A New Heritage

As I listened to their description of what it means to provide hospitality, my first response was to tell myself some lies. “I don’t know how to do that. The family I came from never taught me that. This is going to be hard.”

While I enjoy having friends over and have prepared countless meals, the kind of hospitality they were talking about was at a whole different level. It involved welcoming the stranger into my home, relieving their burdens and providing for their needs for the purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus with them. Wow! Yeah – I’ve never seen that done. … Or have I?

While Jesus was on the earth revealing the love of the Father to us, He went about doing good ~ healing the sick, relieving physical maladies, lifting emotional baggage, and feeding thousands of strangers at a time. He gave hope to those who could never repay Him. He expressed love and forgiveness for people who spat in His face.

I have seen that kind of hospitality.

The gospel tells me that I am seated at the right hand of God (Eph 2:1-10) with Jesus. It says that Jesus agreed to trade places with me in order to heal what I am unable to heal for myself (Isa 53:5, 1 Pet 2:24). If I accept the gift that Jesus has offered, I have the most amazing heritage of hospitality!  John 14:12 tells me that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, made possible by the gift of Jesus, I will do the things Jesus did while on earth in order to bring glory to the Father.  It’s already a reality. I just have to claim it as mine and choose to live in that reality.

Jesus is the hero. It’s good news! And that’s the gospel!

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What I was shown or not shown, what was done or not done to me or for me, is a part of my story. But it does not define me. In the gospel story, through the exchange of Jesus, I am offered a new heritage. I can grieve whatever I need to from my past, but I am given the option of grieving with hope. I can acknowledge the hurt of any past events, without any part of it determining my future. So when looking strictly at family of origin, it would be true to say I have not been shown how to be hospitable. However, Jesus has inserted a new story line into my life and has provided all I need. In Him, my story changes.  In Him, I am whole and complete.

Jesus is the hero. It’s good news! And that’s the gospel!

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The Gospel Lens ~ God Is…

In Mark 4:21-34 Jesus told several parables of small things that mattered.  He paid attention to detail. He was attentive. Since Jesus is God and came to reveal the Father, I believe God is attentive.

The scriptures can be searched to see if what I believe about God is supported elsewhere. Indeed, God is shown to be attentive in other ways ~ He notices when a sparrow falls (Matthew 10:29), captures every tear in a bottle (Psalm 56:8), and can number the hairs on my head (Luke 12:7).

Because God is attentive, in the gospel story I am seen and known.  If I am seen and known, I don’t have to search for relationships to fulfill my need to be understood. I already am understood. Because of that I am able to approach relationships from a stable and firm foundation, already filled, and able to allow others to be themselves. Because God is attentive, I don’t have to clamor for attention when I feel small. I don’t have to make a big splash for God to notice.  This peace and security is available to me because Jesus lived as a man and showed me what God is like, and because He restored my relationship with God.

Jesus is the hero. And it’s good news!

That’s the gospel.

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Some Notes on Gospel Application

Studying the Bible searching for the gospel message and with a goal of getting to know Jesus is a whole different mindset than studying to learn information, instruction or correction. The questions I ask when studying to know Jesus are:

  1. What is God like? “God is…”
  2. What did Jesus do to show me what God is like? “In the Bible reading Jesus….”
  3. Who does that say I am? “In the gospel story I am…”
  4. How does this affect how I live? “Because God is …, then I… “

It’s always a good idea to submit your conclusions to a comparison of other scripture and to share with allies ~ other people who are also searching to know Jesus. In this way you can make sure you didn’t pull some far-out-there idea out of the depths of your brain rather than listening to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will only speak truth concerning God and will not contradict Himself. So the ideas we come upon when studying to know Jesus will broaden and deepen our understanding, but will not contradict what He has already revealed.

Notice the power of my conclusions when they are based on what I have learned about God and who I am in Christ. That’s a picture of my being made whole because of what Jesus did for me. That’s the result of faith in God’s relational consistency towards me.

Imagine that instead of relying on what Jesus had accomplished to change my heart, I had simply said, “I need to be more at peace and feel more secure in my relationships.” While peace and security are healthy, if I am trying hard to act that way because that’s what I believe I must do, my success relies entirely on my own strength and I am the hero… if I succeed.  It’s nothing but self-talk and positive thinking at best ~ even if I got my advice from the Bible.  It’s self-righteousness. It’s not the gospel.

The Bible contains doctrinal proof, standards for moral living and lessons and instruction of various kinds. The text above could have been studied asking the questions of “what does it all mean? What am I supposed to do based on what I read? Where is the lesson? Is there a doctrine hiding in this?” And those answers are all in there.  But that doesn’t save me. That doesn’t give me a new heart. Information can’t save. Jesus saves.

In the list of should’s, must’s and have to’s there is condemnation, a heavy burden and death of the soul. In the gospel of Jesus, there is restoration, a light burden, and eternal life.

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Studying  with the primary purpose of finding information reminds me of John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”  I challenge you to read the scriptures looking for the testimony of Jesus. And see how He changes your life.

 

The Gospel ~ Big Picture

The story of God is a story of love. For He is Love. My story, your story – our story as the human race – is but a small part of God’s story. He is the hero of all stories.

In the beginning, before time on earth began, God existed in the form of three – but yet in one. Being three in one God has experienced love, shown love, been love for all time. As an expression of His love, and no doubt also as an expression of His power and creativity,  God created. God created angels. And He created our world and the human race. We were made to be in relationship with Him. We were made in His image, to give and receive love.

Doubting the goodness of God, Adam and Eve broke the relationship.  Each of us has been born into that state of brokenness since that time.

Knowing His creation could not repair what had been broken without eternally losing their lives, God came to the garden with good news for Adam and Eve. He would make a way for the connection to be regained. It would be expensive for Him, but He had a plan.

God sent His Son, not as a third party to punish and bear the brunt of His anger, but as a part of Himself, to take the consequence of sin. Coming as a baby, to grow and experience life as a human, Jesus could identify with the plight of humanity. In this exchange, He gave up His omnipresence being now limited to space and time, omniscience – having to grow in wisdom, and omnipotence – doing nothing but what His Father empowered Him to  do.  He came as an expression of the Father – to reveal the Father. Jesus is God.  

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As a result of bearing our sins at the end of His ministry, His guilt ridden soul was shut from the Father’s presence. He who had known ever-present, perfect love was now entirely alone and the separation broke His heart. The wages of sin are death, not as a punishment or revenge from God, but as a natural result of choosing to be separated from the source of life. Jesus bore that price by choice to provide a way for us to be free from the penalty. By His wounds we are healed. Being fully divine, Jesus conquered the grave. His payment was accepted by the Father. Hallelujah! Our Savior lives!

God offers this payment to any who would believe. Reaching out our hand and accepting the gift is all that is required. And once accepted, life eternal is ours – beginning now. What God calls real, is real – now – even though I’m not experiencing it yet. That’s part of the faith process. Believing involves trusting what God says more than what my senses say.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

It’s not the ending we deserve. That’s the gospel. And that’s good news!

Jesus is the Better…

The woman’s life was in shambles. She’d been abused by men in every way since childhood. Her brokenness left her searching ~ searching for love in all the wrong places. Her name was Nikki. “Nikki, I’ve got the perfect man for you,” Jeff said. Nikki shrugged and turned away, certain she’d just be disappointed one more time. “No really,” Jeff insisted. “You should meet him. He listens. He’s patient. He is tender and compassionate. He gently pursues. I’ve never met a more genuine man.” He had Nikki’s attention. “Yes! I want to meet him!” she exclaimed.  Jeff smiled. “His name is Jesus. I’d love to introduce you.”  Nikki eventually did meet Jesus. And she found Him to be the perfect man. He met all of her longings.

As I heard Jeff tell the story, I began to understand how Jesus is the answer for our every longing on an entirely different level. But unless we take the time to get to know Jesus, the solution sounds blind and shallow. “Don’t worry. Jesus is enough. Be happy.”

Another of the stories Jeff told involved a man who was searching for his father’s approval. Unfortunately the man’s dad died when he was 16 and he never experienced his father’s approval. Now as an older man, he was still longing for it. Jeff shared with us some of what he had shared with the man ~ and it was good news!

The man in Jeff’s story is not unique. Our unmet needs from childhood seem to be a very common source of brokenness. All of our parents are imperfect humans doing the best they can. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) their imperfect best will always leave gaps. I’d like to practice speaking gospel truth with you by walking through that particular area of hurt, looking at it through the lens of “Jesus is the better…”. How is Jesus the better parent and what kind of healing can He bring to you and me?  What is the identity He offers?  How did He live out what we are craving?

My first step in this process is to ask, what is it that we need from our parents?  Protection, food, clothing, shelter, affirmation, affection, attentiveness, forgiveness, patience, instruction, unconditional love, medical care, inclusion. The list could go on. If I was talking with someone who was hurting in regards to their parents, I would listen for a recurring theme to discover what area they felt their needs had not been met. The man Jeff was talking with had not gotten approval and affirmation from his father.

The second step is to ask how we can know that Jesus is able to meet that need. What do we see in how He treated others as recorded in the Bible that would indicate He is able to give what we need? What experiences have we had of Him in our own lives? How about in the lives of our friends? How do we know Jesus is the better parent? What kind of parent/ child relationship did Jesus experience that becomes my new identity when I am in Christ?

The good news Jeff shared with the man he was talking with sounded something like this: “I have good news for you! When Jesus was on the earth, before He had even begun His ministry, His Father announced to everyone that He was proud of His Son. He said, “Look everyone – this is My Son! I’m so pleased with Him!” Jesus offers that acceptance to you. It’s not just that Jesus will accept you, but He is willing to trade places with you. He is willing to give you the connection He has with His father, as your own to claim. When God the Father looks at you, He sees Jesus. The admiration and acceptance given to Jesus, becomes yours even though you’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

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By claiming our identity in the gospel, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of others because Jesus has already perfectly experienced it and provided it. As we believe that God sees us ~ right now ~ as He sees Jesus, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of ourselves because Jesus has already obtained it. We become more loving, not because we tried hard to be loving, but because Jesus is the better answer. He is enough.

Jesus is the hero ~ and it’s good news!

That’s the gospel truth.

The Gospel Lens ~ An Evolution of Theories

Over the years I’ve had some defining moments that have prompted me to put my beliefs into words. The first was about this time six years ago. My late husband was on hospice. He and I, and our kids, signed a family pledge. It went like this: “Because Jesus is coming again to take His friends to Heaven, we will, therefore, dedicate our lives to Him.”  I had a considerably longer version written out, but the challenge of writing it in calligraphy on a 12 X 16″ sheet of paper inspired me to distill it down to as few words as possible. So when push came to shove, the essence of my beliefs landed on, “Jesus has something I want, so I’m willing to give Him something back in order to get it.” I will always treasure that piece of paper with all of our signatures on it, but I find my gospel view… well… interesting.

About two years ago I had occasion to give a synopsis of my life view again. This time it read: “Because of all Jesus has done for me, I am a bond servant to Him.”  The essence of this statement sounds more like “Jesus has done something for me… and I will work at paying Him back.”  Again… interesting.

But I’ve come to some stark realities in the more recent past. These realizations are based on words that I’ve known for as long as I can remember being.

  • Jesus/ God doesn’t need my work. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He can command the rocks to cry out. All things are at His disposal. (Ps 50:7-10, Luke 19:40)
  • He doesn’t want my work. He’s not interested in any performance.  “Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” (Ps 51:16,17 MSG)
  • I can’t give Him any good works of my own.  Every good and perfect gift is from Him. (James 1:17)  Anything I do on my own is as filthy as menstrual rags. (Is 64:6) That’s disgusting.

The 4 Gs

So, if that’s what the gospel isn’t, then what is it? I like this brief summary based on “The Gospel Primer” by Caesar Kalinowski (2013 Missio Publishing):

God is Great ~ so I don’t have to be in control. I can rest of my worries.

God is Glorious ~ so I don’t have to fear others. God is important, or “weighty”. In fact, He is the “weightiest” person in my life.  I can let go of seeking the approval of others.

God is Good ~ so I don’t have to look elsewhere for my satisfaction. People and things eventually fail to deeply satisfy my soul. Jesus is the better fulfillment of my every need.

God is Gracious ~ so I don’t have to prove myself to myself, to others, to God. While I was yet a sinner, God sent His son Jesus to die in my place. I don’t need to earn His love. He proclaims me worthy.

God is the hero.

He graciously gives. I gratefully receive.

Because of the gospel, I am free.

My burden is light.

That’s Good News!

The Gospel Lens ~ Studying to Know God

Do you find the Bible boring or irrelevant? Do you try to read and study but get bogged down in details and facts? Many of us have been taught to read the Bible looking for factual information. What can I get from God? What does He want? What should I believe? What do I have to do? But the Bible isn’t just a collection of facts or good advice about how to live. It’s full of Good News and Gospel Truth.  It’s an invitation to a relationship with the living God.

I’m going to walk you through a Bible study method that has shifted my focus from learning information or even appreciating an interesting story, and allowed me to brush against the hem of Jesus. The example I’m going to walk you through is based on my reading of Mark 3: 7-19. Briefly, in this passage of scripture Jesus finds Himself pressed in with crowds of people wanting to be healed. He then took His disciples to a mountain top where He chose 12 apostles. His plan was to teach them, and then send the apostles out to proclaim the Word and free people from the power of demons as He had been doing.

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Question one of the gospel lens:  What does this story tell me about the characteristics of God?

God is generous.

Question two: What has Jesus done in this story to express it?

Jesus healed all who came to Him and selected other apostles so they could do the same work in greater numbers.

Question three: Who are we in the gospel story* because of this story?

Because God is generous, in the gospel story we are needy. After encountering Jesus, we become well cared for.

Question four: What do I now do with this belief? How do I live differently?

Because God is generous and I am well cared for, I can afford to give lavishly to others.

You will notice that my answers to the questions are probably not your answers. There are no “right” answers. Your story and where the Holy Spirit is leading you will affect what you gain from the Bible reading. Your image of who God is will be different than mine because of your perspective and your unique personal relationship with Jesus. It is in studying and sharing with others that we can begin to get a bigger picture of God. It is a process of learning who He is, which then informs me of who I am in Him, and in turn changes how I live.  I don’t behave in a certain way so I can do something for Him, prove something to Him, get something good or avoid something bad from Him. As I practice focusing my eyes on Him, my external life becomes a natural response to the power of God working in my heart.

*The Gospel Story is God’s story of creating a perfect world, having Adam and Eve disbelieve His goodness, and His response of love and grace in His quest to rebuild the broken trust. Through the gift of His Son, He provided a way for mankind to reconnect with Himself and will one day return to erase the blight of sin and restore a face-to-face relationship with His redeemed sons and daughters. The gospel story has been played out over the ages, but is also repeated in each of our lives. 

Smile of God

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” My thoughts turned to that classic children’s song this morning. Perhaps you also know the song but may or may not know the verse that goes like this – “Jesus loves me when I’m good, when I do the things I should. And He loves me when I’m bad, though it makes Him very sad.”

I believed every word of that song as a child. And due to my personal nature, I believed Jesus was sad when I was bad because He was disappointed in my behavior. He would still accept me, but He was disgusted with me. He still loved me – but only because He had to because He was God and He didn’t have a choice.

I think I had it wrong.

At the end of time, the saved and the unsaved will have done some of the very same things in their lives. There will be those on each side of the gates whose behaviors looked very much the same to those around them. Since the Bible tells us that all of our attempts at goodness are filthy rags in the eyes of God, this should not surprise us. So why do we think that we can earn the smiling approval of Jesus with our good works or cause His sad disapproval with our bad works?

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.

He came to save, not to condemn.

He came to restore, not to shame.

I still believe every word of the song. But rather than thinking Jesus is sad when I am bad because He is disappointed in me, I now see it this way – He is sad because He knows that the selfish thing I did is going to cause me and others pain. But He’s not frowning on me in disapproval. Nope, He’s headed to the barn to get His Muck boots. After putting them on, He holds out His hand and offers to walk through it with me, helping me grow as we walk.

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It is in reaching out and taking His hand that I bring the smile to His face.

I Hope I Cause You to Stumble

“Can I get my ears pierced?”  Perhaps for most readers, having their nearly-16 year-old daughter ask that question would stimulate a thought process no more complex than if she’d asked what was for supper.  However, coming from my Christian subculture, the topic of jewelry and ear-piercing has traditionally carried a weight similar to discussions regarding same-sex marriage or abortion.

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As my daughter made her request that day a year ago, I remembered my own similar request as a young lady. In response, I was given a booklet about why Christians who really want to follow God won’t wear jewelry. The booklet was primarily based on a couple of New Testament verses that I read and considered – but I didn’t see the connection. In my opinion the texts had been taken out of context and selectively applied. When I questioned the application of the texts, I was told that sometimes we just do things we may not understand in order to fit in with a social group. If we want to be part of the group, we do what they say. I accepted and complied. Now with 30 more years under my belt, I can accept that guidance as reasonable in regards to membership in a club or other social group, but I bristle at the suggestion that it is a good reason to follow religious traditions. You see the social group is saying “This is what you need to do and look like to fit in with us.”  The standards of the club make a statement about the character of its members. However, by its very nature, the church is saying “This is what you need to do and look like to be acceptable to God.”  The standards of a church make a statement about the character of God. That carries a whole different psychological and spiritual weight.  So while I have no problem with a social group saying I must do the happy-dance at the door or wear my hat to the left side in order to be a member, I don’t agree with a church making arbitrary requirements of its members.

The other “devout Christians don’t do that” arguments against jewelry are generally geared toward the topics of good stewardship and avoidance of vanity. While I agree those are important principles to consider when making decisions, I would have to say they apply to a whole bunch of things in life – the least of which is a $5 or even $50 set of earrings.  Yes, I could spend $5,000 more on a set of earrings, which would be extravagant for me and a poor stewardship choice. But a person could spend $5,000 more on a house or car or vacation or hobby. I don’t think we’re ready to ban those purchases or be the “extravagant” monitors.

My daughter got no booklet nor sermonette the day she asked about ear piercing. Her ears are now pierced, as are mine. She asked me for a list of rules about the when, where and what of proper earring use. We discussed the principles of stewardship, thoughtfulness toward those who don’t believe as we do, and modesty, but I didn’t give her a checklist. I trust her to make wise decisions in this area of her life, as she does in others.

Some of you might imagine that this has been a year filled with a sense of freedom for me, having broken the spiritual chains that bound me. But honestly, some aspects of it have been a struggle. The disparity between my personal tastes vs what I was taught a good Christian must look like, left me feeling uncomfortable. Ironically I have continued wearing my earrings, not out of some mid-life rebellion-based “I’ll show them” attitude, but out of the principle of the matter. I’ve found it requires me to trust more in the character of God when I accept there is no checklist of “things to do to please God” that will win me His favor. I have continued searching for fulfillment in a relationship with my Creator rather than in a list of requirements or in pleasing others. I have found my earrings inconsequential to that search.

If your church background is similar to mine, my earrings may upset you. If they do, I hope they cause you to stumble out of any works-oriented traditions that have provided a false sense of value and instead stumble into a genuine relationship, grounded in faith, with the God who made you, loves you, and longs for you.

Dare We Believe?

While growing up I attended many an evangelistic series. This was not as a result of any intense spirituality, but was my lot in life. The evangelistic series I attended were presented by my dad. His sermons were full of the good news of God’s love. Often he would end his sermons with an altar call, providing a chance for people to commit their lives to Christ. Generally at least once during each series of meetings a favorite hymn of mine would be sung during the altar call.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

The song is full of good news! Yes! What a safe harbor! What a welcome reprieve His love provides!

However, be it my own flawed perception, or be it the teaching of the day or the church, it seemed that hardly had the good news landed on the ears when the unsuspecting convert was hit with a left hook. It went something like this, “Now, here’s the deal. God loves you for sure, but you need to stop smoking. That’s not too much to ask since you know smoking’s bad for you anyway, right?  Ok. Great. Now, there’s more to the deal. God says if you love Him you’ll obey His commandments. So here, I’ll read them for you. Got it? Great. Now, hang on. Not everything you have to do is listed in the commandments. There’s some more over here. Let me read it for you. … Got it? Great. Just a few more and then we can talk about your being baptized so you can join the body of Christ. I’m so excited for you!”

The bottom line sounds something like this, “If you love God, convince Him and the rest of us by the way you act.” Immediately the list of must’s and should’s grows long and the good news becomes very burdensome and really not good news at all ~ because “now you know better, and now if you don’t ‘do it’ you’re really going to be lost!” (James 4:17)

Salvation in that setting becomes twisted into things I must do rather than a relationship I live with a God who loves me.  Immediately self fights to keep hold of the prospect of salvation and heaven. I start looking around instead of up, and comparison thinking comes to my defense, sounding something like “Well, at least I….

Furthermore, a works oriented model of salvation creates bondage (Gal 5:1) to fearful insecurity where I am plagued with questions.

“Have I done enough yet?”

“Is God pleased with me yet?”

“Have I asked for forgiveness of all of my sins?

“What if I misunderstand what God is saying and do this wrong even though I want to follow Him?”

I would sum them up in two words. “OH NO!”

The good news is, God doesn’t want more of my efforts. He offers me an entirely different quality of life grounded in the life of His Son who was the fulfillment of the law (Mat 5:17-20). Dare we allow God’s message to actually be good news?

The good news is, God says His love for me does not depend on what I do (Rom 5:8). Dare we stop scrambling for His acceptance and instead allow His peace to wash over us?

The good news is, in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), the father does not ask the son to do anything. Coming home to be with his father was enough. Dare we believe God is anxious to welcome us into His family just because He is love?

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The good news is, a leopard cannot change his spots – nor can we change our sinful nature (Jer 13:23). Dare we believe our best efforts are a waste in regards to our salvation and sanctification?

The good news is, in the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding fathers of the Biblical people of God, outright premeditated sin was present in their lives. And God did not leave them. Dare we believe He will continue to work with us in the midst of our imperfections?

“Yeah, but…” I hear some church folk saying, “if you’re going to be a Christian, you’ve got to…”

I hear Christ saying I must seek first His kingdom of love and His covenant faithfulness with all my heart, and hang out with Him, then all the other things will come in time (Matt 6:33, Jer 29:13, John 15:1-8). 

Rather than being required, obedience to God’s law is inevitable as I spend time with Him. (2 Cor 3:18)

Living a life right with God is not a test of my relationship with Him ~ but it will be the natural long-term result of my relationship (Romans 10:4). Forcing it to happen the other way around may change the outside of me if I am determined enough ~ but it will never change the inside. Only basking in His perfect love and acceptance will change my core.

It is God who does His work in me and in you. (Phil 1:6)

Dare we believe the good news?

Religiosity

A poll completed nearly one year ago by Gallup shows that 77% of Americans consider themselves to be Christian.  The largest group, 52.5% of the polled population, considers themselves to be Protestant/ non-Catholic in their beliefs. Of that group, 79% stated that religion was important in their daily lives. What exactly is religion? What does that question mean?

According to the Meriam – Webster on-line dictionary, religion means the following:

re·li·gion

 noun \ri-ˈli-jən\

: the belief in a god or in a group of gods

: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods

: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

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The way I see it, there are actually three things at work in the question: religion, traditions, and spirituality.  We’ll consider the second definition first. “An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods.”  I will call that “traditions” or “religiosity” [Religiosity, in its broadest sense, is a comprehensive sociological term used to refer to the numerous aspects of religious activity, dedication, and belief (religious doctrine).] .  It says, ” Here are the rules for our group. If you want to fit in with us, you will look like this, act like this, speak this way, wear your hair like this, etc, etc, etc.” In my experience, it makes people more prone to compare themselves with others and to cause superficial lifestyle changes without a heart change. It may help with your emotional well-being. It may give you a place to feel good about yourself (or not – depending on your level of self-control). And it may help keep you out of trouble, which will improve your quality of living. But I find no Biblical support that outward actions will provide eternal life. Comparing Matthew 7 with Matthew 25 you will find that the saved and lost will have done many of the same things.  It is not saying that there is anything wrong with traditions or good works – in fact, there is a place for them and they are expected to be the natural out-flowing of a follower of Jesus – but they aren’t the ticket.

The first definition of religion – “the belief in a god…”, may spark a relationship that I would call spirituality.  This spirituality will also cause a change in behavior, but the relationship came first. Some say it is a behavioral change that we choose out of our love for God and what He has done for us. The more experience I have with life, people and God, the more it seems our behavioral changes themselves are only because He brings about the change in us. Our behavioral changes are gifts from the Holy Spirit. The only choice we really have is where and when we will be willing to submit our lives to Him and allow Him to change us.  The Bible tells us that our best is equivalent to filthy rags. The Bible provides no differentiation between the “best” of a sinner or the “best” of a saved person. So if something good comes of us, from us or through us, it is a gift from God.  All good and perfect gifts come from the Father above.

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Ephesians 2: 7-10 The Message