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Don’t be fooled by the religious disguise

By: kelli crawford

It is a very effective and subtle deception. It fools people every day. It even fooled me. I embraced a convincing substitute disguised as truth — religious activity posing as a relationship with Jesus.

Religious activity seems so right.

I first attended church only for the kids’ events as a preschooler, learning songs like “This Little Light of Mine” and making Bible story crafts out of popsicle sticks. When I was in first grade, my parents’ divorce changed my world in all directions, and church-going stopped altogether for a very long time. During my pre-teen years, I intermittently attended a truly diverse mix of churches. Some had ritual-based ceremony. Some were based upon following strict sets of life rules. And, all were within a local culture of social church-going, especially at Christmas and Easter.

So, by the time I was headed to high school, I had this messy jumble of teachings and rituals all lumped together in my mind, a conglomeration that I thought was Christianity. I did not yet realize that I was just “doing,” checking off certain ideas and practices, not realizing I had experienced only religious activity, a substitute for having a true relationship with Jesus.

God wants us to know Him.

Because God wanted me to discover His truth (1 Peter 3:18), He brought a new friend into my life when I was 13, a friend who talked about knowing Jesus personally — knowing Him as the true source of joy, strength, comfort, and power for life. I saw my new friend living his daily life led by this personal relationship with Jesus, and I craved that same peace and joy for my own life.

When God sees us trying to know Him, He opens our minds and eyes to see what we could not see before (2 Corinthians 4:6). Through observing my new friend’s real relationship with Jesus, I realized that my prior church experience had been only religious activity, only a substitute for a true relationship with Jesus. As soon as I opened my heart to Jesus, He instantly gave me the relationship with Him that I sought. There were no special words to say and no special ceremony, just earnestly expressing to Jesus my belief that He is God’s Son and that He died and rose again to make a relationship with Him possible for me.

How do we know the difference between religion and a relationship?

I am forever thankful that God revealed my blindness and led me to the truth while I was still in my teens. That journey from blindness to truth cultivated a keen urgency in me for helping others who may be trapped in that same blindness. So here are some “indicators” for recognizing the difference between religious activity and a true relationship with Jesus.

Religious activity…

(Amos 5:21-24)

  • is just camouflage, helping us blend into “church life.”
  • is just a way of feeling good about ourselves, doing good works to avoid some kind of punishment.
  • is just social networking, a way to get friends, dates, or business associates.
  • is just a cultural ritual that we do not from the heart but because of social expectations.
  • never provides lasting peace and joy.

A relationship with Jesus…

(Ephesians 2:4-10; John 15:11)

  • begins with believing Jesus is God’s Son and accepting His invitation to know Him.
  • creates selfless desire to serve others.
  • ignites enthusiasm to tell others about knowing Jesus.
  • prompts us to take next steps for constantly growing closer to Jesus and becoming more like Him.
  • provides supernatural peace and abiding joy.

It is especially easy to fool ourselves with the substitute of religious activity in a culture that is fooled by it. If we grow up in a culture of religious activity from birth, we have to search our hearts closely, making sure that we are not mistaking religious activity for the reality of a personal relationship Jesus.

No longer fooled by substitutes and embracing only God’s truth, we can leave behind illusions and move into the reality of Jesus’ personal love, comfort, and power!

Though religious activity can provide some temporary fulfillment, there is absolutely no substitute for the life-changing power of personally knowing Jesus. No longer fooled by substitutes and embracing only God’s truth, we can leave behind illusions and move into the reality of Jesus’ personal love, comfort, and power! “…Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32).

If you would like to talk with someone about your relationship with Jesus, stop by the Care Room at your campus on Sunday, or connect with someone here.

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