Not Religion but Life
Not Religion but Life
Over the past few weeks my heart has been captured by a short phrase at the beginning of 2 Timothy 1, where Paul says that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God “According to the promise of life in Christ Jesus.” The message which has been ringing loud and clear in my spirit is this, that Jesus does not give us religion, but that His gift is life, new, supernatural divine, eternal life invading us from above.
It has been said that man is a religious animal, and it is all too evident that we do love to construct systems, ceremonies, rituals and laws which must be observed whatever our religion. Sadly this is what happened around the message of Jesus almost from the earliest years, when the Judaisers sought to impose all the observances of the Jewish ceremonial law on new believers. It is seen throughout the history of Christendom and is present today in all its multiplied denominations and institutions.
Jesus did not come to give us a new religion, nor to establish any institution, but He came to open the door to life, new life. Listen to His own words. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) To the ultra-religious Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life but you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40) Again, “Truly truly I say to you he who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)
Consider too the witness of the Apostle John concerning his gospel, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and that believing you may have life in His name.” And in his first Epistle, “This is the testimony that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; and he who has not the Son has not life.” (1John 5:11-12)
Paul’s Epistles too are full of the same message. “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin & death.”( Romans 8:2) “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) “You he made alive.” (Ephesians 2:1) “You have come to fullness of life in Him.” (Colossians 2:10 RSV) “Christ who is our life.”(Colossians 3:4) Many more examples could be given.
When we grasp this fact that Christ gives life and enter it by faith it is a truly liberating experience. This is not a matter of adherence to any religious system. It depends on no rituals or observances. This gift of grace is an infusion from above of divine life. It brings the resurrection life of Jesus into the centre of our beings to be the energy and power in every aspect of our lives. The Church of God is the great company of those who know this life being built together into a body by the giver of that life, Christ Himself.
I have just been reading the biography of Martin Luther by Ronald H. Bainton. In a section entitled “Practical Church Problems” he says of Luther ,”The true Church for him was always the Church of the redeemed, known only to God, manifest here and there on earth, small, persecuted and often hidden, at any rate scattered and united only in the bond of the Spirit. This was what Luther meant by the kingdom of Christ.” And here comes the sad part, “He did not pretend that it could be actualized, but he was not prepared to leave the Church disembodied.” Bainton then goes on to describe his efforts to build the Church. The result today is Lutheranism, another institutional system. I wonder what might have happened had he been willing to trust in the life imparted by Christ. And I ask are there those in our generation, who know the life and will simply walk in it relying on Jesus to fulfill His promise to build His Church?