Tony Evans - Religion
Paul is writing to a Christian church, the church at Corinth. He calls them, when he opens up the book of 1 Corinthians, saints. They're believers. Even in verse 14, he says, "My beloved, my fellow men and women in the family of God". So, he's writing to Christians, not non-Christians. But he's writing about a concern. His concern is that they get rid of idols. So evidently, you can be a Christian and in a Christian church, and still be hanging out with idols.
Notice the word he uses repetitively in this passage. He uses it twice in verse 16, sharers, sharing. In verse 18, sharers. In verse 20, sharers. The word "to share" means to participate with, to partner with, to hold in common with. His concern was that even though they were Christians on their way to heaven, they were hanging out with demons. They were hanging out with demons and they were doing it in church. When he says they were partakers of the bread and the cup, he's talking about the communion, one of the church ordinances. He goes on to say, "Don't you know when people sacrificed things at the altar, when did they do that? They did that as part of their worship".
So, they were worshipping, going to church. And yet, he says idols aren't real, but the demons that flow through them are. I don't want you to be sharers of demons, why? Because idolatry invites the demonic realm. So, many of the issues we are facing, we are facing because the demons won't let us go. Because we have worshipped an idol, and that idol can be sitting at the wrong table. Now, he makes it clear you can't sit at God's table and the demon's table and still have God. You have to choose. But when you try to have both, you will only have demons and you won't have God because Paul says you can't sit at both tables. That is, you can't worship simultaneously in both environments.
So, his concern is about an idol that shows up in worship that demons use in order to infiltrate it. And so, I'm calling it the idol of religion. Religion is man's attempt to convince God through activity in order to get him to be favorable to you. Religious people want God's favor, want God's blessing. And so, they do religious things in order to motivate God to give them favor or blessing. Religion, church attendance, saying grace, reading your Bible, praying, all of those are legitimate, but all of those can be demon infected because all of those can simply mean you're carrying out a religious duty rather than pursuing a divine person. Religion, as in this case, can be a context where demons converge. He says in 2 Timothy 3:5, "Having a form of godliness, but no power attached to it". Because when God shows up, his power shows up.
So, if you aren't changing and God's power is not working and being manifested, you may be religious, but you may be demon infected. Because the religion has not accomplished what true, authentic relationship is designed to accomplish. And so, he's warning them that they could be hanging out with demons. A lot of people who jump high on Sunday don't know how to walk right on Monday because they had a religious injection for the time they were in the service that didn't stick because they were satisfied with religion. My goal is to make you dissatisfied with religion as we have defined it, where you come because you're supposed to, where you worship because it's Sunday, where you say grace because you were taught to. Because all of that religious routine won't get you to the true God, as legitimate as they are, because they can actually camouflage what God is all about in your life and in my life.
So, 2 Timothy chapter 4, Paul again writing to Timothy, warns them of demonic doctrine. He says in chapter 4, beginning with verse 1, "But the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times, some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage, advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it's received with gratitude, for it is sanctified by means of the Word of God and prayer".
He says demons teach, doctrine is teaching. He says there is a doctrinal teaching that the demonics realm proliferates to the mind of Christians. He's writing a Christian pastor pastoring a Christian church, and he's warning him to warn the congregation about demonic doctrines that will take you from God, but will be religious sounding.
So, let me tell you about some isms. Going to tell you about some isms, that is teachings that are demonically inspired, but religiously camouflaged so that you think it's God, but it's really not God, so the demons can interject it, he calls it a doctrine of demons, and steer you away from the faith. These isms can be described as traditionalism, externalism, ritualism, narcissism, and legalism. Those are isms that the Bible talks about that demons use to steer people from the faith in order that the demonic realm can take over, but they can all be religiously camouflaged so that you think you're okay, when actually you're being drawn from God by the idol of religion that has been taught by demons or their surrogates.
For example, ritualism. Ritualism is external activity that makes you think because you're doing the ritual, it brings spiritual benefit. But 1 Timothy says when you pray over your food, you're not just saying grace, you are to sanctify it, why? 'Cause there are things in that food that can hurt you. So, because there are things in those foods that potentially hurt you, you want to get God to intervene himself. As you chew on the bacon, as you eat the eggs, you want supernatural intervention when you put that food in your mouth. So, don't just be saying that 'cause you're supposed to say grace. You better get some supernatural activity over that meal. See, that's a whole different mindset in saying grace.
Then there is traditionalism, because we've always done it that way. Colossians 2:8 says, "Beware of the traditions of men". Matthew chapter 15:1-14, he goes in, he says, "Your traditions are keeping God's Word from working". Did you know you can keep God's Word from working by doing something because you've always done it? Mark chapter 7:1-13, he says, "Watch out for your traditions because they negate the commandment of God". What tradition does is get you into a rut. And when the demons see you're in a rut and it can't be substantiated by the Word of God, they can steer you away from God 'cause you mad about the tradition, when the tradition wasn't from God in the first place. And then there is legalism, another ism. One day, as we grow, all these isms will be wasms.
Another here, legalism. Legalism is the misapplication of God's rules. Let me say that again. Let me put it another way. Legalism is pursuing rules at the expense of a relationship. Legalism says I've got to do these things, which are legitimate. And let's take it, the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are called the law. The Bible says the Ten Commandments are good.
So, when a person says, "I'm trying to keep the Ten Commandments", that's a good statement, but the problem is trying to keep the Ten Commandments can't help you keep the Ten Commandments 'cause there's no power in the commandment. The law can give you the standard, but what the law can't do is give you the power to keep the standard. Or even when you're keeping the standard, if you're doing it on a leash, you're not happy that you have to keep it, and you keep it because you don't want the consequences for not keeping it, okay?
So, it's a whole different mindset, religious mindset and motivation that is restricting you, but doesn't necessarily change you. And you wind up being in this mountain of misery while trying all you can to obey God. "I have so much joy as I keep the Ten Commandments". Why? Because you feel like you're on a leash because you religiously expected, just like the Ten Commandments can't get you to heaven by keeping them, the Ten Commandments can't change you on earth 'cause there's no power in the commandments. That is why Paul says in Galatians chapter 3, verses 23 and 24, that the law was a tutor to drive you to Christ. He says because in and of itself, it does not give you the power to do what it tells you you better do. It just tells you what you better do and the negative consequences for not doing it. So, it can tell you the problem, it can't fix the problem.
So, what he's talking about is this concept of religion that does not change you. And so many of us go week after week, month after month, year after year, and we would never miss church if we didn't have to, but we haven't been changed. We're thinking the same way, acting the same way, walking the same way. James says in James 1:27, he says true religion, when it's operating, people don't talk like they used to talk. If there is no change, demons have infected your religion, in spite of how much you go to church, read the Bible, say grace, pray, and all the religious things. Why? Because the demons have infected.
You're at two tables. Something about me or you or us, individually or collectively as a family, has walked away from authentic Christianity. And either we walked totally away, or we're trying to do two tables, which is the same as walking away from God. So, where do we go with this, where do we go with this? I wanted to establish at this point that religion can be an idol because you're going through the motions. You're going through legitimate activity, but without the right motivation, and therefore you have invited demons into your situation. You can't have both tables.
James 4:1-10, he says, "Draw near unto me". He says, "'Cause as long as you're hanging out over there", he says, "you can't have me. As long as, you know, you just doing this religious thing, you cannot have me". They were praying, but he says, "You can't have me. You can't have me unless it's about me. And if it's not about a relationship with me, then it's faulty religion. And once it's faulty religion, demons can seep in while you're praising God. It's got to be about me". And what will make Oak Cliff great has nothing to do with buildings and programs, but there are thousands of people who want to make it about him. 'Cause once you make it about him, things change. He draws near 'cause he sees it's about him.
God says, "Is it about me? Or do you just want to show up 'cause you want something"? Because what a lot of people in church want to do is use God. They don't want a relationship with him, and they sure enough don't want to be changed by him. So, the Word says, Philippians 3:1-3, Paul tells the Philippians, he says, "Watch out for false religion". He says, "Watch out for the false circumcision". Because he says if you're going to be serious about this, he says, "You must worship God in spirit, not just with your body".
Suffering is an invitation to intimacy. God is inviting you 'cause he know when you suffering, he going to get more time with you. Because things are not good, so you need him more. So, Paul says it is the fellowship of his suffering. So, when I'm going through this, we're going through our time of suffering, or you're going through your time of suffering, that is the time to draw near because the situation demands it. And so, he's calling on you and me not to sit at two tables, not to go through this religious thing, but he's after something deeper, where you are now looking at things from God's perspective.
Religious activity without the goal of spiritual intimacy is like putting Bengay on a broken leg. You will feel better, but nothing has changed. You can come to church and feel better. You can be inspired, encouraged, and all of that, but if there is no change, there is no growth, meaning God is not operating. No matter how good the sermon, or the service, or the singing was, and all of that has its place, all of that is important, but it is important toward a bigger goal. And the goal is spiritual intimacy, which always leads to spiritual transformation.
One of the reasons why we can't get things straight in our lives, where we can't overcome addictions, why we can't restore relationships, why we can't deal with all the pressure is because we are religious without relationship, therefore there is no power. There is no change. Everything you do must be driven now by my goal, that I might know him. So, you start with the Word. Okay, God, this is what you've said. Then you go to prayer. Prayer invites the Holy Spirit in to apply the Word that you just agreed with.
Now, let me explain something. If you don't agree with the Word, you can pray all you want, the Holy Spirit is not going to help. 'Cause the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, so he only agrees with what the Word says. So, when you talk about I think and it disagrees with this Word and you pray, you just hit the ceiling with your words. Then you take a step of faith. That is, you act on the truth you said you agree with. You read it, you agree with it. You pray for supernatural strength to implement it. Then you take a step, walk by faith, of faith. Once you do that, you have activated the trinitarian God to intervene into your situation. The Word calling down the Holy Spirit in prayer, then taking a step of faith, which shows you are serious about what you said you agreed with.
Now, you have invited God into your situation. The Bible says when you go to the Word, don't go like a man. Don't go like a man. In the Bible days, they didn't have mirrors. Didn't have mirrors, that is glass mirrors. They had brass mirrors. Whenever you see movies, you will see them use a brass mirror if it's back in biblical days 'cause they hadn't been invented yet, glass mirrors. So, what they would do is they would take a piece of brass and keep moving it until the light hit it right so they could see themselves through the brass. So, they had to keep moving it. He says don't be like a man who looks in a mirror and doesn't work with the mirror. He just looks there, boom, go. No, he says when you go to my Word, be like a woman, not a man. James 1 says don't be like a man.
In other words, be like a woman. He says you don't go to God's Word like that. No, you got to God's Word and twist it a little bit, turn it a little bit, and play with it a little bit so that the Spirit of God can emerge out of the Word, and begin to sink down in your heart, and begin to sink down in your soul so that you are affected by the Word and infected with the Word. And he says when that happens, you will be transformed. He's no longer a theology or a thought or a concept. He's now the living God that you can testify for yourself.
So, I challenge you and me and us, all of us, to kick religion to the curb. I'm talking about illegitimate religion. I'm talking about the religion that doesn't change you, the religion that makes you narcissistic so you don't serve people who can't do anything for you in return, James 1:27 says. You come to worship selfish instead of worship service. It's a whole different framework. And if we could get hundreds and thousands of people thinking like this and operating like this, God will be free to blow our minds collectively as he blows your mind individually.
There was a man who was driving, train engineer, and he was coming to a drawbridge. And he looked at the flag. This is years ago because the flag would tell him whether it's safe to keep going or whether he had to stop. The bridge engineer was waving the flag. The train went and fell off into the river. 18 people died, true story. But the conductor lived. The conductor and the engineer connected with each other, and he said, "Why didn't you stop? I was waving the red flag, that means stop. I kept waving the red flag, stop, but you wouldn't stop".
The train engineer said, "No, you waved the white flag. You waved the white flag". He said, "No, I waved the red flag. It says stop, stop". He says, "No, I saw the white flag, which means to keep going". So, they went and got the flag. The flag was red, but faded. So, from a distance, it looked white. Now, it was red, but the red had faded. So, when the train driver saw it, he thought he was looking at white and kept going.
Don't let religion fade the red blood of Jesus Christ. Don't be faded. Don't just settle for religion. You wave the red flag. He was wounded for your transgressions, bruised for your iniquities. The chastisement of his peace was upon him. By his stripes were you healed. The blood of Jesus Christ our Savior and his almighty Father God, that's your focus. I want to know him. Don't let folk go into disaster because you got a faded faith, 'cause you talking red, but you looking white, so people don't know where you coming from 'cause you haven't stood strong for your faith. I challenge us collectively, me and you individually, let's kick religion to the curb, and let's make it about a relationship with the true and living God.
This message in our series on "American Idols" of religion, of using God to create another God by leaving him out, his perspective out, his desires out, his standards out, but still inculcating his name and inculcating his rituals. God does not want to be defined by who we say he is or what we say he wants. He wants to be defined by who he says he is and by what he says he wants. We must always watch and keep ourselves from being tricked that just because we are engaged in religious ritual that we're worshipping the true God. We could be worshipping a false god and using religion to camouflage our idolatry.