1. Alex, the title of your book Jesus Hates Religion, came from a sermon series you did at your church, right? Can you tell us what God did in the lives of people during that season in your church?
I had so many people from our church come up to me and say, “Wow! I’ve been in church my whole life and have never heard these things.” It’s just the simple message of grace, but it gets overshadowed by religion. Over time, I think the church has partially abandoned that message in favor of a list of do’s and don’ts to keep people in line.
But once people begin to hear about grace, they live out grace in their lives. I can’t tell you all the things that have happened because of this––from beginning an adoption ministry in our church, to answering the needs of foster kids in our community–– people putting their “yes” on the table with God and moving overseas to do ministry. It’s been incredible!
In addition, the edginess of the title has helped us reach many unchurched and de-churched people in our cities.
2. James 1:27 says “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” How do you reconcile that verse with the title of your book? Meaning, what type of religion are you saying Jesus hates?
That word for religion in James 1:27 appears only four times in the New Testament. Three of those times it’s negative, and James 1:27 is the only time it appears as a positive. But what James is saying is “Religion that is good looks like this…” In other words, religion can be good and helpful, but not always and not usually.
What I’m saying is this: let’s define terms and let’s look at religion in a certain way. I define religion as a man-made path to God. That means that many times we try to reach God on our own. But the truth is, we can’t.
3. In chapter two, you write:
“Christianity is not about being good. Good works have nothing to do with whether or not God accepts you. Yet religious leaders around the world are mobilizing armies of believers, who think that performing enough good works…is the only way for God to accept them.”
Why do you think this is so prevalent? Why does this phenomenon exist?
I think there are many reasons. I think one of the reasons is control. When religious leaders are the ones that decide what the lists are that everyone else has to live by, who has the control and who has power? That religious leader. There’s a fear that if you tell people this grace message and let people live their lives in grace instead of law, that they will choose to do the wrong things. But I’ve seen how people embrace grace and stop self-destructive behaviors and begin living God-honoring lives.
4. You make a distinction that works should be done “because” and not “so that.” Explain that a bit.
Going back to that passage on Religion in James 1:27. James says that, “Faith without works is dead.” But he’s not saying the opposite, that “Works without faith is alive.” He says that he can show you his faith through his works, but faith has to be there first. Which is the same argument that Paul makes in Galatians, that it’s not works that saves you, but faith. Religion is the idea that we can do enough good works to get on God’s good side. But it’s not our works that get us there – it’s God’s grace!
5. How can Christians protect themselves from slipping back into thinking we stand before God based on our works and not His works?
You know, that’s so very difficult. I’ll admit that. I think it’s our default behavior as humans to think we can do it on our own. Especially here in America where we have this sort of independent spirit, that we built this and did all of this by our own power. But that’s so far from the truth. We didn’t; God did! It really takes just saying that and believing that day by day. It takes being willing to raise our hand and say, “I can’t do it.” And that’s so difficult because it takes humility. But when we do that, when we daily tell God, “I can’t, but you can,” we start to see how he empowers us daily to live that type of life.
6. Many of the people who read my blog are pastors. How can pastors lead their congregations toward a right understanding of religiosity and grace?
The first step is to read the word of God, see how Jesus’ message is one of grace and not law, of relationship and not religion. He told us that his yoke is easy and his burden light (Matthew 11:30). That tells me that he wants us to just rest and relax and let him work through us – especially as pastors. It’s not all up to us. In fact, we will probably do more by accident when we live in intimacy with God than we could ever do on purpose living in our own strength.
For any Pastor who would like to take their church through the book, I will be happy to give them the sermon manuscripts I used along with any supporting material.
7. If you could condense the message of your book into one sentence, what would you say?
“Religion is a dead end because it’s us trying to work our way up to God when he’s already done all the work in coming down to us, so we should let him.”