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Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to Get Past Religion – Romans 8 Part III


by Dina Sleiman

If you follow our blog regularly, you probably know I’ve been covering Romans 8 lately. (See Part I and Part II.)  I spent an entire month meditating on this chapter, and was so inspired that I wanted to share it with you. I’m looking at it in the Message version, and while some might argue that this is not the most literal translation, there are two things about it I really like. 1) It was translated directly from the Greek and Hebrew by someone who shares our mindset rather than a group of translators in the 16th century. 2) There is a freshness to the translation that really ministers to someone like me who grew up in church.

For my third installment of this series, I’m going to breeze quickly through a bigger chunk of scripture that all deals with the same subject, how get past religion and move onto God.

 5-8Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn't pleased at being ignored. 

Here’s the first thing I’ve noticed about religious Christians who are focused on morality and other outward issues rather than on the spiritual world and the spirit of God: They have a lot rules. Exhausting rules, and as we saw in Part II, that is not God’s plan. It’s a dead sort of Christianity. Christ freed us from the curse of the law. Not only do they have a lot of rules for themselves, they have a lot of rules for everyone else, and seem to want to control those around them. They often seem angry and have a chip on their shoulders. I translate it as, “If I have to follow these awful rules, then so do you, darn it!” Although, of course, we all know they would never use the actual word “darn” ;) No wonder the world doesn’t like so many Christians. No wonder so many unbelievers think church is a hypocritical, judgmental sort of place. Christians are putting so much pressure on themselves, that they’re stressed out and upset. And often downright angry and mean.

 9-11But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God's terms. It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's! 

There’s a lot of pride and self-centeredness bound up at the heart of religiosity. I have to do it myself. I have to control myself. I have to follow the rules. I…I…I. Where’s God’s place in all of this. He sets the rules and walks away? No, that’s not the point at all. The rules were only ever meant to guide us and point the way to fulfillment and happiness. To set us free to accomplish God’s plans for our lives. If it’s his plan, his will, then he will do the work in us. Our job is to focus on him, to spend time with him, rest in his presence, and allow him to do a deep work in our hearts. God dwelling in us, bringing us fully to life. Take a minute to meditate on that. Imagine what it would look like to become fully alive through God’s spirit. What would that change in your life? Spend some more time to enter into his presence and let him become alive in you.

 12-14So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! 

God’s spirit wants to bring you to life. He has things for you to do and places for you to go. So let go of all that self-centered religion and let God bring you to life today.

What ill effects have you seen from religion-based Christianity? How has it hurt you? How have you seen it hurt others? What can you do to get past religion and move onto God in a deeper way?

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Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her debut novel, Dance of the Dandelion with Whitefire Publishing, is now available at amazon and other online and ebook distributors. Her latest novel, Love in Three Quarter Time, will be the launch title for the new Zondervan First imprint. Dina is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/

17 comments:

  1. You posted this at 3 AM, does this mean you were awake then?

    Romans 8 is one my favorite chapters in the entire Bible.
    If we'd not had the law then we would not understand the sin. Meaning there would not be that guideline telling us "Thou Shalt not murder." But, because of our weak flesh, and our prideful sinful nature there is no way we can keep the law. The law in and of itself can not save us. Only Jesus can redeem us/save us. Jesus did what the law could not. The Holy Spirit that lives in us changes our inner self. Another words those things we used to do before, we don't want to do them now. They hold no enticement in our life. We're changed, radically changed.
    We're changed by His work in our inner self and this must be an on-going event. A daily walking with Him. Sometimes we use Christian cliches that are easy to understand by people who've been going to church for many years, but to a new Christian they are just not getting it. So I'll be more specific. Reading the Bible, studying it, meditating on it, memorizing it, yielding to it. These are the ways that saturate our mind and inner person. The Bible is not just words in black ink, but they are "the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12 NASB

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  2. Amen, preach it :)

    And no, I wasn't up at three. We set the posts to update automatically. I'm on the East Coast, so it's set for 3 am here, which is midnight and the start of a new calendar day on the West Coast.

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  3. as i was growing up and professing my Faith in the workplace, i had co-workers as me if i was religious. i'd always say "no" and they'd look confused.

    "but you go to church and all that"

    "yeah, but i'm not religious. i hate religion."

    "What???"

    "Religion is a bunch of rules of Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots. What I have is a relationship."

    "Yeah, but what about, y'know, the rules?"

    "You don't do things that you know would hurt your family, right?"

    "Yeah"

    "Well, I choose to do (or NOT do) things based on whether or not I know it would hurt God. It takes the rule stuff out of the picture."

    "oh. well that makes sense."

    then conversations would go on from there. i hope i planted good seed for some people to see Christianity as something other than religion.

    my half-siblings both despise the Church because of the hurtful actions of supposed "good Christians". they've known me a short while and have admitted i'm different. they like that I admit i'm not perfect (Lord, how far from perfect...) and make mistakes. they like the fact we can talk "religion" and they don't feel any condemnation from me - even if I've agreed with them when they've ventured to say that they must be going to Hell. they know i believe the Word of God, even if they think it's a bunch of hooey. they also know i pray for them (and for God to change them) and i love them no matter what. they're good with that.

    still praying for their salvation.

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  4. "Well, I choose to do (or NOT do) things based on whether or not I know it would hurt God. It takes the rule stuff out of the picture."

    Wow, Deb, that's an awesome answer!!!

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  5. Great comments. I do think it shocks people when I tell them Christianity is a relationship, not a rulebook.

    I am going to have to think some more to consider ways I am being legalistic, Dina. I know there are plenty. We humans often can't help but want rules. At least, I do.

    Thanks for the post.

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  6. Susanne, as much as I hate religion and legalism, it creeps into my life too. It's good to reexamine from time to time.

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  7. Amen to the above.

    thanks for the post...and the reminder.

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  8. Just today I was thinking about how some people have been messed up by the words and actions of 'religious Christians'. Yes, it's the same for any religion, I guess, but so often it is Christians that come across as hypocrites because no one can really follow the rules they make for themselves.

    Thanks for another wonderful installment, Dina. I so appreciate the thought that goes into these sections from Romans.

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  9. Deb, I think it's unbelievably sad when people give up on God because of the ugly, religious attitudes of Christians. :(

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  10. wonderful topic.

    A few years ago I could have unloaded my bad experiences with religious people like buckshot. But God has healed me in amazing ways, and I've rediscovered the joy of the Lord that religion tried to choke out.

    I have found that religious people make their legalistic rules according to their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, if they've never struggled with swearing, that sin tops the list of intolerable sins in their book. If they're a gossip, tale-bearing never seems to make the list. Holiness becomes a measure of how much others resemble them, rather than how much people have conformed to God's image. You are so right--God's essence is love, and the first thing "the letter" kills is that whimsical, freeing love.

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  11. Great post Dina...thanks to Deb Marvin for sharing it! I have personally decided to focus on the Love the Lord your God part and Love your Neighbor as yourself parts. Those are difficult enough and all things seem to flow from them. Simplifies things a bit too -as I get older I can't remember things as well...LOL!

    Thank God for Grace and the freedom of knowing I am loved.

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  12. Awesome observation, Kathleen.

    It makes me so happy that my kids are growing up loving God and loving church, etc... without a lot of ridiculous restrictions. They can wear shorts to church and do hip hop dancing, and it's all normal. No one cares if they're hair is long or short or blue. It is for freedom we've been set free.

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  13. Thanks anonymous friend. That sounds like an awesome plan. You're right, they take care of all the important stuff.

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  14. I left the church as a teenager, not because of the rules themselves, but by how people shook the rules in my face and then did the opposite. But I realized long ago, that it wasn't the Church I left, only the building. I continued to have a relationship with Him. He has been the one person who's never left me or let me down in all these years.

    Thank you for the post and all the comments. Some good stuff going on here. :D

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  15. Anita, I kind of reached a point like that too, but I never gave up on God either.

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  16. I'm running late in my reading... but as it turns out I needed this TODAY.
    Thank you, Dina. : )

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