Religion has become almost a curse word in society today, with good reason. What might surprise you is that it has been a curse word for me for nearly all 28 years of my life after becoming a follower of Jesus. Yesterday I had the chance to listen to a fellow claiming to be an "atheist" of sorts who actually believed in Jesus. What he didn't believe in were, and I quote, "the criminal ecclesiastics that control what he said in order to gain power and control over the masses." He and I are not so far away on that point of view. He went on to say that he could listen to Jesus all day long, as long as the topic of religion never came up. Again, he and I are not so far apart. I also happen to believe that Jesus was not here to "start a new religion." He came instead to deliver us from the penalty for our wrongdoings, and to establish a personal relationship with each and every one of His followers.
There are in fact 5 mentions in the KJV and NASB English translations, all in the New Testament. Four of the five are a form of the Greek word "thrēskeia," meaning "a religious observance or duty." The other is "deisidaimonia," which means "a superstitious observance. That last one, found in Acts 25:19, is the word used to describe Judaism by Festus, a Roman authority, to King Agrippa (descended from Herod the Great).
Instead, Jesus came to be our friend and our example for life. Jesus did not spend a great deal of time sitting on a high mountain and codifying laws for men to follow. In fact, he said that there were only two that were important - Love God with everything you've got, and love your neighbour as yourself. In fact, He wend on to say in the very next sentence that all of the Law and all of the Prophets rest on those two foundational truths (cf. Matt. 22:37-40). The Greek word used here is "agapao," meaning "divine, self-sacrificial love." It is more than a feeling, it is more than a concept, it is more than a duty. It is the true meaning of the word Love. The only way this kind of love can be expressed is in relationship with others, and that is the stated reason that Jesus came - to die in our place, to pay the price we could not pay for ourselves, and to reconcile us to God. God saw that we had a need that we could not meet, and so He became a man and paid it for us. (Please note that He did not holler hateful things at select social groups, He did not picket the funerals of soldiers because the country they served supported a licentious lifestyle. Instead, He loved them all and died for them. So should we. In fact, I would go so far as to say the ones that Jesus reserved his sharpest words for were the religious people claiming to be the servants of God.)
In short, He came to establish a relationship with us! Now - He leaves that response to us. If we want that relationship with Him, He has opened the way for us to become His friends. If someone does not want that, they have the right to refuse it. What people may fail to understand is that ALL actions have consequences, either good or bad, and in choosing the action, we choose the consequence that goes with it, but that is not the purpose of this thought.
Friends, Jesus wants a relationship with YOU! You don't have to go anywhere or do anything to get it, either. Jesus has said that HE will come to YOU, right where you are. "Behold," he says, "I stand at the door and I knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into them and dine with them, and they with me." In fact, He will even bring the fellowship and the food with Him. So - what will you choose? Religion, a set of do's and don'ts and duties, or a relationship and all that implies? The choice is yours, and He is waiting.