The two significant sects that Jesus had to confront during his lifetime were the Pharisees and Sadducees. They were the celebrated religious folks in his days.
While the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and the afterlife the Sadducees did not. But the two sects opposed the Messiah as represented in Jesus Christ
The arrival of Jesus on the scene was thus a tipping-off point for them. The sects were obsessed with having a form of godliness that denied the power and essence of God. They had created a God of their own imagination.
That had been the trend even before the time Moses’ law came into play. Moses gave 10 commandments from God, But those commandments multiplied to over 600 laws of dos and don’ts over time. But even at that, the people did not find succour. They kept searching for God.
For instance, before Moses came back from his consultation with God the Israelites had turned their ornaments into an idol which they took as God. That singular act goes to show that man has a propensity to always want to seek God. That has been the trend since man lost it in the garden.
God did not create a religion
God however did not create any religion. Adam and Eve were not Christians, Muslims, or Judaists. They were simply in a relationship with God. Unfortunately, Adam lost that privilege. And that threw humanity into confusion.
Bible makes us understand that God knew Adam and Eve would miss it. And this is because He did not create robots. He created people who could make decisions. He created people and gave them free will. God never wanted to force man to serve Him.
But man lost that privilege. To make up for his search for God, man began to worship inanimate things while also cultivating the religious spirit.
Millions of gods and religions have emerged over the years to try to quench the human thirst. For this reason, man would worship the things created by his own hands. There are about 320 million gods that are being worshipped by man.
But Jesus came to bring an end to human search and reconnect him back to His maker. He did not start another religion. But man keeps forming religion after his own heart.
The devil takes advantage of this. And so keeps fanning the ember of religion. The devil is okay as far as what man does is religion.
Religion creates its own rules and regulations. A religious man wants to take credit. He sets the tone of worship of God. He decides the place and instrument of worship.
A religious man is aggressive. He has a holier-than-thou attitude. He looks down on people and sees them as not meeting certain expectations. He thinks by more activities and rites he can please God.
Jesus tackled religion
When Jesus came, he had to deal with that spirit. The first thing was to live a life that was in contradiction to the religious people of his days.
He ate with sinners. He did not wash his hands before eating. Jesus broke the rule of Sabbath. He healed people on Sabbath days.
He moved among the people rather than setting himself apart. Jesus showed love. To puncture the ego of the religious rulers of his days, he had to change the narrative of the laws. He gave them just two commandments. Love God and love your neighbour.
Those commandments do not need exegesis. They don’t need knowledge of Greek or Hebrew. They are simple rules of the thumb. He did not tell them the dos and the don’t s but rather he asked them to love.
But then he went further to explain that the righteousness of the people had to exceed that of the Pharisees.
So if you look at a woman lustfully, you have committed adultery in your heart. Jesus knew no person would be found wanting among the religious people of his days with this instruction.
The primary purpose of telling them those things was to keep their mouths shut. And make them realise that nobody can meet up to God’s standard.
By implication, Jesus was saying your works do not qualify you before God. At some point he was asked what must we do to do the works of God? They were expecting rules and regulations. But Jesus said to them the work of God is to believe in the one he sent. How simple.
The death of Jesus put a seal on religion
In a relationship, God comes up as a friend who will like to interact with his creation. He wants to always reason with us. And he wants to take the credit. That is why our righteousness is considered a filthy rag before God. But Jesus paid the price for our sins. We carry his righteousness.
Unfortunately, man keeps having the propensity to want to play the religious card. And that is why the religious people were the ones who killed Jesus. The high priests had accused him of equating himself with God and they insisted that he be killed.
But that had been the plan of God from the foundation of the world. He knew man would veer into religion. And he needed to address the religious spirit in man which started with Adam.
Remember Adam attempted to cover his nakedness after falling out with God. He played the religious card by trying to help himself. But God sought him out. He killed a ram and used the skin to cover his nakedness.
God is the one always seeking man to restore man back to a relationship. It was the fullness of that relationship that was demonstrated by Jesus.
His death in the hands of religious people was the death of religion in the sight of God. Every man now has access to the holy of hollies. Freedom to humanity. You can now call on God anywhere. You don’t need a special place to do that. As a matter of fact, you don’t need a special building because Jesus now lives in our hearts for those who believe in him.
But the religious man does not want that. The religious man is interested in rules and regulations. He is interested in symbols and sites. And that has become a recurring decimal. We want to do something to be accepted by God. But God wants to accept us before we do something. While we were yet sinners he had died for us.
When we realise this fact we are supposed to reciprocate by loving the one who died for us. That is where our freedom lies.
Man creates the God after his own heart
But over the years man has cunningly tried to want to create his own kind of God. Man kills in the name of God. He fights in the name of God. In fact, Jesus said people will kill you and think they are working for God.
What people who kill in the name of God are doing in this age was what the religious people in the first century did. They killed Jesus. And went further to kill his followers. James was beheaded. Stephen was stoned to death Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified headlong..
The Foxes Book of Martyrs has a compilation of how all the apostles died. The gruesome death of believers happened all through the first three hundred years after the death of Jesus.
No particular name for Jesus’ followers
It will interest you to know that in the first century AD there was no particular name for followers of Jesus. Some called them followers of the Way. Some called them Christians. They were also called the people of the book.
This was because the church was a movement. Unfortunately, we have turned it into an institution. A kind of monument.
The church was not an organisation. It is an organism. The kingdom of God is within us not outside of us. But we have turned it into an organisation. By extension, the whole world is filled with religious people who set their own rules for the worship of God.
So it should not come to us as a surprise when we see the religious spirit at work.
Devil nurtures religion
It is the devil who nurtures the spirit of religion and allows it to fester in the lives of people.
If religion is not evil, why would any man kill another man for alleged blasphemy? And this is not about Islam alone. In the first century of the church as stated earlier many were killed for alleged blasphemy and man-made religious crimes.
As a matter of fact, the man who first translated the Bible to English, William Tyndale was burnt on the stake by the religious leaders of his days.
His offense was that the Bible was too sacred a book to be translated to English from Latin. English was then considered the language of the poor.
The church and Islam
Can you see that this spirit of religion is not peculiar to Islam? It’s just that the church has overgrown it. Unfortunately fundamentalist Muslims are still holding unto it.
The irony of this whole narrative is that Mohamed, the person who began the Islamic faith was born about 570 AD. By that time there were churches already in Saudi Arabia and many parts of the world.
The Bible tells us that every nation of the world was represented on the day of the Pentecost when the church began formally. These people must have taken the gospel to all nations.
Islam picked most of its stories from the Bible which had already been canonised around 382AD. That was long before Mohammed was born.
Human works equal religion
The point is, that whenever we attempt to reach God by our works, we slide into religion. That is the same spirit at work when we fast as a rule, not as an expression of relationship.
The religious spirit is subtle. It comes in the form of activities. Be guided. The act of prayer, fasting and all forms of worship are done because we have a relationship with God not because we want to get anything from God. And not because those are the credentials that qualify us before God.
But of cause when we do those things the fallout is often the blessings of God.
You must ask yourself, what were the prayer points of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden? Did they have any requests to make when all they needed had already been provided? All they did with God was fellowship. In the course of the fellowship, they had insight and the person of God in them is further strengthened.
Love, the motivator
God enjoys the fellowship of his people. We go to him because we love him. It is love that makes us keep his commandments, not an impending judgement.
Jesus himself tells us ‘If you love me keep my commandments.’ Every time you keep God’s commandment out of fear or an impending judgment the spirit of religion is at work. Every believer must fight that spirit. We must resist it. It is not of God.
It is an evil spirit. While we condemn people who fight for God, we must watch out so that we don’t slip into that bondage of religion.
By Gbenga Osinaike