Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand.” 1 Samuel 17:45,46
As we come up to the months of summer and the year starts really flying by, I wanted to take a few weeks to go back and revisit a blog series that posted a couple years ago: Conquering Giants. I believe 2021 is a year for boldness, knowing so much of what we’ve been through in the past year has aimed to diminish our ability to move forward in faith. We’ve talked here before about “taking the land” and what that means spiritually-speaking. Part of entering into God’s promise for our lives means going after specific giants that plague us time and again. Into that reality, we must develop a David-like faith, knowing that Goliath is beatable because the Lord is on our side! I know within the Christian faith there are many areas we can tackle from week to week but if we sift through and determine root causes, major themes start to emerge. The giants of religion, identity, and comfort all stare us down from the moment we wake up each day. How we choose to conquer these giants determines how we move forward in faith and obedience to Christ.
For this first part of a 3-part series, I’ve chosen to start with the giant of religion. This is a giant that is alive and well in many of our churches and has existed since the beginning of time. We have a longing in our hearts that is God-sized and seeks to be filled. We fill this longing with many things…money, power, fame, sex, approval, education, family; the list is long. One thing that Christians have done well (“well” being a loose term) is our promotion of religion as the means to fill the hole each of us have. And often it feels right to make religion the thing we seek because it gives us a sense that we are pleasing God (albeit through wrong methods). Going to church, being a “good person,” tithing, and checking off the marks each week gives us a sense of duty that we are achieving the Lord’s favor in our life. But sadly this is a misdirection and ultimately a lie that we allow our hearts to believe.
What I’d like to unpack today are some of the falsehoods about religion and also the truth that relationship is really what our Father is after. Relationship will always tip the scale when placed up against religion. A desire to be close to our Savior and actually know Him always supersedes any duty or service we can do for Him. Before we dig in, here are a couple verses on the topic:
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6
And to love Him with all your heart and with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, which is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Mark 12:33
1. Religion causes us to see God one-dimensionally
Religion says “I must work harder to become a better Christian. I must earn my way to Christ.” Relationship says “God has done all that needs to be done. Every debt was paid at the cross.”
Even though many of us accept these statements as being true, we still live our lives as if we have to earn our way to God. The times in which we sin or slip-up reveal our true feelings about God. We come to Him thinking He is punitive and will reprimand us because of the failure we’ve made. We see Him as a keeper of the list of do’s and don’ts and because we have fallen short, we are now in the penalty box. Yes God’s character encompasses justice and righteousness. Yes sin brings with it consequences. But if God’s nature consisted only of justice and not also of love, none of us would be able to stand. If we understand God to be a perfect balance of love and righteousness, we get a better picture of Him and we desire to know Him and the nature of His heart. In so doing, He shows us Himself and we become more like Him.
2. Religion draws us into the comparison game
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: “I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.” Luke 18:11,12
When we seek religion as a means to an end, we find ourselves developing Pharisitical-like tendencies (we become no better than the Pharisees). In so doing, we forget the work of the cross and allow ourselves to be puffed up by whatever greatest achievement we have on our spiritual resume. It’s easy to look down our nose at other Christians when one has been a believer for some time. But pride is one temptation Satan loves to trip us up with. We live in a culture based upon pride…it’s our human nature and competition and comparison is all around us (especially in the age of social media). Still we must resist the urge to become prideful. Romans 3:23,24 states “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We must constantly be reminded of where we came from and what state we were in before we knew Christ. Having that knowledge daily before us will cause us to submit and surrender to the God who has freely lavished His grace on us.
3. Relationship is the only thing that truly frees us
We look for identity in so many areas outside of Christ. In fact, I believe identity is a giant of it’s own (more on that next week). But if we find our identity in religion, it will be a chasing after the wind. Just like anything else we try to fill the longing of our hearts with, religion brings us no closer to God and no closer to feeling at peace. It is truly relationship that saves us and remarkably, it was Christ who approached us first. We could do nothing on our own to save ourselves. Without the work of the cross, we would still be lost in our sin. We would be doomed to an eternity that has no hope and no future.
When you and I come to the place where we accept the Gospel as true, there is a moment of divine clarity. It is a point where we set aside any notion of what we can or could do to find peace. Instead, we claim the blood of Christ as the only sacrifice that God accepts and the only “religion” that draws His approval (religion being defined as a system of beliefs). It is here where our hearts’ longings are met. The hope we have in Christ, a hope this world can never take or replace, is truly what gives us life.
If you are struggling today because you are trapped in a system of religion, I would simply urge you to go back to the point where you first believed. Sometimes we have to allow our memories to be jogged to what first stirred us; what first awoke us. If the Gospel no longer does that in your life and you’ve lost your first love, ask the Lord to once again show Himself to you. I believe that He is faithful and He will not turn away the soul that earnestly seeks and longs after Him.
I’m encouraged that we have the power to defeat the giant of religion today and we can move forward in boldness and confidence as we follow our Savior. As always, I would love to hear from you!
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Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5:15-17