As a parent of three children I equipped my kids in the basics of the Christian faith. They all understood the doctrinal teachings of the Bible. As a dad who had a passion for apologetics and theology, we had great discussions about the truth of Christianity. When they reached high school I told all three the same thing; either believe Christianity to be true truth or reject it; don’t be religious.
What do you mean by religious? A religious person is one who calls himself or herself a Christian but is not a spirit-filled believer. Paul writes to the church in Rome in Chapter 8 of Romans and he identifies the person without the spirit of Christ as one who is guided by the flesh or sin nature. A mind set on the flesh cannot please God. Someone who is guided by the Holy Spirit is a true follower of Christ. It is obvious the Church at Rome was similar in make-up to our churches today. It was filled with true believers in Christ and those who were followers by name only.
Romans 8:5-9 “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” Religious people call themselves Christian but live by the flesh. They are not aware they are without the spirit of Christ. Verse 6 says those whose minds are on the flesh are spiritually dead.
A typical Bible believing church in America has three groups of people who attend services; true believers, religious people, and seekers. The similarity between religious people and seekers is both groups are not true followers of Jesus. The difference is religious people think they are. Liberal protestant churches are dominated by religious people.
A religious person comes in many forms. I will focus on two of them. One is the Sunday only religious person. This person goes to church on Sunday through habit or tradition and lives like a non-Christian the rest of the week. He is not committed to following Christ day in and day out. Without the spirit of Christ there is no internal drive to become more like Jesus. However, since this person does come and hear the sermons he is likely to be a decent person; a person with moral standards because this is what he hears each week. The effort to live the good life is externally driven, just like any non-Christian.
A second religious type individual is a legalist. This is a fleshly driven person who takes God’s law into her own hands. She loves looking down her nose and complaining about those so-called “Christians” who violate her high standards or don’t meet her needs. Many times her standard goes beyond the scriptures, inventing laws that are not Biblical. Usually this type of person is very self-centered expecting everyone else to meet her needs.
During the time of Jesus those practicing legalism could be found among the religious Jews. The Pharisees and Sadducees lived good moral lives but their efforts were external lacking the power of the Holy Spirit. They were very showy in their religious practice always demonstrating how spiritual they were. Many were prideful individuals who were glad they were above the common people. They were more concerned about their religious appearances rather than helping the poor and the needy. When Jesus came on the scene, he redefined what it meant to be spiritual. He was a servant of the people and preached the kingdom of God. Near the end of His ministry Jesus had lots of negative things to say about the Pharisees and the Sadducees.