Retiring From Religion

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a crooked lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life? Sounds like a reasonable question, except it’s a trap. First of all, the lawyer is asking the wrong question: what can anyone do to inherit anything? If you had a rich relative and they died, leaving you an inheritance, the only thing you did to earn it was that you were in that family. When you are saved into God’s family, our inheritance is Eternal Life in heaven. It’s a gift. We can’t “obtain” it by our works. The lawyer asked, “What must I do?” If Jesus were to tell him to jump over a twenty-foot fence, it would be equally impossible.

Jesus doesn’t answer the lawyer directly, but tells him he must, “…love the Lord your God with all his heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and your neighbor as yourself.” Truth: You have to have the love of God in your heart before you can love your neighbor as yourself, especially some “neighbors.”

So, the lawyer, looking for some wiggle room asks, “Who is my neighbor?” He draws some careful boundaries about who is neighbor is. To a good Jew, no Gentile could be considered his neighbor. Actually, he believes his “neighbor” could only be another Jew who carefully follows the Law. He thinks he’s covered.

So, Jesus tells the parable: A man is beaten, stripped naked, robbed, and left for dead. A priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan all encounter him. The priest and the Levite, not wanting to defile themselves by touching a dead person, or even a wounded person who is a Gentile, pass on by. The Samaritan stops, treats his wounds, and takes him to an inn to be cared for. Then Jesus asks him, “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor.”

The lawyer is exposed, not only for his prejudice against non-Jews, but by the fact that he can’t ALWAYS love the Lord God with all his heart and strength, and ALWAYS love his neighbor as himself. No one can. It’s an impossible task. Only Jesus Himself could do that. Eternal Life is a gift, not something to be obtained by trying to live up to some impossible standard. We need God to help us to at least be moving in that direction.

“Our task is to encourage others first to let go, to cease striving, to give over this fevered effort of the self-sufficient religionist trying to please an external deity. Count on God knocking on the doors of time. God is the Seeker, and not we alone … I am persuaded that religious people do not with sufficient seriousness count on God as an active factor in the affairs of the world. “Behold I stand at the door and knock,” but too many well-intentioned people are so preoccupied with the clutter of effort to ‘do something for God’ that they don’t hear Him asking that he might do something through them. We may admire the heaven-scaling desires of the tower-builders on the Plain of Shinar, but they would have done better to listen and not drown out the call from heaven with the clang of the mason’s trowel and the creaking of the scaffolding.”

–Thomas R. Kelly

I spent thirty years of my life striving in a religious fellowship as a pastor and missionary, hoping I was “doing enough for God” to be accepted, not just by Him, but sadly, even more so, by my pastor and peers. Although I am grateful for the rich experiences, after leaving that organization I realize God is less concerned by what I’m doing for Him than just allowing Him to love me for who I am. I’m still unlearning all the legalism I thought was pleasing God, and that His love isn’t based on my performance. His salvation and love is a gift, and it’s only cheapened when I think I can earn it.

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