Leaving religion to follow Christ – Part one

Jesus_writing_sandI mentioned in “The dynamic flow of the Trinitarian life” that we cannot bring our dualistic “good and evil” knowledge with us when we come to God. We must leave that Tree behind and learn to eat from the Tree of Life, letting go of our judgmental comparisons and competitiveness. There is no place for it in the dynamic flow of our life in Christ.

I would like to take some time here to unpack what I mean by this. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share it in such a way that it will make sense to you (if not, you can certainly ask questions!) I will start with some familiar things I’ve shared to lay a foundation, and then move out into some new territory from there.

I’ll start by quoting my favorite Robert Capon quote. It certainly applies here:

“Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.” (Robert Farrar Capon)

Now, I would like to add one of my favorite Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes:

“The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

repenting_from_religion_coverI first read this quote when I read Greg Boyd’s book, Repenting from Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God about ten years ago. This book had a significant impact on me. In the book, Boyd talks about being inspired by Bonhoeffer, and he liberally quotes him. So, I will “pay if forward,” if you will, and liberally quote Boyd, who quoted Bonhoeffer! Of course, I will add my own thoughts as we go.

How do you get life?

Jesus teaches us that that the thief came to steal, kill, and destroy, but He came to give us life to the full…and that He IS the way, the truth, and the life  (John 10:10; 14:6). But what does that mean to us? How is Jesus the life?

What way of life are we talking about?

As I’ve also mentioned many times, when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, something terrible happened. Their eyes were opened to their own nakedness and so they hid from God (Gen.3:8-10). It’s here where we find the true source of the “sin of the world“:

The “sin of the world” has its roots in our illusion of separation. And this is why we commit sins against one another. René Girard called this notion of our autonomy the “romantic lie.” Albert Einstein called it the optical illusion of our separateness.” (“The Sin of the World”)

And from Adam forward, we’ve lived our lives under this illusion of separation, and because we live separated, we replaced God as judge. And because we judge, we commit sins. We made God according to our own narcissistic imagination, seeking after Him on our own orphan-hearted terms.

This is the impetus behind all religious idolatry, including the Christian version of idolatry.

We were created to be loved by God and to love others as we’re loved by Him. But when we live as though cut off from His love and life, we will seek out the counterfeit in one of two ways:

Worldly: This would be the “prodigal” orphan spirit in the story of the two sons (Luke 15:11-24). We feel alive the way this world’s construct defines it for us, appealing to “the lust of flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (cf. Gen.3:6; 1 John 2:15-16)…it’s competitive, prejudicial, and divisive…it’s being smarter, wittier, richer, sexier, more talented, successful, handsome or pretty…it’s about the car we drive, the house we can afford, the way we dress…but it’s vie fausse, a cheap knockoff of authentic living, only capable of imitating love. It’s predicated on what’s in it for us and how people treat us. Its justice is retributive, revenge-based, retaliatory, which is the spirit of murder (even the world’s court systems are based in this retributive form of justice).

The Bible calls this “carnality” or the “flesh.”

Religious: This is the “elder brother” orphan spirit (Luke 15:25-31). It’s much more pernicious because of its subtlety. As Boyd points out, far more people have sought after the religious counterfeit throughout human history than a secular pursuit. It’s fear-based, appeasement through sacrifice, ritualized steps to God. It’s what we don’t do anymore” (religion comes from the Latin words (re-ligare) meaning to “bind again”). And when we deprive (or do) what we think is necessary to please our god(s), we feel justified in judging everyone else who isn’t following our standard of behavior.

Religion masquerading as Christianity is sociopathic…transactional and propositional rather than relational and mysteriousit’s like pornography.

congregationWhile devoted followers of Christ probably won’t be tempted to live carnally or worldly, the temptation is almost overwhelming to seek a counterfeit life from religion. It’s a powerful addiction because it’s so insidious. It seems good and right to us. Traditionally, many are actually taught to live this way in order to become a “good Christian!”

But these counterfeits to the life of Christ are just two sides of the same coin, two different ways of eating from the wrong Tree.

When we finally allow Christ to show us this, we will see that “taking up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23) is renouncing this way of living based in self-interest and fear for a life based in other-centered love.

We will look more closely at love and judgment next time.


About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 41 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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12 Responses to Leaving religion to follow Christ – Part one

  1. “Religion masquerading as Christianity is sociopathic…transactional and propositional rather than relational and mysterious”
    Yet still so many think we earn our way into the heart of God when we’re already there.
    Still learning so much about His love and grace – they are immeasurable.

    • Mel Wild says:

      You and me both, sister! I spent over 20 years trying to follow Jesus the transactional way and my life ended up in a rubbly heap (thank God!). Relational is where love and fullness of joy is found. I love the definition of mystery being something we’re ever-knowing, going from glory to ever-increasing glory (2 Cor.3:18). You’re SO right…His love and grace are immeasurable. It’s a bottomless ocean!

  2. Cindy Powell says:

    Love instead of fear, grace instead of religious judgment. Such a marvelous reality and so very simple…and yet, it seems, not simple at all for us to stay there. Thanks for spending of yourself to “unmask” the many insidious faces of religion that so many who truly desire to follow Him get sucked in to. And really, that is all of us at one time or another! Good stuff, Mel. Blessings.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Cindy. These “insidious faces” are what actually keep people from coming into an intimate relationship with God. That’s the sad irony. Religion doesn’t bring you closer to God, it builds a wall around Him (in our imagination). So…I will gladly put the sledgehammer to this wall. 🙂

  3. Pingback: If love is the answer … where is the how? | Just me being curious

  4. Pingback: Leaving religion to follow Christ – Part two | In My Father's House

  5. Shattered in Him says:
  6. “,,,two different ways of eating from the wrong Tree.” And, unfortunately, both wrong tree eaters are so convinced they are right that they lash out severely against anyone who dare mention “Relationship.”

    • Mel Wild says:

      “And, unfortunately, both wrong tree eaters are so convinced they are right that they lash out severely against anyone who dare mention “Relationship.”

      That’s ironic and pretty sad, actually. Without relationship we have nothing at all. Great point, Patrick. Thanks for chiming in. 🙂

  7. Chris says:

    I suspect that the people who truly model these truths are rarely seen or heard. They live extraordinary lives but do so in a manner that doesn’t bring attention to themselves. Their attention is focused on others when others are in need.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I think you’re right there, Chris. The very nature of following Christ causes us to leave self-importance and selfish ambition behind. His perfect other-centered, self-giving love casts out our orphan-hearted fear.

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