One day when Elisha instructed one of the sons of the prophets to prepare a meal, he went out into the field and gathered wild gourds from a wild vine and cooked it in the stew. The prophets poured the stew out for all the people to eat when someone discovered, “There is death in the pot!” God’s prophets were serving poison and eating out of the same pot.
That’s what I did for many years. I took the liberating gospel of God’s grace and mixed the wild gourds of religious performance in the same pot with it. The gourds came from a wild vine out in the field. Grace doesn’t grow in a wild field. It is cultivated only in the garden of grace planted and nurtured by God Himself. The idea of religious performance is a wild plant which poisons the grace of God and causes it to cease to be edible, although I did eat and serve it to my church for many years. The tragedy of this kind of poison is that it won’t kill you, but will be just toxic enough to keep you sick for the rest of your life.
The underlying foundation of all religion is performance, whether it’s a tribal dance around a campfire to satisfy the fire god or a dead religious activity performed week after week by an evangelical Christian with the intent of impressing his God. It’s all religious performance and God isn’t impressed by our performance. What impresses Him is faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). He couldn’t care less about religious ritual void of life. God is in the business of Life. Nothing else interests Him. When it is all said and done, God will either raise dead things or else ultimately separate Himself from them as far as He can get. He is interested in living relationships, not dead religion.
The announcement of the gospel of grace includes the good news that God wants to deliver us from religion. He has extended His grace for the purpose of rescuing us from a lifestyle of futile, feeble efforts to make ourselves acceptable to Him. The essence of religion is man’s attempt to somehow convince himself that he has jumped through enough hoops for God to give him the approving nod. It’s the way we try to validate our own self worth through asinine acts of self righteousness which in reality, separate us from the very goal we seek to achieve. It is poison because it kills any opportunity one will ever have to experience genuine intimacy with God. Religion is a prostitute having fifty dollar sex with a man and telling him it’s love when all the while, deep in his heart, the man knows better. Religion offers false hope that somehow there is something we can do to impress God enough to cause Him to accept us on the basis of our actions. Religion is what rushes in to fill the vacuum created by the absence of personal intimacy with God.
Do my words sound too strong? If so I would encourage you to go back and read Paul’s treatment of legalism in the book of Galatians. My words pale in comparison to his tirade against those who preached circumcision. I deliberately use hard language here because religion is robbing people of Life! Keep in mind that it was religious people who hated Jesus the most. Our identity isn’t in religion, but in our relationship to Him.