“Religion includes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man … and in man’s accountableness to God.” Thus begins Noah Webster in his 1828 “Dictionary of the English Language.” His antithesis of religion is recorded at the conclusion of the first description: “for the practice of moral duties without a belief in a divine lawgiver, and without reference to his will or commands, is not religion.”

Most believers in Jesus Christ recognize an inherent danger in the frequent use of the word “religion.” It should be as Webster has described close to 200 years ago but has been diluted down to suggest that religion is what we like the most apart from God. We have gotten away from Biblical truth concerning Jesus Christ and God, His Father. More often, a person’s religion is what consumes most of his or her time and energy. It is what they think about during most of their waking hours – what they talk about, sing about, write and laugh about. Religion dominates a person’s life and absorbs the majority of their resources in terms of treasure and talent. It is the platform from which they launch personality and character.

When friends and loved ones pay respects at the funeral of the departed, his or her “religion” is what is on their minds because it is what that life was all about. It made up the essence and purpose for living and was what made that individual worthwhile.

Absolute Christians know to use the term “faith” rather than the generic blanket “religion” because anything outside of Christ can be thrown underneath that cover. Hobbies, civic interests and daily occupations can be religions. Good endeavors of a billion descriptions can consume a person’s life energy and thus qualify as their “religion.” As Mr. Webster has implied, it can be a decent and a moral life – but lived apart from God.

Religion comes dangerous when it excludes faith in Jesus Christ. We should
not want to only “get religion.”

I enjoy old tractors and trucks. Their restoration and preservation interest me keenly but must not be what my life is best known about.

Guaranteed, I will not arrive in Heaven one day on an old farm tractor or pickup truck. Iron horses are good things, but they are not the best thing. They do not impart virtue and have no value in the spiritual realm. No matter how religiously I venerate the old iron, I cannot rely on that respect to cleanse my heart and forgive my sin.

Nothing manmade or from the nature of this earth has the power to bring my soul to Heaven for all eternity. It is going to have to be something supernatural, and I’ll have to be heaven-born if I’m going to be heaven-bound. None of this “good old feller” talk impresses God. Paul advises in 2 Timothy 3:5, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” Religion commonly has a form and a fashion to it but seldom the facts to back it up. All too often, it is a false religion that will dissipate before God’s refining fire of truth at the judgment.

President Donald Trump said recently: “Each year we recognize that the true spirit of Christmas is not what we have, but what we are.” This very moment, we are either “in” Jesus Christ or still outside of Him. A radio pastor said recently: “There is nothing worth having outside of Jesus.”

I believe that to be precisely correct. The world system postulates conveniently: “If there is no God, then nothing matters.” Their assumption upholds a false hope. The Christian’s heart whispers: “Since God is – nothing else matters!” The confident expectation revealed in the Bible compels us to worship the Lord. Lidie Edmunds wrote decades ago in her song “No Other Plea:”

“My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the Ever-living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.
I need no other argument, I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died, And that he died for me.”

Christmas is about the birth and life of the man Jesus Christ – God in the robe of flesh. The one, sinless life backs up His death of redemption for whosoever will come to Him by faith. The child of God will have become satisfied in Christ. To receive Christ is to stop looking for another, greater savior. One simply knows completeness in this Truth. No more diplomacy is needed – I’m done searching, and it is enough. I will not successfully talk you into anything better than just pretending you are Christ’s, and that is not enough. You will have to decide out of your own will and heart.

The best time to determine faith in Christ is the soonest time. It is always the right time to abandon pretenses and simply ask: “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). You certainly do not want justice enacted upon your shipload of sin, but the mercy and grace of the Savior.

Religion is everywhere and can be found in most anything. Our need is not more of it, but rather in a thriving relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Our nature enjoys religion because it is something we can do, earn and deserve. Even church work makes us feel good and feel that we have participated in getting ourselves approved of God. We seem to all have the viewpoint of standing in the pay line at the end of the work week, waiting for our wages. Religion is “a good day’s pay for a day’s good work.”

That system works in this world, but not in the next. Physical things do not overlap into the spiritual realm. Jesus is the perfect Paymaster, and He knows what you and I deserve.

Christ-rejecting folks will stand before the object of their refusal one day to have the book of life opened up upon themselves. Sadly, they will be “judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12). I do not want to go on the basis of what is in the books because I know what is there, and I know that God knows. Bigger piles of religion and human goodness over top of all the other sinfulness will do no good. Religion is transparent to God. He can see right through it and down into our hearts. Doing life our own way and crying “Lord, Lord” at the judgment will reap the reply from Christ: “I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23).

The Bible makes clear Who is “the way, the truth and the life” that is able to bring us to the Father (John 14:6). What a wonderful time it now is to be in a right relationship with God, through faith in His only Son Jesus.

The little lamb of Bethlehem’s manger brought grace to you and me, but the next time He comes, Christ will be the Lion of government. Fall under that love of Christmas today so that you will not lament in a Christless eternity for all of tomorrow. Rejoice with many who have moved from religion to relationship!

R.D. “Bob” Hottle is a retired schoolteacher, farmer and pastor of the Anchor Baptist Church.