Many times I’ll talk with Christians who are burdened by the programmatic weight of their religious activity. They’re shackled by the inadequacy of their spiritual progress.
I meet Christians who say, “I just don’t feel like I’m doing enough. I only went to church twice this week, I evangelized to only four people this month, I only prayed on the way to work and on the way home, I missed the homeless ministry last Tuesday, I listened to a friend cry on the phone for an hour without saying Jesus once.”
I always want to say, “Dang dude. Just relax.”
I’ll meet other Christians who use these absurd spiritual parameters on each other to measure the “safety” of being near them, as if they’re afraid to catch adultery and they’re allergic to Rated-R movies and any theology that doesn’t end with predestination. They turn their nose up at people who who are late to Sunday service and have to use the table of contents for the Bible, and they categorize the church into “praise team” and “everyone else.”
I always want to say, “Dang dude. Just relax.”
If your faith is making you more anxious, exhausted, insecure, uncertain, judged, and afraid — I’m really sorry you bought into that sort of faith.
If your faith is making you more categorical, judgmental, bitter, black-and-white, and condescending — your theology sucks, and you’re still just playing with religion.
I used to blame the latter for the former. I used to think the religious people destroyed the anxious people. But actually: neither have anything to do with Jesus.
I’m discovering that if your faith is not making you more nuanced, thoughtful, wise, well-adjusted, and just happier, then it’s probably not really a faith worth having. You can toss that out the window and start over.
Plain and simple: Christianity ought to be making you better and free, or you’re really still subscribed to morality-driven religion. And if going to church makes you more of a jerk, you’re not even remotely close to God, at all.
Because I meet too many churchgoers who leave even worse than they came, all under the label of Jesus Christ. They claim themselves Christians as if it were a badge of moral first-class superiority: and they see everyone else as second-class scrubs. This totally kills me with grief, and it’s also extremely infuriating.
I hardly see the point of church if it’s making you a jerk — but I also know that rule-restricted religion will only draw out the worst of you that was already inside.
I hardly see the point of church if it only stifles you and saddles you with an increasing debt of guilt and a judgmental superiority — but I also know that performance-driven moralism prevents the love of God from compelling us to love others.
If Jesus is making you more prideful and arrogant — you haven’t really met Jesus. If you’re sneering at latecomers and not asking them, “Is everything okay?” — then you are further from the heart of God than the most rebellious wicked pagan sinner in that room. If you’re looking down on someone for their addictions, afflictions, and rebellion — then you don’t really know that Jesus died for you and for that guy too. Then it remains a theoretical concept that you wield as a weapon to bash others. It’s to feed your ego and pump up with false power, and you’re directly opposed to God.
On the other hand, if you’re at a church where the predominant attitude is to “Do More, Try Harder, Or Else” — then it’s reasonable if you leave. But it’s also possible you’re called to stay and love them. It’s possible you’re the one conduit of grace that will upturn the pseudo-religious culture in your church. And it might also be wise not to show up late sometimes.
Really, our spiritual maturity comes down to two simple things. Love God, love people. I understand that doctrinal accuracy is crucial and we want a rich, robust orthodox faith. But I also think we’re too quick to accuse others of the exact opposite position, and then we lock up the doctrine for only those who already have it. I think we climb the ivory tower and pull up the ladder — and this is why Jesus put the Pharisees on blast. Because they couldn’t serve in love with the truth they had. And if our truth doesn’t move us to share that truth: then it’s not truth and it’s certainly not love. Both move in tandem with gracious precision.
I hope then that our hands are doing what our hearts believe, and that our hearts believe what our hands are doing.
3 thoughts on “Faith Is More Simple Than We Make It”
Yes, faith is the opposite of religion! Nice piece, J.S.!
Thanks for writing a page in my preaching/testifying! I would add, though, that almost all you write applies to those who fly solo, having rejected religion they reject gathering together completely, all for another form of religious arrogance. I have no place in formal religion as practiced too often in Canada, but I promote vigourously, and practice, collegiality, gathering, accountability and Church (the whole people of God). Maybe what you write will jerk the chains on the jerks!
Oops, wanted to say if it gets so complicated it has to be explained or justified, it just ain’t faith. Simple.