Did Jesus come to abolish religion?

There has been a lot of discussion in the Blogosphere over the last couple of weeks about a video by Jefferson Bethke here, so I suppose I am commenting towards the tail – end of things.

I have been very impressed with the integrity of Jefferson, the sincerity of his thoughts and his very gracious attitude in exchanges with Kevin DeYoung here.

So here is my two pence worth….

The word religion these days has negative connotations. People are not “into that sort of thing.” What is usually meant by that is some sort of organisation that is like an exclusive club with all sorts of restrictions on life. Either that or some sort of means of rule keeping to gain favour with God.

If that is the definition of religion, then Jesus did come to abolish it. He was very clear when on earth that he had little time for such legalism. The Scripture is very clear that we cannot be made right with God by joining an institution or keeping a set of rules. We need a relationship with God. Jesus alone provides that.

However, religion is a Biblical word – James 1:27 says: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV).

What is described there is the ongoing result of a relationship with God. Those things should characterise all Christians. So religion is still there in the New Testament. Using the definition from James (above), Jesus certainly did not come to abolish that. In addition, his birth, life, death and resurrection were in a very real sense a fulfilment of the religion of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. Although many people at that time did not accept it. Hymn writers used it in a positive sense. Isaac Watts wrote:

The sorrows of the mind
Be banished from the place;
Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less.

In short, then, Jesus did not come to abolish religion, he abolished what is often perceived as religion.

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