When Religion Kills

The New Testament says,

Romans 8:6 (NCV)
6If people’s thinking is controlled by the sinful self, there is death. But if their thinking is controlled by the Spirit, there is life and peace.

This cannot be any other way, and is the definitive test for whether or not a person is centered in God, whether we apply it to the Islamic militant, the one constantly seeking his own promotion, the non-believer trying to be a “good person,” or the average person who professes Christianity.  That is where I am probably most qualified to give an opinion.   

I do not think most Christians are living in anything like life and peace.  I see many who are so rigid in their understanding of God that they are filled with anger, perhaps even hatred toward, those who disagree with them.  I see many others who may not be angry or rigid, but are filled with and largely motivated by fear that their own understanding of God has brought upon them.  They falsely think they simply have not progressed far enough yet.  The truth is that the seed of fear is present in their understanding of God from the beginning and further progression will lead only to more fear.  What is needed is an overhaul.  I see many other Christians who live in constant chaos, making bad choice after bad choice, and experiencing all the horrific consequences this will bring into the lives of all who live this way, religious or otherwise.

It is safe to say that religion often brings death, and it does this by getting people focused even more dramatically on themselves after conversion than they ever were before.  Ego is tricky, and just when we think we have killed it by converting to this or that religion, it slips into that very religion and poisons it.  Thus we might find ourselves feeling prideful over how humble we are becoming, or thinking of ourselves as very different, after all, from the pagans who live around us, taking on a them vs. us mentality.  But God is one, and the more we truly know God, the less fracture there will be in ourselves, and the less different we will see ourselves as being from others.  Ego and self-interest can, and often does, work its way into the practice of religion and when that happens, religion becomes just one more of the channels we follow to get what we want – only now we perceive that we do it with the blessing of God.

All religion that leaves out the reality of gradual, daily, inward transformation (as contrasted with merely acting in certain ways) will lead to death because it leaves us bound either to dead legalism and rule-following (fundamentalism), or to our own lost selves who appealed to religion in the first place to escape our deadness and lostness (liberalism).

I have very little regard for religion, including Christianity, which is every bit as powerless in itself as any other religion.  It takes great effort to clear away the gunk that has accumulated over it and find in it the clear, refreshing, life of God.  The best spiritual writing and direction does exactly this. 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • CP

    James 3:16 says: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

    It is so true that when we have not gotten rid of ourselves and our own ambitions and desires, then we will continue on creating disorder and evil practices, even within the church. It takes for us to realize that the Gospel, the Bible and this universe is all about God and not about us. What you speak of is what Jesus told the Pharisees about their outer conduct, but no inner change (Matthew 23:25,26). Once we realize that, and take ourselves out of the center, once we focus our eyes on Him, then He is the one who changes us from the inside out, washing the bowl from the inside so that the outer may be clean in the process. Sometimes we are so concerned even about our sin and fixing it (cleaning the outside) that we forget that what we need is an inner change and the heart is changed only by God.

    “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26,27)

    So, I would say that the religions that lead to death are not just the ones that leave out “gradual, daily, inward transformation,” but MUCH more importantly, the ones that leave out God, the one and only God. And what is the only way to God? It is through Christ.

    “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6)
    “he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16b)

    Also, if we go beyond Romans 8:6 and read the whole chapter, we can see that it is Jesus who gives us that Spirit of Life to live by and to be controlled by, and no other way. We don’t receive the Spirit of life by inner transformation, instead, we are transformed when we receive the Spirit.

    “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (vv 1, 2)

    It is “through Christ Jesus” that the law of the Spirit sets us free. Being controlled by the Spirit is not accomplished through inner change by our own efforts, but by receiving Christ, who is the giver of that Spirit.

    So it is not mere transformation of the inner self that saves us, for that matter many Hindus, Muslims, and Scientologists would be saved, but none of them accept Christ as the only way to God and to Salvation, even though some of them may have become very nice, selfless and well behaved people through self-denial and sacrifice.

    This is also not to say that because a man calls himself a Christian, then he has the Spirit. I totally agree with you that there are many “Christians” who actually have not really known Christ, therefore have not the Spirit or the inner and outer transformation. But I think that it is imperative to note that it is through Christ and only through Him that we are taken out of a path to death. It is not a religion, or human efforts, but it is Christ that saves us.

    Notice the inseparable relation between the Spirit, Jesus (the Christ) and life in more of Romans 8:

    “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (vv 9-11)

    Thanks again David, I enjoyed reading this post and meditating on the Word and what God wants for our lives. Let’s continue on being transformed by the renewing of our minds, and not conformed to the patterns of this world, that we may know God’s perfect will.

    CP

    • You’re a sharp thinker, CP, but I disagree with much of what you said. Everything you say comes from a particular way of interpreting John 14:6 — that only people who have faith in the historical personage of the man Jesus Christ will be saved. While Christianity follows and celebrates this historical personage, it is the Logos, the Eternal Word, who saves.

      People will be saved according to whether or not they obeyed the law of love. I do not accept that “salvation” is a transaction that happens where we say a prayer, then God gives us this thing that is then ours for eternity. It’s not like going to a grocery store and picking up a gallon of milk. Salvation, being saved, comes through Christ, but it is not this simple transaction. Saying that it is is what allows people to profess Christianity all their lives long and yet live selfish lives full of chaos and all manner of things that clearly do NOT come from God.

      I will write a separate post on this.

      • CP

        Oops, it seems that I put my reply in the wrong spot… sorry about that David. Let me know if you can fix it or if you want to delete it and I’ll repost it here.

        CP

        • Yes, thank you. It’s deleted, so go ahead and repost. I’ll email it back to you in case you don’t have it anymore.

      • CP

        David…
        Wow, ok… well, I don’t know what to say, other than I will read what you have to say in your next post and see if you can persuade me by the Scriptures and not worldly philosophies. I am wondering now though, what your belief is about the Bible. (Not a sarcastic comment, but an honest one)

        “Historical personage of the man Jesus Christ.” I am guessing then that you also do not believe that Jesus was God?

        There are issues of conviction that I can understand and live with within the body of Christ. There are different ways of understanding doctrines, such as eternal salvation, predestination, baptism, etc. Those things won’t matter at the end, and we are still brothers in Christ, even if we see or apply things differently. But there are some absolute truths that cannot be compromised in any type of belief, or in the Christian church, whatever denomination they may be. As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is God’s word, I believe Jesus is the Christ, He is God and if I reject Him, I reject God.

        “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” John 3:36

        “he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Luke 10:16b

        These are just some of many passages, not just John 14:6. Convince me through Scriptures that we can reject Jesus and still be saved, or that Jesus is NOT God.

        G. K. Chesterton rightly said: “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”

        I am not saying that you do not have your convictions, instead, that by my own, I cannot be tolerant of a belief that separates Jesus from God. This also does not mean that I am not tolerant of you, that’s the big mistake that the church has made (as do other religions as well). In love and acceptance, as Jesus called me to, I will hear what you have to say, but if it has no Biblical truth and foundation to it, yes, I will disagree and condemn it sharply but I won’t condemn you… only God does that.

        Thanks again David, if anything, through this I am drawn more and more to Jesus, and to learn from Scriptures what is true and what is not always apart from human wisdom and philosophies. I can only hope that your readers search scriptures for themselves and do not accept anything that you or I say without testing it against God’s Word.

        Blessings,

        CP

        • Distinguish between Jesus the historical person and Jesus the Eternal Word. Is there a difference? All of the scriptures you have mentioned depend on a way of interpreting John 14:6 which I simply do not agree with. I do not think your view of Christ is any higher than mine – in fact I think mine is actually higher, and show why in my post immediately following this one.

          I cannot show you Jesus is not God because I do not believe Jesus is not God.

          I don’t think we can reject Jesus. All I’m saying is that I don’t interpret “rejecting” as sincerely desiring to know God and live a life of love, but making a wrong choice about how to do that, or which religion one is to follow. And even then I’m not making a statement about the eternal destiny of someone in this position, I’m simply saying I don’t think there are grounds for simply saying there’s no hope, no grace, and no way for them.

          I appreciate the spirit in which you make your remarks.