"Religion or Relationship?"
by Wayne E. Smith
April 4, 2005
Note: I am aware of the dictionary definition of the term “religion”. What I am referring to below is any system of belief and practice that has no foundation in the Word of God, and/or effectively denies the power and glory of God in the redemption and sanctification of man.
The religious urge is immensely powerful in man, and the devil knows it. He is masterful at using humanly-derived religion to keep us from the presence of the Living God. With subtlety and craft, he secretly sets about his work of replacing true things with shadows, divine things with earthly shells, and an intimate fellowship with what amounts to an institutional bureaucracy.
From where I stand, my friends, this is largely what this thing called Christianity has become, and I am not at all limiting this reference to Romanism either. It seems everywhere you turn, more and more believers are adopting practices and opinions that indicate that they love their religion more than they love the Living God.
My friends, this saddens me tremendously. For it is this very religion, and all of its machinery, that is blinding us to our need for an intimate and life-filling encounter with a redeeming God. Religion, by its very nature, puts its trust in man, and not God, so it is, in essence, the perfect realization of the humanistic trend sweeping the world and the church.
Yet, it is insidious because it is, at its core, POWERLESS!
No mere religion can turn a devil into a disciple, or a rebel into a beloved son. No empty orthodoxy can turn a sinner into a saint, or hope in any way, shape or form to rescue the sin-ravaged soul of man, and restore him to his place in the garden.
Jesus Christ, alone can do this! Why then do we persist in undermining and sidelining His redemptive and restorative work on the cross at every turn. Why are we believers so readily titillated by the latest trick, trend or technique that seeks to supplement or replace the divinely ordained process of sanctification? Why is the Helper and Comforter, Teacher and Shepherd, the One who came down from heaven to dwell among us, and die for us, seemingly never enough?
Did not the Jew’s religion blind them to the love of God as revealed in their Messiah? Consider the harshness of our Lord’s language as He condemned them in the most extreme terms for obscuring the true God with their rites and practices. If we called any individual or group a "brood of vipers" or "serpents" today we would be promptly condemned as divisive and critical. Yet, it was their religion, you see, and ours today, that establishes the framework for exalting men in the place of the Most High.
“But I know you,” He charged, “that you do not have the love of God in you.” (John 15:42)
&ldots;and do we?
All of their religion had taught them nothing about God; that He in fact loved them dearly, and standing right before them, with His arms stretched out, ready to embrace them, was proof of that love.
Our Lord, when he left this earth, did not leave us with any system or methodology, or “religion” - He left us with the Holy Spirit that enables and empowers us from within to relate to Himself and the Father on a deeply intimate level. He did not leave us with a song book or memory verse but newness of life! Indeed, He alone was the way home to the Father. He was the truth about God and man and how the two could be reconciled, once and for all!
It is most interesting that James in the New Testament defines “pure and undefiled religion” as loving service, and not faithful adherence to creeds and tradition, or the smells and bells of church buildings, or any vain form of liturgical reality. It is the love of Christ and the Father spilling out into the streets, and into our homes, and into the broken lives of the most vulnerable among us.
The Bible is clear here, my friends, so please don't consider me “too harsh” in this assessment.
Religion, by its very nature constrains, binds, obligates and obscures divine reality. It distances one from the ultimate object of worship. It esteems external observance and conformity over what is really at the heart of a man. Despite its bold claims, it directs our faith away from God, and towards created things, especially human beings and the objects of their adornment.
It defies the mystery of godliness and the abandoned life at the heart of Paul’s gospel. It fosters a righteousness that cannot adequately withstand the rigors of life, the temptations of the flesh and world, nor the assaults of the adversary. It is loud and brash, and promises so much, yet delivers so little. By necessity, it must borrow from the world, because it holds no innate power or creativity of its own.
It knows nothing of the living context of restored fellowship offered by Our Savior. It is deaf and dumb before the Living Word, accompanied by the Author Himself, as He fulfills its meaning by fleshing it out in our daily lives.
Religion may inspire you; in this there is no doubt. It may sweep you away in a chorus of praise and sentiment. It may appeal to a part of you that wants to be appealed to. It is happy to meet your consumer needs and desires, and to satisfy the senses. It may make it look like you are venturing forth into the holiest of all, with fine linen and brass and glimmering light.
But, my friends, it will never, ever change you, or save you from this body of death. It CANNOT!
Only the Shepherd of your soul can do that.
Please pray for us here at Living-Walk, that we would watch and see the Master at work, and understand what He would have us do.
Your friend in Christ Jesus,
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© 2007 Livingwalk.com and Wayne E. Smith
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