“Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” Commentary

Two days ago, I posted the new Jefferson Bethke spoken-word video, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus”.  Ever since, my blog traffic has sky rocketed – which is sweet.  Everyone is watching this video; just look at your recent Facebook news feed.  And while people are watching it, many are also fighting about it (via blogs).  The debate, it seems, stems from the word “religion”, Bethke’s use of it, and the fact that his “gospel message” is flawed.

But is Jefferson really wrong here?  I don’t think so.  Here’s my two cents.

The word “religion”

No one should argue that Jesus didn’t uphold the law.  He did.  Take Matthew 5-7 for instance.  Jesus makes a bold statement at the beginning of His sermon:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20

For an in-depth look at this passage, read this excellent article by Robin Brace.  Here we read Jesus upholding the validity of the Old Testament (The Law).  He spoke it into existence, and He is calling for His followers to continue upholding it.  However, He challenges them (and us) to go further than just “being good.”  This is the main reason for His sermon in Matthew 5-7, to explain the deeper meaning of what God spoke so long ago.  It wasn’t enough that they kept the law, but that their hearts and lives were transformed by the Spirit (i.e. stop hating one another, stop lusting, stop arguing, seek reconciliation, live as examples, etc).

So, yes, Jesus upheld the Law.  We should uphold the Law.  Without it, Paul says, we don’t know we’re doing wrong actions.  However, the Law does not bring Salvation; it brings us to Christ, who has paid our Salvation.  The Law doesn’t save us, it condemns us; Christ saves us and redeems us as a new creation.

(Read the following verses: Galatians 3:10-11; Galatians 5:3; Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:8-16; Galatians 3:1-5; Galatians 4:1-7; Romans 4:13-15; Romans 5:20-21; Romans 7:7-12.)

Christ is after heart modification, not just behavior modification.  And that’s what He means about our righteousness surpassing that of the Pharisees.  They knew God’s word, and they strived to uphold God’s Law daily.  The problem was, the religious leaders, though Godly, were very legalistic in their living.  Anyone who didn’t follow their exact example – not so much God’s but theirs – was tossed aside as a sinner and damned to hell.  Christ came to turn things around – namely people’s mindsets and hearts.  He came to destroy the legalism of the Law, and to bring us back to what God first initiated: a relationship.

While the Law brings us to awareness, legalism binds us in chains.  While religion is good, religious duty doesn’t save us.  Yes, our relationship with Christ – our faith – is evidenced by the fruit we bare (John 15, the Book of James), but our works do not “one-up” what Christ has already done.

This is the point, I believe, Jefferson Bethke is trying to make in his video.

The Overall Message

One of my favorite parables of Jesus is found in Luke 18:9-14, The Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  Jesus describes a scene at the Temple, during worship, that involved a “Christian” and a “non-Christian” – or a “self-righteous-Christian” and a “still-sinning-Christian,” take your pick.  The story revolves around their prayer/worship to God.  One boasts himself up before God as being the prize Christian.  The other humbles himself before God, acknowledges his need for God, and asks for new mercy.  Jesus ends the story by saying the sinner was the righteous one, while the other was not.

Here’s a true-modern example of this story.  A teen is seen at church with an “un-Christian” t-shirt (it involves a skull and bones).  A member of the church comments to a group, “What does he have on?  Why are kids like him in this church?”  This actually happened more than once.  One was trying to grow in his relationship with Jesus, and one was worried about the outer appearance of another and what others would think.

One gives example of what Jesus came to establish, and one gives example of what Jesus came to change.

Maybe a better word Bethke and others (like myself) should use is “religious-legalism.”  After all, legalism is what we’re talking about here, not the faith and practice of our relationship with Christ.  Bethke is calling out the legalism that still exists in the Church today, and he should – we all should.  Legalism has no place in religion.  It has no place in our relationships with Jesus and others.

Bethke, like myself, loves the Bride of Christ.  We want to see the Body of Christ transformed into what it should be, according to scripture.  No one is saying “Let’s throw it all out,” rather we’re saying, “Let’s get rid of legalism and bring back the Law of Christ.  Let’s move past just being good and let’s be transformed by the Presence and Spirit of God!”

What’s to argue about this message?

Further reading: Jesus and the Law, and How Jesus Used Religion to Destroy the Power of Religion.  Both pieces are from Robin Brace.

Additionally, read this review of the video by Tullian Tchividjian, Religion and the Gospel.

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14 responses to ““Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” Commentary

  1. I completely agree with what you’ve said here. I watched the video and loved it, but some of the terminology bothered me because it wasn’t quite specific enough. Thanks for posting.

  2. Jefferson Bethke posted this message on his facebook wall:

    If you are using my video to bash “the church” be careful. I was in no way intending to do that. My heart came from trying to highlight and expose legalism and hypocrisy. The Church is Jesus’ bride so be careful how you speak of His wife. If a normal dude has right to get pissed when you bash His wife, it makes me tremble to think how great the weight is when we do it to Jesus’ wife. The church is His vehicle to reach a lost word. A hospital for sinners. Saying you love Jesus but hate the Church, is like a fiancé saying he loves his future bride, but hates her kids. We are all under grace. Look to Him.

    I think it’s safe to say that his video is not “unbiblical” but a heartfelt message to spur the church on in “love and good deeds” – Hebrews 10:24.

  3. I love it.

    I tried to explain the video in my blog here: http://greyskeilrainbow.wordpress.com
    but I couldn’t seem to explain it like you do. Swell job!

    I’ve looked at the comments section of the video, and every other second there’s a new comment coming. A lot of them who disbelieve in God, but there are questions that aren’t answered properly… your commentary will help spread out the word a lot. Hallelujah!

  4. Pingback: “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” Commentary | Greyskeil Rainbow·

  5. Perhaps I could note that the idea of Jesus upholding the law does not seem (to me, anyway) to be quite as simple as the words he uses in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.

    For instance, later in the sermon, he actually contradicts two points of the law: instead of practicing proportional punishment (“eye for an eye”) we should “turn the other cheek”. And, instead of hating our enemies, we should love them.

    Moreover, Paul speaks out against following the law. In his letter to the Galatians, for instance, he says “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (Galatians 3:23-25.)

    He says the same thing to the Ephesians: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.” (Ephesians 2:14-15).

    And, finally, the author of Hebrews writes “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.” (Hebrews 7:11-12.)

    My review of this matter suggests that the Mosaic Law is not *required* by Christians, but it isn’t outright condemned either. In short, following the law is a commendable exercise, but it isn’t strictly necessary.

    (It is disturbing that Jesus did not come out and condemn the more barbaric aspects of the law, but that is another topic entirely.)

    • Hey Keith – thanks for stopping by.

      I think the overall point that Jefferson, Jesus, and Paul were getting at, is that the law cannot save anyone. Of course, the law in the OT was broken into basically two parts: ceremonial and moral. The moral law, which Jesus did uphold, is for all people – Jews and Gentiles (Christians). The ceremonial laws were fulfilled by the death of Jesus, to which we are no longer held to (the point Galatians makes).

  6. I think what he means by this, is that Christians don’t have to worry about getting into God’s good graces because Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for them and released them from that duty. As he says in the video “Because when Jesus said IT IS FINISHED,Romans 8:2 – He died for our(christian) sins. Just believe that he died for sins and they are saved. That is nothing less then organized-atheism.

  7. Finious:

    “That is nothing less then organized-atheism.”

    I’m sure how you arrive at this idea: atheists don’t believe in any of the supernatural Christian doctrines, including the idea that a divine being died for their sins, and that they need saving in the first place.

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