I have belonged to a certain religion all of my life, but I don’t want to go back because some people there won’t take “no” for an answer. This bothers me a lot. To have a healthy relationship with God is it necessary to belong to a specific religion?

Dear Friend,

Religious groups and churches are sometimes not very different from many clubs, organizations, or sports’ teams. There are members who would die for what their group stands for, but sadly there are others who belong to the group so that they can be in close proximity to people that they want to exploit in some manner, such as through a financial scheme or even sexual abuse. At the same time, there are other sincere and honorable people who belong to the same group because it is the tradition of their families, or because it is good for their social standing.

However, though there are sincere people who belong to almost every religion, neither joining a religion nor following religious traditions are the ways to know God. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, warned His disciples about the religion of the religious leaders of His time. His greatest indictment of them was that while they were careful to follow even the most insignificant of the laws, their hearts were full of greed and wickedness.(1)

Jesus was expanding on what God, His Father, had told the prophet, Samuel, more than a thousand years before: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”(2) To put it another way, people will judge you by the things you do, but God judges you by what is in your heart.

You might respond: “Hey! That’s a problem. I’m not perfect. I tend to have anger, impatience, revenge, envy, and pride in my heart. If God judges me by all that, I am doomed!” But we would then say: “Yes, you are doomed, but so are we. None of us have perfectly pure thoughts and motives.”

However, hope is not lost! Christ already took the punishment for all of our impurity. He paid the penalty that you owed and that we owed. And He has the gift of forgiveness ready to give us, but we have to reach out and take it. When we acknowledge to God in prayer that our hearts are not pure and that we need His forgiveness, He responds by declaring that we are “not guilty.”(3)

After we have been forgiven, we naturally will want to let God guide us and show us the plan that He already has for our lives. By praying and reading the Bible, we come to know God and learn to hear from Him. And we seek to join together with other people who have also been forgiven, so that we can learn together and encourage one another. We might meet in someone’s patio, at the kitchen table, or in a church. The specific place doesn’t matter. What matters is that we strive to know God better every day and that we let Him lead us.

We wish you well,

1 Lk 11:39
2 1Sa 16:7
3 Ro 5:16; 8:33 (GNT)