“Faith is built upon experience; religion upon presumption.” These words came whispering to my ear one evening and state succinctly the difference between faith and religion. Common usage would tend to blur this distinction and make these two concepts interchangeable. So we must ask the question, “Does it matter?”
Jesus answered the question with the familiar illustration:
Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many m ighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evil doers.” Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and b eat upon that house but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.” (See Matt. 7:21-27)
Luke began his rendition of this passage with,
And why do you call me, Lord, Lord, but not do the things which I say? Whosoever comes to me, and hears my sayings, and does them… (See Luke 6:46-49)
This is an understanding that goes back to the beginning of holy history. Adam and Eve did not do what the Lord said. Their house did not stand. Noah obeyed the voice of God and was preserved from the flood. Then there was Abram who looked for a city having foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee… (Gen. 12:1)
Faith is bidirectional. God speaks. His people hear and respond. Without this interchange, there is no faith. Religion is unidirectional. It is the a-priori assumption of the religionist that “We know what God wants” no dynamic concourse is required.
The scriptures state, Abraham (i.e. Abram) believed God, or had faith in God. (See Romans 4, Galatians 3, and James 2.) How do we know he had faith? Because he packed up and followed the voice of God. For this reason Abraham is called the father of faith. There was religion a plenty in Ur of Chaldea, Abraham’s home, and in Haran where he sojourned with his father. Yet the call of God was and still is “Come out from among them.”
Experience is something we can understand. Those who stand on faith have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, that his hand has upheld and still upholds them. They have experienced the purifying light of Christ at work within them. This is the foundation upon which they have built. They know and act by the command of the Lord. Here stands faith. But what of presumption?
In his second epistle, George Fox exhorts:
Friends, The children of the devil, how expert are they in evil, in all deceit in his kingdom; and yet they may speak of the things of God: but no vulturous eye or venomous beast ever trod in the steps of the just, though they may talk of the way. For who have their conversation [i.e. behavior] in this world, and only mind the things of this world, in vain do they profess godliness. (Works of Fox, VII:16)
The presumptuous assume they know what God wants. Perhaps they base their assumptions upon scripture, perhaps upon other ancient writings, perhaps upon the words of ecclesiastical authorities. Their Christianity consists of adhering to certain rules and procedures laid down by the church. But God’s command is: “This is my chosen one, hear him.” (See Luke 9:35)
“Hear him” is crucial to faith, but a hindrance to religion.
Fox goes on to to point out the clear distinction between faith and presumption:
But the children of God, who are conceived and begotten of him, are not of this world, neither do they mind only the things of this world, but the things which are eternal. But the children of this world do mostly mind the external things, and their love is in them, and the other live by faith; the one is sanctified by the word, the other painted with the words….when the trial doth come, ye will find a cross to that will which doth meddle with the things of God presumptuously; that man may live in joy, but the spirit is in bondage. (VII:16-17)
The one is sanctified by the Word, by him that was in the beginning with God, through whom all things were made, who is the light of mankind. This light tries all things, makes manifest all things, and reproves all that is contrary to God in thought, word, and deed. This is the experience of knowing the foundation of our lives to be shaken till nothing remains but that which is eternal, which cannot be moved.
The other, those of religion who are not sanctified by the Word, what of them? To be painted by words changes only the veneer that the world sees; whitewashed tombs who appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead man’s bones and all manner of filth. When the storms come, and come they will, their foundation of words painted on the outside gives way. They have nothing left upon which to stand.
The answer to my question, “Does it matter if we make a distinction between faith and religion?” is yes it matters. How can you come out of religion and into faith if you see no difference between the two? Come, stand with Abraham, called out of your father’s house, called out of the culture and religion of your nativity. Take up your abode in faith instead of religion. And, like Abraham before you, rejoice to see the day of Christ appear within you.