Loving Jesus Religiously

February 13th, 2012

Last month spoken-word artist Jefferson Bethke posted a video on YouTube called “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.” The video (embedded below), in which Bethke rhymes about his thoughts on faith, was viewed more than 17 million times in its first three weeks. While the video features professional camerawork, its content is likely responsible for generating all the buzz. Bethke’s poem begins, “What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?” It then goes on to denounce religion and religious people as hollow, hypocritical, and missing the point. Bethke wraps up by assuring viewers that he loves the Bible and loves Jesus but that “Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums.”

YouTube recently announced it shows 4 billion videos every day. That is a lot of information being shared, with most of it posted by just regular folks with webcams and smart phones. Because of the daily traffic that YouTube receives, along with the ease of posting and embedding videos on blogs and social media sites, any video can go viral if the content is compelling enough. Bethke apparently struck a nerve with “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus,” and thousands of people continue to watch it every day.

Might He Have a Point?

There’s nothing unusual about someone being skeptical of organized religion. Recent years have seen church leaders covering up or ignoring allegations of abuse, false doomsday prophecies, and hateful protests at funerals by a group claiming to act in Jesus’ name. Too often these negative incidents overshadow the many positive things the church does and cast Christianity in an unfavorable light.

Religion is practiced by human beings, and human beings aren’t perfect. No one is capable of offering a Christlike response to every person in every situation. But Bethke identifies a deeper problem with how we practice religion. He says, “There’s a problem if people only know that you’re a Christian by your Facebook.” Maybe he doesn’t hate religion as much as he hates inauthenticity.

While it isn’t accurate to say that Jesus came to abolish religion, suggesting that Jesus wanted to abolish inauthenticity sounds right. When religious leaders rebuked Jesus for allowing his disciples to pull some wheat off the stalk on the sabbath, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). He also called Pharisees and legal experts hypocrites for paying so much attention to the details of law and doctrine but not acting to prevent cruelty and injustice.

Jesus Loves Authentic Religion

Jesus did not come “to abolish religion.” After all, he established the church (see Matthew 16:18). He is the one who broke the bread, passed the cup of wine, and instructed us to commune regularly in remembrance of his great sacrifice (see Luke 22:14-20). Jesus sent out his followers to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus taught us to pray the Lord’s Prayer and commanded us to “love each other just as” he has loved us (John 15:12). It was Jesus who asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).

Though he often clashed with religious leaders, Jesus embraced religion. When we express our love for Jesus by honoring him with our prayers, worship, and actions—when we do our best to follow his commandments and live by his example—we are practicing our religion. To claim a love for Jesus, but not put it into practice is inauthentic. Our faith assures us that we are forgiven for the times when we fall short, but it commands us to give our all in living as true disciples of Jesus Christ.


This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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