Before we begin please review Parts I & II. (See “Archives, Bible Messages“)
I believe most would agree that historically before and after Jesus was born that the Jews/Israel were steeped in the “religion” of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. Since these were the spiritual leaders of God’s people it was to those who Jesus went to first in order to show them who He was.
This process began at an early age for Him as we can see in Luke 2:42-49
“And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast……the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. [Though lost for three days by His parents they] “found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed….. [and Jesus said], “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”
During Jesus’ adult ministry of three and one half years he continued in many different ways to reveal Himself to the religious leaders of the day that He was the Messiah….the One who the Prophets had spoken of long before. Jesus used the scriptures in order to identify Himself to these leaders in not just a few verses.
Though time and space do not allow me to share all these with you, let me share one or two with you. In Luke 4:17-21 Jesus was quite forthright on who He was.
“…..He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” [Isaiah 49:8,9; 61:1,2].
Jesus did many mighty works to show how His Father and He were One. He said that if you cannot believe His words then “believe Me for the sake of the works themselves” [John 14:10-11]. And what were those works? Jesus calls them out one by one: “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” [Mt. 11:5].
In John 11:40-47 we see the story of Lazarus who by this time had been dead for four days.
“Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone …..And Jesus ….said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. …. I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me. Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out [alive!]…. Then many of the Jews who….had seen the things…..believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs.”
As one studies and meditate the gospels one can readily see that religious people normally expose themselves just as the Jewish leaders did by various signs.
The number one sign is pride. Pride reveals itself in many ways, but allow me to limit it to some of the ways the Jewish leaders did. It’s almost like the old saying, “I’m so proud to be humble.”
Above in John 11 we see where Jesus had done yet another mighty miracle and all “religion” could say was, “What shall we do?” We know what they decided to do: these religious leaders (and others) decided to kill Him! Religion always kills because it is based on rules and regulations based upon “law” and not Spirit, for “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” [2 Cor. 3:6].
This “killing” can be two-fold: physical killing or spiritual killing (bondage). Within the context of the “Christian” world we see the latter taking place all the time….i.e. the quenching of the spirit. We hear such word’s as “That sounds weird,” or “That looks funny.” They go on to say, “That just can’t be of God.” Many of the religious who made the annual trip to Jerusalem during the Feast of Pentecost thought those who had just received the Baptism in the Holy Ghost (Spirit) were “drunk”, but Peter set them straight (see Acts 2). Though many in attendance joked and laughed at this phenomena because it did go along with their tradition and past experience, there were the few who listened and believed what Peter preached (from Joel 2) and received the same gift as they did in Acts 2:4. The church grew in one day to over 5 thousand! Can you believe it…over 5k? And it was because a few were willing to reject past religious training and the ridicule that goes along with it in order to experience this NEW WAVE of the Holy Spirit in which Jesus had promised (Luke 24:49).
Back to Luke 11: So after seeing the work of God in raising the dead all the Pharisees and others could say is, “We need to get rid of this guy. He is looking to good, and showing us up; and soon will be taking our place in the chief seats of the synagogue.”
So one thing “religion” does is to make every attempt to not only look good, but also keep ones position of power (control). Part of this “position” and power trip is to use TITLES to bring home ones position of importance. This is what we see in the military of the secular realm (Generals, Majors, Captains, etc.). Matthew 20:25-27 says, “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave.”
So, in simple English what is Jesus telling them (us)? “Come over here boys (leaders of the church to be). Here’s what I want you to understand. In order to always maintain a spirit of humility you cannot do things in the way the world does them. The world’s way is to control by exercising great authority over the people; but I DO NOT WANT YOU TO LEAD IN THIS MANNER! In My kingdom if you desire greatness then you must lay down your pride of position and title, and become a servant/slave.”
What does scripture say about this? In Mark 10 we see where a couple of the future leaders (disciples) we desiring to sit right next to Jesus in His kingdom. They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory “ [v. 37].
But Jesus said this to them who wanted elevated to a high position: “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?…… but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give…. .” [v.38, 40]. *Also please see 1 Peter 5:1-4.
Did Jesus allude to “titles”? Let us take a look in Matthew 23:1-16.
“Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat [i.e. religious leaders of the day]. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear…….But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments [tie and suits today….though nothing wrong in itself…but..]. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues [sit on the platform to be seen of men], greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ [or apostle, prophet, pastor!]. But you, do not be called [by title] ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren [i.e. Christ only deserves a title]. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant [servant/slaves NEVER have titles!]. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, [religious] hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides….”
Remember this my fellow servant/slaves: You will recognized and be remembered by your love and humility….NOT by your title. If you are secure in who you are in the Lord…and the gift He has given you….then people will recognize and receive that gift. Remember, you are a (bond) servant…..giving up all to serve the Master….having no rank, no stars, no bars, no title. You become dead to self (of no reputation) in order to have life in Christ.
Many more illustrations in the gospels and the Book of Acts could be given but in this limited version on the subject we must move on to a conclusion by looking at the two words “religion” and “Christianity”. First let us look at “Christianity”.
In simple terms, which will be all we will discuss here, means “Christ like”. “….And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). These disciples in Antioch must have reminded the people of the things that Christ did, and the way Christ acted. Some of those attributes were, and are, a great love and compassion, along with what He did (works)….the blind see, the lame walk, and so forth (Mt. 11:1-6). These are not “religious” activities. The Pharisees were not doing these activities, but the early church did! Hence, they were called “Christians”.
Now let us look at the word “religion” in it’s three parts: RE – LIG – ION.
- RE means “to do again”. For example, reconstruct. It was already constructed, but something happened and it had to be done again. It was re-contructed. I’m sure you can thing of others.
- ION means “the act of”. Now, lets look at “construction”. This means “the act of constructing.” Now we will add the “re” and we have “reconstruction.” That is to say, “the act of constructing again.”
- LIG means “to bind up”. Our English has borrowed this from the Latin word for religion “religo” which means to “bind up”, or “to draw together”. This is how an American football seam is drawn together, and how a large flesh wound is sown up by a doctor. In both cases there is a “binding” together….to hold firm.
By using the observation above we can readily see what “religion” means: Re-lig-ion is the “act of binding up again.” How does this work in our “Christian” world….if we are not careful? Once one has received Christ as their personal Savior according to
Romans 10:8-9 they have been set freefrom the law of sin and death and now under “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34), love your neighbor as yourself.
Paul dealt with this situation in Galatians. We see here that they had launched their Christian walk by faith but had left this walk of faith in favor of works. He tells the Galatians true blessings come from God on the basis of faith, not law (works). Let us look at a few scriptures. The law (religion) screams out, “you are guilty” and hence, imprisons (binds) them. Whereas faith (true Christianity) sets men free and has liberty in Christ to serve joyfully. The just (righteousness through Christ) shall live by faith (Rms 1:17).
Paul was saying to the Galatians, “Beware of those [Gal. 2:4] who will rob you of your freedom in Christ (Christianity), and bring you back into the bondage (religion) of works and the law again.”
Here’s how it works. Before you accepted Jesus you were in bondage to sin. After you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you immediately are set free and become a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). What re-lig-ion does is to bind you up againto doing good works and to law (Gal. 2:4). Anything apart from faith is sin, or put another way, doing good works outside of faith is sin (Rms. 14:23). Religion, among other things, is filled with good works.
Good works will never lead to eternal life! So beware of churches, denominations, and cults that are based on good works. There are NOT many ways or roads that lead to eternal life or heaven! Do not be deceived. The Gospel is very clear that Jesus is the ONLY WAY to receive eternal life and true freedom! Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth (reality), and the life. No one comes to the father except through Me [the Christ].” BEING BAPTIZED INTO SOME ORGANIZATION IS NOT THE WAY THAT LEADS TO SALVATION AND ETERNAL LIFE! Period, period…period!
Beware of those who use the name of “Jesus” and make it sound as though it is the same Jesus of TRUE Christianity. There are some out there roaming the world who has a “Jesus” that is a half brother to Lucifer! Yes, that’s right! Then there are still other groups that say Jesus is not God in the flesh (John 1) but rather a “good man” or a prophet. Again, do not be deceived….they may come knocking on your door sometime (See Mt. 24:3-5)!
The bottom line my friend is that WE MUST BE STUDENTS OF THE WORD OF GOD. The Bible never says to simply “read”, but rather “STUDY” to make yourself approved (2 Tim. 2:15 KJV). Study also involves meditation of the Holy Scriptures as He instructed Joshua in 1:8.
I trust that this very short study has helped you begin to understand the subtleties that, if not careful, can creep into ones life and the churches. Remember it is in the nature of man to desire attention, position, and power. Hence, we must know that we know that Jesus is the author and finisher of our Salvation, not man….and not works (Heb. 5:9; 12:2).
May the Lord bless you all as you continue to search for TRUTH….in which the knowledge thereof will set you free (1 Ti. 2:4).