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.
[Next in series: March 28]