Friday, February 21, 2014

The Danger of Religion

Though I'm a pastor and everything in my life revolves around Jesus, I often tell people that I can't stand religion.

"What???" Is the normal response, "How can you be a pastor who doesn't like religion?"

Let me explain. Jesus never came to set up a new religion; He came to restore our relationship with God. Religions say, "Do this, don't do that, show up here, say these things, and God will be happy with you." Religion is man's attempt to approach God. Christianity, on the other hand, says, "You can't do all the right things, even if you wanted to. You can't be good enough, smart enough, fast enough, brave enough, or holy enough. Your only hope is Jesus." Christianity, as opposed to religion, is not a pathway to God - it's God's pathway to man.

In the Bible you'll find the book of Ezekiel, written by a man named - you guessed it! - Ezekiel. Ezekiel lived during a time when the Jewish people were honestly not all that interested in God. They were proud of their religion, proud that they were God's chosen people, proud that they alone knew the truth, yet their hearts were very far from God - they worshiped idols and the false gods of their pagan neighbors, the powerful trampled on the weak, the rich took advantage of the poor, people delved into witchcraft and esoteric arts, they engaged in rampant sexual immorality, temple prostitution, even human sacrifice... all while being proud of their great faith in the One True God.

See, that's what religion does to you. It gives you this false sense of security. You think, "I'm giving God what's His, so I can have a little of what's mine." You go through the motions, try to do what's expected, look like a good spiritual person, but inside you're dead and full of rottenness.

Religion turns God into a commodity that can be bought and sold. You pay the right price and you get a good pay-off in the end. If you don't have enough religious cash (holiness, prayers, fasting...), you walk away empty.

But God's not a commodity. He's not something you can buy or sell.

So God spoke to Ezekiel, and He made this crazy promise. He said that a day was coming when He would do something entirely new in the world. He told Ezekiel, "I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26)

Religion says, "Take your heart of stone and clean it, polish it, put it on a shelf for people to see." Christianity says, "You've got a heart of stone. What good is that? Get rid of it and let God give you a real heart."

A few weeks ago, I met a young guy I'll call Razvan. When he saw I was a pastor, he became really interested. "Wow, that's awesome!" he told me, "I love God. In fact, I talk so much about God that my friends call me Bible Boy!" He went on to describe how much he loves Jesus and how he just wants to preach the Gospel everywhere, talk to people all over the world.

So we set a day when the two of us would get together and talk with people at the mall about Jesus.  The time came, and I arrived at the mall a little early. Fifteen minutes before our appointment, Razvan called to tell me, "I'm sorry, but I won't make it. It's too cold and I don't think I can go outside today."

So we set a new date, and a couple days later, I found myself at a different mall, this one closer to where Razvan lived. Again, fifteen minutes before our appointment, he called and told me, "I'm really sorry, I can't come today either. My girlfriend is here and we have to talk."

Then he invited me to church with him in two days, as a sort of consolation prize I guess. "Sure," I told him, "I love visiting new churches, so I'd love to join you!"

Two days later, I found myself on the tram at 8 am, on the way to the church. I thought, "I should call Razvan to make sure he's coming." So I did and he answered sleepily, "Oh, hey Jake. What? Church today? Oh, no, I'm not coming today. I was up late last night and I need to sleep today." He went on to tell me how he was up late drinking and dancing at the clubs. Like any good "Bible Boy" would do, right?

"But I want to come with you to your church next time, if that's OK."

"Sure," I told him, and, not surprisingly, he blew me off when I called him before our church service. As before, he had stayed up too late partying.

Our last conversation was about a week ago. He didn't invite me to anything this time, just tried to argue with me about which days of the week were holier and why it was important to worship God weekly and honor the Sabbath and why if you don't you're really in trouble and how it's great to be one of the enlightened ones who knows the truth and will go to Heaven one day.

This is religion. A heart that's no different. A life of criticism, self-righteousness, laziness, selfishness, and immorality, all while putting on an outward appearance of religiosity and spirituality. Parading around as if you love God while your heart is very far from him.

Jesus didn't come to make your heart of stone look a little better. He came to give you a heart of flesh. All you gotta do is give up your heart of stone and stop pretending it was all that great in the first place.

1 comment:

  1. AMEN BRO! I've been running into a lot of legalism on Facebook. In my opinion, the surest and quickest way to quench Holy Spirit is through legalism. FREEDOM! Not freedom to do what we want but freedom to do what He wants.