A long time ago…
In the middle east, a man named Jesus, the Son of God, came to save, not condemn the world by inviting all people to a relationship with Him and the Father. A real, active, alive relationship. He came at a time when religion had taken over any kind of relationship with God – loveless, elitist, joyless, rule-based, graceless, institutional religion became a god of its own. This Jesus then and today has liberated billions from death and religion and delivered them to eternal and abundant life. Sadly though, even with His Holy Spirit and His Word, people are still prisoners of this kind of religion today – even religion in Jesus’ name. I offer this note of love to awaken people to the essential differences between religion and relationship with God. I offer this to liberate prisoners. I offer this because as I feel called to reach out to and lead people back to God – therefore I also feel called to make church a safer place for them when they come home. Please read and reflect on the following…
The religious “talk the talk.”
Those who walk with Christ “walk the walk”; it’s evident in their lives beyond Sunday.
The religious focus on performance, appearance of holiness, and achievement.
Those who walk with Christ focus more on what’s inside and on actually being faithful whatever it “looks” like.
The religious insist on having to prove themselves to God and to others often under the guise of “excellence.”
Those who walk with Christ insist that they and their best is perfectly acceptable to God thanks to Christ, not their works.
The religious create an atmosphere in which sin and weakness are hidden and only perfection is acceptable.
Those who walk with Christ live in the freedom of His grace and no longer fear their weaknesses and pasts nor sharing them – because they have learned that God’s strength is made perfect in their weakness (2 Corinthians 12).
The religious believe they already know everything about God and don’t need to learn anything new.
Those who walk with Christ are humble and know they will always need to know God more; they hunger and thirst for studying His word and engaging the Holy Spirit.
The religious emphasize membership and an “us and them; insider, outsider” mindset, as if it were a club.
Those who walk with Christ emphasize that Christ died for all; that in Christ there is no “us and them”; that their church belongs to God and is an embassy of the Kingdom for the community and world.
The religious see church as “theirs” and something to be used and controlled; to get something from.
Those who walk with Christ see church as God’s place where His Spirit reigns and as an opportunity to offer and give of their whole lives as living sacrifices.
The religious focus on pleasing (certain) people.
Those who walk with Christ focus on pleasing God above all people and things and serving (all) His people.
The religious trust in rules and traditions being enforced and kept.
Those who walk with Christ trust in Christ alone; they respect rules and traditions but don’t allow them to discourage others or block the Holy Spirit.
The religious honor the strong, popular and successful among the members.
Those who walk with Christ honor the weak, the dishonorable and those in need (1 Corinthians 12, Matthew 25).
The religious often count on faith and salvation by heredity.
Those who walk with Christ count on being born of the Spirit over being born of the flesh for their faith and salvation.
The religious have a “checklist” mentality when it comes to church attendance and involvement for themselves and others.
Those who walk with Christ just love serving and glorifying God – there’s no need to measure it or “check” others.
The religious work to make sure their church’s experience is safe and comfortable.
Those who walk with Christ work to understand that following Jesus was, is and never will be safe and comfortable; but it will be good, amazing and Holy Spirit led.
The religious often lack compassion because the focus is on the institution rather than the people.
Those who walk with Christ see others as gifts from God; see their needs as opportunities to serve God and show others compassion. They see church as made for God and people not the other way around.
The religious often see people as resources, tools, and obstacles to be removed.
Those who walk with Christ see people as loved by God and to be respected and loved.
The religious approach faith as being good and doing good; something to be put on and taken off, like a mask.
Those who walk with Christ approach faith as being transformed inside and out into the handiwork of God, made for good works (Ephesians 2:10).
The religious connection to God is mostly through church activities and rituals.
Those who walk with Christ connect to God throughout the day, each day through prayer, Scripture, living, work, relationships; it’s becoming fully integrated.
The religious use judgment as a tool of control and gatekeeping.
Those who walk with Christ use grace to always remember how thankful they are and extend the same to all others.
The religious use the Bible as a tool for their own agendas and interests.
Those who walk with Christ use the Bible as their way and source for life; and they let it purely speak the truth into their lives daily.
The religious trust in their self-sufficiency and self-righteousness.
Those who walk with Christ trust in Jesus’ once and perfect sacrifice on the cross to cover their sins; they trust in grace alone (Ephesians 2:8). And they know that less self equals more Christ.
The religious are interested in church growth as long as it’s with the “right” people.
Those who walk with Christ are interested in any and all people coming to Christ.
The religious love others when it works for them and provides affirmation for themselves.
Those who walk with Christ love others fearlessly, unconditionally, purely and sacrificially; they love like Jesus.
The religious think that deception, division, and manipulation (any means necessary) are okay as long as they “protect” the church.
Those who walk with Christ think that love, truth, unity, and peace are the hallmarks of Christ in community; they pray and fight for them.
The religious view prayer as an activity, and an opportunity to show off their “spirituality.”
Those who walk with Christ view prayer as connection with the living God; an always open line to confess, repent, cry out, hear, be transformed, adore and worship, thank, intercede, be humbled and led, ask and more.
The religious believe God is most pleased by order, success, good performances, and appearance.
Those who walk with Christ believe God is most pleased by a broken and contrite heart, faithfulness, loving and unity with others, doing justice, and thanksgiving.
The religious are offended by invitations to grow and transform because they believe their self-righteousness has already perfected them.
Those who walk with Christ are committed to being new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17); the old has gone, the new has come.
The religious are ultimately fear-based – relating to God and others through fear – mostly the fear of rejection.
Those who walk with Christ are faith-based; fears are left behind in the embrace of God’s complete love in Christ.
The religious often view pastors and other leaders as tools, threats, obstacles and people to manipulate.
Those who walk with Christ view pastors and other leaders as sent and called by God, treating them with their due honor and authority, loving accountability, encouragement, and much prayer.
The religious love to talk about theology but seem to have very little first-hand knowledge and experience with God.
Those who walk with Christ have a relationship with God through Christ, enabled by the Holy Spirit, founded on the Word, informed by theology, crystallized with experience.
The religious wind up worshiping things of God (church activities, committees, music, pastors, traditions, etc.) rather than God himself.
Those who walk with Christ worship God purely, directly, allowing nothing or no one to eclipse His light in their lives.
The religious come to see church as a duty and responsibility.
Those who walk with Christ joyfully see church involvement as another way to thank God for all He has done in their lives, using the gifts and passions He gave them.
Most of the time the religious are not bad people. But the problem is that they are killing their churches by suffocating the very breath of the church – the Holy Spirit – which gives life to churches. As well, most religious people are miserable inside and outside – joyless because their lives are rooted in themselves, in others and things of this world. In addition, they are literally and by perception pushing and keeping people away from their churches. For many, pretty soon, it will just be a small group of religious people and then it will close and die. If possible, even worse, religious people are not connected to God; they have no real relationship with Him. Remember when Jesus said it will be like, “I never knew you…” that’s what awaits many religious people – even though they think otherwise. Religion doesn’t save; only Jesus saves. The degree to which you find yourself being religious or relational with God will be directly proportional to your faithfulness, fruitfulness and enjoyment of God. If you belong to a church, your church’s vitality and ultimate survival will be greatly impacted by the proportion of people you have that are religious, and are relational with God. He wants your heart, your life, all of you to belong to Him. When you stop focusing on doing good and being good all that’s left is to belong to Him – I promise it will be the most wonderful relationship you have ever know.
It’s not too late…
Rev. Christopher B. Wolf
Christopher B. Wolf is pastor of First Reformed Church of Saddle Brook and is the author of Giving Faith a Second Chance: Restarts, Mulligans and Do-Overs (2007) and With You Every Step of the Way; and the host of Walk With Me, Wednesdays 8 pm on WYFN 94.9 FM-NY and on www.yfnradio.com.
“It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point.