My bible study is reading “Jesus is greater than Religion” by Jefferson Bethke. It’s a great book, whether you are a seasoned Christian or just finding your faith. Bethke has a Youtube video with 25+ million views entitled “Why I hate religion but love Jesus.”
Jesus didn’t exactly like religious people in his day. He constantly challenged the Pharisees who were religious scholars, Scribes (theologians), and the Sadducees who were the Jewish priests. In Mathew 23:25-27 Jesus tells the parable of the cup written below:
25″Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26″You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 27″Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
Religion teaches people conformity: listen to the right music, dress a certain way, speak a certain way and you will be saved. The truth is, there are lots of broken people who are seeking God but they prioritize the wrong things as a measure of their faith. As the passage explains, God cares more about the inside than the outside. God wants to change someone’s heart not their appearance. The bible is clear: a sign of maturity in Christ is the ability to tame the desires of the heart. A person who is over indulgent (in anything from alcohol to food, or full of wrath, or lust, or greed) is just a cup appearing beautiful on the outside and filthy on the inside. These are cardinal sins, they are vices that some people will have ongoing struggles with for years. If we could beat these sins on our own, we wouldn’t need a savior.
The message of the book is to challenge people to stop trying to look like a Christian and instead seek God to change their hearts. People are inherently sinful and all people sin differently. The point of becoming a Christian isn’t to pat yourself on the back and look down your nose at others that don’t fit into your conformist group. The point is to find a community of believers you can grow with. To be real with yourself and your friends, and admit your brokenness and grow with one another while you all work together to seek betterment. I pray that I always attend a church that is more of a hospital than a country club.