What Matters Most? Outside or Inside?

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Sadly, many Jesus followers struggle with guilt and shame. It’s an epidemic that needs to be addressed and dealt with. For pastors like myself, we need to speak into this issue and challenge the legalism of the new pietism that has developed in many of our circles. 

Paul writes in Galatians 6, 

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:12-15, ESV)

It struck me today in a conversation that while on the one hand this can play out in cultural syncretism, it also plays out within the Christian subculture through pietism. There is this movement of folks who are creating a culture of external piety that is meant to show who is passionately following Jesus. 

While we don’t have the demands for circumcision that Paul had to deal with, we do see things like:

  • Quiet Times (bonus points for morning ones)
  • Family devotions (bonus points for using a guitar and singing the Getty’s catalog)
  • Your kids “court” and don’t “date.” (bonus points if this leads immediately to marriage)
  • You pray daily with your spouse out loud. (bonus points if it’s in the morning, double bonus points if you’re on your knees)
  • Your family eats dinner together every day. (bonus points if there’s a devotion as part of dinner followed by your regular family devotion)
  • You watch Christian movies, only.
  • You don’t have TV
  • Etc…etc…etc…

These are just a few. For the people who don’t do these things there is guilt and shame. There is a feeling of failure, that somehow they are less than Christian. Many people begin to try and do these things so they look good in the flesh to avoid those sideways looks from other people at church. 

Paul hits on these kinds of things in his letter to the church at Colosse, 

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23, ESV)

Self-made religion has an appearance of wisdom but ultimately is useless. 

In the midst of this, we must not set aside the practice of spiritual disciplines or seeking to be holy. We don’t embrace a license that excuses us from pursuing a relationship with God. What it does mean is that we don’t have to try so hard by doing things that have “worked” for other people. These aspects of self-made religion ultimately have no value. 

What is required of us? I’ll let Paul speak for himself, 

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-17, ESV)

How we do this will look differently for each one of us. What matters most is that we are seeking the things that are above, putting off the old self and putting on the new. Because what matters most is “a new creation.”

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