Don't Be Comfortable With Religion! (A Brief Study)
Whether we believe it or not, we were created to endure adversity. We were not supposed to try to "boil life down" to a system that will always flow smoothly. Jesus said that in this world we would have problems, trials, and persecutions, but then added, "I have overcome the world." Man was designed by the Creator to need God, moment by moment, to get through adversity that would certainly come upon him in his life. Relying on God ensures we endure the problem, trial, or persecution we're facing. But that's not how we see it, is it? We want life to flow downhill like a gentle mountain stream, no rapids, no waterfalls, no obstructions. Only if our mind can conceive of a solution, do we allow for a problem in this day-to-day experience we call life. We whine and complain if we reach the edge of our comfort zone or if things don't go our way. Any situation that is bigger than our understanding, we deem as "unfair" or seek to blame God. So man devises ways of looking at God and himself in relation to the world. He synthesizes a system of belief that suits a single man or group of men and calls it religion.
Definition of Religion: Man devising a way to live life and worship God that man feels is correct or that makes sense in man's mind. It is man explaining God.
Be careful, as soon as you devise a plan to endeavor to make life go smoothly, there is most likely religion at its core. God does not want man to create guidelines to worship Him, or to create guidelines of behavior for himself. He wants us to listen to His guidelines and follow them. He wants us to learn to obey Him and take Him at His word. Since man is not the author of this body of guidelines that God has given, some of the things God has said will be difficult or impossible to do in man's own strength. These things in God's law may make little or no sense to a man that is not connected to God, or not walking with Him. We are, after all, sinners that pull away from God at every turn.
Definition of a Walk With God: Connected-ness to God by the blood of Christ so that by faith a person learns about God's words and commands, learns to obey them without question, and learns to follow the Holy Spirit's lead in life, worship and service.
There are many variations of religion because each man tries to cover the bases of their favorite aspects of eternity using only their finite minds. People will search until they find a way of belief with which they can feel comfortable. Each "system of belief" seeks to explain God, to break God down to edible man-sized bites, essentially creating an idol of who God actually is. If a person does not find a group that suits his comfort zone or his own sensibilities he may begin his own or settle for no group, practicing his religion in his way, in private.
There will always be people that claim to have a "worship-less life" but those people are deceiving themselves because all people worship something. If they do not worship God, they will worship money or success or power or knowledge or even their own mind and thoughts, their own needs and desires. Man is irresistibly religious. A person will either worship God or will have a religion in some form, but they will worship something. Remember, religion seeks to make sense of life's profound questions by applying finite thought to it and devising rules that seem to encompass eternal spiritual things. Religion in varying forms is present everywhere and so is also present in political groups, in social reform groups, and in scientific think tanks. All people worship something.
So far we have covered how all people worship something and touched on how people disconnected from God will create a way to feel like they are addressing the spiritual problems of life. Now I would like to consider how religion infiltrates churches of believers most of which are connected to God and that are worshiping and walking with God.
Religion is an attitude we allow to develop in us in which we stop turning to the sole rule of truth and practice, the Bible, for doctrine and measuring our steps. Instead we begin to think outside of the parameters of God's Word. We begin to place human logic or human emotion over "Thus Sayeth The Lord." These people of which I speak are individuals that do know Him, are aware of the Bible, and still insist on practicing religion. To be clear, I'm not speaking of individual church groups that have differing ways of expressing worship to God when I mention believers "practicing religion," I'm referring to people creating religion individually or in a group within that church. I'm also not referring to people that are called to a different assembly by God to serve there. God does, at times, move people to be "unsettled" in one group of believers and calls them to another because there is where they will better serve. You can tell God is in that move because they do settle in and serve, feeling at peace and at home. These are not just church hoppers that go from assembly to assembly, seeking the "perfect church for them." Church hoppers want religion, not worship.
In preparation of His departure from this earth, Jesus said that He would send another Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and that He (the Holy Spirit) would "guide us into all truth." Anyone that's familiar with the concept of a "guide" knows that two things must be true for the arrangement to work. First, there must be unfamiliar terrain through which only the guide knows how to lead. Second, there must be trust present in the one guided so that he will follow and not break off on his own, simply because it seems the "right thing to do."
You will find each assembly of believers has its own Spirit-led individuality, crafted to that group's Spiritual gifts and talents. Each church group is unique and the Holy Spirit guides that group of individuals in a way that is designed just for them. Some assemblies will need a powerful form of expression, others will be led in more conservative ways. That is the workings of God, not religion.
"Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment; of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you but you can not bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you." (John 16:7-15)
Religion pops up in a church because we allow it in ourselves or devise it for ourselves. These people will believe they see a better way for the church to grow or a teaching that needs to be included. They won't care that the Spirit is leading that church, it is their reasoning and desires that matter to them. Sometimes it spreads out into groups within the assembly that will eventually split off from a church that serves God to form a group somewhere else where it will practice religion. I know of a case in my own church assembly where a wealthy family that attended, approached the pastor and demanded that he refrain from including an invitation to accept Christ at the end of each service which was the custom since our church's inception. They said that if he did not stop this practice that they believed was unnecessary and ridiculous, that they would leave the assembly and "take their money with them." These people may have been sincere, otherwise kind and generous people but they had reasoned out something based entirely on human logic and religion, not based on the Word of God at all. Of course our pastor refused and they left, I presume, to find a religion that did not do this thing or that they could influence not to do this thing. This is religion. One other example is that a couple that attended left because they did not understand why the church had to bus underprivileged kids from the inner-city to church. They were disturbed because the kids were not dressed right so that some were raggedy, some not so clean because they came from homes that had very little. They expressed the thought that they believed that church should be a place of standards and people should not be allowed in that did not come up to that standard. In their mind they were totally justified in the request. Their religion demanded that standard. Problem is: God, in His Word has no standard like that so, of course, they too were refused their request and they too left the assembly to find another more suited to their religion.
Signs Of An Individual Practicing A Religion Instead Of A Christian Walk With God.
A person must examine themselves and see if any religion has made its way into their thinking. It is an insidious thing. We are a creature of habit and we form habits usually based upon how to best serve our flesh. When we are comfortable in our worship make sure that we are not just practicing religion. Remember that a walk with God will always be attacked by Satan, therefore a walk will not always be comfortable. That does not mean it will always be uncomfortable either. It will be challenged and a person maintaining a Christian walk will have to refer to the standard of God's Word constantly to keep their path straight. A religion comfortably seeks to serve the flesh. Here are some general guidelines to spot religion in yourself. When you do, ask God to help you root it out of yourself and get back to a walk with Christ.
1. Cruising On Auto-Pilot Is Religion.
This can be the number one pitfall for the active Christian. We are serving the Lord and find ourselves getting so busy with what is on our list of "to-do's" that we leave God out of its essential working. We begin to busily work in the flesh instead of listening to the leading of the Spirit. As soon as we veer from God's leading, we are practicing religion. Once you're "doing the best you can" it's only one short, sinful hop to "doing what you want to do." Without Holy Spirit guidance, we have only the Flesh and our constantly vigilant enemy, Satan, to guide us.
2. Never Leaving Our Comfort Zone Is Religion.
This is another way to gauge ourselves, a way to measure how much we allow religion to hinder our Christian Walk. Ask yourself the questions: Am I willing to do anything the Lord God asks me to do? If I knew the Lord wanted me to do something out of my comfort zone, would I do it? Would I go anywhere or would I simply disregard the Lord's directive if it takes me into uncharted, unfamiliar places, doing things I've never done? For example, if you receive a prompting, to talk to somebody about Jesus, a friend or family member and instead you say to yourself, "I will just be nice and show them Christian friendliness, it's the same thing." No, it isn't. What you have done is practice religion.
What about time? How much of your time belongs to God? If you think about it, every second of life that we have is a gift from God. Do you resent every second that you spend in church or doing God's work? A person that reasons, "I go to church for an hour on Sunday and an hour on Wednesday, that's enough." No, the attitude should be that my life is God's and each moment is the Lord's to do with as He sees fit. There are directives that say we are to guard our thoughts, to pray without ceasing, to always be about God's business. We do not play religion for two hours a week. We walk with God 24 hours a day, everyday. A person that changes God's call and leading to suit his whim or comfort, or a person who disregards God's call and leading, or one that devalues it, is practicing religion.
3. Thinking That You Totally Understand The Lord And All Of His Ways Is Religion.
This is a trap common to cults. "Come meet with us," they say, "and we will explain the mysteries of God." Soon their explanations fall short of the questions and they find themselves making up their own doctrine or shrinking God down to a human-sized box to explain Him and His reasoning. When that fails, they toss the Bible in a corner and write their own book. When we have dealings with the All-Knowing, All-Powerful God of the universe, there will not always be a meeting of the minds. How can there be? He sees the total picture, we, only a piece. He knows His plan for us, we don't always know what He's doing. But we know this: We can trust Him at His Word and His Word is always enough. A walk with the Lord will sometimes take us through periods of darkness, but we can trust Him to never leave us or forsake us.
"Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we may boldly say, "The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:5-6)
So, if you were testing yourself about religion, how did you do? How often do you find yourself cruising along on auto-pilot in the power of your own flesh? As soon as you realize it, do you confess it, and let God lead you again? How sacred to you is your own comfort zone? Do you form your own religion around that with which you are comfortable? or do you follow Jesus wherever He leads? Do your find yourself so confident in what you believe that you are not able to be swayed by Scripture? or are you constantly learning from God's Word, realizing that He and His Bible are eternal and that we will always be learning of Him?
Make up your mind right now to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading. Pray for enlightenment and understanding which you will find in the Holy Bible as you read daily. God doesn't ask you to stop thinking and reasoning out spiritual matters, but He wants us to know how strong our flesh is in fighting for control. The easy thing would be for us to make up our own religion. The harder, (and most importantly) correct thing, is to give over control and guidance to Jesus. He knows where we're going and how our future will play out. Trust Him with it.
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Now a moment please for the person who feels they do not need God or they may feel that they and God "have an understanding," You like the way you think of God. He doesn't uncomfortably require things of you and you have a pretty good idea how to live in that way of life that you have chosen. I want you to know that I care for you so I will now say some things that may not sit well with you. First of all, if this paragraph describes you, you are practicing religion. Religion is you finding your way to God by doing things that make sense to you and not listening to God about what God wants. "There is a way that seems right unto a man but the end thereof is the way of death." God Himself says that His "thoughts are not your thoughts and His ways are not your ways." Man must seek God but God is the one that will find you. He will make Himself known. I venture that He has made Himself known to you already, through things that have happened in your life, through death or new life, through poverty or plenty. In these times, you have heard a small voice in your mind that was God saying "I'm here. I want to come in and live in your life." Coming to Christ starts out with the knowledge that you are a sinner and in need of something you don't have- a Savior to pay for your sin. You know down deep you need a Savior and Jesus has knocked on your life's door for years waiting for you to open that door and let Him in. It is easy to do that. If you believe that Jesus is God in human flesh who came to earth to die for the sins of all, you are almost half-way there. Next you must believe the Gospel which is that after Jesus died, He was buried and then rose on the third day. All you have to do is call out to Him right where you are in your life. Let Him know that you believe in Him and you need forgiveness for your sin and you need for Him to save you. Let Him know that you are willing to turn from how you have been living and follow Him all the rest of your life. If you are this person and need to call on Him, pray this:
Dear Lord God, I have been making up my religion as I go along. I know You have been knocking on my life's door and I have hesitated about letting You in. I believe that You, Jesus, are God in human flesh sent to earth to die for my sins. I believe You came and they nailed You to a cross. They took You off that cross and you were dead in the tomb for three days. I also believe that You rose from the dead and now have paid for my sin if I only ask for forgiveness. I ask You, please Jesus, forgive my sin and save me. Change me and show me how to live. I am ready to follow You and I turn to You as the only way of salvation. Thank You for saving me for I pray this in Jesus' holy name. Amen.
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