The Key to Living Refreshingly Free? Get Rid of Your Religion.

We often hear some semblance of the phrase, “becoming more like Jesus. ”

But how is this even possible?

Do we honestly have any hope of achieving such a thing?  It turns out, we do.

But probably not in the way that you’re thinking.  In our present culture and western ways of thinking, our perspective is too often one of comparison. But as both Teddy Roosevelt and C.S. Lewis are attributed with having said, “comparison is the thief of joy.” And while the statement certainly rings true, they’re not the first to have spoken about the concept.

The Apostle Paul,  in his first letter to believers in Corinth, speaks of it this way,

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?  (1 Corinthians 4:7 ESV).

Paul is essentially saying that when we compare ourselves to others, we are agreeing with the plans of the enemy for our lives. Comparison is the thief of joy and the stretcher of truth. Comparison says “I am ill-equipped for the task at hand.”

The truth is that God has given us everything we need for the plans he has set before us. And this is true for every single one of us.

The truth of his word says that he prepared us for good works, and every good thing comes from him.

And yet, Jesus came to earth and put on flesh.  Was this to be our example as if, for comparison or THE example, for our inspiration?

This is the tension we’ll wrestle through in this post as well as at our upcoming First Friday event on our Vista campus on Friday, November 5 beginning at 6:30pm.

As long as I’ve opened up the box on this shameless plug, please allow me to go on to tell you that our First Friday event is our monthly event for unmarried adults age 35 and better, where we offer up the opportunity to:

  • Join in some great community and fellowship,
  • Find out what our Single Adult Ministry at North Coast is all about,
  • Meet some of the first-time attendees to the event at a meet-n-greet beginning at 6:30 followed by:
    • Some amazingly inspirational live Worship & Praise,
    • An encouraging message that you can apply to your life,
    • The opportunity for small group interaction & discussion,
    • Sharing of our gifts and offerings,
    • Enjoying some tasty dessert and
    • The opportunity to get up and move in celebration of all Jesus has done in, through and for us with music provided by DJ-Josh.

There’s no cost to attend and no registration needed.  Terence Cooper will be leading us in worship, Pastors Terry Murphy and Andy Stanley (video) sharing in providing the message and we hope to see you there.

This tension between working to become more like Jesus and having Him as our inspiration to live more authentically as Christ-followers is a subtle but significant thing to consider within our faith walk.

As Chuck Bomar writes in his book, Losing Your Religion, “Many Christians feel as if something is missing in their relationship with God. Out of a desire to find an in-depth, authentic relationship with God they try to do all the things they’re taught to do.  Inevitably many believers find themselves simply living out a results-oriented “behavior management system” of spiritual growth disguised as Christianity. Unfortunately, rather than leading to an intimate relationship with God, this behavior-based system does just the opposite. It produces an unsatisfying life full of inner turmoil that’s driven by guilt and shame.”

So many of us grew up being taught a bunch of rules that we had to follow in order to be the type of people we’re supposed to be.

And when we failed to live up to those rules, we were most likely made to feel awful or guilty or awfully guilty.

And it seemed to just be this crazy, never-ending cycle.

We’ve all likely heard (and yet it’s good to be reminded) that Christianity isn’t a religion—it’s a relationship.

But, as Bomar writes, “a lot of us practice a Christianity that’s really a behavior management system . . . in other words, a religion—one that nobody actually longs to be a part of!”

How can we stop this confusing behavior management cycle with the life-giving faith into which Jesus invites us? How do we move past having behavioral standards and habits as our only measures of maturity? How can we grow a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ to the point where we’re finally able to break the chains and find true freedom?

Andy Stanley suggests that all religions have the following edicts in common:

  • You ought to.
  • You don’t.
  • You’re toast.

And C.S. Lewis wrote that all of the world’s religions have some form of the following common laws:

  • Don’t harm others.
  • Don’t Lie.
  • Don’t engage in sexual activity with anyone who’s not your spouse.
  • Care for the weaker members of your society.

Society’s default approach when it comes to religion; to dealing with God, is through rules.

He makes them.

We break them.

Everyone suffers.

This is basic religion; laws and the keeping and breaking of them.

But do you know what the law (religion) is good for?  …what your conscience is good at?

They are good for reminding us of where we fall short and that, when we do, we are to try and pay some kind of penance to make things right with God.

As Andy teaches,

  • The law can’t help you become a better law keeper
  • The law can’t help you become a better person
  • The law is a reminder of how awful you are
  • The law empowers the power of sin.

Yes, approaching God through the law is our default.

But eventually, it leads to defeat.

Because, again, the law has this way of reminding you of what you’re supposed to do and then, when you don’t do it, it reminds you of how horrible you are for not having done it.

Jesus changes this paradigm.

Christianity (following Jesus) goes even further. As Andy Stanley shares, when Jesus came into the world, He didn’t introduce a new form of religion. Jesus introduced a vastly different relationship with God.

Through Adam (the first created human) we entered into sin.

With, in and through Jesus Christ, we have one who takes away our sin.  (1 John 3:5)

One who lived as one of us, serves as teacher to each of us, suffered persecution and died on our behalf; to then be resurrected and seated at the right hand of God.

To one day return again, to rule and to reign over all of the earth.  (John 18:36-37; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11)

A genuine, promised, trustworthy and able Messiah.

Christianity, therefore is a living, vibrant relationship with a living, resurrected Savior.

As Romans 6:14 reminds us, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law but under grace.”

The Grace of God through His son, Jesus Christ. Through whom we find the power to overcome the tyranny and oppression of sin. One who, in fact, invites us with a beautiful and apt description of himself along with a promise,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other. (John 15: 5-17 NIV)

And did you catch it?  Within the promise is a command; that we love one another.

Yet here, He is not asking us to do something that’s impossible or to try and keep a law that we’ll only end up breaking.

And this is that subtle but ever-present tension. God’s commands are different than man’s laws.  They are always protective and always come with provision. Here, He is asking us to love one another; even those who try our patience; stretch our capacity and for whom we don’t feel love.

Jesus isn’t asking us to feel something; He’s asking us to do something.  Love one another.  Figure out in each situation or circumstance, what is the most loving way you can respond, act or behave and then extend that to each other.

And He enables us to do this by first showing His amazing and unconditional love for us.  Yep, just as we are.  And that’s how it is with all of the ways in which He calls us to live as His followers.

He equips us with the ability through His Holy Spirit living inside of us. We slowly but surely begin to change and do what He refers to as “bear fruit.”  And throughout the process of our growing to do so, He offers us grace.

As Chuck Bomar reminds us; “You’re not called to be a ‘better Christian.’ (What a relief!)

You’re called to let Christ’s very presence transform you into a person who loves God and others wholeheartedly and with deep joy.”

Isn’t that great?

It’s the Fruit of the Spirit Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22-23.  Fruit produced through the Holy Spirit.  …in and through us; but not by us.

We’re going to have to abandon the way of law in order to understand the way of grace.  If we’ll just change our entire approach and mindset to following Jesus (to allow Him to be out in front of us); from rule-following (and breaking) to abiding and remaining in Jesus, we will begin to produce good fruit.

Andy Stanley counsels that, “In doing so we can begin to learn what it means to abandon ‘lawful living’ to begin to understand what it really means to have a growing, daily walk with the living resurrected Christ, whose spirit lives in you because you are now in Him.

Producing fruit is not a to-do list.  It’s about allowing God to produce in and bear fruit through you. It’s about keeping in step with the Spirit as opposed to keeping the law.

If we don’t learn to walk in this way, we’ll just remain religious and be frustrated throughout the balance of our lives.  Yeah, but “how?”, you ask.

Well, here are some starter ideas that Andy provides (not a list) that are meant to be more descriptive than prescriptive:

  1. Accept your new identity.
    • I am in Christ; what’s true of Christ is now true of me because I am forgiven, I’m accepted; I’m completely loved, there’s nothing I can to make God love me more. There nothing I can do to make God love me any less.
    • I have died to the power of sin.
  2. Begin to embrace this new approach.
    • Sin you’re not my master. Sin you cannot have my mind, nor my eyes, nor my feet because I am going to do my best to keep in step with Holy Spirit who now resides within me.
    • It’s NOT a voice; it’s more of an internal guiding. It’s the Spirit of Jesus that lives in you if you put your faith in Him.
    • Regularly ask God to teach you to walk in The Spirit and to produce fruit through you.
  3. Refuse to interact with God on the basis of law.
    • “Lord, I got out of step” vs. “I did it again, God.”
    • Let’s take a step back and try it again so I can get back in step with You and Your Holy Spirit.
    • It’s easier to be religious but it’s way more frustrating.

The Christian life is way more than trying to imitate Jesus; you can’t.

The Christian life is about the life of Christ that has been given to you.

It’s what guarantees that you go to heaven when you die and what guarantees that sin has no hold on you.

It’s what allows you to say “no” to sin.

It’s what allows you to say, “no, I don’t have to because the power of Christ is within me.”

The power of sin has been broken.

It’s just a brand-new approach.  It’s how the New Testament was launched and there’s always been a remnant of people who’ve never let go of this approach.

And the God who created and loves us has allowed it to be preserved for over 2,000 years.

Want to learn more?  Come, join us at our First Friday event in Vista on November 5.

Have something to share?  Drop Pastor Terry a line at [email protected]

Right here with you,