Christ as the Center of Religion
On the one side is religion—a something; on the other side is Christ. Christ isn’t a something, He’s a Someone we can know and trust. When we have Christ at the center of our lives, all our doing has meaning, purpose, and a true focus. Religion can be many good things, but it cannot be a substitute for Christ. Religion without Christ is hollow and self-centered. We use our actions to make ourselves feel good or look good. Religious actions with Christ have purpose and meaning and satisfy us completely. There’s nothing basically wrong with religion or being religious just as long as our motivation is correct and our focus remains on Christ rather than on ourselves or a person or thing. The sacraments of baptism and communion are ways to help us relate to and stay in communion with Christ and His church, but they should never become rituals that are done out of mere habit, formality, tradition, or superstition.
In exchange for our trust in Him, Christ does many things for us that religion cannot do. He loves us and shows us how to live (john 15:13; romans 8:35; 1 john 2:6). He declares us “not guilty” and forgives us (romans 3:24; 5:1; ephesians 1:7). He gives us His Spirit and lives within us (john 14:16–17; colossians 1:27). He rescues us from Satan’s power (colossians 1:13). He brings us into God’s family (john 1:12; ephesians 1:5,11). He brings us to God (1 timothy 2:5) and gives us peace with Him (romans 5:1). And He gives us eternal life (6:23).
Christ is also superior to religion. He is the all-encompassing Person who is everywhere we look. When we look backward, we see that He is the Creator and eternal Word who was not only with God from the beginning, but who actually is God (john 1:1–3). When we look forward, we see Him coming as our King and Judge who will one day rule the earth and judge every heart (acts 1:6–11; romans 14:7–12). If we look up, He is our Savior and Lord who alone can reach down and save us while at the same time He is our loving and wise Lord (john 3:13–16; philippians 2:9–11). By looking down, we see him holding us in His hands as our Provider and Sustainer (colossians 1:16). As we turn to the right to see what is morally correct, He becomes our Teacher and Example (1 peter 2:21; 1 john 2:6). Should we turn left—the opposite direction from what is “right,” and therefore to what is wrong, He becomes our Intercessor and Advocate (1 john 2:1–2). And finally as we look within ourselves, we see Him as our Life, our Peace, and our Strength (galatians 2:20; colossians 1:27).
How to Focus on Christ
We pray, read and study the Bible, and worship in order to remain in a close relationship with Christ. Praying is our way of communicating with God. When we have a close relationship with anyone, we make sure we stay in contact whether they live just a few miles away or on the other side of the world. Communicating with God every day is important to stay focused on Him. Just as you communicate with friends, so you should regularly communicate with God through prayer.
Another way to keep Christ as the focus of our lives is to read the Bible as well as study it to know how Christ wants us to live. When we are highly interested in a subject or a person, we spend time surfing websites to learn more about the subject. We might even read an entire book on the subject, either a biography or their “how-to handbook.” The Bible is both of those in one, giving us the biography of Christ’s life as well as the “how-to” live with and for Him. Spending time with the direct words of God in Scripture provides the perfect tutorial.
Regular worship is also important for keeping our focus on Christ, but we must be sure to be fully engaged in worship and actively seek God’s leading. If we allow ourselves to drift through the service or focus on ourselves rather than God, we can easily turn an opportunity for worship into a shallow, religious tradition, with us mindlessly going through the motions.
On the issue of religion or Christ, there is no option of exclusively selecting one or the other. Religion without Christ makes us merely a “sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” Religion with Christ fills us with his light and his love.