Thursday, March 31, 2011

Filthy rags are not helping.

Religion. The word itself brings about so many connotations of spirituality, theism, practices and freaky rituals. Not surprisingly today when people hear "religion" they say "No Thanks!" As Christians who proclaim the gospel of the Glory of Christ, we see and understand that Religion in fact both hinders our mission and places a distorted view on the Character and nature of God. The most devastating part is that religion is not just found in other spiritual practices outside the Christian faith but right in the midst of it. The truth is, that truth has not been revealed to all, and any view of the bible not centered on the grace-saving view of the gospel, is Religion.

 The Bible makes it clear that religion is an enemy and in opposition of the Gospel. The Pharisees were great examples of people who embodied this best. Throughout the life of Christ, it isn't hard to notice Jesus in constant opposition with the religious leaders. It seems that where ever Christ is, close behind him are the religious to oppose or counter his  message of grace and forgiveness (the Gospel) with self-righteousness and legalism (religion). Christ dealt with them more harshly than anyone one else calling them serpents (Matthew 12:34, 13:33) children of the devil, white wash tombs(Matthew 23:27), hypocrites (Matthew 23:13,14,15,23, Luke 13:15)fools (Matthew 23:17:19) dogs and pigs(Matthew 7:6 ), and did so rightfully as they brought the greatest hindrance to his ministry. The New Testament reminds us constantly of the harshness with which me must treat false teaching that opposes our message. Isaiah the prophet told Israel that Religion is like "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6) and when we look at the truth of Christ's life and what the scriptures say about him we see that self-righteousness can only ever oppose the gospel of the Glory of Christ.

Looking at Religion and The Gospel and weighing them against each other we begin to clarify the rather shocking difference between them and even seeing where each path brings us in the end. Religion says that there are two kinds of people in the world; good people and bad people.Religious people think they have it all together.  They  believe themselves to follow all the rules and they look down on those who do not. Countless times in the Gospels, we see the Pharisees looking down upon those who are not like them, the irreligious so to speak, those who do not have the same beliefs and do not follow the "religious" standard. They refer to the irreligious as "sinners" (Luke 15:2, 5:30) implying that they themselves are not. Religious people are"...confident of their own righteousness and look down on everyone else"(Luke 15:2, Luke 6:7)Seeing the self-righteous view of religion it becomes clear  that because of their actions and what they accomplish, they believe they are righteous and in good standing with God.

The Gospel says that there are only bad people, who are either repentant or unrepentant. "No one is good except God alone."(Luke 18:18-19). Since we are all born into sin, we are all sinners, we are bad, we are rebels, and enemies of God. "All have sinned, and fallen short of the Glory of God"(Romans 3:23 ) Sin is an ancient Hebrew Archers term for missing the mark. It doesn’t matter how close to the mark you are, if you missed it you missed it. So when Gods see us, he doesn’t see bad or good, he sees unrepentant or repentant; Dead or alive;he sees bad and he sees Jesus. Period. The people who are repentant understand the message of the Gospel. They understand that they indeed are bad, sinful, unclean and are in need of the mercy and grace of God. In Luke 18 we see this contrast between the Pharisee and the Tax collector. The Pharisee, a self-righteous religious man, believes his following of the Law wins him favour in God's eyes and redeems his sin. The Tax Collector recognizes his unworthy state to even lift his eyes to heaven and merely cries out for mercy from God.  Religion falsely believes in self-righteousness. The Gospel recognizes our unworthiness.

Religion says I obey therefore I am accepted. The idea being if one tries hard enough to follow the Law and Prophets and, by worldly standards, does a good job, God will love them. If one does all the right things, works hard and performs well when its necessary, God is happy with them and they may go to heaven. To get closer to God one must obey as many rules as possible. Again coming back to that Idea that religion measures how close we get to God by our standards. In Luke 15 we see a great picture of this. The parable told here by Jesus is about two sons, both of whom are lost and distant from the father. The younger son distant in His blatant outright disobedience and disrespect, and the older brother in his pride and self-righteousness. We see that the older brother, is equally as far from God as the younger brother.  Religion is about becoming better on the outside; at the heart of it, all religion is concerned with is making ourselves the saviour of our own lives. Following the rules set out by God, pious people become proud of their own actions and not joyful in God's. And as pride rules the heart so does contempt for those who are deemed less worthy by prideful people. This again is evident in the Pharisees when looking at the way they deal with those less prudent in following rules.  Furthermore we see direct opposition to the gospel on many accounts as the Pharisees actually try to catch Jesus in his works doing something that they decided was not right. From not washing his hands (Luke 11:38) or healing on Sabbath (Luke 14:1)  to eating from the fields (Luke 6:2) Christ came to offer the love and grace of the Father and the Pharisees were more concerned with the following Rules then receiving it from Him.

The Gospel says that I am accepted therefore I obey. Through Christ, God is infinitely happy and accepting towards us. Through Christ we gain His acceptance, His love, and His approval. One no longer works and does good works in order to gain his approval, but out of loving response to grace is someone who works hard to please the Father. God is a father who looks at his kids; a father who loves us, in spite of who we are. God does not love us so that we will obey, but loves us so that we can obey. Our relationship with the father doesn't depend on our obedience to him, but Christ’s obedience to him on our behalf because we never could. Out of that thankfulness and relationship with Christ comes the fruit and obedience, motivated and fueled by grace and love rather than duty and obligation.

Religion leads to pride and despair; The Gospel leads to humility and joy. Religion says there are two kinds of people; good people and bad people. The gospel says there are only bad people, repentant or unrepentant. Religion is about getting things from God; The gospel is about what we've already been given through Christ. Religion is about me; The gospel is about Jesus. Religion is about what I do; the gospel is about what Christ has done. Religion is man searching for God; The gospel is God seeking man, manifesting Himself to him, and drawing Himself to him. We must be careful not to turn the message and story of Christ into something that it is not; Religion. Religion isn’t helping. It turns everything that we get to do, into things that we have to do. It turns obedience into obligation rather than pleasure and joy. It takes the focus from Jesus, to self. Everything is about Jesus, it’s all about Jesus, It's only about Jesus.

Filthy rags are not helping so let's repent of our religion, and turn to the gospel.