Religion can be defined as attempting to gain the union with God that is already your possession in Christ. As a child and a youth I had a dim view of religion. At best I saw it as comic. At worst as repetitious and boring. Never once did I imagine it possessed life. Because it doesn’t. Not to this day. Jesus Christ is our life and He can be enjoyed entirely without the help of religion.
If only I had known this when I was a boy! Known that Christ was life and religion was not! I disliked my religion and did not think all that well of God. I saw Him more as One who was out to catch you out by returning at the second-coming to announce the bad news that you did not make it.
Nevertheless, in God’s scheme everything has its purpose and all works for good. Even sin. God is not dismayed by sin or stifled by religion. He lives to draw us into His life and Family and to set us free from all that is not life. This brings to mind that there are translations of the Bible that are more in line with God’s life than others. ‘The rightly divided word of truth’ is the word seen not only through the Jesus lens but through the Jesus of the new covenant lens. A contemporary ‘rightly divided word of truth’ is The Mirror Bible. Some ‘gospels’ dumb-down who Jesus is to us and reverse the gospel of the Kingdom. This translation uncovers the glory of our Jesus, the love of our Father and the glory of sons who see themselves in Jesus.
A GREATER VISION
An old covenant viewpoint will lead to disappointment and the distortion of Jesus’ accomplishments. It leaves us in religion and a mindset separated from God and cut-off from life to the full. But our new covenant status is that we belong. The new covenant is not Jesus telling you what to do. It is Jesus being you!
In my thirties I was an elder at my church. I had quite a lot to say about God - much of which was misguided because we lived in a law-based, fundamentalist culture that was in many ways life-denying and Father distorting. A greater vision of world needs is never found in the law. But it is unveiled when Christ is our life and our glory.
I have since learned that this life-denying quality was not peculiar to my denomination and could be found across many sectors of the Body. It could manifest as the idea that it was virtuous and pleasing to god to be somehow less than alive, somewhat restrained, inhibited and conformist – and subject to blind guides. I have seen that blurred vision and the absence of spirit and life are synonymous with old covenant living irrespective of whether Believers are Spirit filled or evangelical.
God spoke to me one grey day on Mt Wellington in Hobart Tasmania. He speaks to many people I know so I am not saying that I am special. I had taken my cross country skis, walked to the summit and began skiing through the gums and between the rocks in freshly fallen snow. It was magic and I had an acute sense of the presence of God in the beauty of His creation. I received what was to be a continuing revelation that God in Jesus was indeed the essence of life to the full - not life abridged, restrained or dulled by criteria extrinsic to Jesus.
There is merit in conformity when we are conformed to Christ who is our life. Conformed now and in the full extravagance of flourishing in Him. Descartes said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ I say I am in Christ, therefore I am alive!’ Christ in us is indeed our glory.
We are encouraged to be hidden in Christ. This is good because there we are revealed as ourselves in the glory of our design. In Him we are positioned to fulfill our mission as expressing Christ in the earth through simply being ourselves. But we also attune ourselves to the spirit of life in nature and society. To be immersed in Jesus is to be marinated in life itself. It is to become increasingly sensitive to aliveness in all its forms. Paul speaks of the two-edged sword of the word of life that cuts through dead flesh and religious humbug to set us free into the spirit and life that is the new creation. Religion makes us dull. Lagging along in an old covenant mindset produces
Kingdom competency comes from new covenant authority. Believers are dead in spirit when unplugged from new covenant life – their wearying utterances are a painful ordeal. They are so sincere, yet inadequate to minister spirit and life because they live in separation from that life. God is not boring but people often are. Ask to be delivered from anesthetizing people in the attempt to impart life!
‘He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’ 2 Cor 3.6 NIV.
As boy I kicked against un-life and rebelled against the boredom of church, its endless meetings, irrelevance and fear-mongering in the name of God. I have always had a passion for life to the full and easily angered by those who would deny it through injustice, religion and false doctrine.
Don’t imagine that we have much in common with Jesus and life to the full if we are consistently willing to accommodate ourselves and others to falsehoods and substitutes for genuine life. I mean religious substitutes for Jesus that insulate the innocent and naïve from the fullness that is theirs in a purely Jesus life.
As I got to know Jesus personally I realized that I felt a passion for life because all of us were meant for life. We were born from the womb of ultimate life (the trinity) to be passionate about life and seek it for itself and others.
In my thirties I encountered a man in my church who was an evangelist for anything dull, anything inhibited and everything bound in the name of religion. When you spoke of life he would oppose it as if he were supporting god. I wondered where he had absorbed the notion that restraint, dullness and religion represent god. He got it from religion and religion got it from the Father of Lies. Sadly his son died unexpectedly. Yet he absorbed this into himself stoically as if a life in god is all about numbness to reality and a spiritless endurance. Ours is not to live life in a coma. The Spirit of God in man calls us to rail against the night!
Another pastor, of whom I am profoundly grateful, spoke revelation when he shared of his day on a catamaran on the bay with His son. There was a stiff see breeze. They were up on one keel. As they surfed through the water his son shouted, ‘Hey Dad. Jesus would have loved this!’ Of course He would have. Jesus is life, loves life, created us to suck the marrow out of life and live as life-giving spirits. But most of what comes to us as religion is not about this. And many hobble about in the illusion that life is church. But Paul declared that Christ is our life.
Jesus came as life, represented life and announced that His gift to all was life without limit. He assured us that it was the Thief who killed, destroyed, dulled and inhibited life. But in Himself He would be our life to the full.
I found this in a book I am reading by Bonface Odhiambo, entitled ‘In the Eyes of Grace.’ We find
‘What a joy that eternity has become our destiny. God is neither ashamed nor apologetic to invite us to share in His life, the life He lives. This life does not begin in heaven but begins here on earth. Eternal life is not subject to keeping rules and statutes but the expression of the inner life we have become.
Fruits are effortless spontaneous manifestation of the character of a tree. It effortlessly brings forth fruit after its own kind. And we too like trees effortlessly are supposed to manifest the fruit of the Spirit who lives in us. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, gentleness, faith, meekness and temperance. Against such there is no law’ (Gal 5:22-23). Sure there is no law. But there is a surfeit of liberty and life without limit!