We find it fascinating that every single hostile encounter Jesus has is with highly religious people. Not one of them is with a so-called “pagan.” It was religious people who opposed Christ; it was religious people who had him killed. This ought to give you some idea of the pernicious nature of religion. There is relationship with God and life in his Kingdom, and then there is religion. They are not the same.
Paul was the most religious man of his day, and here is what he wrote:
I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a "law man" so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it…Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily. (Galatians 2:19-21, The Message)
If you want to know Jesus as he really is, to experience him just as intimately as the disciples did, you are going to have to clear away the religious fog. The religious fog uses sanctified words and activities—things that look and sound very Sunday School—to actually distort our perceptions of God and our experience of him. It is cunning as a snake and adaptive as the flu, changing every year to keep up with the times.
When the religious spirit is operating, false reverence replaces loving Jesus. Knowing about God substitutes for knowing God. Power displays are confused for intimacy with Jesus. Religious activity is confused with commitment to Christ. Holiness is substituted with rule-keeping. And Christian service substitutes for friendship with Jesus.
Ask yourself: Do you encounter Jesus in church or in any of the Christian things you do? Are you drawn into a genuine understanding and experience of Jesus as we find him in the Gospels? If not, there’s a problem. One of Jesus’ favorite passages is Isaiah 61:1,
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…
He says, “I have come to heal your brokenness and set you free from all your bondage.” So here is a simple test: Does the Christianity you are being asked to participate in heal human brokenness and set people free from bondage—including demonic bondage?
If not, you’ll want to find a community of believers where this is taking place.