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Christianity Versus Religion An Overview

Study notes for sermon on August 1, 1999
By Pastor William R. Cunningham



What is your Christianity based on? Some may say on Jesus Christ. However, what does that mean? Sure we can give the politically correct answer or regurgitate the stuff that we hear in church but what do you say your Christianity is based on. I am reminded of an incidence in the Bible. Let’s take a look.

Mark 8:27-29 (NKJV) Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, "Who do men say that I am?" So they answered, "John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to Him, "You are the Christ."

Note that there are two things going on here that I want us to see. First Jesus asked the disciples what the people thought of him and then he asked what they thought of Him. We sometimes work in the same mode and in some cases we live our life based on the former. Sometimes we govern our lives not by the truth that we know, rather by the doctrine of someone else (right or wrong).

Consider another scripture as an illustration.

John 8:31-32 (NKJV) Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

What makes you free? Is it the truth of itself? No. It is the truth that you know that will free you. If the truth in itself freed us then all would be free. However, many are bound by sin or by a more formidable foe—Religion. Religion has caused a sub-culture in Christianity to flourish. This sub-culture is typically called Churchianity. Churchianity is a sweet poison that goes undetected until the truth is revealed and realized by the victim. If we would allow the Holy Spirit to teach us then we would discover that a lot of things that we believe and/or take for granted is truly unsupported in the scriptures.

We are going to discuss the difference between true Christianity and Churchianity. Hopefully you will begin to ask yourself questions about what and why you believe the things you believe. I hope that this lesson will cause you to pursue the truth of God’s word and govern your life by it. I pray that you will be released from the bonds of religion and Churchianity as you pursue the truth of Jesus Christ.


What is Christianity? What does it mean to be a Christian? What are the requirements to become a Christian and to remain a Christian? Let’s talk about these now. First of all, Christianity is not a religion though it is discussed many times in those terms. For simplicity we may say that it is a religion but it is not. First let’s define religion.


The word religion derives from a Latin word (religio) that means piety, conscientiousness, scrupulousness, from religare, to bind back: re-, and ligare, to bind, to bind together. Religion therefore implies some type of binding between you and something else. It is defined as

  • A belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.

  • A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.

  • The life or condition of a person in a religious order

  • A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader

  • A cause, a principle, or an activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion

So we see that religion refers not to Christianity in particular, rather it refers to a belief that comes from a set of rules that identify the religion. In this respect Christianity may be thought of as a religion because there are very definite boundaries that are present for the Christian. So you see that if your life is governed by religion then your life is bound to a system of belief and not necessarily Christ. Why is this so important to consider? It is important because your fulfillment in Christianity can only come by living the Christian life. Living the Christian life is realized when we know what that life is and do it. If our life is based on the doctrines of a church or a religious system of a church or individual then we cannot realize the fulfillment that comes by living as a Christian.

How often in the church community do you hear Christianity defined according to the teachings of Jesus Christ? How often do you hear the teachings of Jesus Christ in churches anyway? Typically, in my experiences, there is a lot of teaching on prosperity, speaking in tongues, believe you receive, faith, and all of the other stuff that you may be familiar with in the Charismatic and word of faith movements. It was surprising to me how little "press" was given to such topics as…

  • Jesus Christ

  • God

  • The teachings of Christ

  • The Gospel

  • The Christian life according to the scripture



True Christianity

The word Christianity is usually defined as being Christ-like. I laugh when I hear that sometimes because many people don’t know what Christ was like and therefore have no idea what Christianity really is. You may get many strange answers if you ask the average "Christian" who is Jesus Christ. Of course there is the text book answer—"He is the Son of God" But who is God? Now things begin to get a little quieter. It is very interesting because Jesus said that he and the Father are one and if you have seen him then you have seen the father (John 14:9, 10:30 respectively). They don’t realize that Jesus is the window, if you will, to God. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God to us. So if we want to describe God then all we have to do is describe Christ. Of course there are other revelations of God in the Bible that we can use as well.

Here is how the Holman Bible dictionary defines "Christian."

CHRISTIAN (khrihs' tyan) The Greek Christianos originally applied to the slaves belonging to a great household. It came to denote the adherents of an individual or party. A Christian is an adherent of Christ; one committed to Christ; a follower of Christ. The word is used three times in the New Testament. 1. Believers "were called Christians first in Antioch" because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ (Acts 11:26). A Christian is one who becomes an adherent of Christ (bound to the way of Christ), whose daily life and behavior facing adversity is like Christ.

The Eastman’s Bible Dictionary defines Christianity as follows.

The name given by the Greeks or Romans, probably in reproach, to the followers of Jesus. It was first used at Antioch. The names by which the disciples were known among themselves were "brethren," "the faithful," "elect," "saints," "believers." But as distinguishing them from the multitude without, the name "Christian" came into use, and was universally accepted. This name occurs but three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16).

Christianity is a way not a religion. It is a way of life. Christians are really identified by their daily activity as being the same as Christ. However, so many people don’t know Christ such that they don’t know what a true Christian is. Christians in the early church acted a certain way and the non-Christians recognized their activity as being one of Christ. Today what we call Christian was simply known as "The Way." Consider that Jesus Christ is the way (John 14:6). We also said that Christians were recognized by their way of life. The church in Antioch is the first place that the people who followed the Way were first called Christians because they were identified with their leader—Christ.

Who or what are you identified with? Will someone (Christian or non-Christian) get a glimpse of Christ or your Churchianity? Will others see you and see Christ or will they see all of the rules and regulations associated with your religion or denomination? How will people recognize Christ if we don’t reveal him? Christianity is more than church! It is the Way—of Christ. Jesus told us…

Matt. 11:28-30 (NKJV) Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

Who has the last word in your personal belief system? Does the word of God dictate what you believe pertaining to the Way or does your pastor, evangelist, or minister? Do you learn from Christ or from people? The only thing that people can do is reveal to you what God said. The only thing that I can do is tell you what I have learned. However, it is up to you to know the truth for yourself. How are you going to discern what is right (according to God’s word) if you don’t know what God said? Consider the following scripture.

1 John 2:27 (NKJV) But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.

This puts an emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit who will help us to discern the truth from all else. Consider the following scripture.

John 14:26 (NKJV) But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.

The Difference

The difference between religion and true Christianity is the foundation. Religion is founded on a system, which typically is composed of rules and regulations. Christianity is based on the teachings and activities of Jesus Christ. Religion is a method to govern your life and Christianity is a way of life. Christianity radiates and manifests itself from the inside of a person (soul) to the outside (lifestyle) whereas religion starts from the outside to cause an external operation. Is your faith based on Christ or is it based on someone else’s knowledge of Christ? How do you know? Do you know Christ or are you taking someone’s word for it.

Taking A Stand

True seekers will sooner or later be face to face with the enemy called religion. Sooner or later the seeker, that is the true disciple of Christ, will be toe to toe with someone who adheres to man’s system of operation. What is your faith based on? This simple question will reveal the true heart or intent of a person, at least in my opinion. Many people will quote their pastor, church cliché’s, or teachings of their favorite TV evangelist. Rarely will anyone actually have a doctrinal discussion with you based on his or her knowledge of the scriptures and the conclusions that they have developed based on that knowledge.

What will you do when confronted by Churchians? Will you stand or will you fight? Sometimes, I must admit, that running away is much better but sometimes fighting is in order (see Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). What do you talk about with other people? Do you discuss the revelation that you have received from the word of God or do you discuss what you learned at church last Sunday? Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of really good churches that focus on the word of God. These types of churches blessed me. However, from talking to other people, I have concluded that there are a lot of churches that do not focus on the word of God. Instead they focus on their own agenda and their own doctrine. I also experienced these types of churches.

The fight is not necessarily with the non-Christian. Sometimes your greatest battles are with professed Christians or deceived Christians. Sometimes church folk are so stuck in their ways that they violently reject anything that is different then what they hear in church. I recall once when a lady was upset with me when I told her about my using the New International Version of the Bible and my comments about the King James Version of the Bible. In her mind, the King James Version of the Bible was the official Christian Bible that was approved by God. She didn’t know the facts or the history of the Bible and therefore became bitter towards me because what I said differed or contradicted what she believed about the Bible (without knowledge I should add).

People become astonished when I tell them my thoughts (conclusions) about various topics. Some get offended and others get very religious towards me. However, I have to take a stand. Either I stand for what I believe based on the evidence that I have obtained and the revelation that I believe I received from God or I fall in a lie like so many other Churchians. Either I will live for the truth and the pursuit of it or I will live in a lie and wallow in it.

The Epistle to the Galatians

The Bible gives us many examples of religion as opposed to true Christianity. I recommend that you read and study the book of Galatians. Let me include an excerpt of my study on Galatians here for reference.

The Purpose of the Epistle

The purpose of this letter was to show the Galatian church that the Christian is justified by faith and not by works. The Judaizers were teaching new Christians that they had to abide by certain ceremonial practices in order to be saved. They believed that the Old Testament (OT) rites still applied to the New Testament church. The Judaizers were Jewish Christians, who believed, among other things, that a number of the ceremonial practices of the OT were still required for the church. The Judaizers challenged Paul's apostleship. They also charged that Paul was compromising the Gospel by taking out the OT rituals in order to make the gospel more appealing to the Gentiles.

Paul answers these allegations by establishing his apostleship and teaching them that Christians are justified by faith and not by following laws and traditions.


As we said in the background section, the Judaizers were teaching the new Christians that they had to abide by certain OT rites and traditions, mainly circumcision. The Gentiles were being deceived into this belief. Some may have gone as far as to practice those things that the Judaizers were telling them. Paul said that he was astonished that they were so quickly pulled away from the gospel that he preached to them. They were, according to Paul, deserting God by following a new gospel (a false gospel). See 2 Corinthians 11:4.


Paul says in verse seven that some people were throwing them into confusion. This confusion led them to believe another "gospel" which was not of Christ. What was the key ingredient of their conversion to another "gospel?" It was confusion. Their confusion put a cloud over the truth. If we know the truth and someone awakens our thought process so that we become confused, then the truth becomes less and less real to us until finally a lie can replace the truth in our minds. At that point we no longer have the truth but a lie and we don't even know it. If we can be led into the state of confusion then the environment has been set for us to be deceived.

If Satan can get the church in a state of confusion (uncertainty and doubt) then he can pull it away from God, which he has. If people are pulled away from God then they are pulled away from life and therefore remain in death. Satan did not waste any time during the time of the early church. He immediately planted his seeds of religion (false truth) into the minds of men. These men, because of the logic of it all, accepted the lie and died. They then perpetuated that death to people who may have even found the straight and narrow road causing them to die also. What do I mean by die? I mean that they were pulled away from God (his life) by religion or false truth. Please note that I am not discussing their salvation, rather that the life that they once had and the liberty that they experienced was superceded by a lie that bound them to religion and another way of life. In other words, the liberated people lived in cages.

Innocent Truth

There is no such thing as innocent truth per se. You cannot obtain life by believing a lie. If I am told that the speed limit on a certain road is 65 miles per hour and I do that, then I cannot plead innocence when the trooper stops me to give me a ticket because the speed limit was actually 55 miles per hour. I may be innocent relative to my ignorance but I am not innocent relative to the absolute truth. The same applies to God. I have to be one with him and any other way is a lie. I cannot live my entire life in the deception of religion and expect to go before God and plead innocence. I am not innocent because I believed a lie. Either you believe the absolute truth or you die. It is that simple. God gave us truth, namely Christ. We are responsible for knowing what God said and to reckon anything else as either speculation or a lie.

The Deception of Religion

Religion is stench in my nostrils. Religion is like going to a garbage pail filled with dead fish that sat for a week (I want you to know what I really think of religion so I have to be blunt). Going to some churches and talking to some people is like taking a deep breath of that garbage pail. The pitiful thing is that some people are taught and deceived into thinking that the stench from the garbage pail is good and they accept it as good. When they smell the sweet aroma of God, they perceive that as "stench." Do you see how deception works?

Religion is the greatest deception in the church today. Religion is the silent yet loud killer of people in the church today. Religion has deceived Christians into believing a lie. Religion says that you have to do this and that in order to get to God. Religion sets down a series of rules and regulations (laws) that you have to abide by in order to be saved. This form of godliness seems perfectly logical according to the mind. After all, in this world (which is governed by Satan and satanic forces), we have to put work into a thing in order to accomplish something. That is, whatever we do requires work. Religion tells us the same thing concerning our spiritual development. Religion says in order to get to God you have to work. Religion says that in order to be saved you have to work.

Deception to Salvation

How does all of this effect our salvation? Again, I believe that the church is deceived. I do not believe that repeating a prayer can save anyone. Salvation is of the heart not words that we speak. If these words come from our hearts then that is good. However, if the words that we speak come from the mind as mental ascent then we are deceived. When a person believes in their heart that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead and that Jesus died for our sins and receives that forgiveness from God then he/she is saved. Otherwise, the person is only playing word games. Therefore, it is possible for a person to think they are saved and yet be separated from God. However, if the church would do its part and lead people to Jesus then that person will eventually see the truth. However, if we do not seek God then we won't find the truth and therefore remain bound and dead.

Again, Satan has deceived us into thinking that salvation comes from a few words that we speak when in effect salvation comes from what's in the heart. Jesus said that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). This is why it is so important to know God for yourself so that you are less likely to be deceived by the enemy and become unfocused on God. As long as we are focused on God the better we are. I would dare say that salvation is clinging onto the truth since that is where salvation originates.

We are taught to believe that salvation is the process of making it into heaven and being forgiven of our sins. This, I believe is not salvation per se. Salvation is the process of being reconciled to God and conforming into the image of Christ. The greatest thing about salvation is that we are reconciled, joined together with, our heavenly father. Satan has even managed to cloud something as beautiful as that. We don't even think of God when we think of salvation. We think of our own selfish being. WE are saved. WE have been forgiven. WE are going to heaven. WE shall prosper and on and on and on. Do you see? Instead it should be more like GOD has accomplished his will because I am reconciled to my father.

Any Other Gospel Preached (1: 8)

If anyone preaches any other gospel then the one that is of Christ unto salvation then let him or her be cursed. Do not accept any other gospel than what you received from God. There are many doctrines and teachings that are not the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, how do you know who is telling the truth? How do you know which is the true gospel? You can only know that you are being told the truth if you know the truth yourself. Do you know the truth? Do you know Christ?

So Many Doctrines ("Gospels")

There are so many gospels in so many churches that it is almost mind boggling. One church believes this, another believes something else and still others believe the first two churches are going to die and go to hell. It seems that everyone is trying to reach God their own exclusive way and perpetuate the belief that their way is the only way (the bible says Jesus Christ is the way). The great problem with all of this is that you will be hard pressed to find a church or group of people that will teach you to seek God for yourself. They mostly teach you what their god is or who their god is. Typically the religions God is a tyrant or a genie. He is a religious tyrant because he has so many rules and regulations. He is a genie because all we have to do is believe he will give us whatever we ask for whenever we want it. So they say. Do you see? Some pastors, teachers, deacons, and the like try to force their god down your throat instead of showing Christ.

Every church seems to have their own doctrine whether women's and men's dress codes, belief about Jesus and God, belief about the Holy Spirit, belief about finances, etc. Why not just promote Jesus Christ? Why not just show people how to get to God and teach them the principles in the kingdom of God that you learned according to the bible. Why not share with people the revelations that you receive from God as that - your revelations. Then you can have constructive conversations where one or both parties are edified or corrected in their thinking.

Men Pleasers (1:10)

Paul says here that if he were trying to please men then he would not be a servant of Christ. How can I be a servant of Christ (Doing the will of God) if my motives are based on pleasing people? I can't do what God wants because God will go contrary to people's thoughts. Jesus said

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mam-mon" - Matthew 6:24

The word mammon does not mean money exclusively. It implies something that is your god that you serve. So either you will serve the true God or you will serve some other god. Therefore, if you are trying to please men (serve them to their satisfaction and delight) then you cannot please God.

Christ by Revelation (1:11 - 24)

Paul establishes the fact, in verse 11, that he received the Gospel of Christ by revelation from Jesus Christ and not from man. Though we do have preachers to expound or share the word of God with us, we should rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal the truths of God to us. We should not become dependant on man for our spiritual food but rather on God. Yes men will share what they have learned from the scriptures and their own revelations. However, we should always make it our business to receive revelation from the Holy Spirit who is our teacher.

If we rely on man for revelation of God and the kingdom of heaven then we are susceptible to believing whatever they believe and not what we receive from God. Their revelation may be something specific to them and we may apply it, or they may teach it, as though it was a general teaching to all people. The main principle that I am trying to get across here is to seek and know God for yourself.

The Foundation

The foundation of truth is Christ because Christ is the truth (John 14:6). A Christianity that is devoid of Christ is not true Christianity, rather Churchianity. The foundation of the Christian faith is Christ. The Christian must know what Christ taught and what Christ did so that we have a sure foundation of how to govern our own lives. Man’s religion or ways should not dictate our lives. Our lives must be dictated by the word of God if we profess to be real Christians. Not all that say that he or she is a Christian is indeed one. Consider Matthew 7:21-23. The heart and not outward appearance identify Christianity. Our righteous acts are insignificant (See Isaiah 64:6 and Matthew chapter 5-6).

You are not obligated to believe something that you don’t know to be true. However, you may give your pastor or another Bible teacher or preacher the benefit of the doubt. You may hold that what they say is probably true. However, you are still responsible for knowing the truth for yourself. The foundation of our faith is Christ and not religion. Do you know Christ or do you know your church or denomination’s religion? Know the truth—Know Christ and be liberated from the bondage imposed on you by religion.

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