I do not like religion. I believe it is a horrible curse on humanity. As I understand the Bible, I believe that God hates religion far more than I could possibly understand. If it were possible for God to be kept up at night by something deeply disturbing, I believe that religion would be the thing most likely to rob God of His rest.
As someone who loves my Church, enjoys the worship, and is actually paid to be there, these may seem strange words indeed. So let me explain.
Religion is almost as old as humanity. In Bible times, Jews and Christians were often considered to be ‘atheists’ because they shunned religion, instead sought to live their lives in the presence of God, believing that they were chosen by God and loved by God and therefore, godliness in daily living rather than elaborate systems of religion was the way to honor God.
Whether it was Egypt, Ancient Greece, Rome, or a multitude of other early Civilizations, the religion was essentially the same. The names of the gods changed, and the places where they were worshipped were different, but the core concept was the same.
At the heart of all these religions was the belief that human life was of little value. After all, if the people placed little value on each other. This was a time when babies were sacrificed, the elderly were left out in winter to die, slaves could be raped or killed on a whim and people watched gladiators butcher each other for pleasure.
If people placed such little value on life, why would we expect that a human soul would have any value in the afterlife? Surely people could expect nothing more than to suffer the unrealistic judgments and barbaric pleasures of these deities.
Into such a worldview religion becomes the business of selling favor to the people with the hope of appeasing a plethora of moody and erratic gods. The currency of religion is money, enticement, and acts of service. Religion requires people to prove their devotion to the gods, through offerings, pilgrimages, and deeds of sacrifice. It was common for teenage girls to serve as prostitutes for a year in the temple. The children conceived during Temple service were then offered to the god of the temple with fire.
Into such a corrupt and brutal world, the gospel of Jesus Christ stands in stark contrast. Salvation for the Christian is a gift from God. It is accessed by faith. Our service to God is in helping and encouraging one another. We do not destroy people, believing them worthless, rather we believe that every life, from the moment of conception to the very last breath is loved and treasured by God.
We do not need the merit of saints or pagan gods, all we need is Jesus.
To emphasis this incredible value that God the Father places on His people, Jesus told them that He would not pray for them! John 16:26. He had just told them they could ask anything in his name. Then Jesus goes on to say, that when they ask in His name He would not endorse their request.
Why? Because His endorsement was not needed.
The simple matter was they already had the favor of God the Father. For the person who loves Jesus, who believes and trusts Jesus, the favor of God the Father is already on them.
Our salvation is secure, our service is helping others understand and enjoy that same blessed hope.
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:19-25 NKJV