You ask: Is Christianity a religion or a way of life?
The simple answer is: Christianity is both a religion and a way of life. Webster’s dictionary defines religion as “the worship of God, or gods; faith; system of beliefs.” So, every person, by this definition, follows a religion, and that religion is a way of life. A person’s religion or belief system will determine one’s purpose in life, values, desires, affections, what he believes is true, and what will make him happiest.
In other words, every person lives and thinks according to his religion. The apostle Paul writes to the Roman Christians, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers; by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom. 12:1–3). In these verses we have one of the most important statements in all of Scripture to help us understand Christianity as a religion and as a way of life. In these verses Paul describes the Christian life and its motives, that is, what persuades us to live the Christian life. So here, apostle Paul shows us the essential difference between Christianity on one hand and all ethical systems and religious beliefs on the other hand.
But why is this important? It is important because there are many people—perhaps even most people—who are concerned about living a good life and believe that it does not really matter very much what people believe, as long as they live a good life. But if all that matters is that one lives a good life, then we might as well scrap the Christian Bible and consider the Person of Jesus Christ (the eternal Son of God), his ministry, death and resurrection as of little or no importance.
But Christianity is not just about a “good life.” It is not just my finding what I think is the “moral” thing to do. It is not my subjectively deciding what is “truth.” Christianity is not hoping that by doing “good,” by living a moral life, when I die I will go to heaven. There can be no true peace or happiness in that, because I can never know that I have lived a good enough life. And if you believe that God is holy and believe that you will stand before him in eternity to be judged, what hope do you have to enter heaven? The Bible says, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Furthermore, there is the problem of past sins. What about them? How are they to be dealt with? So how can anyone stand before God and hope to enter in heaven? Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He means that he does not merely show the way (for instance, to a “good life”), but that he is himself the way, the truth and the life. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God in the flesh, truly God and truly man, two natures in one person. Because he is God, and therefore without sin, he is the perfect sacrifice for sin. That is, God the Father accepted his shed blood as the perfect sacrifice for sin for all who repent (grieve over their sins and desire to turn from sin) and by faith believe that Christ laid down his life for all their sin. And because he is a man (true flesh) he, in his death upon the cross, took upon himself the punishment that we deserve for our sins. Therefore, the Lord Jesus Christ is the way to God; all truth is in him, in his person as a man, his teaching, and in him is eternal life.
So what’s the point? What’s the lesson? The Christian religion is all about the Lord Jesus Christ. It is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only mediator between a holy God and sinners. So Jesus is in the Bible called Savior and Redeemer because he saves from sin. He is called the Lamb of God, because he gave himself as a blood sacrifice for sin, because we deserve death for our sin. He is called the “Bread of Life” because as bread sustains our human, earthly lives, so Jesus gives eternal life. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.… For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:35, 40).
So Christianity is faith in Christ. It is believing God’s word, the Bible, that we are justified through faith in Christ Jesus. You and I stand before God as sinners. No one can earn salvation, heaven and eternal life through good works because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by his grace through the redeemption which is in Christ Jesus.” We can stand before our Holy God only as our sins are forgiven, by faith in Christ’s shed blood as the perfect sacrifice for sin, as we repent of our sins and as we place our faith in Christ’s perfect obedience to the law of God on our behalf.
So Christianity is a religion but also a way of life. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:21). He also said, “If anyone wishes to some after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). The apostle Paul says, “… you have been bought with a price [the shed blood of Christ for sin]: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).
I hope that his is a help to you. Please feel free to contact me if you have any other questions.
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