Words mean things. If you tell someone (especially a child) that in a few days you will do something, and then you do not do that thing, you will gain something, perhaps—freedom to do whatever you like no matter what you say—but you will lose something else—you will lose the trust of others into keeping your word. You will be someone who talks but does not act. That might work for you—the world is a wide and wonderful place—but for most people, we’ve learned that if we promise to do something, then we need to do it, or explain why it is we didn’t.
When we talk about “religion” we mean something by that. We mean a way of living and thinking, a set of beliefs and a set of behaviors. Religion means “to be bound,” and that binding is done by how we behave—depending upon our religion, we might get up early on meeting on a Friday, a Saturday, or a Sunday; we might refrain from eating certain foods; we might avoid using certain words or consuming certain forms of entertainment.
Religion binds. That’s not a bad thing by itself. We bind ourselves to certain behaviors and choices all the time based upon our own choices. When we marry, we bind ourselves to one other person. When we take a job, we bind ourselves to our employer. When we go to school, we bind ourselves to learn and incorporate knowledge.
Christianity is a religion. Christianity also binds. That’s a neutral thing, really. You bind yourself, by your choice, to a set of beliefs and behaviors. You make that choice based upon that thing in yourself that decides God is real and his son’s action make certain things possible—access to God, freedom from sin, and so on.
Here is the problem: Christianity can become like all other religions when it becomes only a set of behaviors and beliefs. We might think we have fewer of those bindings than other religions—maybe we don’t have to wear certain clothes or avoid certain foods. Maybe we think we fit in better with other people because we don’t have to have anything in particular that distinguishes us.
Well, all that’s good, I suppose, that we don’t have as many rules. That’s a topic for another essay. The thing is, the issue of the rules and regulations, beliefs and binding are the wrong thing to think of. Yes, if you want a list of things to do, Christianity will provide that, and you will get more rules, the number depending upon the church you go to.
What make Christianity different is not that there are no rules or that there are different rules. It’s that Christians believe God was in Jesus in a way unlike any other man or woman; now that Christ has risen, God is in Christians in a way unlike any other man or woman who is not a believer. Christians believe (and I hope, experience) the presence and power of God in their lives. Christians believe that by the means of the Holy Spirit we have the resurrected Christ living in us.
I hope that doesn’t come across as yet another belief, as something you simply put into your quiver as an arrow to pull out when someone asks you “What makes Christianity different?” but that you never otherwise find useful. (I don’t have much use for arrows in my day-to-day life.)
Religion by itself binds. Christianity, which can be summarized as “Christ in you,” sets free.