Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Secondhand religion


"Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’

"So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And many more became believers.

"They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.’" (John 4:28-29; 40-42 NIV)



When the Samaritan woman ran home to tell her friends and neighbors about this most unusual prophet she had just met at Jacob’s well, she could hardly contain herself. Who could blame her? Here was a Jewish man breaking the rules and customs of that time by engaging in conversation with a woman — and that woman was considered an outcast by Hebrew society. To her further astonishment, this stranger proceeded to tell her all about her life and secret sins. Then, to top that, he even called himself the Messiah!

Well, it was too much to take. She ran away in disbelief, astonished by the confrontation, unable to hold in what had occurred. "Come see," she said, urging others to experience for themselves what she had seen and heard.

How could she have known that daily trek to the well to draw water would lead her to a face-to-face encounter with Jesus? How could she have known that a thirsty pilgrim who asked for a drink that day would dramatically change her life?

When her friends arrived at the well, when they heard this prophet’s convincing words, they declared to her: "We no longer believe just because of what you said. Now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."

This beautiful, timeless story dramatically shows what can happen when you experience Jesus. The Samaritan woman found out firsthand who Jesus was, and the same opportunity is available to you!

Tragically, today some people have become secondhand believers in our religion and faith. Some merely subsist on the experiences of grandparents, parents, and others who have gone before them. They never actually encounter the risen Christ themselves.

The great author E. Stanley Jones puts this concept into unforgettable language.

He writes, "This generation is living on leftovers from a previous generation, and most of it is thin, precarious, and inadequate. It is secondhand religion."

Essentially, secondhand religion is nothing more than hand-me-down faith that will prove woefully insufficient in the topsy-turvy world. The fact that anything can happen to us at any moment gives us proof that we need a personal Savior, someone we know firsthand, who is present all the time and in every place.

Now I know there are people who do not believe they are capable of having this encounter with Christ. Such talk of having a religious experience leaves them questioning the sanity of those who have. If you are a person who is looking for something to happen that will assure you of God’s presence, then you probably will not find it. That is because you are failing to understand that the presence of God and the availability of Christ already is woven into the fabric of your ordinary life!

Was there a time when you received uncommon strength that sustained you through troubled times? God was in that! Have you ever experienced the joy that comes in rendering help to someone who had no way of returning the favor? God was in that, too!

Take the time to earnestly seek the Mind that has plans for you, the Heart that loves you, and the Hand that moves in your everyday affairs. Then you will be closer than ever to having that religious experience!

That encounter with Christ is waiting to happen, and it may come at the most unexpected time. He could reveal Himself to you in the silence of a hospital waiting room, in the golden beauty of a sunrise or sunset, in a teen’s smile at a school event, in the midst of worship or prayer.

If you are open to the revelation that God has in store for you, it will happen!

Perhaps you have seen the movie "Ben Hur" or read the book. The writer of the novel, from which the movie was made in 1959, was Lew Wallace. Wallace was born in 1827 and was the son of an Indiana governor. After the Civil War, he returned to his law practice in Indianapolis. He then drifted West and settled in New Mexico, where he served as territorial governor (1878-1881).

While he was governor, Wallace was challenged by agnostic Robert Ingersoll to write a book on the life of Jesus. Ingersoll said Jesus should be pictured as a good man — and only a man.

At the time, Wallace himself was not a Christian, but he accepted Ingersoll’s challenge and set about writing a fictional account of the conversion of Judah Ben-Hur. In researching the Gospels for his novel, Wallace opened himself to the life-saving Good News of the Bible and met Jesus Christ face-to-face. He not only became a Christian, but also was born again into the awareness that Jesus is indeed the Savior of the world.

"Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did," said the woman at the well. Others went, and their lives were changed forever! That same man awaits you.



Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World

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