Is Christianity a Religion or a Way of Life? (Part 1)
By Osamagbe Lesley Egharevba | Lagos, Nigeria
Many scoff at the idea that Christianity is a religion. It is very common to hear and read people speak about Christianity as not a religion but only a way of life. This sentiment is being paraded almost everywhere. In fact, one of those who hold this position, penned down the following in one of the blogs;
“…if Christianity is a religion, then we could conclude that whatever God the Father, Jesus the Son and God the Holy Spirit planned for mankind is a mere religion. If Christianity is a religion, then God didn’t have to send Jesus, His own Son to establish it. The objective of the plan of salvation that began after man sinned and was cast out of Eden was not to establish a religion. No, Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is a way of life.”
In the first place, the plan of salvation did not begin after man sinned and was cast out of Eden. Rather, the plan of salvation began before the foundation of the world and there are abundant passages of the Holy Scriptures that affirm this eternal truth (I Peter 1:20; Ephesians 1:4; Titus 1:2). To insist that the plan of salvation began after the fall of man is to insinuate that God was oblivious of the fact that man would fall and that His plan was an afterthought. This indeed is an attempt to jettison the omniscient nature of God (cf. I John 3:20; Isaiah 40:28; 46:10; Psalm 139:4; Romans 1:20).
Secondly, what exactly does this writer mean by religion that he contends Christianity is not? While he never gave an exact definition of religion in his writing, it seems that his idea of religion is captured in one of the paragraphs when he said:
“If Christianity is a religion, then it might be no different from the many religions in our present day world where the major aim isn’t making positive difference in the present, but following a set of rules to pass an examination for eternity.”
According to this writer’s concept of religion, “following a set of rules to pass an examination for eternity” is a major characteristic of world religions and which to him, is incongruous and not an element of Christianity. To him, Christianity is all about imitating Christ, leading good lives, doing good, loving and helping one another, etc. but has nothing to do with devotion to a set of rules as a prerequisite to reach eternal life.
While it is admitted without an iota of doubt that Christianity requires leading godly lives, imitating Christ and keeping oneself unspotted from the world; and thus – a way of life (Titus 2:11-12; Hebrews 12:14; James 1:27), to deny that Christianity is a religion on the basis of it not having a “set of rules” to be obeyed towards the eternal goal is untrue and an unfounded claim.
One question that comes to mind is this: has Christ not given “a set of rules”? Indeed, the Bible makes a distinction between the commandments of men (Matthew 15:8-9) and the commandments of God (I John 5:3). This same text and others point to the fact that we have no love for God if we fail to keep His commandments (John 14:15; 15:14). In the book of Genesis, when God made man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, God gave him certain commandments that He must keep if the man was to remain in the garden. One of those is that he must not eat “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The serpent came with his own commandment and circumvented God’s command (Genesis 3:1-5). Men had a choice to either follow God’s commandment or the Devil’s. Similarly, the children of Israel were given commandments to be followed in order to be pleasing to God. He said, “if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.” (Exodus 19:5). The Israelites had a choice to obey God or follow other gods. Even before the Law was given at Sinai, the Bible records that Abraham “kept the commandments of the Lord” (Genesis 26:5).
But what about the Christians today? Do they have a set of rules from Christ? Surely, for Christ spoke of obedience to His Father’s will as a condition to enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21, 24-27). The point is: God has been dealing with men right from time immemorial, in every dispensation by giving men rules to obey. And in every dispensation, there are always counter rules made by men to draw God’s children away from Him.
If by “set of rules,” the writer meant the commandments of men, then I insist that is not what we must follow to go to heaven. However, the Bible thus teaches that we must follow the commandments of Christ to make heaven (Acts 2:42; II John 9). James calls it “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). Another obvious fact is that all of these things that are referred to as “the way of life” (such as helping the sick) constitute a set of rules that must be done without which no one can see the Lord (Hebrew 12:14). In other words, one cannot separate “the way of life” from “a set of rules.” If you are living the way of life Christ wants you to live, you are following “the set of rules” that Christ has commanded you (I Corinthians 11:1).
But come to think of it, if Christianity is merely a way of life like this author contends, what this simply means, in essence, is that a Muslim can be a Christian because he loves, does good, humbles, visit the sick, etc. Likewise, we can absolutely get as much as many people who are Christians from other religions of the world. But no! All people who are living a good life are not saved because of their morality. If it were so, Cornelius would have been saved and not be required to do anything else (Acts 10:1-3). But he had to be obedient to some other requirements despite the fact that he was even a lover and fearer of God (Acts 10:1-2, 22).
What about James 1:26-27? This passage is a killing blow to those who teach that Christianity is not a religion, and it is not surprising to see that the writer of this article never referred to it in his writing. James says;
“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, that one’s religion is useless. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
James speaks of religion and shows how such a religion could be useless and how it could be pure and undefiled. One could make his religion useless by practicing what is not acceptable to Christ and one could practice pure religion by visiting those in affliction and then keeping oneself unspotted from the world – thus imitating Christ (I Peter 2:21-23). What religion was James talking about? It is the Christian religion! And so, Christianity is both a religion and a way of life. In the next edition, we shall give attention to other matters relating to why Christianity is a religion.