Don't Be Religious About Being Not Religous

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In our post-modern world, we like to think of Jesus as a very experiential guy. He was a guy with normal problems, maybe he had acne in adolescence, and he definitely had to relieve himself just like the rest of us do. Think about it, He had to do pretty much all the same things we have to do, minus e-mail. I can imagine what Jesus would have done about junk mail in his e-mail account, a little fire and brimstone comes to mind.

Life is not defined by an abundance of posessions or even a long list of experiences.

Thinking of Him as so experiential, though, it’s easy to view His life as if He just came down here to Earth, lived, died for our sins and rose again, all to make us feel good about Him and the Father. Fundamentally, we know that is a gross understatement of God’s greater purposes. Hopefully in the process of salvation we do end up feeling better, but that is most definitely not the end point. Did Jesus come just so we don’t have to go to hell? Again, that is part of it but it really isn’t the end of the story. Jesus says in John 10:10 (NIV), “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Life is more than the state of not being dead, and life is not defined by an abundance of possessions or even a long list of experiences. Some people say you don’t truly live unless you jump off a bridge with rubber bands tied to your ankles, or unless you jump out of an airplane with a big piece of cloth strapped to your back. While that may be fun and invigorating to some, though certainly not me, it is still only a fleeting feeling. True and abundant life is when we are dead to our flesh so that Christ may live in us. And that’s a feeling that will never end.

Now I know that still sounds quite experiential, but it is deeper than just experience. Think about it this way: For a body to live, it must not only have the bodily expression of the flesh, but it must also have the bones and skin. Experience is the skin. It is where the face is, our outward expression. Without experience, there is no interaction and no individual expression of the body. Faith is the muscles. It’s what gets us from point A to point B; it moves us. Without faith, we cannot live or move. But a body with only muscles and skin, while it may be alive, is only a mass of flesh not amounting to much. Our faith, and by extension our experience, rests on the bones. The bones are the truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6, NIV). Jesus is the foundation, the bones, for our faith and our experience, and we get to know Jesus by spending time with Him and by reading the Word.

All I knew of the Holy Spirit was the occasional zap or maybe a prophetic word, if I was really lucky.

In 1994, my Christian experience changed. I was 15 years old and I had spent my whole life as a pastor’s kid in a Charismatic church where it seemed like God would show up from time to time to remind us He was still paying attention (or to straighten us out). But on an evening near the end of November of that year I came in contact with something in Toronto that I had never really seen before, the beginning of an extended visitation of the Holy Spirit.

Before God really showed up in a fresh way in my church at the end of 1994, all I knew of the Holy Spirit was the occasional zap or maybe a prophetic word, if I was really lucky. I thought that’s what the Christian life was supposed to look like, that and all the little guidelines to living like a ‘Christian’. One great example is the church dress code. I don’t think it’s in the Ten Commandments, or at least I don’t remember Charlton Heston saying, “Thou shalt not wear jeans or shorts when thou gatherest to worship.” A major breakthrough for me, when I first came to Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship back in November of 1994, was the revelation that God loves to bless normal people. This includes people who wear jeans and t-shirts in church! I looked on stage at TACF that first night and saw some of the leadership wearing jeans and polo shirts and thought, “Wow, these actually seem to be normal people.” Later on my mom would sometimes refer to the Toronto Outpouring as: The Revival for Normal People. I remember coming home from that trip and wearing jeans to church and what’s most amazing to me is that my mom allowed it! If there is no more evidence than that, that alone is proof that this must be God. What has really stuck with me through the years of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the fact that Jesus loves normal people, and He loves being with them.

That fact alone is what offended the Pharisees most about Jesus: He liked to be with normal people. I am sure Jesus could have spent all His time among the scribes and Pharisees, but how much fun would that have been? Time and time again the religious people of His day were offended by what Jesus appeared to be. While they were busy following their dress codes and enforcing their doctrines, Jesus was hanging out with the sinners and the little guys. That is the essence of the difference between godliness and the religious spirit. Religion is always concerned about how it looks and its outward appearance. God on the other hand is always concerned with the heart (I Samuel 16:7).

 What good does it do to start smoking, cursing and getting drunk just to shove it in the face of the Pharisees? 

Now that we live in post-modern Christianity, we like to think we have the situation sorted out. We are more concerned with experience than rules and discipline, and because experience is an internal thing, we think that must be what God is concerned about most. We think He doesn’t care if we read our Bibles or if we pray, as long as we feel good. Don’t get me wrong, I like feeling all warm and fuzzy just like the next Charismatic, but I believe that God is actually very interested in my character, too.

This is where I believe we come to the fundamental flaw of post-modern Christianity. The knee-jerk reaction when we see “religion” is to do the opposite. If I don’t want to be religious and caught up in rules, then I don’t do the things religious people do. I do the things religious people find most offensive. The only problem with this kind of thinking is that it operates in that very same religious spirit, focused on the outward. What good does it do to start smoking, cursing and getting drunk just to shove it in the face of the Pharisees? And what good does it do to quit reading the Bible just to prove you’re not religious? You are the only person losing in that equation. The outward actions are not God’s focus. God’s focus is on the inside, and out of that focus comes right actions. We know what the fruit of the Spirit should look like, so if we don’t allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts, we can be left trying to replicate the outward fruit on our own.

Jesus did not react to the religious spirit of His day by doing exactly the opposite of what they were doing. He probably prayed more than any Pharisee. He knew the Scriptures inside and out, and He didn’t need to sin just to prove that He was inherently righteous. Anyone who thinks Jesus died just so we could do whatever we want is completely off the mark. He came so that we could finally do what He wants us to do, and that is to walk in right relationship with God. It is not something we can do ourselves, and that is the whole point. He wants to change our hearts, but we have to continually allow Him to do it.

It's about the God of the universe coming into your life.

In this day and age of living for the moment it is becoming increasingly important to immerse ourselves in God’s Word. There are more and more temptations and distractions all around us, like television and the Internet. Take a look at Matthew 4:1-11, the story of the temptation of Jesus. In each instance of temptation, Jesus answers with Scripture. The awesome thing is that the Devil had no answer for the Scripture. The reason for that is that there is no argument for the truth. John 8:31-32 says, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” We know the truth by knowing Jesus, and we get to know more about Jesus by reading the Word and spending time with Him. The two go hand in hand. “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

So this is my exhortation to you: Don’t be religious about being non-religious. Read the stories and teachings in Scripture. We need the Scripture. It is our sustenance. As you fall more in love with Jesus, learn about him. When you love someone you want to know everything about them—what they like or don’t like, whether they like hamburgers or steak, broccoli or asparagus (I would lean toward broccoli, myself). Who is Jesus? What does He do? What does He like? He’s already told us. Knowing the Word will give you a grid to understand, discern and digest the amazing experience of the Holy Spirit’s blessing. It’s not about the experience itself or about being religious or non-religious, it’s about the God of the universe coming into your life to bring you closer to Him.