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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Bible Basics: An Introduction to Christian Beliefs

Don Stewart :: What Is the Difference Between Theology and Religion? (Belief and Practice)

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What Is the Difference Between Theology and Religion? (Belief and Practice)

Bible Basics – Question 6

Is it possible to make the distinction between religion and theology? Yes, it is. Theology is concerned with what people believe, while a person’s religion refers to ones conduct—how they behave. We can make the following observations about these two terms.

1. Theology Is What a Person Believes, While Religion Is What a Person Practices

Theology consists of what a person believes about God. Thus theology is more like a science, while religion is more like the practical application of the belief. Theology analyzes the truth, while religion attempts to live it. Therefore, religion is practice, while theology is knowledge.

2. There Should Be a Balance Between Theology and Religion: Between Belief and Practice

There should be a balance between what one knows about God, and how a person conducts their life. Unhappily, this is not always the case. Many theologians, who have much intellectual knowledge about God, do not live a spiritual, or religious life. On the other hand, there are those who live a godly life who do not have a large amount of knowledge of biblical truth. Consequently, one can be a brilliant theologian without being spiritual, and one can be spiritual without being much of a theologian. However, each of us should strive to know as much as we can about God, and then live consistently with what we know.

We must appreciate the fact that our mind is only one part of our total makeup. Too much emphasis on the intellectual can be dangerous. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

About food offered to idols: We know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. (1 Corinthians 8:1 HCSB)

We need to be careful that we do not become proud of our increase in knowledge.

On the other hand, too much emphasis on the heart, or the personal side, is also wrong. Our heart can deceive us. Jeremiah wrote:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 RSV)

If we ignore our mind and let our emotions guide us, we also run the risk of pride and an attitude of self-righteousness. A balance between the two is certainly needed. Our desire should be to “live in the truth.” The Apostle John wrote about people who were doing this:

Some of the brothers recently returned and made me very happy by telling me about your faithfulness and that you are living in the truth. (3 John 3 NLT)

We are to know the truth and live in the truth. John wrote elsewhere about doing the truth. He said:

But those who do what is right come to the light gladly, so everyone can see that they are doing what God wants. (John 3:21 NLT)

John wrote about the necessity of living in the light and not in darkness. He said:

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:6 NASB)

There must be a passion to obey God’s truth as well as to study and know His truth. Believers should be passionate about both.

3. Believers Are Commanded to Study God’s Truth

The message to those who are spiritual would be what Paul wrote to Timothy—study. He wrote the following:

Do your best to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker who isn’t ashamed to teach the word of truth correctly. (2 Timothy 2:15 God’s Word)

The New Living Translation says:

Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT)

All who believe in Jesus Christ should study the Scripture; there are no exceptions to this command.

Study of the Scriptures takes work. The Bible was written in the languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, that most of us are unfamiliar with. It describes experiences of people who lived thousands of years ago in a different culture.

In addition, there are constantly new discoveries being made that throw light on the background of the Bible. Therefore, if we are to correctly interpret the Scripture, we will have to work at understanding some of the history and background of the times in which it was written. Whatever is profitable in life usually takes effort.

4. Christians Are Also to Do These Things That the Bible Commands

The message to the theologian is found in the words of Jesus—do the truth. Jesus said the following to His disciples:

If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:17 NET)

The New Living Translation puts it this way:

You know these things-- now do them! That is the path of blessing. (John 13:17 NLT)

It is not enough to know the truth; we must also do the truth.

The Apostle James wrote about the practical aspects of the Christian faith. He stated the truth in this manner:

But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out?he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22-25 NET)

The New Living Translation translates the verses in this manner:

And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don’t obey, you are only fooling yourself. For if you just listen and don’t obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law? the law that sets you free—and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1:22-25 NLT)

Again, we have the emphasis in Scripture of both knowing the truth and doing the truth.

5. Christianity Is Devotion to a Person—Jesus Christ

We must emphasize that the essence of the Christian faith is not a set of teachings, or even a lifestyle; it is the devotion to a Person—Jesus Christ. Jesus made this clear when He prayed to God the Father on the night of His betrayal. He said:

Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent. (John 17:3 NET)

The New Living Translation puts it this way:

And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. (John 17:3 NLT)

The main message of the New Testament is that an individual can have forgiveness of their sins and a right relationship with the living God. This comes about through a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. This is the heart of Christianity!

We can only know Jesus Christ through the study of the Word of God. The way we know the genuine Jesus is by means of what is revealed in Scripture. If we truly want to know and love Him, then it is important that we find out as much about Him as we possibly can. This can only come through a study of the Scripture.

Summary – Question 6
What Is the Difference Between Theology and Religion? (Belief and Practice)

Simply stated, we can define theology as the “study of God’s truth,” and religion as “the practice of God’s truth.” Theology describes belief, while religion describes the practice of the belief. There should be a proper balance between the two in the life of a Christian.

It is important to know what the Christian faith stands for, and it is also important to live consistently with one’s beliefs. The Bible encourages both.

Thus, we must know the truth of God’s Word, and we must put the truths into practice. It is not enough to simply know the truth; the Bible also commands us to do the truth. We should have a passion to know God’s truth as well as live it out in our lives.

Above all, Christianity is devotion to the Person of Jesus Christ. It is a love relationship between the Creator and His creation. This truly is what Christianity is all about.

What Is the Place of Tradition in Determining Christian Doctrine? ← Prior Section
Does the Bible Attempt to Teach Specific Truths about God That People Have to Obey? Next Section →
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