Thursday, December 12, 2013

Addicted to Religion


But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.” – Galatians 4:8-10

Paul had spent time in Galatia and had converted many from Judaism to Christianity.  The people had been devout followers of the Mosaic Law, the law of the book of Leviticus, which included observance of many feasts, sacrifices, and atonements.  The converts had believed in Christ and accepted His free gift of salvation.  In Galatians 4:6-7 Paul speaks of their conversion saying “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.  These were born-again Christians who had been given the seal of the Holy Spirit living in their hearts.

But when Paul writes to them in Galatians, he is writing because they have reverted to the observance of festivals and religious days.  He finds they are offering sacrifices and receiving atonements from the Jewish leaders. He asks them in Galatians 4:8-10 if they desire to return to the “weak and beggarly elements” and to “again be in bondage”. He goes on to say “I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain,” and again says “I have doubts about you”, doubting that their conversion was authentic.

The people of Galatia suffered from an addiction.  They had an addiction to religious traditions, based on the first covenant made with the people, which was the Mosaic Law.  This was the covenant made with Moses on Mt. Sinai, when God gave Moses the Levitical laws for the people to observe, to be made holy.  This is the way they were raised, the way they had been lead to believe worship was done.  Even though they believed on Jesus Christ, their addition to the old ways of worship, the traditions they had been taught, were still being followed.

Our faith-based heritage begins with Abraham, to whom God gave the second covenant, the promise of Jesus Christ, and salvation through Him.  There is a symbolism in Abraham’s wives and his two sons, which is explained in Galatians 4:22-26, which says:

For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman.  But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.”

God promised that Sarah would bear Abraham a child in her old age.  But Sarah became tired of waiting, and not seeing God’s promise come to the birth of a child.  She encouraged Abraham to seek a child from the slave, Hagar.  So Abraham had a child by Hagar, and his name was Ishmael.  Ishmael was born out of Hagar’s bondage, slavery to her earthly Lord, Abraham.  But later on God fulfills His promise to Sarah, who gives birth to Isaac.  Isaac is born out of God’s promise, and out of the love she and Abraham had for each other.  Paul expresses that Hagar was a symbol of the old covenant of law, and Sarah was a symbol of God’s second covenant, the coming of Jesus Christ to redeem us. 

The brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, did not get along, and neither did Sarah and Hagar.  To this day their ancestors war and fight.  Paul recognizes this split in the heritage of Abraham, and says in Galatians 4:29-31 that those born of Hagar “persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit”, and quotes the Old Testament scripture where God tells Abraham to “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.”, and expresses that we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

But are we truly FREE?  Are we free of religion and traditions that bind us?  We can become so entangled in habitual worship services that we fail to worship at all.  We again, just as the Galatians do, observe the day of Sunday without participating in true worship of the One who made us free.

Consider this – and please don’t be offended.  What would happen in your church service if things did not go according to the pre-printed program?  What if instead of 3 songs, a prayer, a sermon of three points and a poem, an invitation and dismissal, what if something else occurred?  What if the song service continued into the full time of worship and there was no message from the pulpit?  What if the preacher’s sermon continued for a second hour?  What if during the preacher’s sermon, there was another song service of worship, followed by more preaching?  Be honest and answer to yourself how you would react.

We are habitual creatures.  But worship should not be out of habit, or we return to slavery and bondage, just as the Galatians did.  It may take you by surprise to find that the early church did not have a 3-song/prayer/sermon/dismissal type of service.  It may take you by surprise to also find that they didn’t always meet in one place, or at a certain time.  Church as we know it is not according to God’s word.  I’m not saying it’s all bad, but I am saying that we have been given to Holy Spirit to be our guide.  Where better to let him guide us than in our worship service?  He will not lead us into chaos, because God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).  What I am saying is that we need to be willing to step out of our comfortable program-led services and truly worship God from the heart, as His Sons and Daughters, instead of slaves.

Individually, we need to take inventory of our deeds of worship.  Why do we go to church to begin with?  Is it to see the people? Is it because “it’s Sunday, and that’s what we do”?  Is it to get God off our backs, which is my personal testimony from my youth?  Why do we sing the songs we sing?  Is it because we mean the words, or is it because we have memorized the words and just sing along?  Is our daily prayer a memorized set of words, or is it a conversation with God?  Let us not return to the slavery and bondage of legalistic worship when we have been given the freedom of Jesus Christ, when we have been made His children, born of love.

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