Romans 12:1-2 (NLT) And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
“Birds of a feather flock together.” The old adage meaning people who have similar interests, ideas and characteristics tend to seek out and associate with one another is absolutely true. We tend to congregate with those who are like-minded. Our social circles are well-developed rings of relationships with those that connect with us. Even churches group together under this proverb. Comfort zones are created among like-minded people who grow relationships. It’s funny how when we begin to hang out with people and enter the social arena in which they live that we become like them. We begin to conform to the standard of living each group has set as acceptable and agreeable within the organization. It is all about conformity. We were not created or called to be like anyone else. God’s Children are individual and purposed exclusively. However, in our need for acceptance, approval and affirmation of others, we develop tight social circles. The Christian club is called church.
Before we go any farther, this is not a church bashing session of any kind but rather a religion smashing to allow resurrection life to flow through us into our congregations. Conformity is hidden in tradition. Tradition is that which is handed down generationally. It is the inherited way of thinking, acting and believing that many shape their life around based on the opinion or adopted practices of another. It is a continuing pattern of cultural beliefs marked by conformity to that particular standard. When we choose to live a customary life based on the culture in which we live, a limitation is immediately placed on our life as we begin to conform to society. We are not called to be conformist at all unless it is to the standard of Jesus Christ. God wants to transform me into a new person. He begins by changing the way I think. As I begin to learn God’s Will for my life, I find that it is good, pleasing and perfect so my desire is to seek Christ and not the attention of others.
Philippians 2:1-5 (NLT) Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Christian culture is established in a building called church. However, once Jesus died on the Cross releasing us from the bondage of sin and giving us His Spirit along with resurrection power, believers are no longer limited to live at the altar of God in a temple but rather we become God’s Temple where His Spirit lives. In this age of revival, congregations have a great desire to see the Power of God manifested in our gatherings. However, if we hold on to traditions of well-constructed religion conformed to any standard or example other than Jesus Christ, it simply will not happen. It is imperative that every religious organization examine its relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ raising its expectation while tearing down every barrier and removing those obstacles of tradition that are hindering the next Great Move of God.
I remember singing, “Old Time Religion” in the red covered hymnal of church. One of the verses conclude that “it is good enough for me.” The author is right. Old time religion is good enough for me verses the new watered down version a lot of people are tossing off the pulpit today, but I am challenged deep in my heart and from the depth of my soul to ask Jesus to examine my life and point out that which is religious in me. To shine the Light of His Love into the dark corners of traditionalism and habitual Christianity that has taken over so it can give way to resurrection life again. Life begins with a commitment to living in covenant with Christ forming a radical relationship that becomes an epic love affair. If we conform to any other standard than Jesus, our relationship with Him becomes limited. God called and created us to live a limitless life. Jesus called it a rich and satisfying life. Abundant. Conformity restricts such an outpouring but transformation allows us to live in it.
We are to have one heart, one mind and one purpose in our fellowship with Jesus. It is all about Him. When we deviate in purpose or allow our heart to become divided, our gathering is nothing more than a religious social circle or Christian club. However, God empowered us to live in His Resurrection Power. In our commitment to one another with commonality in Christ, revival is sparked.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
Every church has religious people. There are hypocrites on every row. We do not gather together to establish some kind of order but to grow, develop and mature our faith as a unit. Why? We are after one thing – Jesus Christ. Our faith is demonstrated by our belief that pushes us to know Him more and be like the Lord. This is not based on rules or regulations. The Letter of the Law was completely fulfilled by Christ. It is the terms of covenant but not the measurement of truth. Our standard is Jesus who is the Author and Finisher of Faith. He planted the seed in us before we were born. He is the one that will harvest it when we meet Him face-to-face. What we do with it in the meantime is called free will and personal choice. Examining the fruit of our life determines the source.
To say that “birds of a feather flock together” within our churches would be accurate. Even though the Lord established us in unity with one heart and mind fully consumed in Christ, this is not always how it turns out. Over time, habits become tradition. So groups of individuals establish rules of order called doctrine. With the passage of time, these become ingrained in our thinking. If we are not careful, it will become the evaluating standard in our congregations.
Jesus Christ is the standard who transforms our ordinary life into something extraordinary. It is the Lord that takes our natural circumstances to produce supernatural outcomes. We are to imitate God not man.
Matthew 15:1-3 (NLT) Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?
How do I know if I am a traditionalist? I want to know because I do not want my life limited by tradition or religion. My heart’s desire is to be like Jabez who prayed, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request. (I Chronicles 4:10) I want God’s Blessing on my life. I am asking the Lord to expand my territory. I cannot do this if I live in conformity to any other practice or standard than the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 15:1-14 is a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees. They wanted to know why the followers of Jesus did not participate in religious practices such as ceremonial handwashing. Traditionalists will critique and question those who do not live according to their doctrine. Comparison is beneficial according the standard set. Our example is Jesus Christ. Living by His Grace, it is a limitation to be subject to the law because that is a contradiction of the Power of His Love given on the Cross.
Mark 7:8-9 (NLT) For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.” Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition.
The same account is found in Mark 7. Jesus tells the Pharisees that while ignoring God’s Law that they have substituted it with tradition. We are no longer bound by sin. We are not captive to the Law because our debt has been paid by Jesus. To bind our life to the rules and regulations of religion is to somehow indicate that the sacrifice of Christ was not enough to cover it so we now need to work for some more. God’s Word never contradicts itself. His Word will not return to Him void always accomplishing what it set out to do. Jesus told the Pharisees that “you cancel the word of God for the sake of your traditions.” Don’t believe me. God’s Word offers a message of whoever will should come and drink freely of living water. (Revelation 22:17) Pastor reads it and everyone agrees until the smelly homeless man shows up with his tattoo-covered baby mama with their three stair-step children living out of a creepy, rundown van filled with their life. You gonna be the one to welcome them. Maybe that example is just a bit too raw, so let’s not be so blatantly callous. Single mama cannot control her unruly babies in church and is messing up your worship, what do you do? A man comes to sit by you reeking of smoke and alcohol – are you offended that he came to church in such a state? The young woman arrives in a too short dress and too high heels with a face full of Maybelline including false lashes. Do you judge her when she walks in? Tradition has a dress code for salvation. Customs put our opinions higher than the Love of Jesus for all mankind. The fact that a person is differentiated by any distinguishing factor other than the contents of their heart is appalling to the Lord. He desires to send the revival that we cry out for – but what if we don’t like how it looks, what it smells like or God forbid it inconveniences our life? When God’s Word and our life do not line up – there is a heart problem hindering our relationship and limiting His Spirit from moving in us and through us.
Matthew 15:10-14 (NLT) Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.” Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”
It is easy to get caught up in the habitual Christianity called religion. To place standards and limitations on our life through traditionalism. The Lord could see the heart of the people and his disciples. Even though his followers had witnessed everything that Jesus was doing, it’s clear that they did not fully understand. “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees…?” In that moment, the Pharisees became “greater” than the Lord to them. Oh Jesus…Precious Jesus! As believers who desire an effective connection to Jesus Christ, we must live in relationship to Him. A religious spirit gives way to a traditional approach to God that will not allow us to enter the Presence of Jesus and live there. It is important to constantly and completely evaluation our connection to the Lord based on how we serve Him. We must surrender habitual servitude for complete surrender.
Tradition limits our life to what has already been done. Religion establishes perimeters and boundaries around us that are inescapable as they nullify grace giving power over our life to another. It doesn’t matter what I wear, the words I speak or the things that I do, if my life does not yield a harvest of spiritual fruit. The abundance of our mouth relays the production of our heart. What are you saying? I am challenged by this today. I am deeply convicted of my perception of Christianity in terms of traditionalism. I have some things that are habitual that need to be invested in the supernatural again. Do you?
Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT) Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
To be completely transparent, about a year ago I was ready to give up on organized religion. Not Jesus, but church. Tired of the politics and people, I tried to find God’s Blessing in falling off the doctrinal grid to simply follow the Lord. I tried. I truly was committed to stop going to church. This is not God’s Will for our life as He clearly does not want us to forsake fellowship. I began attending youth services with our kids. I sat in the back and fought the all-too-familiar spark inside me. We finally visited the church. The preacher taught from the Word. The people were awesome. The Holy Spirit dwells there. However, reading the doctrine almost kept me from joining. Why? There were items in the doctrine that I do not necessarily agree with. Traditional beliefs tagged on to a list of characteristics. Let’s be real together, you may not agree with everyone in your congregation. Yet Jesus told us to come together to form the Body of Christ.
Imitate God in everything you do. Live a life of love following Jesus. This is evidence of a transformed life. Go to church but don’t let religion and tradition take over. Our churches need revival just like all those who live according to worldly standards. How do I know? Where is Resurrection Life? Where is the healing Power of God? Where is the Light of His Love? Where are the true worshippers joined together in Spirit and Truth? Are the altars full? Are people waiting in line to get in? Are we still restricted to schedules and programs or does the Spirit have His Way in all we do? I believe that when we abolish religious tradition and come together as the Body of Christ, there will be revival. We will see the greater things promised by Christ. When the birds that flock together are committed to imitating God and loving like Jesus without conforming to the world or religion – revival will come!
2 Thessalonians 3:5 (NLT) May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.