"We don't want religion or rules, we want you Jesus" a friend of mine recently prayed.
My mouth formed a hearty, "Mmhmm." But my heart lurched in conviction. Is that true? Do I want Jesus more than the safety of rules or an attainable form of religion?
I've been reading through the gospels in The Message lately and one thing that's grabbed my attention is Jesus' assault on religion. Not an affront to holiness, or righteousness, or people, but against an empty measuring of our own goodness by human standards and rules.
I'm reminded of my twenties, I spent a lot of time pursuing Jesus but using the wrong standard to measure by. Conforming to religious rules was a measurement I was comfortable with. It was all born out of fear. If people don't obey the rules things can get out of hand real fast, and we don't want a mess.
But I found I was the one in the box, following the rules created, and the mess of life still wasn't contained. It's understandable to appreciate guidelines and rules. As a child and a young Christian it's how we know what's right and wrong, our understanding is shaped, the world is explained. But rules are for children, not friends, not disciples.
Don't get me wrong I'm not suggesting sin is okay. Evil has no place in the heart of a Jesus lover. But standards govern what we eat, wear, say, do, use, not our hearts.
Freedom is a threat as much to the religious as to the true enemy of our soul's, that old father of lies. Because when grace pries the fingers of religion off of a soul, freedom abounds. Religion is a hard thing to identify, even in our own hearts. I find that an action begun in grace can turn to a law or rule quicker that I can blink.
I think that's why everything must be up for evaluation, regularly. Every motive, every discipline, every program, rule, and action has to be weighed in the balance of grace. In Luke Jesus challenges the religious leaders. Those perfect at keeping the letter, though not the heart, of the law. Is the Sabbath for "helping people or leaving them helpless?" he asked. (Luke 6:9) He asked them to evaluate, in the balance of grace, their practice of keeping the law.
When he challenged them on a rigid doctrine, devoid of life, a kind of righteous slavery they were "beside themselves with anger, and started plotting how they might get even with him." (Luke 6:11)
It's so easy to be caught up in holy action, righteous practice, devoted living and not even realize the heart has gone out of it all. A good test of whether we're pursuing religion or Jesus is how we handle evaluation. If what we do is for the sake of our Beloved we face very little threat of evaluation and will humbly accept questions. However a loud protest and rigid defense of our programs, guidelines, and actions is typically a good indication that it's our own kingdom we're defending, not Jesus'.
If these words tread on your toes don't feel too badly, mine are thoroughly bruised! But isn't it better to endure a little toe stepping as a precaution against finding ourselves "plotting against Jesus"?