Monday, March 30, 2009

Breaking the Chains

One of the things that separates Christianity from other religions is our understanding that the practice of good works and religious disciplines cannot buy our way into Heaven. Only the acceptance of God's free gift of redemption for us through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross can get us that ticket to Paradise. This is not to say that we are not supposed to follow the commandments. One of the ways we know we have truly accepted and believed in Jesus is that his transforming power in our lives creates a desire in us to obey God's directives to study his word, love others, etc. Our human natures, though, are rarely satisfied with this approach to holiness and would much rather practice religion on our own terms than live a life of Christ-centered faith and daily obedience. If the former wins out over the latter, then the "faith" we follow is more about self-improvement than anything else.

For example, studying the Bible is wonderful, but if the motive in doing so is to somehow seem wiser than others then the goal is wrong. Helping out at a soup kitchen is admirable, but is our motivation to show others the love of Christ or stemming from the erroneous belief that in doing so we can earn points with God? Fasting can be a useful means of personally experiencing sacrifice for a day in order to draw us closer to God, or it can be a useless exercise in self-martyrdom designed to make us feel holier while keeping us from true sacrifice for others.

God wants to use us to help break the chains that are binding others. We can hardly do that if we have shackled ourselves to a self-centered religion.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?

Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes.
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

--Isaiah 58:5-7 (NIV)



Kathleen said...

It is certainly difficult not to be prideful sometimes! And it is pride that leads us to that desire to be a good Christian so everyone else can see how good we are.

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