In the above scripture, Jesus is speaking to His people, His denominated church, His professed followers. They are unwilling to accept His offer of life. They will not receive Him, let Him in or let Him have the preeminence in all things. Thus they remain POWERLESS - religious but powerless!
So is your reality your religion or is your reality God? One gives you power for living regardless of your circumstances. The other gives you a form, a pretense, a mental assent, a routine or what Jesus called fig leaves.
Do you have a real spiritual connection with God daily, or only the trappings of religion? If you were living in Jesus' day, would you have been one of the few who knew and recognized Jesus, or would you have been like the Pharisees and Sadducees carrying on the temple services yet knew Him not?
How can a church whose entire focus is the coming of Christ not recognize Him and not receive Him when He comes? The answer is simpler than you think - God Substitutes!
Let me share just three of them.
1) Do you attend church weekly yet through the week ignore or reject the whispers of God to your conscience? This is a serious question. It indicates whether all you have is religion or the indwelling Christ to guide and instruct you. It is an indicator of who is actually in charge of your life.
When God calls to your heart and asks you to encourage your spouse or put an arm around a brother or sister at church and give them encouragement, are you like Mary in the Bible saying, "according to your word be it unto me." Luke 1:38
You see Mary's acquiescence was the key indicator of whether she only possessed religion or whether God really was her Lord.
When God asks me to do the ironing, make the bed, do the dishes or any other task or favor that would please my wife in the moment, such as giving her a big hug and kiss, taking her for a walk or just sitting down and letting her chitter chatter about her day, that determines whether I possess only religion or if God really possesses the heart and soul of my life.
You see, self-will is really the biggest God substitute for us all. It determines who is ultimately in charge and whom ultimately we really serve.
2) Are you a defender of your faith yet denying your Lord in everyday life?
A new family moved into our local church. They were talented, spiritual and loved reaching out to all classes in the church. They were immediately asked to teach Sabbath school class and preach. Then a long time member started an unsubstantiated rumor convincing two other families to have nothing to do with this new family. The new family asked to meet with this gentleman in order to try to resolve the matter. He refused. The pastor met with this gentleman and he refused to follow Matthew 18:15. Which is, if you have ought with a brother you are to go and talk with him alone. He refused.
Why? I suspect jealousy, pride of influence and the fact that he probably felt threatened. Yet this man and the two other families staunchly hold to the "old landmarks". Some call them the AP or Adventist Police. They consider themselves the church theologians on doctrine and lifestyle reforms.
However, their defense of the faith is a mere substitute for the indwelling Christ. While they claim a pure faith, they are quick to call fire down from heaven to destroy the very ones who are actively living and pursuing God. They put themselves in the place of God and consider themselves the fourth member of the Trinity. Scary!
Is this happening in your church? Paul says, "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God." Romans 10:2, 3. It is the age-old story, they will not have this Jesus rule over them! They want to do life their way.
They consider themselves the defenders of the faith yet are denying the Lord-definitely a substitute for God.
3) So what is your religious ruler? Is it the denomination you attend, your assent to theological truths, your defense of the old paths or your religious culture? All these can be fig leaves as a substitute for possessing God; being Under God.
This is where you're "in church" experience becomes a substitute for an "in Christ" life. Yes it's okay to be in the church but never as a substitute for being in Christ. John 1:4 says, "In him was life and the life was the light of men."
You see, His life in me presently is the light we are to share with all. How it is received and how it is acted upon should be what's on our lips constantly. It should be fresh, vibrant and life empowering. People should be able to see it in our words, our actions, our marriages, our families and our interactions with the brethren.
Would those who know you say you belong to God or would those who know you best say that you merely belong to a church, a doctrine, a lifestyle or a religious culture?
Jesus warned us against the gospel of substitutions when He declared, "Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name and done many wonderful works in Your name. And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who work iniquity." Matthew 7:21-23
Whenever we end up putting faith in our religion rather than in the living God - that's a substitute, a very dangerous substitute. When your culture of religion is the supreme end and not God and God alone, that becomes your idol.
God will accept no Isaacs. If the Isaacs hold a place in your heart that only God deserves - then God will have to ask for your Isaacs. No substitutes! The forms of religion will not satisfy God. He wants YOU - every inch of YOU!
"Acquaint now thyself with God and be at peace." Job 22:21
God & God alone,
Jim & Sally