Religion Vs. Following Jesus
The concept of religion, as we now understand the word, is an 18th century philosophic idea that relates to a system of beliefs coupled with a moral code that collectively promise a pleasant eternal future for adherents. Christianity has since then become a religion, but was originally simply a group of diverse people following Jesus.
One cannot legitimately separate belief in Jesus from following Jesus. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Were we gathered at a post-pandemic dinner party with 60 other guests in a prominent home only to smell smoke and realize the house was on fire, it would behoove us to follow the one who knows the way to safety. To sit on the sofa professing an intellectual belief that the owner does indeed know the best route of escape, yet not follow her, would be foolish. To really believe is to follow.
Following Jesus, at least for the first three centuries, meant living out what Jesus taught. It meant accepting that Jesus is the Creator God, the Jewish Messiah, the King of the universe, the embodiment of YHWH, and, as a result of that acceptance, doing what he said to do. Things like turning the other cheek, living a simple generous life, going the second mile, taking the role of a servant, loving one’s enemies, forgiving those who offend, preferring others over self, forever laying down the sword, refusing to participate in killing of any sort, caring for creation with all its creatures, and caring for the incarcerated, homeless, bereaved, abused, and ill come to mind.