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The Faith Religion Substitution

By Alan Chandler

May 15, 2020

Authentic Christlikeness: Jesus calls us to it. The Holy Spirit provides the power to achieve it. We desperately need it – today more than ever. So why is it so elusive? I invite you to consider the faith religion substitution. Faith and religion. The two are not synonymous. However, in many cases we have substituted religion for faith. When it comes to authentic Christlikeness the difference is huge. Consider this illustration.

  • Faith-based Christlikeness: Think about a teabag in a glass of water. Continued relationship + process + Time = water transformed into tea. The presence of the tea bag transforms the water into something new. The strategy is simple. Authentic Christlikeness is found in continually choosing to remain in relationship with Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us. While the strategy is simple, the personal cost is high. The Holy Spirit will challenge us to change. It’s not comfortable. God will ask us to do things we don’t want to do. It requires relentless faith because it only works if we completely surrender our will to the authority of the Holy Spirit. And this is precisely why many Christians choose not to do it.
  • Religion Substitution Christlikeness: Think about a glass of water and a multi-color box of food coloring. No teabag. This approach tries to copy the look of real tea through adding the right amount of various food colors to the water. Likewise, religion observes the outward appearance of authentic Christlikeness and seeks to duplicate it through human efforts. Church attendance, Bible studies, behaviors, beliefs and values are achieved through emulating what others do – or tell us to do – rather than being wrought by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

This is the faith religion substitution. The religion-based approach has generationally emulated further away from true faith. Yes, it worships Jesus. It discusses Jesus. It’s perceived to be the same as faith in Jesus, but it’s not. It requires adherence to man-made religious values and priorities. Whereas Jesus invites us into relationship with Him and challenges us to faithfully remain in that relationship as we grow spiritually.

The strategy of religion substitution is complicated. It’s difficult to understand. It’s highly subjective. This allows for many different opinions as to the “right” definition of Christlikeness, and the “best” way to achieve it. Exhausting! While the strategy is complicated, the personal cost is low. And this is precisely why many Christians choose to remain in it.

While the focus of this article is not the great commission, it must be observed that the religion substitution version of Christlikeness has significantly hindered the missional impact of the church. Let’s revisit the tea vs food coloring illustration … “Hello, thirsty person. I see you’re in need of a refreshing beverage.” Which glass do we offer? Almost always it’s the food coloring, which is anything but refreshing.

The growing sense of despair and hopelessness in our Nation is a symptom of the loss of influence the church has had on the culture. It’s on us! But all is not lost. There is hope! It’s found in recapturing authentic Christlikeness. Authentic Christlikeness is not found in a better program, Bible study, strategy, conference or book to read. We don’t achieve it. We receive it. 

Action Steps:

  • Stop looking for the next best strategy or program and recapture Jesus’ plan for authentic Christlikeness.
  • Be in relationship with Jesus. In John 15:4 Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (NIV)
  • Through relentless faith, submit and surrender your will to the Holy Spirit. Understanding this can and will be uncomfortable and painful at times. In John 15: 1-3, Jesus says, “I am the vine, and my Father is the gardner, He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (NIV)
  • Put relentless faith into action. Do what the Holy Spirit challenges you to do. It may mean standing up for that person your friends don’t like. It may mean extending true compassion to someone society has marginalized. The list goes on and on. Bottom line: As you become more like Christ, there will be times that you are God’s plan to answer someone else’s prayer – no matter how personally costly or uncomfortable.
  • Multiply. Invite others to join you on your journey toward authentic Christlikeness. Encourage them to live faithfully surrendered to the Holy Spirit. As they grow, challenge them to invite others to join them on their journey.

It really is a simple strategy. Growing the church in Christlikeness means growing the people of the church in Christlikeness. It’s about relationship with Jesus. It always has been.

I’d love to continue this conversation with you. Feel free to contact me at

In Christ,