Together – John 17: 20-26

And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one…..that the world may know….

Most of my adult Christian life has been lived as a devoutly religious person. After discovering God’s love for me, which was a pure gift, I devoted myself to living in a manner which I believed would please God. I studied the Bible. I memorized scripture. I witnessed. I fellowshipped. I prayed. All these things I did diligently.  Voila! Spiritual formation.

However, an unexpected thing happened. As I ascended along this well established pathway to Christian maturity, my heart was in decline. To my horror, my initial joy was overtaken by depression! Many of my key relationships were either strained or broken. I was struggling privately with sin and I  was angry and scared. I had been doing my best to stay on the straight and narrow path! How could it be that I was privately doing so bad!

In the darkness of my valleys I would stage little revival meetings. I would come to the alter and rededicate myself to the spiritual disciplines. However, I was loosing confidence in this drill. These little rallies were compounding my guilt. I could never study, pray or witness enough to overcome the shame that was becoming normative to my heart. My guilt and shame had become my cross to bear. Yes, I was depraved but there was an upside. I was now a humble man. (sarcasm intended)

Depravity was the domineering force of my life. I knew I would be wrestling with it (and loosing ) until the day I die. Sure enough, my heart was just like the bible said; it was desperately sick. The only thing I could find comfort (and a bit of pride) in was the fact that Paul and I each understood we were the chiefs of sinners. Even though we concurred with the law of God at one level, we were really prisoners to the law of sin, on another. How humble can you get! (major sarcasm intended)

Yes, it turns out, my heart was sick, but it was not with classic debauchery. I was a prisoner of another more subtle, yet no less deadly, aspect of my depraved nature – its predisposition toward religion. I am using the word religion in a negative connotation because of its roots in pride and the alienation it creates between God and man. My working definition of religion is; Any system of thought or practice whereby the thinking or the doing of it causes me to think that I have gained the favor of God. (thank you Gene Griffin)

In my fixation on fallenness, humility meant I must keep my sin ever before me (thank you King David). Humility meant, reminding myself that, in Adam, I was a monster of iniquity (thank you Paris Readhead). The preacher told me and I agreed – my entire motive was to live independent of God’s rule. This was just who I was.

I was running my race as a fallen man, working overtime on humility. I humbled myself with zeal, devotion and deep conviction until I “hit the wall” somewhere around 2010. It was a physical, emotional and spiritual splat. The good news? My definition of humility was about to change. (no sarcasm whatsoever)

My weakness and pain was fertile ground for the Holy Spirit. Laborers in the harvest pitched in, helping me to see, I was not who I thought I was. There was more to me than depravity. I was a new creation in Christ. I had got this memo 35 years ago and memorized it but religion had diverted it from my heart. Today, humility is simply that state-of-the-heart where I am agreeing with God regarding my identity as his son. I’m not just a tolerated stepchild. I am his beloved and he is mine. My conversion as a sin-addicted prodigal produced a dramatic transformation. My conversion as a religious-addicted elder brother has been no less dramatic.

I am also God’s friend and a younger brother to Jesus therefore I am a co-heir with Christ. I am a new creature. The old me was crucified and buried with Christ. A new me was resurrected in Christ to eternal life. I can now stand in God’s holy presence with boldness and great joy. For me, maintaining this perspective is what it now means to …

                                         Humble Thy self in the sight of the Lord.

I am not sure which burden was heavier, blatant sensual sin, or devout religious flesh – so prideful and blind it could imagine itself qualifying for God’s love. As a man who has been twice-converted, I believe the deception of religion is greater than licentiousness.

But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darknessMatt 6:23

It can be very great! Religious light is darker because it can look great. It is honored and promoted. Its put in charge and consequently misleads multitudes! It cannot lead out of love because it does not feel loved. That is why it is working for God’s approval. It is working out of insecurity and obligation, compensating for its misunderstanding of God’s heart.

Jesus’ finished work on the cross was intended to relieve us of the workload of making ourselves acceptable to God. Working for God’s approval gives off a light but it is a cold dark one. This was the light I was giving off as I was attempting, not so humbly, to carry my cross, by fighting an un-winnable war with my flesh.

Father, may your glory become apparent in us. Expose works-religion for the satanic snare it is. May all your prodigals and elder brothers grasp your love which we have so badly misunderstood. Release us into the freedom your cross was intended to produce. May we experience the unity you intended, that the world may know. Amen.



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