Jesus’ fiercest opponents during His three plus years of ministry were the religious leaders of His day. It seems they tracked His every move and weren’t shy about quizzing Him at every turn. They would say things like “Moses said, such and such…what do you say?”
Reading Galatians in Sunday School recently, it has become very clear to me religious people had become Paul’s opposition too. The whole purpose of writing the letter to the Galatians was to reiterate that Christ is sufficient. You see the Galatians had received Christ but were being tempted by some religious leaders to put themselves under the Law of Moses. It seems the freedom Jesus and His disciples were enjoying was a bit too much for the religionists.
The more I looked at this the more I could see why “religion” is really the enemy of God. I guess I should clarify what I mean when I use the word “religion.” While there are several definitions, the way I would define it is “man’s attempt to get to God or make himself like Him.” In other words religion is a set of rules, rituals, traditions etc. that if closely adhered to will get you closer to God or even make you “like Him.” I pray that you don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying all rules, rituals or traditions are sinful or even bad. What I am saying is when you start to believe they can do anything, by way of getting you to God, outside of placing your faith in Christ, you’re deceived.
According to the scriptures “the Law” or Old Covenant was meant to point us to Christ. The Apostle Paul called it a “schoolmaster to lead us to Christ.” Once It has done that, we no longer need it, right? I mean if it’s whole purpose is to point us to Christ, and we’ve now come to Him and received Him by faith, we have no need to go back to the schoolmaster.
In Isaiah fourteen you discover the attitude behind the fall of Lucifer, and what I think is also in the minds of many religious people today. Isaiah 14:14 says, “I will make myself Like the Most High.” Wow! Did you catch that? Lucifer’s fall came about from his thinking he could “make himself like the Most High.” Remember my definition of religion? Man’s attempt to make himself “like God.” Now we might start to understand why Jesus and the early church had such trouble with the religionists. While believers had become one with God through His Spirit, the religious leaders were still attempting to make themselves “like Him” through laws, traditions and rituals. The deceived notion of fallen man is that they are independent, which is the very thing Lucifer claimed to be. He thought he could “make himself” like God. Do you see how diabolical this is?
Jesus called the proud religious leaders of His day “hypocrites, fools, blind men, cups clean only on the outside, whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones, etc.” He told them all the righteous blood that had been spilled all the way back to Abel was on their heads (Matthew 24:35). Elsewhere He told them their father was the devil and it was his lusts they were doing (John 8:44). You see Jesus wasn’t distracted by their antics; He understood exactly where their rigid, self-righteous religiosity came from.
The next time you read the letter to the Galatians just keep in mind it isn’t primarily sin Paul is dealing with rather it’s religion. His main goal in that letter was to inoculate the Galatians from the temptation to fall into religious observance rather than simple faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (bondage)–to religion that is” (Galatians 5:1). He goes on to tell them if they let themselves get caught up in “the Law”, the bondage to which he was referring, they have “fallen from grace.”
Fallen from grace is a term I think has been misunderstood for a long time. The scriptures in Galatians 5 make it clear that Paul meant if we are attempting to get in good with God by way of the Law we have turned from Christ. In other words, you can’t have both, you either trust in Christ and His work on the cross or you trust the Law which means your own power or ability to please God. If you are working for salvation it is no longer grace because grace is favor and favor can only be received not earned.