I get asked from time to time by atheists and skeptics why I make a distinction between following Christ and Christianity, or religion. To be clear, I do consider myself a Christian. The problem is that it’s a loaded word with lots of baggage that may or may not describe my life in Christ. “Religion” is even more vague and freighted, so these labels have almost no significant meaning.
So let me explain the distinction with a few quick thoughts. I will also reference other posts (or series of posts) for further explanation, if you’re interested.
With regard to religion, as Robert Capon put so well, “Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.” (See post, “How Christianity is Not a Religion.”)
One can follow Jesus and be a religious Christian; but being a religious Christian does not necessarily mean one is following Christ (see my series, “Leaving Religion to Follow Christ.”)
As I’ve said before, religion is about us inviting God into our life; following Jesus is about Him inviting us into His life.
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt.11:28-30 MSG)
Religion, even the “Christian” version of religion, is performance-driven and transactional; following Christ is relationally-driven and transformational (see “The sheer brilliance of Jesus and the overcoming life“).
Following Christ is not about me trying to live a better life, but about me participating in Christ’s life.
“My old identity has been co-crucified with Messiah and no longer lives; for the nails of his cross crucified me with him. And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives his life through me—we live in union as one! My new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God who loves me so much that he gave himself for me, and dispenses his life into mine! (Gal.2:20 TPT)
Following Jesus is not about knowing or saying the right things, it’s about doing what He says.
“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)
Evidence that we’re following Jesus is not found in how much we know about the Bible, or how much faith we have, or by our importance in the church, or even how much we serve others. The only real evidence is how much we love (1 Cor.13:1-8; 1 John 4:7-8).
You can tell if you’re following Jesus by the “fruit” that’s produced in your life, which looks like…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22-23). Of course, no ones life produces this fruit perfectly, but what does come forth won’t look like something else.
16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. (Matt.7:16-17 NLT)
Finally, following Christ is about the continuing cooperative process with Christ that allows Him to work in and reshape the deepest and darkest parts of us, bringing us from glory to glory, which cultivates a renewed mind and an open heart as we become more like Him in this world (Rom.12:2; 2 Cor.3:18; 1 John 4:17).