I think religion’s danger is that it gives us false comfort that this is what it means to know God.
Remember the Pharisee’s prayer?
“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12).
That’s how many times he uses the first-person pronoun “I” in that short little self-congratulatory prayer.
“Are you saved, Mr. Pharisee?”
“Of course I am. Look at everything I do and don’t do.”
“So you’ve never sinned?”
“Well, sure, but not nearly as often as most. See that tax collector over there? That’s what a real sinner looks like.”
The Pharisee’s major problem was that his religion had skewed his view of himself. He honestly thought he was on good ground before God because of what he had done, and, perhaps more importantly, what he hadn’t.
The tax collector, on the other hand, who presumably had very little religion, was on much better footing with God.
Because he knew he desperately needed God for salvation. He knew he had nothing to bring to the table.
“Are you saved, Mr. Christian?”
“Of course I am. I’ve been baptized, and my church attendance is almost perfect. And besides, I don’t drink, lie, or cheat on my taxes.”
None of us would say that, of course, but I’m afraid that sometimes we think it, if only subconsciously.
It’s all because we love to create ways to measure faithfulness. We look at things we can see and quantify, like attending church, committing sexual sins, or giving financially to the church. They tell us what we think we need to know about our faithfulness.
But the most important question is this:
Do our hearts belong to Jesus?
If they do, then sure, many of the outward signs will follow.
The problem is . . . in different ways we can motivate ourselves into doing the outward part while ignoring the heart.
That’s why religion is dangerous. It helps us avoid asking the tough questions about where our allegiance really lies.
With God or the world?