by Mike Ratliff
28 And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. 1 John 2:28-29 (NKJV)
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 conform them to the expected standards of doing church, as well as to live up to the idea that this lost and dying world has 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 in the power of the Holy Spirit.Is practicing righteousness in the power of the Holy Spirit 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? 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 in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have 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.
11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:1-11 (NKJV)
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. 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 came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means 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 in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.
33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your “Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
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, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father 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 have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:17-48 (NKJV)
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 that God looks at. 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. Huh? 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 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.” Don’t 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.
Soli Deo Gloria!