Main Point: There is a big difference between Jesus and religion; one saves, and the other condemns. The key to life is being like Christ, not being religious.
Discussion Starter: Jesus is Greater Than Religion
A relatively new form of art called Spoken Word is captivating Christian circles. It’s basically “theology meets poetry.” Some of it is even reminiscent of modern rap (minus the negative references to women). It’s pretty cool, and easily sharable on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
In this video, a guy stands in front of a gothic style church and denounces religion in favor of Jesus. It’s a popular stance with young people today; after all, religion has been responsible for some awful events in our past.
But we have to be careful when understanding this video clip: religion is NOT the church, nor is it Christianity. Religion is the age old attempt of people trying to be good enough to please God. This guy does a good job of making that distinction. Take a look.
(The video is available on YouTube by clicking this link.)
You can think a number of things when watching that video clip. You might think it was cool, which it was. But hopefully, you thought it was true. You see, so many people today think Jesus = religion, but He doesn’t. In fact, just as this guy said, there is a big difference between Jesus and religion. Jesus saves us, while religion traps us. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to see the difference between the two. But what God wants for us is to be like Jesus, not religious. Let’s talk about that distinction for a few moments.
Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split up into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.
CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.
- AROUND THE CIRLCE: As we get started, let’s all take a second to share our names and our favorite line from the video.
- ASK A FEW: What do you think religion is all about? What is Jesus all about?
- ASK A FEW: In his opening words, this guy said, “Jesus came to abolish religion.” Do you think he’s right or wrong? Why?
- ASK A FEW: How do you tell the difference between Jesus and religion?
- ASK A FEW: What do you think he meant when he said, “Religion says do, Jesus says done.”
- ASK A FEW: Do you think God would agree with this guy in the video? Why or why not?
- ASK A FEW: What was the accusation Jesus levels at the “teachers of the law” and the “Pharisees” in this passage? (Hint: Verse 3)
- ASK A FEW: What were some of the examples Jesus gave to support His accusation?
- ASK A FEW: Does it surprise you that Jesus comes across so strongly in this passage? (And by the way, He goes on to level EVEN MORE serious accusations against them.)
- ASK A FEW: On the surface, it sounds like all these “teachers of the law” and “Pharisees” were doing the right things: teaching others, wearing Scripture, going to the synagogues, evangelism, etc. So, why do you think Jesus denounced them so strongly?
- ASK A FEW: According to this passage, do you think the “teachers of the law” and the “Pharisees” sound religious? Why or why not?
- ASK A FEW: In verse 5, Jesus says, “Everything they do is for show.” What does He mean by that?
- ASK A FEW: What do today’s people do that is “religious”?
- ASK A FEW: What is the outcome of being religious? What is the outcome of being like Jesus?
- AROUND THE CIRCLE: Are there any parts of your life that are religious? If so, what can be done to change that?
Read the following passage:
Matthew 23:1-15 (NLT)
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the Scriptures. 3 So practice and obey whatever they say to you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush you with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to help ease the burden. 5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear extra long tassels on their robes. 6 And how they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the most prominent seats in the synagogue! 7 They enjoy the attention they get on the streets, and they enjoy being called ‘Rabbi.’ 8 Don’t ever let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters. 9 And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. 10 And don’t let anyone call you ‘Master,’ for there is only one master, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. 13 “How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you won’t let others enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and you won’t go in yourselves. 14 15 Yes, how terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn him into twice the son of hell as you yourselves are.
That was a super cool clip we watched. I really like how the guy so eloquently worded a few things about our faith. Without a doubt, he gave us lots of good stuff to think about.
But so does Jesus.
In the passage we read, Jesus really comes across strongly. I know you discussed this question in your small group, but let me focus on this as we conclude tonight. The reason Jesus was so intent on exposing these guys as religious was because of their motives. They were “acting religious” to make others think more highly of themselves. Jesus tells us to simply be like Him…so others will think highly of His Father.
Take “giving” for example. Some people will only give to the church if the pastor names a building after them. That’s being religious. Others give in secret, without expecting anything in return, and that pleases God. God can then use that monetary gift to bless others.
By the way, the same thing can be said about prayer. Religious people want you to know they are praying all the time. They put it on Facebook, they volunteer to pray in front of others, and they might even use big words when they pray so others will think they are super spiritual or super smart. But Jesus wants us to pray humbly, in our closets, in fact!
So, the best way to know if what you’re doing is religious is to ask yourself who you’re doing it for. If your answer is “yourself,” then you are being religious. If it is to “look good in front of others,” then it is religion. But if it is for “Jesus,” then you are simply being a committed disciple.
Let’s spend some time in prayer asking God to purify our hearts so that what we do can be for Him and His glory, not our own.
Close in Prayer
Written by David R Smith
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.