A radio ad for a church caught my attention: “Because you’ve heard about Christianity, you might not be interested in religion. Well, it might surprise you—Jesus wasn’t interested in religion either. But He was big on relationship and teaching us to love one another.” It continued, “You may not like everything about our church, but we offer authentic relationship, and we’re learning to love God and each other. You’re welcome to visit.”
This church may have overstated things about Jesus and religion because Scripture does speak of “true religion” in James 1:27 as helpful deeds toward others. But Jesus did have difficulties with religious people of His day. He said the Pharisees, guided by tradition and rules not by love for the Lord, “outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside [they] are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:28). They didn’t have the love of God in their hearts (John 5:42). Jesus wanted relationship with them, but they were “not willing to come to [Him]” (v.40).
If being “religious” means following a set of rules so we can look good—instead of enjoying a relationship with the Savior—Jesus isn’t interested. He offers forgiveness and love to all who want an intimate relationship with Him.