It’s really popular today to distinguish between religion and Jesus—as though the gospel and religion are diametrically opposed. We love Jesus, but hate religion. Religion says “do,” Jesus says, “done.” And although many of the critiques have their own strengths and weaknesses, there’s a small problem: the way we understand “religion” entirely depends on what we mean by the word. This is a subject I’ve explored in a new paper I’ve written for ExploreGod.com:
Millions of people around the globe consider the Bible an authoritative guidebook on how to live a godly, righteous life. So how does the Bible understand “religion”? What does it say?
The answer isn’t as cut-and-dried as we might like to think. The Bible itself is neither wholly positive nor entirely negative about religion. After all, at the most basic level, a religion is a set of deeply held personal or institutional beliefs or principles. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. In fact, by that definition, every human being on earth is deeply religious.
But the issue is not whether we have deeply held beliefs and practices—the issue is to whom those beliefs are devoted. To better understand this, let’s turn to the book of Romans in the Bible.