Religion A Substitute
"Israel is an empty Vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself."
Hosea 10:1
I'm alarmed! In the text above, the prophet declares that Israel is an EMPTY vine! Israel, in this context, means the religion of that day. It was only bringing people to itself. It didn't care for the people. It cared for itself; all it did it did for itself. In fact, when the Savior did appear, it crucified Him for fear of losing influence and control over the people.
The churches of today are in just such a state. It is rare if I find a church that actually establishes its membership IN Jesus Christ. By this, I mean every individual will find life in and through Jesus Christ! That's where they become so sensitive to Christ's presence with them they are willing to filter all their thoughts, words, as well as their actions through their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ before they respond. This is a rare Christian.
It also means, regardless of how long you have been married, you truly reflect a couple that is authentically in love. You are willing to sacrifice for each other - not just coexist. When you look at each other, the sparkle is still in your eyes. All around you know you are in love.
In addition, your children are a reflection of Christ ' s life in the family. Your family is connected to the Source, and all that view your family recognize you are one family under God. It is evident you are a well-ordered, well-disciplined, Christ-centered family. These people love all the brethren in the church; not just a certain little clique they are comfortable in. They are as concerned for the one who does not fit into their clique as they are for all those who are in it. I think we can stop there. If I could find a church where a good percentage of the people live out, by the grace of Jesus Christ, just such a life, I would support it with my whole heart, mind , and soul.
But instead, I find that Satan has done his job well. He has swindled many Christians from the empowering life of Jesus and replaced authentic religion with a creed, lifestyle, culture, and a certain logo over a building. Professed Christians today are made to feel comfortable because they attend a church, are involved in a church, belong to the right group in the church, and generally live out the culture of that church and its religion, while daily the life of Christ is not seen in and through them by those whom they are closest to.
How do you know if your religion has become a substitute for you? Perhaps the following will help you determine if your religion has become a substitute for the true life of Christ working in and through you.
-      Have you plateaued? In other words, you are the same person you were 1, 2, or even 3 years ago. That means you are in charge and are not allowing the Holy Spirit to further transform your life according to His will.
-      On the way to church or in the house before you leave for church, you find yourself arguing and bickering - yet upon arrival, you put on a happy face. Ouch! Maybe you are a front and a fraud and are only using religion to convince yourself and others you're okay because you attend the right church.
-      When you step on the scale, you see you are 30, 40, 50, or 60 pounds overweight. This is not the result of a poor thyroid or health problem, but rather a lack of self-control, giving evidence that you override the empowering influence of God in this area of your life. You still attend church and hold to your religion as proof that you've given your life to Jesus, yet the scales tell a different tale of a lack of self-control in not allowing Jesus Christ to be the One in charge. He has the power to enable each and every one of us to overcome any deficiency or imbalance.
-      Smearing or demeaning another person's reputation is direct evidence that God does not possess your tongue. This problem is rampant in the churches of today. It is clear evidence that "our religion" is vain and has become a substitute for the saving grace of Jesus Christ in the life. Just read James 1:26 and allow that to be an acid test of whether you possess religion or Jesus possesses you.
-      The Christian churches today have become a confusing array of squabbling denominations all claiming they are the Ones - the One True Visible Church - yet they flunk the test Jesus laid down in John 13:35: "By THIS shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." If we cannot love all men equally, then we have not Christ abiding in the heart and only have a form of religion as a substitute for the real life of Christ in the heart. We must all realize the logo over our church door does not make us superior to anybody else.
-      In your Bible class, you participate and seem to have good theological understanding. But when it comes to the application of it behind closed doors with your spouse, your children, or a member of the church that differs from you, you fall flat on your face. An out of control Temper. That's a sure sign you possess religion, but the God of your religion does not possess you.
-      You have become so busy with ministry that you have left your first love, or haven't had time to find your first love in Jesus. Meetings, baptisms, buildings, programs, doctrines, Bible studies, finances, or other things that concern the church system have consumed your time but dried up the real heart of the Christian life of Christ in you.
-      Dogmatism - seeking to be true to doctrines without a real encounter with Christ in the daily life - becomes the foundation of your faith. This intellectual acceptance of facts without a faith experience in the person of Jesus Christ only makes us foolish virgins at best.
-      You exploit God's people for your own interests. You use them to advance your agenda rather than lay down your life for their benefit. You know little of cultivating the culture of caring for others.
How sad it is that many, if not most, are going to have to leave "ordinary religion" in order to find a "Real Walk With God". They are in a stalled Christianity. They are engaging in a form without the substance and are discovering that in a time of universal departing, finding the real becomes a revolutionary act.
The disciple John said it so well: "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not." John 1:4, 5. In Jesus , we can all find the life that everyone of us need to live - the life that we are called to. This is the life of empowerment - a life that can change and allow us to be like Christ in our daily lives and in our interactions with others. If your religion isn't taking you there, then it has become a substitute for God and God alone! May authentic Christianity become your goal.
Finding the Real,
Jim & Sally
Bright Red
                           Lord What Would Thou Have Me to Do?
                                                             Acts 9:6 KJV
Empowered Living Ministries