What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill. –Matt. 5:17
For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to everyone who believes. –Rom. 10:4
Some have argued against the very first line of Jefferson Bethke’s Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus, and since it is the premise of the whole video it needs careful attention. Matthew 5:17 seems to lean one way on this issue while Romans 10:4 seems to lean the other way. These two verses are not contradictory. Since Bethke doesn’t define religion explicitly it’s left to everyone else to extrapolate. Although, the context makes it somewhat obvious what he is getting at.
The religion Jesus met with at His first coming was Judaism. The three biggest ordinances in the Mosaic law were circumcision, the Sabbath, and the dietary regulations. Christ broke the Sabbath in Matthew 12, annulled the dietary regulations in Acts 10, and then Paul said circumcision was nothing and availed nothing. Doesn’t this seems dangerously close to abolishment?
What then is Matthew 5:17 talking about?
The footnote in the Recovery Version Bible (RcV) on Matthew 5:17 is enlightening:
Here for Christ to fulfill the law means (1) that, on the positive side, He kept the law, (2) that, on the negative side, through His substitutionary death on the cross He fulfilled the requirement of the law, and (3) that in this section He complemented the old law with His new law, as repeatedly expressed by the word “But I say to (or, tell) you” (vv. 22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). Christ’s keeping of the law qualified Him to fulfill the requirement of the law through His substitutionary death on the cross. Christ’s fulfilling of the requirement of the law through His substitutionary death on the cross brought in the resurrection life to complement the law, to fill the law to the full. The old law, the lower law, with the demand that it be kept and the requirement that man be punished, is over. The kingdom people, as the children of the Father, now need to fulfill only the new law, the higher law, by the resurrection life, which is the eternal life of the Father. The old law was given through Moses, whereas the new law was decreed by Christ personally. Concerning the law there are two aspects: the commandments of the law and the principle of the law. The commandments of the law were fulfilled and complemented by the Lord’s coming, whereas the principle of the law was replaced by the principle of faith according to God’s New Testament economy.
He was “born under law that He might redeem those under law” (Gal. 4:4-5).
Kenneth Wuest explores the state of Judaism at Christ’s time in his Word Studies on Galatians.
Judaism, the religion of the day, had become by that time “legalistic in character” and was “without a dynamic to make actual the realization of ethical principles in the life.” The spiritual element had been lost and what remained was only the ritual.
On observe days in Galatians 4:10, Wuest says “the word denotes careful, scrupulous observance, an intent watching lest any of the prescribed seasons be overlooked. A merely legal or ritualistic system of religion always develops such scrupulousness.” The danger was that the Galatian believers would be “enslaved by a mere formal, lifeless ritual.”
In principle, what was true about Judaism can be true within segments of Christianity. The spiritual reality behind things can be lost, leaving only the teachings, rituals, and traditions. Baptism can become just a religious ritual. So can communion, “going to church”, etc.
Savior, Lord, Life
Jesus is Savior, Lord, AND life (Col. 3:4). Without experiencing Christ as life, almost everything about being a Christian can remain outward and objective. This is the negative connotation of religion. Not just legal but in letter only. You are left trying to please a distant God and imitate a historic Jesus. Christ came to be our life and now wants to live out from us to make us His expression.
Jesus did not establish a religion. He produced an organic Body. He brought the church into existence through His death and resurrection not through legislation. Is your body a religion that you started? Of course not. Yes there are laws, life laws, there is order, and there are various functions in the human body, but these do not constitute a religious system. The Body of Christ operates and maintains its existence in the resurrection life. The church is Christ’s organic increase, His seed (Isa. 53:10, sperma in Septuagint).
To say that Jesus abolished religion doesn’t mean that there are no more requirements or that there is no more authority. But it is a paradigm shift. It shifts the focus from commandments to the divine life. From work to a wedding feast (Matt. 21:33-22:14).
- “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” Analysis and Critique (kirkmillerblog.wordpress.com)
- Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus (lifeandbuilding.com)
- That Subtle Law (lifeandbuilding.com)
- Why the Law? (lifeandbuilding.com)