Being in Religion Versus Being in Christ

By Ernie and Mary Kroeger

In this study we want to recognize the differences between religion - the man-made rules for moral behavior to gain favor with God and through which we think we can receive salvation, and the true salvation that is rooted in Christ.  Paul speaks of the strict religious sect of the Pharisees to which he once belonged; it was filled with rules and regulations which needed to be observed.   Judaism was a religion; it was not rooted in Christ.  In fact, like all religions, it was against Christ and crucified Him! 

The root of religion is found in the serpent’s mouth, for in its conversation with Eve it contradicted God’s words.  It told Eve that by knowing good and evil she would be like God.   In other words, in disobedience to God and by her own effort and choices, she could become like Him.  This looked good to her, so it was easy for her to believe the serpent’s lie and to act on it.  In obedience to the serpent, she and Adam both ate the forbidden fruit, and it changed their understanding of God and of themselves. 

Instead of learning from their failure to obey God, they slithered deeper into the lie and brought religion into this world.  Ever since that fatal day, humanity has indulged in eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.  This tree is rooted in disobedience, and the good and the evil form one fruit.  Its good looks form the trap that lures humanity into believing that it can chart its own course without obeying God.  In Christ we learn to know the good that is rooted in obedience to Him, and that no evil can exist in Him! 

Adam and Eve’s new knowledge revealed their nakedness to them.  It revealed the fact that they were not clothed; they were naked and they needed clothes!  Since they now thought that God had become their enemy, they could not depend upon Him to supply their need; they thought they were left to their own devices to   produce their clothing.  Christ gives us garments of righteousness, but in religion we have to sew our own.  So Adam and Eve made for themselves loin coverings of fig leaves.  These home-made aprons did not cover them and could not hide their nakedness.  They were produced by self-effort, and self-effort is the trademark of religion!  Can you see how we too often try to hide our self-will by doing good deeds?  No wonder Jesus cursed the leafy fig tree; it looked good, but it did not bear fruit.  This symbolized Israel’s (and humanity’s) works for righteousness.  The works look good, but they lack the ability to bear fruit.  

Self-effort is the god of all the various religions.  Each religion has its own doctrines and creeds that the followers have to adhere to, as well as areas of holiness like the sanctuary, the meeting place, the altar, etc., that need to be respected.  In Christ, it is not the outer trappings that are holy; the emphasis is on who we are, and God says that in Christ we are holy!  

The various religions of this world show us that self-effort is a hard task master!  Some religions require self-denial to obtain holiness, while others emphasize works, and some stress both.  If someone fails to achieve, there is always lots of condemnation.  To get rid of the condemnation, sacrifices have to be made.  Some even require human sacrifices!

Religions thrive on legalism!  Their rules, doctrines and regulations have to be obeyed!  If you do not uphold their views you are no longer accepted unless, of course, you repent.  Condemnation and punishments are ever ready to be handed out. Grace and mercy are unknown.

In the covenant God made with Israel on Mt. Sinai, Israel promised to keep its part of the covenant or agreement.  God even made provision for their failures because He knew they would fail, but Israel did not know that; in fact, she was quite confident that she could.  God’s purpose for this covenant was to show Israel that it is impossible for it to achieve its own salvation.  This knowledge is a preparation for receiving Christ.  Since humanity thinks it can achieve its own salvation, it needs to be convinced of its inability to do this.  This is foundational for accepting God’s salvation!

Our natural mind is very religious and unable to understand spiritual reality, so it is always against the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:14)  We need a lot of convincing before we will recognize our utter need for God!  Gary Sigler put it so well when he said, “You see, those who are ruling from the earth are still trying to take this earthly image of themselves and make it more acceptable to God.  I tried this for years.  I prayed every day.  I read ten chapters in the Bible every day.  I prayed in the spirit for at least an hour a day.  I did all those things that I supposed I should do to make this image of myself that was so alienated from God, and make it acceptable, make it more godly, make it presentable to God.  That is the spirit of antichrist.  It is a hard concept to accept, but if you are taking a human image of yourself, and trying to make it into God, that is the abomination of desolation!  That image of your self will never become God.  Oh, you can make it better.  You can quit smoking and chasing women.  You can go to church, sing and dance, clap, be all you want to be.  You can improve it a little.  But you will still be the abomination of desolation because it is a human image of your self sitting in the temple of God and trying to be like God.  Well, when you realize that all of the old creation Jesus took to the cross and raised us all up as a new creation, then there is nothing you need but the unveiling of who God is in you.”  (End quote)

We need to understand that the new creation man is not a human being; he is a spiritual being.  Since God is spirit, an image of Himself has to be a spiritual image.  Adam was an earthy image of God; Christ is the spiritual image of God.  If Adam had been the finished product (a spiritual image of God) he would not have sinned – for Christ did not sin.  The new creation man is born from above; he is in Christ, and as such manifests Christ in his daily life. The new creation man does not depend on his own ability to perform the works of God; he depends on the Holy Spirit to teach him and to lead him in the path of righteousness!  The Holy Spirit is his enabling power.

To be in Christ we have to be born from above!  Our new birth takes us out of Adam, the man who sins, and puts us into Christ who has no sin.  God does not remodel the old man.  He takes us out of the man who sins and makes us entirely new!  We have been born of an incorruptible seed, and this seed cannot grow anything that is perishable.  The life of this seed is the life of God.  In Christ we have a life that is filled with the very essence of God, and this life is manifested in us with His love, peace, joy and righteousness!   The old life of self-effort, self-denial or self-indulgence with its fleshly lusts has passed away, and we now have a new life in which there is nothing perishable - the very life of God! 

Our natural mind cannot understand this, so it forges its substitutions and counterfeits, and in this way tries to hide its lies.  A counterfeit is not the reality, yet it tries to trick us into believing that it is.  Religion proclaims that we can secure our own salvation by making the right choices. Since choices are rooted in the belief that self has the knowledge to decide what is best,   a right choice would give us a reason to boast, and a wrong choice would give reason for condemnation.  This belief, that a humanity that is dead in its sins and transgressions still has the responsibility and ability to make right choices, is foundational for justifying God for throwing into an eternal hell of torture, all who have not repented of their former way of life and have not decided to follow Jesus.   Religion cannot understand that we are saved by grace and NOT by our own works.  Religion dwells in the natural mind, and it sees spiritual realities as foolishness.  Since it is void of truth it cannot believe that without Christ all are dead in their sins and transgressions, and the dead do not have the capacity to make right choices. 

Religion expresses itself in many forms, and humanity generally accepts the type it has been taught to believe in.   While one form of religion tries to force us into a joyless, austere life, another form trumpets the satisfaction of fleshly desires in its doctrines.  It tells us that God does not want us to suffer, and that He wants us to live in physical prosperity and enjoyment!  It proclaims that Jesus did all the suffering for us as our substitute, so we are now entitled to enjoy our prosperity.  That sounds so good to the flesh and to those who are prosperous, but what about the poor?  The prosperous ones smugly reply that they just need to get rid of their hidden sin and work up their faith.  This is self-effort, and it does not come from the mind of Christ!

Religion ignores what Christ said about suffering, and what the scriptures teach.   Paul said, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) He also said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Persecution may involve mental or physical suffering or both.  We do not belittle the fact that Christ heals and performs miracles, but often suffering has to be endured before the healing takes place.  God works all things according to the counsel of His will, and sometimes our suffering ends in death. 

In Hebrews 5:8 we read that Jesus learned obedience from the things which he suffered.  If Jesus learned obedience through sufferings, can we learn obedience without any suffering?   When obedience promises honor and prosperity, it is not so difficult to be obedient.  However, when obedience promises hardship, pain, rejection and persecution, obedience has to be learned.   Jesus Christ remained obedient even in His darkest hours!  Our focus has to be on Christ alone, for He alone can deliver us from all the clever counterfeits that religion can produce!

Religion thrives by its counterfeits and its ability to appear other than it really is.  Instead of obedience and relationship, it concentrates on the keeping of rituals.  We need to realize that rituals stunt spiritual growth, for they do not allow any change or correction. This strict adherence to the ritual prohibits us from receiving revelation beyond the ritual, and our relationship with God is limited to a ritual.

Religion also thrives on the formulas it creates to achieve “spiritual growth”.  We hear of four steps to this and nine steps to something else, and if we follow these steps we will get the desired results.  This is faith based on our works of self-effort!  God wants obedience, and He has an infinite variety of ways to produce the desired result.  Moses stretched out his rod over the Red Sea to get it to part; the feet of the priests had to touch the River Jordan so that the water would part, and Elisha used his cloak.

Religion loves its institutionalized festivals!  It has managed to smuggle them into the church system, and the church loves them even though they are not commanded by God and do not have their source in God.  To give the impression that they are from God, subtle substitutions have been made, and these lull people into believing that they are pleasing God by observing them. 

Let’s take a closer look at the church’s great so-called Christian festivals – Christmas and Easter!   These festivals have not been commanded by God.  Nowhere in the scriptures are we told to celebrate them.   It is very shocking to learn that these celebrations have their roots in paganism!  They were not “invented” or practiced until about the 4th century.  Christians tend to forget, or are ignorant of this fact.  Nowhere do the scriptures tell us to observe these festivals, yet woe betide those who refuse to uphold them.  The bits of history inserted into the celebration of these holidays are often misleading, yet they serve as the basis for the celebration. 

For those who can afford it, Christmas is a great time of fleshly delights – family gatherings, beautiful decorations, great food, overindulgence, and wonderful gifts!  Does God not want us to enjoy ourselves?   God wants us to enjoy His bounty, but not the things that do not have their source in Him and even honor other gods. 

Many lies are preached, spoken and sung at this celebration.  They even say that Christ was born on Christmas day – on Dec. 25th  but in fact, this is the day the pagans for centuries have celebrated the birth of Sol, the Sun-god.  This Roman and Greek winter festival was called the nativity of the Sun.  Now the birth of Jesus is called the nativity. The apostate leaders of Christianity made all these substitutions in order to unite paganism with Christianity. Dec. 25th is not the day of Christ’s birth!!  The Spirit of God has commanded us NOT to obey the ways or customs of the heathen.  (Leviticus 18:2-4;  Deut. 8:18-20)  We are to observe what the Lord has commanded us to do! 

The Christmas celebration weaves in the visit of the wise men, yet that visit did not occur at the time of Christ’s birth - it happened almost two years later when Joseph and Mary were already living in a house in Nazareth.  However, their gifts to Christ form the foundation for giving gifts to one another.  This substitution really pleases the flesh!   Most of the Christmas traditions that are practiced come from paganism!   This includes the Christmas tree that supposedly symbolizes eternal life, yet after the celebration it is thrown out or burned, and Santa (Father Christmas) – the counterfeit God who knows all about us; he knows whether we have been good or bad. 

The Easter celebration also has its roots in paganism.  It began in honor of the dawn goddess, Eastre.  Now Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ under the banner of a pagan goddess of fertility, together with her basket of Easter bunnies and Easter eggs, and an emphasis on new clothes instead of resurrection life! Jesus said that we are not to cry over Him, yet in this celebration we cry over Him instead of recognizing the symbolism and meaning of His death and resurrection.  Many pastors and evangelists propagate the myth that the justice of God is satisfied by punishing His innocent Son instead of the sinner.  This substitution allows the sinners to be forgiven and permits them to go to heaven after they die.  Is this justice?  A thousand times NO!   God’s justice is satisfied by providing a salvation for us in Christ.  God was responsible for putting that forbidden tree in the garden, and for letting the serpent gain entrance into the garden, so it is His responsibility to provide a way out of humanity’s dilemma!   Again we see how religion is filled with lies and deception dressed in sheep’s clothing!

We need to remember the truth. The goddess Eastre (Eostre) has nothing to do with Jesus Christ and the Passover. Instead, she has everything to do with the deceptions of Satan.  Satan never keeps his promises, for there is no truth in him.  His promise that we can become like God by disobedience and by our own works will never take place!  Religion can only duplicate the mind of Satan.  It focuses on the good and evil that is rooted in disobedience.  A tree does not bear two kinds of fruit, so the good and evil is one fruit.  In the book of Revelation, religion is pictured as a woman who sits on the scarlet horse, and scarlet symbolizes the depth of sin – “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow”. (Is. 1:18)

Religion has also slipped in the back door of works and ministries for God.  Although we are saved by faith, religion stipulates that our sanctification takes place by keeping certain laws and by the works we do for Christ.  It is a hard taskmaster, and focuses on what we can do for God, on the greatness of our ministry, and on the rewards for what we call “our faithful ministry”.  It pictures a boss and servant relationship with wages and rewards for faithful service.  In Christ we learn that He is our sanctification, and we receive an inheritance!  This inheritance is much greater than wages, for wages do not have permanence.

In contrast to the servitude of religion, Christ stresses intimacy in relationship, and works that flow out of this love relationship!  In Christ we are united with Him!  He is our righteousness, wisdom and sanctification!   His love has been poured into our hearts in the Holy Spirit!  We no longer pray for more love; we pray for the barriers to be removed that keep His love from flowing out.  He does not withhold anything good from us!  He reveals Himself to us; He shares His love, power and forgiveness with us!  He strengthens us and provides us with His power to overcome all the evil darts of the enemy!  He transforms us into the very likeness of Christ! 

The religious Babylonian system tries to make God fit into humanity’s plans, instead of humanity fitting into God’s plans.  In religion we function in the mind of the serpent; in Christ we function in the mind of Christ!  Religion focuses on the effort that is rooted in self to make oneself pleasing to God in a way that pleases self.  In Christ we are united with God, and the very essence of God comes to us in Christ!   The revelation of His love brings us into His fullness!  We are seated with Christ in heavenly places. This shows us that we are in a place of rest for we are not feverishly running around trying to produce our own righteousness. We have Christ’s righteousness!  The obedience of faith brings us into this rest!  

In religion we have servitude, wages and rewards.  However, in Christ we have a living hope and an inheritance that is imperishable and undefiled and does not fade away. (1 Peter 1:4-5) It is full of glory!  Our inheritance is so much greater than the wages and rewards of religious service, for the latter are in the death realm and fade away.  What a treasure is ours in Christ!

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