I’ve been a professing disciple of Jesus for about 20 years. Prior to meeting Jesus personally, I had seen an Anglican version of Him. It was a ritualistic cookie cutter machine of religious gymnastics. I realized I didn’t have what it took to become good at this sport so I left. When I really met Jesus it was through a group who preached that I had to be ‘born again’ to be saved. Now this was different. This had something that stirred my very soul. This had some truth that my soul knew was right. And so I got born again according to the playbook of many other folks who got born again. Anyway, enough of my background. I mention it only to say that I’ve seen the very ritualistic form of religion as well as the more evangelical form of it. And here’s the part that’s going to ruffle some feathers and backstroke some cats (just made that up):
The Jesus preached to me since my birth is *not* the Jesus I see in the Bible.
And now let me make this a bit more personal for you:
The Jesus you think you know may be a form of dead religious gymnastics, not Jesus the God-Person-Saviour-Christ of the Bible.
or, let me put it a bit more cool-jazz style (start slow trumpet in dark urban alley):
Whatever religious ‘thing’ you’re doing, might actually be *preventing* you from truly knowing our Heavenly Father.
It’s time to take a step back and evaluate where we really are in our relationship with our Heavenly Father and I’m going to help ignite the process by showing some things about Jesus in the Bible that might surprise you.
Jesus Never Fits the Religious Gynmastic Programs
1. Jesus pardoned sins while walking the earth
When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. (Mark 2:5)
Everyone knows that Jesus healed people. This is exciting and fine. But Jesus, in front of the ‘church of his day’ (the synagogue) declared that He had the power of God when he forgave the man his sins. Shocking would have been an understatement for anyone standing nearby – much more shocking, if you think about it, than the fact the paralysed man stood up and walked. The healing was merely proof of his former shocking words. How many times has your church preached this part of Jesus?
Jesus spent time with sinners
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? (Mark 2: 16)
It would have been considered extremely poor religious behaviour for Jesus to be spending time with the unclean heathen. But for this reason did Jesus come – to heal the sick. Healing the sick offended the religious folks. This Jesus was offending them.
Disciples of Jesus didn’t fast
And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not? (Mark 2:18)
The Pharisees fasted. Even the disciples of John the baptist fasted. Anyone who was part of any religious team fasted! But not Jesus’ team. They walked to a different beat. This Jesus simply didn’t feel the need to fit in with what was going on. This Jesus knew who He was and didn’t derive his identity from approval of religious teams and their coaches and their board of directors.
Jesus worked on the Sabbath
And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? (Mark 2:23-24)
According to their rules and regulations, one wasn’t supposed to work on the Sabbath. And here is Jesus ‘breaking the rules’. Or…. was He? Is it possible for the one who made the game and its rules to break the rules? Jesus was declaring that He was not part of the religious game but instead the Maker of the game. Surely, this rocked their religious boat.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath
And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched [it] out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. (Mark 3:5)
The religious teams considered an act of healing to be ‘work’. They were so addicted to the comfort of their religious systems that they were unable to even desire to see a man with a withered hand healed. Their desire to see the cold rules of the law followed to a tee was stronger than the desire to see a suffering person’s pain and burden healed.
The above five events pulled from the Gospel of Mark really require us to sit back and take a look at our own lives. Pretend just for a moment that you are part of a synagogue of Jesus time. Let’s pretend that the ‘synagogue’ is called a ‘church’ for fun (it’s just a name of a gathering after all…).
You find out that a certain miracle-worker named Jesus has showed up to town and really offending the churches. Some are calling him a blasphemer, some are calling him a heretic and a cult leader. This Sunday he and his crew show up to your church meeting and walk in. In the middle of the well-planned sermon Jesus puts his hand up and asks why 80% of the males in the group are in bondage to pornography.
An uncomfortable silence follows and the males squirm in their chairs.
Then Jesus asks why there is over a 50% divorce rate amongst you.
Further awkward silence.
Then he asks why there are those participating in holy communion who have wicked lives behind the scene.
Now here is the question I want you to really think about. If the above were to happen today, do you think the Shepherds and the Sheep of your group would:
a) repent in bitter sorrow and weep over their condition or
b) kick this preacher out the back door for rudely speaking out of turn and mucking up their flow
I want you to think about this. Really.
But it doesn’t stop there. The Jesus that I see in my Bible also said this:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Matthew 10:34-35)
He also said this:
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and [that] he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)
And the list goes on.
I hope that I’m mistaken, but I’m guessing that the Jesus above doesn’t match up with the Jesus being preached to you. And that’s why you are in permanent bondage and your life is dark and dreary. Don’t think I haven’t been there before nor think that I’m fully out of the religious forest.
But great news, folks. Jesus is not a religious cross-fit program. He is a Person – and the most amazing, loving, forgiving, life-changing, freedom-providing One I have ever met.
Do not accept spiritual mediocrity.
Do not accept a program to substitute a relationship.
Do not accept a ‘form of godliness’ and deny the power of God.
Decide today that you will *know* your Heavenly Father by knowing His Word yourself.
Turn off the TV.
Turn off the news.
Turn off your cell phone.
Bow the knee.
Our Saviour has come.
He awaits at the door.
He is knocking.
Perhaps one of the things that has grieved me the most over the years is a reality I have seen in the Body of Christ – something of which both myself and my wife were guilty as charged. This something seems to be everywhere now that I ask around and now that I’m actively looking. The reason it is so common, in my opinion, is because almost everyone is guilty. So what is this crime?
Not being transformed
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Rom 12:2 KJV)
How is it that someone can be part of a fellowship where the Word of God is being taught and then leave exactly the same?
How is it that one can be living in sin, as I was, show up to meetings week after week and not experience *either* conviction or freedom?
How is it that one can stand in the presence of Almighty God and not change?
The answer is: They cannot.
And if you are not changing, it means you are not standing in the presence of Almighty God and you should be gravely concerned about your relationship with Him. If you are playing ‘the church game’ with yourself, like the Pharisees were, it’s time to wake up and smell the spiritual coffee and do a little test on yourself. Here is a test I perform on myself regularly now, and I hope it will be of value to you as well:
- Is God’s will truly most important in your life, or are there ‘other things’ that tend to rule?
- Do you truly want to know Him, the person of God, or do you want to know about him? Karl Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses and he was right, by the way. Are you opiating?
- Do you love the Word of God, or do you find it a drag to read, and like a ‘boring book’?
- Does sin bother you to your very core, or do you accept it as ‘the way it is’ like the rest of the world?
- Do you feel more hungry to know God more, or do you feel satisfied with your current relationship with God?
- Do you have sin in your mind and life? Pornography, sexual deviancy, alcohol and drug addictions, hatred, jealousy, un-thankfulness, un-forgiveness, and the like?
- Do you feel trapped in some kind of slavery and unable to break free?
- Are you being transformed or are you staying the same?
I know these are hard questions and they don’t feel good to ask, but let’s be serious. Jesus said that you can’t have two masters. I agree and say that you can’t play for two teams, either.
All throughout the Bible wherever God’s presence was, transformation of the most exciting kind took place. In the Old Testament you saw this with the physical location of the temple and the ark of the covenant. In the New Testament, everywhere Jesus went amazing healings took place and unbreakable chains were broken. In the book of Acts and onwards, you see clearly the very hearts of men transformed from God haters to God lovers. Transformation and change is a key theme and proof of God’s existence in individual lives and even nations.
But don’t stress out. You also can’t get right before God by doing a bunch of religious gymnastics or increase the frequency of the few righteous things you do. The Pharisees also did their ‘good works’ but they were destined for the fire of hell.
There is nothing you can do.
You are hopeless on your own.
But thanks be to God for the amazing transforming power of Jesus.
The day you truly repent and turn from your disturbing ways and allow Jesus to rule your very temporary life, is the first day of the rest of your life. On this day, true transformation will begin and the checklist above will soon be a joy to check because you’ll be shocked at how the power of God can change a person’s heart at the very core.
I pray that today be the first day of your transformation.