Jesus did not die for our religion
Jesus came to restore us to a deep and fulfilling relationship with our Heavenly Father. Yet our attention often turns first to our church traditions, rules, and leaders before our relationship with God Almighty. Religion, or man-made worship systems, draws us into church buildings but not necessarily closer to God.
The first and greatest commandment is to love God above all else. The second to love others. Christian religion comes about when we emphasize the second commandment over the first.
Matthew 22:37-39 ESV And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Our mental obstacles and misconceptions
Certain ways of thinking divert us towards religiosity.
1. “I can’t love Someone I can’t see.”
Unlike Adam and Eve, none of us was born into a direct relationship with God. Our first relationships are all human, tangible ones. When we exalt physical relationships, we find it hard to understand what a relationship with our Heavenly Father, who is unseen, looks like. We prefer to stick with what we can see, predict, and handle.
2. “It feels good to belong.”
Flourishing churches are often where we find strong communities that foster uplifting friendships. We can be drawn into such communities without ever getting to know God. Our deep desire for validation keeps us satisfied with approval from people, rather than from God.
Matthew 15:8 ESV “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
3. “I don’t feel worthy until I prove my devotion.’
If we grew up in a reward-and-punishment based culture, it is hard to imagine that God would love us while we are still imperfect. We can be driven to serve Him so we can feel worthy of His love – even though He already loves us. Hidden shame keeps us from a direct relationship with God.
Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
4. “These practices make me a Christian.”
Where we have been exposed to worship systems with idolatrous practices, traditions, and rituals in the past, we may mistake our Heavenly Father for simply another idol. We take part in many spiritual-looking activities with the wrong idea that these are what it takes to become “good Christians”.
5. “I prefer the safety and comfort of rules.”
Some of us feel the need to be in control at all cost, so our faith also becomes a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts. We appear spiritual and righteous on the outside, but are anxious and guilt-ridden on the inside. There is no true spiritual freedom or joy because our rules don’t cleanse us from our sins nor keep us from sinning. Eventually, we distance ourselves from our Heavenly Father because we are frustrated with ourselves.
Colossians 2:20-23 ESV If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
6. “I can’t break out of our culture or tradition.”
Many customs get passed down the generations without question. The beliefs, festivals, rituals, and things we celebrate as part of our identities can be so ingrained, that we exalt them above our relationship with God. Our love for God gets superseded by our love for our traditions, because “this is how we have always done things.”
Mark 7:8 ESV You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
7. “I need to check with my church leader first.”
Strong leaders will draw followers. A problem arises when followers revere their spiritual leaders so much that they seek after them first and foremost. Spiritual matters are deferred to human leaders instead of God. We can idolise and blindly follow another imperfect human being over our perfect Heavenly Father.
1 Corinthians 3:4-5 NLT When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world? After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us.
8. “I enjoy the theological discussions.”
Man’s esteem for our own intellectual powers can lead us to become fascinated with Christian theology and bible studies. Our minds dive into God’s Word for the intellectual stimulation, but our hearts remain closed to His spiritual revelations. We may know God’s Word without knowing God Himself.
2 Timothy 3:1-2,5,7 ESV But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self… having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power… always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
9. “Relationships are too burdensome.”
Where we have been badly hurt by people, we naturally develop an apprehension and mistrust towards relationships. This keeps us from surrendering ourselves completely to God. We keep a shield around our hearts and our Heavenly Father at arm’s length. Our faith is devoid of intimacy with God.
Relationship comes from God’s Spirit
Religion relies on what can be seen and managed. That is counter to God’s Spirit.
We can’t see God’s Spirit because He is in us, not outside of us. We experience Him in our hearts, minds and souls, as He fills us with the His truth and love. The Spirit removes our fears and helps us overcome our mental obstacles.
John 16:3-4 ESV When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Romans 5:5 ESV And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
|1. God’s Spirit lives in us||John 14:17 ESV even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.|
|2. Shows us we belong to God||Romans 8:9 ESV You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.|
|3. Declares we are worthy to be God’s children||
Romans 8:16 ESV The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
4. Helps us to become godly
Ezekiel 36:27 ESV And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Galatians 5:16 ESV But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
|5. Helps us step out of comfort zones
||Acts 1:8 ESV But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”|
6. Convicts our hearts if we place traditions above God
John 16:8 ESV And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:
7. Is the leader who provides wisdom and counsel
|Isaiah 11:2 ESV And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.|
|8. Reveals spiritual truths in the Bible||
1 Corinthians 2:13 ESV And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
|9. Removes any fear of communing with God||2 Timothy 1:7 ESV For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.|
Also, see How to test for the Holy Spirit.
God gives His Spirit freely
Sometimes we have this idea that “God will give His Spirit to others, but not to me.”
This is a hideous lie from Satan that:
- Exalts our sins and brokenness over God’s redemptive power.
- Accuses God of not being good always, which is untrue.
- Is an inverted form of pride that elevates ourselves over others.
- Agrees with Satan to separate us from God.
Also, see Experiencing God’s love.
God is generous and does not hold back His many good spiritual gifts, especially when we want to be with Him. Our Heavenly Father saves us not because we are good, but because He is good and perfect.
Luke 11:13 ESV If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Titus 3:5-6 ESV He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
His Spirit will renew and strengthen our inner beings. When we welcome His Holy Spirit into our lives, we will experience freedom from all the worldly troubles and traps that drag us into a life filled with religious striving. We will enjoy:
- Freedom from fear
- Freedom from the effects of sin
- Freedom from dogma
- Freedom from man’s opinions and judgments
Ephesians 3:16 ESV That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
2 Corinthians 3:17 ESV Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Being in relationship with God’s Spirit
Religion promotes the idea that we can become holy and righteous by what we do. This is untrue. We can change our habits but our hearts can still be filled with sinful desires that separate us from God.
Romans 8:3 NIV For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh…
Colossians 2:23 ESV These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Only God’s Spirit can transform our hearts and minds so we are able to view and think about everything from His perspective, and therefore obey God’s desires. His will become our desires. This is how we become more and more like Jesus and reflect His love in this world.
2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
John 6:38 ESV For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
To receive the Holy Spirit, we must first confess our sins, repent of our past life and be baptised in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Then we can start to develop an ongoing relationship with God.
Acts 2:38 ESV And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
A relationship with the Holy Spirit is one that is filled with love, joy, hope, and peace. Praise God that His Spirit never abandons us if we truly seek Him with our hearts. It doesn’t matter what we have done or what we think about ourselves. He is much higher than all this.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Every day, let us invite the Holy Spirit to:
- Teach us spiritual truths as we read the Bible | 1 Corinthians 2:14 NLT But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.
- Help us pray | Romans 8:26 ESV Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
- Give us wisdom for all circumstances | 1 Corinthians 2:13 ESV And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
- Minister to others through us | Matthew 10:20 ESV For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
We know we are God’s redeemed children when we live our lives led by the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:14 ESV For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
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