Thursday, April 3, 2014

having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power”. 2 Tim.3:5

I recently saw a photograph of a church door, upon which was written something attributed to a follower of Christ by the name of T.Austin-Sparks: It said, “Religion can be the greatest enemy of God's true thought, because it is Satan's best deception”.

That is so very true, but, I must confess that it took me many years of ministry as a pastor to fully understand what this chap was talking about.

At the age of twelve,I had come to a limited understanding of what God was about in the incarnation and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I was a Christian, by all intents and purposes, and received into church membership. Zeal was not lacking, which continued well into middle age.

You see, I had the spiritual disease of which Paul warned, “a form of religion”. I was strong on the particular doctrine I adhered to. I was very literal in my application of “what the Bible says” without consideration of other aspects such as context, the situation to which the words were applied,etc. I held firmly to the many teachings ( which I later learned were false ) of unquestioned tradition which I had been taught,which elevated the pastor, and what he said from the pulpit, to a person and place of heavenly indisputable authority.

I was called to lead a congregation who had been taught, and were equally accepting, of all of the above. I was well encouraged because they applauded everything I said, a fact which caused me much discomfort, although, at the time, I dismissed such discomfort as false humility. How wrong I was!

Often,during my preparation for a message I was arrested in my thinking by the fact that I did not believe the Scripture I was studying, actually taught what tradition and the “approved” experts and commentaters said it did.

One Sunday, after carefully, and thoroughly, studying a passage, I spoke what I had received from my studies. That was the beginning of a few months of hell on earth.

It was during this time I experienced, and saw so clearly, the lack of grace which accorded well with what Paul spoke of in 2Timothy 3:2-5,”.....people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance ( “a form of” KJV) of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

Sadly, it wasn't only me who had to experience how religion for religion's sake uses evil for its own ends as an accusation of sinful behaviour caused me to be given the opportunity to resign, or else be dismissed with no appeal or question as to the accusation.

It's so easy, and even comfortable to have the appearance, or form of godliness, a religion. When joined to a group of people who profess this religion,and in membership with what they assume, like I did, is the church, it is very difficult, in the unquestioning mindset that accompanies religion, to think, much less voice, any doubts about the teachings.

Albert Barnes wrote,”The most regular and bigoted adherence to the forms of religion, furnishes no evidence in itself that there is any true piety at heart, or that true religion has any actual control over the soul. It is much easier for men to observe the forms of religion than it is to bring the heart under its controlling influence”.

This was the spirit of the Pharisees, who were very adept at pointing the finger of accusation at any who didn't conform to the religious and moral laws they professed to rigidly hold to.

They were the epitome of self-righteousness, displayed by their judgemental and condemnatory behavior, as they proudly separated themselves from contamination they supposed dirty sinners might spread.

The Pharisees were so out of touch with the Spirit of God that their hypocrisy was hidden behind their religiosity, as we see in Matthew 5.

They held themselves as righteous men, an example to the many Jews who were there, yet the Beatitudes, which shone clear light on their failure to be truly righteous, had no effect.

There could be no doubt, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has  lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.”

What do you think? Had these salt of the earth people lost its taste

Then another pointed remark from Jesus,“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

If we look at Jesus message correctly, surely the implication is that there was very little light to be seen in the religious behaviour of these people.

Where was the light? Safely stored in a religious basket where it was hidden from a needy society!

Were these religious people actually salt, and light to a sin sick world?

These were the ones who were so vehement about obeying the Mosaic law, as a result one could be forgiven for thinking their conscience would have been severely pricked when Jesus said,For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”?

The problem was that their traditions, regularly reinforced by the scribes and Pharisees, caused these fellows to believe they were the absolute model of righteousness, yet Jesus is saying to them that the righteousness of the Pharisees must be exceeded,For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.

He's telling them that if they are going to depend on righteous behaviour as the key to entering the Kingdom of God, they would need to be far better than the Pharisees, more holy and law abiding than they are, otherwise they cannot be saved?

Does that sound familiar to you? In today's context?

It does to me, as I take note of the religious sheriffs do their heavy lifting exercise of removing splinters from the eyes of others whilst carrying a great log of wood in their own eyes and hearts.

And as Jesus goes over the commandments which I read, hear, and observe being wielded like a soul wounding battle axe, not one self-righteous religionist listens to what Jesus said to religionists who found a woman had committed adultery, “You, who are without sin, cast the first stone”.

Oh! Yes!”, the religionist will quickly say, "the law must be obeyed"

Then they will quote Jesus words without any thought for what He was actually saying: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (the O.T); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law...”

Do you ever wonder why they with-hold the next vital words,“....until all is accomplished.”

Were they deliberately ignoring the truth? Were they so blinded by their religious traditionalism that they simply could not see?

I don't think so!

It would be not too long to wait “until all is accomplished” as Jesus said He would do, “.. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them”.

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

Was Jesus wrong in that amazing statement?

What an insult to Him, to think we can add some act to improve what He faithfully completed!

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