Crossroads: Religion and faith

Preacher: Reverend Phil Zamagias, Christ Church Anglican, Echuca. Photo by Contributed

I may be an ordained Anglican priest — but I’m not religious.

How does that work? Religion can be a pattern of behaviour or practice, which people adopt as a habit. The recent ABS statistics have sparked some interesting commentary about religion, as for the first time they show fewer than 50 per cent of Australians identify as Christians.

While there are all sorts of conclusions that can be drawn from that statistic, I would suggest that religion is not the same as faith. Australians are as religious now as they have ever been. The difference is in how they practise their religion.

We often hear comments like “He plays golf religiously every Monday, Wednesday and Friday” or “She goes for a jog religiously every day”. Whatever we uphold as important, and do regularly, can become a religious observance. Humanism is becoming our society’s religion of choice because it puts the individual above all else.

In the Old Testament, we see that the people of God did their religious duty by taking animals to the temple to be offered as sacrifices for their sins. They did it religiously. It was their duty.

Far from being the cure for the problem of humanity’s disobedience (sin) against God, the sacrifices showed the severity of the situation. Sin has consequences and needs to be atoned (paid) for.

By the time Jesus entered the world’s stage, those who knew their scriptures were expecting the Messiah to come and set things right again — once and for all. Jesus did that by being the one true sacrifice for sin. He was the only perfect sacrifice that could pay the price for the sin of the world.

Having done that, Jesus made the way back to God possible for us through faith, not works. We can’t add to or subtract anything from his saving work on the cross.

So, rather than being religious, I prefer to be known as a person of faith because I am not relying on my own ‘goodness’ or the good things I do to make me more acceptable to God. Jesus has declared me righteous because of his righteousness, which I have appropriated by faith.

It’s not a blind faith like that we might exercise when we hope we will win the lottery. On the contrary, it is grounded in the historical death and resurrection of God’s own Son. The evidence is overwhelming and yet it still requires humility to come before God and acknowledge that life is not primarily about us. It is about giving God his worth (that’s where the word worship comes from).

The appropriate response from humanity to God’s amazing grace is to acknowledge his rightful rule of our lives and therefore live our lives in loving obedience — not religious duty. In one of its most famous prayers, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer addresses God, ‘Whose service is perfect freedom’.

It’s not surprising that people are dissatisfied with mere religion — any religion — because it doesn’t address the basic human need of relationship with the creator. Christianity offers a relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ, his son. Don’t settle for less.

— Reverend Phil Zamagias, Christ Church Anglican, Echuca