Abiding in Christ vs Religion

by Mike Ratliff

28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. 1 John 2:28-29 (NASB) 

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? 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 it so 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, so 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, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are 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 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also 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 so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. John 15:1-11 (NASB)

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 resentment, 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 abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. 25 Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.
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 lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 “It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; 32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘ You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of 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 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 your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to 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 causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:17-48 (NASB) 

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!

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