There are few things that anger me more than religion.
If you’ve read my posts, you’ve probably sensed my faith is important to me. In fact, it’s everything to me. The faith I’m surrendered to has nothing to do with religion. I’m focused on becoming completely untangled from the stagnant, dead branches of religious systems, judgments and laws and becoming fully alive to the living God and all the worthwhile fruitfulness only a deeply connected and intimate relationship with Him can produce.
It’s been a journey of unhitching myself from the world’s system—the counterfeit—where pride and self-righteousness runs rampant and where burying and pretending is common practice.
The pursuit is simply Jesus—without all the added garbage the world, the deceived and my own flesh try to tack on to what it means to follow Him.
My hatred for religion is birthed out of my unyielding desire to truly know God and—in turn—know myself, because the identity of all humanity is rooted in Him. Religion has tripped us up, sidelined us and left us empty in our pursuits of living the abundant and authentic lives Jesus promised us (John 10:10). Where religion has defined us by our behavior, true faith has identified us as God’s children, redefining our behavior with pure, holy and lasting motivation that springs up from our beliefs, not our self-effort.
I was with a few friends a couple weeks ago and we were talking about all the craziness going on in the world. I was expressing how angry I am that the universal American Church has spent decades building safe little subcultures rather than storming the gates of Hell. I brought up the verse in Matthew where Jesus tells Peter “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). I was lamenting about the Church’s fear over being infected by the world and how that fear has left the Church largely ineffective in the world.
My bottom line was this: Why are we scared of facing sin (within ourselves and others) when we carry the very Anecdote for it? Why are we hiding from Hell instead of storming it’s gates and rescuing those held captive by it’s grips?
My friend Teri shared a revelation she had about the context of that verse which blew my mind. Before Jesus made the statement to Peter, Peter was the first to speak on Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Anointed, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but my father in Heaven,” (Matt 16:17). Teri made the connection that the Church would be built on the Heavenly revelation from God about who Jesus is and who we truly are as His people. Peter didn’t call Jesus a prophet or a teacher or anything else that was socially acceptable or logically derived. He had a heavenly revelation about Jesus’ identity and spoke to that revelation. Following this exchange, Jesus renamed Simon and called him Peter, his new name reflecting his true identity as a rock on which the Church could be built.
“Upon this rock, I will build my church…” Upon the rock which consults with God about who a person is and responds to that higher truth. A rock where behavior, societal standards, religious judgments and interpretations have no power to define a person, only God does. A rock which places the revelation of who Jesus is at the very center where His words begin to rewrite our stories as beloved sons and daughters.
Listen, the source of our identity affects everything. It’s impossible to behave in a way that is inconsistent with what we believe about ourselves. Our beliefs about ourselves—the real ones, the ones sitting deep within our gut—drive our lives. What are our beliefs producing in us? The true kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the spirit (Rom 14:17). In stark contrast, religion produces constant striving, fear and despair in ourselves. That’s why I freaking hate it so bad! I lived under the influence of religion for so long, constantly feeling like I fell short of the standard, constantly feeling like God was displeased with me, waiting for the other shoe to drop and life to fall apart since I was incapable of keeping it all together. I was disconnected from Unconditional Love because I believed I didn’t deserve it. I blamed myself for all that was going wrong in my life but lacked any power to initiate true change. Religion renders us powerless to true change where Unconditional Love has the power to radically transform us.
The fruit of our lives doesn’t lie. Our fruit isn’t just what happens in our external world and our ability to pretend we have it altogether—that’s secondary and we can do a really good job of faking our way through that. True fruit starts deeper, “man looks at the outward, God looks at the heart,” (1 Sam 16:7). What happens in our internal world is much more telling and we’d be wise to assess what our internal world has to say. To put it simply, this isn’t about disciplining the hell out of ourselves, it’s about opening our hearts to a real, childlike relationship with the One who fashioned our very souls and calls us by a new name. When you plant a garden, you start with a seed. That seed roots itself in the ground and begins to sprout. We know what type of seed we planted because of the eventual fruit the seed produces. If we want a different fruit, we plant a different seed. We don’t just chop the fruit off and expect something different to grow. We need a full uprooting and a new re-planting. Many of us have planted the seeds of religion hoping to reap a harvest of righteousness, but all we got were weeds and chaff. Let’s start over and plant seeds of Love rooted in childlike faith in the goodness of our real and present Heavenly Father.
After all, sanctification is an act of Love, behavior modification is a response to religion. Only one will last.
Accepting and walking in our identities as sons and daughters of God begins with confession and repentance. We need to confess the darkness in our hearts rather than bury it to maintain a persona acceptable within our religious circles. Religion has created so much dysfunction by using judgment, fear of punishment and shame as “motivating factors.” The truth is Jesus took all our punishment on the cross so we could have the power to walk in freedom, unashamed of the lives His truth is producing in us. He showed us what this looked, and when our life doesn’t reflect His, we need to confess it and repent instead of using our own effort to change our behavior. Instead of trying harder in our own power, we should come boldly to the throne of grace and finding the mercy we need to cover our butts. It might look something like this: “God, this person gets on my damn nerves. I’m tired of pretending I love them when I really feel like ripping their face off. I know it’s wrong, and rather than stuff these feelings, I shine your loving light on this darkness at work within me. I agree with YOU about what makes a person righteous and right now, my heart is dark with hatred. Please expose the root and eradicate these feelings that don’t belong in the heart of your daughter!”
That’s where healing begins. God is present in the Truth. He never believed our persona anyways, He always saw right through it.
It’s time we did, too.
Religion has a form of godliness but denies it’s power (2 Tim 3:5). Maybe that’s why it angers me so badly. It promises hope and change but fails to deliver. It sets an impossible standard and chastises us harshly when we don’t measure up. Like the pharisees in Matthew 23, it “shut off the kingdom of heaven in front of people” by presenting a series of hoops it claims we must jump through to know God. On the other hand, when Jesus died on the cross, God tore the veil of separation between His holiness and our humanity from top to bottom. Where religion blocks the door, our Father swings it open. Jesus changed the world through walking in His true identity—full of God and draped with humanity. He invites us to do this same and fulfills His promise through humbled, honest and surrendered hearts; through people who know they’re broken but whose brokenness drives them into the arms of a good Dad who empowers us to clean up our messes and create the abundant life He made a way for.
I’m committed to cleaning up my messes and untangling my beliefs from the webs of religion. I’m committed to accepting the Truth about who God says I am and allowing Truth to define my choices. I’m channeling my anger towards religion into allowing Jesus to change my heart.
How has religion affected your life? How has your process of accepting your identity as a beloved child of God changed you? I would love to hear from you. Please comment below.