There is something about the nature of the gospel that seems to be difficult to understand for those who are in the bondage of religion. The reason for this is simply because religion and gospel are contrary to one another. If one is truly stuck in the quagmire of institutional religious belief and behavior, then comprehending the gospel can truly be quit daunting. At least this was the problem in the first century when Jesus came into a religious world where Judaism as a religion was refined as an institutional establishment.
The Jews’ religion was well organized and supported. It was a financially supported structure of religion that guaranteed its perpetuation throughout the years by a full-time network of religious leaders. In fact, the Holy Spirit brought up this point when He spoke of those who were the pillars of Judaism: “The Pharisees who were lovers of money, heard all things and they scoffed at Him” (Lk 16:14). They did not just scoff at the person of Jesus. They scoffed at what He taught. They perceived in His teachings that if these teachings were implemented in Israel, Judaism would come crashing down. And if Judaism came crashing down, then they would be without jobs.
Therefore, the Pharisees had to scoff. They had to disputed with Jesus and His teachings. It was their survival as a religious class of leaders that was at stake. If what Jesus was teaching concerning the gospel, then it would mean the end of Jewish institutional religion. Nevertheless, at least one of the prospective young men in training to be a Pharisee during the ministry of Jesus, would later conclude that the money and position of a Pharisee was not worth it when he eventually understood the nature of the gospel. A little over a decade after the ministry of Jesus, Luke recorded the preceding statement concerning the Pharisees’ love of money. At the time of writing, Luke was in the presence of a converted Pharisee who finally realized the tremendous impact that the gospel has on one’s life. This former Pharisee wrote, “But what things were gain to me [as a Pharisee], those things I have counted lost for Christ” (Ph 3:7).
This Pharisee came to realized that being a full-time religious worker on the payroll of a religious institution was not in any way to be compared to the riches of the gospel of God’s grace. But in order to fully enjoy this effect of the gospel in his own life, he had to release himself from the bondage of institutional religion. In fact, this gospel-living convert continued to write, “I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things. I count them refuse so that I may gain Christ” (Ph 3:8). In order to gain Christ, Paul knew that he had to lose religion.
At the time of the ministry of Jesus thirty years before this statement was written, the Paul the Pharisee came to realize that if he turned away from institutional Judaism, only then could he come into fellowship with King Jesus. The Pharisees’ rejection of the gospel message that Jesus preached during His ministry was partly based on their love of money. Nothing has changed in the religious world since those days. When we seek to understand the gospel, especially that part concerning incarnational living, there is often great resistance by those who seek to be “full-time,” and thus live off the contributions of others.
If one is a full-time worker for some religious institution, then the example of the transformation from Saul to Paul could possibly be too drastic. Nevertheless, this is what the gospel will do for—or to—someone who is in the bondage of religion for the sake of money. We must be quite clear on this point. If one either takes his or her faith back into institutional religion, or refuses to answer the call of the gospel in order to be delivered from religion, then he or she does not truly understand the core nature of the gospel.
It is not that a disciple must forsake all that he has in order to follow Jesus. However, he or she must be willing to do so (See Lk 14:25-35; Mk 10:17-31). And if one is willing, then that which he or she posses as a disciple must be considered to be in use for the Master’s work. We keep in mind also that those who preach the gospel have the right to live from the gospel. “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Co 9:14). But we must not forget that those who preach the gospel are not preaching the gospel to the saved, but to the unbelievers. And because they are preaching to unbelievers, this in many cases demands that the evangelist be supported by those who have obeyed the gospel. In order to explain this, John compliment Gaius by stating that we should support those who go forth to preach the gospel to the unbelievers.
We “do well to support them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they [evangelists] went forth for the sake of the Name, taking nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore, we ought to show hospitality to such men [support] so that we might be fellow workers for the truth [of the gospel]” (3 Jn 7,8).
In the preceding statement, we must not miss the phrase, “on their journey.” These were evangelists who left home and went forth to preach the gospel to unbelievers. Those who went forth, but were married with families, sometimes had a home base as did Philip in Caesarea. But when the call came for him to go forth and preach to a Gentile from Africa, he headed out without hesitation (At 8:4,5,26; 21:8,9). We might say that he was a “home-based” evangelist who was not on the road continually as Timothy, Titus and Paul. Peter also had a family, and thus moved from one home base to another with his family. He was not continually on the road and away from his family. An evangelist can have a home base, but he must, as Philip, reach out from that home base in order to preach the gospel to the lost.
Now consider being an evangelist wherever one might be based. It is here that we encounter some problems in reference to the purpose of preaching the gospel that delivers one from religion. The one who claims to be preaching the gospel to “the denominations,” but is simply seeking to “convert” someone from another religious group to his own religious group, does not truly understand the nature of the gospel. It may be that he is seeking to “build his church” in order to build his salary. This moves some preachers into the realm of the Pharisees who sustained the institution in order to sustain their love of money. Therefore, this person is preaching religion, not gospel
There is simply no freedom in converting one who is in the bondage of one system of religion into another system of religious bondage. Those who do not understand the nature of the gospel are simply transferring prisoners from one jail to another. Their lack of understanding of the gospel leads them to be Pharisees who are simply recruiting more contributors to join the church of those who are also in the bondage of legal institutional religion. There is no freedom in jumping from one religious box into another. Boxes are boxes, regardless of the labels that are on the outside.
A. Identifying the oxymoron:
Have you ever heard the statement from some preacher, “We must think outside the box.” This statement will never be stated by one who knows the true nature of the gospel. It is an institutional statement. By this we mean that the very definition of institutional religion is that it creates boxes of religious rites, rituals and ceremonies that define the particular box of which one is a member. After all the rites, rituals and ceremonies are agreed upon by the adherents, then a label (name) is placed on the box in order to identity and separate the box from all other religious boxes in the community. This is institutional religious belief and behavior. It is not gospel living.
With a tagged name on the box, and one’s faithful self-sanctifying adherence to the systems of the religion within the box, then one is a faithful member of that box. Those who are preachers of boxed religions dare not speak out against any of the identifying characteristics that make the box distinct from all other boxes in the community. If they do, then they will be tagged as rebels, and thus are in danger of losing their support. They are in danger of being disengaged from “employment” by the box maintenance authorities. This is the curse of the full-time leaders of boxed religion.
Boxes are often perpetuated simply by intimidating the “rebels” of the boxes to “fall in line” with the heritage of each box from which they receive their support. If they endanger their boxed heritage, then they are told that their support will vanish with the box. Welcome to the world of religion and the threat of what Jesus taught the Pharisees who loved money. As the Pharisees who recognized that the gospel that Jesus preached would destroy their religious box, those today who recognize the freedom from boxed religion that is within the nature of the gospel, will often fight against that which would destroy their means of support.
Those who have discovered the truth of the gospel must first recognize that they are in a box that is defined by specific religious rites, rituals or ceremonies. They must allow the gospel to deliver them from this bondage. Religious precepts and practices define the box in which they are in bondage. Therefore, unless they recognize that which causes boxed institutional religiosity, they will always remain in bondage.
Now here is the problem. Unless one truly understands the truth of the gospel, he or she can never come out of religious boxes, for religious boxes are always legally defined. They are legally distinguished from one another, and accordingly named after the heritage of each box. Therefore, unless one is willing to “count all things loss [concerning his present religious box] for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ,” then there can be no birth into the freedom one has in Christ (Ph 3:8). True freedom is never truly understood if one does not realize the religious box in which he or she dwells. Also, one can never truly understand that deliverance from one legally defined box into another legally defined box is no deliverance at all. It is simply moving from one prison to another.
The title of this chapter is an oxymoron. We like the Webster’s Dictionary definition of this word: An oxymoron is “a figure of speech in which opposite or contradictory ideas or terms are combined.” “Gospel” and “box” are opposites. They are contrary to one another. When we speak of “gospel,” we are speaking of freedom from religion. When we speak of “boxes,” we are speaking of bondage in religion. These two—gospel and religious boxes—are simply contrary to one another. There is simply no such thing as a “gospel box.” If one believes there is, then he or she does not truly understand the truth of the gospel. If one believes that his box is “scriptural,” then the gospel that he is preaching may actually be the “other gospel” about which Paul warned the Galatians (See Gl 1:6-9). In other words, if the foundation of one’s box is defined by law, then Paul reminded the Galatians, “You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by law. You have fallen from grace” (Gl 5:4). Those who would seek to define their box legally by law should read this statement again. And once read, he or she should digest the letter that Paul wrote to the Romans. In that letter one statement should be a warning to all those who would seek to live legally in any righteous box: “For sin will not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). Sin always dwells in legal boxes. In fact, religious boxes are always the product of legalistic theology.
B. Clarifying religion:
The more one is into religion, the more difficult it is to understand the gospel of grace. The reason for this is simple. Religion depends on the legal performance of the adherent who is associated with a particular religion. The legal performance of the adherent of ceremonies of a particular religion, therefore, always results in two unfortunate conclusions: First, the adherent of a particular religion satisfies himself legally that he is justified before God because of his legal performance of the codes that define the boxed religion of which he is a member. He has convinced himself that he is sanctified of sin if he faithfully adheres to what defines his particular religious box. For example, once he goes through some performing ceremony on Sunday morning, his conscience is cleared for the week. It is cleared because he has convinced himself that he is found faithful through his legal performance of the required Sunday morning “acts of worship” that are characteristic with his particular church.
Second, one must be assured that his particular religious group is the correct sect, and thus legally defined as distinct from all the other boxes in his community. Therefore, there are certain legal codes that must be believed and performed in order to convince the adherent that he is connected with the “true church.” In this scenario of validation, the adherent uses the New Testament as a legal code of doctrine in order to build a structure of law that reassures all the adherents that they are the right church. Every other group in the community is the wrong church because they do not conform to the legally defined laws of the right church. As a result, the legalities of the “right church” become more important than the gospel of the incarnate Son of God. When the legal religionist shows up at the assembly, his focus in on the correct legal performance of assembly ceremonies. His obsession, therefore, is more on legal performance than on the gospel of the atoning sacrifice of the incarnate Son of God. It is for this reason that the assemblies of religionists will almost always turn into opportunities to entertain those who come together for their own amusement.
We would assert that the preceding two propositions are entirely contrary to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The two points focus on man, as well as our ability to construct some form of “doctrine” by which we would assure ourselves that we are the legally correct church. But the preceding points focus on the performance of man, and not on the gospel of grace. The first point sets up the adherents of the “right church” for endless squabbles concerning which points of “doctrine” are correct and applicable for believers today to perform. The second point throws all the adherents of the “right church” into the quagmire of the first point, that is, performing all the required codes of identity in order to identify the “right church.” This is not gospel behavior. Both scenarios marginalize the gospel, and thus move the adherents into institutional religion.
[More to come.]