Exchanging Religion for an Eternal Relationship with God
By Mike Gendron
Nineteen years ago we began inviting all the Roman Catholics we knew into our home to watch a video called Roman Catholicism: Crisis of Faith. The video explains the difference between belonging to a religion and having an intimate relationship with God. Former priests and nuns shared how our Sovereign Lord opened their eyes to see and believe the Gospel of grace. Every Tuesday night we had a different group of Roman Catholics watch the video. Their responses varied from one extreme to the other. Some stormed out of the house very upset and offended, but others stayed to ask questions. We invited the truth seekers to return on Wednesday nights for a Bible study on the Gospel of grace. Within three months we witnessed 17 Roman Catholics exchange their religion for an eternal relationship of peace with their all-sufficient Saviour. God was glorified as His Spirit and His Word brought forth new disciples for His Son!
The Exchange of Religion
Paul the apostle not only exchanged his religion for an everlasting relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, he considered all his religious accomplishments worthless rubbish. If anyone had reason to boast and be proud of his religious status, it was Paul, "a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless" (Phil. 3:5-6). Yet, he considered all this contemptible compared to changing his relationship with God from one of enmity and hostility to one of peace and harmony (Phil. 3:7-11; Col. 1:20). The notable religious credentials, which he once thought profitable, were actually worthless and damning to his soul (Luke 18:9-14).
The Bondage of Religion
True disciples of Jesus are those who have been set free by the truth as they abide in His Word (John 8:31-32). Those who do not know the truth will continue to be enslaved to the bondage of religion. Throughout history, the goal of every religion has been to control people. This has been accomplished with religious traditions, legalism, pride and deception. One example of this fierce religious loyalty is a comment we hear so often from Roman Catholics: "I was born a Catholic, and I will die a Catholic." Yet, true conversion can only take place if they confess: "I was born a sinner and will die a saint." And what a way to die! By God's amazing grace, saints are elected in Christ (Eph. 1:4), called to Christ (1 Cor. 1:9), have believed the truth about Christ (Rom. 10:14-17), have turned to Christ in repentance (1 Pet. 2:25), are justified by the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:9), are united with Christ (Gal. 2:20), are being transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), are being kept and preserved by Christ (1 John 5:18) and will one day gain the glory of Christ (2 Thes. 2:14). Why would anyone choose to be enslaved to religion when they can become a blessed and privileged slave of the Lord Jesus?
The End of Religion
The Lord Jesus Christ never came to start a religion, in fact He put an end to the only religion God ever ordained. Ironically, the rulers of this God-ordained religion had become so corrupt they plotted to murder their Messiah (John 11:53). The fiercest opponents of Jesus and the most influential pawns of Satan were the spiritual rulers of Judaism. There was no more need for religion after Jesus, the perfect and eternal High Priest offered Himself, the perfect sacrifice, to a perfect God who demands perfection. The veil that once separated sinners from their holy God was torn open from top to bottom (Mat. 27:51). The one mediator between God and man provides access to the Father (1 Tim. 2:5). By faith in the shed blood of Jesus, repentant sinners can enter into the presence of God with confidence (Heb. 10:19-20). No more religion, no more priests offering sacrifices for sin and no more religious rituals or ceremonies. In place of religion, the risen Saviour mediates a relationship with God through faith in His one sacrifice for all sin, for all time (Heb. 10:10-18).
Christianity in its purest form is not a religion but a Spirit-sealed relationship with the God of all creation. Roman Catholicism is Christianity in its most debased form. It became corrupt when it denied the finished and all-sufficient work of Jesus and perverted His Gospel. This warped Gospel of works leads people to a Christ-less eternity. To avoid deception, Christianity instructs people to study the Bible and believe what God says. Religion, on the other hand, requires people to believe what man says, not what God says. When people without discernment, submit to men who are naturally prone to error, they are easily deceived. Roman Catholicism tries to overcome this by declaring its popes are infallible in matters of faith. Christianity is when God's children follow the Lord Jesus, the only one who is immune from error. I will never forget what my uncle, a Roman Catholic priest of 58 years, said after I read to him Scriptures refuting Roman Catholic traditions. He said, "God doesn't mean what He says there; let me tell you what He really means."
The Deception of Religion
When you ask religious people what they are trusting to gain entrance into heaven, they rarely mention the name of Jesus. That's because their religion is ultimately the object of their faith. They trust their self righteous clergy and their religious works and rituals to keep them heaven bound. Tragically, they cannot see the glory and sufficiency of Christ Jesus. They have been blinded from the truth of the Gospel by religious indoctrination, a most effective tool of Satan (2 Cor. 4:4). His primary goal is to confuse people by corrupting and mangling truth as much as possible. Many victims of religious indoctrination are content to blindly trust their unregenerate spiritual rulers, who are willfully ignorant of biblical doctrine and are more interested in holding onto their power than seeking the truth. We have found that indoctrination is so powerful that many Roman Catholics refuse to engage in conversations about spiritual issues with non-Catholics. I recall, as a young indoctrinated Roman Catholic, how "lucky" and proud I was to be born into what I was told to be the one true church. I felt sorry for Protestants who were not as "lucky" as I was. Blinded by Roman Catholic traditions, I did not realize my zeal was misdirected. I was honouring God with my lips, but I was submitting to another Lord - a pope.
The Attraction of Religion
One of the primary attractions of a religion is its appeal to the flesh. The world tells us that “seeing is believing,” that we must see before we can believe. This explains why it is so easy for religious people to believe what they can see or touch. Roman Catholics worship and consume the Eucharist, a "god" they can see. They go to a priest they can see to receive sacraments they can see to merit the graces necessary for salvation. They light votive candles as a visible sign of their offerings. And yes, they bow down and pray toward statues they can see.
Those who have a relationship with their Saviour walk by faith not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Since faith is the conviction of things not seen, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (Heb. 11:1; 2 Cor. 4:18). Jesus said only those who believe will see the glory of God (John 11:40).
All religions teach that you must do things to appease their god or gods. Every religion has a works - based system of righteousness that instructs its followers as to what they must do to achieve spiritual blessings. This checklist mentality appeals to the natural man, but man's best efforts are but filthy rags in the sight of a holy God (Isa. 64:6). Many do their good works because of their zeal for God but they are ignorant of what God's righteousness demands (Rom. 10:1-4). Christianity is set apart from all religions because its founder has done everything necessary for repenting sinners to have a right relationship with God. Spiritual blessings are available by God's grace to all who trust what Jesus Christ has accomplished through His sinless life, death and resurrection. All religions say "DO" but true Christianity says "DONE." Those who desire an eternal relationship with God must trust in what has been done by the Lord Jesus, apart from anything they do for Him (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Loyalty of Religion
Religion stirs up a passionate loyalty to its rulers instead of to the Lord Jesus Christ. Who can forget the images of Pope John Paul II's funeral? Thousands of misguided Roman Catholics stood in long lines for up to 18 hours to venerate a dead man with an unbiblical rosary in his hands and a twisted crucifix by his side. What a sharp contrast to those who have an everlasting relationship with the only Holy Father, and who refuse to listen to the voice of robbers who are out to steal and destroy their souls. They flee from them and instead follow the voice of the Good Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep and calls them by name (John 10:3-11). They come to Him for eternal life mourning over the sins that nailed Him to the cross. They recognize their unworthiness to be in His presence, yet they rejoice in the hope they have in His Word (Psalm 130:5). Christ and His Word are so connected that one cannot have a relationship with Him apart from His Word (John 8:47).
Those who desire to have a relationship with the true God must seek Him from the only infallible source of truth. All religious teachings, including teachings in this article, must be tested for veracity by searching the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). Those who cling to religious teachings while rejecting God's Word will be condemned on the last day by the very Word they rejected (John 12:48). Conversely, those who believe the Scriptures have been born again through the incorruptible seed which is the Word of God (1 Pet. 1:23). As children of God, it is their ambition to be pleasing to the one who set them free from the bondage of religion (2 Cor. 5:9-10).
In closing, we must take the same approach Jesus did by refuting religious error and opposing those who spread it. Religion can never save anyone, in fact it cuts them off from God and the saving power of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16; 4:2-8). Let us exhort those who are enslaved to their worthless and empty religions to become privileged slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Religion or Jesus
- Religion is man's futile attempt to become right with God. Jesus offers His righteousness as a gift of faith. (Romans 5:17; 10:1-4)
- Religion places people under the law. Jesus fulfilled the law and offers salvation by grace apart from works of the law. (John 1:17; Romans 6:14)
- Religion opposes and nullifies the Word of God with its traditions. Jesus soundly rebuked religious leaders for doing so. (Mark 7:8-13)
- Religion is used by Satan to blind people from the Gospel and lead them away from a pure devotion to Jesus. (2 Cor. 4:4; 11:3)
- Religion says DO, Jesus says DONE. (John 19:10)
- Religion saves no one. Jesus is the only hope of salvation and the only access to the Father. (John 14:6)
May sinners be saved, so that God might have new tongues to praise him and new hearts to love him!
Mike Gendron will be a guest speaker at the CWM Conference - September 5-11, 2010. He is available for meetings in New Zealand, 20 August to 5 September, and in Australia for a short time after the CWM Conference.