Religion vs. the Lord


Religion {self-improvement, karma}


Relationship-with-the-LORD {by grace, redemption}


by Paul de Vries, PhD, NY Divinity School, 646-395-0008


My assignment was for me to speak to a group of young Muslims on the topic “The Impact of the Christian Religion upon Humanity.”  I started off commenting that religion’s impact has been mixed.  Much good has been done in the name of religion, and much evil as well.  For example, because of my leadership for human rights when I was a Baptist minister in central Virginia in the 1970s, my life was directly threatened.  The people who wanted me dead thought that the racial reconciliation impact of my “religion” was bad; I thought some of their “religious impact” was very evil.


As a teacher, therefore, I would give religion a “C+” – or perhaps on a very good day a “B-.“   However, I pointed out, the Bible grades all religion as a failure – with an “F.”  All our best efforts cannot save us.  In fact, religion is often a mask to help us avoid the real God-questions of life.


Here are at least 33 major historic moments recorded in the Bible in which religion is used as an escape from these truths – but where a vibrant relationship with the LORD is the real option.

May the Lord strengthen us all in our relationships with Him—and draw us closer to Him—and may He grant us discernment to reject religion with its efforts to prove ourselves to Him, rather than to glorify and thank Him (Romans 1:21).



Historic Moment

The LORD’s Way:

Relationship with Him

Traditional Religion’s “Contribution”

The Point (You can fill this in.)

The very beginning: Genesis 1-3

Men and women were made in the LORD’s image, to desire and experience personal guidance and communion with their almighty Creator.

The earliest humans were eager to acquire their own “knowledge of good and evil,” so that they would no longer need to walk with the LORD.


Shaping of Abrahamic Faith: Genesis chapters 14, 15

After being blessed by Melchezedek, non-Jewish priest of the LORD, Abraham’s personal faith/faithfulness in the LORD is labeled tzadak, right-relationship (righteousness). This saving faith precedes Abraham’s circumcision.

Abraham’s principles have been “copied” by many who falsely claim that they share his personal relationship with the LORD.  True children of Abraham are those who share his faith/faithfulness in right-relationship to the LORD, not his practice or religion.


Genesis 22

The LORD radically tests Abraham’s loyalty, then abruptly stops his sacrifice of his son, giving him grace (unmerited favor).

Religion of Abraham’s time demanded the sacrifice of people’s own children, without divine saving grace.






Exodus 20: The giving of the Ten Commandments, especially 20:18-20

The whole nation is brought to the mountain to meet the LORD – the same place Moses met Him. His purpose is to make Israel a nation of priests, knowing and representing the LORD.

All the people miss the LORD completely, and only see and hear the special effects.  They ask that Moses simply give them the law – and that he tell God to shut-up.  They want the Law, but not the LORD.



29 and 30

In his last sermon Moses emphasized the simplicity and immediacy of the relationship with the LORD.  The ultimate truth was already in their mouths and hearts – that they should love the LORD, obey His voice, and cling to Him.

Moses warns against empty and filthy religion, detached from the living and powerful LORD and also detached from our true selves – “because the LORD is your life.”



Job had trusted the LORD without meeting Him.  Then in adverse circumstances he called out to the LORD, Who eventually spoke with him.  This encounter with the LORD satisfied Job’s deep need to meet his Creator and Savior.

Job’s “friends” used traditional religion to “explain” his adverse and painful circumstances to him, as if Job was experiencing judgment from God.  The LORD rejects the religious efforts of his “friends” – and forgives them only through Job’s prayers



The Psalms focus on the extraordinary benefits of knowing and trusting the living LORD – the ultimate Good Shepherd, King, Potter, and such like.

Mere religion is empty, for its promises of prosperity and success are empty.  What we really desire, need, and long for is a personal restored right-relationship with the LORD.


Prophet Isaiah – especially chapters 1, 9, 58, and 64

The LORD wants to know the people, and to see them behave with both fairness and love to others, and to be humble and accountable to Him.

Good religion by itself, even when it is according to the LAW, is unmasked as a cover-up for hard-hearted or even hateful living.  In fact, all our “righteous deeds are like filthy rags.” (64:6)


Amos 5:21-24

We should “let justice flow like a river and right-relationship flood everything like a torrent.” {literal}

The LORD hates religious show and pretense.  Even worship hymns and songs can be mere noise to Him without right-relationships.



The LORD looks for people who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. (6:6-8)

Even correct sacrifices can be a stench in the LORD’s nose.





New Testament







Matthew 2; Luke 2

The LORD (the Creator-Teacher) becomes one of the creatures, a part of His creation.  The Infinite becomes an Infant; the Sovereign becomes a servant child – to bring hope and salvation to mankind.

Religion as an ally of state power seeks to locate and destroy the humble baby who is born “… the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)


Matthew 7:21-28

Entrance to heaven requires a knowing relationship with the LORD – not just religious service

Religion that seeks great accomplishment, including even healings, prophesies, deliverances “in his name” – is not enough!


Luke 10:25-37

The Good Samaritan skillfully responded to a need, demonstrating the LORD’s command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Two religious leaders walked by the man who was beat up, robbed, and left for dead – even going to the other side of the road to pass by the victim.


John 4:19-26

Right relationship with God is available anywhere, as we receive Him into our hearts.  True worshipers worship Him  in Spirit and Truth.”

Religions debate the right location of worship.


Matt. 26-28;

Mark 14-16; Luke 22-24; John 11-21

The LORD (the Creator-Teacher) uses numerous means to guarantee that He will die for humanity – and then also conquers death for humanity.  This is the greatest grace to us.

As unknowing participants in the LORD’s plans, religions leaders plot His death and seek to prevent His resurrection.


Acts 7

Stephen is empowered by the LORD and boldly speaks the truth about religion.  He points to the emptiness of even “correct” religion, and to the faithfulness of the LORD. Before dying from stoning, Stephen is filled with the Spirit and sees God the Father and Jesus at His right hand.

When Stephen had reminded the religious leaders about the history of religious people’s rejection and killing of the LORD’s messen-gers, they then kill Stephen.  Offended by Stephen’s references to religion’s failures, they stone him to death, additionally proving Stephen’s point about religion.


Acts 8:1-9:31

Saul (later called Paul) sees Stephen’s bold witness, contributes to his death, continues to persecute those who know the LORD, and then is totally transformed when the LORD Himself encounters him on the Damascus Road.

When he was deeply committed to “correct” religion, Paul had sought to suppress those who were born again in vibrant faith in the LORD – to the point of even seeking to plot their death.


Acts 10

Saint Peter discovers that the LORD of the universe can change the regulations He gave at an earlier time.

The tug of religion is strong.  Even though Peter had spent months with Jesus, he is deeply tied to traditional religion.


Acts 17

Paul in Athens outlines the good work of the Living LORD, who gives life, breath, and all things to mortals.  He will judge fairly through the One He raised from the dead.

The LORD is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything, and He has overlooked religious ignorance – but now He calls all people to repent and turn to Him.


Romans 1 & 2

The LORD’s power and divine nature are clearly shown through His creation, and so the people who are in right-relationship [righteous] will live by faith.

Religious people exchanged the glory of the LORD for idols, perverted sex, craftiness, violence, strife, hypocrisy, and judgmental behavior.


Romans 10 and

I Timothy 1

Life based on personal and mental knowledge of the LORD – for Godly behavior and belief..

Belief and behavior without objective or personal knowledge


1 Corinthians 13

Simple Godly faith (faithfulness), hope, & love last forever & make all the difference.  Loving the LORD and others matters most.

Miracles, prophetic powers, total devotion – these religious practices are empty and useless apart from love.


2 Corinthians 3

Veils and masks are removed when we meet and know the living LORD.  Where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Religion can double-blind us to reality, masking (veiling) both the glory of the living LORD as well as the ugliness of our failures.



Independent of religion, we are spiritually crucified with Christ and live in new life because of Him. (2:19-21)  In the Gospel, the LORD sets us free for freedom. (5:1)

The Gospel of the LORD’s grace does not depend on obedience to traditional religion.  Any addition to the Gospel is really a subtraction.


Philippians 3:1-11

Nothing compares with “the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ my LORD.”

Paul understood that all his religious accomplishments were like “rubbish.”


Ephesus Church:

Rev. 2:1-7

Discernment, patient endurance, and being victorious (overcoming) over challenges.

You left your primary love.


Smyrna Church:

Rev. 2:8-11

Patience in affliction, and being victorious (overcoming) over challenges.

{Fear of suffering}


Pergamum Church:

Rev. 2:12-17

Faithful to Jesus and his name, being victorious (overcoming) over challenges.

Host false teaching, including those who put stumbling blocks in front of others.


Thyatira Church:

Rev. 2:18-29

Love, faith, service, patience and good works, being victorious (overcoming) over challenges.

Tolerate false prophesy that encourages immorality


Sardis Church:

Rev. 3:1-6

Walking with the LORD Jesus and being victorious (overcoming) over challenges.

Did not complete the WORKS God had commanded


Philadelphia Church:

Rev. 3:7-13

Faithful to God’s Word & name, & good works being victorious (overcoming) over challenges.

Only a little strength


Laodocia Church:

Rev. 3:14-22

Being victorious (overcoming) over challenges.

Neither cold nor hot…and Jesus is standing outside the Church.


Revelation 21 and 22

Heaven is the living presence of the LORD, whether we are in this life or the next.

There is no temple in heaven, and no religion, for the LORD is present with his power, wisdom, love, and light.  (21:22-27)






Do you want to meet and know the LORD?   Here are some suggestions.


o   Talk with someone who knows the LORD. 

o   Go to where the Bible is read and taught.  The LORD usually reveals Himself and calls people, or touches them, when the Bible is studied and the Gospel is preached. What is the Gospel?  Gospel = the good news that Jesus, the Son of God, died for our sins and came back to life,conquering death for us, and walking with us 24/7.

o   Study the Bible.  Perhaps start with the Gospel of John in the New Testament.




Please see also: = dozens of deep paradoxes in every dimension of life = the lessons of the Magi = Mary Magdalene as a model observer = Divine Presence affirmed and photographed




Copyright © 2012 by Paul de Vries, Ph.D.,,   646-395-0008

Please use freely, and give credit.