Have I mentioned that I’m tired of religious people and the prescriptions they give?
The real Jesus was defiant. He upended the systems and standards of his time. He was intentionally offensive to the self-righteous religious elites and then completely gentle with those who were broken. There was no one-size-fits-all, no attempt to simplify the process. Salvation is a walk of faith, not our ability to keep a set of fixed rules or pray a certain way, it is about our heart.
No, I’m not saying this as favoring the more libertine amongst us. Being “free in Christ” is not a license to do whatever we want. It is not about being ‘spiritual’ rather the religious either. Rather it as about love:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. […] You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”(Galatians 5:1, 13 NIV)
A great deal of my social media connections are unregenerate social conservatives. They love those fading structures that once kept people bound to their moral standards and yet lack any comprehension of grace or their own need of it. They may see themselves as being righteous, for their exceptional ability to keep up certain cultural conventions, but they are very much like those rebuked and condemned by Jesus.
But still the alternative is not to go in the complete opposite direction. It is not better to have no structure, to completely defy all cultural convention or use Christian freedom as an excuse to do whatever we please. No, rather it is to serve and save others:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.(1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)
Which is to reiterate the example of Christ:
…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Mark 10:43-45 NIV)
Our love for God is always, always, a matter of how we treat each other. If we can’t love the people we see, specifically our brothers and sisters in Christ, then our claim to love God is a lie. (1 John 4:20) Therefore, to be free in Christ, is not to shirk responsibility to each other. It is not worshipful, at least not of God, to go to church (or not go) for own sake:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.(Matthew 5:23-24 NIV)
This is putting reconciliation with each other, true reconciliation. before or ahead of the ritual worship that religious people do. No, it is not negotiable. This is the command of Jesus. And yet it is so often reversed. It is acceptable to act or go through the motions of righteousness, but not to ask for the same authenticity that put Jesus at odds with the religious authorities.
Had Jesus just followed the rules and did what was expected he would never have been a threat to anyone. The reality is that he saw through the empty gestures. He was not impressed with those pious people who had their performative religion. His call was for genuine love, to be merciful as our Father is merciful:
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”(Matthew 9:12-13 NIV)
That’s our true worship, to truly forgive and love those undeserving and broken.
Early Christians had a saying “unus Christianus, nullus Christianus,” which is to say that one Christian is no Christian. This is to say that our Communion together, in Christ, needs to go beyond merely sharing the same physical space for a few hours or it is fake. True Christianity can’t be reduced to mere individualistic pursuit of the Divine. It is not an “only God can judge me” freedom from duty to others.
I could quote two dozen other texts and it would not matter. So many are caught up in their own corrupted ‘traditions’ that they’ll always miss the forest for the trees. But I’m not interested in dime-store Christianity, the kind that only loves in prescribed ways. I want the real deal, the kind that frees and truly forgives. I want what is alive, what has the true Spirit of truth and love in it, not the lifeless self-serving counterfeit form.
It’s not that the wonderful symbolism and designated acts of ‘Christian’ service are unimportant or useless either. But it’s just that none of it really matters if it is not a part of something genuine. As Jesus said, in Matthew 23:15, a person can “travel over land and sea to win a single convert” and only be successful in making their new convert “twice as much a child of hell” as themselves. In that case it would be better to do nothing at all.
Even the mystical “cup of salvation” can be our damnation if we drink unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:29) or in disregard and without care for His body. The body of Christ meaning, at times, our fellow members of the Church or the people we encounter who are in need of love:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.(Matthew 25:35-36 NIV)