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Why you should forget religion and focus on Jesus instead

This is a guest post from my friend, Vishnu Virtues. You can connect with him at the end of this post. Enjoy!

If you’re one of 26 million people who watched this video, then you’re familiar with 23-year old Youtuber and now published author, Jefferson Bethke.

In his newly released book, Bethke follows up his viral online performance and continues the dialogue about how Christianity has gone astray.

He asks the hard questions of what it really means to follow Jesus.

Is it simply going to church every Sunday?

Is it listening to Christian music only on the radio?

Is it hanging out with-church-going people and the religious crowds?

Or exchanging Christmas gifts?

Hardly.

In fact, Bethke’s new book, Jesus > Religion, he  comes out swinging against feel-good Christianity and the commercialization of Jesus to the point that, “Jesus has been transformed to a newer, safer, sanitized and ineffectual one. The Jesus of today is a profitable and family-friendly one that is in the middle of a profitable marketing scheme.”

Bethke opens the book by writing that, “Jesus is so much greater than “don’t smoke, don’t drink and don’t have sex.”
In Jesus > Religion, Bethke delves into his background from a poor and trouble-causing church-kid to discovering the real Jesus in his early 20’s. In an easy to read and conversational tone, Bethke educates the new-believer and re-orients the longtime practicing Christian.

Bold, honest and with plain talk, Bethke questions the practice of today’s Christianity and calls us to rediscover, “the real Jesus who wants us to love Him and serve Him and not for what he gives but for who he is – dangerous, unpredictable, radical and amazing.”

Bethke rails against the rules and external behavior of misguided Christianity and reminds his readers to focus on Jesus’ grace instead.
Here are 3 primary lessons from Bethke’s book, Jesus > Religion.

1) Forget the rules and follow Jesus.

“Let’s stop trying to be perfect and righteous people because those are not the people God is looking for.” God, Bethe writes, is looking for people who can admit their needs and shortcomings in life. He’s looking for people who are vulnerable enough and honest enough to surrender themselves to their Savior.

So no need to get caught up in what it means to be a good Christian. Church worship, baptism, tithing, not cursing and other “Christian” behavior or practices are hardly as important as accepting Jesus into your life.

No need to check off boxes of activities that Christians are supposed to do.

Let’s drop the charade, or at least appearance of Christian behavior, and get back to accepting Jesus in our hearts.

“If you love him, he can and will use you,” Bethke reassures us.

2) God first.

Bethe writes that we get caught up in God’s blessings and gifts (material, physical, health and more) and says that many of us think of God as an “eternal dentist” that we can call on to fix problems as they arise in our life and to give us things we want.

In the process, we forget all about God. He reminds us to remember and worship God first. It’s not that we’ve each given God a go and become frustrated by God not working in our lives. To the contrary, we try to manipulate God to giving us what we want and when we don’t get it, we think God was absent in our time of need.

“Jesus suffered and exchanged places with us to bring us to God,” Bethke remarks, “not to bring us a new Bentley.”

We are inspired to seek God instead of what God has to offer.

Bethke reminds of St. Augustine’s prayer; “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Bethke goes on to share the following words of wisdom:

“Jesus doesn’t promise us worldly success; he promises himself.

Jesus doesn’t promise us riches; he promises a rich life in him.

Jesus doesn’t promise us easy lives; he promises to be with us.”

We are reminded that Jesus gives us something more than all of these temporal wants and desires. He gives us eternal salvation. All of our blessings are awaiting us in heaven.

s grace is given, not earned.

Bethke reminds us that we don’t have to do much at all to earn God’s grace. “We can’t earn God’s favor, no matter how hard we try. We will always come up short.”
He writes that there is no point in trying to be God’s son or daughter, when we already are. And like our own parents, we don’t have to earn a relationship with Him. “There is no earning when it comes to being a child. You simply are.”

God is willing to offer His grace; we just need to trust God and accept it.

He automatically takes us into his family and tells us “we’re home” regardless of our troubles, struggles or transgressions. He’ll always be there for us.

To accept God’s grace, we allow him to see our most hidden parts, our faults and misgivings.

“When we expose ourselves and are completely vulnerable, we lose control but gain joy and freedom. No matter what your sin is, nothing is outside of grace,” Bethke writes.
We may be fed up and disillusioned because of religion, not because of Jesus.
Bethke’s book will flip your world view of the happy-go-lucky church life and inspire you to strengthen your relationship with Christ.
He suggests dropping the “Christian show” we feel compelled to put on through external behavior and practices, and instead create a stronger bond with Jesus in our lives.
Forget the gifts, focus on God. Forget the physical comforts and be grateful for the spiritual ones.

And finally, remember that you don’t have to earn or win God’s grace. You have it. Now. Live your life by having a relationship with God. Allow God into your heart and to be a part of your daily life.

Question: Do you think Christianity has focused too much on all the wrong things: behavior, church attendance and external appearances? Is it time to refocus our lives on Jesus?

Vishnu writes about self-improvement, coming back from setbacks and spiritual matters at www.vishnusvirtues.com. You can check out his ebook, Is God Listening? here: http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/is-god-listening/

 You can connect with him here:

Twitter: @vishnusvirtues   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vishnus.virtues

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  • http://danblackonleadership.com/ Dan Black

    Jesus > Religion sounds like a great book.

    Amazing post, I think many Christians (I’ve done it in the past) focus more on the outward things like church attendance, looking good, and serving while overlooking the most important element, a close relationships with Jesus.

    • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

      Thanks Dan, as a new believer, this video + book was an eye-opener and reminder of what really matters in the Christian faith. Not the external things we think that do. I’m inspired!

      • http://danblackonleadership.com/ Dan Black

        Glad to see your a new believer:) Excited for you.

  • http://sukofamily.org/ Caleb

    Great book! I read it right away back in October when it came out and appreciated Jeff’s focus on Jesus rather than just following a list of do’s and don’ts.

    • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

      Thanks Caleb. I saw the video awhile back but just read the book recently. I love the plain-talk and realness of Jeff’s message. It was an inspiring and honest read.

  • http://intentionaltoday.com/ Ngina Otiende

    It’s interesting reading this Vishnu, cos I’ve been thinking about it after listening to a sermon along same lines. Completely agree with the Author that we don’t do things to earn God’s love or be in His good books .
    But I do think however that we’ll find ourselves doing some of the things that have been labeled as “man-made-rules” Because we love God and have been changed. Not to earn love, but because we love.
    Haven’t read the book by the way! Just some of the things that came to me as i read your thoughts on it. But wonderful thoughts all the same.

    • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

      Hi Ngina – I definitely understand where you’re coming from and maybe it has to do with intention (as you’re inferring). And I think if the underlying intention is that we love God and have been changed, then we are free to express that love for God in a number of ways. I think the book was more of a reminder to people who are simply following the rules without understanding why they do what they do and without first first focusing on their relationship on God. Thank you for your comment – I know you will enjoy this book when you get to it :)

    • http://www.reflectionsfromthealley.org/ Dave Arnold

      I agree with Vishnu (and you Ngina). I thought of the book of James when’s read the comment and how faith without works is dead.

  • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TCAvey

    This sounds like a great book- I’ll have to check it out more.

    I think you’ve hit on some really important topics. I’ve known many Christians who focus on the wrong things and in the process they begin trusting in a religion instead of a Savior. This makes the world view those who call themselves Christians with skepticism.
    To be Salt and Light, we can’t be phoney. The world can tell true light from shades of darkness.

    • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

      Thanks for your comment. As someone who is new to the faith, this book was both a great wake-up call and reminder to me to not focus on the superficial parts of the religion but on the relationship with the Savior. Yes, we do have trust in Christ and strengthen that relationship for the skeptics but more importantly, for ourselves. Appreciate your comment and thoughts – do check out the book!

      • http://www.reflectionsfromthealley.org/ Dave Arnold

        I need to check out the book, too. I’m familiar with the author a bit. Great post Vishnu! I so appreciate you sharing and your heart.

        • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

          Thanks again for the opportunity to share this book and guest post here, Dave.

          • http://www.reflectionsfromthealley.org/ Dave Arnold

            Thank you!

    • http://www.reflectionsfromthealley.org/ Dave Arnold

      Great point TC! Looking forward to your guest post next week.

      • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TCAvey

        Thanks for the opportunity!

  • http://www.leadtoimpact.com/ Bernard Haynes

    Good post. I will have to pick up this book. In my over 20 years of serving in the local church I have seen Christians get way off course because we get entangled with religion instead of relationship. Religion involves the activities and relationship involves a genuine love for Christ. Religion centers on doing and relationship centers on Christ. Religion is about what we can do. Relationship is about who He is.

    We have gotten caught up in the commercialized Jesus rather than the Jesus of scriptures. If we are intent on having a relationship with Christ then we will start to live differently. Ephesians 2:8-9 says it best, ‘it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.

    • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

      hi Bernard, thank you for this comment and reflection. You said it very well – the book is an inspiration to focus on relationship instead of religion. And to inspire us not only to be a Christian on church days but everyday.

    • http://www.reflectionsfromthealley.org/ Dave Arnold

      Great addition of Ephesians, Bernard. I’m currently studying that book.

  • Dan Erickson

    Grace is given, not earned about says it all. The church I attend has a huge emphasis on grace. I do thin the church creates separation. Good-bad, right-wrong, sin-salvation, gay-straight, etc.

    • http://www.reflectionsfromthealley.org/ Dave Arnold

      Well said, Dan. Thanks for sharing.