We want to consider a little bit more about what we were looking at in our last couple of messages – the difference between being religious and being spiritual.
A person can be religious and still be very, very selfish and self-centred and think all the time in terms of his own profit and his own gain. When a person becomes spiritual, he cannot be self-centred or selfish. He thinks not in terms of what he is going to gain, but in terms what God is going to gain; how God is going to be glorified.
You remember the prayer which Jesus taught His disciples, which is commonly known as the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ – ‘‘Our Fathers who art in heaven’’ followed by six requests. The three of those requests, the first three in fact, concern God – His name, His kingdom, His will, and the next three concerns ourselves – our physical and material needs -daily bread, our need for forgiveness – our past life, i.e. ‘‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive others,’’ and our need for deliverance from sins in the future. Notice that Jesus taught His disciples that the right way to pray was putting God’s glory, name, honour, and His will, and His kingdom first and putting our own needs secondary.
Now, if you were to examine your own prayer, I mean, think of the way you have prayed to God, even if it is half a minute prayer, or one sentence prayer, or a long prayer. What have you basically prayed to God for, say, during the last one year? When you spend time in prayer or make short requests to God, what are you actually asking God for? If you are honest, you will discover how much your prayers are centred on yourself and your family. That is an indication of the way you live also – How do you spend your money, your time, and your abilities? You may find that the answer to these questions show that your life is so wrapped up only around yourself and your family. And to ease your conscience you give a little time to God, may be on a Sunday morning, or may be on a Wednesday evening. Then you feel that you are spiritual because you have given a little time to God or may be because you live what you consider as an upright life.
True spirituality is a lot more than going to two meetings in a week. In fact, a man can be spiritual even without going for any meeting at all in a week. If he is locked up in a prison, for example, he is not able to go for a meeting, or if he is in a hospital or sick, he can’t go for a meeting. He can still be spiritual. But you can’t be spiritual, if you are seeking your own. A religious person goes through religious acts to ease his conscience but, deep down in the centre of his life, SELF still sits on the throne. That is why Jesus said, ‘‘You can’t be my disciple unless you take up the cross’’ – deny that self which is sitting on the throne (Lk. 9:23). ‘‘Unless you deny your self-life, dethrone it, kill it, and follow me, you can’t be my disciple.’’ He said, ‘‘You got to do it every day.’’
So we see that a religious person can still have SELF sitting on the throne of his heart and go through the motions of every external activity. He may go to every meeting, he may go to six or seven meetings a week, he may engage in evangelism, he may even be a full time worker who has given up his job, and may be travels to some difficult place to preach God’s word, still he may be just religious. Jesus once said to the Pharisees, who were religious people of his time, ‘You travel and cross lands and seas, you travel here and there to make converts. What do you accomplish? You produce people exactly like yourself. They have become double the children of hell. In fact, they would have been better off if you had left them alone, because you made them like yourselves – self-centred, thinking that they are spiritual, when they are only religious’. Lot of conversions are like that.
Even in Christendom today, people are converted to a form of religiosity. They never become spiritual because the SELF sits on the throne. They have never thought to take up the cross every day. Think about yourself; has anybody ever taught what it means to deny yourself every day, to take up your cross every day, as you read Luke 9:23? What does it say there? It says, ‘Unless you do that every day, you can’t be His disciple, you can’t follow Him; it is impossible.’ He said that in Luke 14:27 too.
The religious man thinks like this, i.e. when he becomes Christian, this is the way his thought processes work: What can I get from the Lord? Can the Lord give me forgiveness of sins? Yeah I want that. Can He give me healing? Yeah I would like that. Can He give me heaven after I die? Yeah I want that too. Can He bless me? Yeah I want that. Can He bless me materially? Boy, I would love that. Can He anoint me so that I can be a mighty, famous preacher going around with my pictures here and there in Christian magazines? I would love that too.
Now, do you think such a man is spiritual? He may be talking about a lot of Christian activities, but his goal is something for himself. He is seeking his own name, his own fame, his own gain, his own prosperity, his own blessing, everything for self. Self sits on the throne of his life. He is got a form of godliness though. He may be a fulltime worker. But a lot of people in fulltime Christian work today are doing it for their own profit. If those people were in secular jobs they would not be earning even half of what they earn in Christian work. It has brought them profit. They are doing business with God. Jesus turned such people out of the temple in His day, in His time – People who sought their own, who appeared to be selling sheep and doves to help people sacrifice in the temple, but who were actually just thinking in terms of their own profit and gain. Do you know the amount of religiosity there is in Christianity today that goes undetected, disguised as Christian work? Oh, there is such a lot of that.
A spiritual man, on the other hand, is not thinking what he can get out of the Lord. He thinks, ‘What can the Lord get out of me? What can the Lord get from this one earthly life that I have? What is the maximum that He can get?’ Now, if you are honest, as you read this transcript, you can ask yourself, what is your attitude towards the Lord? Are you always thinking, what is the next thing I can get from the Lord for myself, for my family? Or is your attitude is, ‘What more can the Lord get out of my earthly life before I leave this earth? What more can He get out of me?’ Personally, I want Him to have everything of me from head to foot, and I want my life to be dispensed for Him.
There is a lot of difference between these two attitudes. Both people may sit next to each other in a Christian church, and you may not be able to distinguish between the two, because it is a question of heart attitude. Both may go out for evangelism, both may go out to serve the Lord, and both may sacrifice. And yet the fundamental motive underneath may be totally different. You know it is the motive that determines the spirituality, not the actions.
Jesus went to the Synagogue and the Pharisees went to Synagogue. Do you think they were both equally acceptable to God? Jesus studied the Bible and the Pharisees studied the Bible. Do you think they were equally acceptable to the Father? Jesus went out to preach, the Pharisees went out to preach. The Pharisees were full time workers and Jesus was a fulltime worker for three-and-a-half years. But do you think they were the same? There was a vast difference. In fact, in the gospels, we constantly see the contrast between Jesus and Pharisees. It is the contrast between true spirituality and religiosity. It is the contrast between living according to the Spirit of the New Covenant, the new agreement that God has made with man and living according to the letter of the law – the Old Covenant. There is a vast difference between the two.
When Adam sinned, do you know what he did? He covered himself with fig leaves. Fig leaves are a picture of religiosity with which a man tries to make himself presentable before God and before man. You know what Jesus did when he saw a fig tree covered with leaves. He cursed it and the whole tree withered out. That teaches us that there is a curse on religiosity. He came looking for fruit in that fig tree; He didn’t want its leaves. Fig trees were not created just to have leaves. Likewise God did not create man just to be religious. Yes, there are religious activities but underneath it all if there is not a spiritual life, then God is not interested. There is a curse over it.
What is it that God gave Adam? God stripped him of those fig leaves and gave him a covering of skin; He killed an animal and put its skin over him. It is a picture of God giving us his own nature. The dress of the fig leaves was what Adam manufactured; He sewed up the fig leaves and made a dress for himself, to cover himself. When God saw it, He said, ‘Throw that away, I don’t want it.’ They may be good fig leaves, i.e., they were not rotten but still not acceptable. God said, ‘I will give you a dress.’
God gives us the nature of Christ. That is what that skin of the animal means. We can then ask, ‘Why did God keep people under the law for 1500 years?’ – To show man the emptiness of it. He never intended that man should live under The Law all his life. God left man under The Law to show that that is not the way. ‘You will never attain to my nature that way.’ He wanted man to come to an end of himself and that is what The Law was meant to accomplish. Those people who did come to an end of themselves, they began to seek God. To them God is able to give His own nature, and that is throwing away the fig leaves of religiosity and giving us the nature of Jesus Christ.
The nature of Jesus Christ means that we serve God with the same Spirit with which Christ served the Father – Not as a servant but as a Son. Beloved friends, God has called you not to be his servant but to be his son and to serve Him with the Spirit of His Son.
This is part of the Basic Christian Teachings Series, a set of 72 short messages presented by Zac Poonen. You can download the audio mp3 files or listen to Basic Christian Teachings by clicking here.