Updated: Mar 18
“If Christianity takes on the subtle values of the culture around it and adopts these as forms of faith, then there is no Jesus Revolution. Just religion. And religion cannot change or liberate any human soul. It just imposes a new form of slavery."
It was about a year after my wife and I got married. We started to attend a little country church in a small town in southern Manitoba while we were still in the honeymoon stage. We met some amazing people immediately and were welcomed with open arms in that little village Church.
It was not long after our marriage when I began to realize that something was off in terms of my view of "religion". I met Christian’s who had such joy and freedom where I had little. I was a shell… I felt largely empty inside and remember thinking “if this is all there is to the Christian faith I am unsure if I want it”. This started a massive search for truth that would take me on a wild journey in pursuit of it!
I started going to weekly Bible studies held in a church in a neighbouring city and met Christian’s who… without some "old guy" forcing them to… reading their bibles, sharing with each other new things they learned, praying for each other and worshiping together. It was an organized chaos… it was beautiful and it showed me there was a living faith available I did not have.
I began a search for truth… purchased a non-king-James bible that was a bit easier to read and tore through it in 6 months. I sought books, radio programs and teaching materials that challenged my beliefs and drove me into deeper truths.
It was not long after this pursuit I had a significant turning point - alone in our living room - i was reading my Bible and seeing some new truth in an old Sunday school scripture and saying with tear-filled eyes “God this is your word!”… and instantly I felt as if I had been picked up… transported to a beautiful peaceful ocean and then immersed but as if the ocean started at my head from above and through my whole body. It was intense, I was speechless… I suddenly knew God was real, Jesus was real and my beliefs mattered in an eternal sense. It was the start of an authentic relationship with Christ.
We were very involved in that little village Church, I was a youth leader, a Sunday school teacher and my wife played the organ Sunday mornings, and we both tag teamed on custodian duties. We met some wonderful people during our time there we still love to connect with when we run into them.
I was fresh off of this living room revelation of Jesus Christ… now leading a small youth group of 5-6 kids. I taught from that bible with passion with the new truths I was learning. I quickly got rid of the sitting around a table arrangement and the kids sat on the floor or on chairs - with no formal training I realized that I needed them to feel relaxed and chill in order to get them to express their opinions. I purchased an old guitar and printed some newer songs and choruses… I then taught myself some basic chords and started trying to lead the kids in some worship.
Quickly the group grew… 10… 20… 30… I think it reached 40 kids at its peak. What did the kids come for? Was it a man who had it together? Absolutely NOT!! Was it the relaxed seating arrangement? Nope. Was it my excellent teaching? 😂 nope. I would sometimes teach something one week at youth… then the next week I would say “guys I said something last week that was not true… here is the correction”. No… I think the kids saw a man who loved Jesus, was a bit goofy, largely imperfect but genuinely real… and it was real they were after!!
It is ALWAYS real that people want… and if they don’t see real in the Church or in those in their circle who call themselves Christian's... they won't recognize a counterfeit when it comes along either.
I came home from those youth night meetings often drained and my wife would pray with me as I felt the weight of the kids difficult “stuff” and of pouring myself fully into their lives. I so wanted to see them set free from dead religion and find the living Christ.
At some point there was a backlash from the tradition-focused segment of the Church… it was by and large not from the parents of the youth. It came from the local pastor and some church parishioners who didn’t like the methods I was using..They said I could not sing choruses, I could not quote from an NIV bible and I needed to go back to "orderly" seating… and I think a few other things. I went home after being told this and knew I could no longer teach there… after praying with Mary we knew we were free to leave. To stay was going to cause division…
I taught one more time… telling the kids I was moving on but that they should continue seeking Jesus with all they had! We quietly fsded out of the Church and I had several wonderful parents call me to say I should come back and that the Church would not change if people like myself left. I’m not sure how I thought of my reply but looking back now I see how biblical it was. “I’m not called to change the Church, the Church is called to change me”. It was not my "duty" as a young follower of Christ to influence a Church that was lost in dead works and religious dogma to make them relevant and impact the culture around them. The Church rather should be influencing me to seek a radical living relationship with Christ.
Oh how I wish I could say that I remained faithful as I was those days… but it did not happen that way. We found it difficult to find a Church home… we felt at times that in the community we lived the Church experience at the time was “28 flavours of vanilla”... lots of dogma... very little focus on a radical relationship with the Risen Christ. I had some personal challenges that came up that really negatively impacted my self perception, I found myself being bullied at work… all of these looking back had the same impact as when Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and started immediately seeing the wind and waves and sinking. Raising a family… earning a living… thinking I was still “good” with God but not seeing how my little compromises in holiness and purity were impacting that relationship negatively. I was living two opposing truths but did not know it. That is what deception is…
My wife was my rock during those times… when Jesus should have been my rock. It was many years later when the kids were all grown up when I would be face to face with myself. I didn’t like what I saw. I found my way back to the cross and found joy again after the kids left the house. I stopped beating myself up all the time. I could feel again and I had new empathy for broken people that I did not possess before.
What happened? Why did I lose that passionate relationship with Christ? The answer is all too simple! I made the relationship I had with God into a list of checked boxes and comparison’s.... much like thoze who opposed breaking traditions in that little country church in my twenties my focus was the dos and donts I had built in my mind. In my mind being a Christian was about doing the right things, not doing the wrong things and not crossing my pre-conceived ideas of what Holiness was. I was heavily influenced by the purity movement of the 90s that... while it had good in intentions… was in essence an “if/than” gospel that did nothing to change the heart and boiled the Christian relationship with Christ into just a list of checked boxes that inevitably resulted in missed boxes, then shame in a cyclical manner.
I’ll explain it like this… imagine getting married... At first your love is amazing, you talk til late at night every night. You can’t wait to get home. You do special things all the time to show love and adoration to your partner. No one ever has to tell you to love your partner or how to love them… it is as natural as breathing. No one has to tell you to be faithful and pure in the relationship… it comes from the heart. It is as natural as a heart beating.
I have made over 1400 cups of coffee for my wife in the last 5 years... I asked her the other day "if you felt like my efforts to make you coffee every day were something I hated doing... but I forced myself to do it because it was my marital duty... would you still feel loved?"... she said immediately "NO". Therein lies the truth about love... if you have to force it it's not love but dead works! It means little to the intended recipient if the act of love is forced through guilt and shame or a checked box mentality.
Getting back to my story... now imagine it’s a year or two later and life gets busy. You begin to get into a rhythm of work and a busy life. You stop sending love notes and doing nice things. Your mind is now divided… it begins to move towards feelings of hidden resentment or anger because of “perceived” injustice. Things that you thought your partner should be doing or not doing if they loved you begin to enter your thoughts and then comparison starts ramping up. Keeping score and comparing your relationship to others is a sure fire way to idol worship, infidelity or a loveless marriage.
This is how we often live our life with Christ… we start in faith… in pure devotion… it is natural - as natural as a heartbeat or breathing. Then we begin to look at the things that were natural earlier as a “duty”… we have now adopted “dead religion” in a sense. Our devotion is now based on a list of responsibilities instead of a love driven by pure acts of a heart that is thankful and in a genuine authentic relationship.
No one wants to be in a dead relationship… and yet often we make those relationships happen by shifting them to “checked boxes”. In our relationship with Jesus it kinda goes like this:
Go to church
Don’t engage in sexual sin
Don't get drunk
Do daily devotions
We do this all the time… certain leaders love to preach about these checked boxes exclusively… focusing exclusively on disciplines such as "devotions" as opposed to adopting and building a living vital relationship with Christ.
The problem is that no matter how much we try… we can’t consistently check all the boxes… so guilt and shame steps in to condemn our hearts. Lets say in my checked boxes above that “be nice” is unchecked… according to my personal or cultural “checked box” list of faith I am no longer following Christ. No matter how much I try I miss a box… I cannot reach even my OWN personal check box list much less another persons list for me…
It is no wonder that many fall away from Faith disillusioned… they have been taught to “check boxes” rather than simply pursue a living relationship with a risen Christ ... with passion. They are taught to in a sense live in a loveless marriage…
Jesus said in Matthew 23 of those who live a life exclusively of checked boxes - who teach others to live a life of such checked boxes as the “goal” of their faith…
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
What then? Should sin abound? Absolutely not… if we follow Christ we will want to align with Christ… if that "want" or "desire" is not there we need to find out why. In a marriage it would come down to asking your spouse "is there anything I'm doing to hurt you or that is causing you pain?". That is in an of itself an act of love... to desire to be in alignment with the intended recipient and communicate that is in itself a huge act of love. All to often we don't ask Jesus to show us our sin... for in doing so He will - if we are open to it - gently show us things we need to align to grow in right relationship... instead of a checked box it is responsive two way faith relationship exercising itself through works.
In Romans 5, Paul writes that Christ died while we were “yet sinners”… the context is we come in as sinners and learn in relationship through communion with Christ how to live this life faithfully.
There is indeed a struggle with sin… but it is a struggle - once we are saved by faith in Christ - the struggle of renewing the mind as Paul states in Romans 12…not of maintaining a list of checked boxes.
Paul says further in Colossians 2 ...
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
The more one actually dissects what it is to follow Christ - the more passages in the Bible come alive… suddenly lights come on… old scripture becomes alive and like a two-edged sword it cuts into those dead works... those checked boxes and that sin that condemns our hearts is laid aside. Jesus removes that weight as described in Hebrews 11… we then run with those imperfect, sin-soaked men and women of faith who were declared faithful in Hebrews 12… with open eyes we see the commandments not as checked boxes, but we see sin itself as a weight that is holding us back - something we must throw off if we are to run unhindered as described in Hebrews 12 1-2.
The call today is strong to Gen Z - asking them to forget what was behind and as Peter states in 2 Peter 2v2 “crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation." The call is to cry out for this nourishment... not worrying about what you have to give up and just let the Holy Spirit and the Bible work together in you to create holiness. It is a "together" journey! He will show you the things he wants you to give up, much like in a marriage the husband and wife have to communicate to understand how they should treat their partner... so is our relationship with Christ!
When my wife and I discovered this truth in our marriage... that we were each imperfect... and that we were to work together to help each other overcome fears and past trauma - not placing our own lists of checked boxes onto them we became a team... helping each other climb the mountains we faced. It will revolutionize your marriage and your faith when you leave behind the check boxes and value the relationship authentically.
The call is to those stuck in dead religion and checked boxes to focus on Jesus who is “the author and perfecter of our faith”. A trumpet is calling us to repent of our dead works… lay them at the cross and be real. We are called to stop virtue signalling piety and simply be followers of Christ.
Let’s be the change!