“Leave religion behind and follow Jesus?” you may well ask, adding “Surely Christianity is a religion and it’s already all about Jesus?”
What is religion? Wikipedia says of Religion:
“Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.
The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith or belief system, but religion differs from private belief in that it has a social aspect. Many religions have organized behaviours, clergy, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural), and/or scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture. However, there are examples of religions for which some or many of these aspects of structure, belief, or practices are absent.”
By comparison, when Jesus asked His disciples to follow Him, He gave them what is known as “The Great Commission.” This commission, was both passed on to, and expected of, all of Jesus’ disciples and followers and is recorded in Matthew 28:16-20, as follows:
“And the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him. But some doubted.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority is given to Me in Heaven and in earth. Therefore go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things, whatever I commanded you. And, behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the world. Amen.’“
You will note that this commission from Jesus to His followers, does not align with the Wikipedia description of religion. First of all, the Great Commission is relational. Jesus said He has received authority from God the Father and in that authority He will be with us for ever more. Christianity is not man-made, but God sent, and does not rely on our adherence to ritual religious traditions or artefacts, but to a relationship; a personal relationship with Jesus. We are to make disciples for the Jesus, just as Jesus made disciples for His Father, though we are to disciple nations, whole people groups.
There is a reason for this, which most Christians seem to miss. As spiritual beings, we are constantly being warred against by God’s enemy and his minions. There is enmity (hatred and hostility) between Satan and mankind; there always has been, and there always will be.
Thus, when Jesus gave His commission to His followers, He was not leaving them to be free and follow their own paths, but to follow His and his alone. Jesus did not give options; it is His way, or hell. Jesus knew that we cannot succeed without His help, which is the reason He send the Holy Spirit (John 14:16) to be our paraclete, our helper, the one who comes alongside to render assistance. As a result, Christians have power, enormous power, but the power is not ours, it is the power of God which we have the authority to use, in the name of Jesus. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:19,
“I will give the keys of the kingdom of Heaven to you. And whatever you may bind on earth shall occur, having been bound in Heaven, and whatever you may loose on earth shall occur, having been loosed in Heaven.”
Mankind is mortal and we live on earth in fleshy bodies, but our enemy is not mortal and has no flesh. Satan does not fight us, therefore, with the weapons of our world, but of his. Second Corinthians 10:3-4 explains this saying “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”
Not only are our weapons not earthly, nor is our armour; armour we are asked to put one, but never expected to take off:
“Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:13-18).
Why is this important? Because, as Peter warns in First Peter 5:8 “Be sensible and vigilant, because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking someone he may devour…” If you are alive, you are a target for God’s enemy. If you are a Christian, you are a strategic target for God’s enemy and all his best efforts will be unleashed against you. Please know that the religious spirit is one of the most effective weapons used against the Church, because the Church is mostly ignorant and blind; all wrapped up in religion but not in an intimate relationship with Jesus.
No, when you look at this from the Word of God, you see that God’s expectations for Christians are far removed from religion, as Wikipedia describes it.
Being a disciple is being a servant of he who disciples you. Through that relationship all is learnt; and we learn by seeing, and hearing and doing at the feet of the master. You may well ask how that is possible, given that Jesus dies two thousand years ago. The answer is of course, that Jesus was resurrected and now lives and is seated in Heaven at the right hand of God the Father. From that position and place He is able to minister to those who seek Him. There is an amazing testimony from the teachings of Sundar Singh‘s book “Wisdom of the Sadhu” which reads (pg 179):
“I studied theology in a theological seminary. I learned many useful and interesting things no doubt, but they were not of much spiritual profit. There were discussions about sects, about Yesu Christ and many other interesting things, but I found the reality, the spirit of all these things, only at the Master’s feet. When I spent hours at his feet in prayer, then I found enlightenment, and God taught me so many things that I cannot express them even in my own language. Sit at the Master’s feet in prayer; it is the greatest theological college in this world. We know about theology, but he is the source of theology itself. He explains in a few seconds a truth that has taken years to understand. Whatever I have learned has been learned only at his feet. Not only learning, but life, I have found at his feet in prayer.”
In Galatians 3:27 we have an expectation of Christians in our relationship with Jesus which is missed by practically all Christians. The verse says: “For as many as were baptized into Christ, you put on Christ.” What is important here is the phrase “put on” Christ. This is the Greek ἐνδύω or enduō and means to sink-into a garment, or put on – slip on – as one slips oneself into a sleeping bag. What Paul is saying here to the Galatians (and to us) is that they need to slip inside Jesus. They need to intimately and perfectly to cover themselves in Him, as one does with a hand in a glove. Again, this is totally relational – and Paul gives a practical instruction of how to relate personally in intimately with the Lord Jesus Christ. But if we can’t grasp this image or concept, we can never achieve Paul’s expectation of us.
First Timothy 1:18 also confirms this view of a real Christian life, as Paul says,
“This charge I commit to you, my son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before about you, in order that you might war a good warfare by them, holding faith and a good conscience, which some have put away and made shipwreck as to faith.”
Paul is telling Timothy that they are at war and that faith is crucial to victory. Without faith, the battle will be lost, for the battle against Satan is not fought in the natural, but the supernatural; of which we are all typically blind and ignorant.
God has given us an offensive weapon, the Sword of the spirit. Hebrews 4:12 describes it as “the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing apart of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
How important is it? It is the way and the means by which Jesus overcame the temptations of Satan after He came out from the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). Now if Jesus overcame Satan by the Word of God, I believe we ought to learn from that lesson.
But the trouble is that in much of the Church today – especially the lukewarm, seeker friendly, programmed Churches of Europe and North America, that they have grown so used to the systems of religion and materialism, that God’s people are now blinded. The spirits of religion, materialism and compromise have so intermingled with the Church that the Holy Spirit if just one of many spirits which hold sway over the body of Christ in many churches today. This of course is the plan of the enemy; for with a compromised Church, he will easily be able to have the Antichrist take over pulpits.
If the Church would but open its eyes and awaken and understand its heritage and the Word of the Lord, then it would stand with a new authority, power and purpose. Brothers and Sister in Christ, I beseech you, leave religion behind you and instead follow Jesus, in close and personal relationship! Amen!