Can You Follow Jesus Without Being Religious?
There are a lot of different definitions of religion that can be found if you do a search for the definition of religion. Rather than analyze each of those, I’ll rather point to the religion one needs to adhere to in order to be a faithful Christian. Doing this will also address some key corruptions and counterfeits of that.
There is no doubt that Jesus Christ contended with religious people. Many are quick to say amen to that. Yet they often don’t consider that Jesus’ chief enemies promoted and practiced a corrupted form of Judaism. Jesus, being the Word of God made flesh and the second person of the Trinity who existed from the beginning, instituted the pure form of Judaism which those whom He contended with had corrupted. Since authentic Christianity is the God-ordained continuation of pure Judaism, then it is logical to conclude that to follow Jesus faithfully we must practice authentic Christianity. And it is also logical to conclude that those who promote and practice corrupt forms of Christianity, as well as those who continue in Judaism now, would be among Jesus’ greatest enemies now. Avoiding the sins and errors in modern Christendom is crucial in order to follow authentic Bible believing and obeying Christianity. Yet to be irreligious is to attain an outcome which the errors and counterfeits in religion promote since to not follow the true and authentic contributes to the problem and harms oneself, whether that happens through following religious error or in being irreligious.
Luke 8:19-21: “Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.”
If you want a really succinct answer to the question we’re dealing with here, then there it is! We need to hear the Word of God and do it to follow Jesus faithfully and be regarded as one of His people. If you want to get technical and analyze every definition out there of religion, then discern the ones compatible with hearing the Word of God and doing it, uphold those definitions in their Biblical context, and rebuke any other definitions in relation to how they’re incompatible with hearing the Word of God and doing it.
Yet many claim to hear the Word of God and do it who actually don’t. Jesus’ Jewish enemies in the Gospels would have all claimed to do this, yet they didn’t. And they hated Jesus because He told them that they did not and proved that they did not. Many now claim to follow Jesus while openly declaring themselves to be irreligious. They are not bound in their hearts to what the Word of God commands them (the word religion at its roots is actually related to binding). Thus, they condemn themselves as workers of lawlessness by their own description of themselves. They may be trying to communicate that they are not bound to unbiblical rituals and meaningless superstition (which we should indeed break free from), yet by claiming to be irreligious altogether they declare themselves to be workers of lawlessness who disregard God’s very own law which Jesus upheld and vindicated when He was here in the flesh as recorded in the Gospels. These simultaneously professing Christian and irreligious people often have filthy mouths, they consume vile entertainment, and they call straightforward instruction from the Word of God all manner of names (they use terms like judgmental and legalistic which they intend to mean as bad things- yet when it comes to agreeing with and upholding the Word of God it is right to be judgmental and legalistic- to judge and make laws in opposition to God’s Word is another thing- which is actually what these irreligious professing Christians do themselves).
Matthew 23:1-3: “Then spoke Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”
Do what the Word of God says then! And don’t follow the examples of those who don’t do what the Word of God says-, whether they say and do not or whether they say not to and do not.
2 John 6-11: “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it. For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought (John is writing to Christians who had begun well in true Christianity), but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
Hear the testimony of a man bound to the truth of God, a man who by God’s own testimony to Satan and his own honest testimony about himself, practiced pure and undefiled religion before God. He diligently and persistently heard the Word of God and did it.
(God’s own testimony about Job) Job 1:1: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” Job 1:6-8: “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?”
(Job’s own testimony about how he lived) Job 23:11-12: “My foot hath held his steps, his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.”
Now look at a sample of what that practically looked like (consider also here that Job was an actual Judge at one point; we see in Job’s testimony the key distinction between righteous judicial action according to one’s jurisdiction to punish and restrain evil in comparison to nonresistance to evil on a personal level- this is a key distinction most professing Christians do not understand).
Job 29:11-17: “When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me: Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out. And I broke the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth.”
Job 31:1-34: “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid? (Job had bound his eyes so that he would not lust after a woman) For what portion of God is there from above? and what inheritance of the Almighty from on high? Is not destruction to the wicked? and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity? Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps? If I have walked with vanity, or if my foot hath hasted to deceit. Let me be weighed in an even balance that God may know mine integrity. If my step hath turned out of the way, and mine heart walked after mine eyes, and if any blot hath cleaved to mine hands; Then let me sow, and let another eat; yea, let my offspring be rooted out. If mine heart have been deceived by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbor’s door; Then let my wife grind unto another, and let others bow down upon her. For this is an heinous crime; yea, it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges. For it is a fire that consumeth to destruction, and would root out all mine increase. If I did despise the cause of my manservant or of my maidservant, when they contended with me; What then shall I do when God riseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb? If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; Or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof; (For from my youth he was brought up with me, as with a father, and I have guided her from my mother’s womb;) If I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering; If his loins have not blessed me, and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep; If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate: Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone. For destruction from God was a terror to me, and by reason of his highness I could not endure. If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence; If I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much; If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand: This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above. If I rejoiced at the destruction of him that hated me, or lifted up myself when evil found him: Neither have I suffered my mouth to sin by wishing a curse to his soul. If the men of my tabernacle said not, Oh that we had of his flesh! we cannot be satisfied. The stranger did not lodge in the street: but I opened my doors to the traveler. If I covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom: Did I fear a great multitude, or did the contempt of families terrify me, that I kept silence, and went not out of the door?”
You probably don’t understand every verse of that. I know that I don’t. Get the main point though: Job walked before God and diligently sought Him in everything he did. This is a man who feared God to the point where he sought to do what was right before Him in everything. He would be inconvenienced, he would adjust as more light came before him, he shunned “feel good religion”, and he built his whole life, in a very practical way, around worshiping the true God acceptably. There was no attitude of “no way I’m doing that.” There was no adjusting according to his own preferences nor to avoid controversy with the fallen society around him. He would have stood against the world alone if he had to. There were no people which he considered out of the question to help, or be in the company of, if need required.
Two similar men in the Bible, men who had pure religion and undefiled before God, are Daniel and Noah. And how pathetic it is that Israel, the very nation which God had taken to be His own, fell into wickedness to the point where God warned them the following.
Ezekiel 14:13-14: “Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it: Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God.”
You just have to read all of Ezekiel chapter 14 to see that though Israel was religious at this time, and even sought to enquire of the true God when they thought they needed His help, they were nevertheless idolaters at heart by God’s estimation who did not walk in the footsteps of Noah, Daniel, and Job- even though they would have claimed to. Their religion was defiled. Becoming irreligious was not, and still is not, the answer to save us from God’s wrath any more than it was for the ungodly Jews when their Temple was destroyed in both 586 BC and AD 70 by God’s own sovereign hand of judgment. The spiritual descendants of Nadab and Abihu (who themselves were spiritual descendants of Cain by the way) seduced Israel with religious showmanship and superstition which had superseded genuine worship of God from the heart and had (by AD 70 when the second temple was destroyed) caused Israel to miss its Messiah and to lose its special place as the center of God’s worship in the earth.
Religious ceremony without moral righteousness (as God’s Word defines that), along with humanly innovated religious ceremony (which is inherently unrighteous because it is a sinful neglect of God’s Word and an attempt of man to improve upon God’s own prescription for worship), are abomination in God’s eyes. To not receive what the true God has revealed about Himself and expects of man through His Word is itself damning. Embracing what the true God has revealed about Himself and expects of man through His Word will cause a person to be bound from the heart to do the things that are pleasing to Him (by definition causing them to be religious). Those who do this will also surely abhor and eschew defiled religious practices and will receive insight into errant religion which does not promote genuinely upright and blameless living before the true God, the God of the Bible and the Father of Jesus Christ.
So, can you follow Jesus without being religious? Of course not. You need to be bound to the truth of His Word. And that will mean you will not be able to be part of most churches in good conscience- and quite possibly you’ll be unable to find one that you can be part of with a good conscience. But do all the good that God’s Word says to do that is in your power to do, abstain from every form of evil, and keep reading the Bible and seeking to better understand God’s will while continuing to walk in the light of the Word that you do have. That is pure and undefiled religion before God at its core. And if that sounds like the same as a living faith before God, then you’ve made a good connection. The two are virtually inseparable.
John 4:23-24: “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
“In truth” proves that we can’t worship Him acceptably in the manner of our own choosing (that’s the way of Cain).
Psalm 119:142: “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.”
John 17:17: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”
James 1:21-27: “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty (God’s grace in Jesus Christ provides salvation from the guilt and power of sin to those surrendered to Jesus Christ so that they enabled to do what God commands acceptably in His eyes), and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
The next chapter (James 2) then explains how faith without works is dead.
The corrupt (yet extremely religious in a corrupt, defiled manner) world has taught us that being religious and putting on a show of holiness pretty much go together. The Bible on the other hand says we need to have pure and undefiled religion before God, and that this is utterly irreconcilable with putting on an act before men.
Aaron’s email is: [email protected]