I sometimes get asked the question: are you religious? Its a loaded question for anyone to answer. Its almost as if you’re being sized up… as if your answer to that question will tell the person everything they need to know about you. I try not to ask people that question in that way, because usually its asked by people who are religious. People who aren’t “religious” per se could care less whether you say you’re “religious” or not. All that means to me is that you are a part of a religious community and that you regularly engage in religious practices.
I’ve been doing a bit of thinking lately on that question: “what am I all about?” Am I all about a moral system? Am I all about a book (the Bible)? Am I all about a set of ethics? Am I all about a faith tradition?
I’ve made “following Jesus” about a lot of other things BUT following Jesus. I’ve made it about personal happiness: about finding my personal definition of a “happy life.” I’ve made it about a personal reputation: about maintaining the image of having good character. I’ve made it about being successful, about “being a leader” and influencer of people. About so many things but the main thing…
The problem: Jesus never taught his disciples that following him was about a moral code, religious traditions, an ethical system, or personal success, happiness, or reputation. In fact, some of his strongest and most ferocious words were directed at those who mainly sought after religious elitism and moral purity. I’ve spent much energy in pursuit of other things in order to find true life.
The truth is, I’ve heard so many teachings about “striving to be like Jesus” and “imitating Christ” … the problem with this teaching is that its impossible.
I’m reading a book
where the author writes that even Jesus himself admitted his inability to be a “successful Christian” :
“The Son can do nothing of Himself…” John 5:19
“I can do nothing of myself…” John 5:30
“Then someone came to him and said “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” So he said to him, “why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” Matt. 19:16-17
So how did he live such a perfect life? How did he pull it off? Listen to some of his answers:
“Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” John 5:19
“I seek not to please myself, but him who sent me.” John 5:20
“I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” John 8:28
Jesus didn’t pull it off by his own ability, but by the ability of the Father living in him. His power came from the Father inside him. He spoke the words that he spoke. He loved the people that his Father loved. He did the things that his Father was doing. There’s his secret… God living in him.
Just as God the Father lived in Jesus, so God the Son lives in his disciples. His life becomes our life. His heart becomes our heart. It isn’t by our own abilities, traditions, or religious programs that we find true life, it comes from Jesus living in us, apart from whom we can do nothing. None of us can pull it off on our own. No matter how hard you try, you’re going to screw it up, and you’re going to fall short. You can’t find “eternal life” or the “life of God” in a book, a program, a discipline, or a idea. You can only find it in a person: Jesus himself:
“I am the vine, and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…” John 15:5
“The glory of the gospel is that we who are fallen, tarnished and marred have been invited to live our lives in the exact same way that Jesus lived his life: by an indwelling Lord.” Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola
Am I religious? Jesus is my religion. He is my joy. He is my life. He is my contentment, fulfillment, and wholeness. Its time … to remember Galatians 2:20 “I am crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” … to stop trying and to start dying.