Resolve to be more religious.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 December

Too many conservative Evangelicals have been fed the false idea religion is a dirty word—that it means dead religion, where we only go through the motions instead of loving Jesus. So here’s the obligatory paragraph where I remind you: Religion is all the stuff we do to facilitate loving and following Jesus. If loving Jesus isn’t the whole point, it’s bad religion; if following Jesus isn’t happening, stop doing it!

With this in mind, one of a Christian’s resolutions—not only for the new year, but for all time—is we oughta get religious. Or more religious. Where we are isn’t good enough. Nor should we ever think of it as good enough. We must always strive to follow Jesus better.

Yeah, lemme throw in this caveat for the Evangelicals who get all paranoid about works righteousness: I’m not talking about being good enough for salvation. I’m fully aware salvation is by God’s grace; it’s a free gift we don’t earn. The point of being more religious is not, and never should be, so we can rack up more good-karma points so when we stand before Jesus at the End, we can tell him, “See Lord?—I did this, that, and t’other thing. Jewels please.” Frankly this idea of doing good deeds only to earn heavenly rewards, is just a variant of Mammonism and needs to be denounced more often. We don’t practice religion so we can get stuff. We do it for Jesus—we love him and wanna be closer to him, and the only way to do this is by obeying him.

So we need to obey him! And obey him more often. Not just when we remember, “Oh yeah, didn’t Jesus say something about this somewhere in the red letters?” Not only when the pastor brings up a random Jesus verse in a sermon. Not solely when we already want to behave a certain way, but we need a bible verse to support the behavior, so we’re proof-texting a defense. Preferably we obey Jesus all the time.

But obeying Jesus requires self-control. Self-discipline. Which means we gotta develop self-control… which because it’s self-control, means we gotta do it. Won’t just happen on its own.

We gotta get disciplined about how we follow Jesus. We need to practice the things which encourage good fruit and goodness in general. We need to love our neighbors better; certainly better than the apathetic “Well I don’t wish them harmwe practice more often. Way better than the toxic “tough love” bullpucky which too many Christians fall into.

The usual way Christians encourage us to follow Jesus better, is by getting involved in a small group and following a bible-reading plan. As if going to bible study, and reading lots of bible, is gonna trigger goodness. While I’m all for interacting with fellow Christians and reading lots of bible—the better to get familiar with it!—of course it’s not gonna trigger good deeds. Plenty of Christians go to small groups and read bible… and are the same royal dickweeds they’ve always been. Didn’t make ’em better; it only made ’em think, “Well of course I follow Jesus, ’cause I read my bible and go to a bible study.”

Nope; reading isn’t enough. We have to obey it.

Don’t delude yourself. Plenty have.

Jesus’s brother James wrote a few things about religion in his book, which is a good one to read when you need to steady yourself in religious practice.

James 1.22-27 NRSVue
22 But be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think they are religious and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Plenty of Christians in the United States are merely hearers who deceive ourselves. Yeah, I include myself, ’cause I spent a lot of years as a great big hypocrite who could quote lots of bible, but barely followed it.

For us Christians, all the “following” we ever bother to do, is we go to church. And listen to preachers. And read Christian books. And listen to Christian music. And accept certain beliefs without ever examining or testing or struggling with ’em. We surround ourselves with the trappings of Christianity, and feel our big blanket of Jesus junk is what makes us Christian. It certainly makes us Christianist, but Christian means Christ-follower… and are we following Christ Jesus? Do we obey him? Or is it just that we like him a whole lot?

Read his Sermon on the Mount. Has it become the lifestyle we’ve adopted?—or is it simply a nice ideal, meant for pastors and monks and Kingdom Come, but we still consider it impractical to apply to “the real world”? Do we obey Jesus, or are we still coming up with excuses for why we’re not ready, or loopholes which mean we don’t need to? Have we looked at the Sermon on the Mount to see what Jesus means for us to be like… then turn away from it, forget what he expects of us, and continue in the same stupid behavior you can find in any pagan? Heck, if it weren’t for the Christian T-shirts, the music, and the Sunday morning activities, could you tell any difference between us and some pagan?

How’re we doing on loving our neighbors? On helping the needy? On welcoming strangers and foreigners—“illegal aliens” or not? On giving to the poor? On curing the sick, whether miraculously or by making healthcare accessible? On bringing good news to the lost, instead of condemnation and bile?

Do we act like Jesus whatsoever?—or is that something, again, for only clergy and saints?

It’s absolutely not meant to be. And if you’re tired of claiming to be Christian when you know good and well you’re nothing like Jesus: Good. Take up your cross and really follow him.