Aspects of Spirit filled living which flow naturally from the lifestyle of one walking in grace become a millstone around the neck of one ensnared by legalism. I have often used Bible study and prayer as examples because they tend to be primary targets of legalism. It takes what God intended to bring us real pleasure and turns it into nothing more than a religious performance.
We aren’t doing God any favors by reading the Bible, praying, or anything else we may do in an effort to please Him. It goes without saying that each are an integral part of authentic faith, but once these grace gifts have been baptized into the stagnant waters of dead religion, they lose all life. They no longer have legitimate meaning, neither to the believer nor God.
Bible study no longer is a joy, it’s a job. Prayer is no longer a romantic conversation. It becomes a “quiet time” which we must observe like the misbehaving child who is sent to his room for a “time out.”
Driven religious fervor becomes a one night stand repeated over and over and over again. There may be a shallow gratification in one night stands, but nobody would ever mistake it for genuine intimacy. God offers us much more than that. He wants us to experience Him and all of His gifts as a natural part of the soothing rhythms of grace. However, to know that kind of intimacy, we must stop our religious hyperventilating, calm down, stop and smell the roses. God doesn’t need for you to break the three minute mile for Him. He just wants you to enjoy Him, knowing that everything else in your life will flow out of that.
Jesus didn’t come to help us be religious superstars. Far from it, He came to deliver us from empty religion, even orthodox, time honored religion. Jesus came to bring us into intimacy with God through Himself. In His earthly days, as in our day, those most offended by Him have been the religionists who have built their reputation around keeping their golden idols polished to a brighter shine than anybody else in town.
The idols are their own particular rules of the road that must be observed as we speed down the highway they call “Christian living.” Their display case is filled with the specific idols which most easily fit their own personality and temperament and they judge everybody else by whether or not they live up to their own personal standards. People are incidental. What matters is how you are behaving.
Even Jesus wasn’t a good churchman by the standards of the religionists of His day. He didn’t live up to what they thought He ought to be. To them, He had no convictions. He appeared to compromise the purity and integrity of their values by doing things like healing people on the Sabbath, by eating with the crooks (Publicans) and party-animals (sinners) of His day. He was a friend of the hookers and homeless. He didn’t separate Himself far enough from the riffraff, as every good churchman knew one should do. Consequently, He lost His testimony with the Pharisees, an incidental matter which didn’t seem to bother him at all. Jesus cared more about relationships than reputation. He still does.
A legitimate Christian lifestyle gently flows like water along a riverbank, refreshing all who happen to stumble upon our banks. It isn’t a flash flood of activity that honors God. He doesn’t lead us that way, but instead He has chosen to make “[us] lie down in green pastures. He leads [us] beside the still waters [where] He restores [our] soul” (Psalm 23).
God loves you so much that He wants to deliver you from the misery of the musts into the triumph of trust. You have nothing to prove by a frantic pace. It isn’t possible to hear the still, small voice whisper when you are running at breakneck speed. God invites you to stop and rest.
(This article is an excerpt from my book, A Divine Invitation