Religion can be defined as “belief in God or gods to be worshipped, usually expressed in conduct and ritual” or “any specific system of belief, worship, etc., often involving a code of ethics.” Well over 90% of the world’s population adheres to some form of religion. The problem is that there are so many different religions. What is the right religion? What is true religion?
The two most common ingredients in religions are rules and rituals. Some religions are essentially nothing more than a list of rules, do’s and don’t’s, that a person must observe in order to be considered a faithful adherent of that religion, and thereby, right with the God of that religion. Two examples of rules-based religions are Islam and Judaism. Islam has its five pillars that must be observed. Judaism has hundreds of commands and traditions that are to be observed. Both religions, to a certain degree, claim that by obeying the rules of the religion, a person will be considered right with God.
Other religions focus more on observing rituals instead of obeying a list of rules. By offering this sacrifice, performing this task, participating in this service, consuming this meal, etc., a person is made right with God. The most prominent example of a ritual-based religion is Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism holds that by being water baptized as an infant, by partaking in the Mass, by confessing sin to a priest, by offering prayers to saints in Heaven, by being anointed by a priest before death, etc., etc., God will accept such a person into Heaven after death. Buddhism and Hinduism are also primarily ritual-based religions, but can also to a lesser degree be considered rules-based.
True religion is neither rules-based nor ritual-based. True religion is a relationship with God. Two things that all religions hold are that humanity is somehow separated from God and needs to be reconciled to Him. False religion seeks to solve this problem by observing rules and rituals. True religion solves the problem by recognizing that only God could rectify the separation, and that He has done so. True religion recognizes the following:
1. We have all sinned and are therefore separated from God (Romans 3:23).
2. If not rectified, the just penalty for sin is death and eternal separation from God after death (Romans 6:23).
3. God came to us in the Person of Jesus Christ and died in our place, taking the punishment that we deserve, and rose from the dead to demonstrate that His death was a sufficient sacrifice (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
4. If we receive Jesus as the Savior, trusting His death as the full payment for our sins, we are forgiven, saved, redeemed, reconciled, and justified with God (John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9).
True religion does have rules and rituals, but there is a crucial difference. In true religion, the rules and rituals are observed out of gratitude for the salvation God has provided – NOT in an effort to obtain that salvation. True religion, which is Biblical Christianity, has rules to obey (do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not lie, etc.) and rituals to observe (water baptism by immersion and the Lord’s Supper / Communion). Observance of these rules and rituals is not what makes a person right with God. Rather, these rules and rituals are the RESULT of the relationship with God, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone as the Savior. False religion is doing things (rules and rituals) in order to try to earn God’s favor. True religion is receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and thereby having a right relationship with God – and then doing things (rules and rituals) out of love for God and desire to grow closer to Him.