Is Christianity a Religion or a Way of Life? (Part 2)
By Osamagbe Lesley Egharevba | Lagos, Nigeria
In the erstwhile edition of this journal, we examined this very topic, trying to debunk and unmask the sophistry behind the notion that Christianity is not a religion but merely a way of life. In this issue, we shall look at one of the incongruous implications associated with believing the idea that “Christianity is not a religion” and show why such is wrong.
Many think that it is just enough for one to live a morally upright life – be kind and generous, loving and caring, and do all manner of things that are considered “good.” Merely doing all of these, already makes one a Christian in their viewpoint. Those who hold this view are invariably saying that it does not matter what religious group you associate yourself with, you can still be a Christian in any of those groups provided you maintain a good life.
In other words, it does not matter where and how you worship God. Since you are already living a life that is admirable and in fact, pleasing to all, they conclude that with such “sacrifices,” God is well pleased. From this notion comes such statements as; “Church does not save anyone,” “Just live a good life, God will not ask you on the last day what church you belong,” and many of that kind.
“Good” People Need Conversion
Morally upright people are found everywhere. In almost all religions of the world, you are likely to find people who possess good moral standards and exhibit great and admirable lifestyles. These individuals know that it is wrong to kill, steal, etc. They know that it is a good thing to help a person when he is in need. Jesus talks about the Good Samaritan who was neither a Christian nor a Jewish priest, yet knows it was necessary for him to help the injured man (Luke 10:30-37). The same level of hospitality could be done by people today who do not even believe in Jesus Christ. However, does the fact that these people live good lifestyles make them Christians? Not at all! Let us consider some individuals in the New Testament:
Cornelius was the first Gentile man that was converted to Christianity. Before his conversion, he was described as “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always…a just man…and of good report among all the nation of the Jews” (Acts 10:2, 22). In the thinking of certain individuals, Cornelius is already a Christian with all the excellent qualities that he posses. But that was not the case! Despite all of these, there was something that was lacking which he needed to do to make him a Christian. Listen to the voice of the Lord as He told Cornelius in Acts 10:5-6: “Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” Notice the word “must” suggests a necessity and shows the action is compulsory if Cornelius is really interested in his salvation. He actually sent men to Joppa and invited Peter as instructed and when Cornelius and his household heard and believed the word, they were baptized and were saved (cf. Acts 2:47).
Lydia was a woman from the city of Thyatira; a city in the Roman province of Asia, the very place the evangelists were prevented by the Holy Spirit from going at the beginning of their second missionary journey (Acts 16:6 cf. Revelation 2:18). It happened that their first convert is from the same Asia. Lydia was a seller of purple and trades in Philippi; a Roman colony that has no synagogue (Acts 16:12-14). She was obviously devoted and she was at the riverside on the Sabbath day with other women praying. Just like Cornelius, she was a worshipper of God and she demonstrated this fact by praying to God. For most people, Lydia was already a Christian and Paul needs not even disturb them seeing they were praying to God. The truth is: such a lifestyle is not enough to make one a Christian. The translation of individuals from the power of darkness into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13) requires that they do certain things and such works are not of man’s righteousness but rather obedience to all of God’s commandments. The grace of God that brings salvation actually teaches us to do certain things (Titus 2:11-14).
Does it matter if and how we worship God?
Ecclesiastes 12:13 says the whole duty of man is to “fear God and keep His commandments.” Many denominational churches today all practice different things in the name of worship and in an attempt to find solace for the divisive practices in their worship services, they claim that it does not matter “provided God is worshipped” and provided “it is the name of Jesus that is being called upon and not the name of the devil.” Other claims include; “it is not the church that will take you to heaven,” etc. How true are these statements?
We find that in the New Testament, the early Christians worshipped God in a certain way – they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship in the breaking of bread and in prayers. They were also praising God and having favor with all the people and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42,47). This continuous practice is a collective action of the people and suggests devotion. All through the New Testament, we find one church (Ephesians 4:4) and one doctrine of Christ (II John 9; I Timothy 4:16). The Christians were not told to go away after their conversion to join any group of their choice and continue living a good life; rather, they collectively continue to worship God together as a church. It was this same church that spread to all parts of the world through the preaching of the gospel (Acts 1:8; Colossians 1:23)
Indeed, it actually matters if and how we worship God. In John 4:23-24, we read; “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” Two things are worthy of note in this verse;
- God wants us to worship Him and
- this worship must be in spirit and in truth.
That implies that we must not only be devoted but our worship must be in accordance with His word (John 17:17). What this means is that we do not have the choice or the right to import our own thinking or style of worship. Our worship must be in conformity with what we have read in the New Testament.
In Matthew 7:21, Jesus emphasized that merely calling Him “Lord, Lord” is not enough to take one into the kingdom but one must also be obedient to the will of His Father in heaven. Does God want us to worship Him today? If yes, has He given us a pattern on how to worship Him? Yes, we must abide in the doctrine of Christ (II John 9).
Matthew 15:8-9 reveals certain people whose worship became vain as a result of teaching the commandments of men. “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” This indicates that there are certain kinds of doctrines that people teach and practice which will nullify their worship of God and render it unacceptable. In the same vein, I Timothy 4:1-3 lists some unacceptable teachings and refer to them as “doctrines of demons.” We are also informed that some individuals worshipped God ignorantly (Acts 17:23) but only true worshippers are recognized by God and such He seeks.
Dear readers, let us not be mistaken to believe the lie that merely living a good life is enough to guaranty salvation and be pleasing to God. We must also be devoted to God and be obedient to all that God has commanded us as the Great Commission instructs (Matthew 28:20). The church is like the ark of Noah in the Old Testament and only those who have been added into it, and remain faithful till the end will be saved. Christianity is a religion; a pure and undefiled religion for that matter (James 1:27).