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I was alone in our family room with the television one summer evening in 2011. My husband was working late. The kids were in bed. On the TV screen, I witnessed story after story of abuse scandals in a group of churches. I was astounded. I had grown up hearing men from these very circles teach God’s Word. I had been told that their “standards” and “traditions” were in place to protect their relationship with God. They were to be copied as examples of true believers. After hearing of their crimes, I wondered… If their teachings were true, how could they fall into such evil?
That night, I made a decision.
I decided that I would re-evaluate EVERYTHING I had been taught in religious circles. Only these very few things would be held untouchable:
Jesus is God’s Son, equal with God, born to a virgin.
Jesus paid the price for my sin and rose again to conquer death and hell.
The Bible is God’s Word.
The rest—everything I had been taught about life, child-rearing, church, giving—would be fair game.
I would dig it up and discard it if it were found untrue. I am sure some would say I was back-sliding, that I was rebellious, or that I had lost my faith. The only thing I rebelled against was falsehood. The only things I lost were second-hand traditions that had kept me bound to the task master of legalism.
While I never doubted the Bible’s truth, I knew I had to replace the wrong interpretations with correct interpretations. I voraciously devoured blogs, books, and podcasts from other denominations, from Christians living outside the organized church, and even from skeptics. All the while, I continually asked God to show me the truth. I compared every idea to the Bible. If they didn’t match, the idea was discarded.
On one of their missionary journeys, Paul and Silas traveled to a city called Berea. Acts 17:11 tells us that “the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (NIV)
They did not blindly accept the teachings they heard. They studied for themselves to see if the teaching was true. I was finally doing what I should have been doing all along. This was the beginning of an awakening.
I feel like I have been coming out of a deep religious sleep.
I have not arrived. The learning always continues. My knowledge will be complete when I meet Jesus face to face. (I Corinthians 13:12)
During this awakening I started to make the connection between the Pharisees in Jesus’ day and the religious people of our day. The Pharisees were supposed to be experts in the Law of Moses, but they had polluted it with extra traditions and rules. I had been a modern-day Pharisee. I had been taught by Pharisees.
We looked good on the outside as we followed our code of proper behavior.
We were in church regularly. We attended all the correct Bible studies. We gave our tithe the right way. We dressed modestly. What did Jesus have to say about me and my fellow Pharisees? “…Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20 (NIV)
The Pharisees kept the law better than most. It was not enough. We can never be good enough to earn access to Jesus. Even after we accept God’s gift of salvation, being good doesn’t release His power into our lives. The Father knew that. He sent His perfect Son to pay the price for our failure to be ”good enough”. He even sent his followers His own presence in the form of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit teaches us truth and enables us to walk in truth.
Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said his burden was easy and His yoke was light. (Matthew 11:24-30)
When all the man-made traditions and rules are stripped away, all that’s left is pleasing the Father.
He is pretty straight forward in His expectations. Love God. Love others. Approach Him with the humility of a child. What freedom!! There is no need to pretend to have all the answers. When you love God and others with humility, He takes care of the rest.
Are all religious traditions wrong? No. Some are actually very helpful. However, when I know the difference between the truth and tradition, I become free. I am free to see traditions as they are—optional guidelines set by men. I am free to follow God without worry. After all, HIS opinion really is the only one that matters.
Jesus said to the people who believed in Him,
‘You are truly my disciples if you keep obeying my teachings.
And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’John 8:31-32 (NLT)