Many Christians might be surprised to learn that the Kingdom of God is not found in religion; that Jesus did not found a religion and that His Kingdom is entirely the reality formed by our union with God and never by the performance of rites, routines and pious behaviours. Dr Gordon Moyes put it accurately when he defined Christianity not as a religion but as the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Kingdom of God is not even ‘christianity’ seeing that the kingdom in spirit and in truth derives from the incarnation – the union of the trinity in you and the people of God. Thus in his novel, The Shack, author Wm Paul Young has Jesus say, ‘I’m not a Christian,’ which might be shocking to those who have attempted a life with God in religion and more so to those who have sought to carve out a degree of entitlement from religious observances.
THE WHY OF THE CROSS
It has always been the religious who have taken the most offence from the presentation of Godliness that is not adulterated by religion and its idols, just as it is the religious now who are taking the most offence from my describing ‘routines’ as well accepted idolatries rather than genuine Godliness. It’s not too much to say that it was the religious and their allies who put Life on the cross when He came among us, just as they do today when it is advanced that Godliness is really JESUS AS US - rather than us involving ourselves in behaviours that make us worthy of union with God.
The cross establishes all as worthy of God and the blood of Jesus defines all as received into the ‘belonging’ of God. Our part is agreeing and living in this belonging and repenting of our attempts at manufacturing worthiness and the right to come into His Presence. Much religion consists of seeking to overcome the separation between ourselves and God that has not existed since the cross. Real Godliness is allowing Jesus to be who He already is for you: Christ your life.
WHO IS GOD. WHO ARE YOU?
Jesus is the one accurate expression of our Father. When Christ is our life because we have believe that He is, we are the accurate expression of a son/daughter of God. Karl Barth quoting Feuerbach with approval observes that, “Every religion and every cult which sets up a God, i.e. an unreal being, a being different and separate from real nature … and which makes it an object of worship, is the worship of images and consequently idolatry.” (1)
BELIEVING THE SELF OUT OF EXISTENCE
We set up an ‘unreal God’ when we make god a construct of the law. We make each other unreal selves when we ignore the new covenant, retain ourselves in the law and define ourselves as sons/daughters of the slave woman when we could be sons of God, living entirely in the Son of God. In the law it is impossible to be a well-developed human being let alone a person brimming with spirit and life.
FALSE CHRIST. REAL IDOLATRY
Barth asserts that “Idolatry is the universal and characteristic mode of human action seeking to evade the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.” What does seeking to evade this revelation of Jesus look like? It means ignoring the incarnation and replacing Christ come in our flesh with the law come as our flesh with Jesus help. This is the distorted ‘other gospel’ that is the essence of religion and the product of anti-christ. (2)
“Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world’ 1 John 4.3 NIV.
RELIGION DULLS GOD AND CRIPPLES YOU
The religious impulse propels us to seek life in things that are not alive, but which we, on our own initiative ‘imbue’ with life that does not belong to them. Thus doctrines arise as their rationalisation and communities of faith grow out of delusion. We can dedicate special days, set aside special places and sanctify special clothing. Thus we may attribute as pleasing God, things like Sabbaths or the wearing of the hijab. Or we may ascribe ‘holiness’ to the church on the corner – when the reality that has become ours in the new testament age is that God is in us and so God is where we are and in what we are doing. Easter can be a time of the celebration of the death and the resurrection of Jesus. The fact is however that in Him and with Him as your life you possess a life of unfolding resurrection. Barth observes,
“There seems always and everywhere to be an awareness of the reality and possibility of a dedication, or even a sanctification of the life of man, on the basis of an individual or social striving, which is almost always and everywhere referred to an event which comes from beyond.” (3)
This ‘beyond’ may be claimed as endorsement by God, even when it is clear that the new covenant negates its utility or because the icon is held to be some ‘distinctive’ and some addition to the revelation of Jesus and the apostles. Thus ‘observances’ and externalities may be imbued with sanctifying attributes - not because of any innate quality of their own but because they have been accorded magical powers by church founders or self-styled prophets.
There is no separation in Christ Jesus. But we can create it ourselves as disciples of law and religion. Jesus describes it as burying our ‘talents’ in the ground and calling Him a ‘hard man’ because we preferred our labour to life in His Spirit of Sonship.
(1) Clough, David. ‘Karl Barth on Religious and Irreligious Idolatry’ In Idolatry: false
worship in the Bible, early Judaism, and Christianity. Edited by Stephen C. Barton, Stephen. New York: T&T Clark, 2007, 213-227.