From the time of my youth, my life has been lived among my own people in Jerusalem. Practically every Jew in town who watched me grow up—and if they were willing to stick their necks out they’d tell you in person—knows that I lived as a strict Pharisee, the most demanding branch of our religion. -Paul in Acts 26:4-5 MSG
I think that those who have the hardest time trying to understand grace are those who have grown up going to church. Second to that are those who were discipled by these people. There is a reason for the ‘de-churching’ movement that has been rolling around for the last several years. People are figuring out that they, in all of their religiosity, are missing something. Well, they are missing something. Some of these people need to be deprogrammed and rebuilt.
It’s hard to know when you’re off track when you spend all of your time surrounded by like-minded people. There is no real challenge or eye-opening experiences. If you are challenged, it’s to be more of the same. To be the best at being the best. One of the most effective means to remove the scales from someone’s eyes is to let them fall flat on their face in spite of their death grip on their own holiness, but that’s a product of the mystery of God’s sovereignty. In all of that effort to be the holiest, they’re completely losing touch with a world they’ve been called to season. They alienate people with their lack of compassion and depth. They’ve lost their salt.
I’ve often thought that going to church does more damage to the free Spirit than not going at all. It’s hard to find a church that is full of people whose spirit is busting from their flesh. It’s much easier to find a church so full of bodies that they have to expand their walls. It’s hard to balance the politics of a functioning business against the diversity of a growing spiritual community. We can see evidence of that without even trying.
I’ve been approached by Christians who claim that the Spirit is breaking the mold and calling people to live outside the walls. I tend to resist the message of people who make sweeping claims about the movement of the Spirit. My view is that time will tell the whole story.
I’ve also heard people complain about churches they deem “seeker friendly”. They say that they aren’t being fed and they’re looking for something that is a little harder on them. They need a list of criteria. They need to feel condemned so that they can adjust until they feel holy.
My experience with churches deemed “seeker” is that they don’t wander too far from the basics. Those who are bored with the basics need to realize that they are bored with the simplicity of the Gospel. They’re bored with Jesus. We’re supposed to take the basics and let the Spirit cultivate those seeds into a wild frenzy of personal discovery. You can’t let other people do your thinking for you. You aren’t going to get life from rules. You’re going to get life from belief.
Use your own brain to engage the Spirit in a dance of critical thinking. Use inductive and deductive reasoning, then do your scriptural research to find the answers.
I’m sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I’m sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me. -Jesus in Paul’s Damascus road experience in Acts 26:17-18 MSG
How can anyone open the eyes of another when they’re in their own religious bubble of trying to be the best at being the best? Any self-help theory of personal discipline can offer the same standard without any input from the Gospel. Until you understand that the Gospel turns the demands of religion on its head and makes any attempt at holiness useless, you’ll never get in on the real mystery of the gift of Jesus.
Using deductive reasoning, you can look at the results of your own life and begin the journey of tracing it to the cause. In spite of doing everything right, people still feel dead inside. They’d never admit it to their peers, but they know that their hearts don’t burn inside them like the scriptures say it should. They’re missing the revelation that ignites the fire. They bypass Jesus because they think they should be further than that. Like a girl who cuts herself to feel real, they tighten their chains of religiosity until it hurts.
They think that the simplicity of Jesus is for baby believers. You can’t bypass Jesus to find a life on fire because Jesus is the fire. You are not meant to go beyond Him. You’re meant to be engulfed by Him.
“We have met countless “Bible-believing Christians” who would say, “Yeah, Jesus is Lord and Savior. I got that T-shirt a long time ago. But we must now mature, go deeper, and go on to other things.”
Go deeper? And what “other things”? Other things beyond Christ?
…The person who believes that a Christian or a church can graduate beyond Christ has never fully seen Jesus…” -Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola in ‘Jesus Manifesto’
Using inductive reasoning, you can look at the Gospel and explore the implications until you die. Take the facts that scripture clearly spells out and stop trying to make it harder. The offer is “sins forgiven”, “a place in the family”, and “real life” through belief. The moment you try to graduate to something harder is the moment you walk away from the Flame that burns with life in the heart.
There are no stipulations on “sins forgiven”. Sin is sin and they are all accounted for in the offer. Of course people know better. That’s why it’s sin. There is no stipulation on “a place in the family”. That decision was made long before you were born. There is nothing so terrible that you can do that would nullify the gift. Believing that makes something shift inside of you. It changes the core of who you are. That’s why there is a stipulation on the offer of “real life”. That stipulation is belief. Your core becomes Jesus and nothing else.
Those who don’t believe continue to strive for something they will never achieve. Defeat is at the end of that treacherous climb.
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). There is no defeat because Jesus conquered every weapon of destruction (John 16:33, Isaiah 54:17). He told you that He accomplished what He came to do and when you believe that, you can’t walk away from it (John 19:30, John 6:37). You can’t move beyond it. The only thing left for you to do is to spread the word (Matthew 28:19, Acts 26:18).