[Let me note that ‘religion’ is biblical if it flows from love for God and faith in Christ (i.e. James 1:27). However it is unbiblical, dangerous, and deadly when it is man’s attempt to get to God through morality, good deeds, spirituality, etc.]
1. Jesus hates religion because religion obeys God for the wrong reason
The problem with religion is not the behavior, but the motivation. It obeys God, but does so for the wrong reasons. Some have said it like this: Religion says, “I obey therefore I am loved.” The Gospel says, “I am loved therefore I obey.” Religion obeys to get God to love you, whereas the Gospel says you obey because He already does.
When we think of religion, we think of rules to obey or commandments to keep. In Exodus 20, you get the Ten Commandments – what we often think of when we think of religion. How does Exodus 20 begin? Most of us assume that it begins, “You shall have no other gods before me.” It doesn’t. That’s not how Exodus 20 and the Ten Commandments begin. It begins, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.“
Which comes first, law or grace? GRACE! Gospel precedes obedience. God doesn’t give the Ten Commandments and then tell the people, “If you obey me, then I will love you. If you keep my commands then I will rescue you.” No. God loves them. He rescues them. He delivers them. He liberates them. He frees them. He saves them. And then, He calls them to respond in obedience.
In religion, you obey to get God. In the Gospel, you obey because God got you. Theologically put, in religion, your sanctification is the basis for your justification. The Gospel says you have it backwards and your justification is the basis for your sanctification.
Religion starts off on the wrong foot. Religion builds a great house with a poor foundation. It is fundamentally flawed from the start and therefore cannot be tweaked or modified or altered or improved. It needs to be discarded altogether and exchanged for an entirely new paradigm, namely Jesus and His Gospel.