Some years ago, and not long after I had re-committed my life to Christ, I was invited to have dinner with a friend and a married couple—we’ll call them Derek and Deidre. My friend wanted me to meet this young couple because she was enamored with their strong faith in God. She had bragged on them many times before. “They’re the best Christian people I know,” she said.
I’ll admit, I was a bit hesitant at first. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of meeting this couple, yet I wasn’t exactly sure why. As I drove to my friend’s house, I thought about what could be causing my apprehension, and before I arrived, a thought struck. It occurred that Derek and Deidre could perhaps be better Christians than I was.
This line of thinking was rooted in my girlfriend’s view of them (that she constantly told me how good these people were), which created a fear that I may not measure up to the standard of being a good Christian.
But as soon as that thought came to mind, I remembered that imperfection is something we all have in common—even Christians. So, I dismissed my concerns, pulled into the parking lot, and looked forward to a pleasant evening.
An hour later, I would regret being there.
Derek and Deidre had arrived before I did. After my girlfriend introduced us, we moved to the dining room and sat down to eat. Both of them were very nice, and very young, I'd say perhaps in their early twenties. After the hellos and a brief commentary on the weather, I felt quite comfortable and expected the night to go well.
Not long after I stuck my fork into the spaghetti, Derek looked at me from across the table and asked, “So, Chris, are you saved?”
“Yes,” I said.
“How do you know?”
It’s strange how the simplest, innocent small talk can serve as a prelude to an intense conversation—and fast. Still, I thought Derek’s question could be answered easily. “Well, because I know Jesus is the son of God, I’ve been baptized, and I just know it’s fact, like anything else you believe is true.”
But that wasn’t enough for Derek. “Yeah, but do you really know you’re saved?”
Now, I was curious. “What do you mean?”
“Well, have you said the Sinner’s Prayer?” he asked.
For those of you who may not know, the Sinner’s Prayer is a Christian term for the prayer someone says when they are asking God for forgiveness, and stating their belief that Jesus is the son of God. There isn’t one specific Sinner’s Prayer; this article gives four examples. Scripture from Romans clearly explains how a person is saved:
“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10, NLT)
At that time, I didn’t know how many versions of the Sinner’s Prayer existed, but I knew I was saved. However, Derek wasn’t as confident in my eternal salvation as I was, so he took it upon himself to give me some advice.
“Well, if I was you, I’d say the Sinner’s Prayer. Just to be sure.”
I paused long enough to let that sink in, then said, “Thanks, Derek, I might just do that.”
But Derek wasn’t done with me. He continued to call my eternal salvation into question and decided the best way to address my possible damnation was to discuss the process for obtaining God’s forgiveness.
I don’t remember much about the conversation after that—probably because it took every ounce of my energy to maintain my composure—but as soon as dinner was over, I excused myself, said my goodbyes, and promptly exited the building.
what is religion?
I think Derek believed he was doing his duty as a Christian that night. And I appreciate that he cared enough about my salvation to talk to me about it—even if he was totally misguided. Derek was ensnared in the same trap that has wrecked the lives of many Christians and non-Christians alike.
That trap is called Religion.
Religion is a condition of the mind and heart (it starts with the heart) that deceives someone into thinking they are in some way more holy or righteous than another person—essentially, they believe they are better than the average Christian.
Quite honestly, Christians with the Religious mindset are dangerous, yet it’s so easy for them to fall into it. What begins as an honest passion to live for Christ can become a judgmental and condemning attitude.
While Religious attitudes are disastrous outside of the church, the spirit of Religion can be even worse within the walls of God’s house. Not only are many Christians impressed by those who appear more spiritual, the church itself often exalts those who externally exhibit signs of spirituality.
What these Religious Christians don’t understand is that Religion doesn’t make the idea of following Christ more appealing. If anything, it drives people who need Jesus in the opposite direction. People with the Religious spirit are quick to dismiss those who reject Christ as rebellious rather than seeing the rejection for what it really is—a natural reaction to being judged by fellow human beings.
We’ve all heard stories of kids whose parents rule them with an iron fist. They aren’t allowed to do anything their friends do. They aren’t allowed to listen to certain types of music, wear certain types of clothing, or even read certain books.
Even though the parents of these children most likely have the best intentions, it’s quite common for their children to rebel—and to do so with enthusiasm—as soon as they get out of the house and into the real world.
That doesn’t mean these parents are wrong. Perhaps they have good reasons for the rules they put into place. But it isn’t always the rule—it’s the way the rule is enforced. So it is with Religion.
If Christians lead with a Religious tone to win souls for Christ, chances are, unbelievers will continue to use Religion as a convenient excuse for why they want nothing to do with Jesus.
This is just one statement Jesus made to the Religious:
“‘What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees (the Pharisees were the religious leaders of the time). Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!’” (Matthew 23:15 NLT, words in parenthesis mine)
are you a victim of religion?
Have you had an experience like the one I had with Derek? Maybe your situation wasn’t exactly like mine, but you have also had your faith questioned by someone—or a group of people—with a Religious attitude.
If you are a Christian, don’t let your earnest desire to be the best Christ-follower possible turn into Religion.
Think of one time when you felt judged. What did the person—or people—do to make you feel that way? Here are some questions to ask that may reveal if you were a victim of Religion:
1. Did you feel like you may not be able to live up to God’s standards? (This is how I felt in the story above.)
2. Do you feel like you’re connecting with God when you pray, or are you just going through the motions?
3. Do you criticize the church and other Christians you know?
4. Are you impressed by others who exhibit spiritual gifts, such as prophecy or speaking in tongues?
5. Do you think people who are more visually dramatic (raising hands, shouting, dancing) when they worship God are more connected to Him?
6. Do you create division among other believers or alienate yourself from other Christians because you disagree with widely-accepted theologies or doctrines?