No strings attached

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The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law — each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.

–Philip Yancey
What’s so Amazing about Grace?

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Too Much Religion

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It seems odd to have to say so, but too much religion is a bad thing. We can’t get too much of God, we can’t get too much faith and obedience, can’t get too much love and worship. But religion—the well intentioned efforts we make to “get it all together” for God—can very well get in the way of what God is doing for us. The main and central action is everywhere and always what God has done, is doing, and will do for us. Jesus is the revelation of that action. Our main and central task is to live in responsive obedience to God’s action revealed in Jesus. Our part in the action is the act of faith.

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But more often than not we become impatiently self-important along the way and decide to improve matters with our two cents worth. We add on, we supplement, we embellish. But instead of improving on the purity and simplicity of Jesus, we dilute the purity, clutter the simplicity. We become fussily religious, or anxiously religious. We get in the way.

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That’s when it’s time to read and pray our way through the letter to the Hebrews again, written for “too religious” Christians, for “Jesus-and” Christians. In the letter, it is Jesus-and-angels, or Jesus-and-Moses, or Jesus-and-priesthood. In our time it is more likely to be Jesus-and-politics, or Jesus-and-education, or even Jesus-and-Buddha. This letter deletes the hyphens, the add-ons. the focus becomes clear and sharp again: God’s action in Jesus. And we are free once more for the act of faith, the one human action in which we don’t get in the way but on the Way.

–Eugene Peterson
Living the Message

The Great Divide

The most important verse in Scripture is “And the word became
flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory of the only Son from the Father . . .”

christ_rembrandt_1This verse—“The Word became flesh”—is the Great Divide. In all other religions it is Word became word—a philosophy, a moralism, a system, a technique, but for all time and all men everywhere, “the Word became flesh”—the Idea became Fact.

Then I got hold of this difference (between all world religions and Christianity) in all other religions it is the Word become word, but only in Jesus Christ, did the Word become flesh. Then (and only then) Everything fell into its place. I had the Key, and this Key fitted everything in East and West . . . Religions are man’s search for God. The gospel is God’s search for man. Therefore, there are many religions, but only one gospel.

–E. Stanley Jones

Painting: “Head of Christ”
Rembrandt van Rijn

Burdensome faith

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If my religion is not based
on a personal history with Jesus
it becomes something
I suffer from, not a joyous thing,
but something that keeps me
from doing what I want to.

–Oswald Chambers
(1874–1917)

When God set things right

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From the dim beginnings of our history right up to the present day, there is not a man, woman, or child of us who has ever been immune to the temptation to think that the relationship between God and humanity can be repaired from our side by our efforts. Whether those efforts involve credal correctness, cultic performances, or ethical achievements – or whether they amount to little more than crassly superstitious behaviour – we are all, at the same level, committed to them.

divider-1If we are not convinced that God can be conned into being favorable to us by dint of our doctrinal orthodoxy, or chicken sacrifices, or the gritting of our moral teeth, we still have a hard time shaking the belief that stepping over sidewalk cracks, or hanging up the bath towel so the label won’t show, will somehow render the Ruler of the Universe kindhearted, softheaded, or both.

But as the Epistle of the Hebrews pointed out long ago, all such behaviour is bunk. The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins, nor can any other religious act do what it sets out to do…

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But the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is precisely Good News. It is the announcement, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that God has simply called off the game – that he has taken all the disasters religion was trying to remedy and, without any recourse to religion at all, set them to rights by himself.

–Robert Farrar Capon
Kingdom, Grace, Judgment

Not interested in religion

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God is not interested in religion, but He is tremendously interested in life. You cannot read the New Testament without realizing that the Lord Jesus did not care a whit for the Sabbath regulations of his day when they were set against the need of a broken man for healing. God is not interested in stained glass windows, organ solos, congregation hymns or even pastoral prayers half so much as he is in producing love filled homes, generous hearts and brave men and women who can live right in midst of the world, and keep their heads and hearts undefiled.

–Ray Stedman

Photo: Navid Baraty

Not just a system

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We must not offer people
a system of redemption,
a set of insights and principles.
We offer people a Redeemer.

–Paul David Tripp

Grace and goodness

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O my Divine Love,
the desire I had to please You,
the tears I shed, my great labours
and the little fruit I reaped from it,
moved Your compassion.
You gave me in a moment, through
Your grace and Your goodness alone,
what I had been unable to give myself
through all my efforts.

–Madame Guyon
(1648 – 1717)

No whiff of negotiation

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Grace is created by God and given to man . . . On the basis of this point alone, Christianity is set apart from any other religion in the world . . .

Every other approach to God
is a bartering system;
if I do this God will do that.

I’m either saved by works (what I do), emotions (what I experience), or knowledge (what I know). By contrast Christianity has no whiff of negotiation at all. Man is not the negotiator; indeed man has no grounds from which to negociate.

–Max Lucado
In the Grip of Grace

Lurking suspicion

In all religiousness
there lurks the suspicion
that we invented the story
that God Loves us.

–Sebastian Moore

A devilish stronghold

There’s not a more devilish stronghold in believers,
than thinking if we would just do more of this or that,
God would be happy with us.

–Steven Crosby

When we don’t know God

The road of “trying to please God”
is called religion.
Religion is what we do when
we don’t know
the Father and Son.

–Baxter Kruger

Published in: on 01/23/2012 at 10:59  Leave a Comment  
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How much is enough?

How much prayer is enough? How much seeking is enough? How much self-humbling is needed? How much wickedness do we have to turn from? Is 70% enough? 40%? 20%? How successful do we have to be in our turning? What if we backslide? Does our previous turning count for us, or do we have to start over? When will God ever be satisfied? If we understood and lived in New Covenant realities, we would know that God has been satisfied, once and for all time, and we could dispense with these spiritual gymnastics of trying to please God so He can be nice to us . . . Our approach to God, and God’s response to prayer is based solely on the Person and Work of His Son. There is no other foundation. There’s nothing else to position ourselves under than His finished work.

–Steve Crosby

Published in: on 11/08/2011 at 6:51  Leave a Comment  

It’s crazy, wild and outrageous

There is no such thing as the Christian religion because, Christianity, at is heart, is not a religion. Rather, it’s the announcement by God in Christ that whatever it was that the religions of the world were trying to do and couldn’t (make God think kindly of you, win wars, end poverty, get the crops to grow, stop your brother-in-law from drinking so much at your parties), the whole rigmarole has been canceled.

In Jesus, God has put up
a “Gone Fishing” sign
on the religion shop.

He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it—to trust the bizarre, unprovable proposition that in him, every last person on earth is already home free without a single religious exertion: no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and reciting the correct creed—no nothing. All you need is faith that the entire show has been set to rights in the Mystery of Christ—even though nobody can see a single improvement. Yes, it’s crazy. And yes, it’s wild, and outrageous, and vulgar. And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste. And worst of all, it doesn’t sell worth beans. But it is Good News—the only permanently good news there is—and therefore I find it absolutely captivating.

–Robert F. Capon

God opposes religion

There is a huge demographic of people who are frustrated with the Christian religion, yet who also remain open to Christ himself. Some of them are Christ-followers while others are holding back from following Jesus because of their anger, frustration, and/or just boredom with the Christian religion . . . I think one reason why the new atheist authors are so popular is because atheism has become the trendy way of giving religion (and the God of religion) the finger. Their motivating logic runs roughly along these lines: “Religion tends to increase rather than decrease bigotry, violence, and judgementalism. Therefore, belief in God is dangerous.” I want to agree with the premise, but challenge the conclusion. I would say yes, religion tends to fan the flames of bigotry, violence, and judgementalism. Therefore, if there is a good God, we should expect him to stand against religion. And that is exactly what we see in the biblical Jesus.

–Bruxy Cavey

Published in: on 11/06/2011 at 16:25  Leave a Comment  
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Legalist lurking within

Paul reminds the church of the message the church began with: “Jesus Christ … crucified.” The cross is where we should be planted. The cross reminds us that our best efforts could never achieve forgiveness from God. And the cross reminds us that Christ’s work on our behalf is forever finished, so our best efforts can never add to His work.

How quickly we drift from this essential message! We begin basing our relationship with God on our performance. We want to substitute our works — our Bible reading, our church attendance, our church participation — for Christ’s finished work. We easily fall into the subtle but serious trap of legalism, because every one of us has a legalist lurking within.

–C.J. Mahaney

Published in: on 11/06/2011 at 6:21  Leave a Comment  
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The main source of mischief

Spiritual pride is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christianity.  It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit, to darken the mind and mislead the judgment.  It is the main source of all the mischief the devil introduces, to clog and hinder a work of God.

Spiritual pride tends to speak
of other persons’ sins
with bitterness or with laughter
and levity and an air of contempt.

But pure Christian humility rather tends either to be silent about these problems or to speak of them with grief and pity.  Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others, but a humble Christian is most guarded about himself.  He is as suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart.  The proud person is apt to find fault with other believers, that they are low in grace, and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are and to be quick to note their deficiencies.  But the humble Christian has so much to do at home and sees so much evil in his own heart and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts.  He is apt to esteem others better than himself.

–Jonathan Edwards
(1703-1758)

A painful pattern

In the study of church history I learned that reform movements in the church too often follow a familiar pattern. First come the CONCEPTUALIZERS who see how to apply a biblical principle where they live, next are the CRUSADERS who spread it, then CODIFIERS who make sure it is written down just right, others CRYSTALIZE it and put it on pedestals for us to admire, and the CONCRETE-setters finally ensure that it can never be changed. Before long the process has to begin all over again—the phariseeism and legalism must be broken—if there is to be any power and meaningful application of God’s message.

–William Conard

Published in: on 10/31/2011 at 10:41  Leave a Comment  

Follow Me

Every time the disciples started establishing rules–no children near Jesus; don’t let the crowd touch Jesus; don’t talk to Samaritan women; don’t let people waste expensive perfumes—Jesus told them to knock it off, and his rebuke was usually followed by a lecture that said, “You still don’t get it! We’re not substituting religious rules with our rules. We are substituting religious rules with Me!” Jesus kept saying “Follow Me,” not “follow My rules.” So most of us have spent our Christian lives learning what we can’t do instead of celebrating what we can do in Jesus.

–Mike Yaconelli 

Keeping the rules

Nothing gives one a more spuriously
good conscience than keeping the rules,
even if there has been a total absence
of all real charity and faith.

–C. S. Lewis

Published in: on 10/27/2011 at 10:41  Leave a Comment  

Flinging off religion

Many a soul begins to come to God
when he flings off being religious,
because there is only one Master
of the human heart,
and that is not religion
but Jesus Christ.

–Oswald Chambers
(1874 – 1917)

Published in: on 10/25/2011 at 13:01  Leave a Comment  
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Not religious enough

It is a profound irony that
the Son of God visited this planet
and one of the chief complaints
against him was that he was
not religious enough.

–Rebecca Manley Pippert

Published in: on 10/24/2011 at 16:46  Leave a Comment  
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A religious spirit

Anytime we embrace anything other than Jesus as the key to God’s heart, we open ourselves to the malignant deformation of a religious spirit. A religious spirit always accents the syllable on what we do, what we know, instead of Whose we are, and Who we know. A religious spirit always holds up the mirror before your face, not the face of Jesus. Its focus is inward, into ourselves, our performance of religious routine, our spiritual resume. In contrast the Holy Spirit (who doesn’t possess a shred of religion), always points us to Jesus.

–Fawn Parish

Redundant religion

Religion is exposed as our attempt
to reach God, and the climb is tiring.
But if Jesus is God coming to us
and becoming one of us,
then religion is redundant.

–Bruxy Cavey

Published in: on 07/04/2011 at 1:24  Leave a Comment  
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Muffled thunder

Is this miracle enough for anybody?

Or has the thunder of “God so loved the world so much” been so muffled by the roar of religious rhetoric that we are deaf to the word that God could  have tender feelings for us?

–Brennan Manning

Published in: on 06/12/2011 at 19:18  Leave a Comment  
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Permanently closed

The gospel of grace is the end of religion, the final posting of the CLOSED sign on the sweatshop of the human race’s perpetual struggle to think well of itself. For that, at bottom, is what religion is: man’s well-meant but dim-witted attempt to approve of his unapprovable condition by doing odd jobs he thinks some important Something will thank him for.

Religion, therefore, is a loser, a strictly fallen activity. It has a failed past and a bankrupt future. There was no religion in Eden and there won’t be any in heaven; and in the meantime Jesus has died and risen to persuade us to knock it all off right now.

–Robert F. Capon

Published in: on 05/17/2011 at 12:18  Leave a Comment  

When truth is trampled

There is a zeal for orthodoxy which is most unorthodox. There is a spirit that contends for the faith which is in conflict with faith. If men have lost their love, they will do more harm than good by their defense of the faith. Behind the denunciation of sin there must always be the tenderness of love if that denunciation is not to become evil in its bitterness. Behind the zeal for truth, there must always be the spaciousness of love if that zeal is not to become narrowed into hate. There have been men who have become so self-centered in a narrowness that they are pleased to call holding the truth, that the very principle for which they contend has been excluded from their life and service. All zeal for the Master that is not the outcome of love to Him is worthless.

       –G. Campbell Morgan

Published in: on 05/16/2011 at 19:11  Leave a Comment  

The outrageous invitation

Religion is the human race’s vain attempt to perfect a series of transactions that will con God into doing something about its plight. But the prescriptions of religion never delivered on their promises: all the chicken sacrifices of history, all the fasts, all the nights of prayer, all the approved sexual behavior—none of it ever tidied up even the smallest corner of the mess of history. And therefore when God really does do something about the mess, he doesn’t risk doing anything religious. Instead, he simply gets himself executed as a common criminal and then outrageously invites us to trust that everything religion ever tried to do has been accomplished . . .

–Robert Farrar Capon

Published in: on 04/27/2011 at 22:19  Leave a Comment  
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Finished

The tedium of human-centered religiosity,
wherein we constantly wonder
if we’ve given, done, loved, prayed,
worshiped, experienced, sacrificed enough
is ended in Christ’s crucified shout:
“It is finished!”

–Tim Dearborn

Published in: on 03/23/2011 at 12:55  Leave a Comment  
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Burden or Wings?

The evangel of an ethical example is a devastating thing. It makes religion the most grievous of burdens. Perhaps this is the real reason why, even among professing Christians, there are so many strained faces and weary hearts and captive, unreleased spirits. They have listened to Jesus’ teaching, they have meditated on Jesus’ character; and then they have  risen up, and tried to drive their own lives along Jesus’ royal way. Disappointment heaped on bitter disappointment has been the result. The great example has been a dead-weight  beating them down, bearing them to the ground, bowing their hopeless souls in the dust.

One of the vital distinctions between
true religion and false is that,
whereas the latter is a dead burden
for the soul to carry, the former
is a living power to carry the soul.

Paul’s mysticism grows lyrical with precisely this great discovery. “Christ in me” means something quite different from the weight of an impossible ideal, something far more glorious than the oppression of a pattern for ever beyond all imitation. “Christ in me” means Christ bearing me along from within, Christ the motive-power that carries me on, Christ giving my whole life a wonderful poise and lift, and turning every burden into wings. All this is in it when the apostle speaks of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

Compared with this, the religion which bases everything on example is pitifully rudimentary. This, and this alone, is the true Christian religion. To be “in Christ,” to have Christ within, to realize your creed not as something you have to bear but as something by which you are born, this is Christianity. It is more: it is release and liberty, life with an endless song at its heart. It means feeling within you, as long as life here lasts, the carrying power of Love Almighty; and underneath you, when you come to die, the touch of everlasting arms.

–James Stewart

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