Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the cosmic showdown between our two contenders for this evening’s Battle Royale. In the God corner we have the Son of Man, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. He is the reigning undefeated champion: Jesus. In the other corner we have our challenger, the organized system of beliefs, rules of man, and traditions: religion. This battle is for the title of the hearts of man. It should be a great show, let’s get ready to rumble.
Throughout Jesus ministry we see that one of the greatest obstacles He faced in carrying out the mission of God is the religious people. Two-thousand years later not much seems to have changed. The people who seem to hinder the work of God in the community today are usually ones with perfect church attendance and spotless records. Many churches focus on traditions and rules instead of following the example of Jesus and Christians get so caught up in good causes or personal opinions that the mission of Jesus can be neglected.
Religion is a dangerous hindrance to the kingdom of God as it often looks, acts, and behaves as if it has the life God offers but it doesn’t. Religion is the process of trying to make everyone look like each other instead of looking like Jesus. Religion promotes uniformity over unity. It focuses more on the rules and opinions of man that it does on the heart of God.
We are all created with a void in our lives that is meant to draw us into a relationship with God. What religion does is it takes away the symptoms without curing the condition. Religion doesn’t save us, it doesn’t give us life, it doesn’t connect us to God, all it does is covers up the void in our hearts so we don’t realize that anything is missing. Life is a battle between Jesus and religion. Which one are you rooting for?
Be good. Do better. Don’t give up. Fix it. Work harder. Keep going. Be successful. Be the best you can be. Do whatever you can. Try again. You can do it. Have you ever noticed that a lot of the encouraging things we say to each other focus on ‘our efforts’? We even seem to believe we are what we do.
No matter how hard you work, how smart, talented, or strong you are, you will mess up. Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about being human is in inability to obtain perfection. For all our diversity we all have that in common. We all fail. Failure is not an option, it is a harsh reality. We may not always fail but we are always capable of failure.
When we fail, we try to do better. We try to improve ourselves, fix ourselves, and grow ourselves. Our trying does not lead to transformation. Trying leads to one of two things: success or failure. When we are successful, pride comes knocking on our door and at some point we start giving ourselves the credit. When we fail disappointment, frustration, and despair show up. Either way, our identity becomes rooted in what we do. Our successes or victories become a part of who we are and how we perceive ourselves.
We work, in part to earn what Jesus has already given us. We don’t have to obtain an identity in what we do. We get so entangled in our own effort that we turn a relationship with Him into a project to be completed. A relationship with God becomes work.
We can know that God is love and fail to fully understand that love. God’s love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. God’s love for us gives us our new identity. We don’t have to work for it. Failure does not steal it away from us. Success does not grant us platinum membership in His kingdom. Jesus gives us an identity that shapes all that we are and do. That identity is not accomplished through our effort but through His grace.
Jesus’s death and resurrection don’t just open the door to the kingdom of God, they give us a new identity in this life. That identity is free from the obligation of human effort. The trouble with trying is it prevents us from living in the new life Jesus died to give us.
The Watered Down Gospel
What if I told you that Jesus didn’t want us to win converts? What if I said that in all of Scripture we are never told to convert anyone? What if I proposed that people accepting Jesus into their life does not fulfill our mission?
We may share the Gospel, but it’s not always the same Gospel Jesus shared. Our version can be a little softer. It can be easier. The message, too often, has been watered down. Many of us don’t want to be called radicals. May of us take the message of Jesus, and we omit some of the more intense parts because they might scare people away.
Jesus has become a part of our lives. We celebrate that. That’s actually the problem. Jesus was never meant to be part of our lives. He is supposed to be all of it. Jesus is life. He is everything. Everything is all about Him.
In all of Scripture we are never called to win converts. Yet that seems to be the mission the church is pursuing. We bend over backwards to get people in the doors and to make a decision. After that there is very little. We aren’t in the habit of training new leaders. We aren’t in the practice of investing in the development of new believers. Once they make that decision we tend to leave them to fend for themselves.
The mission of Jesus is not to win converts but to make disciples. To do that we need more than just a decision to believe in Jesus, we need a devotion to follow Him every day of our lives. It’s not always easy. Jesus never said it would be easy. When we water down the gospel to make it easier for people we actually reduce the devotion they have to the Savior who gives them life. Discipleship is about two things: strong calling and strong challenge. If we focus on only one we get something other than what Jesus intended.