By Curtis K. Shelburne: Local columnist
It is painfully ironic that while Jesus turned water to wine—and exquisitely fine wine, at that—his followers have been sadly successful in turning it back into water in a thousand ways.
We have become perversely expert at such backward distilling. Our problem has not been a love affair with fine spirits that lighten the heart; it’s been a love affair with law that quenches the Spirit and produces a Prohibition of joy. The Apostle Paul tells us to get positively drunk on the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), but we keep explaining to the Lord that we’re far too religious to drink even if God pours.
That’s sad. But it shouldn’t be all that surprising. Focusing on the rules rather than the Lord has always seemed terribly religious. And it is. Terribly.
It’s the kind of terrible religion the proud human spirit has always embraced like a lover even though it is absolutely deadly to our souls. Like a cat lapping up antifreeze, we frantically feed on the legalism that is deadly poison. It is death because it is idolatry, and it is idolatry because it focuses on our strength rather than God’s.
But it is so very tempting precisely because it looks so “religious.” The apostle warned us about exactly that. Rule-keeping religion which he summarizes as, “Touch not! Taste not! Handle not!” has the “appearance of wisdom” but it’s a sham (see Colossians 2:21-23). When we worship our own ability to “keep the rules” instead of worshiping God, we are no more like God or any closer to Him than the rankest pagan; we are just more arrogant and proud. Such hypocrisy always stinks, and the smell drives away folks who are honestly seeking a genuine relationship with God.
In his Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul warns us that we must make a choice, and he will allow no false middle ground. Either we choose the freedom that comes when in faith we trust completely in God and what he has done, or we opt for the slavery that comes when we trust in ourselves to do any part of the work of salvation. If we choose to trust ourselves, not only do we turn our backs on grace which is bad enough, we turn our backs on the Spirit which is even worse.
In the amazing Second Corinthians 3, the apostle again warns us that we must choose between the old covenant engraved on stone (the principle of law) that “brings death” and the new covenant of the Spirit that brings real life and righteousness. “Even to this day,” the apostle laments, “whenever Moses is read, a veil” comes down blinding those who trust in rule-keeping and their own strength rather than Christ and his cross. But “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (3:17).
Every other “religion” is based on man’s strength; only Christianity is based completely on God’s.
When God pours, we really should drink.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org