Is religion the same thing as faith? This is a question that’s been lingering in my mind for some time. Through this writing I’d like to share the definitions of religion and faith in my mind frame, a frame which can be against or approved by other people. I’m not going to talk about literal definitions, or quote what other people say about them. Our opinions may differ one from another, and that’s a fact of life. Life indeed is filled with differences in personal backgrounds, mindsets, and our agreement to disagree with each other.
To me personally, religion is not the same thing with faith. Since I was a kid I knew what religion I’m following, a religion which was plastered to me ever since I was born. I kind of accepted that system because I thought that’s how things worked in my country, Indonesia. Long before a baby can talk, he or she already has a label and is segregated into group of people to which he or she belongs. I went to Christian schools from kindergarten to junior high, and it was in sync with the education at home and the religious activities upheld by my Christian family. At home, at school, and at church, I was surrounded by the knowledge of Christianity. I called it a mere knowledge because at that time reading the Bible was considered of the same value with reading textbooks from other subjects. I was told to memorize a part/a verse/a phrase/a book, I would undergo examinations to determine whether I’d remembered it well, I would be told if I passed or not, and I would be given rank relatively to what other students achieved in the subject of Religion. That’s what happened when Religion was one of the myriad of subjects taught at the schools I attended.
When I was in junior high, I started to learn The Apostles’ Creed which is cited every time the Sunday service is about to end. The Apostles’ Creed has the following sentences:
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Church of the Holy and Am
Communion of Saints
Remission of sins
Resurrection of body
And eternal life
And every time I read about “resurrection of body and eternal life” I had this fear that I was not allowed to take part in it.
Those junior high school years were the years of rebellion and search for personal identity. Amidst the flooding knowledge I had about Christianity, I began to search for the faith I was going to choose and follow. Who owns my life? Who placed me in this certain era with these certain people? What should I be doing as long as I live? Where will I go after I die? Birth to me is as mysterious as death. I didn’t have any power to decide when, where, and around who I was born, and I also can’t decide (within natural death context) when, where, and around who I will die someday. The time I’m spending on this earth is also full of mysteries, with events beyond my will and my power to control. Those questions became my foundation in search for my faith.
The questions I had as a teenager could be concluded into two:
- where did I come from,
- and where will I go after I die?
Ever since I chose my faith, reading the Bible was not a mere obligation to get good grade in the Religion subject. The grace of salvation had been working even before I decided whom to believe. Memorizing those books in the Bible for about nine years, more or less, had prepared my heart and my conscience to accept the eternal seeds of God’s Words (for every Word spread will not return in vain).
After I chose my faith, I was faced with the following question, to which group/doctrine in the Christianity did I belong to? At that point I started to see the underlying differences between religion and faith.
Faith is about a personal relationship between the Creator and me as His creation, with the degree of intimacy which is beyond words and impossible to be experienced by other people in the same way. Religion, on the other hand, is about a group of people, with their identical rituals and routines, and certain point of views towards other groups of people. Faith focuses on the Creator and what He wants from me as His creation. I see religion as a separator, a wall which says “this is me” and “that is not me”.
My parents are the members of Lutheran church (referring to the initial reformation by Martin Luther). Ever since I had Christian faith, I had entered, learned, and drawn conclusions from the other churches with their varying doctrines. I was very confused because of the varying interpretations of the Bible and the rituals to worship our God. It is undeniable that the Bible with the news of salvation it contains is the only written guide which was left by the faith of Christianity, existing for more than 2000 years. Human’s understanding can change, religious leader will be replaced, and it is very unwise to depend one’s faith on other human being who will die someday. At the end I chose to attend the church with reformed doctrine, because they aim to return the foundation of church according to the Bible. The texts in the Bible are studied not only by their translations, but also by the syntax of sentences from the original languages used to write them (Hebrew for The Old Testament, and Greek for the New Testament), in regards of the context of the time during which the texts were written. In the reformed doctrine I see the Bible acting as a mirror which tells me the reasons why I’m here, the characters I should possess as His creation, and the place I will go to after I die. If I stick to my narrow definition of a religion, most likely I’ll have a defensive attitude regarding my own group and the truth we believe in, and a very inconsiderate attitude toward other group and their perceived truth. To me personally, the truth lies in the Bible, the book which was written by the inspiration from the Holy Spirit to reveal mistake, to correct attitude, and to educate people in real truth. That is the truth I’m holding on to as a compass to my life.
After I draw a firm line between religion and faith I believe in, I’m never bothered by the groups of other religions which have the same labels or not with the group of religion stated in every identity card I have. I believe that salvation is only by grace; there is no good deed I do that I can use as a bribe to my Creator to make Him save me. Salvation is started by a realization that human is sinful and has lost his relationship with God. Even when human is idle and not doing anything particular, he can commit a sin through his mind. The realization that human cannot erase his sin through billions of good deeds will lead to the need for salvation for every human soul. To me personally, my salvation is by grace alone from my God, Jesus Christ. Ever since I was in high school up to now, people often ask me why Christians have three gods, why the gods of the Christians have descendant. To which I did and will always reply that I will still believe in my God who has granted me salvation and faith, regardless how many personalities He possesses. Faith and salvation are sometimes hard to explain by ratio and logic, but I know that I have to always use my ratio and logic as long as I live on this earth.
I have faith in two most important laws: 1) to love my God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my understanding, and 2) to love other human being like I love myself. Love our Creator and always have a grateful heart for the time granted to us to live and make something out of this life, and to treat other people just as we want other people to treat us. These two laws are the basic foundations of my faith, not a group of people with every possible distortion they might cause because of their lack of learning and knowledge.
Happy Sunday to all brothers and sisters who share the same faith in Jesus Christ.