Throughout our Christian walks we will struggle with holiness. We ought to be holy and blameless and I think that is something we all innately desire because it is seared into our hearts. I am sure we have all experienced First Love. The moment I became reborn in Christ I experienced a depth of joy, a breadth of peace and a wholeness of His love. It wasn't just a feeling. It enveloped me and completed me and I grinned silly from ear to ear. I couldn't wait to go to church to worship. I clung on to every essence of the Word that came from the Bible, the pulpit and books. I grabbed every opportunity to serve and to help. I jumped on every trip I could with pastors and evangelists. I had a really good time. No one knew me or cared who I was. I was just another happy Christian. I had a grip on holiness and I didn't even know it. When I prayed for others, they had quick breakthroughs and soon people came seeking me for prayer. Demons would manifest, there'd be deliverance and people would receive an experience with God when I laid hands. I saw visions and I received knowledge and revelation. It was great and it wasn't anything special to me because in my mind, that's just how it's meant to be. People around me were doing the same thing anyway, I was learning from them. While I was of course a work in progress (still am, very much so), the joy of God made thoughts of sinning the furthest thing from my mind. I had no desire or appetite for it. Then church happened. Soon I became noticed by church, leaders and elders (and the people who thought of themselves as elders and appointed themselves as such, the "assistant gods" - I think you know the people I am talking about). I thank God that at this time, I already had mentors watching over me even though I did not know it and they did what they could to shield me from the churchianity. Suddenly it began to matter what I wore, how I looked, who my friends were in Church and even who I sat with during services. And up until this point I was in such bliss, being blind to the undercurrents of church politics and the Pharisees in our midst. I ran into religiosity. I was suddenly under scrutiny; not by the light of the Jesus but by the eyes of judgement and condemnation. Suddenly people decided they needed to pry into my past and "help" me out of it when I was actually already free and new. Crumbs... Why should my belt buckle matter? Why should it matter if I tuck my shirt in or not? Isn't it okay if I wear jeans? They are decent you know, neither rips nor tears nor too distressed. So what if I am wearing a plain old t-shirt? Does being trendy mean I am not holy enough? What does it matter if I sat with someone with less than a stellar reputation in church? Heck, someone's gonna have to sit with that person. So what if I had lunch with a sister-in-Christ? We're just eating! It's not juicy scandal. But I was submissive and good natured and so I began to comply under the pressure. Big mistake. Mind you I am not advocating against submission but there is good correction and misguided conformance. The Bible tells us not to conform to the world but be transformed (Romans 12:2). I think a version of the world exists in our church also. This is the world of false religion that tries to fit us into a standard mould of its definition. Conformance is a word with a connotation of restriction - to be squeezed into a shape. Transformation on the other hand denotes a dynamic liberating metamorphosis. But I was being conformed to church religion, to legalism and I hated it. I didn't go to church to be cloned into another one of those weird Christians! I began to experience striving and it was really a practical living struggle between law and grace. I did want to be holy. I desire it and religion seemed to offer the direction. However, although its intention is correct and noble, it is a path that leads us further from rather than closer to God. The Pharisees followed this path and I followed this path of religiousness also for a while. I continued even with tireless service but soon it became burdensome and a struggle of the flesh to do it. Although, the anointing I have never left me, I felt strained. You see, religion weighs a ton. Even the lightest load would when we shoulder something long enough. The joy and First Love was being squeezed out by strive; by do's and don'ts. It was being squeezed out because there was just no room for it in that religious mould that I was being forced into. I didn t need that. His yoke is supposed to be easy and light (Matthew 11:30). It is not supposed to weigh a ton. So I gave up that burden. I embraced grace. His yoke is still a yoke though and we have to choose to be yoked to Jesus. Relationship with Him. What a relief when He carries my burdens. So easy when I realise having a relationship with Him is what matters. His friendship and His thoughts of me is what define me. I don t have to worry about what others think about me. He fights those battles for me now. If He wants me to serve Him in ministry, He can certainly justify me. I need not lift a finger. I just need to follow His standing instructions, love God, love people, serve Him and live righteously (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). I am Christian. I love God but that doesn't mean I need to make myself ugly and serious looking and pretend to be faultless, successful and happy. Why do we do that? I am who I am in Christ and I am despite my flaws. I am not perfect and I don't want to pretend I am. Religion is all pretence and it is miserable (Matthew 23:27). I freed myself from religion and I am back where I should be with First Love. I found the same grace I experienced when I first became reborn. What about holiness? One might ask. Well, I still seek it and grow into it. That's what transformation is. It is inside out and it frees us. I have my mirror to behold Him with and I am holding on to it (2 Corinthians 3:18). There is always this question of law versus grace that comes up again and again but why does law have to be at odds with grace anyway? Jesus wasn't at odds with the law (although He didn't like religious legalism). Jesus came to fulfil the law (Matthew 5:17). The law teaches us and leads us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). The Old Testament is not at odds with the New Testament. The Law has never been changed and it never will (Matthew 5:18) but Grace gives us life from it. It doesn t have to be one over the other. We debate grace versus law only to go around in circles. Perhaps that is just the point of it. Perhaps Law and Grace exist in unison, in harmony and cannot be separated, in divine balance. Perhaps we should just accept the law as the written moral compass and grace as our truth about it. We should just be holy because God is holy and do His will because that is what is meant to be our desire. Our Helper writes the laws into our hearts and we would be foolish to ignore it. There is a yardstick to holiness. We WILL fall short and that's where grace comes in but we would never abandon the yardstick altogether because that is just plain dumb. Law and grace - it works together.
I was raised in a denomination which placed an emphasis on holiness and therefore, am well acquainted with the struggle which you describe. I am thankful for the pastors and other leaders in that denomination who had the courage to speak out against it. Sometimes their words were heeded and other times they were not. :(
I remember when I looked, really looked at what Jesus meant when he responded to the question asked of Him about which commandment was the greatest. I was actually in the middle of teaching an adult Sunday School class. Of course, I'd read those words before and I had head knowledge of them as well. That time though... they penetrated deeply within my heart fully grasping that yes, if we love God with all of our hearts, mind, soul and strength we will desire to do the things which please God and abhor the things that don't.
No one has to tell me what to do in order to please my husband. I know him well enough to know what does and what does not. Lack of communication and fellowship with him causes a deep ache within my heart. A sense that I am not whole. Do we feel that way about God?
Excellent blog my friend and thanks for your openness and honestly on this topic. I think just about everyone involved with any kind of group placing an emphasis on purity goes through what you describe here.
It truly is sad how religion succeeds in taking the joy out of our walk, removes the spontaneity from our service and relegates our fellowship to adhering to rules and regulations instead of lovingly seeking to do what the Lord asks of us to do.
Grace TO walk in fellowship with God far exceeds legalistic regulations trying to impose a law on the flesh to keep it from sinning.
Thanks again brother,
I see myself, or my own struggle in your experience.
What some miss and what we can so easily loose is if we walk in our first love (return to our first love) law takes care of itself. Because one fully walks in grace tuned to hearing (learning) and doing (obeying).
I learned, am learning, when we try to make ourselves holy and start reviewing faults we have taken our eyes off our first love.
Jesus touched a leper. Walked, talked and enjoyed communion with the scum of society. Next day ate at a rich mans house among the elite.
He didn't bore himself with how you dressed, how you talked or by how you smelled.
Because He focused on obedience - the Fathers love for him and mankind and his love for the Father and mankind.
That little word love contains - faith, trust, hope, miracles, promises kept and yet to be kept, meals, drinks, clothing and shelter supplied, all of his being and doing. For the pleasure and glory of the Father.
I preached for several years in many Churches, parks, housing complexes and more with hair down my back and in borrowed and hand me down clothes and shoes. No one said I was doing it wrong and no one stopped or tried to prevent me from continuing. Then one day a Church was offered a move was made and the first thing said after the hellos was 'I see a trip to the barber is first on the agenda'.
The spiral began.
Stand strong brother this blog is a testament to all.
Romans 7:9: For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
I never understood this verse until I associated it with 'religiosity', or 'law'. For Paul to be 'alive...once', he must have been talking about being saved and alive in Christ after his conversion. But then the 'commandment' (law, expectations, 'requirements' of church) came in and sin 'revived'??? Strange thing to say, unless he had previously been freed from sin - these expectations make us turn back to trying to fulfill them, like trying to be perfect by obeying the Law. We become 'sin-conscious' / performance oriented and we lose sight of the life and love we have for free by grace. Living that way (under law / expectations) feels like death and probably is a form of spiritual death. Understanding and separating these two ways has helped me so much to live in God's rest, love and life without condemnation. So refreshing and freeing!
Thus says the Lord. Be Holy for I am Holy. Be in the world but you are not of the world. Be separated for God. The one God of Abraham and Isaac. No other. Never allow any pastor to gain control of you. Never allow any mentor to control you, instead ask God for his spiritual mentor. Submit only to Christ who died on a cross for you. God be with you.
Very well written. I have not experienced the heavy outward pressure you described. There are, however, more subtle forms of what you describe evident in the 'spirit' of religion. That spirit resides over and rules many well meaning believers.
Our enemy is not flesh and blood. Our enemy is alive and well.
I pray our liberty will advance the Kingdom of light and push back the enemy lines so others can come into freedom in Christ.
Continue to guard your anointing!
Well I missed this one. Been there, done that. Outward appearance is moot if one isn't holy inside, where it counts. One can go too far either way. Moderation seems to be a good path. That Holy Spirit power seems to be lacking and mostly silent today. The life-changing kind anyhow, for the most part, in the region I live in.
Thanks for the thoughts. I wonder what they thought about the hairy arms and legs, leather belts and robes, back in the prophets days in scripture? Thanks for the blog. God Bless.
Oh ya, this is very real in church...i heard people commenting why "so and so bring a friend that looks like gangster to church Christmas party, and if this is kind of friend he mix with, well, what kind of person he is?
Well, i wonder, if this is not the right candidate to bring to Christmas Party, shall we bring Prince or Princess to our Christmas Party?
Sometimes, i do wonder when church(perhaps not all, but some or just some people in church) has certain concern or control over who we should bring to church or a cell group or a Christmas party, so that they will have a well blend of ambient and preventing from hostile people's present.
Aren't God is moving, if these people is willing to walk into church in the first place? Are we having to much control over a certain church event that meant for bringing oikos along? Are the construction of the event itself a bit being too religious? i was puzzled.
And i also do come across a brother who is a long timer in church being gossiped by people in church of his past...and that kind of unfriendly gossip nearly cost the brother's fiancee to break off with him. I thought his was quite "unlucky" to be a long timer in church, that he has to suffer more stress than new timer for his past. People in church just know a lot about him( since he is quite long in church) and have a lot to talk/comment about him. However, God is sovereign. He is in control. The brother and his fiancee has finally happily married after the stress is over.
But i am glad that overall there is larger part of encouraging people than discouraging/critic people in church generally...and am hoping that changes and revival will continue to rain in churches to burnt away gossiping that destroy but let love, grace and true father's and mother's heart spread through the fire across churches. Blessings,