What is life supposed to be like for those who are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) in Christ? The concept of many is that being a Christian is about doing religious things. One must be a faithful “church member” (which includes being a member of the “right” church), support and uphold the “work of the local church,” “worship scripturally” and beyond that “just be good.” Yes, I have heard it expressed in terms very much like this!
But God has never been interested in people just being “religious.” He is much more concerned about making people righteous and then having them practice righteousness. But with all the religion around to confuse and obscure what that means, very few ever really get the picture. Therefore few ever get into the story we are supposed to be living out in this world.
This is not because God has not made himself plain on the matter. It is because we have allowed institutionalized religion to tell us what we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do – and we like what they tell us. Institutional religion is easy. Support the church/institution, don’t rock the boat by questioning the “traditions of the elders,” be “good” and you have your ticket punched for a one-way trip to the “sweet by and by.” You can just sit back and enjoy the ride!
But God’s way of righteousness involves a bit more than that kind of religion. Actually it involves a lot more than that. A whole lot more. True religion is a way of life. It is a life of righteousness or right living that extends itself outside narrow, sectarian rules and restrictions to encompass all the things God considers as good. It may be summed up in a few words as in Micah 6:8 …
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
Or it may be summed up in one word as in …
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8).
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14).
The kind of life God wants us to live is evident throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).
From the outset of his preaching Jesus let it be known what his people were to be known for…
(Matthew 5:16) “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Time after time Paul emphasized this same truth…
(Titus 3:8) “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”
(Heb. 13:20-21) “Now may the God of peace … equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen”
Count Peter in on the same message.
(1 Peter 2:12,15) “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
(Mark 3:35) “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
(Romans 12:2) “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
(1 Peter 4:8-11) “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Paul told Titus to…
“… let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.” (Titus 3:14)
The word “religion occurs only five times in the entire Bible. Three of those occurrences refer to the Jew’s religion, once to the vain or worthless religion of the self-deceived and once to true religion.
The way James describes true religion bears no resemblance to what parades as “true religion” today.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27).
His version of religion has nothing to do with rules, rites and rituals. His religion takes us and shakes us and rouses us out of our comfort zones of the padded pews, air-conditioned buildings, professional preachers with their PowerPoint presentations and into the homes of the poor and the helpless widows and fatherless in the squalid slums and back allies where there will also be found the sick, crippled, and beggars, the prostitutes, pimps, alcoholics and drug addicts, homosexuals and a host of other hurting cast-offs of society.
Read the story of Jesus. How often do you find him in the company of such people as these? When he was in the company of the religious elite he was most often in a confrontation with them. Those people were not comfortable around the kind of people Jesus befriended and was often found helping.
And Jesus didn’t adjust to the company of the “religious” people very well either. His values (which were the Father’s values) did not sit well with the Jews. They were never satisfied with his actions. Jesus said they were like children complaining because he didn’t play their games.
“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’” (Luke 7:31-32).
If Jesus’ religion is not the religion we are practicing then we are practicing a false religion. If the leaders among us are not leading and demonstrating this as the true religion, then all the claims to the contrary are boasts and bluff. If the community of believers is not preparing each one to take on some role in this endeavor it is not living up to it’s responsibility. The “gifted” ones are to train, prepare, educate those who are unprepared to serve. It is good that people be taught correct doctrine, but if that doctrine does not enable and motivate people to connect with the real world as humble servants of our fellow man it does no good whatsoever. This caring for God’s creation is what we were created for to begin with, after all.
Think about that often quoted verse in Hebrews 10 where the writer urges Christians to not be “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (vs. 25). There has been endless speculation about what day is under consideration – whether the first day of the week or some other day or whether this means that one must attend on Sunday morning while other times are less important and/or optional. What is overlooked is that this verse is only the last part of the sentence begun in verse 24, which is in turn a part of a larger discussion about how we are to enter the holy place opened for us by the blood of Jesus. He says that we should draw near “in full assurance of faith,” “hold fast the confession of our hope” and “stir up…love and good works.” The three things Paul said remain (1 Cor. 13:13).
Isn’t it interesting that in such a discussion there is a concern for Christians caring about one another and encouraging one another to show love and to do good toward others? Should we not see this as very important – having to do with coming into the “holy place” opened for us by the blood of Jesus?
Look at verse 24 particularly.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24).
Where was this “stirring up” to be done? Obviously during the time they were meeting. During this time they were to encourage one another. To do what? Would it not be to show love and good works?
Looked at in this way, the meetings of Christians would look like planning and training sessions with a view to doing good works. Rather than solemn ritual occasions those gatherings would be more like brainstorming sessions to identify needs and plan how to meet those needs. The way it is now among many churches, good works are left up to individuals who have no idea of what needs exist nor how to go about meeting those needs.
Of course there is always the need for the Lord’s people to devote their attention to praise and prayer, to teaching and exhorting, to communion in the body and blood of the Lord and to giving to maintain necessary works. But this should not be seen as an end in itself. It should be viewed as preparation for the life that exists outside the gathering place – the real world where the Lord’s work is carried on on a daily basis – the demonstration of love that identifies us as the true disciples of Christ.