Is Christianity a Religion or a Way of Life?

by Osamagbe Lesley Egharevba
Unmasking Sophistry, vol. 1, no. 1, April-June 2021
Unmasking Sophistry, vol. 1, no. 2, July-September 2021

Many scoff at the idea that Christianity is a religion. It is very common to hear and read people speak about Christianity as not a religion but only a way of life. This sentiment is being paraded almost everywhere. In fact, one of those who hold this position, penned down the following in one of the blogs;

“…if Christianity is a religion, then we could conclude that whatever God the Father, Jesus the Son and God the Holy Spirit planned for mankind is a mere religion. If Christianity is a religion, then God didn’t have to send Jesus, His own Son to establish it. The objective of the plan of salvation that began after man sinned and was cast out of Eden was not to establish a religion. No, Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is a way of life.”

In the first place, the plan of salvation did not begin after man sinned and was cast out of Eden. Rather, the plan of salvation began before the foundation of the world and there are abundant passages of the Holy Scriptures that affirm this eternal truth (I Peter 1:20; Ephesians 1:4; Titus 1:2). To insist that the plan of salvation began after the fall of man is to insinuate that God was oblivious of the fact that man would fall and that His plan was an afterthought. This indeed is an attempt to jettison the omniscient nature of God (cf. I John 3:20; Isaiah 40:28; 46:10; Psalm 139:4; Romans 1:20).

Secondly, what exactly does this writer mean by religion that he contends Christianity is not? While he never gave an exact definition of religion in his writing, it seems that his idea of religion is captured in one of the paragraphs when he said:

“If Christianity is a religion, then it might be no different from the many religions in our present day world where the major aim isn’t making positive difference in the present, but following a set of rules to pass an examination for eternity.”

According to this writer’s concept of religion, “following a set of rules to pass an examination for eternity” is a major characteristic of world religions and which to him, is incongruous and not an element of Christianity. To him, Christianity is all about imitating Christ, leading good lives, doing good, loving and helping one another, etc. but has nothing to do with devotion to a set of rules as a prerequisite to reach eternal life.

While it is admitted without an iota of doubt that Christianity requires leading godly lives, imitating Christ and keeping oneself unspotted from the world; and thus – a way of life (Titus 2:11-12; Hebrews 12:14; James 1:27), to deny that Christianity is a religion on the basis of it not having a “set of rules” to be obeyed towards the eternal goal is untrue and an unfounded claim.

One question that comes to mind is this: has Christ not given “a set of rules”? Indeed, the Bible makes a distinction between the commandments of men (Matthew 15:8-9) and the commandments of God (I John 5:3). This same text and others point to the fact that we have no love for God if we fail to keep His commandments (John 14:15; 15:14). In the book of Genesis, when God made man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, God gave him certain commandments that He must keep if the man was to remain in the garden. One of those is that he must not eat “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The serpent came with his own commandment and circumvented God’s command (Genesis 3:1-5). Men had a choice to either follow God’s commandment or the Devil’s. Similarly, the children of Israel were given commandments to be followed in order to be pleasing to God. He said, “if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.” (Exodus 19:5). The Israelites had a choice to obey God or follow other gods. Even before the Law was given at Sinai, the Bible records that Abraham “kept the commandments of the Lord” (Genesis 26:5).

But what about the Christians today? Do they have a set of rules from Christ? Surely, for Christ spoke of obedience to His Father’s will as a condition to enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21, 24-27). The point is: God has been dealing with men right from time immemorial, in every dispensation by giving men rules to obey. And in every dispensation, there are always counter rules made by men to draw God’s children away from Him.

If by “set of rules,” the writer meant the commandments of men, then I insist that is not what we must follow to go to heaven. However, the Bible thus teaches that we must follow the commandments of Christ to make heaven (Acts 2:42; II John 9). James calls it “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). Another obvious fact is that all of these things that are referred to as “the way of life” (such as helping the sick) constitute a set of rules that must be done without which no one can see the Lord (Hebrew 12:14). In other words, one cannot separate “the way of life” from “a set of rules.” If you are living the way of life Christ wants you to live, you are following “the set of rules” that Christ has commanded you (I Corinthians 11:1).

But come to think of it, if Christianity is merely a way of life like this author contends, what this simply means, in essence, is that a Muslim can be a Christian because he loves, does good, humbles, visit the sick, etc. Likewise, we can absolutely get as much as many people who are Christians from other religions of the world. But no! All people who are living a good life are not saved because of their morality. If it were so, Cornelius would have been saved and not be required to do anything else (Acts 10:1-3). But he had to be obedient to some other requirements despite the fact that he was even a lover and fearer of God (Acts 10:1-2, 22).

What about James 1:26-27? This passage is a killing blow to those who teach that Christianity is not a religion, and it is not surprising to see that the writer of this article never referred to it in his writing. James says;

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, that one’s religion is useless. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

James speaks of religion and shows how such a religion could be useless and how it could be pure and undefiled. One could make his religion useless by practicing what is not acceptable to Christ and one could practice pure religion by visiting those in affliction and then keeping oneself unspotted from the world – thus imitating Christ (I Peter 2:21-23). What religion was James talking about? It is the Christian religion! And so, Christianity is both a religion and a way of life. In the next edition, we shall give attention to other matters relating to why Christianity is a religion.

Next, we shall look at one of the incongruous implications associated with believing the idea that “Christianity is not a religion” and show why such is wrong.

Many think that it is just enough for one to live a morally upright life – be kind and generous, loving and caring, and do all manner of things that are considered “good.” Merely doing all of these, already makes one a Christian in their viewpoint. Those who hold this view are invariably saying that it does not matter what religious group you associate yourself with, you can still be a Christian in any of those groups provided you maintain a good life.

In other words, it does not matter where and how you worship God. Since you are already living a life that is admirable and in fact, pleasing to all, they conclude that with such “sacrifices,” God is well pleased. From this notion comes such statements as; “Church does not save anyone,” “Just live a good life, God will not ask you on the last day what church you belong,” and many of that kind.

“Good” People Need Conversion

Morally upright people are found everywhere. In almost all religions of the world, you are likely to find people who possess good moral standards and exhibit great and admirable lifestyles. These individuals know that it is wrong to kill, steal, etc. They know that it is a good thing to help a person when he is in need. Jesus talks about the Good Samaritan who was neither a Christian nor a Jewish priest, yet knows it was necessary for him to help the injured man (Luke 10:30-37). The same level of hospitality could be done by people today who do not even believe in Jesus Christ. However, does the fact that these people live good lifestyles make them Christians? Not at all! Let us consider some individuals in the New Testament:

Cornelius

Cornelius was the first Gentile man that was converted to Christianity. Before his conversion, he was described as “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always…a just man…and of good report among all the nation of the Jews” (Acts 10:2, 22). In the thinking of certain individuals, Cornelius is already a Christian with all the excellent qualities that he posses. But that was not the case! Despite all of these, there was something that was lacking which he needed to do to make him a Christian. Listen to the voice of the Lord as He told Cornelius in Acts 10:5-6: “Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” Notice the word “must” suggests a necessity and shows the action is compulsory if Cornelius is really interested in his salvation. He actually sent men to Joppa and invited Peter as instructed and when Cornelius and his household heard and believed the word, they were baptized and were saved (cf. Acts 2:47).

Lydia

Lydia was a woman from the city of Thyatira; a city in the Roman province of Asia, the very place the evangelists were prevented by the Holy Spirit from going at the beginning of their second missionary journey (Acts 16:6 cf. Revelation 2:18). It happened that their first convert is from the same Asia. Lydia was a seller of purple and trades in Philippi; a Roman colony that has no synagogue (Acts 16:12-14). She was obviously devoted and she was at the riverside on the Sabbath day with other women praying. Just like Cornelius, she was a worshipper of God and she demonstrated this fact by praying to God. For most people, Lydia was already a Christian and Paul needs not even disturb them seeing they were praying to God. The truth is: such a lifestyle is not enough to make one a Christian. The translation of individuals from the power of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13) requires that they do certain things and such works are not of man’s righteousness but rather obedience to all of God’s commandments. The grace of God that brings salvation actually teaches us to do certain things (Titus 2:11-14).

Does it matter if and how we worship God?

Ecclesiastes 12:13 says the whole duty of man is to “fear God and keep His commandments.” Many denominational churches today all practice different things in the name of worship and in an attempt to find solace for the divisive practices in their worship services, they claim that it does not matter “provided God is worshipped” and provided “it is the name of Jesus that is being called upon and not the name of the devil.” Other claims include; “it is not the church that will take you to heaven,” etc. How true are these statements?

We find that in the New Testament, the early Christians worshipped God in a certain way – they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship in the breaking of bread and in prayers. They were also praising God and having favor with all the people and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42,47). This continuous practice is a collective action of the people and suggests devotion. All through the New Testament, we find one church (Ephesians 4:4) and one doctrine of Christ (II John 9; I Timothy 4:16). The Christians were not told to go away after their conversion to join any group of their choice and continue living a good life; rather, they collectively continue to worship God together as a church. It was this same church that spread to all parts of the world through the preaching of the gospel (Acts 1:8; Colossians 1:23)

Indeed, it actually matters if and how we worship God. In John 4:23-24, we read; “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” Two things are worthy of note in this verse;

  1. God wants us to worship Him and
  2. this worship must be in spirit and in truth.

That implies that we must not only be devoted but our worship must be in accordance with His word (John 17:17). What this means is that we do not have the choice or the right to import our own thinking or style of worship. Our worship must be in conformity with what we have read in the New Testament.

In Matthew 7:21, Jesus emphasized that merely calling Him “Lord, Lord” is not enough to take one into the kingdom but one must also be obedient to the will of His Father in heaven. Does God want us to worship Him today? If yes, has He given us a pattern on how to worship Him? Yes, we must abide in the doctrine of Christ (II John 9).

Matthew 15:8-9 reveals certain people whose worship became vain as a result of teaching the commandments of men. “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” This indicates that there are certain kinds of doctrines that people teach and practice which will nullify their worship of God and render it unacceptable. In the same vein, I Timothy 4:1-3 lists some unacceptable teachings and refer to them as “doctrines of demons.” We are also informed that some individuals worshipped God ignorantly (Acts 17:23) but only true worshippers are recognized by God and such He seeks.

Dear readers, let us not be mistaken to believe the lie that merely living a good life is enough to guaranty salvation and be pleasing to God. We must also be devoted to God and be obedient to all that God has commanded us as the Great Commission instructs (Matthew 28:20). The church is like the ark of Noah in the Old Testament and only those who have been added into it, and remain faithful till the end will be saved. Christianity is a religion; a pure and undefiled religion for that matter (James 1:27).

References

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