I’ll be real with you.
I don’t consider myself “religious.”
I don’t always call myself “a Christian.”
I know, I know. One of the first things anyone learns about me is my faith. Maybe it’s the cross around my neck, maybe it’s my Instagram bio or my Twitter location, maybe it’s a past blog post I wrote with a bible verse across the top. And that’s just the surface level. If you know me personally, you know that I talk about Jesus every 7 1/2 minutes, that I never go anywhere without a bible in my backpack, and you know that my dream is to work at and one day run a “Christian camp.”
So, why on Earth would I, who is all of those things and more, not call myself religious?
I love Jesus. I am in love with Jesus. Jesus came to Earth to save me and to save you and to save the world. When I talk about my faith – and I talk about it a lot – I say “Jesus.” Maybe it’s “Jesus music.” Or wanting to run a “Jesus camp.” Maybe it’s how when someone asks “what denomination are you?” I reply “I love Jesus, what’s your question?”
You see, there’s a difference between Jesus, and religion.
Religion was made by humans. Religion is something that we as mankind set out to create, and with it, we created rules and we created “standards.” We made something and we put Jesus in it, but we did not make it about Jesus. We created a representation, and we look to this representation, instead of looking straight to the Lord.
But Jesus, Jesus loves us for us. He wants us for who we are. He doesn’t want us for the floral dress or khakis that we wear on Sunday mornings, or for the number of times we sign up to volunteer at a food pantry. He wants us for our raw, vulnerable, true core. He wants us for our mistakes, for our insecurities, for all the times we ask ourselves “am I actually good enough?” because His answer is always going to be “Yes.” You see, He is the One. He is the Son. He is not a middle man, a figure head, a brick building beside a parking lot. He is the beginning and the end and the answer to everything in between.
Religion is about “obeying,” about doing what we “think” we should do to meet certain expectations. Jesus is about unconditional love, about the eternal life He gives us the second we accept Him into our heart. Religion is broken and separated, different units created because of tiny different reasons. Jesus is whole, He is complete, and He shows us that everyone from any “unit” will be accepted if they open their heart to Him. We cannot save ourselves, but God can, and He does, everyday. Ephesians 2:8 says just that. “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Religion doesn’t do the saving. Jesus does.
Your worth in the Lord’s eyes does not change based on what you do or not do when it comes to earthly matters. You are not better than the person next to you because you party less or pray more, nor is someone better than you because they show up to church on Sundays more often and are more attentive than you. He loves you through your struggles and He loves you through your victories. He says in Romans 5:8 that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” For us. Christ died for YOU. He died for ME. Christ died for our mistakes, for the messes we’ve made. He died for all of us and he took our sins from us, so we could have eternal life in His name and His name alone.
Who are we to decide, as humans, what the Lord should do? Who are we to decide what He won’t accept? He accepts us all, in our all – weak, dirty, broken, shattered, lost. He loves us because of our flaws, He embraces us in our mess, He loves us for our sins. He loves us unconditionally in hope that we will love Him and share that love with the world around us. He tells us to accept our struggles just as He does, and then we will see that we can only be satisfied, that we can only be filled by the Lord.
Religion expects us to be perfect, to be these role models for what the “right” kind of “Christian” looks like. But if you open the Bible, if you look into history, Jesus loved all people. He loved the adulterer, the rebel, the prodigal, the leper – He loved them all. Jesus loves you even if you had one too many drinks last night, even if you spoke before thinking, even if you [accidentally or purposely] didn’t write a paper for your class in the morning. You cannot earn the Lord by doing “x, y, and z,” because He already died for you thousands of years ago. Religion says that being a “Christian” will make you smarter, will make you feel good, will make you “better.” But Jesus says, come, and have a relationship with the Lord. Because the only one that is “better” is not us, it’s Him. By following Jesus, we are loved by the “better than we.”
We are not confined to four walls and rows of chairs. We should go far beyond that room, far beyond what we have ever imagined. We should love Him and share that love on street corners, in bars, over coffee or tacos, in museums, on public transportation. That love can’t be confined to a word in a dictionary, that love cannot be seen in a human-created list of rules and expectations. That love is in your constant smile, in the door that you hold for the person behind you. His love is in you when you endlessly love everyone around you, whether or not they love you, whether or not you think they are perfect. It doesn’t really matter what you think about their “perfection,” because Jesus thinks they are perfect. Jesus doesn’t compare, doesn’t say “if,” or “then,” when we ask Him for forgiveness. When we ask Him for forgiveness, all He does is ask us to follow Him, to love Him, to lead others to Him, and to love others. So, we should. And we do. Because following and loving Jesus is so much more than a check mark on a list, than an electric bill for a church building. Following Jesus is just that – giving every ounce of ourselves to Him, and only Him, in return for His unending grace.
I am a Christian, because being a Christian means being a Christ-follower. I am religious in that the word religion means the belief – and I do have that belief. But it’s not about the religion, it’s not about the “things,” it’s about Him. Because beyond this and above all, I am a follower and lover of the Lord. Jesus is the only way to live. Jesus is my best friend, I am a daughter of the King, and I will praise the name “Jesus” even after the day I die.
When He left this Earth, He said “IT IS FINISHED.” It is not our work. It’s His. He paid it in full, and we are free and pure in His name.