Why religion won’t bring us joy

I’ve shared before that religion is about us inviting God into our life; following Jesus is about Him inviting us into His life.  I’m using the term “religion” rather narrowly here. I’m talking about ritualistic practices we follow in our attempt to make ourselves right with God. Here are just a few reasons I think we should leave this kind of religion to follow Christ which leads to pure joy: 

Religion is about putting our trust in our performance; following Christ is about putting our trust in His performance.

Religion is about following rituals; following Christ is about relationship.

Religion is about appeasement; following Christ is about believing Him instead.

Religion is about compliance; following Christ is about transformation.

Religion focuses on who we’re not; following Christ is about who we are in the “I am.”

Religion is restrictive; following Christ brings real freedom.

Religion uses shame and guilt to control; following Christ is compelled by love.

Religion envisions a distant, separated, conditionally loving, and demanding god; following Christ is encountering an intimate and unconditionally loving God.

I don’t have a problem with religious people finding comfort in their ritualistic observances…the problem is, these things won’t bring us joy.  And the gospel is the good news that brings great joy.

We experience joy whenever we’re with those we know are glad we’re here…and the first person we need to know that about is God! The truth is, God has always wanted to be with us. If we will accept it, we bring Him delight and great pleasure. He wants to be with us a lot more than we want to be with Him. Here are just a couple examples:

The Lord your God is with you;
his power gives you victory.
The Lord will take delight in you,
and in his love he will give you new life.
He will sing and be joyful over you (Zeph. 3:17 GNT*)

5–6 For it was always in his perfect plan to adopt us as his delightful children, through our union with Jesus, the Anointed One, so that his tremendous love that cascades over us would glorify his grace—for the same love he has for his Beloved One, Jesus, he has for us. And this unfolding plan brings him great pleasure! (Eph.1:5-6 TPT*)

God delights in us and His desire is for us. He has pulled out all the stops to be with us forever, and when we accept the invitation to participate in His infinite love, and live from that place, our joy receptors go into overload!

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love….11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! (John 15:9, 11 NLT*)

This is the life we have seen and heard. We are reporting about it to you also so that you, too, can have a relationship with us. Our relationship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that we can be completely filled with joy. (1 John 1:3-4 GW*)

Beloved, whatever you think you need to be doing to gain God’s acceptance, please stop and just accept the invitation into His life instead.

Religion burns us out and slowly drains the life out of us. But when we finally encounter Love that invaded our broken world, we become fully alive and be filled with His joy, which makes our joy overflow out from us to our all our relationships. In other words, joy to the world!

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)

* All emphasis added.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 41 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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13 Responses to Why religion won’t bring us joy

  1. Well written. Thank you.

  2. Lily Pierce says:

    Great post. Legalism doesn’t lead to love. I love the list, especially the first point that following Christ trusts in His performance rather than our own!

  3. Darla says:

    This is beautiful. It simply displays the simple and true Kingdom: filled with invitation, relationship, and Love. Truly Joy to the World!

  4. Amen, Mel! Well said.

    I don’t read the msg bible much but I do love that, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” So when we are in a relationship,when we begin to fall in love, absolutely nobody has to tell you to “remember to be pleasing.” It’s simply natural and unforced. We tidy ourselves up to go on dates and that is simply where our heart is. Religion is often busy just trying to wipe the outside of the cup, but we actually transform from the inside out. It really is an “unforced rhythm of grace.”

    In defense of relgiousity however, it need not be Christian at all. I think “religion” is a part of the human condition and so we see it every where, in technology and politics, consumerism, even in atheism. Parenting too, actually, ai yi yi, some of those gangs of mommy bloggers can be downright brutal and burning everyone at the stake. 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      In defense of religiousity however, it need not be Christian at all. I think “religion” is a part of the human condition and so we see it every where, in technology and politics, consumerism, even in atheism.

      How true. We humans hate a void, especially a metaphysical one. You can’t flatten the world with science and not expect religion to leak out somewhere. I always thought Alain De Botton’s book Religion for Atheists was a good example of this. This is from the book’s description: “Religion for Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religion, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from it—because the world’s religions are packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies.”

      This is funny because, as Justin Brierley (Unbelievable?) said, trying to keep religion without God “is a bit like ripping off the layers of wrapping on a present on Christmas morning only to find no gift inside, just an empty box and a mountain of waste paper around you.” Good luck with that!

      Religion is a human condition but God’s love is the cure!

    • Citizen Tom says:

      @IB and Mel

      There is another aspect of what appears to be religion, tradition. There are things we do in remembrance of Him.

      We read the Bible and study the lives of those who have gone before us because we want to please Him and because we want our children to know about Him. We practice rituals to remind ourselves that He first loved us, even though we were sinners.

      Yet as Mel suggests, we must follow tradition — practice tradition — in humble acceptance of His invitation, not to demonstrate we are worthy of His approval. We must follow the traditions God would have us follow, not those we would invent for ourselves.

      • Mel Wild says:

        Good points, Tom. Religious tradition (the good kind) has it’s place in raising our kids, being together as a church family. It’s important to remember and remind ourselves that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. The point here, however, is what brings great joy. What brings great joy is found in intimate relationship with God.

  5. Monika Langguth says:

    ABBA . . . the more Jesus filled my life, the more I found myself communing with My Father . . . learning that the mind of Christ is to hear The Father speaking through His Son in Whom I now live and move and have my being . ..it is a glorious mind-blowing life . . . that will never end . . . every day I am overwhelmed with HIS love for us and my heart longs to ever reveal how wonderful ABBA is and My Beloved Bridegroom King and My Constant Companion Holy Spirit . . when you find out something that seems too good to be true, is TRUE . . .all you want is that precious sweet communion. God Bless You!!

    • Mel Wild says:

      That’s awesome, Monika. Thanks for sharing this. I agree, living in His unending, infinite love does seem too good to be true..but it IS true. As Jesus taught in the parable about the man finding treasure hidden in the field “and for JOY over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matt.13:44).
      God’s blessings to you as well.

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