Religion Verses Christianity


Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.
~Acts 17:22, NIV


In all unbelief there are two things: a high opinion of man and a low opinion of God.
~Horatio Bonar

All of humanity is divided into one of two groups. This statement makes liberals want to pull their hair out: they insist that the world is gray but Jesus never mentions a gray area: His teachings are black and white. We find these two kinds of people in the story of the Benevolent Father found in Luke 15. This story has been wrongfully labeled, “the story of the prodigal son,” but it is actually a story about an incredibly loving father who had two sons. Matter of fact, it is the second son, the elder brother that Jesus emphases the most because he portrays the Scribes and Pharisees. So what are these two kinds of people? First there is the repentant and the unrepentant. Everyone in the world falls into one of these two groups. The prodigal repents, the elder brother does not. But if you look deeper, you see the religious {Elder} and the irreligious {Prodigal}. Both are in pursuit of the same thing: self-actualization, the realization of their dreams and aspirations. They both wanted what the Father had: his authority, wealth, and honor.

The difference between the two sons is in their approach: how they went about getting what they wanted. The prodigal is overtly disrespectful and rebellious: he simple demands what he things is rightfully his. He said, “I want what is rightfully mine.” He openly and blatantly dishonors his father. The elder brother covers his greed with a pretense of loyalty. Deep down, he is as much of a rebel as the younger brother whom he despises. In some ways, we see this story being relived in the cultural wars going on today. More and more Americans are considering themselves irreligious and they are very suspicious of any individual or institution that claims moral authority over their lives. On the other hand, those of us who believe the bible to be God’s word and our guide for faith and practice are afraid of the evil effects of moral relativism. We want to recapture the culture and we are very much afraid of what will happen if we don’t.

Jesus drew large crowds but the greater part of those crowds were not church attenders, they were not what some would call religious. This was highly upsetting to the religious of His day. They were offended that Jesus loved irreligious people. I tell folks that I am a “Recovering Pharisee.” I was raised by an ultra-conservative mother. Smoking, drinking, cursing, swearing, lying, cheating, tattoos, poker cards, swimming on Sunday and many other things were taboo. I’m almost 70 years old and I have never been out of church. I don’t know that I’ve ever missed two Sundays in a row but the same could be said of the elder brother. Self-righteousness leads to inordinate pride. What we see in the story of the benevolent father is that both sons wanted the same thing, they just went about it in different ways. They wanted what the father had but they did not want the father himself. Of course, after he repented, the prodigal changes his entire attitude about the father. When he returns home, he is thrilled just to be in his father’s presence. Lord willing, I will tell you a story tomorrow to illustrate the point.

We will be having a birthday party after church tonight. We are celebrating the Burdens 94th birthday. They don’t miss: they are as faithful as sunrise. They don’t allow weather to hinder them either: they come when it is cold, raining or during a thunderstorm. They don’t miss.

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