In our society the word "religious" suggests that one has faith. I hear the word used most commonly to reference people who cling to a set of cultural beliefs put in place by man. As I read through God's Word more and more, I am convinced that there is a clear difference in being religious and being a follower of Christ.
Following Christ is completely opposite of being religious. Jesus was very hard on the Pharisees, and rightfully so.
“He replied, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules." Mark 7: 6-7First of all, religion allows you hold to a certain set of rules, many of which weren't taken from the Bible. And those that were are generally twisted to some extent. The Bible refers to this as legalism. Legalistic people are quick to judge you and throw stones when you make a mistake or if you don't follow the same set of rules. They lie in wait, like a predator, hoping to catch you breaking some rule so that they can look good for calling you on it. They do not have mercy or compassion that Christ calls us to have.
Jesus basically told them that worship takes place in the heart, not in their rules. I won't deny that following Him leads us to live an upright life and that we should encourage others to do the right things. But more times than not those who seem to have it all together are the very ones that have the hardest of hearts. And a hard heart is far from Him. He calls us to be merciful and compassionate no matter what. These traits are one of the markings of a believer- and none of us have these traits naturally. He calls us to look beyond the obvious, and offer up understanding to others. Following a set of man-made rules won't get you to heaven because man doesn't get to call the shots.
"He went on: What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7: 21-23Religion allows you to cling to your creature comforts and strongholds. Strongholds are those messed-up ideas you have in your head that do nothing but hold you from grasping who He is, serving Him and dying to the flesh. It's plain stubbornness and stubbornness against God only hurts you because you cannot cling to God with one hand. You have to let go of everything else you're holding onto in order to truly know Him. We all have strongholds but as we're willing, He removes them.
For example, I have been subjected to only Baptist views in my lifetime and have been taught that the ways of other religions are wrong. I built some pretty high walls in my heart, and they hindered me for a long time. God used my dear husband to inspire me to let go of those ideas, let down my walls and be open to WHATEVER God shows me. If I could offer any one piece of advice, it would be to let go of your preconceived ideas about Him and let Him, and Him alone, show you who He is. You will not be disappointed, I promise.
My husband and I were discussing some struggles this morning, and those struggles stemmed from things we see in churches. Churches are full of sinners, because we are not yet made perfect. But because we are all still imperfect, we tend to discourage one another with our haughty attitudes, judgments and the boxes we try to fit God into. God isn't going to fit in anyone's box. He is far more magnificent than any human mind can fathom. We can't possibly understand it all, but he doesn't ask us to. He does ask us to let go of everything else we cling to- whether it's something we're taught, other people or material items.
I encourage you to be cautious and watchful that you don't get religion in your search for God. When you seek Him, do so with all your heart and soul and ignore the limits people place on God and on each other. We must not focus so hard on other's limitations that we fall away. After all, people won't be judging us in the end.
"Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.'" Mark 8: 34-35