Tag: religious spirit

Does Jesus Hate Blow-up Lawn Santas?

Hate me forever, label me a heretic, or just defriend me, but I just don’t think Jesus is as mad as some people hope He is about how we celebrate Christmas in our culture. I get what people are trying to say when they shout, “put Christ back in Christmas.” But truthfully, I am so sick of the pretentious, religiously-spirited, gag-me-with-a-multicolored-pitchfork, version of Christianity that statement often spews from. Besides, we didn’t put Christ in Christmas in the first place, I hardly think we can take Him out of it. I mean seriously, is God really that offended and upset by it all? Is our culture really going to hell in a hand basket, and our celebration of Christmas as a culture just a reflection of that? Truly, I wonder what some Christians would do with themselves if there were nothing in our about our culture they could find to bark at, judge, and condemn?

I would suggest that some of the things we do as a culture with Christmas that are deemed so off-message are in fact some deep, sacred longings placed in our hearts by God Himself. Things that would seem to indicate that we are so far from what Christmas is about, in fact, might be closer than we ever believed!

“God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Isn’t that what the lights, candles and glitzy decorations are all about? We long for a celestial, cozy, dreamy world where our senses are dazzled with snowy peace, bright purity, and the visually fantastic. Maybe we don’t flesh it out all perfectly and theologically, but deep down, we want what God has prepared for us… heaven; this world renewed and reconciled back to God. Heaven, the world of the fantastic, pure, celestial, and a dreamy eternity. We want a world where the baseline stories (many secular) of Christmas live; good wins over evil, our priorities are placed in the right order, families heal and last forever, life is everlasting, and things are restored to how they should be. That’s Rudolph, Santa, Frosty, the Grinch, Elf, and the list goes on and on. Maybe as far away as it might seem, we are actually closer than we first believed. It’s all a longing for heaven and a longing for Grace. Ironically, two of the things the “church” and many Christians are the most stingy about.

Or what about the packages, the ribbons, and the bows. Is it really all that bad? God did create us to be blessed, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and yes, materialistically. Sure, some of us rush ahead to take it for ourselves; that’s obviously not good. But, the sense and longing to have blessed lives where we were created to receive (from the Lord) with abundance is still under the surface, it’s their deep in our hearts. God put it there. It’s heaven isn’t it? It’s Grace isn’t it?  Where everyone has (and knows that they already have in Christ) what they need and are blessed by the Lord to beyond satisfaction, never hungry nor thirsty again. Our inheritance from the Lord, fully given by Him and fully received by us, with wealth beyond measure. That’s Grace, is it not?

And then, the giving. We have this deep sense that we are created to be blessed to be a blessing. We all want to give, to have something worth giving. Maybe we try to purchase this experience from malls, shopping centers, and online sprees, but we just want to love and be loved, God put that in our heart. That’s heaven isn’t? Where we love and are loved without restraint or limit. Where we have everything to receive and to give. That’s Christmas. That’s Jesus. That’s heaven. That’s Grace!

Isn’t all of this what we love about Christmas. It’s magical like that.

We call it magical because that’s the best word we can find, it’s the closest word we can think of as we get a touch of the eternity God wrote in our hearts and the Grace He has given to us. But, God knows the perfect and complete words. God calls it Jesus… Heaven… Christmas… Grace.  Truth is, it’s better than magical… it’s all real, it’s heaven, it’s Him. Wrapped up in one package… Grace.

Maybe as far away as it might seem, we are actually closer than we believe? Maybe Jesus isn’t as mad as some people hope He is about how we celebrate Christmas in our culture. Maybe, many of the people ranting things like, “put Christ back in Christmas” are in fact the ones who are the most successful at taking Him out and turning people away from seeing the true Gospel… all Grace, all the time… and all heaven, now and for all time.

In fact, maybe it’s the religiously-spirited Christians who want to take Christ out of Christmas the most, because when you truly have Christ in Christmas, there is only Grace; no more place for fear tactics, Law, religious rules, “hunger for Jesus,” platforms from which to condemn and judge, or “to do lists” in the Christian life. There is no more need to “work on your life,” “become successful for Jesus,” and “change the world for Christ.”  Grace shows us that Christ finished the work on your life on the cross, you don’t become a better person through your efforts, you are a better person because of Christ’s complete effort on the cross. You don’t become successful, Jesus already made you you successful. Success is what you are, not something you accomplish. God’s greatest desire and calling for your life is to simply enjoy Jesus, as you realize you don’t change the world. God changed you and you just go be yourself… you are the change.

Maybe it’s the “churchy” religiously-spirited, canned Christian culture of our day that is the one that hates the thought of truly having Jesus in Christmas because so much of what they prescribe, assert, declare, do, create, and teach is rendered powerless, useless, and even evil by the advent of pure Grace born into the world in a manger. See, Grace isn’t a new theology or fad, it’s a person… Jesus.

So, when you take Grace out of Christmas, you have taken Jesus out.  Now, who does it sound like would want to do that the most?  The broken and humble who sense they need it , or the religious who want to control it, ration it, and mix it with rules and regulations so they can keep their religious oratories and organizations afloat with people who come back for more and more because all their trying, striving, and Christian performance never measures up and never satisfies for long.

Grace is the antidote religious pimps don’t want their addicted followers to discover. It’s not good for business.

“Put Christ back in Christmas!”  That’s right, “Church,” put Christ (Grace) back in Christmas!

Gotta run, looks like my blow-up lawn Santa needs to be pumped up.  Ho, ho, ho!

Top 5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love

Part 1 of 6

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Mixing is for Gin not the Gospel

Most Christians and Christian leaders love the concept of God’s Grace, but up to a point. As long as it’s mixed with what they would say is a “balancing” bit of Law (religious rules you obey) they are more than willing to cozy up to “Grace.” So, what has happened is that when it comes to salvation and the Christian life, “Grace” is seen as a kind of partner or side-kick within the Gospel. It’s seen as the softer aspect of God that tips our hat to His loving side. Conversely, the Law is seen as what makes sure people clean up their acts, do religious things, hunger for more “to do steps and strategies” and take sin seriously.  That’s why when you present God’s Grace in its purity (without the Law), typically, all bets are off as some Christian leaders become afraid of what they would call, “too much Grace.”

Yet, the Gospel is either all Grace or it’s all Law, there can be no mixture (balance) of a little bit of Grace and a little bit of Law. In fact, the Bible makes dramatic separations and distinctions between the two. A couple, among many examples…

Romans 6:14 …because you are not under the law, but under grace.

John 1:17  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Galatians 5:4  For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

The pure Gospel of God’s Grace (a term Paul used in Acts 20:24) has always brought a stirring of criticism among the religiously spirited. I should know, I was one of them. Thankfully, God captured my heart and changed my mind about who He is, who I am, and the Gospel of His Grace.

I suspect there are many Christians who don’t even realize how much of what they have been taught and believe is contrary to the Gospel. I certainly didn’t. Like many unknowing Christians and spiritual leaders, my heart was in the right place, but my beliefs were not. As a pastor of 18 years, I did not realize (until a couple years ago) how much of my teaching, preaching and counsel actually placed people in bondage instead of the freedom I (and God) desired for them. When it came to the Gospel, I was so close, yet so far away.

So, what is the pure Gospel of Grace? In simple terms it is this…

The Gospel

We are all born sinners in a broken world. Everything about our lives has en expiration date on a pathway to death. In the Garden of Eden, our lives were forever changed as our first parents chose selfishness and distrust over faith in God.  Sin and death became realities and it’s shrapnel has penetrated everything, breaking our fellowship with God.  What God intended for our lives and living was poisoned through and through.Without an act of pure Grace, all of humanity in its sinful brokeness was destined for death, spiritually, emotionally, and physically as our best efforts could never repair our broken relationship with God and the depraved nature of our lives and living begun at the fall of Adam and Eve.

Yet, despite all of this. God is love, and God loves you perfectly, completely, and unconditionally, no matter who you are or what you have done or are doing. So much that He sent His son Jesus, fully God and fully man to die for your sins, and all of humanity. On the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the brokeness of all creation, including you. In His death and resurrection, Jesus put your sins to death and gave you His life. A new covenant was put into place where Jesus’ performance on the cross becomes your righteousness, holiness, and salvation. It is no longer about performing to get to God (as it was in the Old Testament), but God’s performance on the cross to get to you. His life becomes your life. His identity becomes your identity. The redemptive work in your life was completed, completely. You became a new person in Christ, a new creation in fact. Your sins, past, present, and future were all forgiven once and for all. It is no longer your nature to sin (though we still do), your old nature was crucified with Jesus on the cross. Sin no longer defines you, Jesus defines you. You old self died, you new self was reborn. You have the mind of Christ. You are a partaker of the divine nature, lacking no spiritual blessing. You are in fact, the righteousness of Christ, with no condemnation over your life whatsoever. You are not only a son (or daughter), but a king and priest in the Kingdom of God. As He is (seated at the right hand of God) so are you in this world. God’s favor and Grace are forever over your life.

All of this, Jesus provided and accomplished on the cross on your behalf, and that of the whole world. The moment you believe in who Jesus is and what He did, you receive it all. Done deal. We are saved by Grace through faith.

Now, it is no longer you who lives, but Christ living in you, and as you. The same Grace that saved you is the same Grace that sustains and sanctifies you. The Christian life is about growing into who you already are in Christ. Your part is to realize you have no part, only to believe. That’s why this growth happens through faith, not your efforts. You cannot produce spiritual fruit in your life, only bear the fruit God produces.  It’s no about striving and trying to be a better person, it’s rather about believing you already are a better person and living from that identity. It’s not about shame, guilt, punishment and religious rule keeping as you live a life focused on sin and your obedience. That system of living was canceled on the cross, at the moment of His resurrection, a new system was ushered in by Jesus Himself. It’s a life of complete and ever present forgiveness, freedom, peace, and rest as you focus on Jesus and His mercy, favor, and performance in your life, not yours. It’s an obedience of faith, not of actions. It’s a life of living from His Grace, in His Grace, to be Grace to others.

This is the Gospel.

So What’s The Beef?

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  Yet, what sounds like true love, freedom, and life, to the religious sounds like heresy! The Gospel can’t be that good. Give people Grace and they will just sin more. Besides, how are we going to be able to manage people? You are going too soft on sin, and what about repentance! Repentance, repentance, repentance! If we don’t give people something to work on, strive for, and do, how can we keep them coming and interested in church? God does His part, but we have to do our part, or else.

A Quick Clarification

Now, let me be clear with you. There are various variations of what people believe about the Gospel of Grace. So, if you couldn’t tell from my explanation of the Gospel written above, let me be sure you know what I am not… I am not a Calvinist nor a Universalist. I don’t believe God predestined, through what they call “irresistible Grace,” to regenerate some and not others so that some believe, but others do not, thus having some go to heaven and others to Hell. How that is considered Grace, I will never know. Yet, I am also not a Universalist who believes all are going to heaven, whether they really want to or not. I find both these systems of beliefs not congruent with how I understand the Gospel. I love my Calvinist and Universalist friends, by I respectfully don’t agree with them.

5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love

That said, there are many people who are against and critical of the Gospel of God’s Grace as I (and others) understand it. They call it “hyper-grace,” cheap Grace” and a host of other names. And, they line up their Bible passages to refute it. Here are the top 5 passages (not in any particular order) they use and an explanation of how these passages in fact, do not refute the message of the Gospel of God’s Grace. One of the blessings of believing the Gospel of Grace is that it transforms the way you read the Bible. You realize that God is not in the bait and switch business of drawing you in with love only to blast you with Law. No, He is love from top to bottom and inside and out, and He perfectly loves you. When you see this you will no longer become frightened or confused when you read passages like those listed below.

keep reading… Part 2

(part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6)

Ten Lies Church Taught Me

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” Galatians 1:6-9

I love the church, and believe it is God’s manger for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to reach a broken world. Though not perfect, the Christian church is in many aspects truly beautiful.  Countless lives have been changed, transformed, and blessed by the Christian church.

Yet, the chances are strong that the modern Christian church of the last 50 years while having blessed you has also perhaps misled you. Did it intentionally lie and deceive you? Doubtful.  But, with good-hearted intentions, the church of today has often misunderstood the Gospel and given many a distorted view of the Christian life.  At least, that is my humble view.  The distinctions may be subtle, but their impact is profound on every person, including you.

As you read below, perhaps you will identify areas where you have been misled, or perhaps some of these will offend your beliefs.

In any case, I suspect these will give all of us much to consider…

1) God is angry with you.

For many of us, we have been given the impression that God may love us, but up to a point. There are limits to His love. With a wrong move His love can be diminished or withheld. He could become disappointed with you and turn His face as He keeps a close watch and record of your every move. We sing about God’s love, but secretly wonder if and when His anger will manifest. At some level or another, many people believe God is angry with them.

The truth is God loves you perfectly, completely, and unconditionally. It is not based on you or your performance, but on His nature, will, and affection for you. The simple fact that He created you, is reason enough for Him to shine His eternal love on you without restraint or reserve. God does not “kinda” love you, He completely loves you.

God is not angry with you, at all. Furthermore, the Christian life is not about communicating an angry God to people. It is not about gathering together around what we are against in the world and thumping people over the head with our religiosity.

People who feel condemned, condemn others. People who believe in an angry God, fearfully live their lives focused on what is wrong and what they are against in themselves, others, and the world.

2) Repentance means to change your ways.

Many have taught that to receive the forgiveness and favor of God, you need to stop doing bad and start doing good. They suggest that if you don’t “repent” (clean up your act) God won’t save you or give you His presence, blessing, or favor in your life.

The truth is the word “repentance” in the Bible (gk. metanoia) actually means “to change your mind.”

It has everything to do with your beliefs and nothing to do with your actions.

We receive the Gospel through faith (a changed mind) about Jesus and His love, not our performance. This is also true about our closeness with God as Christians. It is not our performance that releases God presence, favor, and blessings for our lives, but rather our faith. We are renewed in our minds, not through our behaviors.

3) You need to give your life to Jesus 

You have likely heard a call to people to “give their life to Jesus” as a means of receiving salvation, or rededication. Of course, this sounds good and is well intentioned. Yet, the truth is, before faith in Christ we don’t have a life to give Him. And after faith in Christ, the life we live is Christ living in, as, and through us.

We don’t give our live to Jesus, Jesus gives us His life. This is a huge distinction. It is not Jesus and me, it is Jesus as me.

Before faith in Christ, we are as good as dead. After faith in Christ, we are as good as Him.

We give nothing, Jesus gives us everything. Grace is attracted to our weaknesses, not our strengths.

4) The more you attend church, raise your hands in worship, memorize the Bible, pray long and hard, and serve, the more spiritual you are.

There is no mistaking the fact that we live in the age of the performance-driven Christian. We have equated actions, efforts, and accomplishments with spiritual maturity. To be sure, obedience and faithfulness are important, but they are not necessarily indicators of spiritual maturity. Furthermore, we have labeled certain behaviors as primary indicators of spiritual maturity over others. Church attendance, passionate expressions of worship and devotion, bible quoting, underlining and studies, praying, and serving in church have been highlighted as defining bench marks.

The truth is, what is seen on the outside is not always congruent to what is going on in the inside. Spiritual maturity is more about what you belief first, then how you act. And more importantly, from what foundation you act.

For many, the foundation behind their church attendance, serving, prayer, devotion, study, etc. is from a lack of spiritual maturity, not the presence of it. Out of a lack of faith and trust in the Gospel and the goodness of God, they are striving, trying, earning and performing their way into God’s favor, blessing, and forgiveness. They are trying to convince themselves of what they are not really convinced, that they can truly trust in Jesus’s performance above and beyond their own. What passes as spiritual maturity is often a result of the development of the religious spirit.

The truth is, spiritual maturity is first right believing, then right living. It’s first about the true Gospel of Grace believed, and then the Gospel of Grace lived. And here’s the kicker, you can’t have the second without the first, as much as many Christians strive and try. Spiritual maturity is a rest, not a test. It’s about trust, not trying and striving.

God is not impressed with our raised hands, attendance records, prayer sessions, studies, expressions of devotion, and feats of Christian service that come from any other foundation than resting, trusting, and believing in the Gospel of God’s grace, where God works through you and as you as you believe, trust, and rest in Him.

Peter boasted of His love for Jesus and ended up denying Him three times. Not good. John boasted of Jesus’ love for Him and ended up reclining with Him at the table. Now, which one was more spiritually mature? The one who boasted of His love for Jesus, or the one who rested and trusted Jesus’ love for him?

Spiritual maturity happens when His performance means much more to you (and Him) than your own.

5) God does His part, but you need to do your part.

The Gospel is this… God does His part, and your part is to realize you have no part, only to believe. Yet, what is often taught is… God does His part, but you need to do yours, whether it’s about your salvation or your sanctification. You just gotta love God more!

The truth is, you have no part other than to believe.

Not only can you not produce your salvation, you cannot produce spiritual fruit, you can only bear the fruit God produces in you. And that, only by faith.

Faith is what releases God to work in and through you, not effort. When we rest, God works. When we work, God rests. God does not need you, He wants you. He does not need your service to bless Him, He enables it to bless you and others. God is the author and perfector of your faith, not a partner.  As He is, so are we in this world. We co-labor with Christ as Christ in this world. It is not a condition for relationship, it is a manifestation of what He has done TO you and FOR you. What we owe Him, Christ paid.

We serve not from lack or debt, but from Grace and righteousness.

6) A believer is a sinner saved by Grace.

You have probably heard a Christian say to a non-believer, “the only difference between me and you is, I’m forgiven.” Though this is well intentioned I’m sure, it is completely false.  A believer is not merely a sinner saved by Grace.

The truth is, on the cross, Jesus didn’t just do something FOR you, He did something TO you that becomes actualized the moment you believe. A believer is no longer by nature a sinner. This is not the essence nor reality of their identity.

In the NT scriptures, Paul went through great lengths to convince and declare to us as Christians, through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross, our old sinful nature has been crucified, put to death once and for all. Now, we are the righteousness of Christ, partakers of the divine nature, no longer condemned, receiving every spiritual blessing not just as children of God, but sons, daughters, priests, and kings.

Believers are not sinners saved by Grace, but saints sustained by Grace.

If you believe by nature you are still a sinner, what will you do? Sin. If you believe by nature, you are the righteousness of Christ, what will you do? Live rightly.

Right believing leads to right living.

7) Obedience is the essence of the Christian life

It is true that in the Old Testament, under the Mosaic Law, obedience was the essence of a Godly life and the key to a relationship and fellowship with God. The performance of people is the essence of relationship with God under the Old Covenant.

But when Jesus said it was “finished” as He died on the cross and was resurrected, the Old Covenant was destroyed and the New Covenant of God’s Grace was established. We are no longer under the Law, but under Grace. If you don’t rightly divide the Word of God between these covenants, you miss God’s heart and the reality of Him and His presence here and now.

The obedience of performance that was once the essence of a relationship with God under the Law, was fulfilled and therefore rendered null and void through Jesus’ performance on the cross. There is no longer an obedience of performance, but only an obedience of faith. Jesus’ performance accomplished it all because ours could never measure up.

Obedience under the New Covenant has nothing to with our performance, but everything to do with our faith. This is the “obedience of faith” Paul spoke of in NT scripture.

Right believing leads to right living. Right thinking leads to right acting. Not the other way around.

The truth is, the essence of the Christian life is faith, not obedience. Believe rightly, and the rest will take care of itself.

Every sin in your life comes from wrong belief. Deal with the belief and the behavior will take care of itself.

Before the cross, God allowed us to attempt to perform our way to redemption and relationship with God to ultimately show that we can’t. At the cross, God gave His son to perform for our redemption and secure our relationship with God because only He can. Now, God calls us to faith in Him not performance from us, because the performance is finished, and only faith receives it and releases it in your life. There is no more performance, only God working through you as you believe and rest in Him.

8) Grace causes people to sin more

You hardly hear much of Grace in church today. If you do, it is often with a mixture of the Law (religious rules and conditions) mixed in. That’s why you hear spoken or unspoken messages like, “God loves you, but here’s what you need to do” or “God loves you, but here are some steps you need to take”

Why? Because like the Pharisees, we have become frightened, intimidated, and convicted by Grace. We fear if we teach, counsel, and preach the pure Grace of God through Christ as taught in scripture, people will spiral out of control and take a nose dive into an unrestrained life of sin.

The truth is the Bible teaches, it’s actually the Law (religious rules and conditions) that entices people to sin, not Grace. In fact, it specifically teaches that Grace is what teaches us to live rightly. It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance.

No one was ever made Holy through punishment. Yet, that is what we are often taught about God, sin, and Grace.

People who truly get a hold of Grace and the Grace message of the Gospel don’t sin more, they sin less. In fact, I would venture to go so far as to say that the modern church with its mixture of Law and Gospel has likely enticed and imprisoned more believers to a sinful life filled with shame and guilt than perhaps the world could ever do. Grace is the cure to sinfulness, not religious fear, intimidation, guilt, and shame.

A sin problem is an identity problem, only Grace through Jesus Christ shows us who we really are in Christ and heals our identities.

9) You need to ask God to forgive you.

Many people live their lives preoccupied with their sins. They are primarily sin conscious instead of being Jesus conscious.

No one should be surprised by that, that’s how church has taught them to be. They believe that they need to be on watch for sin in their life so as to make sure they confess it so God can forgive it.  The one sin they miss confessing, could be the very one that messes up everything between them and God. Or, it could be the one straw that broke the back of God’s patience.

The truth is, God has already forgiven every sin in your life, past, present, and future. Without you even asking. When Jesus said it was finished, he meant it. God’s Grace is sufficient for you. Forgiveness is something God already accomplished on your behalf as He who knew no sin, became sin, that we might become the righteousness of Christ. Faith is what receives forgiveness, not confession.

Stop asking God to do something He already has accomplished. Rather, trust in His work on the cross and focus on Him, not your sin. As you do, the enticement of sin will depart, and your sense of identity in Christ will flourish and release you.

10) The job of the Holy Spirit is to convict you.

We have been taught in church to primarily see the Holy Spirit as a kind of policeman in your life. He’s there to make sure you stay on the straight and narrow, giving you a prod of conviction when you aren’t.  Yes, we have been taught the Holy Spirit will comfort you in times of trouble, but also give you a good jab in the ribs when you cause trouble. Just hope that you don’t need His comfort when you are causing trouble, you may just get a hit instead of a hug.

To be sure, the job of the Holy Spirit in the non-believer’s life is to convict them of their unbelief in Jesus, but that is not the job of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. His role as “convictor” doesn’t carry over into the Christian’s life. To do so would merely be to convict Himself, as Paul in the NT said “it is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”

Rather, the job of the Holy Spirit in the believers life is not to condemn, convict or any of the alike, but rather to convince them of their righteousness in Christ.

The deepest issue in the Christian’s life is not if they are convicted of any sin in their life, but if they are convinced of their righteousness in Christ. A Christian convinced of their righteousness in Christ is a Christian who is an overcomer of sin in their life. Right believing leads to right living.

What would you add or subtract from this list?

Are You a 21st Century Pharisee?

I don’t suspect this post will be popular nor well received by some in the “Christian” camp, maybe even by many. But, neither were Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Is this a kind of “Kratzer Manifesto?” Who knows, probably not. But, for sure, it is with strong conviction that I write.

I believe, from personal observation and experience, that our current Christian culture in America and abroad has been infected with epidemic proportions of the religious spirit manifested by the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. And yet, for most believers, we are so entrenched in it, we don’t even realize the religious stew in which we soak.

It was the Pharisees who leveraged Judaism into their own self-righteous system of rule keeping, regulations, self-improvement, condemnation, political structures, and inside handshakes.  In many ministry contexts today, we could simply take these same realities and put the title “church” over them and the descriptions would equally apply. Many churches of our time have knowingly or unknowingly created and given harbor to the modern day, 21st century Pharisee and then given them the title “Christian.”

In fact, let’s look at several of the defining characteristics and distinctions of a 21st Century Pharisee lest perhaps maybe you (or I) are one of them?

o.o1 Memorization verses Meditation – In our Christian culture we have determined that memorizing Bible verses is automatically a worthy and necessary pursuit in the Christian life.  There are entire children’s ministries that revolve around having young people memorizing Bible verses, complete with memorization competitions. What could be wrong with that, right? Almost everything.

Unfortunately, the benefits of memorizing Bible verses has skidded off the road into a ritualistic activity of self-righteousness that is purposed on one-uping other Christians, arming for debates, and confronting sinners or those who disagree with you. The truth is however, the Word of God memorized alone merely brings us up to the level of Satan himself, who knows the scriptures back and forth as every good Pharisee did as well. It is a disturbing trend to see people viewing scripture memorization as a spiritual work-out and assume that if you memorize some Bible verses you are growing spiritually. Surely, in many Christian precincts, we have made an idol out of Bible memorization and turned God’s Word into peacock feathers we put on display that others might admire and yield to our spirituality.  To be sure, memorization alone has never moved one single Christian forward in their walk, and in fact, has surely moved many backwards.

It is interesting that the Bible never specifically instructs us to “memorize” the Bible, but rather speaks frequently about “meditating” on God’s Word.

Memorization is something people do to pass tests and regurgitate information, “meditation” is what people do to encounter God and be transformed by His personal revelation into their lives.  Meditation is reading and learning a verse(s) repeatedly, bringing it to mind and heart over and over again, asking God to personally speak revelation into their lives. It is an encounter with God Himself for the purpose of revealing Himself into one’s life personally and uniquely. It is a matter of heart, hearing, and being encountered by the living God on a personal, transformational level.

It is no wonder that the religous spirit of the Pharisees puts such value on memorization, it’s all about passing tests and giving them.  They did this to Jesus repeatedly and are certain proof that one can memorize the scriptures and never encounter God. But, you cannot meditate on His Word without a personal encounter with Him.

The Pharisees memorized words on a page, the whole Torah in fact.  But not revelation from God. Words only take reading (or hearing), memorizing only takes remembering. Revelation takes an open heart, postured in faith and expectancy with a personal connection with God.

The purpose of God’s Word is to lead us into experiencing God’s revelation personally for our lives and living. Meditation provides for this, memorization alone does not. Modern day, 21st century Pharisees memorize, in their minds, what is written, followers of Jesus receive and remember personal revelation in their heart. Big, huge, cosmic difference!

o.o2 Discipleship verses Identity in Christ- Obviously, discipleship as “learning” is a valuable Christian experience. We all need to learn from God and others.

But what many today call “discipleship” has taken on the garments and perfumes of the religious Pharisees. We have turned “learning” and being “learners” into a gnostic-type process of ascent.  With “accountability partners” and “motivational conferences” to do better we have turned “learning” into a spiritual treadmill, striving and trying to become a better person.

In most Christian circles, “discipleship” starts from the premise that there is “someone that you are not, who you need to become.” Therefore you need to come to these classes, attend these groups, listen to these cd’s, and take on these practices and behaviors in order to “become a fully mature person in Christ.”

Yet, living from our “Identity in Christ” begins from the premise of being more fully who you already are in Christ through faith.  This is a huge distinction, and radically changes nearly every dynamic of the Christian life and how we “spur each other onto good works.” Moving from a child of God, to a son or daughter, to an heir, priest, and king in the Kingdom is not a process, it is in fact, a reality already established and accomplished by Christ for those who believe. In Christ, there is no “growing more,” there is only becoming more of who you already are through faith in Christ’s performance in your life, not yours.

Today’s “discipleship” places a certain amount (if not a large amount) of faith and reliance on one’s ability to do better as a Christian. However, living from our “Identity in Christ” seeks to increase one’s placing of faith and reliance on God’s work and will in or lives.  It is not a pursuit of becoming, it is a growing faith in who we have  already become through and in Christ.

Modern day discipleship merely ends at what Jesus has done FOR you, but living from our “Identity in Christ” continues on to what Jesus has done TO you. “Discipleship” focuses our consciousness on what we need to do better and aren’t doing right, “Identity in Christ” focuses our consciousness on the author and perfector of our faith, what He has done to make us right and how to live rightly from who we already are and have in Him.

Therefore, today’s “discipleship” stresses producing fruit, as if producing fruit is something we could actually do. Yet, living from our “identity in Christ” stresses bearing the fruit God produces.

It is now easy to understand how the discipleship mindset of the Pharisees involved levels of ascent, information to be mastered, numerous hoops to jump through, and a hierarchy of the “learned.”  Today, you can see this same mindset in churches through various forms.  To be sure, our basic concept of modern day discipleship approaches people and the Christian life as program of progression through steps, rules, formulas, and “to do” lists.  Yet Jesus said in contrast “my yoke is easy, my burden is light” in direct reference to his discipleship process, of which His performance is the process, not ours. Jesus’ work on the cross is the discpleship program and process, faith is what receives it.

If there is any process to the Christian life, it is in being more of who we already are, all through faith, not “becoming” through trying harder and doing better. Faith in Jesus’ life in you is the key, not formulas for making your life like Jesus.

o.o3 Obedience verses Faith-  On a deeper level, there is a reason why we have taken a performance-driven approach to things like discipleship.

First, it is perhaps because we don’t fully believe in and trust God’s work in us. For many, the Gospel just isn’t sufficient enough, there has to be something we must do or can do. To leave our lives and living completely in the hands of His performance and not ours is seen as a risky concept. Surely, the same Grace that saves us, can’t be the same Grace that sanctifies and secures us. Though not many would say it that way, when push comes to shove, that’s what they believe.

Second, it’s because we believe and have somewhere have been taught that the foundation of the Christian life is obedience. To be sure, we have become Christian-centered Christians. Our performance is our preoccupation. The Christian life is all about what you do and don’t do.

Third, a performance-driven approach to the Christian life appeals to our flesh and culture. We love to feel the adrenaline rush of feeling like we have accomplished something and that our lives and destiny our in our hands.

Unfortunately, these three reasons have become the faulty foundations from which we live and teach the Christian life.  In short we believe that obedience is the root and faith is the fruit of the Christian life. This is modern day Pharisee-mindset at its finest.

The truth is, the foundation of the Christian life is faith, and the fruit is obedience.

This foundation shift changes everything.

Following rules, list of “to do’s,” striving to be better, trying to do better, recommitting your life to Christ, pledges, resolutions etc. all have never truly moved people forward spiritually. They only served to create a self-serving facade of a spiritual veil to an empty life.  In truth, they are modern forms of the Law, aimed at engaging your will to change your life.

The reality is, the Law was created to show you and I our will can’t change anything, no matter how hard we try.  Yet, the Pharisees used it as a way to indoctrinate people into the self-righteous, never ending treadmill of religion. The same thing is happening today in modern Christianity, only we have given it new names like, “discipleship”, “Christianity, “spiritual growth.” Just browse the aisles of your local Christian bookstore and you will see the performance-driven mindset we have made of Christianity and the Christian life.  And the deeply, tragic reality is, we are addicted to it.

Yet, the truth is holiness isn’t a lifestyle you choose to live by, it’s an identity you to choose to receive through faith. The obedience of the New Covenant is an obedience of faith, not rule keeping. The Law only serves to actually entice us to sin more, not less. Rather, it is the Grace of God that teaches us to live rightly. Faith is the root, obedience is the fruit. A person with an obedience problem is a person who has an identity problem. They don’t know what Jesus has done TO them, and/or believe it. Disciplship isn’t about a process of becoming, it’s an awakening to who you already are in Christ, and believing it. It’s all about His performance, not ours.

o.o4 Membership verses Manifestation- Where I would agree that in church-world, uniting people around shared vision and values is highly important. Unfortunately, in most church settings the concept of “membership” has taken on a whole other life and purpose.  In fact, it hasn’t been until recent years that the concept of utilizing membership as a tool for church unity has existed.

Rather, in most churches, church membership serves several other purposes… it show who’s “in” and who’s “out,” it’s a means to get people to commit to your brand of church, it identifies people who are “trusted” to serve, it’s a status from which members declare and receive certain “rights” and “privileges,” it’s a way of tracking people and charting trends, it is a status that makes one feel they have accomplished something of value spiritually and are “covered” in that area of their life, and it’s a number used by pastors and leaders to gauge success.

In this way, “church” has become much like a club you join.  There is little difference between the basic concepts of membership at a local church than there is at a local YMCA.  The consumerism mindset of our American culture has found its way into the “church” and church membership is just one example.   Pastors use it to bolster their egos and members use it to legitimize demands, benefit from privileges, have their say, attain status, and put a notch on their spiritual belts.

Yet, it’s interesting that the concept of membership in the Bible is not specifically present, and the closest we get is with groups of Christians gathering and serving together with shared vision and values, nothing more nothing less.  Obviously, the New Testament is not meant to confine churches and limit the freedoms to what is possible, but I would suggest that what we have made church membership into is nothing less than yet another example of the modern, 21st century pharisee-mindset at work. What could be more legalistic than to make “church” into a club with a cross on top where some are “in” and some are “out” complete with inside handshakes, politics, levels of status, special privileges, and a process by which you can feel righteous in your life, all through a simple church “membership.” Jump through the hoops, and you too can have one.

At a core level, followers of Christ should not be identified by nor take their identity from any form of membership, but rather should be manifesting Christ (their true identity) and partnering together to share the Gospel and build the Kingdom.  Instead of merely attending and being a “member” of a church, we should be “being” the church to the world.  Enough with superficial, spiritual club memberships that turn the Christian life into something one attends, gets involved with, and earns their place in one or two days a week. Lets get back to the heart and be people of the “The Way” as we spend our time manifesting the Grace of Jesus to the world, individually and together. Let’s not let our preoccupation be with “what’s in it for me” but rather, “what is in me that I need to give to the world.”  The church was never meant to be a club, but a conversation of believers with the world about the Grace of God through Jesus Christ. Meeting together was never meant to transform into melding together through traditions, memberships, and institutional mindsets. The church becomes the hope of the world when we Christians see ourselves as the manger of the Gospel, not a member of a religious organization.

o.o5 Law verses Grace- Truth be told, most Christians are suspicious of Grace. They believe, if left unrestricted, it promotes sin, and hate it because they can’t use it to one-up other Christians, point out their shortcomings, and thump their Bibles. For sure, Grace disarms and frustrates the religious, but frees and fortifies the broken. Yes, many Christians do value Grace to an extent because they know you can’t sell God without at least some of it, but also like to keep a lid on it, because in their minds too much would be too much and they could lose control.

The formula they hold to is…  Grace + Law= Gospel.

That’s why they believe rules, guilt, fear, shame, to-do lists, steps, and formulas are what are needed to move the Christian train down the track. Appeal to a person’s sense of guilt and a perceived ability they can turn their lives around. Break them down and then show them how to build themselves back up, looking and acting just like “us.” This is the drum beat of the historical and modern day Pharisee.

However, what may work for a military boot camp, does not work for Jesus nor the Christian life. Punishment has never made anyone Holy.

The Gospel is Grace, or it isn’t the Gospel. God does the work, we believe, and thus receive.  The formula is… Grace + Law = Law,  Grace = Gospel

There is no mixture, and if there is, there is no Grace.  It is not, “God does His part, we do our part.”  Rather, it is, “God does His part, and our part is to realize we don’t have a part; only to believe.”  Faith is the currency of heaven, not our efforts. Favor is unmerited or it’s not favor at all.

A person who truly receives the pure Gospel of God’s Grace does not sin more than sin less, because they know who they truly are in Christ and believe it. They are not sin conscious, they are Jesus conscious. It is their identity that defines their performance, not their performance that defines their identity.

This revelation of the new covenant Gospel of God’s Grace changes everything, rules and rule keeping never changed anything. It is all Grace, or it isn’t Grace at all.

The Pharisees hated Grace, at any level. They loved to condemn, push their rules, and display power point presentations of their religious standards and traditions. And though I hate to say it, I suspect they would be very comfortable in most churches and with most Christians today where this always enough of the Law around to make sure Grace is kept contained and quantified. The modern day, 21st Century Pharisee at most thinks Grace is the appetizer, it’s the bait that leads to the catch. It’s a nice thing that leads to the real thing. It’s part of an equation, but not the solution. For them, the solution is God + you, together saving and sanctifying.

However, the Gospel is Grace alone through faith. It IS the solution, not a part of it. It’s the main meal, the only meal, not an appetizer. There is not hook, there is no catch, there is only Grace. Grace needs no side kick, lead in, bate, appetizer or trailer, it is the whole deal, the real deal, and the only deal. Its host is faith, not performance. It is attracted to our weaknesses not our strengths. Everything else is a con, scam, and substitute.  Grace is the only thing that works, changes, and transforms. Believe it to receive it.

o.o6 Consuming Crowd verse Complete Cooperatives- If one were to attend a church service in America, you would very likely experience a message that has a basic theme of “how to be a better person.” or “what you need to do more or less of in your life” and a worship experience that was bent towards appealing to a cultural desire to hear good music, be emotionally moved, and get motivated for Jesus.

Now I know I am walking on a thin line here because there is an important value in communicating the Gospel in culturally relevant ways with excellence.  I am a firm believer in utilizing modern communication methods and technology to share the Gospel.

However, in most cases, it is not the Gospel that is being sold, but rather a spiritual experience that appeals to a desire to enhance our lives through our own habits and actions with a little help from Jesus along the way.  To be sure, we have become a culture of Christian consumers looking for the best worship experiences, programs for our kids, and inspiring messages to utilize in improving our lives. Many-a-church have been happy to join the competitive race among pastors and leaders to be the latest and the greatest to serve the needs of consumer Christians. Nearly every conference on ministry you can attend centers on ministry and leadership performance in some way or another. Pastor and leaders spend big bucks looking for that latest program, principal, strategy or idea that is going to take them and their church to the “next level” of success; success being defined by numbers, baptisms, and overall growth.

We are a culture of consumer pastors leading consumer churches that breed consumer Christians. It is the American dream turned into the pastoral dream turned into the church dream turned into the Christian dream. This is nothing less than the traditional, Pharisee philosophy of ministry made modern.  Finding the best Rabbi to follow who fits your needs and desires has simply turned into finding the best church to attend, conference to experience, or program to implement. Instead of being spiritual leaders and churches that have The Name as our identity and nature, we strive and strive to make a name for ourselves and our ministries.

Yet, what would happen if Christians saw themselves not as incomplete people who constantly need to consume more of the Jesus they already completely have, but as complete people in Christ who came together to express their love to Jesus and manifest the Gospel to others? There is truly something misguided with the Christian who sees themselves as desperate for more of Jesus in their life. How can you want or need more of what you already have fully?  This desire for “more of Jesus” belittles the cross and suggests that the Gospel comes to a person in portions, as if God were withholding Himself from us. Indeed, we live under an open heaven. When Jesus said, “it is finished” He meant it, giving the everything of Himself to the nothingness of us.

The only thing that a believer needs to consume is that which strengthens their faith in Christ’s performance, not a plea to muster more energy for their performance to do more or do better.  In fact, the job of the Holy Spirit in the non believers life is to convict them of their unbelief in Jesus, but the job of the Holy Spirit in the believers life is to convince them of their righteousness in Christ.

I would venture to say, most of what Christians consume spiritually is purposed or translated into striving to behave better and do more.  This is religion and its religious cycle at it’s best, just in modern forms.

But Jesus through His Grace, breaks the cycle. He completes us completely, our performance does not. There is nothing we can consume other than Jesus and His Grace received through faith that will heal, change, or transform any and every aspect of our lives. Jesus is not in the business of making good people better, but giving dead people Life.  He is not into life enhancement, but complete life remaking, all by His work, through our faith.

o.o7 Performance verses Rest- To rest is to believe, to perform is to doubt. The moment we look to our own performance for our worth, value, and standing, we have stepped away from trusting in the performance of Jesus and His finished work on the cross. Pharisees then and now are all about performance, all in the spiritual disguise of  modern terms like “faithfulness,” “radical obedience,” “serving,” and the like.

Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with acting in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and to be sure, we are not talking about working hard in life economically. Rather we are talking about our efforts to appease God, gain the gleam of His eye, legitimize our faith,  prove our worthiness, give our lives value and worth, remove guilt and shame, and make a name for ourselves. So many Christians are turning to church activity and “serving” to right the wrongs, even the score, legitimize their faith, and heal the scars of guilt in their life.  Most don’t even realize it, or would ever admit it.  Yet, unfortunately, the church, like the performance-driven systems of the Pharisees are happy to oblige.

Rest is not the absence of activity, it is a foundation of faith in Christ’s performance over, above, and despite ours. When we rest, God works. When we work, God rests.   Pharisees then and now, are repulsed by those whose lives are ruled by a foundation of rest. Rest disarms the power of fear, guilt, shame, failure, and success to define or persuade a person’s life, the very things that religious people and groups thrive on to motivate and legitimize their lives.

Performance is founded on self-righeousness. Rest is founded on righteousness in Christ.

 

Spiritual Warfare Revisited

If you think spiritual warfare is something you do against the devil, this article will hopefully change your mind. If you think that spiritual warfare is something that you do, with God’s help, against satan, I hope this article will challenge your thinking.

It is a misguided perception among Christians that the Christian life is primarily to be an avoidance of sin. We have been wrongly taught that believers have two natures, one evil, and one divine. Therefore, our job is to make sure Satan doesn’t entice the evil side more than Jesus inspires the good side.  If anything tries to cause you to stray or drag you down, you need to fight it like you would a dog biting your leg. Take out your spiritual stick and start beating away.

Much of the current teaching on spiritual warfare has created sin-conscious, satan-conscious Christians who feel their calling as a Christian is to battle the forces of evil clawing at their lives and the lives of others. Their spiritual radar screens are fine tuned to anything that looks like, talk likes, or smells like the enemy. And when they believe they see a blip on the scope, “Demon be gone as I bind you in the name of Jesus!”

Where I would certainly and passionately agree that evil is real and we face the schemes of the evil one, I would suggest satan has done well to get us fighting the wrong battles and misunderstanding our weapons.

The truth is, in Christ, the battle of sin, death, and the devil was finished on the cross. Any battle we have with Satan is an issue of our faith (0r another’s faith) in that finished work applied to their lives, not the reality of it. Spiritual battle for the Christian is done from victory, not for victory.

Paul described our fight as Christians as a “fight of faith,” not in who can shout, rebuke, bind, or pray the longest or loudest. Spiritual battle is not a battle of might, trying, or striving, but of belief. Satan’s weapons are ones of ignorance, wrong belief, false thinking and alike. Not the dramatic devices Hollywood loves to use to sell tickets.

Is the demonic a real reality in our world today, yes of course. But not for the Christian. If you feel you have to do battle with Satan in your life on any level or terms other than that of your faith (or another’s faith), than you are fighting a false battle no matter how real it is perceived.

When Paul introduced us to and described our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6), he was showing us what we already have in Christ! Not something we need to spiritual achieve or weaponize through our efforts.  Paul was trying to focus and awaken our faith, not commission us into spiritual fist fight of Bible shaking punches. All the articles of armor Paul identifies are important spiritual blessing and realities we already have in Christ. The issue of spiritual battle is not in what we need to do, but in believing what Christ has already done! It’s not about how we perform, it’s about believing Christ’s performance for and in our lives, it’s not about how we act, it’s about who we are as new creations of Christ, and believing it through thick and thin!

Biblically, “light” is often used in conjunction or reference to divine revelation, “darkness” is often used as a reference to ignorance or wrong believing. Paul’s teaching on the spiritual armor is purposed on giving us a revelation of who and what we have in Christ and the need to believe it. That is the “stand” we take. This is the “obedience of faith” Paul also spoke of in scripture.

We “put on” this armor through faith, not effort or spiritual karate tactics. It is the armor that does the fighting and has won the battle, not we ourselves. The moment light comes (revelation is believed), darkness vanishes with no effort or fanfare. Notice the Bible says, “…my people are being destroyed by a lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)  It doesn’t say by “generational curses,” “demonic visitations”, or even “sin.”

If you want to see where the real battle is, look to what Satan is leading people to “believe” about the Gospel, Jesus, themselves, and what is means to be a Christian.

For example, the Gospel of God’s Grace has been so distorted by the lures of Satan to the point God’s character and finished work on the cross has been made into a set of formulas, steps, and ways to enhance your life or standards to hold over people so you can feel better about your own sin. The Gospel has been reworked by mixing in just enough Law to appeal to the American “do it yourself” mindset. The Gospel is Grace, or it’s not the Gospel. It’s NOT “God does His part, you do yours.” The Gospel is, “your part is to realize you have no part, only to believe” God loves all people, died for all people, and wants all people saved. The same Grace that saves you  is the same Grace that sanctifies you. He is not angry, mad, moody, or bi polar. God’s kindness is what leads to repentance (change of mind) not punishment or fear. He didn’t come to make good people better, He came to give dead people life. We don’t give our life to Jesus, He gives us His life. We give Him nothing (because we can’t) He gives us everything (because He is love and loves us). That is the Gospel.

Through the craftiness of Satan, Jesus has been misrepresented and misunderstood. He has been customized to fit just about every agenda, theology, and philosophy. His teaching in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are often NOT interpreted in light of the cross, but rather as if we remain still under the Law. By some, He has been made into merely a wise teacher, moral standard, philosophy creator, or radical social justice leader.  Indeed, Satan has created a funhouse of mirrors that have distorted people’s beliefs about the truth of Jesus.

Many Christians don’t know and are not being taught who they truly are in Christ, some falsely believe they are still by nature “sinners,” are still under some level of condemnation, and are constantly being tested by God for “trueness.” Many believe that the Christian life is about their efforts, trying, rule-keeping, and striving to live better, become better, and do more. The truth is, the job of the Holy Spirit to those who don’t believe is to convict them of their unbelief, but the job of the Holy Spirit to the believer is to convince them of their righteousness, apart from their efforts!  The “labor to enter into that rest” that Paul charged us to be the foundation of the Christian life has been turned into a labor or serving, sacrificing, performing, achieving, rule-keeping, and doing. In many settings, the church has been turned into a club with a cross on top where traditions reign, political structures rule, and Christians talk amongst themselves and judge the world, instead of encouraging one another and talking with the world.   To be sure, the “Church” in many setting has been successfully sabotaged to the point it completely distorts the Gospel, manifests condemnation instead of Grace, turns good hearted believers into performance-driven Christians, and turns off and away the very people God purposed them to reach, love, and bring into the family.  The religious spirit is deeply entrenched in many a church today and has completely perverted the Gospel and the essence of the Christian life.

So, if you want a real spiritual battle, that’s where Satan is most effectively at work today, not among the sinners of the world nearly as much as among those who claim to be righteous. And for all, it all centers on the issue of right believing, not voodoo.  To be sure, Satan is not the real problem in the world that needs to be battled, it’s the epidemic he has ignited of the modern day rise of the pharisaical heart among those who claim to believe in Jesus, but live and believe by their own self-righteousness.

Not many are willing to say it, but I just did, that light might shine in the darkness.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

“The Gap” – Message

The Gap

Chris Kratzer speaking at The Grace Place, Shelby NC.

Non-Church Goers more Genuine?

I believe “church” can be one of God’s most important and valuable gifts. As a pastor, I firmly believe in the potential of church to be a community of Grace that profoundly impacts lives.

At the same time, I am often disgusted with religion and its spirit when it permeates a church.  Like Jesus in His sermon to a specific church in the book of Revelation, at times I just want to “spit it out of my mouth.”  There are occasions and trends where the Church (modern and traditional) has taken God’s Gospel of Grace and turned it into a religion of performance, rules, steps, levels, goals, guilt trips, fear tactics, and rituals.

In fact, truth be told, many Sunday morning church-goers attend a service and hear a message (in some fashion or another) that gives them a series of things they need to do (or not do), work on, or improve—all in order to be more “Jesus-filled” and faithful in living the “christian” life. Their closeness with God and status with Him are in the balance.

When people stop going to church (or never try it out) we assume it’s for some dark, sin-influenced reason. Yet, maybe it’s because they are actually more genuine than those that are attending—ever thought of that? Some people who stop going to a church, such as I have described, have resolved with a genuine heart that they are hypocrites because they will never be able to perform up to the standards and steps that are prescribed each week. They simply admit, “I can’t do all of this and get it all right.” Therefore, they conclude it’s probably better not to even try, fake it, and give the appearance that they are something that they are not.

Because the church they experienced is not a refuge of Grace, but more of a religious club of rules and self-help talks, they have decided to preserve their character and honesty instead of getting on a tread mill of religious performance where no matter how much you do, you are forever unfit. They have discovered in religion and churches that have welcomed a religious spirit, the best you can do is pretend. So, they have decided, pretending is not for them.

The Gospel of God’s Grace doesn’t produce nor create and environment where people must pretend. Rather, the emphasis is on the performance of Jesus and placing our faith in Him and His work. Right living never produces right living— it’s right believing that leads to right living. It is His righteousness that becomes our righteousness. It is His identity that becomes ours. As we believe it, we receive it, and then live it.

Obedience under The Law is to do rightly. Obedience under Grace is to believe rightly.

If you believe rightly, the behaviors will follow. But not from a foundation of rules and religious performance, but effortlessly from a foundation of Grace. There is nothing to pretend, it’s about Jesus’ performance, not ours!  It’s His life in us, not ours.

Hallelujah!

People need the Gospel, the pure Gospel of God’s Grace. The light that God placed within all humanity won’t be fooled by a counterfeit. It is the deep calling to deep. When some sense a phony Church with a phony Gospel, though the may not be able to explain it or put words to it, many non-church goers are genuine enough to steer away from it.

Be careful before you put all non-churchgoers on an island doomed for hell, they may be more genuine than you.

Is the Religious Spirit alive in Church?

I love people, and I look for the best in them. I love God’s church, and I believe through Christ, God’s church carries the hope of the world… the Gospel of God’s Grace in Christ Jesus. So, when what I believe is a spiritual infection threatens the very life and vitality of something very precious to my heart (people and the Gospel), I believe it deserves to be brought out of the shadows and into the light. Especially when it has taken on what could even be said is a pandemic scope.

Is what I am addressing being manifested in all churches and among all Christians? Not at all. However, I do write with concern for what I see infecting certain segments of the body of Christ. It’s a spiritual stronghold of Satan’s crafting custom fit for segments of the Christian culture and sharpened for the target of God’s Church.

What I see eroding portions of the American church from the inside out is what I call the “religious spirit.” In simple terms, the “religious spirit” is anything that reduces our focus and faith in the beauty and finishing work of Jesus, and shifts it towards human performance. It is any spirit that communicates that your identity is shaped by your actions, or any spirit that places the fulfilling of your purpose in the hands of your performance.

The religious spirit declares that human performance is what makes the transaction between God and His provisions becoming a reality in our lives. Yet, the Gospel teaches that “faith” is what makes transactions possible between God and us, and us and God. Unfortunately, not only is this religious spirit alive and well in many-a-church, it is even leading them. In fact, in some settings, the religious spirit is indistinguishable from the church. And to be sure, when the religious spirit sets in it will do nearly anything to keep its influence and control.

For example, in most churches, you would rarely if ever hear a direct message declaring that receiving salvation is contingent on our human performance. Yet, when we add anything more to this transaction than faith alone, we are doing just that.  Even the well intentioned phrase, “Giving my life to Jesus” can become problematic when we believe foundationally that we have any life to give Him, and our giving is what opens the door to Grace. Truth is, we don’t give our life to Jesus, Jesus gives His life to us. We receive His life, He doesn’t receive ours. That’s the subtlety of the religious spirit.

See, our flesh is attracted to messages that give us something to do to work our way out of the wedges of life. It appeals to our human nature to place our destiny (or portions thereof) within our human ability to accomplish. We love to hear “steps” to this or that spiritual goal, or even be convicted to just “do better” because ultimately it places the focus on us and gives us a self-authoring hope.

It’s much like playing golf, we start living for the hope that the next round will be the round where we finally play better. The Christian life becomes simply a series of scored rounds where you hold onto a hope that you will finally do better than the last one. In that way, it (the religious spirit) keeps you coming back for more of what you ironically will never truly achieve as it appeals to a hope that one day will be THE day…so just keep on playing.

In fact, have you ever noticed that nearly every issue of Golf Magazine is basically the same? It’s all tips and tricks to playing better, sometimes even presenting the same tricks and tips in just a bit of a different way.  People keep buying issues of the magazine over and over because ultimately what they learned in the last one we never could fully be put into practice.

Yet, the same is true about the reality of much of the church going life in America. It’s really the same spiritual magazine every week of tips and tricks of how to enhance your life by essentially doing better in some way, shape, or form. Yet, because it’s ultimately focused on our performance, we keep coming back because week after week, in some way or another, we fall short.

That’s why the religious spirit comes out of who I want and think I need to be, but the Gospel-spirit comes out who I am in Christ and who I get to be.  Like the trajectory of a rocket geared to the millimeter at launch, this distinction is critical in the trajectory of the Christian life.

The religious spirit has manifested itself in many ways within church, here’s a few briefly described…

1) Personal Performance-based Self Improvement.

Within some contemporary and traditional churches alike, there is a message being given that is based on a foundation of faithfulness and self-effort that gives the religious prescription that our performance leads to spiritual growth and life enhancement. In these settings, obedience is seen as the root of the Christian life and faith is the fruit.  Yet, the Gospel teaches that faith is the root and obedience is the fruit. Right believing leads to right living. It is not our performance that makes us better, it’s our faith in the work of Christ and our identity in Him. You become a new person, believe you are new, and then live newly from that faith. Our identity determines our performance, not our performance our identity. In fact, there is really no such thing as self improvement, there is only new-self becoming. You can’t become a better person until you become a new person in Christ. Once you are a new person in Christ, your faith makes you better as you believe in who you are (not your performance) and God’s work in you. Therefore, faith is the root, obedience is the fruit.

2) Religious Rituals and Prescriptions

For one example, in many church and Christian circles, the Bible has become an idol rather than a foundational revelation, guide and tool for our Christian faith and life. Scripture memorization, knowledge and debate have become the primary goal. The foundation is on what can be memorized, quoted, or underlined. Additionally, the Bible has become a religious symbol of devotion and the reading thereof a ritual that attempts to convince the soul and the observer of the genuineness and vitality of one’s faith. Jesus has become an accessory to the Word and the reading thereof instead of Him being the purpose and the prize.  The Word of God was and is always meant to lead us to Jesus; His Grace, beauty, presence, and finishing work on the cross. It is not a religious book from which to gain points with God or to put one’s faith on display.

Unfortunately, what a religious spirit has done with God’s Word, it has also done with other things like prayer, fasting, and serving.

3) Legalist Church Cultures

Legalism is simply the placing of a law where there is none with a sure sense that if not fulfilled or followed it will keep one from God or the things of God.

Some churches are full of all kinds of rules that God never created. Much of them are man made, and center around the use of power, guilt and fear to influence and conform.  From various kinds of denominational politics and policies to churches approving of only a certain Bible translation that their members can read, from dress codes to doctrines of a nonessential nature, the religious spirit has done well to promote and prosper legalism throughout God’s church.

Legalism places hoops to jump through in order to get to God or the things of God, yet the Gospel shows God doing the hoop jumping in order to get to us and pour out His blessings into our lives.

The question isn’t so much “where is legalism within the church today?” the question is really, “where isn’t legalism in the church?” There is a continual message communicated in many and various ways within God’s church that if you don’t have this or do this, you aren’t completely one of us, and may not even be one of God’s. Are there essential beliefs to the Christian faith? Obviously, yes. But legalism rarely ever focuses on the essentials but makes codes, conditions, and constraints out of the nonessentials.

Indeed, from issues of ministry leadership to callings in the Kingdom, we have placed a lot of emphasis on our guide posts, best practices, and bench marks in nearly every spectrum of the church to the point we have nearly created a religion of leadership, the Christian life, and doing church and ministry.

4) Man Centered Traditions and Structures

The Gospel is God created, religion is man created. Find me a place within a church where what is man created eclipses or replaces what God created and you will find me what is religious about that church. Are there various interpretations as to what God created church to be like and how it is to operate? Absolutely, but undoubtedly there are also clear footprints where the religious spirit as stomped on and stolen from God’s design for His church and replaced it with man created traditions and structures.

From worship styles to church committees and boards, there are countless examples of where what man has created can either eclipse or replace what God designed.  Is everything that man creates within church religiously spirited? No, not at all. However, where we place our created things over or against what God has designed and purposed, we run into dangerous territory. For example, worship styles aren’t necessarily religiously spirited until they are put over or against God’s redemptive purpose for His Church.  Committees and boards aren’t necessarily religiously spirited until they are put over or against the direct and/or delegated authority God designed for His church.

The Faithfulness Factor- Differences between Acting and Working

There is a reason why God is only pleased by our faith. Faith is what releases God to work in and through us, lavishing and spilling His Grace in and through us. God works, we believe, we act in response to His revealed movement seen and sensed by our faith, God continues to work and bless. That’s the order, the interaction, and the re-act-ion.

Our acting is often to be in real-time concert with God’s working. God works, we act.  Acting always comes out of faith and need of God’s working. Work comes out of some level of disbelief, dissatisfaction, or doubt with God’s work, power, and goodness. It is the flesh engaging despite or without the power and prompting of God. Faith puts us in step with when to act in sync with the Spirit, work is virtually deaf to and even disinterested in such discernment.

When God gave birth to the Church He scripted its birthing memoirs in a book called “Acts” in the Bible, not a book called “Works.”  To be sure, it is often attributed to the acts of the Holy Spirit in birthing the Church, but notice throughout, the same pattern repeats over and over again… the Spirit works in many and various ways, the people believe and then act. In many instances, the people involved believe, wait for God’s movement and then act. The foundation is the Spirit of God moving, not the flesh drawing from its own power, purpose, and prompting.

Faithfulness is simply acting as a result of and in the flow of God’s working, but never without or before it. Faithfulness is never doing things (no matter how great or spiritual the cause) when and where God is not or has not directly moved. Furthermore, it is never to be a performance that proves one’s faith, puts it on display, or appeases God.

What about the book of James? Yes, we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. However when we abide in Christ through faith, He is the one who does them. “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

Furthermore, a study of the text of James will reveal that James who stated such things as “Faith without works is dead” and “You see then that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24) was referring back to the “works” of Abraham. What was the work of Abraham? To believe in God.  James is not contradicting Paul whose faith was by Grace alone, but seeing our faith and trust in Jesus and His promises as a one and only abiding work.  As Jesus said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” John 6:29.

First, it is saving faith, then it is an abiding faith. But none of it is work in any performing/religious way, shape, or form. Rather, James is describing the unbelieving believer. The faithless faith, and thus the workless (the work of believing) faith.

Unfortunately, much of serving  and what is being done in the name of “faithfulness” in and outside of church is laced with religious performance. It is not rooted in the rest that comes from the Gospel of Grace, but in the performance mindset or “work” that comes from the subtle movements of the religious spirit.  It is the hard work of the unbelieving believer. They believe in Jesus, but less in His Gospel of pure Grace and power for their lives. Thus, their restlessness and need to be busy to “do more for the Lord.”

There are two very distinct ways to work. Each having a different foundation. One can work under law or under Grace. We place ourselves under the law when we scan the horizon for things we should be doing for Jesus to make and ensure the Christian thing happening in us gets complete as we try to convince ourselves of what we are not truly convinced in our souls; we are forgiven, fully acceptable, and lacking nothing.  We remain under Grace when we rest in Him and then act on His promptings. From Grace, under Grace, through Grace.

Is The Religious Spirit alive in Church?  Yes, but the Gospel spirit is so much better, and such a better way to live!

© 2018 Chris Kratzer

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