Living Christ’s Words Rather Than Simply Practicing Religion

by Mike Ratliff

28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:28-29 ESV)

All who are truly in Christ must admit that this walk is fraught with doubt as well as pressure to conform to a form of godliness that has no power, to be faithful at doing church as the indication of our genuineness, as well as to live up to the idea that lost people have of what a Christian must be. As many of you know, I grew up as a Southern Baptist. While I am grateful for the deep Bible knowledge that I gained through being in Church every Sunday, I have also learned that much of the focus of organized religion is geared more to creating religious faithfulness rather than to disciple believers to abide in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Is practicing righteousness the same thing as being in church every time the doors open? Is church attendance, volunteering for every job in a church, dressing a certain way, looking a certain way, boycotting the right companies while doing business with only those approved by religious leaders the same thing as abiding in Christ? How about boycotting the A&E Channel for firing Phil of Duck Dynasty for saying exactly what the Bible ways about homosexuality? How about boycotting all companies who follow suit with A&E?

I remember hearing the following little ditty in youth group from some of our leaders when I was a teenager. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t dance, I don’t dip nor go with girls who do.” Is this what Jesus was talking about in John 15 when he gave us the blueprint for Christian authenticity?

1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:1-11 ESV)

In the above passage Jesus tells us that genuine disciples bear much fruit because they are enabled to do so when they abide in Christ while they abide in His love. This fruit bearing is accomplished by those who keep His commandments. On the other hand, those who look like disciples, but who do not abide in Christ can do nothing. That means they can’t keep His commandments nor bear genuine fruit. I am convinced that most professing American Christians believe that they are obedient to Christ’s commandments and are abiding in Him by simply sin avoidance. They believe they are “ok” with Christ because of their religiosity. If they don’t “do the sin” actively then they are okay. Their attitudes, their thoughts, their resentments, their pride, their bondage to materialism, and their self-righteousness is all in their minds and rarely apparent to observers. Is this what Jesus taught?

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. 31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, et him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:17-48 ESV)

Look closely at v20. The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were very religious. They put huge burdens of religiosity on the backs of the people telling them that their works were the requirements for eternal life. They focused on behaviour only while Jesus makes it very clear throughout this passage that it is the heart which is God’s focus. For example, If I do not commit Adultery then I would be seen by these men as being righteous, but Jesus said that if I look upon a woman with lust in my heart then I am just a guilty as I would be if I had actually done it. Sin avoidance is not enough. Faithfulness that meets God’s standards for Christian Authenticity is born from a heart that possesses a Righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Look back at John 15:3. Jesus said that His disciples are clean because of the word spoken to them. What does this mean? This is speaking of genuine salvation and it’s resultant cleansing that was all born from regeneration as our hearts repented and turned to Him for salvation at His words of life.

Faithfulness that is a marker of Christian Authenticity is a product of a regenerated heart that is bound to Holy Scripture, the words of life. The genuine Christian will never be perfect in this life, but neither will he or she be allowed by God to remain a slave to anything that enslaves them to the flesh, this world, the things in this world or the chains of man-made religiosity. We must examine ourselves to make sure we are not looking to our religiosity as the works that will save us. Instead, we should be taking on the spirit of the Law by the power of the Holy Spirit, abide in Christ in our obedience to His commandments thereby bearing fruit the Holy Spirit produces in our hearts. God may put each of us in situations that seem to separate us from the very things we often associate with being a Christian such as “church membership.” This happened with my wife and I when we lived in the Kansas City area. It began in 2006 and really did not get resolved until we relocated to the Oklahoma City area in December 2012. God has put us in a Church fellowship now that is indeed a blessing, but during those six-plus years we were continually “looking” for a church home, but could not find one that had not been compromised in some way.  However, please do not get the wrong idea, I am not blasting all churches. I am trying to point out the danger of looking at that as what God is really after in our hearts. As I read Jesus’ words in the Gospels I see that He would much rather His people live His words rather than practice religion.

During those six-plus years God used me in this ministry. He grew me up in Christ and matured me in Him. Yes, we both missed the fellowship, but we both grew more mature in our faith during that time.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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