The “Freedom From Religion Foundation” is an organization of atheists, agnostics and skeptics who are the “voice for free thought” that protest any semblance of Christianity displayed publicly, be it crosses along the highway, the Ten Commandments on a billboard, “In God we Trust” on our coins, “one nation under God” in our pledge, or a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. They, of course use the guise of “separation of church and state,” as their argument.
While I believe they are completely misguided and under the influence or control or our enemy, Satan, I too believe we need to be “free from religion” in the sense of it being a system of human effort to appease God and achieve heaven. During Jesus’ public ministry while He was here on earth, He came down very heavily upon those who merely had religion without a relationship with Him. They substituted rules and ritual for actually knowing and following Jesus. A couple groups in particular that Jesus often dealt with very harshly were the scribes and Pharisees who measured their faith by their hard work at learning and following the law. Most of them, by the time they were 12 had the first 12 books of the Bible memorized, and by the time they were 15, had memorized the whole Old Testament and had committed to memory the more than 300 prophecies about the coming Messiah! Yet when Jesus, the Messiah, came, they didn’t recognize or acknowledge Him. They knew all about Him, but they didn’t know Him. They were all about following rituals and rules and even condemned Jesus for breaking some of their rules.
Eight times, to their faces, Jesus called them hypocrites, a word which comes from Greek ancient classical theater. Greek actors were called hypocrites. Often a single actor would play several characters by using a different mask for each character. You never saw the real actor—just masks of who he was pretending to be. What they appeared on the outside was not who they really were. On the outside, the scribes and Pharisees appeared to be very devout, very religious in their adherence to a system of rules, but inside were spiritually corrupt. The Apostle Matthew records seven “woes” which Jesus pronounced upon the Scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 23:13-33). Jesus said, for example: “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-indulgent. You blind Pharisees, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but on the inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (verses 25-28). Everything they did was for show (Mt. 23:5). You might say they were professional pretenders.
They needed to be set free from religion and come to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you remember the story of one of these Pharisees who came secretly to see Jesus to find out how he could have eternal life? His name was Nicodemus which means “superior man.” He was a very religious Jewish leader, but Jesus said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). Nicodemus was a member of the prestigious Jewish Sanhedrin (like their supreme court), a well-respected religious leader, and was undoubtedly very devout in his adherence to rules and rituals. In other words, he was “very religious,” but he needed to be reborn, i.e., he needed to be “born from above.” He needed to be spiritually regenerated. He needed a relationship with Jesus and freedom from religion. Nicodemus was representative of those who were caught up in legalism, which is the mind set that God’s love for us is conditioned on something we can be or do. It is attempting to please God by externals—keeping of rules and rituals—rather than by acknowledging that we cannot merit or earn salvation and grace but must humbly accept what Jesus has done for us as the only means of salvation and Christian living and ask Him to come into our life and be Lord and Master, allowing Him to change us from the inside out.
Jesus said, “and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free…If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn. 8:31, 36). Jesus also said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn. 14:6). To be set free from the bondage of religion, of rules-keeping to please God, we need to respond to the “truth,” i.e., to the person of Christ, by acknowledging that He alone is the way to the Father and the secret of the Christian life. Paul, who as Saul of Tarsus, had also been very religious, had an encounter with Jesus Christ when Paul was on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians (called then “Followers of the Way”). For the first time he realized who Jesus really was and came to know Him and his life was transformed. He fully understood that “by grace we are saved through faith; and that not of ourselves it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). Not only did he realize that salvation was a gift of grace, but he also realized that the Christian life was not one of external rule following, but of a personal walk with Christ who now lived in him. He wrote: “For me to live is Christ..I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 1:21; 4:13).
Have you, like Nicodemus and Paul, experienced “freedom from religion”? Or are you still depending on your performance—church attendance, rituals and rule keeping—to merit the favor of God. Listen to what Paul wrote to Titus, who came to Christ through the ministry of Paul: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7). If you’ve never done so, why not put your trust in Christ alone today for your salvation. And if you have asked Him to save you, allow Him to be your life, depending completely on Him for your every-day living, reading and heeding His Word through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. You will experience freedom—freedom from religion.