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Freedom from Religion

False religion is an ugly thing. The Pharisees suffered from it, and Jesus wasn’t a big fan of their behavior {remember when He called them children of the devil?!} 🙁 Here is a passage from John 8 showing the difference between “true religion” & the religion the Pharisees ascribed to — some of Jesus’s harshest recorded words!:

You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me…

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”…

I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Why is religion so ugly? Because it replaces real relationship with rules. It also seeks to nullify Jesus’s role in our salvation & becomes “salvation by works” {faith in self VS. faith in Jesus}.

How do we know when we suffer from it? Here is a simple self-assessment, based on Jesus’s word above & some other Scriptures…

  1. You rate people’s Christianity & judge them “according to the flesh”. You have a critical spirit. [Like the Pharisees who, when challenged by Jesus, threw in this zinger: “We were not born of sexual immorality”!! Wow, I never realized they were accusing Him of being a bastard child here!]
  2. Your relationship with God is about checking boxes, not communing with Him.
  3. You think God’s mad at you {& everyone else} unless you do the right things.
  4. You live a joy- & peace-less life, such as these Pharisees.
  5. You lean on your own faith & ability to get right with God, not on Jesus’s perfect salvation.
  6. You only feel God’s pleasure with you when you do Christian things & falsely accuse those who operate “out of the box”, like Jesus was. You miss the movement of God because you have a rigid view of how He works.
  7. You look down on people who don’t do the Christian things you do & even accuse them of being of the devil (as the Pharisees did in the verses following this passage).
  8. When people struggle, you assume they’re “doing something wrong” [Novels could be written about this one! God dedicated a whole book of the Bible to it].
  9. You forget all He’s forgiven you of & condemn people with similar weaknesses {that whole “log in your eye” thing}.
  10. You’ve lost many friends or loved ones over your newfound ‘faith’ (even fellow believers).
  11. You find only a short list of people “on your level” (just as the Pharisees condemned most everyone outside their tight circle, including the Son of God!).
  12. You quote Scriptures at people who need God’s compassion first.
  13. Other religious people love you — & unbelievers steer clear of you.
  14. You think Jesus can only work in the church (or Synagogue like the Pharisees) — not in ordinary or unorthodox places.

Religion wants to elevate & isolate us. It bears claims of superiority and smacks of pride. Religion is also a tyrant, putting us on an ever-running treadmill of must’s should’s ought to’s. 

Religion a miserable person does make.

The reality is, I get it because I’ve been there. I couldn’t shake free from it, no matter how hard I tried. It’s only been since I really acknowledged how prone to sin my own heart is that I quit thinking I was a super Christian & just became grateful He rescued me at all. And now I hate to see this same Pharisaical attitude in my own life or others’, when I see the fruit of religion in their lives, too.

Have you ever heard the saying — Conceit is the only disease that makes everyone sick but the person who has it? Religion is a lot like that {maybe because the root of both is ego}. Religion looks down from on high & couldn’t be any more opposite than Jesus’s character.

He, the Perfect One, made Himself low to save the lost. He humbled Himself & became a Servant for… sinners! Yet He was without any. How many of us are willing to do the same? He didn’t judge or condemn them. He extended arms of grace to bring people closer to His Father. Once there, the Spirit is free to do His job: Convict & close forever the gap between us & Him.

We have such a relational God that He changed our names from strangers to friends & {finally} His children. My old pastor Ross used to talk so much about this, that God isn’t bent out of shape when He sees how unholy our lives are. Once our relationship with Him is established, He goes about His work loving us, convicting us, & molding us to free us from our chains. He doesn’t want to burden us with lists & rules. He doesn’t shame us! He wants to remove ALL barriers between Himself & us, any sin keeping us from His presence. Then Scripture says our all-knowing God removes our sins as far as the east is from the west — an eternal loop — & remembers them no more!! 

How can this be so? Does He really mean that He doesn’t keep a running tally of our failures, sin & “issues”? {Love keeps no record of wrongs}. What about the visions of an angry Father with a magnifying glass, looking to destroy us at any moment, at our next mistake?

Only because of Jesus is the Father’s (rightful) wrath at our sins & mistakes wiped forever away; we mustn’t forget that. But now that He’s come & died & been our forever Sacrifice, we can sit with our Heavenly Father, open up to Him, & ask Him for anything according to His will.

It simply isn’t our place to judge each other’s progress, nor necessarily our own. The work is the Lord’s to change us; our work is to accept His gentle, prodding hands. It isn’t up to us to muster up enough faith & courage to make His will happen here on earth; we simply express the gift of faith He’s already given us! We don’t have to fix ourselves or others (& cannot!); we must realize that He’s making us all complete in Him & for Him. We don’t have to conjure up good works ourselves; we simply let His Spirit work through us. This truth is changing my life today!

It is finished {as He declared}. It’s done. We’re being changed every day into His likeness and not because we’re making it happen. Our religion doesn’t save us, our Savior saves us.

Religion is a counterfeit to the Real Relationship He wants to have with you & I. Don’t fall for it. Just rest. He’s got us.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:27

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