Please Take a Seat

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”

Hebrews 11:6

Multitudes of people seek ways they may please God. Religions have been established on this desire. Their adherents are trapped and held captive in futile hopes of pleasing a god or gods so that this life, or the life hereafter, is made more comfortable and pleasant.

Faith always requires an object and, when the object is deemed worthy of that faith, appropriate action will follow (James 2:20). Hebrews chapter eleven reminds us of many people who have acted out of faith in God.

No one is able to have or exercise faith in God unless they first believe He exists and it is naive to expect anyone to place their faith in Jesus Christ without first evaluating the evidence. No one sits on a chair without giving it at least a cursory evaluation so we shouldn’t expect someone to trust their eternal soul to Jesus without an evaluation of whether He is worthy of that trust. This is one of the benefits the Bible brings but there are other witnesses. We who have already trusted Christ are living witnesses of, and evidence for, the ability and worthiness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). He has made us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a new and living way of life (Hebrews 10:20) by which we are able to commune with God. We are witnesses that Jesus Christ is worthy and faithful. It is our day by day living faith in Him that pleases Him and witnesses of Him. Service follows faith and is our response to receiving eternal life through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 6:23). Faith in Jesus Christ pleases God because:

  1. It recognises who Jesus is
  2. It recognises what Jesus has done for us on Calvary’s cross
  3. It recognises that we are sinners in need of a Saviour
  4. It is acceptance of God’s remedy for our sin
  5. It is the opposite of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. They distrusted God whereas faith is trust in God

It is as simple to please God as it is to sit in a chair yet many make it a hopeless and useless burden. Paul writes, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is a matter of will. Will you believe?

Veiled Eyes

“Even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart”

2 Corinthians 3:15

Referring to Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai, Paul illustrates how unbelievers cannot comprehend the Bible. They can read the words and know the stories but as through a veil, not seeing with spiritual eyes. This is one of the reasons we cannot argue or debate someone into the kingdom of God. To attempt to do so denies the power of God. Paul writes, “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). It is not our ability to present the Gospel in a clear way that will speak to the other person’s heart; it is the Holy Spirit applying the truth of the Gospel that we share. Oswald Chambers writes, “Never rely on the clearness of your exposition, but as you give exposition see that you are relying on the Holy Spirit.”

For the religious Jew of Paul’s day the Law was like a ball and chain. The rules and regulations of false religions, including some called “Christian,” keep captive with rules and rituals that give false hope. Paul writes, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17). That is, liberty from compliance to a set of rules, regulations and rituals in order to receive eternal life.

Eternal life is a gift in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s Gift (John 3:16, Romans 5:8; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-10). We give special attention to this fact at Christmas. If a person is not willing to humble themselves and receive God’s love Gift they deny the Holy Spirit the opportunity to lift the veil from their eyes. They may think they know all there is to know but the veil will keep the reality from them. Paul writes, “It [the Gospel] is veiled to those who are perishing whose minds the god of this age has blinded” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). When the veil is lifted by the Holy Spirit we see the reality that had been hidden and is revealed more and more. Paul writes, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Until we receive Jesus Christ we are looking at reality through a darkened veil and not seeing clearly. “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16). Let us pray that many will turn to the Lord and see clearly without the veil of spiritual blindness.

Things Above

“These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23)

Since Paul has written that some things are of no value it should get our attention and an attempt to know what those things are so we can avoid them. He has made a comparison between the Gospel of Christ with regard to our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection and manmade religious regulations (v 21).

There is religion that appears to be wisdom but it is not from God, it is “self-imposed religion.” In other words, it is created in the minds and imaginations of people. It is an attempt to appear pious or spiritual and perhaps even to attempt to gain favour with God without Christ or just giving Him lip service. Our fallen nature is corrupt with pride and works in subtle ways such that we want to be able to say to Jesus, “Look at what I have done for You.” This is nothing short of pride but our deceitful hearts will dress it up to counterfeit humble service if we are not careful.

It is most certainly appropriate to take care of our bodies and even to discipline our bodies as Paul writes that He did. However, it is possible that pride may move us to go beyond what is necessary and also to think that we gain favour with God just for this discipline. The sure evidence that our motive is wrong is that we hold a dim view of those who don’t measure up to our self-imposed standards or practices. Paul continues saying that no matter how much self-discipline we apply to our bodies it will not bring about spirituality. Neither will it keep us from sinning.

All the religious practices that God gave to Israel were only “shadows” (v 17). A shadow has no substance. It is not real. It has no power. The real “substance” is Jesus Christ. Hence Paul had earlier written, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). This is why Paul goes on to write, “Since you were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on the things of the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

By all means we should care for our bodies and our world but that can never be a substitute for a personal intimate relationship with the living and risen Jesus Christ. Even the God ordained rituals given to Israel are only a shadow without substance. They are the shadow of Jesus Christ and it is He that we seek and set our minds on.

Religious Activity or Resurrection Life

“Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” Matthew 23:33

Religious activity and resurrection life cannot coexist. When the resurrection life of Jesus Christ comes religious activity ceases. Likewise, when one indulges in religious activity, resurrection life will be lost. Matthew 23 is one of a number of passages that record Jesus words to men who chose religious activity over life.

The men that Jesus says are still under condemnation were men who taught the Scriptures (vv 3); were present at all the religious functions (v 6); were active in and well respected by the community (v 7); they were enthusiastic in evangelism (v 15); they respected the house of God (v 16f); they were meticulous in giving the tithe (v 23) and in righteousness (vv 25-28); and they honoured the former prophets of God (v 30). They were also regular in prayer and fasting (9:14; 23:14) yet for all this, Jesus says, they remained condemned. The answer is in verse five, “they do to be seen of men.” These people believe that spiritual life is obtained through performance and so that is where their focus lay, in themselves and in others.

People who are interested in religious activity will express it in criticism, obstruction and a superior attitude toward those who are truly living resurrection life. They will be critical as the Pharisees and scribes were of Jesus and His disciples because Jesus and His disciples did not act in accordance with their understanding of the Scriptures. They believe they are superior to those who are humble before the Lord (Luke 18:9-14).

Religious activity does not only apply to false religions but sadly it is also in the Christian church. In John 10:10 Jesus is recorded as saying, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” He says “life” not activity. We must not confuse activity and life. The difference lies in the motive of the heart.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) and, “I am the true vine … abide in Me and I in you … without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:1, 4, 5). Apart from this life we may exhaust ourselves with activity for no spiritual fruit. When the Lord’s assessment of our works is revealed it would be immeasurably sad to discover that all we have produced is wood, hay and straw that will be destroyed by fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

When we complain about the structure and administration of the church and make no comment about the lack of resurrection life are we not merely practicing religious activity? Do we grieve over the lack of people receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and being discipled? Do we complain that the baptistery remains dry? Do we mourn for the lost?

We cannot change others by coercion or manipulation. That is not God’s way. It is a work of the Holy Spirit within the heart. We are able to ask and let Him change ourselves. Let us not mistake religious activity for resurrection life. If we do we will rob ourselves and our children of that which Jesus freely offers. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:14). “I am the bread of life” “I am the … life” (John 6:48; 14:6).