I often get a lot of “oh so you’re religious” and my response is “no, but I love Jesus” and then the puzzled face appears. Oftentimes when people think of religion, they think of God, but I no longer make the correlation. Good thing- because continuously failed. I'd still be getting D-'s ;-) and never feeling like I could live up to the expectations 'my religion' placed upon me; or I placed upon myself. I burnt out quickly believing in religion.
Growing up Catholic I didn’t have a good understanding of Jesus. It wasn't my faith’s fault, solely mine. I failed to see that religion doesn’t save me, Jesus does. My good deeds don’t save me, Jesus does. I can’t save myself, I was in need of a Savior. Instead of believing in my religion, I needed to believe Jesus. But I did what I thought I should do: go to church, complete the sacraments, be a fairly “good” person, help others, etc. I remember in college promising God I would make it to church every Sunday, no matter what- when there were obvious ulterior motives. I didn’t aim to please Him, I simply wanted to make my mom smile. Hey, making my mom smile isn't a bad thing, but now my motives have changed (and I can almost promise my sweet momma is smiling more than she would've if they hadn't ;-).
Instead of going to church because that’s what I thought I was to do, I go to church because I want to worship the living God. Instead of completing the sacraments, I realize everything has been completed in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Instead of trying so hard to be a “good” person, I realize that no one is “good”, not even one. “No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19). For me, this wasn't a hard pill to swallow; it took the pressure off. I didn't need to act, but rather ask for forgiveness. When we begin to look into the life of Jesus, we begin to understand that we, human in all our flesh, are only made righteous in Jesus, only made pure by Jesus, and only made right with God through Jesus.
My ‘religion' was “me”, and nothing about “Him”. It was everything I did, instead of everything He’s already done. It was religion instead of Jesus. No matter what my denomination was: Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Protestant, Presbyterian; if Jesus wasn’t my focal point, I was missing the whole entire point of that religion. So, I am still learning that unless I place Jesus at the core of everything I do, as the founder and perfecter of my faith, everything will crumble. Nothing is wrong with practicing a certain denomination, but my faith can’t be in that domination, but rather in The One who has dominion over it all.
Although flawed, God used those motives back in college for His glory. It was through this simple promise that I met Jesus. He sought me, bought me with his blood, captured me with His love, and flooded my heart with His Spirit. The Spirit of the living God residing inside my heart. This means a much narrower road now, but leading to beauty, a much harder life now, but leading to everlasting life. So, if this life in Him now is leading me to one day meeting and being with my Creator forever, I will endure the narrower route, embrace the harder life, and rejoice in hope of one day seeing Him face to face as He welcomes me, with arms wide open, into His Kingdom. So that’s why when people ask me what my religion is, I don’t reply with a denomination, I reply with one word; Jesus.