a religion

  1. As I used to say in my younger days, Right On, Brother!

  2. Ayanda says:

    Hi Mel, thanks for another liberating post. I love what you say here ” Christianity is about Christ” ” It is about Christ’s life lived in human beings”. One thing we know for sure is that He is alive and is infact The Living Word not meer history. It is about Him Jesus Christ and His work which also is not a dead work of bondage.

    You said in one of your blogs that there is freedom in Christ and God deals with us in freedom not in bondage (I paraphrase). Religion binds and makes Christianity about anything else but Christ.

    The thing about religion is it also blinds us to the fact that our God ( Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is a living and involved God who is ever present with us. Presidents and Kings have their palaces and are surrounded by staff and body gaurds, there is no free access to them. But our God though being above all things comes and live in us and we have full access to Him. At no point did we vote for Him instead He initiates our salvation and then like a mother hen and her chicks He puts us under His wings.

    When our focus is on religiousness we miss this intimate and tenderness our Lord has for us.

    When He starts gathering us to Himself and in my personal experience, when He started opening my eyes, I will be honest here, but I felt a lot of anger towards those who have put themselves God over us, through this God wasn’t angry with me He quitely gathered me in and showed me that this is what love is about. One commandment ” Love one another as I have loved you, by this all men shall know you are my disciples.” The anger left and compassion set it.

    See Mel religion can’t and won’t love because it is more about dead rules than it is about our living Lord. Since the time I first made contact with you and listening to your sermons and later the lack of them ( since clearly God has taken over your church 🙂 ) I found that in you my brother, you have life in you because you can love. We just need more pastors to join in. So for now we pray for those who persecute us and try to lead us into bondage and who knows maybe soon we all will experience real Christianity at last.

    • Mel Wild says:

      “Presidents and Kings have their palaces and are surrounded by staff and body guards, there is no free access to them. But our God though being above all things comes and live in us and we have full access to Him.” Amen. Well said! Let’s not be like the religious elder brother in the prodigal son story (Luke 15:25-31); we have access to our Father, and everything He has, all the time!

      “See Mel religion can’t and won’t love because it is more about dead rules than it is about our living Lord.” Again, spot on. Amen. Christianity is not based on behavior but on believing. And our believing changes everything from the inside-out. Furthermore,God is love, first and last. And when we commune with Him, we receive His love and learn to love. Religion will never give you that. It will only keep you on the treadmill of performance and slavery.

      Great comments, Ayanda. Enjoy your freedom. 🙂

  3. TK says:

    I think I’m starting to get this now. For a while I’ve been reading this blog with a question. If God is this super all powerful being, why send a son to die? Couldn’t God just make everything great without that sacrifice? But, While I don’t really understand it all yet, I kind of get it now. There’s a sort of spiritual connection between all of humanity and God. In order to have sin erased, that spiritual part of us needed to be reborn. Perhaps we were or are capable of being reborn ourselves, so God sent his Son to die and be reborn. Because on that connection, we all were died and reborn with him.

    …I think. Am I anywhere close to the right idea here?

    • Mel Wild says:

      Good questions, TK. Again, that cannot be answered briefly. 🙂 First, the whole point of Jesus coming is so that God could include us in the relationship He has had with Himself–between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit–from eternity. When Adam chose to be his own god by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he became alienated from God. Metaphorically speaking, we inherently eat from that same Tree today. Why didn’t God just make it go away? The short and most direct answer is because of love. Because pure love can only exist between completely free persons. And, therefore, love must be freely chosen. So He gave us free will to choose what kind of life we would have.

      But this also presents a problem because God is only good and cannot fellowship with evil (more on what that is another time). But God became us in the person of Jesus Christ to remove all that alienation we inherited.

      So, the truth is that God included every single human being in Christ by wiping away all sin forever. I wrote about this here. Btw, with Jesus also came a superabundance of grace (John 1:16), which helps us make the best choice for a life abundantly (John 10:10). It’s a free gift based on Jesus’ behavior not ours. But, again, we have free will. We must receive the free gift by faith.

      So, being “born again,” to use the term, is when you say “yes” to God’s solution to our alienation. Then we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with His gracious power, teach us and guide us. This is all done by faith. Everything in the Kingdom of God operates by faith. He communicates with our human spirit, and we learn to hear God this way. Our mind is informed by God, by His written Word and directly by His Spirit. We’ve been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor.2:16), but we still have old alienated thinking habits and, at first, it doesn’t seem like much changed. But as our mind is renewed by this direct fellowship with God, our faith becomes more and more a tangible experience by the fruit of the Spirit which is love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal.5:22-23).

      So, everyone was included with Christ 2,000 years ago on the Cross. This is said over and over in the New Testament. But we must choose to receive this free gift by faith in order to benefit from this communion with God. Hope this helps! 🙂

  4. Eliza says:

    Thank you for your wonderful encouragement that points us to Christ and our blessings that we have through Him. God bless you:)

    • Mel Wild says:

      You’re welcome, Eliza. And your encouraging comments are much appreciated. Yes, God’s amazing grace and the radiant life in Christ offered to us is more amazing and stunning the more we comprehend it. Blessings to you.

  5. Pingback: Godless America? | In My Father's House

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  8. daniel says:

    Hello Mel! It’s your friend Daniel Lovett checking in with you. God’s been doing some amazing things in my life. I have a internet radio show now that God is really blessing! God put you on my heart ask if you’d be on my show! Pray about it let me know.

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