I wanted to follow on from my post of the weekend about religion and rhythm, and how in one sense when we adopt the rhythm that God has for our lives, that can become our religion, and that this what religion was meant to be. I felt I should clarify this post and my views on religion.
Regular readers of my blog know that I believe the way of Jesus is way bigger than religion. That hasn’t changed.
Jesus didn’t come down and simply give us a set of instructions to live by, He actually modelled a lifestyle and a set of values for us. He actually experienced human life – the majority of it not in full time ministry but doing a regular job like us. His job was as a carpenter, the family business – you might say that His ministry was effectively ‘the family business’ as well!
If Jesus had come to start a new religion He wouldn’t have done things as He did. He would have come down, given us His gospel, died and rose again and that would be it. Job done.
But He didn’t.
Jesus shared every human emotion and experience we go through. He was unmarried, but you can be sure He would have been tempted sexually – and to resist the temptation even to lust for 33 years is pretty tough. Significantly though He experienced the oneness of the marriage relationship through His relationship with God – indeed, marriage is meant to be a reflection of that relationship.
So Jesus fully experienced humanity – because His way of living isn’t about following a set of legalistic rules, its about living your life as a response to God and what He has done in your live, and orientating your life around a set of values.
The gift of God is a gift of grace, it’s nothing we have earned by ourselves and there’s nothing we can do to deserve it or merit it in any way. We simply have to accept the grace that has been poured out on us from God through Jesus and the cross.
I am convinced that Jesus didn’t come to start Christianity, He came to start the church.
There is a big difference.
Christianity is a religion with a set of legalistic rules and traditions, tied up with institutions and politics, and all funneled through some systematic theology, with little room for mystery.
Church is a community of followers of Jesus journeying through life together, trying to discover their identity in Christ, be discipled as a follower of Jesus and seeking to know Him more deeply, going through good and bad times together, providing pastoral support and encouragement, allowing people space to develop their gifts and calling, embracing mystery, and rather than theology be the point it is merely one dimension or expression of their relationship with God.
Jesus told Peter to build a church, not a new religion.
The thing that Jesus called him and the other disciples to was a way of life, it was a journey to become the people we were originally made to be. It’s a journey home. The invitation of the cross is to join our lives to God’s story, and to play a part in the restoration of all things as Jesus talks about in scripture.
I fundamentally believe that through the cross Jesus has made all things new and invited us to join Him in God’s big project to restore Heaven and earth back to being the same place again, that we are called to bring Heaven back to earth now. That Heaven can start here – Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven was here now, and He wants us to make that possible. It’s not about getting somewhere else when you die, it’s about playing our part in bringing Heaven as a reality to earth now and when Jesus returns He will complete the job.
We need to be fully present in the reality that we can bring a glimpse of Heaven to earth now in how we live our lives, our choices, our decisions, how we treat people, our values, in what we do with our lives, and we can see God in anything, anywhere and anyone if we have our eyes open.
Religion may be useful at its best – the rhythms of our lives are essentially religious, and God wants us to change the very rhythm of our lives and reorder them around Him. But He has the grace and love to deal with any mistakes we make, He knows us well enough to understand what we go through and why we make mistakes.
Religion is useful – but it’s not the point.
The problem the insitutionalised and politicised church can have sometimes is it makes religion the point. Much like many Christians make the Bible the point instead of recognising that the Bible says of itself that it is useful for teaching, training, discipleship, and whilst it is the divinely inspired Word of God and should be respected as such, that it is not, actually God, and it’s not the point, neither is religion. Science is the same too, many of these things can point us to God and tell us about Him and we can learn a lot from them, and they are from God in one sense, but they are not the point.
The point is God – Father, Son & Holy Spirit, and our relationship with Him and us growing as His disciples, becoming the people He designed us to be, and leaving space for mystery – because with God there should always be an element of mystery, and religion and the Bible – if we view it from the wrong perspective – doesn’t always leave us with too much room.
We can be guilty of using these things to shrink God down, when He is far bigger than we will ever understand or comprehend. When you embrace this bigger view of God then the Bible can inspire wonder, it can reassure us that God is far bigger than anything we can know or understand or contain.
If we accept there is an element of God we cannot understand fully, a part bigger than we can comprehend, and put things like the Bible and even religion in their proper place in relationship to God, then the likelihood is you will gain far more from them than you would have done before.
Some people stick to religion and worship the Bible instead of God because they want a God they can control, but their security is essentially in their perception of God rather than God Himself, because it’s a God they can control.
The truth that elements of God are beyond our knowledge and comprehension should be reassuring. We shouldn’t be afraid to embrace mystery and accept there are things we don’t know about God and that He’s bigger and more powerful than anything the entire human race could imagine.
We can trust a God like that, because when there are things in our lives we don’t understand, we can realise that God is bigger than anything we comprehend, He’s beyond time itself, He loves us and wants the best for us, and is on our side. We can trust that His perspective is bigger and that His story for our lives is better than any plan we might have.
That’s not easy in practice, because it can come very naturally to want to control things in our lives and we don’t like being out of control. I know this myself, I find it very hard letting God have full control.
That’s the journey of discipleship. It’s a journey, a process, of letting go and trusting God. One thing I always ask God is that I want to know Him and be known by Him, and that means embracing and accepting the mystery. It’s a choice we make, to give up control to God, whilst at the same time taking responsibility for our lives.
Religion might be one dimension of our relationship with God, but it’s not the point. It’s not God.
God is bigger, greater, more powerful and more loving and gracious than we can ever imagine.
To know God more deeply, we need to embrace the mystery of God and accept there are things we cannot and do not understand, and trust that God is perfectly loving, perfectly gracious & just, and is on our side, and not try to control God but recognise He is way out of our control. Don’t try to control the mystery either, leave it boundless and unimagined, and simply trust in God.
How much do you try to control God?
How much mystery is there in your relationship with God?
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