Love Not Religion

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”

When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Matthew 9:9‭-‬13 NLT

“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”

Matthew 5:23‭-‬24 NLT

The Pharisees were a rich and powerful minority that ruled in the Old Covenant system of Temple worship. They were self-righteous hypocrites who knew the Scriptures by heart but their hearts were far from God. Jesus did not particularly care for their ways and they frequently bore the wrath of His words of correction.

Jesus cares about our hearts more than our actions. You can have an outward appearance of righteousness, doing all the right things, but miss the entire point of God’s call to follow Him.

Jesus wants us to become just like Him, in terms of being lovers of mercy and practitioners of God’s redeeming love, reconciling people back to God in our relationships with them.

That’s not something you’re going to see commonly celebrated in our culture. What does our culture glorify? Solving problems with criminal activity and violence. We become what we celebrate. What are you celebrating today?

God would say to you today, “I desire heartfelt love, not performance.”

He wants us to love one another in humility, not go through the motions of some meaningless activity outside of relationship with God and each other. Religion won’t save you. Knowing Jesus will.

Look at the example of Jesus calling Matthew to be His disciple. Matthew was a tax collector. Even today we despise paying taxes. Back in the day, these guys were extortion artists who enriched themselves by taking more than what was required by law. They were government endorsed criminals. Some things never change, they’re just branded differently for a modern audience.

Matthew responded to the call. He did not hesitate leaving his old lifestyle and means of employment behind. He knew he was a sinner and he knew he probably would never receive a better offer in his life than to follow the Savior of the world. Of course, at the time he probably didn’t know Jesus was the Christ, but he knew him by His fruit as a teacher of righteousness. Follow the Righteous One and you will be made righteous.

When we respond to the call of God to follow Jesus, we leave our dead works behind but we’re still in relationship with other dead people who do not yet know God. The Pharisees look down on the lost sinners with contempt. Even sinners love their fellow sinners. They practice hospitality. Especially this time of year. Are we self-righteous judges who want to exclude others or people of faith who love the lost and create opportunities for reconciliation?

Jesus teaches on anger in the Sermon on the Mount. If someone is angry with you, probably because you’ve sinned against them, God would much rather you go and be reconciled, through your own humility and confession, than pretending to be something you’re not by performing religious activities to appear pious and holy.

The modern American church is no different than the old Temple worship system. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But you can certainly see the parallels.

People leave churches all the time because self-righteous jerks wound everyone around them with their words and actions. They then blame the victim and usually never speak to them again, preferring instead to slander them.

Obviously, they’re the problem because they don’t want to play our church games. Shame on us if we don’t reach out to those who leave our churches. Dissatisfied customers are your best source of information on what’s not working and what needs immediate attention to correct.

Too often, we just put our heads back in the sand and carry on blindly in our religious traditions instead of practicing the love of Jesus.

Today, God is offering us a better way. Do what Scripture teaches. Follow the example of Jesus. He is concerned about the sinners who need His mercy to be delivered out of a lifestyle of sin and brokenness. We’re not here to run a social club for the hypocrites and false brethren.

We’re here to make disciples. That requires holding people accountable for their actions. Are the rich and powerful driving the helpless masses out of the church? Are they now meeting in homes with true disciples? Church attendance trends don’t lie. What we’ve been doing hasn’t been working for years.

It’s time for a massive course correction. If you’re honest, you’ll know what I’m saying is true. But we prefer denial than admitting we did something wrong. Some things never change. Until there’s no other alternative.

When the pain of change is less than the pain of continuing in our sin, then we choose to change. I know, I used to be an addict. God is using our circumstances to usher in a change of heart.

Become the people of God instead of church people. Be real disciples of Jesus instead of followers of religion. Love first. Then your actions will start to reveal the heart of Our Savior.

It’s too easy to get lost in fruitless activity in the Name of Jesus while not actually following Jesus. Be reconciled to God. Then, go and be reconciled with your neighbors. Be the love of God in action. That’s the call to follow Jesus and become His disciples.

May God give you wisdom and courage to do the right things for the right reasons. May you be delivered of a religious spirit and a performance mentality. May the love of God transform you into a messenger of love and a carrier of the Kingdom. May the true ambassadors of Christ arise. May the real sons of God manifest. Be healed, be delivered, be set free in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Hosea 6:6 KJV

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