Being religious extends far beyond Pharisees, beyond Muslims, beyond Christians, to the very core of who we are: Self with a capital S. Jesus said some awful things to the religious, so if this is true, then we may find Him saying some harsh things and upsetting a few of our temple’s tables in order to reveal the god that is behind it all, releasing us from our self-made religion and revealing the freedom which can only be found in Him.
“The time is coming when people will not tolerate sound and wholesome instruction, but, having ears itching for something pleasing and gratifying, they will gather to themselves one teacher after another to a considerable number, chosen to satisfy their own liking and to foster the errors they hold, and will turn aside from hearing the truth and wander off into myths and man-made fictions.” 2 Tim. 4:3,4.
If there is anything that epitomizes “myths and man-made fictions” then religion would have to be it! These verses describe exactly what we see in the world today, whether people call it “religion” or not. Religion is a word very closely associated with the church and is thought of in a positive light by many Christians. Those outside of the church typically think of someone religious as being legalistic, traditional, crusading for Christianity etc. However, what I’m wanting to focus on is a One World Religion which I believe to be at the root and foundation of every single human being, regardless of age and regardless of what belief system they have and regardless of whether they go to church or not. This One World Religion is behind every religion that is on this earth (whether “Christian” or not). This religion has only one god and this god is worshiped and served like no other. The name of this religion’s god is: Self.
The etymology of the word “religion” is quite revealing. It stems from two words: re (again) and ligare (meaning to bind or tie, a bond or obligation). Religion puts people into bondage and blindness again and again. It is part of the curse because it separates us from God. It is something which has been part of mankind ever since Adam and Eve decided to trust themselves and their own judgments rather than trusting God and we are daily faced with this same choice: trust God or Self.
Even people who believe they are not religious may be part of this religion because the basis of all religions and religiosity is Self; whether it is Self doing works or doing nothing and simply “being”. Many leave their religion or church not because they heard God ask them to, but because that is what THEY wanted to do; and the same can also be true for those who go back to it all. Self justifies anything and everything. This religion is quite simply a case of Self listening to Self. Self doing for Self. Self defence. Self righteousness. Self preservation. Self realization. Self help. Self enlightenment. Self justification. Self discovery. Self expression. Self governing. Self discerning and judging. Self disguised as “spiritual”. Self-ish to the core. This religion is based on us and what we think, do, and say whereas true spirituality is based upon all that Christ has done and is doing; upon all that He has said and is saying!
This religion of Self is not particular about whether you go to a church or not, whether you are devout outwardly or not; so long as Self is served. Its creed is: do whatever you believe to be right. This religion is all about what Self likes, what feels right to Self, what Self dictates and then “crusading” towards that end. And when the message which Christ proclaims through the Bible about denying Self, dying daily and losing your life is given, it is often rejected because the god which Self has created would not ever say such things! You get a reaction because the god of Self is governing rather than the God of Jesus Christ.
The Great Deception
The spirit of this world is not ignorant of our susceptibility to being governed by Self and makes the most of it by making what is false sound like truth; but the truth is it can be just our interpretation of what seems right to us. “But you must understand this at the outset, that no prophecy of scripture arose from an individual’s interpretation of the truth. No prophecy came because a man wanted it to: men of God spoke because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. But even in those days there were false prophets, just as there will be false teachers among you today. They will be men who will subtly introduce dangerous heresies… With their high-sounding nonsense they use the sensual pull of the lower passions to attract those who were just on the point of cutting loose from their companions in misconduct. They promise them liberty. Liberty! – when they themselves are bound hand and foot to utter depravity. For a man is the slave of whatever masters him.” (2 Pet. 1:20-2:1,18,19).
Many these days are bound by religion even when they have left the visible traditions of their religion. Religion has not left them because they are still enslaved and governed by Self; they are finding “freedom” in SELF rather than in Christ. This is an absolute tragedy. It is also diabolically devious… to be tricked into leaving one form of bondage for another in the guise of “freedom” and thinking you are free and yet to still be imprisoned, is tragic.
How could we be so deceived? Because religion is a spirit, it is spiritual. Behind all of religion are spiritual forces which are determined to deceive “if possible even the elect”. How do they attempt to do this? Through Self: what we see, hear, think, desire and even genuinely believe. When God opens our spiritual eyes to see what is real and true and what is merely an illusion of reality and truth, it is quite shocking. We wonder how we could have been duped and been so blind! Knowledge is a very powerful commodity; it can either release or bind. When we think we know something, we will stubbornly cling to that knowledge and not seek to find out more because we think we already know. But it is only when we realize we know nothing that we begin to know Everything (Christ) and receive Him as our Wisdom which sets us free from our very little world and religion of Self… We begin to discover the ever expanding Universe which is Christ in God.
Only what is received and revealed through Him can transform us. Religion will simply conform and deceive us. We need to be born into our Father’s family and not just call Him “Father” or “Papa” because others do. We need a Revelation of Christ and not a religion about Christ. Saul of Tarsus was not released from religion by Stephen’s amazing and Holy Spirit inspired speech; all it needed was for him to personally see, experience and hear Christ for himself; a Revelation of Christ. This principle still applies to each of us today.
We each need to see and know Christ for Who He really is rather than how we would like Him to be. My love for Him is not truly for Him if I don’t want to see Him or accept Him as He is. Both historically and today, He often reveals something of Himself and people reject Him… just because He is different to what Self/Religion expected! Listen to what He says: “Anyone who intends to come with Me has to let Me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow Me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, My way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If anyone intends to come after Me, let him deny himself [forget, ignore, disown, and lose sight of himself and his own interests] and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life, will lose it; and whoever gives up his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-36).
Only freedom from Self will bring true freedom from religion, obligation and bondage. This is why the message of freedom given in the Bible is Life which comes through death! The only way to be free of Self is to die to Self. Doing whatever Self wants is not freedom, but bondage; because you are bound to do what YOU want – Self is your master. Some pride themselves on what they can do within religion; others pride themselves on what they can do outside of religion. BOTH can still be religious because whether legalistic or liberal, by the book or having none, BOTH extremes may be dictated by Self and by the temperament or type of person they are naturally. BOTH extremes can be based on Self’s preferences and what Self naturally likes; it is a religion where the god of Self is worshiped, deified and obeyed without question!
“God’s will must not be made subject to my own temperament. When we know a man’s make-up it is often all too easy to guess what ”guidance” he will get, because his natural proclivities intrude so subtly upon the leading of God. Too much so-called guidance among us is little more than personal bias. A timid brother is “guided” to take a back seat. A forward brother is “guided” to take a front seat. Each claims to be led of the Lord. Is he? Or is his temperament ruling him? The pure will of God demands of me that what I am temperamentally shall be set aside. I should be so Spirit-filled that the man beside me cannot foresee, on grounds of my temperament alone, how God will lead me. Oh let me beware of slanting the will of God in the direction of my own natural leanings! Even the Lord Jesus, whose own will was surely faultless, nevertheless set it aside in favour of the Father’s who sent Him. If He should do that, how much more must I!” (Watchman Nee, A Table in the Wilderness).
Yes, how much more must I? Being led by the Spirit of God does not mean we are led by our natural preferences and whatever we like as some seem to believe. Religion and Self distort God, even to the point of creating a god in our own image; a god we are happy and content with, a god we can understand and identify with, a god we can worship and love. But there is nothing loving about a god who does not convict or correct you and just allows you to believe a lie and do whatever you want (see Heb. 12:5-11). That is not the God of Jesus Christ Who Himself said: “Those whom I dearly and tenderly love, I tell their faults and convict and convince and reprove and chasten them” (Rev. 3:19).
In the same way as we confuse socializing with fellowship, licentiousness with freedom, and condemnation with conviction, so too we can confuse being religious with being spiritually mature. There is a vast gap between each of these ‘dynamic duos,’ for one is earthly and the other is heavenly.
God did not create religion, man did. At the tower of Babel man had a spiritual-sounding goal and were even united in their efforts “to reach the heavens”. But God’s verdict on all their hard work was: “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.” (Gen 11:6-8). Why did He do that? We today might think it a good thing to be as one people, all working together in unity on one thing, but God does not. Why? Because pride and Self were at the root of it and not God Himself. We still see His same judgment on religion in the world today: wherever people are like-minded and ‘speak the same language’ and work together building something here on earth, you eventually find division after division among them as they are scattered abroad.
Leaving the Confusion of Religion
Religion is certainly a confusion of many voices, it is a mixture of what is true and false that God must divide in order to reveal what is of Him and what is not. The very essence of Babylon and religion is mixture and confusion; in fact the name “Babylon” (which is the same Hebrew word for Babel) means: confusion by mixing. From the Garden of Eden to the end of this world, the mixing of truth with error remains a very successful means of deceiving and seducing us. In the book of Revelation in reference to Babylon is written, “by your magic spells and poisonous charm all nations were led astray, seduced and deluded. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints…” (Rev. 18:23,24) and the cry to us all is: “Come out from her, My people, so that you may not share in her sins, neither participate in her plagues…” There are some things which God must divide and separate and which we must reject and turn away from.
People need religion to feel good about Self and what they’re doing; but God scatters, confuses and divides in the hope that individuals will repent of their religion and turn to Him instead. His original desire was simply relationship with each and every human. In an attempt to have some form of that relationship, He set aside some as priests and prophets who would mediate between Himself and His people until His Son came to earth to completely undo the damage which had been done and to establish a personal, individual relationship with each of His children. God’s focus is always Christ, and all the meticulous details and laws of the Torah were a way of pointing to the Perfection of Christ while also highlighting the imperfections and inadequacy of man.
Religion is basically a set of beliefs, personal beliefs… also known as mindsets and paradigms! Instead of having our beliefs formed by Self or other people, no matter how spiritual others may seem, we simply must learn to listen to only our Father and know His voice. We cannot trust ourselves but have to yield up our minds and what we think is right in order to learn Christ!
“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of Him and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:17-24).
We are new creations in Christ and as our minds are renewed we learn daily through experience to distinguish and discern between what is the new Life in us, and what is the old nature: Self. What is from God often makes no sense to Self, instead it may completely contradict what we naturally think. Not one of us is willingly deceived or duped by Religion. We will instead be sincerely deceived; we will sincerely believe that we are right! But sincerity does not mean something is true. We cannot discern right from wrong or truth from deception ourselves; at all! Discernment must come from outside of Self… it comes only from knowing the living Word of God; not a head knowledge of Him, but a genuine, experiential, intimate, heart knowledge of Christ as He really is which results in distinguishing between His voice and the many voices, including our own voice.
Religion robs God of what is rightly His: people’s hearts! Religion is a substitute for Christ. The religious heart is absorbed and blinded by what it sees and worships – and it is the same end result whether you’re worshiping Mary, the Church, Allah or unconsciously worshiping your Self! Religion results in blindness, bondage and death – again and again; re-ligion = being bound again. We desperately need to know through personal experience the liberation and freedom which only Christ brings and the true meaning of the word “release”: to free and loosen (relax) and to have a lease again – to be given over to Another with a new lease of Life! May this be the experience and living testimony of each one of us.
“The Spirit of the Lord… has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” Luke 4:18,19.