Christianity and religion are polar opposites

Many will not like this blog post. It will rankle feathers, cause consternation and perhaps even make some people want to throw something.

Still, it’s truth. And that truth has been lost in this era of everybody wins and everyone’s a Christian.

To be clear, there is a difference between being religious and being a Christian. You can be religious, but still not be a Christian. And, a Christian may not necessarily be religious. The two are completely different, polar opposites and, in many cases, diametrically opposed.

But, today more than ever, the two identities have melded into the same thing to the extent that some polls even indicate that 80% of Americans believe in God. And, “believing in God” has somehow become mistaken with being Christian. But the definition of God varies drastically. In fact, a slim majority of Americans now believe in the God of the Bible.

It’s never more evident than in political circles, where candidates are prone to hand-pick a particular scripture, lifting it out of context to use in a campaign speech or commercial or printed brochure. But it’s also visibly noticeable in our churches today. Churches often skirt the scripture as a means to their own end or others conveniently leave out or misuse key passages to candy coat their way of life.

Paul’s writing to Timothy accurately portrayed the picture of our times. And, in the Amplified version, it speaks volumes: “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine and accurate instruction [that challenges them with God’s truth]; but wanting to have their ears tickled [with something pleasing], they will accumulate for themselves [many] teachers [one after another, chosen] to satisfy their own desires and to support the errors they hold.”

There is plenty of tickling and itching ears, all the way from the classroom and the state house to the office and the church house. People want to hear what makes them feel good (tickles their ears) and, if they can’t get it here, they’ll either go there or yell real loud until they do get it here.

But the primary difference in religion or religiosity and Christianity can be found in one word: Relationship. Billy Graham actually says it’s two words: Jesus Christ. Put ’em together and that spells the difference between Christianity and religion/religiosity: Relationship with Jesus Christ.

Indeed, those who have that relationship will have fruit. They will do good things, but don’t confuse doing good things with being a Christian. Doing good things and caring for others is a by-product of your relationship with God, but let’s be clear: It’s the relationship with God that gets you to heaven, not the good things. Despite popular opinion and thought, you won’t get into the pearly gates with your list of accomplishments or good deeds. Nor will being a “good person” stamp your ticket.

In other words, it’s not what you’ve done, it’s Who you know.

In fact, you can “do good” and not make it to heaven. Again, straight from the Bible in Matthew 22: “On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’

It’s almost as if the church has lost its way — or at least its focus — at times.

David Platt has never been accused of being traditional, but you can say he’s cut through the muck and mire. In his book Radical, he writes: “I could not help but think that somewhere along the way we had missed what was radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable.” 

Further, he continues: “We desperately need to explore how much of our understanding of the gospel is American and how much is biblical. We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.” 

Indeed, there was a day when you could tell the difference between the church and the world. There was a day when light and darkness didn’t play in the same playground. There was a day when Christianity and religion were somehow different. Somewhere along the way, the difference became 50 shades of grey and the line of demarcation became blurred.

Unfortunately, most Americans generally don’t recognize or know the difference. As Francis Chan says: “Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.”

In truth, though, there is a stark difference between religion and Christianity. But it’s not vast, if you believe the words of Billy Graham above. It’s a short walk across a bridge and the beginning of a relationship.

So here are a few conclusions:

  1. Everyone is not going to heaven.
  2. Works — doing good things — will not get you into heaven.
  3. Being a “good person” won’t get you into heaven.
  4. Relationship with God is your ticket.
  5. Fewer and fewer Americans believe the God depicted in the Bible.
  6. Being religious does not make you a Christian.

“Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.” ~ C.S. Lewis.

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