“He had been telling me for years not that I needed to be baptized. I didn’t know exactly what baptism symbolized, but it seemed like too much of a commitment. I probably had to surrender to religion and start going to church before I earned the right. I couldn’t stomach the idea of churches.
I hadn’t grown up in church. I didn’t understand the rituals. I didn’t know the songs. I didn’t know the Bible stories.
I was a sinner. I was a hot mess, and living up to the expectations of religion seemed impossible for someone like me. As an outsider, I didn’t want to bear the consequences of getting it wrong.”Set Free: How a Jiu Jitsu World Champion Found Jesus
If I’m being honest, my experience with Christians throughout my life was limited. All I have to give is an outsider’s perception. My perception is my perception. I’m not trying to make claims that all Christians are like this. I just want to share what it’s like to see religion from the outside.
Before getting saved myself, I can count on my hand the number of Christians I’d met who were living their life for Jesus.
As for the rest, the only difference I saw between religious people and non-Christians was cross decor and an air of self-righteousness and guilt. When I saw someone with a cross or heard something about church, I ran in the opposite direction, because I expected to be condemned.
From my perspective, religious people were quick to condemn and reject you for your sins. From my perspective, it was a sub-culture or secret society that presented no incentive to enter into. From my perspective, people begrudgingly put on their Sunday-best and sorrowfully dragged themselves into church once a week to keep from feeling guilty for what they’d done the other six days. I had seen church ladies gossiping over coffee, showing a level of politics that would rival Capitol Hill.
From my perspective, going to church seemed like walking into a brood of vipers.
I had heard, “You need to be saved. You need to be baptized. You need to do this. You need to do that.”
People were so busy trying to strap me with religious bondages, I’d never even heard a story about Jesus from the Bible.
I thought that to get saved, you had to become religious. I thought it meant signing up to be burdened by a heavy load of rules.
What I learned when I found my way to a Kingdom Center is that religion is a work of hell that keeps us from a relationship with God. It’s through intimate relationship with God that we know who He is. It’s by receiving His love that we are able to love ourselves and one another.
It wasn’t religion or condemnation or guilt that drew me to Jesus. It was love.
John 13:34-35 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus’ disciples weren’t identified by how many scriptures they quoted or how much religious paraphernalia they had in their home. They were identified by how they loved others. Love reveals the character of God.
John 4:4-11 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. . . . Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
He doesn’t expect us to love out of our own strength. If it were up to me, I would love people out of the safety and security of my home. But He gives us the grace to love. There have been times when I feel overcome with His love for random strangers, and Holy Spirit has given me grace to give alms, or hug them, or to send them an email.
He enables us to love others so that they have an opportunity to experience His love. It’s His love that draws people to Him, because His love is unlike anything this world has to offer. He fills us to overflowing with His love so that others can take part, and be invited into their own relationship with Him.
An encounter with God will change your life. That’s how powerful His love is.
I’m still not able to love others the way God loves me. But as I mature through discipleship, He leads me into new opportunities to grow in my ability to love. Learning to love is a process, and not an easy one. Sometimes love requires sacrifice for people you don’t even like. Sometimes love requires humbling yourself. Sometimes love requires breaking out of your shell.
It was love that enabled Jesus to give Himself up to be tortured and crucified for us. It was love that enabled Him to overcome death, hell, and the grave. It was love that gave us Holy Spirit.
God wants to show us His love. Not from afar, but up close. And He doesn’t want religion getting in the way of what He wants to do in your life.
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