Are you a religious fraud?

wordswag_1509454448582Fraud is so much a part of life.  When I access financial accounts online, there are checks and confirmations that inconvenience me but I realize they are safeguards against fraud.  Emails arrive all the time requesting that I provide my banking information for an ‘update.’  They look so real often including logos from PayPal or my bank and links that look very much like the actual ones, just a letter or two variant.  Diligence is required because IF I click the link in these ‘fishing’ emails, the crook potentially can hack into my accounts.  The frauds that work best are those that are the best copies of the authentic.

Today, many Christians are marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. A German monk named Martin Luther had a spiritual awakening, realizing that the Church had been ‘hacked’ by frauds. The Gospel was still true, but the presentation had become twisted by men with agendas of power and wealth. Corruption abounded. This man from nowhere, who had no real clout, told the truth to power, reclaiming the Scripture’s authority and declaring that the just shall live by faith.  As a young man, he was spared death and vowed to become a monk.

He was a determined man and gave himself relentlessly to the pursuit of God in the manner of his time – going without sleep, enduring bone-chilling cold without a blanket, and even whipping himself.  He said later on, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”  What did Luther find in all this?  Only a growing terror of God, an obsession with eternal punishment.  As he prayed, the Spirit brought revelation. In his words –  “At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”

Luther sparked a spiritual reformation that changed the course of the Western world.  Thinking of his work, I wonder what he would say to the Christians of 2017? Would he once again challenge us to a Reformation?

Let’s personalize the heart of Luther’s call by renewing our understanding of the amazing grace of our Father.

Are you a slave of a fraudulent spirituality, a misplaced hope in human potential or in some spiritual guide?
Are you hoping to perfect yourself? Are you pretending to be someone that you are not?
Are you conflicted by realization that there is a gap between how you live and the promises of the Word?

The Scripture offers us the reality that counteracts all empty forms of religiosity.  Paul, inspired by the Spirit, tells us that “God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body.

 For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it. You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them.

These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” (Colossians 2:13-3:2, NLT)

The title of this thought today is intentionally provocative!  Are you a religious fraud?  The question is a good one because we can be duped by hucksters, taken by teachers who use the ‘right’ language to teach a misplaced faith in Self. Far too many who speak the Name of Jesus are really trying to save themselves, vainly hoping they can “earn God’s approval.”  Some are tireless in their efforts to be ‘righteous’ –  a solid record of church attendance, always taking care to be kind, or giving themselves to humanitarian efforts.  I hear you.  “Jerry, those are good things to do.”  Of course they are, but if we do all the right things for the wrong reasons, we remain slaves to sin, alienated from God, without hope.

Jesus taught us that without a ‘new birth’ brought about by faith in Him and the inner work of the Holy Spirit, any effort on our part to become holy, is like a new paint job on a mausoleum.  Of the Pharisees He said, “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.” (Matthew 23:27-28, The Message)

The absolute Truth is that “God made you alive with Christ.”  Believe it, receive Him, and His gift is an ‘imputed righteousness.‘  That’s a theological way of saying that God will give you full acceptance as His child at Jesus Christ’s expense.  Holiness comes from that inner change, but it is not pinched and critical. It is accompanied by joy, real delight in doing the will of God.   From a distance a merely good person and a Spirit-filled holy person look much the same.   Up close, there is an undeniable quality of love, of devotion, of integrity, and yes;   of  Life that refreshes,  in the one with the new heart.    Accept no substitutes for the true Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ who died and who lives to save us completely from our sin.

Here is a familiar passage.  Read it again, with faith.  Ponder the scandalous and wonderful truth of God’s amazing grace as you remember these words.

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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NKJV)

_________________

A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing.
Our helper, He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe,
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide
Our striving would be losing!
Were not the right Man on our side
The Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He!
Lord Sabaoth, His name;
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

Martin Luther

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