When I was in high school, I was involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes, or FCA. Our meetings consisted of lunch every Tuesday with a short devotional that a student usually gave. I remember specifically one time that a fellow student decided to show a video entitled Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus for this time. I remember it distinctly because the speaker in the video, Jefferson Bethke, made many excellent points regarding how religion and Jesus are different.
So then what are the differences between Jesus and religion?
To start, for a Christian, religion usually means something along the lines of Catholicism or Protestantism. However, these are both institutions of men. Because of this, there are bound to be fallacies within them. There are many historic examples on both sides such as the sale of indulgences and Luther's condemnation of the Jews. But our question is much broader than just these churches. We also must ask what their roles are.
In order to consider this, we must remember that religion is an institution made by man. Therefore, it cannot be perfect. How I like to view the role of religion is as man's attempt to reach God. We know from the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis that man once walked with God but we were separated from him by our own sin. Then religion is our attempt to reestablish that perfect relationship with God. However, we are imperfect beings and are incapable of reforming this relationship. All of our attempts then fail.
So where does Jesus fit in and what is his role?
If religion is our attempt to reach God, then Jesus is the very opposite of that. Jesus is God's success in reaching us. When Jesus came and died on the cross to forgive us for our sins and heal our relationship with God. One of my favorite bible verses, Matthew 19:26, states, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Just as Jesus says, what we cannot do in our own power, God can do. Even though we cannot heal our relationship with God solely through religion, our relationship with him can be healed though Christ.
Now, this does not mean that we should give up on religion since it is bound to contain fallacies. While religion is an institution of man, that does not mean that God cannot do great things through it. This is why Jesus should remain central in religion, not because religion is bad in it of itself, but because we should be striving to reach God through Jesus. Although we could never reach God on our own, God has already bridged the gap by sending Jesus. So all we have to do is trust in Jesus and through him restore our relationship with God.