Spirituality, religion, and the gospel (Matthew 23:28-32)

Are you “spiritual” or are you “religious?”  On the one hand, no one would insist that these two terms are mutually exclusive.  On the other hand, we have to admit that it’s become far more fashionable to be “spiritual” than strictly “religious.

Most people in today’s world are very accepting of Jesus—it’s just his followers they’re a bit more leery about.  In a recent article for TODAY.com, a professor from the Methodist School of Ohio explains:

“Often, what they didn’t like [about religion were] some aspects of the theology…They felt that religion would require them to sign on the dotted line that would control their beliefs and their behavior.”

Similarly, Reverend Michael Beckwith explains the draw to his own “spiritual” community:

“There’s an old saying that religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell, and spirituality is for people who have already been there. So, often times, people are on a spiritual path because they’ve had some very, very hard times. Religion hasn’t provided an answer.” (Chris Serico, “Can You Be Spiritual Without Being Religious? ‘There Are Many Paths to Enlightenment,’ April 1, 2015, TODAY.com)

In today’s world, these aren’t just “outlier” positions; they’re increasingly becoming the norm as folks dismiss traditional religious labels.

And can you blame them?  After all, the greatest “sin” for the broader culture is to be too committed to any one thing.  It’s fine to have some religious beliefs—it may even be healthy.  But no one wants to be a fanatic about it.  It’s this attitude that rolled its eyes when Tim Tebow bowed in prayer on the field.  And it’s this same attitude that pushes us to see spirituality as something of a spectrum: we can dial it up or down as our circumstances demand.  Dial it up for church, dial it back for the workplace.  Right?

Toward the end of his ministry, Jesus began to teach on the coming fulfillment of God’s Kingdom—a fulfillment that would come at Jesus’ second coming and God’s final judgment and restoration of the earth.  Among his varied teachings, he tells a simple story:

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 23:28-32)

Actions speak louder than words.  In the case of both sons, their actions did not match their stated intentions.  But in the case of the first son, his actions pushed him toward sacrificial obedience; the second son’s actions pushed him toward self-satisfaction.

Here is the point: if Christianity is only a human invention, then I am liberated to adjust my spirituality in any way I desire.  My spirituality serves me; I adjust my beliefs accordingly.  But Jesus’ brief story reminds us that the gospel is not for the proud or the put-together.  It’s for those who see religion not as a human invention, but a divine necessity.  Only those who recognize their brokenness can find true restoration and healing.

This Sunday, join us as we look at two additional parables that highlight two ways of responding to the gospel: whether through hostility or through apathy.


1 thought on “Spirituality, religion, and the gospel (Matthew 23:28-32)

  1. This is a very cutting edge, rubber meets the road, strategic topic.

    I don’t have much to add to the strategic outlook that you laid out. I do know that Jesus recommended that we take the plank out of our eye. I have no particular sin in mind, though we all have sins, we all “stumble in many ways” James 3:2 (NIV).

    Some problems that the general public has with the church are because a person might not want to confront their own sin. But it goes far beyond that. Other times Christians fail to follow Jesus warning to be aware of wolves. We sometimes are so eager for our view to be supported that we support anyone who comes up with an argument that supports our position. This was predicted and described by the apostle Paul.

    ” 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
    4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
    5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:3-5 NIV)

    Barna group did some research into why young people leave the church. Point #3 was

    Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
    One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

    (Tom writing again.)
    I know it is easy to to cast the religion/science divide as a divide between those who believe in science and those who believe in God’s word. This fits the goals of extremists.

    Still we should realize that even if someone wants to take the most literalistic interpetation of early Genesis possible, that creationisists are, so to speak, to use the popular phrase, “All over the Place”. Almost like when Jesus was being judged by the Jews and their testimony didn’t agree, those who disagree with standard science on the age of the earth and try to shoehorn most of the geological record into being sediment laid down by Noah’s flood, they don’t agree either on where the geologicical record indicates a worldwide submergence.

    One person even wrote a book called “The Defeat of Flood Geology
    by Flood Geology”.

    ——In the words of Flood geologist Max Hunter
    (2009:88), “It is somewhat ironic…that, almost a half century after publication of The Genesis
    Flood by Whitcomb and Morris in 1961, the geologic record attributed to the Genesis
    Flood is currently being assailed on all sides by diluvialists…[and] there remains not one
    square kilometer of rock at the earth’s surface that is indisputably Flood deposited.”

    Flood Geology began in order to find support for YEC doctrine but ironically it has now
    produced an impressive body of evidence against it. The defeat of Flood Geology by its
    own hand is a great example of how the practice of sound geology leads to correct geological

    Tom again writing)
    From the Ligonier website ( copied below),

    — In this series of blog posts, we have been discussing Dr. R.C. Sproul’s answer to a question about the age of the universe during the Q&A at Ligonier’s 2012 National Conference. In the previous post, we stopped in the middle of his answer to discuss his assertion: All Truth is God’s Truth. Following this statement, Dr. Sproul continued by making a very important point about general and special revelation. He said:

    I believe firmly that all of truth is God’s truth, and I believe that God has not only given revelation in sacred Scripture, but also, the sacred Scripture itself tells us that God reveals Himself in nature—which we call natural revelation. And, I once asked a seminary class of mine that was a conservative group, I said, “How many of you believe that God’s revelation in Scripture is infallible?” And they all raised their hand. And I said, “And how many of you believe that God’s revelation in nature is infallible, and nobody raised their hand. It’s the same God who’s giving the revelation.

    Later from the same Linonier website (copied below)

    — God, then, reveals Himself through His works. Here, Calvin is simply restating what the Psalmist said in Psalm 19:1–2.

    The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
    Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.

    The Apostle Paul elaborates on the same idea in Romans 1:19–20.

    For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

    As John Murray explains, “We must not tone down the teaching of the apostle in this passage. It is a clear declaration to the effect that the visible creation as God’s handiwork makes manifest the invisible perfections of God as its Creator, that from the things which are perceptible to the senses cognition of these invisible perfections is derived, and that thus a clear apprehension of God’s perfections may be gained from his observable handiwork.”

    (Tom writing again) I can also add that God has chosen to reveal his power even more, as we have modern tools to see further into the past and see the mechanisms that God uses to accomplish his will. Our telescopes can peer into galaxies that earlier generations never dreamed of. Where Genesis talks about two great lights in the sky, our telescopes see much brighter ones and much larger objects in the universe. Telescopes see deeply into the past, There are about 40 forms of radioactivity that also have uses to date objects into the past.

    Some scriptures also point to an old earth.

    The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed– but he marches on forever. (Hab. 3:6 NIV)

    the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills; (Deut. 33:15 NIV)

    Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers. (Gen. 49:26 NIV)

    I assert that we should also be comfortable with the notion that “God’s revelation in nature is infallible” despite the fact that none of R. C. Sprouls seminary students would have believed it — such is the deep divide between science and religion, real scientists and those who cater to the itching ears of Christians using fraudulent lies to push there views. (This isn’t just an opinion of someone who isn’t a Young Earth Creationists. Young Earth Creationists themselves charge other Young Earth Creationists with using deceptive arguments. They publish things on their websites (as young earth creationists themselves) listing which arguments that young earth creationists should not use.

    The prophet Micaiah told Ahab why he was going to in a battle against Aram. Ahab took great precautions and went into battle in disguise while telling his friend, the King of Judah, Jehoshaphat to wear his royal robes. Ahab was taken out (killed) by what would seem scientifically to be a very unlikely or inprobable shot. “But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the breastplate and the scale armor.” (2 Chr. 18:33 NIV) My point is that of all the places Ahab could have been hit (between his armor), and that he was hit at all by a random shot, seems very unlikely. Yet, the saying goes that “God works in mysterious ways.” Religious people often set up guidelines for how and why they think God will operate. Jesus should not have been healing on the Sabbath. He should not have claimed to have seen God or “I am”. He should not have come to die, but to conquer the Romans. He should not have died on the cross and be “cursed”.

    Yet when God does things his way, (as in the real Creation event) we have scientists pondering the way the universe is set up … openly pondering the existence of a “super intellect” or “an intelligence of such superiority that compared with it all the thinking and acting of human beings is but an insignificant reflection.” (I hope I quoted Einstein right on the last quote there.)

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and the beginning of wisdom.

    Chris you brought up many points and I took my answer on one barely connected tangent on a point that I have been devoting a lot of my time to.

    My point that I am here making is that Christians (believers) do not have an excuse for ignoring scriptures that talk about humility and getting knowledge. If some people come along claiming to be Christian we should also check to see if they are rightly handling the word of truth. If scientists are always claiming that “creationists” are misquoting them and twisting their words, maybe we should accept the possibility that they aren’t honest. It isn’t just scientists who are “fallible”. Theologians can be too. They can even be wolves who mislead sheep. We all get misled from time to time. Even Barnabbas got carried away by “religious” error. We do need to seek God always and not be arrogant. And if a scientist discovers something, we should not be beating them over the head with Bibles, when as R. C. Sproul once said we are also fallible and may not be understanding our scripture correctly.

    I’m sorry for clumsily and abruptly wading into a dispute that few in the church wants to engage in. But, keep in mind that God cares for the lost more than we do. He may want this subject to be tackled so that he in turn can reach out to bring some people into the church that don’t come from the Morris/Whitcomb religious scientific tradition spawned by Price who followed Ellen G. White.

    I realize my attitude seems odious to those who believe the earth is about 6,000 years old. But keep in mind that the creationist gatekeepers have their own problems. Ken Ham for example was kicked out of two homeschool conventions, even though the homeschool convention was run by people who professed to have firmly held young earth convictions. Ken Ham is held in awe by many for his “boldness”. Yet is it really stupidity or deception? The answers in Genesis website is replete with criticisms with those who they disagree. Whether R. C. Sproul, Billy Graham, or many others. If my naming of Ken Ham is a sin, evidence of a divisive spirit, then Ken Ham and his organization engage in this a thousand times more often. As I noted, he gets kicked out of conferences arranged by his friendlies.

    I’ve personally sent a letter of strong rebuke to Ken Ham on an issue that any Christian should see his error. It is time for me to up the pressure and take with me one or two others to rebuke him. Paul was outspoken that he rebuked Peter. Maybe I should let you know about how I rebuked Ken Ham.

    Ken Ham once had a secretary named Margaret Buchanan as well as worked with John Mackay who he had a ten year partnership with in Australia. John Mackay cited “spiritual discernment” and tried to get Margaret fired for being a “witch”. Instead John was fired and reportedly Ken Ham agreed that John should be avoided until he repents of his slander. John never repented and never proved that Margaret was a witch. John though went back to Australia (if I have my understanding correct that he was with Ken in the US.) Now John has marketed himself successfully and is a leading creationist organization in Australia. Now, I’ve seen Ken Ham do TV or internet interviews with John again. Ken has urged Australian churches to invite John Mackay to speak to them about the truth of creation.

    In my opinion this is compromise on Ken Ham’s part. He should have avoided him until he repents of slander.
    11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
    12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?
    13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
    (1 Cor. 5:11-6:1 NIV)

    I’m reminded of the Jews who wanted to kill Paul. They excused their wickedness for a greater good, as they saw it… they wanted to kill Paul. Ken Ham seems to be excusing John Mackay for his unrepentent slander because he teaches what he teaches.

    Astronomers, geologists, biologists don’t invent evidence trying to trick people into believing in an old earth. The geological column with its ancient ages agrees with scripture about the ancient hills and everlasting mountains.

    In any case God’s creation declares His glory.

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