A couple of days ago I responded to an online discussion question that compared religiosity and righteousness. Honestly, I rarely comment on these kinds of questions because I don’t have much interest in having someone call me a socialist or something just because of how I interpret certain teachings from scripture about what it means to love God and others. My position is simple–to follow Christ I believe that I have to love God and neighbor as myself as I make cross-bearing journey in this life. That’s it. Anything that keeps me from loving like this or tempts me to put down my own cross has to be released. That’s the standard of my conviction. I don’t tell others that they have to agree with me, but anything I do in the world is going to have these criteria as their foundation. Because of this, I might appear very religious to some people and not religious at all to others. As for myself, I have decided that walking by faith and not by sight can also be expressed as living with questions and not in the relentless pursuit of definitive answers. I just don’t believe the Spirit uses standardized tests.
I think that living with questions is more profitable than claiming to know all of the answers because questions keep us in the humble spaces that leave us open to continual revelation. “We see in a mirror dimly… Eyes have not seen nor have ears heard… The sufferings of this life are nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed (Rom 8:18)…” As I personally understand it, Jesus left those of us who want to follow him with a cross and a commandment, not a religion. The cross takes us away from ourselves and the commandment leads us to others. Religion is very often simply about ourselves and how we’re perceived by others rather than how we are toward God. Consider The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector, Luke 18:9-14.
Despite me saying this, I do think systematized religion can prepare some of us for what we call true righteousness once we accept religion’s limitations. The Apostle Paul started out religious. And in fact, it was at his most religious that he persecuted the cross-bearers. As we know, it wasn’t until he put down his religion that he was able to pick up his cross and labor for the very church he persecuted. And we see that it was from the vantage point of his cross that he saw that his religiosity was relatively unprofitable.
Consider Paul’s words in Philippians 3:4-11
If anyone else thinks they have reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For Christ’s sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
At the end of the day, I do practice a religion, but I do not think it will make me righteous. What it does is help prepare me for those moments in life when true righteousness is required of me. It is much like how a person practices shooting hoops for the day when they are really in a basketball game. But if you are great at practice but choke in the game, your team and their supporters are not going to celebrate. Likewise wearing a jersey with a Champion Player’s name on it does not make us a champion. The Champ can show you what is possible if you practice and get in the game. But if you want to be a champ as well, you have to practice and play your own game.
Of course there is no perfect analogy, but I think you smell what I’m cooking.
My Cross = My Game