to walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lent, day 29:Is religion necessary?

Because in baptism, we find that God’s work, judgment and death bring about our life, I believe that the religion born out of baptism cannot be a religion of acquisition. We cannot take what it is already ours. Religion cannot be an effort at ascending into heaven; that would be an impossible redundancy. It is impossible because we are incapable of making it to heaven on our own. It is redundant because we are already in heaven, hidden with Christ at the right hand of God. If we are saved by God’s gracious work in Christ, then should we even talk about religion? Obviously a lot depends upon what we mean by ‘religion.’ For purposes of my blog, I’ll follow this definition from the Oxford English Dictionary: “Belief in or acknowledgement of some superhuman power or powers (esp. a god or gods) which is typically manifested in obedience, reverence, and worship; such a belief as part of a system defining a code of living, esp. as a means of achieving spiritual or material improvement.” The debate at Colossae is what ‘code of living’ will result in the most ‘spiritual or material improvement’ (the strikethrough brought to us by the troublemakers and their disdain for things fleshy).
But if we’ve already arrived in Christ, what value is a ‘code of living’? What more ‘improvement’ could we possibly hope to gain? The answer must lie in Paul’s call for us to “Think about the things that are above, not the things upon the earth” (Col 3:2). As I suggested in Friday’s post, ours should be a religion of exploration and discovery. We can ‘think’ about heavenly things because we have achieved heavenly status; we are free to explore the spiritual realm because we’ve attained the spiritual heights of Christ’s life. Such thinking in Paul’s writings is never far removed from actions, and our beliefs (even those where God is actually our savior) will yield a ‘code of conduct.’ We live out of the grace of God and express gratitude both in word and in action.
The rest of the week I’ll focus on seeking the things above. Tuesday, we’ll talk about putting our old self to death - putting an end to vicious living (Col 3:5-9). Wednesday, we’ll talk about Christ being all in all - how following Christ does not negate our humanity but retrieves it (Col 3:10-11). On Thursday, we’ll talk about putting on the virtues (Jesus’ Technicolor Coat, Col 3:12-14). On Friday, we’ll talk about what it means to have relationships ‘in the Lord’ (Col 3:18-4:1).
One might ask, “Isn’t advocating not being controlled by vices, taking off the old self for the new, being virtuous, and being a good wife, child, slave, or husband/parent/master exactly the kind of regulated religious life with which Christianity burdens people? Isn’t all this just another shade of the troublemakers’ religion?” I would respond: First, are any of these actions bad in themselves? (Even the good wife and good slave stuff - which we’ll talk about on Friday). Second, my point has never been that Christianity does not result in action - it is that we act for entirely different reasons then the Colossian troublemakers did, not out of fear but out of gratitude. That’s what I want to explore this week - what it means to be moral, virtuous, humane, sociable, especially when our salvation doesn’t depend upon such things?

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