The Bitter Trap of Dead Religion
Robert Wurtz II
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:34-35).
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3f).
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
If there was one person in the Second Temple period that truly “got it” regarding understanding the New Covenant, it was Paul, or as the believing Jews tend to refer to him, “Sha’ul.” Paul wasn’t taught the Gospel, but he received it by revelation from God (Galatians 1;14f). He first encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, and this confirmed to him that Christ was God and the Messiah, but his understanding was not yet fruitful. He could not make sense of what he experienced.
With questions galore, Paul traveled to Arabia for about three years to seek God regarding his Damascus experience (Galatians 1:15-17). Utilizing the vast repository of Paul’s colossal mind, filled with scripture to the brim, the Spirit of God pieced together the Gospel from the Old Testament (Tanakh) to reveal the truth. God revealed “the mystery” that had been hidden from the ages to Paul as a two-person operation (Romans 16:25). We have Paul, a fanatical man studying God’s word, and the Holy Spirit, ready to guide that man into all truth (Galatians 1:14). What an awesome combination!
Failure to Grasp New Birth (A New Creation)
Paul frequently encountered Jews and Gentiles who didn’t grasp what he tried to teach them regarding the truth of the Gospel. This failure to comprehend led to all kinds of substitutes and deficiencies. They were in a state of spiritual death and didn’t realize it. The unbelieving-Jews often tried to kill or persecute Paul because they thought he came to turn people into lawless infidels who hated Moses and wanted to destroy all things Judaism. He didn’t. He wanted them to become new creatures. Gentiles took the message to mean “let us sin that grace may abound” or “let us do evil that good may come.” He didn’t. He wanted them to become new creatures. I suggest that these errors stem in part from the failure to have the scriptural foundation and revelation necessary to “get it” like Paul “got it.” The second problem is that many people are bound up in sin and are incapable of understanding. Obedience and understanding always go hand-in-hand. Selah.
The Life of a New Creation
Paul’s first reality as he began moving in this great truth is the loss of all things. He lost, quite literally, everything and possibly everyone that he had and knew before becoming a new creation. His family and friends could handle the radical Saul (Sh’aul), who was more zealous for the traditions than anybody else. They didn’t mind him persecuting and killing Christians. However, they couldn’t handle the NEW CREATION that he became when he received the Holy Spirit soon after the Damascus road.
Paul understood the difference between circumcision, uncircumcision, and new creation. The first two “states” are the same (in one sense) because they have no bearing on the third “state.” If the objective is the third state (a new creation), then the first two states are irrelevant. Understand that the Jews took great offense because they took great stock in their circumcision. It was a status symbol or a rite of passage (if you like). If a believing Gentile wanted to reach a non-believing Jew, he would likely want to get circumcised—not because God cares or that it makes him more spiritual, but he would want to avoid an argument about it. Understand that many Jews wouldn’t give the uncircumcised the time-of-day (so to speak).
These “symbols” that bring status to religious people are set aside when we recognize that they are dead-in-the-water to add to our spiritual condition. Paul asked the Galatians, “Having begun in the Spirit are you now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3) The objective of the Gospel is to yield a new creature who, by nature, fulfills the law of Christ. Not somebody who needs to remind themselves all the time about God with tzitzit on the corners of their garments, phylacteries on their foreheads or arms, and mezuzahs on their doorposts. God wants people who the Spirit of God lives and works in them both to will and to do God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
When dead religion doesn’t fulfill, a person will often seek something else to fill the void. Jesus spoke of how the religious leaders often wanted to be seen or sit in the chief seats. They wanted power. Why? Because their relationship with God was deficient. Many viewed Judaism as a multi-level opportunity to exalt themselves above the ordinary people. Yet Paul told the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” A religious person could walk by a dying man on the other side of the road and not bother to help— while on their way to the Temple of a synagogue (Luke 10:30f). For all of their religious exercises, sabbaths, feast days, garments, and laws, they were a million miles from the heart of God.
A new creature receives a new heart and a renewed mind (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26-27, Romans 12:2). Both of these flow from the stream of God’s Holy Spirit and alter the person’s character so radically that it can be said that they have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). It’s up to the new creature to employ that mind in every situation. In other words, we have to “let this mind (mindset) be in us, which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5f) It’s a loving and humble mind, a sympathetic mind. It is not a selfish mind. It’s a mind that cares more about being spiritual than looking spiritual.
Whether it was material needs or spiritual needs, Paul demonstrated the life of a new creature. He worked with his hands to give to those in need. Why? Because it was his new nature. The old Sh’aul (Saul) killed people (Acts 8:3f, 1 Corinthians 15:29f), but the new Paul loved people verifiably. The old Sh’aul may have taken up stones on the woman taken in adultery (pericope adultery John 8:4), but the new creature (Paul) is willing to turn a person over to Satan if it brings repentance to save their soul (1 Corinthians 5:5). While being watchful, the punishment doesn’t destroy the person with too much sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:11). What a fantastic transformation!
The Change We Need
Until teachers, preachers, and Christians fully understand what it means to be a new creature, there no hope for this present evil world. The Judaisers at Galatia didn’t “get it,” and it reflected in their damnable and cursed teaching. Understand that it’s not getting circumcised. In modern times it’s not about getting rid of a few bad habits. It’s not starting to church. It’s the turning of the whole life to God in such a way that He signals His acceptance by giving the person His Holy Spirit and thereby be transformed into a new creation.
You and I can’t deceive God. He knows our thoughts and intentions. If our own heart says we’re lying or insincere—God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything. We mustn’t deceive ourselves. Playing games with God will leave us living in the bitter trap of dead religion: going to church, being religious, doing Christian things, but devoid of the newness that Christ came to provide free for us. Why not make today the day (if you haven’t already) that you turn your whole being to Christ and allow Him to take command. Stop resisting His Holy Spirit so you can truly receive Him.