There's a story in Matthew 8:1-4 that teaches us a lesson that is short and to the point: Religion won't save you.
These four verses tell the brief story of a leper who asked Jesus to heal him. But it's the way he asked that is significant:
"Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."
Jesus is always willing when we ask Him to save us! The leper already knew who Jesus was and believed he was the Son of God. In today's terms he would be called a Christian. Lots of people today call themselves Christians, but many of them are not saved. The leper's story shows us what they are missing.
Even after the leper believed, he was still "unclean." He needed to ask Jesus to heal him. He needed a relationship with the Son of God to be healed. That is what many "Christians" today are missing. They don't have a relationship with Jesus Christ. They have "religion."
What do I mean by "religion"?
I mean rituals that don't really mean anything to us. Some people go to church every week because that's what they've always done. They don't really go to worship God or gain knowledge of Him. It's simply something they do. How do I know this? Because I was once one of those people!!Some churches themselves teach rituals that too many people cling to for salvation. Yet going to church and reciting memorized prayers and phrases will not save you!
I cringe when people call me "religious." I DO NOT want to be religious! I don't want my church attendance to define me. I don't want the fact that I believe in the Bible and read it daily to define me. I want my relationship with Jesus Christ to be what makes Michelle Shocklee who she is! If you take away my freedom to go to church and my right to own a Bible, I will still be who I am because of my personal relationship with Jesus Christ! That can never, ever be taken away.
In Matthew 15:8-9 Jesus makes it abundantly clear that "religious" people are missing the mark. Quoting from Isaiah he said:
"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men."
Religion did not save the leper. Verse 3 shows us exactly what we need to be saved:
"Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean.' Immediately he was cured of the leprosy."
That is exactly what Jesus does when we ask him to make us clean of the sin that blackens our hearts. He reaches out his hand and touches us. "Religion" cannot do that! We are only saved by having a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died so that we might live!
If you haven't done so before now, ask Jesus to heal you. He is always willing!