What Is Religion?
Religion is belief in God, trust in God, love for God, worship of God, and the conducting of one’s life in harmony with the teachings of God.
I. Religion is belief in God.
Every human being believes in God; believes that he exists and that he possesses certain qualities. Without a single lesson of religious instruction all people know that God is the Supreme Being of the universe, that he is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), that he is our Creator, and that when this life is over that he will be our judge; and that we will have to give an account to him of how we lived our lives.
But, you say, what of the atheist? The atheist is the strongest believer there is. The clarity of his understanding, and the recognition of his insignificance in the face of the Living and Eternal God, leaves denial the only rational option. There are also lesser forms of denial such as diversion, intoxication, the inventing of one’s own theology and one’s own God who is more “manageable” than the God of Christian revelation.
Speaking of Christian revelation the Bible discloses God in three persons, yet one God. The Bible teaches that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is also known as the Holy Trinity – one God in three Persons. It is in, and into, his name, and into his mysterious reality that Christians are baptized. Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” There is a great deal to learn about Trinitarian theology, and you are sincerely invited to inquire about it at Christ Lutheran Church. But for now let this suffice.
II. Religion is trust in God.
It’s one thing to believe in God. To believe that he exists. Many people do, even if their understanding of him is hazy. No surprise here since if we are to master any subject, dedicated study is required. Yes, many people believe that God exists, but to profess a religion means not only to recognize and confess that God exists, but to trust in him! To depend on him for every good thing, for every need of body and soul, for time and eternity. It means to believe that your life, and indeed all of history is guided by his invisible hand.
But such trust is foreign to man because of sin. According to Holy Scripture sin entered the world very soon after its creation. It wasn’t the sun, moon, stars, elements or any of the sentient creation that inhabit the sky, earth and sea that sinned. It was human kind. The woman was the first to succumb. But the blame rested on Adam’s shoulders, the first man and father of our race, because Biblical religion is unabashedly patriarchal.
Because of sin humanity no longer fears, loves or trusts in God above all things, as Adam and Eve did upon their creation.
Sin, in a word, is the violation of God’s will. It is rebellion and mutiny against our True and Good God and Father. As Scripture teaches the matter the Evil One, in the form of a Serpent, tempted Eve to reject her God and his command. To which she succumbed, and so did Adam by her temptation.
The problem with sin is that it is deadly. It causes spiritual death. It is the violent divorce of man from his God. Man's separation from the source of his life, and satisfaction. The further problem with sin is that it is hereditary. It is congenital. It is passed down from generation to generation, parent to child, and the entire race (and all creation besides) is infected by it; and suffers as a result of it. Sin is at the root of every problem the world knows.
In spite of humanity’s attempts since the first sin to restore life and paradise to earth, nothing has worked. Indeed, many argue that things keep getting worse. While technology can be a blessing, it is can also be a curse. It has been said that more people were killed in the 20th century alone, thanks to technology, than in all preceding centuries combined. Not only has it robbed us of life, and peace, but it has also enslaved our minds, so that men no longer know how to think. No longer know how to reason. In the words of Banquo from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: we have eaten on the insane root, which takes the reason prisoner.
Behind all evil, all suffering, all error, all of of “man’s inhumanity to man” lurks sin.
But Christian religion also teaches that the loss of his good creation was intolerable to our Creator and True and Good Father. And so "the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort" provided salvation by giving his eternal Son, Jesus Christ, to undo the sin of the world, and by so doing to liberate our wills, minds and hearts, so that we might be reconciled to our God. So that humanity might once again learn to fear, love and trust in him above all things. So that we might become truly human, as God originally created us to be.
III. Religion is love for God.
Redemption and liberation from sin, and its toxic effects on our bodies, souls, spirits, minds and hearts, is accomplished by the death of God’s Son on the cross. In God’s inscrutable wisdom, this redeeming death of God’s Son conquered all sin, all death, and the tyranny of the Evil One; and gives eternal life to all who trust in the crucified and risen Christ. “For God loved the world in this way. He gave his one and only Son that whoever believes, in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
All the benefits of the Lord’s human birth, perfect life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection from the dead are imparted to lost sinners (such as we all are by birth) by the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. In it we are incorporated in and into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Baptism gives us new life, and with it, new love for God, and for one another. In it and by it, we are made children of the Heavenly Father. We are delivered from death and the devil, and obtain the promise of never-ending life. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even if he were dead yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25ff)
It is this gospel that impels us to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. To learn to know him and his will for our lives, which is learned from the church’s teaching of Holy Scripture.
To love God means to change our lives; to resist the Serpent; to swim upstream from the culture; and to wage war against the evil desires that reside within our old sinful nature. It means to live the highest and holiest life possible. To live in keeping with the “high calling that we have in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus says that all: evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander etc. proceed from the human heart (so don't "follow your heart" as culture instructs). But to love God means to rise above all these, which can only be done by divine power, gained by Christian instruction and Christian worship.
IV. Religion is worship of God.
It is man’s chief duty to worship God. Jesus says that we are to: worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. John 4:24 This means that we are to worship him by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in connection with Jesus who is the Truth. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” says Jesus, “no man comes to the Father but by me.” John 14:6
Christian Worship is accomplished when the baptized assemble for Holy Communion (Eucharist) with Jesus. Jesus says of this Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, “this cup is the New Testament in my blood.” 1 Corinthians 11:25. The New Testament is not simply an era of time, or the last 27 books of the Bible, as many suppose. But the New Testament is to celebrate Holy Communion. The bread and the wine of which Jesus says, “this is my body, this is my blood.” Here is life. Here is salvation. Here is fellowship and unity with the Divine!
When we participate in the church’s Eucharistic worship we are, literally, communing with Jesus. Communing with that which is Holy. And not with Jesus only, but also with his Father and the Spirit. By this Sacrament of the Altar we are brought into fellowship and union with the mutual love that exists between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is heaven on earth; and a foretaste of what will be ours eternally by virtue of our Baptism, and the Christian worship into which it inaugurates us.
V. Religion is conducting one’s life in harmony with the teachings of God.
The teachings of God can only be learned in the church. They come from Scripture to be sure, but Scripture must be rightly interpreted. The most well known body of Christian ethics is the Ten Commandments. But these, too, must alas be taught properly.
The First commandment seems straight forward: "You shall have no other gods before me." But unless a person knows the New Testament, he does not know that the Trinity is the one, true God, and that he can only be known and worshiped through Jesus. As Jesus says, "This is eternal life, that they may know you the only True God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." John 17:3
The Third Commandment also needs to be interpreted. Christians no longer worship on the Sabbath, Saturday, the Seventh Day. They worship on Sunday instead which, in Christian parlance, is The Eighth Day. The first day of the New Creation. The Day Jesus rose from the dead, and promised everlasting life to all who believe and are baptized. Mark 16:16
A shorter summary of godly conduct is the Great Commandment of Jesus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as you love yourself. Matthew 22:37-39
An even simpler is Jesus’ Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” These eleven words contain more good and rational law than all the law books ever written.
And yet another is found in Romans 13:9-10 where St. Paul enlightens the Christian mind with these words, “For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
And so this is a summary of Christian religion. To be a Christian means to believe in God, trust in God, love God, worship God, and conform your entire life to the “high calling that is yours in Christ Jesus.”
Christ Lutheran Church exists to teach and strengthen Christian faith. We invite you to begin, or resume, your life of faith by attending our Pastor’s Bible Class each Sunday at 9AM, and Divine Services each Sunday at 10:30AM. Then, once you have learned something of the message, beauty and culture of the church, you will be ready for more in depth study.
Contact Pastor Kavouras to learn more.