This is a very important and very crucial question. First of all, let’s clarify a few things about religion.
As we said before, religion means to be re-tied to God or reconnected to Him. So in that respect, Christianity is definitely a religion, based on that definition, but when we think about the word religion in the way that it has come to mean today, then it is definitely not a religion by today’s definition. Today’s definition of religion has more to do with the institution, the rules, the systems, methodologies, etc. When you look at the Christian church today, it appears very much to be a religion based on today’s definition, but that is not what the original intention was. Christ did not say, “hey this Jewish religion thing is not working, so let’s just scrap it and start a new religion and call it Christianity”. Jesus came to save the whole world, regardless of their faith background and to unify everyone under ONE God! Followers of Christ began to be called Christians by the unbelievers, almost as a derogatory term. The believers themselves called themselves “followers of the way”, based on Christ’s words when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. Around 300 AD, this following began to decline into a religion, man once again messing it up. I suspect the same thing happened to the Muslim faith. Mohammed had what I believe to be a legitimate visit from the Arc Angel Michael and wrote down what the angel told him to write. In that respect, he was a legitimate prophet of God, and as such, a follower of Christ. The Koran confirms this. But once again, man decided to follow the man and turned it into yet another religion causing even more division. Even within the Christian church there has been much division over the decades starting with the protestant reformation and continuing to this day with a new denomination being formed when someone disagrees with someone else. The word denomination means “a recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church.” The word autonomous means, “having self-government or acting independently”. There should be nothing self or independent about the church! It should be unified as one with Christ as the head that governs the whole body!
Colossians 1:18 – And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
Ephesians 1:22 – God placed all things under Christ’s rule. He appointed him to be ruler over everything for the church.
So God wants unity, but the “religion” that was intended to connect us to God, has caused major division among faiths and within faiths. In the words of Donald Trump, “We have a huge mess”.
There is a move among Christians lately to say “It’s not about religion, it’s about relationship with God”, which is very true, but unfortunately falls short as nothing more than just a nice slogan if not accompanied by an honest, raw relationship with God.
So now to get to the actual question.
Most religions have human effort as the way of connecting to God. We connect to God by being good and doing the right things, by our own merit. I hear people say all the time, “I’m a good a person so I should go to Heaven”. That is NOT how the Christian faith says we connect to God. It says that we connect with Him by faith and faith alone, that all of our human efforts are useless and ineffective.
Titus 3:5 – 5 He saved us. It wasn’t because of the good things we had done. It was because of his mercy. He saved us by washing away our sins. We were born again. The Holy Spirit gave us new life.
Romans 11:6 – 6 And if they are chosen by grace, then they can’t work for it. If that were true, grace wouldn’t be grace anymore.
Ephesians 2:8-9 – God’s grace has saved you because of your faith in Christ. Your salvation doesn’t come from anything you do. It is God’s gift. 9 It is not based on anything you have done. No one can brag about earning it.
Luke 18:9-14 – Jesus told a story to some people who were sure they were right with God. They looked down on everyone else. 10 He said to them, “Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee. The other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed. ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people,’ he said. ‘I am not like robbers or those who do other evil things. I am not like those who commit adultery. I am not even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week. And I give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood farther away than the Pharisee. He would not even look up to heaven. He brought his hand to his heart and prayed. He said, ‘God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner.’
14 “I tell you, the tax collector went home accepted by God. But not the Pharisee. All those who lift themselves up will be made humble. And those who make themselves humble will be lifted up.”
And my personal favorite: Romans 8 – 3-4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.
The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.
5-8 Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God!
We come to Him BY FAITH! We live in Him and for Him, BY FAITH. That means letting go and trusting. Do you see how incredibly important this is?! On our own we can do nothing of any significance that is good or lasting, but through Him, we can do all things.
When I struggle to get it right, I remain in that struggle, always focused on the struggle, never really succeeding for long at anything that I struggle with. When surrender and start walking by faith, nothing is a struggle. Everything come naturally because it is God working in me that does it.
Now to Pete’s point, this has the appearance of a cop out and a justification to sin, and there are those who definitely use it as a cop out, but they miss the point completely. The truth is that faith is completely the opposite. There is a new power at work in us when we have faith that enables us to overcome sin, to act in love, and to have a genuine happiness and joy in life that far surpasses any human effort or human happiness, and it comes purely by faith in Him.
So to answer the question, we connect to God through faith in what God did through Christ and the faith in what God in Christ did on the cross, freeing us from all of our wrong doing and shame and struggle and pain! We were weighed down by the corruption of this world. It gets on us whether we like it or not. Our own sin weighs us down, but Christ breaks the chains and brings freedom.
God wants to do amazing things in your lives right now if you let him by faith. Let go of all of those strongholds you hold up, laying down all of the defenses and lay your lives down. You will connect with Him in ways that will transform you and you will know a joy that is beyond description. He is just waiting for an invitation to come flooding in and to give you a life that is full and free.