Today’s prevailing version of the Christian faith bears shocking little resemblance to what might be called “Bible religion.” If you have a feeling, follow it. If you think athletics is a ministry or The Andy Griffith Show is gospel-friendly, promote it. If you would rather watch worship than actually worship, go for it. If you want to say “O my God” as your favorite exclamation, say it.
This is disturbing at many levels. There is the glory of God in the world. He has saved us to “show forth his praises,” not to realize our own ambitions. There is the witness we are to give in the world to his truth and grace, not to our personal agendas and dreams. Then, there is our Savior’s simple directive to all who would be his disciples: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” When professing Christians are cross-averse, insist upon the right to define themselves, and equate positive emotions with the leading of the Spirit, we have a crisis of discipleship.
Then, there is Scripture, that thorny book over which many stumble. To follow Christ, the question we must ask is not how does this fit in with what I think? Or, will this allow me still to do what I want? Talk like I want? Spend money like I want? Or, is this convenient? How does this fit in with the priorities I have established for me and my family? Before Scripture, all such concerns must take a back seat. Actually, they should be placed in the trunk.
The only important question is: What does the Lord say about this in his word? Does he want me to do this? Will this decision to do something or not to do something promote his glory and put me squarely under his authority? To take a more concrete example, does the Lord want me to attend this meeting of the church? Perhaps it is a prayer meeting or Bible study. The thought process should not go like this: Well, if we do, then the children may be up a little later than usual; therefore, we cannot. Or, but I need this extra time to sleep. Or, I simply do not feel like doing this. Or worse, but if I go, then this will raise everyone’s expectations of me, and I may feel awkward. It may even communicate some recognition on my part that I should have been doing this all along, and then I will look bad.
This is not the way disciples of Jesus Christ think. They think: I know the Lord wants me to be with his people. I need his word. I am complete only within the body of Christ. I have taken vows and made commitments. My children and I will be blessed by doing what the Lord wants. I will adjust our schedule accordingly.
While this is only one example, the most important aspect is not the conclusion that is reached but the process by which it is reached. The moment I reserve to myself the right to make the final decision, at that moment I have not yielded to my Lord’s headship over my life. It does not matter that what I decide seems to work for me and my family. Our standard is not “what works” but “what does the Lord say in his word.”
This is where the church has fallen into very loose religion. It is the reason that many do what is right in their own eyes, with a little Jesus frosting covering our autonomy so that we can be sweet while doing what we want to do. We do not ask about worship, doctrine, or family practice, “What does the Lord command? What does God’s wisdom have to say on this? Am I self-consciously seeking to please God in this, or myself?” We must ask these questions again. Whatever changes this may require, if those changes bring us more under God’s authority, we shall be blessed. Trouble and difficulty in obeying him in the short term are always worth the cost. They are the cross.
Now, many try to get around this by saying, “Well, there is no specific command to do thus and so, or no specific prohibition against it.” Direct commands and prohibitions are not the only way the Lord makes his will known to us. There are authorized examples we are to follow, such as those practiced by the apostles in their establishment and government of the church. There are principles of wisdom that the Lord has revealed. To reject God’s wisdom in these is the same thing as disobeying a direct command. And as disobedience brings trouble and chastening, a disciple of Christ sincerely wishes to please the Lord “in all things” – no picking and choosing, no “I don’t like that,” no “I can do as I please.”
Taking a broader view, loose religion is the reason there is so little unity in the church. Unity and cooperation are the result of common commitment to the truths of God’s word. If these are not preached, there will be no unity. When religious gurus share their vision, there is no vision. The people perish. God’s word alone will feed us and promote true gospel unity among us. The same disunity is evident in worship. If our hearts were humbled before God’s word, worship would be relatively uniform between churches. There would be prayers and preaching, singing and sacraments. The focus would be upon God’s glory, not man’s feelings. But again, when religion becomes loose, worship becomes a free-for-all, with the main consideration being attractiveness to unbelievers and heightened enthusiasm for attendees. Many ask, “How did I feel after going to church?” This is the wrong question. The only legitimate question is “What did the Lord think about my worship?” Our worship is pleasing to him and truly worship only when it is offered to him with joyful obedience to his revealed will in Scripture.
Of course, once we begin drawing lines like these in our practice, doctrines, and worship, then the issue of obedience raises its ugly head. These and every other issue related to the Christian faith come down to obedience to God’s revealed will. We must live, think, and worship according to his will, not our own. Seen in this light, loose religion must either be a confession that God’s word is not clear or that even if it is clear, I still want to do as I please. For many, this is the only authentic religion: when God always affirms what I want to do.
This is not freedom. It is not following the Spirit. It is slavery. David said, “I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy precepts” (Ps. 119:45). Think of God’s word as a fence. Inside the fence, there is safety and peace, for his word is the revelation of his own wisdom and goodness. Outside that fence, men may roam as they please, but the wolves of sin hound their every step. All the burned out lives and civilizations of men tried to prosper outside that fence. They could not. Our only liberty is to walk in obedience to God. Our Lord thus said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Loving and obeying God’s truth makes us free. Everything else is slavery.
If you are walking in the boundaries that the Lord has set for us, your life may not seem very exciting by today’s standards of spirituality. Others may tell you to loosen up a bit, to get in step with the spirit of the age, even to experiment. But like kites, they are blown here and there, wherever the winds of change and sentiment lead them. They may soar very high, but they will come crashing down to the ground.
It is far better to lead a pilgrim’s life, one step at a time in obedience to God. You may seem to be plodding along, but if you are seeking to follow God’s revealed will, then he holds you tightly. Tight religion and hand-in-hand walking with God go together. Loose religion may be all the rage for the moment, but like the kite’s soaring flight, it cannot last. What lasts is God’s eternal city. He has laid out the road map for us: his word. He lovingly says to us, “This is the way; walk ye in it.”