FROM THE 'DEEP' END: Religion has a place … it’s just not first

Eric Partin
Eric Partin

Do you know what’s awesome about a great song? No matter how many times you hear it, there’s always something new you can appreciate. There are certain songs that I could have heard hundreds of times, but when I go back to listen to them I hear something I didn’t notice before and now I have one more thing to appreciate about it. That’s why there are some songs that just never get old to me.

When you look at the life of Jesus, His story kind of has the same effect. No matter how many times I go back and look through the gospels, I always seem to find a new perspective about His teachings. I come away with a new understanding of just what Jesus is like. One thing I recently noticed is actually in stark contrast to other people’s perception of God and of church.

Everybody has their own perception of God. Some are true, and others are false. Some people think that church is out to get your money, or that Christians are hypocrytical. They may even look at history and see something like the crusades and think “How could God ever be a part of this?”

But from what I’ve seen, one thing Jesus did in the gospels was constantly challenge people’s perception of God and often the most religious people of the day were His target. When I look at the life of Jesus, there is one thing that stands out to me more and more, and it’s that Jesus always put people over religion. Time and time again, religious leaders who thought they had the correct perception of God we’re challenged by Jesus. He didn’t challenge them on the laws of Moses or the 10 Commandments, He challenged them on how they treated people.

Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, He had dinner with people society looked down on and He defended people like thieves and adulterers. Why? There’s a story in the book of Mark that gives us a pretty good idea. One day Jesus and His disciples are walking through a field on the Sabbath and His disciples start picking off grain that’s around them to eat. A crowd of people are following them, including some religious leaders who are waiting for Jesus to make a mistake so they can dismiss Him. When they see the disciples picking grain, they accuse them of violating the Sabbath, a day when no one is supposed to work.  Jesus replies to their accusations with something that is profound:

“Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’ (Mark 2:27)

It’s a simple statement, but it says volumes about the character of God. Yes, God’s Laws are good and we benefit if we follow them, but in the tension that we often face between following rules and doing what’s best for someone, God falls on the side of Grace. When it comes down to it God cares more about people than He cares about His rules being followed.

Religion does have a place in our lives. It helps us answer questions and gives us some practical ways to make our lives better, but real life is unsystematic, inconsistent and messy. Sometimes life seems too complex to have everything answered with a bunch of rules. That’s why in Matthew Jesus boiled every commandment and rule down to just two that really clarifies what God’s heart is for us:

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-38)

When we put religion first over people, we ignore what God truly cares about — and that’s people’s hearts. He wants us to love Him and love each other and the rest is up to Him. Life isn’t always black and white, but He wants us to rely on Him through the messiness, not a list of rules. Religion really does have its place. And that place is second.

Pastor Eric Partin is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Destin and can be reached at ericpartin@shorelinechurch.net.