The gospel of Christ is good news! In fact, it is great news! And, of course, good news is always worth sharing. But some may view the good news as bad news, or at least as mediocre news. Then they will not be anxious to share it. Since many who wear the name of Christ do little or no sharing, something simply must be wrong with their view of the good news. Maybe their religion is a burden to them rather than a blessing.
What are the characteristics of one whose religion is a burden? One, he likely has a negative view of obedience. He secretly chafes at the idea of anyone (even God) telling him what to do. We live in a society which is bent on doing its own thing. “If it feels good, do it!” Therefore, words like “commandments” and “must” go against the grain of our spirits. We begin to pick and choose what we want to do, rather than really practicing the concept of “Thy will be done.”
Two, back of this negative view of obedience lies a negative view of God. We think that He is trying to stifle us, to ruin our fun. So we grimly hold on to our sour religion, hoping against hope that maybe heaven will be at least some fun. But the person with this frame of reference usually views heaven as better than hell, but not as good as life on earth. Thus God is seen as robbing us of what we would secretly like to do, if He weren’t watching. Since He is watching, however, we must behave, lest He slap us into hell. The “burdened” Christian sees God as primarily a Judge rather than as his Father. No wonder this sort of person doesn’t share the gospel. He has nothing to share!
What causes someone to develop such a non-biblical, harmful way of thinking? Almost always, the concept can be traced back to the way he first viewed “church.” Many youth are forced to be a part of something they don’t understand. On Sundays, they are roused out of a sound sleep, ordered to eat and get dressed, then it’s off to church we go. The child has not missed the fact that little of a spiritual nature has taken place in the home during the week. He has noticed that the Sunday morning atmosphere in the home is tense and folks are irritable with one another, as if they resented the “duties” of the day. He has heard the negativism about the church leaders and others in the flock. And he surely has noticed that his teaching in things religious has majored in “don’ts” rather than “do’s.”
Of course, not all parents program their children to resent God and church in this manner, but many do. We can force our children for only so long, but if they don’t understand the “why’s” of what we are doing, they will ultimately reject religion altogether, or inherit the negative “fire insurance” religion of their parents. Our children are mighty perceptive about us. They know where our real values are, and they will probably share in them when they are mature. If we love God with all of our hearts, they likely will also, provided the love is obvious in our lives and words. But we must communicate to them what life in Christ is all about, and not simply drag them to church.
Others come into the church from outside Christian families and they may also develop a burdened view of Christianity. Since the “seed re¬produces after its own kind,” they will become like others already in the Body. If they see negative people, they will usually imitate them. If they see excited Christians, they will likely retain their zeal. In any event, our early concepts of what church is all about will normally stay with us for a long time. It takes real effort and determination to change erroneous concepts, because they are implanted more at the emotional level than at the intellectual. We can know right and feel wrong, especially where early concepts are concerned. However, change is possible. Praise God for that! We can learn to enjoy our religion!
Now, what are the characteristics of one whose religion is a blessing? One, he is most often a newer convert from outside a Christian family. Thankfully, some raised in church families have this attitude also, but my experience has convinced me that a minority “raised in the church” feel this way. This is why newer converts are more evangelistic than those from Christian homes. They have experienced the blessings of the good news and are anxious to share it.
Two, the person with a “blessing religion” loves God’s commandments. In our day, the newer convert probably came out of an obviously sinful life-style. He knows that Satan’s enticements destroy rather than bless. He therefore sees grace in perspective. Rather than being resentful deep inside towards God’s commands, he is grateful for the guidance of a loving Father who is trying to steer him away from pain. God has filled the void in his soul, and he is excited enough to want to share the good news with others. Lest this article seem too negative towards us “lifers” (as one brother called those of us raised in the church setting), let me say that there would not be any new converts unless others in the Body taught them.
There are many excited Christians who have been in the Lord for many years. Praise God for you! You have fought Satan’s attacks successfully, becoming stronger as a result. You have refused to lose your first love (Revelation 2:4) and to become lukewarm (Revelation 3:16). When many new converts have started cooling off, you have encouraged them by life and by word. Your religion is a blessing and not a burden.
However, surely no one will argue the fact that far too many Christians do have a negative, burdened view of religion. Being honest about the reality of the problem will allow us to do something to solve it. Playing “ostrich” with our heads in the sand is not God’s way. We must be honest with ourselves and others if change would come.
Several suggestions are in order for helping us overcome a burdened view of religion. First, we must develop a healthy view of God and His grace. He is not waiting for us to mess up; He is waiting for us to start developing a personal love relationship with Him. Listening to taped sermons on grace, mercy, and love will help us a good deal. Reading positive books about Christ are of great benefit. Above all, pray to God by talking aloud with Him as you would talk to any person whom you loved. Be open and honest. Pour out your heart. Don’t say trite religious-sounding memorized phrases. Just talk to God and tell Him how you really feel deep down inside. That’s real prayer. Nothing else will suffice.
Second, begin thinking of the Bible as a Book of Life rather than a Book of Religion. It is practical and helpful in every area of life, from business to sexuality. God made us and speaks to our needs, whether great or small. He is trying to bless us, not stifle us. Learn to hunger and thirst after His words. Read for application to your life, not just for facts. You will begin to find things that are so helpful that you will want to share them with others!
Third, learn to overcome wrong things by doing right things. We cannot survive on a religion of “don’ts.” Overcome evil with good. God shows this approach clearly in Ephesians 4:25-32. Replace falsehood with speaking truth. Replace stealing with working in order to give to others in need. Replace unwholesome words with saying only what will build others up. Replace anger and slander with kindness and forgiveness. Practice a positive religion rather than simply avoiding negatives.
Fourth, learn to verbalize more to your family about God and His positive religion. As Moses said in Deuteronomy 6:5-7, we must first love God with all of our being, do what He says, and then talk about it as a normal part of everyday life. Sharing God with others was never intended to be a fearful burden, but an exciting blessing. Sharing good news is natural, if we really view it as good news.
Satan is pleased if we view our religion as a grim duty. God is pleased if we view it as a blessing. Let’s make Him happy. He deserves it. “We love because He first loved us.” “Rejoice, and again I say, rejoice.”