Religion is a horrible ambassador for the character and qualities of the person of Jesus. Anyone who has truly encountered the love of Jesus cannot reject or deny Him without some kind of internal struggle, duress or distraction, because (as with any relationship) there is usually grief directly proceeding a breakup. Peter denied Jesus three times and felt like crap. Judas traded his betrayal of Jesus for silver and then later returned the silver before killing himself. Both men had truly encountered Jesus. They had both known Him as a friend.
The Pharisees, however, railed against Jesus time and time again and they showed no remorse when they did so. They knew the precepts of religion inside and out—how to act, how to pray to sound eloquent and “holy”, how to speak, and volumes and volumes of absolutely useless theological commentary—which got them nowhere and ended up with them crucifying the very Messiah they were supposed to have been waiting for.
Unfortunately, there are many today who are in the throes of renouncing Jesus and have Him confused with religion. This is an issue because Jesus and religion are two very different personalities and a person can either (a) live a life enslaved to religion, having a form of godliness but denying its power, or (b) they can live and abide in the freedom and power of Jesus.
Question: If I were to sit down with someone in the throes of denouncing Jesus, would they say that they had ever had a living relationship with Him? Would they say that they ever felt the heart of Jesus? That they had ever learned from Him personally? And if they did have a living connection with Jesus, I would ask then when they recall the living connections they had with Jesus began to fade.
Religion can do a lot of damage to people—especially people who seek to earn their acceptance or naturally people please. Religious culture tends to place itself as an intermediary between them and God. If they don’t live up to the expectations religion has propagated, they feel they have failed God. If they don’t dress according to particular church culture norms; if they don’t drive the right car; if they show too much or too little emotion; if they raise their hands or don’t raise their hands; if they serve until they are spent or don’t serve until they are spent; if they ‘evangelise’ the wrong way; if they pray the wrong way; they feel that they are failing Father God. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Jesus made a way for us to connect with His Father—our Father—24/7, by loving us so much that He laid down His life even unto death for us.
So my question then becomes, “why did I continually feel like the cross of Jesus was not enough for me to understand that I was seated with Him in Heavenly places?” Why were there constant accusations in my head that said, “You need to do better, try harder, be more… Christian?” Those accusations did nothing but expose the fact that I didn’t fully comprehend what Jesus accomplished for me on the cross. I might still not be able to fathom everything that Jesus accomplished on the cross because the word Sozo encompasses so very much, but these days I know that I don’t need to do better, try harder, or be more Christian: I just simply need to accept the gift that was given to me and abide in it. Abide in Him.
Sometimes I feel that, while Father God loves people, He hates what they do to each other under the guise of “Christianity”. Hmm… for the sake of heading where I am headed here with this thought thread, let’s just change the word “Christianity” to the phrase “Followers of Jesus”, because I feel that there is way too much history and muscle memory around the word “Christianity.”
When followers of Jesus tell each other that they only measure up when they perform, dress right and confess right, etc., are they really following Jesus, or are they following a system? If they are following a system—if they are loving other followers of Jesus based upon their performance—then that is not the Gospel. That is not following Jesus, it is following expectations, laws, and legalities. For a follower of Jesus, this is behaviour that is far-far-removed from the cross because it is based upon the knowledge of good and evil. It is based upon the tree that Adam and Eve ate from.
Followers of Jesus should be eating from the Tree of Life: Jesus Himself. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink” (John 6:53-55). No, Jesus wasn’t advocating cannibalism here. He was saying that the only way to eternal life was to partake in Him—to feast on what He spoke, His written word, and the life that He imparted and continues to impart to us.
In other places in the word, Jesus calls Himself “the bread of life,” and additionally says, “let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” Following Jesus is not about church culture. It is not about serving until you burn out. It is not about acting the part and going through the motions. It is about positioning ourselves at His feet and absorbing Him into ourselves. It is about being Marys in a global religious culture of Marthas (Luke 10:38-42). It is about living life from out of that place of receiving and giving… that reciprocal relationship with Him.
The bible says in John 3:16 that, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but would have eternal life.” Love was God’s action towards and declaration upon the world. The entire book of John describes this really well. It describes what a follower of Jesus looks like.
When followers of religion rail against “Christianity” and begin to denounce Jesus, in essence what they are likely saying is, “I am angry because I tried to walk the walk but I could never seem to live up to the pharisaical standards that were set before me by people who said they knew God. I have not found the love I was seeking by living this lifestyle. Based upon what I have witnessed and encountered through these standards, God doesn’t love me because I am not up to snuff.” In scenarios such as this (this scenario has repeated itself many times over the past few years, and some scenarios have been quite public), the amount of hurt on display is to be expected. It is so sad. And it is unfortunate that more often than not, the people I have known who have denounced Jesus, have conflated Him with the very thing He is at enmity with: Religion.
Last year, I got curious and watched several atheist services online. They were feel-good services. Very clever. Wonderfully creative. There was a lot of love for one another. But obviously, because it was an athiest church, Jesus was not welcome. As I watched the services, I heard Jesus say: “This is basically where a large portion of my church rests. They don’t realise I’m not in their services. They’re just going through the feel-good motions while I stand aside and watch. I am sad because some of the people who call themselves my followers have actually missed me completely and have thus missed out on knowing who I truly am and the freedom that I have truly afforded them.”
To break it down even further, planting oneself in theology is completely different to planting oneself in Jesus. Settling oneself into doctrines is completely different to settling oneself into Jesus. Resting in church culture is completely different to resting in Jesus. One is simply having some knowledge about Jesus from a third-person standpoint, whereas the other is knowing Jesus from within the unity of a relationship with Him. One can be based upon head knowledge (except where living revelation occurs), and one is based upon heart knowing. Head knowledge requires minimal vulnerability. Heart knowing requires complete vulnerability. Eating from the knowledge of good and evil is what caused Adam and Eve to hide from their previous heart knowing of God in the garden.
Religion makes me furious. Absolutely furious. Jesus made a way straight into the heart of the Father for every single person, but modern-day Pharisaical teachings and cultures have positioned themselves directly in between God and His kids.
A new believer is usually full of fire. Full of life. They are seeded with the truth the very minute they come to know Jesus, because Holy Spirit begins to lead them into all truth. They and Jesus are, in effect, standing hand-in-hand and facing each other spirit-to-spirit. But then often what happens is that religion pushes or wedges itself in-between the two and says, “you can’t speak that way; wear a tie and suit; drive a better car; declare that you are rich with money; don’t pray with those words; to be a follower of Jesus you have to pray with these words or fulfill these seven steps; these ten steps; these 45 steps to freedom; raise your hands in worship; play only these particular types of songs,” and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, Jesus is weeping as he watches the one He loves become more and more burdened by the yoke of religion. Then when the one He loves turns from Him because they can no longer meet the expectations of religion, Jesus burns with holy anger and says, “Enough! You have tormented the one I love and you have twisted the meaning of salvation!” In fact, Jesus said it would be better for a millstone to be tied around the neck of someone who causes a “little one” (a child of God) to stumble in their walk with He and the Father, than it would for them to be dealt with by the alternative.
Please don’t get me wrong: This post is not an “I hate the church” post, nor is it an “I hate the body of believers” post. Quite the contrary. I love the church. I love the body of believers. What I am (perhaps clumsily) doing, is attempting to express that my heart is to see all people set free from the yokes and bondages of religion and to see them return to their first love. To see them standing face-to-face with the person of Jesus in the same way that they were first positioned when they first encountered Him. Jesus came to set us free and to give us “life and life more abundant.” For a follower of Jesus, this can be their reality every single moment of every single day of his or her life.
[Side note: I have repeated myself in several different ways in this post. If it feels like I am just repeating myself over and over again, I actually am… on purpose. I felt it necessary to repeat myself. One person’s freedom from religion is far more important to me than “clean” or concise WordPress script].