The first three parts of my series on Politics and Religion have had to do with Politics. The next three parts will focus upon Religion. Let me begin by saying I am not an expert on either subject, nor can I say my present position will remain set in stone. I am open and willing to hear opposing views, although It is highly unlikely that I will change my position, but miracles do happen.
Webster's New World dictionary defines religion as follows: a reverence for the god(s), a system of religious beliefs to bind together followers who believe in a divine or superhuman power(s) to be obeyed and worshiped as the creator(s) and ruler(s) of the universe. As such, a religion includes a code of ethics, a philosophy of values, and forms the framework for a social group's way of life.
In other words, a religion tells its followers what they have to do, and what they have to avoid doing, to have eternal life. Religion, therefore, defines the prerequisites necessary to earn admission into the afterlife. The Gospels tell of people wanting to know what they had to do to have eternal life. Matthew 18:16-22 tells of a rich man who asked Jesus "what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life." The very question demonstrates that the man was religious. Again, in John 6:28-29, the crowd that followed Jesus wanted to know "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" Presumably these were Jews steeped in the religion of the Law. But Gentiles also asked the same question in Acts 16:30. The Philippian jailer asked Paul "what must I do to be saved?" The answer is always the same: believe in Jesus. Notice that the answer does not list actions necessary to do or to avoid, but simply says to believe. Believing is not what someone does; it is something they trust to be true.
If I were to tell you that the board I placed across the creek was strong enough to hold you, how would you demonstrate that you believed me? You could tell me you believed me, but I would not know if you were being honest or not. No, the result of believing is action that demonstrates one's faith. You would cross the creek on the board without hesitation. So it is with being a Christian. There are no requirements or qualifications to be one, and nothing a Christian can do or fail to do, that would alter the fact that they are a believer. You can't say to the person who crosses the board that they aren't really on the other side until they do something. They are there, period.
When my pastor led my wife to Christ nearly forty years ago, he illustrated God's offer of salvation by using a penny. He said he would give her the penny, and he held it out to her. When she took it, he asked her when did it become hers. She said when she took it. He said that Jesus offers eternal life to any who will accept it. It becomes ours when we believe He has it to give, that He is willing to give it, and that all we have to do is trust Him to give it to us. True Christianity does not meet the definition of being a religion. It is something quite different from religion. More tomorrow, Lord willing.