Tag Archives: Religion

Knowing God without being religious.

Religion does not satisfy the longing of the soul because it does not answer the basic questions of the innermost being. Religious people all over the world are entangled in rituals and ceremonies to get a good report from a god whom they really don’t know. They know God is for real but they do not know Him personally. A lot of people trust their imaginations, while many are satisfied with the myths and legends handed down to them traditionally. In such cases you do not have any historical records or evidences to back you up. 

But for a Christian it is entirely different. His faith is based on the written Word of God, the Bible. The Bible is not a collection of mythological stories. It has been a proven historical document. It gives us a clear understanding of who God is and how we can relate to Him. It tells us that we can fathom God’s person not more than what He desires to reveal to us. So we read thus in the letter to Colossians:

 “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”‭‭.    (Colossians‬ ‭1:15-20‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬ 

Danger of Hypocrisy

 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. (Mt.23:1-22)

Beware of the Pharisaical attitude because it will invite God’s wrath up on us. Jesus pronounced condemnation on the Pharisees because they were hypocrites and they displayed a false piety. The religious are often politically motivated.

Characteristics of Hypocrites
The word ‘hypocrite’ comes from the term that referred to a stage player in a drama or theater. It meant ‘pretender’ or ‘actor’. People playing the role of someone else or acting like someone they really are not. It may be an art but it is falsehood and pure lie. Jesus’ contention about the religious ones was that:
-They preach but do not practice
-They burden others but never even try to carry it themselves
-They do everything to get people’s praise (v. 5)
-They desire greatness, power, titles and position (Mt. 23:6-12)

Not to follow their example
Hypocrisy is dangerous and attracts God’s judgment because it hinders other people from entering the kingdom of heaven. Jesus warned His followers about following the Pharisees’ example.

1. They hinder others from entering the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 23:13)
By the way they live, disregarding the Word of God, they themselves may not enter the kingdom of God. More serious than that is the issue of not letting others in. They become stumbling blocks to others. Remember, Jesus warned such people saying it is better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied to their neck (Mt. 18:6). They are like the dog in the manger. The dog will not eat the hay and neither will it let the cattle eat it.

2. They convert people but make them worthy of hell (Mt. 23:15)
They introduce others into their sect and confuse them with their philosophy of life and thus make them double hell-worthy.
our ministry is not as important as our life. God is more concerned about our life in Him than our service for Him. Being is above doing in God’s economy.

3. They overturn priorities and misguide others (Mt. 23:16-22)
Religious people do their religion to suit their convenience and to their benefit. Faith is not to satisfy ourselves or to please others, but to please God. Shuffling priorities to suit our convenience in the things of God is disastrous. They will be majoring on the minors and neglecting the non-negotiables. Many churches over emphasize the negligible issues and neglect the crucial. This deviation is prompted by the enemy of God’s kingdom.

We are to shun hypocrisy for it will make us stumbling blocks to people and bring us to judgment.

Influence of the Religious System

You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. (Mt. 16:1-12)

The Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes were the three sects among the Jews. Pharisees were the most popular during Jesus’ time. They strictly followed the written Law and the traditions of the elders, who, according to them, have the authority to explain and interpret the Law. Each party tried to explain the Law in detail as per its view and lay down rules for others to follow. They tried to influence people by their ideology and exert authority over them. This often made life difficult for ordinary people. Incidentally, Pharisees and Sadducees could never get along theologically and ideologically. Pharisees believed in angels and the bodily resurrection of believers while Sadducees did not believe any of this. They felt that Jesus was gaining influence among ordinary folks and found Him as a threat to their authority.

Artificial Unity
To attack Jesus leaders of these two parties came together. This was an unholy union with a common agenda. They tried to test Jesus by asking Him for a sign from heaven. He exposed their plan by telling them to interpret the signs of the times as they interpret the signs of nature. Calling them evil and adulterous generation He pointed to Jonah as the only sign for them.

Evil leadership spreads its evil influence
Jesus told the disciples to be alert against the evil influence of the religious system. They are often politically motivated and not spiritually moved. Those who follow Jesus should keep away from the religious system that would enslave them.

The Kingdom of God

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. (Mt. 11:1-19)

The role of John the Baptist
It was foretold in the scriptures in Mal. 3:1 and Isa. 40:3. Jesus acknowledged this. Jesus honored John the Baptist as ‘the greatest among those born of women’. He was greater than a prophet and Elijah who was to appear again.
The vision of John the Baptist
He too expected Jesus to be some kind of political liberator who would banish wickedness and establish the righteous rule. He tried to confirm whether Jesus was truly the Savior for whom he was a forerunner. If Jesus were, why should His forerunner be in prison, he thought.
The view of the religious
People had their own ideas about the Kingdom of God. They developed their own theories rather than listen to God’s Word and understand it. They rejected John and his admonition because it was not very  comfortable. They ascribed his lifestyle to be demonic. Jesus gave a radically new interpretation to the concept of the Kingdom of God. His message was attested by His deeds. But people were not willing to accept it as it was far from ordinary and commonly accepted behavior. So they called him unruly and friend of sinners. They forced their idea of the Kingdom of God up on people rather than listen to God’s messengers. They are compared with children who are not satisfied with anything, but want everyone to dance to their music.

Attitudes of a Christian

Jesus turned and asked the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses, “Is it right to heal on the Sabbath?”

…If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored. (Lk.14:3,11 CEV)

Religious people are often legalistic and judgmental in their attitudes towards others. They like to define rules and explain commandments to others than following it themselves. Pharisees of Jesus’ time did the same thing. Jesus rebuked them.

Don’t be Legalistic

Jesus being invited for dinner by the prominent Pharisee was under their keen observation. When the man with swollen limbs stood before Him He realized that and asked them whether it was permissible to heal on the Sabbath according to the Law. The Jewish Law forbid them from doing any work on the Sabbath day as it was a day set apart for their God. They could not answer Jesus and he went ahead and healed the man. Jesus nailed it on the legalistic Pharisee’s head when He asked whether they would try to save their child or animal that fell into a pit on the Sabbath day. Sabbath was in honor of the Lord and honor God through whatever you do on that day.

Don’t be Selfish

The guests at the dinner were vying for the best seating positions that would make them look prominent and important. Jesus tells them not to aim at high positions which are beyond themselves. They may be humiliated if they are asked to give room for someone else. But if the host feels that you deserve a better place and invites you to move up it will be an honor.

There are people who deliberately employ this principle with selfish motive. They act humble and polite with the intention that others will notice it. But their actual aim is to grab the position without being labeled cunning or crooked. This is worse than the former. Let God honor you and not people because people’s honor is temporary while God’s reward is eternal.

Kingdom of God

It is like what happens when someone plants a mustard seed in a garden. The seed grows as big as a tree, and birds nest in its branches.”

…It is like what happens when a woman mixes yeast into three batches of flour. Finally, all the dough rises.” (Lk.13:19-22 CEV)

Kingdom is where the King reigns. When God is reigning in peoples’ lives the qualities of His Kingdom are visible. By your life you reveal who your God is.

Jesus presented a view of God’s Kingdom which was very different from what the religious community of His time perceived. He was the King but the characteristics and the establishment of His Kingdom was so radically different.

Characteristics of God’s Kingdom

It is something that is dynamic, growing and reaching out far and wide. Others would find shelter and refuge in it. It is like a tiny mustard seed growing into a large plant that provides its fruit to people and rest to those who come to it.

It is also all pervasive in its nature like the yeast. Its quality penetrates into the whole community and affects it for good. It influences all those who come in contact with it.

Entering God’s Kingdom

The road that leads to God’s kingdom is narrow and difficult. Those who want to take it need determination and commitment to keep walking in it. It is so easy to fall of the narrow way. One cannot change his focus while treading this path.

It also shows clearly that there is one door which is going to be closed some time soon. This door is Jesus. He claimed that He is the only way to Heaven (John 14:6). He said He is the door. Those who wandered here and there, tried to enjoy the multi-lane express ways, and are late in making up their minds to get to ‘the narrow door’ will be shut out. Crying out after the door has been shut is worthless. Enter in while the door is still open.

The response to the cries of those who are left out says clearly that one needs to know the King in order to enter into the kingdom. In fact the King should know you. Those who turned to Jesus acknowledging Him as their only Savior has been given the privilege to know God as their heavenly Father (John 1:12). God knows them too (John 10:9,14). Only such will enter the kingdom.

Do you know the King? Does He know you?

 

 

 

Going to God in Need or Greed

Then he said to the crowd, “Don’t be greedy! Owning a lot of things won’t make your life safe.”

Your Father knows what you need. But put God’s work first, and these things will be yours as well.

Make sure your treasure is safe in heaven, where thieves cannot steal it and moths cannot destroy it. Your heart will always be where your treasure is.(Lk.12: 15, 30,31, 33,34 CEV)

Religiosity is often with selfish motives. People go to God in their greed, to get all they want. But, the Bible emphasizes the need to be free from greed. People came to Jesus with various motives. Here is a man asking Jesus to be the arbiter between him and his siblings in settling their property dispute

Seeking God for material benefits

Jesus questions the integrity of this man’s prayer. He sounds to him that He is not here as anyone’s arbitrator to justly distribute material wealth or earthly benefits. Rather, He is here with a different mission. His goal is eternal and other-worldly. He admonishes people to give away worldly possessions or to trade it for eternal riches. This world is temporal and what this world gives also is fragile. What is stored in heaven is eternal and indestructible.

The rich man’s story reveals the unreliable nature of wealth and the sorry state of those who labor day and night to amass worldly treasures. All these can vanish in a moment. We will have to leave this world we don’t know when. It would look foolish to have struggled for things that are of no value to you anymore. Even God will consider him a fool.

Seeking God for eternal benefits

God has promised those who seek Him sincerely that He will take care of them. After all, it is He who knows our future. To those who acknowledge His Lordship He has given assurance about their eternal destiny (1John 5:13). Jesus reiterates that God would care for His children much better than He cares for the rest of creation. He has put the priorities clearly in order. Put God and His kingdom first, then God will keep His promise to take care of your needs. He may not fulfill your greed but provide your every need (Phil.4:19).

By focusing on God’s kingdom we will be gathering riches and rewards in heaven. When our concern is about earthly things we worry about it in vain because worry is unproductive and often destructive. Our heart will always be where our possessions are. Our focus will be on things that we value the most. We will be disappointed if our eyes are set on the things of this world because they cannot accompany us in death. But all that we did for God’s kingdom will follow us into eternity and result in eternal rewards.

Traditions versus Rituals

The LORD’s people left Egypt exactly four hundred thirty years after they had arrived. On that night the LORD kept watch for them, and on this same night each year Israel will always keep watch in honor of the LORD. (Exo.12:41-42 CEV)

The Lord God brought the people of Israel out from their bondage in Egypt. The children of Jacob had now become a nation of over a million people. (600,000 men according to Exo.12:37. There could have been an equal number of women and children. Exo.12:38 includes “many others”.) It was an ocean of people and cattle! Leading them out of the city of Rameses was not a joke. But the Bible tells us in Exo.12:42 that God kept watch over them the night they left. We also see in the next chapter that the Lord covered them with clouds during the day and fire during nights and protected them.

Biblical Traditions

In order to remind them of what He had done for them the Lord commanded them to observe that day each year as the Passover feast. He gave them detailed instructions as to how they should and how they should not observe it.  The Lord also instructed them that as they observe this feast they should explain to their children the reason behind it. Thus it became a rich and meaningful tradition which  reminded the people of the great deliverance their forefathers experienced and honored God.

They also kept another tradition of keeping a night watch on that night each year and the Bible tells us that they did it to “honor the Lord” (12:42). Biblical traditions are followed by churches with this intention, to remind people of the faithfulness of God and to consciously honor Him for His glorious deeds.

Religious Rituals

Traditions that are not rooted in the Word of God and do not honor God are just rituals that satisfy our human yearning and guilt. They are observed without convincing reasons or valuable purposes. They often honor people rather than God. They drag you away from the real worship of the true God and lead you into hypocrisy and idolatry.

Good traditions are meant to honor God for what He has done in our lives. Do we honor God through our traditions or simply follow rituals for mental satisfaction?

Get back on the track

In the eighteenth year of his reign, after he had purified the land and the Temple, Josiah appointed Shaphan son of Azaliah, Maaseiah the governor of Jerusalem, and Joah son of Joahaz, the royal historian, to repair the Temple of the Lord his God….

While they were bringing out the money collected at the Lord’s Temple, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord that was written by Moses. (2Chr.34:1-18 NLB)

The Christian communities around the world have slipped into a kind of sluggishness. Many have lost the joy of their salvation, struggling to cope up with the world. Several have succumbed to the temptation of following the crowd. The demarcation between them and the world has faded away. The Church has been compromising on the teachings of the Word of God to satisfy those who are trying to satisfy their own flesh. There is more of mammon worship than worship of the true God. (But, glory be to God, there is a remnant spread all over the world, that still honor God and follow His Word.)

There is only one way to experience the joy of the Lord-get back into the fellowship. That is why there is a constant call from God to His wayward children to return to Him. Some of the ancient rulers reinforced this in their kingdom. One of such was king Josiah of Judah. He ascended the throne as an eight year old lad but he desired to follow the Lord like his forefather David. So he destroyed everything in his life and the life of the nation that was an abomination to the Lord.

Get rid of whatever is detesting to the Lord

It is not a literal instruction to the Church today. This does not mean that you go around destroying others’ property, attack religious places or cause inconvenience to others. We need to understand the principle. How do we decide? Go to His Word. As you read and meditate the Spirit will convince you of things in your own life that need to be thrown out or destroyed. Just obey. There is nothing more pleasing to God than to see His children obey Him, because obedience comes out of trust. Josiah did just that. A cleansing is required before the joy of the Lord can reclaim our lives.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (1Cor.3:16-17 NIV)

Repair and Restore the Temple

The temple of God represents the worship of God. The worship of God has been interrupted, lost its meaning or perhaps stopped in your life. This needs immediate attention, repair and restoration. When the worship of the Lord is restored the glory of the Lord will continue to descend up on the temple in such a way that others would see it.

Seek the Law of the Lord

The restoration of worship will naturally lead to the rediscovery of God’s book of Law, the Bible. The high priest discovered the book of the Law and introduced it to the  king and officials. That revolutionized the lives of the people. Though it did not last for long before the king died and people slipped back into sin, the principle for restoration and spiritual growth remains the same.

Rid your life of every sin. Don’t try to define your actions or justify them. The simple formula is to keep away from whatever that raises a doubt or question in your mind. Read the Bible, meditate on it. Follow the Law of the Lord. And when you fall, gather yourself up and get back on the track as early as possible.

What do you boast about?

Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save. And even those who advocate circumcision don’t keep the whole law themselves. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God. (Gal.6:12-16)

Do you feel proud about being religious? Do you boast about your achievements? Do you take credit for what you possess that which you can never earn?

Religions tell us to work our way to god. Those who tirelessly follow the “to do” lists of religions often boast about their achievements. They feel they are eventually making god obligated to them. There are also those who think they are equal to god, thus making it possible for the humans to achieve practically anything or everything.

Promoting Rituals

Most people swear by rituals. Every culture is full of them. Rituals are part of religion. Christian Religion is no exception. It is our attempt to find God. Since it is human effort people will take credit for it. But the Bible says that no one can become acceptable to God by being religious or by observing rituals, however faithful they might be.

As long as you encourage others to follow some rituals you are in vogue. You earn name and fame, position and influence, money and perks. Promoting rituals is boasting in self and it will last only till we last.

Preaching the Cross

The Bible tells us that a Christian has nothing to boast about himself. The only thing he can boast about is the Cross of his Savior because he is saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, in what Jesus has accomplished on the cross.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Eph.2:8-9)

Every Christian is commanded to preach the message of the Cross, because it is the power of God unto salvation (Rom.1:16). The message of the cross excludes all rituals and human efforts and is highlighted as the only way to reach God. When you preach this way you will invite opposition, threats and persecution. That is one of the reasons why several people are content with promoting rituals.

However, the ultimate yardstick of effectiveness is the resultant transformation. The real thing is the new life that we receive from God through faith in Jesus Christ, just because of what Jesus has done on the cross. Neither religion nor rituals can do this. And all of it is a free gift from God. Aren’t you glad for the cross of Christ?

So, if at all I boast, let me boast of the cross of Christ, by which I have been transformed in my relationship with all that is temporal.