If you were to know anything about my background, the fact that someone like me is writing a blog called “Losing My Religion” might be enough to convince you that there is a God.
I am the most unlikely candidate for this sort of thing because I have spent most of my life being religious, and liking it.
I like rules; I like to keep rules; I like to help other people keep rules.
I like to know what is expected of me, and I like to meet and exceed those expectations.
I enjoy routine. I like to know what’s coming. I’m not that big on surprises. And I’m not nearly as glamorously adventurous as I imagine myself being.
What the stink is a guy like me doing writing a blog like this??
Two books that have been recently on my reading list–The End of Religion by Bruxy Cavey and The Reason for God by Timothy Keller–have indirectly sparked my thinking on this topic. I am seeing how the message of grace is so contrary to religious thinking.
Religion (of pretty much any flavor) compels its followers to jump through a given set of hoops, either to appease the wrath of a god, curry the favor of a god, or even influence or manipulate a god into doing something. How many Christians treat their faith in this manner–praying, studying, attending church, witnessing, all to be a “good Christian?”
The scandal of grace is that we don’t do anything to obtain it, except simply receive it. Through the cross, Christ did something for us, not the other way around; and the salvation He offers through His cross is sheer grace, which cannot be earned. It’s truly good news, but it messes with our continued mindsets that tell us we must perform a certain way to gain God’s approval. Grace, no matter how amazing, is often hard for people to accept because you literally have to cease from your labors–to stop trying–in order to receive it. It is also profoundly humbling, because the message of grace basically takes things out of our control.
And that’s the rub for me. I love to be in control of things. And that, I think, is why the bondage of religion has been so strangely appealing to me, and why it’s taken such a long and painful process to be extracted from it.
You see, under religion, we have a bit more control over our destiny (we think). We perform a certain way, we expect a certain reward. We know what God expects, and when we do it, we make Him happy with us. When we are blessed, we can take credit for it because we prayed and had faith and practiced the principles and worked the formulas. When we pray enough (whatever “enough” is), study hard, and show devotion to the church, we become self-satisfied in our performance, and we can see ourselves as superior to others who don’t do it as well as we do–and if we’re really good at it, we can conceal our smug pride in a cloak of sugary-sweet condescension and false humility.
Simply put–religion is God on our terms: everything in its place, a system we control by good performance. A control freak’s utopia.
But the problem is, God doesn’t fit in that box at all.
For those who are desperate and at the end of their rope, grace is a welcome thing. But for those who have put so much effort and work and energy into earning God’s favor, grace can be downright offensive. Grace requires us to lay down our efforts, to admit that all our striving cannot bring us one step closer to God or to the salvation He offers–to relinquish control of our destiny.
For me, the de-constructing of my religion pretty much required that I become one of those people at the end of their rope. My religion failed me and died a slow, painful death while for an extended period of time I worked every system I knew, prayed every prayer, made every confession and prophetic declaration I could think of. (See Heather’s post here for a good example of what I’m talking about.) And all the time, God simply refused to jump through my hoops or show up on my terms. Not until I literally ran out of strength, gave up, and fell on His grace, did my situation change for the better. I literally had to see for myself that I never really was in control–that the control my religion had promised me was a myth.
And once I found that I could relinquish control and not die–once I found that things actually got better when I fell upon God’s grace–that is when I began to find true rest from my labors, for the first time in my life.
I have come to understand that religion, although strangely appealing to someone like me, is a harsh taskmaster, promising goods it cannot possibly deliver. And I have come to understand that grace, although offensive to the religious mind, is truly an amazing gift from God.
I hope to continue this stream of thought in future posts. Stay tuned…