“To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice,” – Proverbs 21:3 (NIV)
For the past few months, I’ve been slowly going through the Gospels with my pastor, Tony. As I’ve been reading through them, one thing continues to stand out to me: Jesus’ life. Yes, His teaching definitely stands out to me, but what I’ve been paying attention to throughout the study is how Jesus taught it, preached it, and then lived it. He hung out with the socially-awkward, the outcasts, and the lame. He lived graciously, patiently, and compassionately. His life, His story, was put to paper so that we might emulate Him. And yet, when I look at Christianity today, I see a completely different life being lived.
Perhaps it’s because I’m reading Mark Driscoll’s Vintage Jesus or because I have just as many religious defaults as anybody else, but not matter what the case may be, I’ve felt fed up with Christian religiosity. Our doctrines, dogmas, and theologies seem to have taken center stage in our Christian life. We talk more about what happens in heaven and hell then what happens in the space in between. We’ve become so geared towards getting the right beliefs down pact that we’ve lost sight of how to live as Jesus taught. No doubt, I find doctrines, dogmas, and theologies to be fascinating and intriguing discussions. But in no way are they ever supposed to replace Christ.
I don’t mean to bash Mark Driscoll because I believe he is a very effective pastor to many, many people. But his teaching does tend to lean towards the dogmatic side of religion even though I know his heart is with Jesus. What’s wrong with too much theology? If you make your experience with God all about getting the right doctrines down and figuring it all out, then you might incidentally sacrifice your ability to effectively live out Jesus’ teaching. And, in many cases, you might become socially awkward.
My roommates this past year taught me something about life as a Christian: You got to socialize a bit. I’ve gotten into the bad habit of allowing my theological studies to guide my walk with Christ rather than taking what He teaches in Scripture and running with it to the real world. What I mean is, I’ve spent more time studying the complexities of Scripture and our theological ideas than I have with other people, sharing Christ’s love. What does this look like exactly? From my experience in the past year, it means watching boring TV shows or movies with people, playing video games with roommates, or sharing a hand-made meal together. Jesus, after all, spent His final few days washing His disciples’ feet and feeding them.
God desires authenticity and transparency; He does not want our lives to solely consist around what we believe. He wants us to go out and live our beliefs. Matthew 6:1-4 encapsulates exactly what I’m getting at:
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. … But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
God wants us to be real, especially when no one is watching. But when we emphasize our beliefs and the right way of viewing Jesus, we run the risk of encouraging a more Pharisaical Christianity. We’d give to the poor only when others are watching, pray long and loud prayers in the hearing of others, and make ourselves look hungry and exhausted when we’re fasting. We’d become focused on our own image and how people see us rather than God’s image and how He sees us.
In Jesus’ day in age, piety was everything. As the Dead Sea Scrolls indicate (in a more positive way, though), there was a major emphasis on ritual purity, knowledge of the Torah, and following every last letter of the law to the upmost degree. In the Scrolls, the sentiment is that Israel had fallen away from enacting God’s righteousness and there needed to be a mass repentance with the people. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, we see the negative side of super-piety:
“For the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of
you, when he said:
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
God wants us to follow Him above following each other.
At Calvary Fellowship, Danny is teaching a series titled Life Happens. Each sermon is geared towards handling the tough aspects of life; death in the family, worry, fear, pain, and just the difficult emotions of life. One thing that I keep finding as the common denominator in dealing with the difficulties is being authentic with God and the people around us.
Religion asks us to sacrifice more, to be more pious, and have our piety noticed. But the deeper we dive into our own facades, the farther we drift from God. Our pain, our worries, our sadness, our depression – none of it gets healed, comforted, or counseled if we hide our real selves. We learn how to love our friends, family, coworkers, and all the people we meet when we seek authenticity.
God sees right through us anyway; might as well stop the pretenses.