When considering the trap of religion over relationship, that includes any religion. Our true foundation is a relationship with the crucified one, Jesus Christ.
One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)
So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”
Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’
For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.”
Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”. (Mark 7:1-13)
I have reservations about bringing this up because I don’t have any intention to lead anyone away from the Church Universal and the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit. I believe as Paul wrote that by one Spirit, we are all baptized into one body – that body being the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). But I also have felt for years that the Christian religion may allow some people to feel they are in good standing with God and that sometimes is not the case, which is horrible for that person.
Man-made religion allows us to keep God in a particular box of various brands. God is not a thing to be kept in a box, but rather He is an almighty omnipotent being who created humankind to worship Him; to love and be loved by Him and in that way to have a real and substantial relationship with Him.
But relationships are hard. They require commitment. And when you’re talking a relationship with the Almighty, then that commitment to God MUST be more important than any others, which is when most people balk at the relationship and end up becoming religious instead – seeking out a man-made religion; one that fits their individual personality.
Seeking Religion Over Relationship
The idea that religion is only man made came to me many years ago when the thought popped into my mind that religion became a thing after the fall of man. This may have been obvious to many reading this, but for those of us who related religion to being THE solution rather than a means by which we seek a solution, it wasn’t so obvious.
Prior to the fall, there would be no need for a belief in a superhuman powers or deities. There would be no need for this because humankind was in the presence of God daily. They didn’t just believe in God; they knew God and were known by God. They walked with God in the Garden of Eden.
After humankind turned away from God, eventually they became lost from their initial calling of being created to worship God. When they turned away from God, they couldn’t turn off what was in their DNA, so they still needed to worship, but what? In seeking what to worship, many religions were created. They chose religion over relationship.
Why Seek Man-Made Religion?
Man-Made Religion Replaces Relationship With God
Let’s consider how religions take away the need for a personal relationship with the one true God. Most religions are focused on what is visible to our secular senses, which ends up leading us away from things eternal. In his book The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis wrote “we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
I know when I say religions are secular, it is contrary to the definition of secular, but what I mean is that religions are ideologies formed from what is seen. Take, for example, Hinduism’s belief about cows – the cow represents Mother Earth, as it is a source of goodness, and its milk nourishes all creatures – this makes sense because it is verifiable. I’m not picking on the Hindu religion; even the Christian religion can become secular where it splits into factions based on non-central disagreements. In this way religions are man-made; coming after the fall of man, when mankind was away from a right relationship with God.
The most extreme example is Atheism, which can be viewed as an organized belief that there is no God. A belief that could have come to fruition from the many religions that were observed by intelligent people who could somehow dispel the belief from the lack of proof, which led to disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God.
Man Continued to Seek Religion After Christ
Even after God came down in human form as Jesus, to restore a right relationship with himself, mankind continued to choose religion over relationship. A religion where people can’t agree because of theological differences that they mistake for discernment.
When I say that it was God himself who came down, it is simply because Jesus was God incarnate and what I think of as “right relationship” is returning to the garden of Eden type of relationship with God, where man was before the fall.
The reason for man’s constant need to form a religion to seek a god to worship instead of knowing that the creator God exists could be explained because humans are finite and cannot comprehend an infinite God. Putting God in a box is man’s attempt at making God small. It is overwhelming when we think of how amazing God truly is.
Man after the fall still seeks to be God himself. When Jesus says it is finished and the relationship can be restored, mankind misunderstands and as a result isn’t satisfied with being under God, instead continues to seek to be the same as God. It has been this way from the very first surrender to temptation: “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)
Man-Made Religion Reveals a Trust Problem
Being like God, knowing good and evil? This is interesting when you consider that most religious disagreements come down to the nature of differences regarding what is good and what is evil.
Jesus is God incarnate, who came to be amongst humankind; to be a sacrifice to restore a right relationship with himself. When you think of an all-powerful God wanting to do that for His creation, it is so humbling. It is also hard to understand, so this perhaps also leads mankind to seek an answer in religion that is man-made. But why do we need to understand it, when we can live simply by faith?
Perhaps it is because we don’t trust what we can’t comprehend ourselves? This lack of trust is a trait from the fall of man. Before the fall, mankind was with God, and they were not aware that they were naked. They didn’t feel vulnerable in the presence of God because they trusted God, but after the fall they hid themselves because they knew they were naked (Genesis 3:8-11).
Mankind became separated from God because of this lack of trust in God. Lack of trust will Inevitably ruin any relationship. I wonder if Adam had not lost His trust in God, could he have said he was sorry for being disobedient and been forgiven? I guess we can’t speculate, but all we know is that because mankind was disobedient and no longer trusted God, that they were sent away from the Garden of Eden and no longer had a right relationship with God.
But God still cared for His creation. The Old Testament is filled with scripture about the history of man after the fall and how God continued to try to reveal himself to man, but mankind continued to stray away from the presence of God which led to much tribulation and turmoil.
Every time mankind would get into a troublesome place, they would turn to man-made religion to find an answer. If there was a volcanic disturbance for example, people may make sacrifices to the volcano gods. Even with the Jewish religion, people would turn to the one true God, but only when they were in trouble from natural disasters or under attack from warring nations. And isn’t it true that people who are a part of the Christian religion many times only turn to God when they are having trouble of some kind? It seems to be human nature – the nature of fallen mankind.
Jesus assures us, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This is done, so there is no need to study how to overcome the world. It is finished if you have a right relationship through Christ Jesus.
Seek Faith in Christ Over Man-Made Religion
The Fullness of Christ
Jesus tells us the law and the prophecies written of in the Old Testament are fulfilled by Him (Matthew 5:17).
Paul writes about Jesus being head over all things to the church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:23) He who has descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens that he might fill all things – Jesus ascended above all the heavens, Jesus led a host of captives, Jesus overcame the world, so that He might fill all things (Ephesians 4:8-10).
For me when I think of all things being filled, that makes me satisfied that we can be restored to a right relationship with God. One where we are under this almighty creator God and can trust to walk with him even in our vulnerable state of “nakedness”, i.e. revealing my true self to God.
God in All Things
However, those who are still fallen would seek to make this out to be that the creator and the creature or everything in the universe is God which is a religious belief called Pantheism. This is the doctrine that the universe conceived of as a whole is God and, conversely, that there is no God but the combined substance, forces, and laws that are manifested in the existing universe. In this we again see the need for man-made religion to allow one to be God instead of under God.
God is the Creator and so God is in all things, but not in the sense all things are the same as God. For example, in ancient religions people would worship the sun. Now we know that God created the sun, which cannot shine for a second apart from the power of God, but the sun is not a god. God is not the sun.
Nothing can exist, unless it subsists through God, and is filled by God. Jesus is omnipresent and if we open our eyes to His majesty then we will see that He alone is worthy of our worship.
Furthermore, when we seek to be a god ourselves, then we will not see that all things have been fulfilled and as a result we will continue to seek worshipping things because of our created nature. We end up then worshiping other people or created things as part of a man-made religious sect or as part of a secular life. We will find a particular set of religious or political beliefs that we find acceptable and will join a group of people who agree with our beliefs, only to be separated from the unity of the Body of Christ.
The Body of Christ
Because we are so caught up, even as professing Christians, in our seeking all in the name of religion over relationship with Jesus, we are missing out on being a part of something greater than anything else we could imagine. We miss out of being a part of the Body of Christ. Because of our theological religious differences, we can’t be one as the Body of Christ because we want to argue that we are the most important or special part. Each of us contribute our own unique role and purpose together in the Body of Christ, with the some of the weakest being the most necessary (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)
So, I am reversing this a bit, but what I see from Christians having theological religious differences is that the eye says, “Because you are an ear, you do not belong to the body”. There is no doubt that we as people are in many ways different and we should embrace our differences to form the Body of Christ in a way that has never been tried before, but we will not be capable of doing that if we rely on our own understanding based on religiosity. Instead, we will continue to be separated based on non-essential religious beliefs.
If we can see that Jesus has fulfilled all things, then we should be able to come together as Christians to a unity that will bring together the Body of Christ in such an unbelievable way, that will result in even people who have non-Christian religious beliefs setting aside their theological religious differences and come to know Christ Jesus as the way, the truth and the life.
Relationship With Christ Over Man-Made Religion
I believe that people from any religion can make their way to a faith relationship with Christ, because religion itself isn’t the answer. Again, Jesus is the way, truth and life, not religious practice.
Could it be that people made a mistake by forming their religion based on Jesus, trying to accomplish in human terms, what Jesus had already accomplished fully? Could it be that this is delaying the Day of the Lord, as the almighty God waits patiently for all to know (2 Peter 3:9)? Said another way, who are we blocking from choosing repentance because of man-made religious additions to true faith in Christ?
I believe there is hope for a great movement of people turning to Christ once the Body of Christ comes together, not in the name of a Christian religion with man-made additions, but in the name of Jesus.
Intellectual religiosity is man’s way of seeking God and putting Him in a box to be used when man needs God. The problem in doing this is, God is not subject to man.
The reason there are so many religions is because people want to choose the one that fits them. When people are making the rules, they will only adjust to what suits their lifestyle best. They choose one that allows them to do their own thing, or that isn’t too much trouble, or one that their parents or someone else told them to choose.
This is understandable, but it prevents people from having a real relationship with God. God gave the law a long time before coming down in human form as Jesus Christ. The law was presented through the Jewish people so they would realize that they need to repent, but God didn’t give it to the Jewish people because He wanted them alone to know it. They were supposed to represent the one true God to all, but instead they thought themselves special because of being the chosen people. They ended up pretending that they were following the law or just simply became lawless themselves until something went wrong and then they would turn back to God.
Repentance is renouncing sin and turning back to God. Then when you abide with Christ and walk with Him daily, turning to him all the time – that is relationship. Then even when you go off course, you will want to turn back to Him.
Once we all come to revere Jesus for all that He has done and because there is no other way to truly satisfy our desire to worship, then we will come to be known by and to fully know God. We will trust Him just as it was intended for mankind to do in the Garden of Eden. This is the cure for any man-made religion.
More Bible verses about true life in Christ vs. religion that is man-made: