People are making Christianity far too complicated. Some teach and believe you must be baptized a certain way to be saved. Others say you must wear specific clothing. Still, others push the doctrine of speaking in tongues. I am amazed at how many versions of Christianity there appear to be.
Those wanting to know more about Jesus and the salvation He provided are first bombarded with many different doctrines and requirements. They have to try to see Jesus through the many forms of the Christian religion. Many give up, not realizing that they did not encounter Jesus. People become confused and sometimes frustrated with the seemingly contradictory or differing requirements to become a Christian and live a Christian life.
How would even those who call themselves Christian and attend church regularly know the truth of the Christian faith? Layers upon layers of complexity, i.e., religion, conceal the Christian faith’s simplicity. I hope to make Christianity clearer to those interested in it and help liberate those trapped and confused by its religious construct.
I attended a healing service at a church one day and witnessed something that troubled me. Of course, people were coming to the prayer ministers at the front of the church. They wanted prayer for healing in their bodies. What I saw were some prayer ministers coaching people to speak in tongues. They took something simple and complicated it.
When people approached Jesus for healing, He did not coach them on speaking in tongues or anything else. He only dealt with their belief and healed them. Simple, right? Everyone who came to Jesus was healed. Simple. So, why is the true Christian faith made to be so complicated?
I see the same thing in other ministries. They tend to inject their own dogma into a simple process. For example, some pastors inject their beliefs about tithing into ministering to people who have needs or are in financial distress. The pastors tell them to give from their lack so that God would bless them with more. Sure, there are sometimes we will make sacrifices. However, when someone is in need, we should simply help them and not introduce other religious dogma.
There are many complications added to the simplicity of the Christian faith. These include required church attendance, support of the local church and its religious leaders, church membership, entertainment restrictions, and so much more. Instead of people seeking a relationship with God, they are distracted by a plethora of religious dogma—rules and regulations.
People, especially religious leaders, have complicated the Christian faith to form, what I sometimes call, Churchianity—The Christian religion. The Christian religion is not the genuine Christian faith but a man-made construct of Christianity with many extras added.
Not a Religion
The first thing I believe I need to clarify is Christianity is not a religion. You should be aware of two kinds of Christianity. There is the faith called Christianity, and its religious construct with the same name.
What is Religion?
What do I mean by religion? Let us start there to help ensure that you understand what I am referring to. Here is the definition of “religion” from dictionary.com.
- a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
- a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects:the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
- the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices:
The following definition is from the Tyndale Bible Dictionary.
RELIGION The service and worship of God; an institutionalized system of religious beliefs and practices. The Israelites’ service and worship of God had become institutionalized by the time Jesus lived. Jesus himself criticized several of its practices for having a show of piety but lacking true heart-felt adoration of God. The institutionalization of the Christian faith occurred in many churches long after the time of the apostles. Hence, it is not discussed in the NT.
The significant attributes of religion are the practices, observances, and expressions of the specific belief system. A broader scope of religion is the belief and worship of a god or gods.
There are more than 4000 recognized religions globally, including tribes, cultures, and movements. However, there are five major religions in the world.
Here are some characteristics of a religion in the context of this article. A religion…
- Is created and developed by people
- Focuses on what you must do to be accepted, blessed, make it to “heaven,” etc.
- Consists of rituals, observances, and rules to follow
Christianity is set apart from the other religions. True Christianity is more than observing a set of defining rules and behaviors. It is a way, not a system (though we still sometimes call it a system of faith).
Christianity – The Way
Christianity is a way or otherwise known as a faith, not a religion. Faith in Jesus Christ characterizes genuine Christianity. It represents the belief that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. Christianity is not a system of doctrines and dogma, i.e., rules to follow. It is not a set of requirements necessary to receive favor, blessings, or acceptance by God, as is religion (we’ll discuss shortly). Many people believe that Christianity is about being a good person, going to church, etc. Christianity is about one primary thing, namely Jesus Christ and what He did for us to be saved from our sins.
So, where did the term Christian come from?
Acts 11:26 (NKJV) — And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
The gentiles (non-Jews) probably called the disciples Christians because of their devotion to and teaching about Jesus Christ. It was a distinctive title given, not necessarily recognizing Jesus as the anointed one, i.e., Messiah. They consistently heard about Jesus Christ from Paul and Barnabas for a whole year.
Here are some characteristics of the Christian faith.
- It focuses on what Jesus did for us, not on what we can do for ourselves
- It is a faith, not an institution
- It is a way of life fueled by the Holy Spirit inside of a person
- It is about Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection
- It is a gift that God provided for us. All we need to do is believe and receive God’s gift of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Unfortunately, we must label things to identify them. This is a bit off-topic but the same principle. I recall Bruce Lee had a similar issue when attempting to tell others about the martial arts he created, which was more of a martial philosophy. He had to give his way a name to readily identify it, primarily since others classified his way as another martial arts style, which Bruce Lee insisted it was not.
Likewise, Christianity is considered another religion when it is not. It is a way.
Acts 9:2 (NKJV) — 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
The term, “of the Way,” described those who were part of the “Jesus movement.” Consider what Jesus said of himself.
John 14:6 (NKJV) — Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
That is a profound statement that separates Jesus’ objective from religious teachings. Jesus is the way to the Father. We cannot approach the Father on our own merit.
So, what does it mean to be a Christian if not to follow a set protocol or standard? A real change takes place the moment someone puts their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, i.e., become saved. The Holy Spirit renews their spirit and they become a new person.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV) — Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Your sins are forgiven, and you are reconciled to God. You have accepted the sacrifice that Jesus made for your sins, so that you do not have to pay the penalty, which is death, yourself. It is really that simple. God offers salvation to you. You accept it by believing in Jesus Christ. You become a new person spiritually and receive the life of God within.
But don’t I have to follow the rules now and be a good person? No. You must follow Christ. You must be led by the Holy Spirit and not worry about what is good or evil. Just be concerned about the Holy Spirit and He will guide you. Remember, the knowledge of good and evil is what caused the problem of sin in the first place (Genesis chapters 1 – 3). A discussion on that topic is well beyond the scope of this article.
It is important to understand that you do not become a Christian by following the rules, going to church, paying tithes and offerings, being a good person (whatever that really means), praying five times a day, etc. You become a Christian, i.e., part of the family of God, by believing in Jesus Christ.
The Religion Called Christianity
From my experience and observations, most people are more familiar with the religious construct called Christianity than they are of the true Christian faith. That includes those who call themselves Christian and even attend church services regularly.
The true Christian faith gradually became institutionalized and increasingly complicated even during the time of the Apostles and forked away from the true faith. The institutionalized Christianity grew to what we observe today with many denominations and beliefs (e.g., Catholicism, Baptist, Methodist, etc.).
There are so many examples in church history of how religion complicates the true Christian faith. I recall beginning my studies of church history years ago and quickly realized that there were actually two separate histories or paths. One was the perpetuation of the true Christian faith, and the other was the rise of the Christian religion, i.e., the religious construct of true Christianity. It’s no wonder people are confused.
What are the characteristics of the Christian religion? It depends on the religious denomination (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Non-denominational, etc.) or religious leader (pastor, bishop, etc.). In any case, some common characteristics are regular church attendance, specific types of clothes permitted and forbidden to wear, tithes and offerings, speaking in tongues, the use of makeup, baptism, and much more.
Like any other religion, the Christian religious construct is based on what you do. It is a works system, not a faith system like genuine Christianity. Different churches have specific ways of doing things, which usually have nothing to do with Jesus Christ and a relationship with the Father. Again, it is always going to be something you must do. It is in that area that things get complicated.
I am not suggesting that all churches should be the same. I am making the point that different churches have a different set of doctrines that define a Christian, and some of those doctrines contradict each other.
Which church or religious institution has the correct Christian doctrine? How does a person know if watching a specific movie or going to work on Sunday is something a Christian should or shouldn’t do?
There is a religion called Christianity, but it is not the true Christian faith. It is merely a manufactured construct of the true faith. That point is critical for you to understand what you typically see in the religious environment and what Christianity truly is.
Complications arise because of religion, i.e., the religious construct of authentic Christianity. Religion obstructs people’s view of Jesus Christ and promotes the idea that we can save ourselves by doing good works. Religion minimizes the redemptive act of Jesus sacrificing his life for us because it promotes the idea that we must save ourselves by doing things, i.e., following the rules.
John 14:6 (NKJV) — Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
What Jesus provided for us is quite simple. He was killed for our sins. He took upon himself the penalty for our sins. We only need to believe that and receive God’s forgiveness, i.e., salvation. We don’t deserve God’s forgiveness nor can we lift ourselves to earn it.
1 Corinthians 15:1–4 (NKJV) — 1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,
Christianity is about faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. It has nothing to do with activities to earn or deserve salvation. The salvation that Jesus provided is a gift from God.
Ephesians 2:8–9 (NKJV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Also, consider the following passage.
Romans 5:6–9 (NKJV) — 6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
Justification is the act of God to declare us righteous, i.e., in right-relations with Him. No amount of church attendance, tithing, being the nicest person on earth, volunteering, etc. will earn you salvation.
Romans 5:1 (NKJV) — Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
True Christianity is not complicated at all. It’s not about what church you belong to, what movies you watch, how much you give, what clothes you wear, etc. It’s about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and your belief that He did that for you.
The simplicity of Christianity is to receive forgiveness and justification from God and realize that you can’t earn it.
Relationship Not Religion
Jesus did not die for our sins and rise from the dead so that He could start a new religion. He did those things so that we could be brought into right-relationship with God. People often experience the Christian religion, not the true Christian faith. They then begin their journey down the rabbit hole and get caught up in services, pious activities, church membership and attendance, divisions, judgments against those who don’t have the same set of doctrines, etc.
The entire Bible points to God’s primary objective.
Matthew 1:21 (NKJV) — And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
God wants you! It’s that simple. God wants a relationship with you, and He sent Jesus to die for our sins for us to obtain that relationship. Therefore, seek God, not religion. All the things you try to do to be a good person and accepted by God or make it into heaven add up to nothing.
Isaiah 64:6 (NKJV) — But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.
The word righteousnesses means good deeds, pious acts, acts of justice. All that we do adds up to dirty rag. It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we can become clean. Being a nice person won’t justify you (make you righteous before God). Going to church every Sunday won’t add up to justification. We are nothing without Christ, and we can never be with God while remaining adamant about earning salvation.
What To Do Now
What should you do right now? First, acknowledge the fact that you cannot save yourself. You cannot do enough good and pious deeds to earn God’s love and salvation. Jesus died for you to be with God forever. Jesus, in effect, took your place to die for your sins. There is nothing you did to deserve that, and you surely can’t earn it. Forgiveness of your sins is only a belief away.
Don’t concern yourself with the religious teachings even at your local church. Concern yourself with the fact that God loves you and wants a relationship with you. Receive God’s love by believing in your heart that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead. He is now alive, waiting for you to receive his offer of salvation.
Begin to read the Bible beginning with Matthew, the first book of the New Testament. Read Mark, Luke, John, and then Romans. Learn as much about the salvation Jesus provided for you as you can.
Next, I encourage you to become part of a fellowship of true Christians. That doesn’t mean going out and joining a local church right away. Like I said in this article, some churches are merely religious institutions and conceal Jesus. They may do damage to your new faith.
Your goal is to get consistently closer to God in your relationship. Spend time with Him. Pray, read your Bible, talk to Him. It’s a beautiful thing. Protect your heart because religion can corrupt your thinking and send you spiraling into a world of works. You are saved by faith so continue in that faith. Don’t’ allow yourself to switch to religion.
The following are some tips that you can use to help you determine if a fellowship or church is beneficial.
- Am I learning more about God from this fellowship?
- Are they focused on Jesus?
- Is there a push for me to follow their rules?
- Do I feel free or bound by the fellowship?
- Am I able to ask questions?
- What happens if I disagree with something? Am I silenced or is there discussion?
- What comes out of the fellowship in general? For example, are people bound, tired, fearful, happy with their life in Christ, or excited about their relationship with God?
- What vibe do you get from the fellowship (whether virtual or in-person)?
I want to add one last thing about churches. My objective is to promote the true Christian faith, and sometimes church gets in its way. I am not suggesting that you should avoid churches. Each church has its way of doing things. Unfortunately, some churches are detrimental to your relationship with God and should be avoided.
How can you know which ones are good and which ones are bad? Don’t try to know. Remember, the objective is to build an intimate and personal relationship with God. That relationship should transcend a church denomination or religious affiliation. God is with you and will guide you. If a church drives you away from Jesus and interferes with your relationship with God, you should rethink your association with that church.
God is with you. All the things He did since Adam and Eve was to establish a way to right relationships with us. Putting your faith in Jesus and receiving God’s forgiveness is the first step to fulfilling God’s desire for you.
1 Timothy 2:3–4 (NKJV) — 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
The true Christian faith is not complicated. However, religion has morphed it into a complicated set of doctrines, practices, rituals, and rules. I’ve encountered many people who complained about a church experience and assumed that it was a Christian experience. I have to explain to them that they experienced religion, not the Christian faith.
I desperately want you to have an intimate and personal relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ. I want you to know God over your religious experiences. Sure, we are all going to do some religious things, but it is important to know that those religious things are not what Christianity is about. Focus on Jesus and Him crucified for your sins. Know that God is always with you via the Holy Spirit who resides in you if you have put your faith in Jesus, i.e., become saved or reconciled to God.
Of course, feel free to contact Pursuing the Truth Ministries via our question/contact form. We can also work out a time to talk on the phone if you like. God bless you always.
I’ll end with the words of the pastor of my youth, the late Pastor Effie Blumentoe. Eat, drink, and digest the word of God. Know God for yourself.
 Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 1118.