Years ago, I published a series of articles entitled, The Curse of the Standard Bearers, with the intention of eventually publishing it as a book. As best I know, the Holy Spirit restrained me from completing that project because He wanted to teach me more about the heart of the matter and approach the subject from a different perspective. Beginning with this month's Chariot article, I hope to renew my efforts to produce a resource that will help people be set free from man-made religion and move into the fullness and healing that comes from true religion. I covet your prayers, questions, and responses as I launch out again to write Complete in Christ: Living to Please The Father in the Fullness of Christ. Here is an excerpt from this new book project.
Who has control of the keys?
Tim Russert, the late moderator and managing editor of Meet the Press, included a powerful story contributed by Merabeth Lurie in his book, Wisdom of our Fathers. Her seven-year old little brother, Jim, liked to watch and "help" his father as he made such things as chandeliers from old wagon wheels and unusual light fixtures from copper bulbs that float in toilet tanks. While his dad was at work, Jim would use his tools to make his own creations, but wouldn't put them back in their rightful place many times.
After telling Jim the importance of putting things back, his dad decided to build a small tool chest where he could keep his best tools so Jim couldn't get to them. As Jim's dad worked on the chest, Jim watched and helped excitedly. When the lock was being installed, Jim asked, "What's that?" To which his dad replied, "It is a lock, so that in order to get tools from the chest you have to open it with a key."
Jim got a strange look on his face, looked up at his father, and asked, "Who will have the key, Dad?"
His dad paused for a moment, considered the look on his son's face, and wisely and lovingly said, "There will be just two keys, Jim. One for you and one for me."
What are you communicating about relationship?
Jim's dad wisely chose to yield his right to control his tools and set aside his standard of order to communicate value and love to his son. The workshop might be messier, but he had the heart and respect of his son–a small price to pay for a rewarding relationship with a special person in his life. Had Jim's dad valued the standard of neatness and orderliness above showing his son respect by allowing him control of the key to the chest, he would have "cursed" his relationship with his son.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the wisdom and love that Jim's dad had for his son. Many family members communicate rejection, shame, and judgment by controlling all the keys of life for those they say they love and want to bless. They think they know what's best for those for whom they are responsible (and they might), and with sincerity and good-intentions demand the right to control all the keys. Without realizing it, in the name of righteousness and love, they place upon them a curse that comes from not finding one's fullness in Christ and trusting in man-made religion. There's another sin involved when parents seek their significance and fullness in their parenting – idolatry of their children and reputations.
What is man-made religion?
I use the term man-made because the Apostle Paul warned the Colossian church about seeking to please people according to the commandments and elementary principles of men (Col. 2:20-22). Sincere, religious people usually have many standards or commandments they consider important to secure significance, praise, and reputation before God and man. Everyone has some standards they practice, but the issue in this book is the level of importance and significance people place on those standards of man-made religion.
I use the term religion because that is the image they bear to others in that their religion or worship consists of dutifully living according to an adopted set of standards. They view this lifestyle as a true sign of righteousness and spiritual maturity. Others often think of them as almost perfect or Christ-like in their talk and appearance being impressed with the way they live for Jesus. But there is a subtle, yet significant difference between someone living for Jesus and Jesus living in them. Although both kinds of people live with standards, unfortunately, the emphasis of man-made religion rests on the religious standards rather than relationship.
It is not uncommon for those who live according to a man-made religion to have an inconsistent application of God's character toward His creatures. For instance, when trying to convince a person of his or her need to change, they communicate that God is very stern. Yet when they deal with their own sin, they apply the view that God is forgiving and gracious. There is a disconnect between how they think God sees the sins of others not like them and how He sees their sin. Without realizing it, those who live according to man-made religion are motivated by what they think other people will view as exemplary and outstanding. From this point forward, I will call these people man-pleasers. They are filled with themselves, and to them, fullness of life is having a good reputation as "godly", spiritually mature people who have higher religious standards than others. Man-pleasers submit themselves to the approval and judgment of men rather than God, and therefore expect others to submit themselves to their approval and judgment. Man-made religion consists of men-pleasers, but in such people, the Father God is not delighted. He is seeking true worshipers who have true religion.
What is true religion?
In contrast, true religion focuses on relationship with Jesus and has one aim: to be a conduit of the life and love of Jesus Christ for the glory of God. Pure, simple, devotion to Jesus Christ is his delight, treasure, and standard for life. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, they find delight in what delights God - that Jesus Christ be first place in everything (Col. 1:18) and that they find their fullness of righteousness, hope, peace, and love in Jesus Christ's performance rather than their own (Col. 2:10). One who longs for Jesus to be first in everything strives to lead others to experience the same blessing of such a powerful, love-engulfed, grace-filled relationship. His relationship with Jesus does lead him to obey God's Word and adopt a holy standard of living, the root and motivation of his life is different from those who live under the curse of man-made religion–he recognizes his lifestyle as a gift of grace through his relationship with Jesus. This person has spiritual understanding of what pleases God. The true image of Jesus wasn't and isn't a life focused on standards, but a life focused on a relationship with His Father in heaven through a relationship with Jesus Christ by the power of indwelling Holy Spirit.
Consequently, one who realizes he or she is complete in Christ does not demand that others live by their standards to gain approval, encouragement, and affirmation. They're more interested in the process of relationship with the Holy Spirit for others. Since pure, simple devotion to Jesus is his delight in life, he wants everyone else, especially those for whom he is responsible, to experience the same joy and fulfillment. This has a powerful impact on those who live with those who have true religion. They feel safe, knowing that if they were to disappoint them or have another view, they would still be respected and valued. Those who exercise true religion are those who realize their fullness comes in Jesus Christ and live out of His fullness in their lives. From this point forward I will call these people Father-pleasers.
Father-pleasers respect the Holy Spirit and His right to move, transform, and convince others. They apply the power of the cross-work of Jesus to those who haven't seen the light they have and consider the work in others a holy responsibility for Jesus alone. They don't think the Christian life is "living for Jesus," but instead it is "Jesus living in them" (Gal. 2:20). That's why people usually sense the love and presence of Jesus when they are around a Father-pleaser.
Often men-pleasers think they are Father-pleasers because they have good feelings about themselves due to their commitment to standards. To them, commitment to standards is the expression of their love for Jesus. However, they may not be unlike the Pharisees in Jesus' day who viewed themselves as the "separated ones." In their zeal to be distinct in a complex, godless Greek culture, they established oral traditions (standards) and considered them not only equal to the written Law, but more important. Their judgment of others and lack of love, forgiveness, and grace was repeatedly condemned by Jesus. A Father-pleaser does not look down his nose at, avoid, or judge those who don't hold to his or her standards. He instead lives in freedom, prays for, and encourages others to treasure relationship with Jesus.
What do I mean when I say there is a curse with man-made religion?
Let me introduce you to Marty, an individual whose life illustrates the curse of the men-pleasers. Almost overnight, Marty's life changed. His parents decided to become associated with other homeschooling families whose goal was to raise children with godly character. With the new direction for the family came more responsibilities and expectations from his parents. He already felt smothered by their efforts to make him into the type of young person who would give them a good reputation among their peers, but with the change came a tidal wave of standards and goals he felt were impossible to meet.
Marty didn't make it easy for them. In fact, he questioned them constantly as to why they had to live by all these standards of dress, social etiquette, grooming, facial expressions, entertainment, courtship, attitudes, education, and food. His honest questions brought allegations of rebellion and disrespect, which were not always the root of his intentions. Eventually, the conflict became so great that in order to protect their reputation, Marty's parents sent him to live and work with an uncle, hoping God would eventually open his eyes to see the blessing he was rejecting.
Marty's well-meaning parents were men-pleasers. Without realizing it, self-ambition (lust for significance and success) and an idolatrous love of man's approval gained ascendancy within their hearts. The curse of the man-pleasers rested upon them and all the relationships for which they felt responsible. Unwittingly, they looked to following a set of religious commandments as the solution to parenting and to gaining significance and acceptance for the whole family. Instead of demonstrating a life lived in a relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit and leading Marty to do the same, they were caught in the enticing trap of one of many forms of man-made religion. They quickly learned what standards were acceptable and not acceptable among those with whom they wished to connect and then commanded obedience from Marty.
At age fifteen and living at home, Marty knew he should obey his parents, but they never led him to deal with his heart relationship with God. Consequently, the parent-child relationship was always about responsibility and expectations. It's no wonder Marty felt unloved, controlled, and unvalued. Living by rules and standards cannot build relationships based on God's love and grace. A form of outward obedience may occur, but liberty and love that comes from the Holy Spirit's work internally is often lacking in the child of a Man-pleaser.
Until Marty has a relationship with Jesus, his parents must teach, train, and seek honor and obedience (Eph. 6:1-4). However, once the Holy Spirit indwells him, Marty should be taught to walk by the Spirit in relationship with the heavenly Father. As Jesus told His disciples, "And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven" (Matt. 23:9). Once a son is born again, he should be taught the priesthood of the believer and the joy of walking in a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As a son starts to walk by the Spirit, an earthly father should encourage his son's decision-making and guidance to come from his relationship with his heavenly Father. A father's role should decrease just as John the Baptist's role decreased when Jesus appeared (John 3:30). To the degree a father makes the decisions and dictates the lifestyle of his believing son, to that degree he hinders his son's spiritual life, and that is the curse of man-made religion and the man-pleaser.
Ultimately, the curse of the man-pleaser boils down to idolatry and a spirit of control. Usually they think they are loving others when they convince them to obey God and do the right things. Without realizing it, idolatry–substituting anything or anyone for Jesus Christ–masquerades as love. Instead of pure, simple love for Jesus Christ, devotion to standards of outward behavior and giving mental assent to historical facts become the delight, treasure, and goal of one's life. The apostle Paul warned the Corinthians of Satan's scheme of masquerading as light, "No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds" (2 Cor. 11:14-15).
The primary issue for us is this: who controls our lives? Do we live in the blessing of the Holy Spirit's control, or are we living under the bondage and emptiness that comes from being controlled by one's own expectations, another person, or a peer group? One of four identity principles described in It's A Matter of Identity from The Equipping Men Series is this: Whoever you want to be identified with, you give them the power to control and shape your life. If your primary identity source is Jesus Christ, then your life is controlled and shaped by your relationship with Him. If your primary identity source is a person or group of people, then your life is controlled by your relationship with them instead of Christ. Isn't this to love someone else more than Jesus Christ? Therefore, we should not take lightly the words of the apostle Paul. "If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha" (1 Cor. 16:22).
It does not have to be this way
Many churches and hundreds of families have been destroyed by the curse of man-made religion. It doesn't have to be this way. Consider the glorious testimony to the grace and glory of the cross for a Man-pleaser to be honest and confess his or her idolatry and the sins of control, rejection, slander, and shame. It would glorify God, bring healing to the relationship, and teach other man-pleasers what standard is really worth living for: the pleasure of our Heavenly Father through the life and fullness of Jesus Christ. Forgiving, loving, and forbearing with others as we trust God and encourage them to follow the Holy Spirit sets people free to find a relationship with Jesus Christ. Outward conformity to standards to achieve public praise and approval cannot please our Heavenly Father.
What does God see about you?
I invite you to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what God sees and thinks about how you relate to Him and to others when it comes to standards. Here are some questions to help you apply what you've read in this first chapter.
• What decisions do you allow your children to make?
• What "keys" would your children say you have given to them?
• Do you have relationships with people who don't hold your standards? Why or why not?
• Discuss with your family the difference between someone who lives for Jesus and someone in whom the life of Jesus is living.
• Who are you more afraid of displeasing Jesus or someone with whom you want to be significant? List the names of people who control your life more than Jesus.
• Discuss which of the standards that you think are important can be attained by someone who doesn't have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
• Are you rejecting anyone who professes to be a Christian who doesn't have the same preferences or standards as you? Write down their names and ask the Lord how you can love them with His love.
• Are you more concerned about Jesus' image and reputation or your own?
I hope you can see the difference between a Father-pleaser and a man-pleaser. The man-pleaser has unwittingly come to think that holding to certain standards of outward performance and appearance is more important than the inward reality of a loving, Spirit-filled and guided relationship with Jesus Christ. He feels content to learn the standards to be acceptable to God and others and then do them as a means of "living for Jesus." You can generally discern those whose identities primarily consist of adherence to outward standards by the pressure you might feel to conform to their lifestyle in order to be accepted or included in their fellowship or circle of friends. When a man-pleaser judges, rejects, and gossips about others who don't hold their standards, they are in effect showing that they live under a curse and also are cursing instead of blessing others.
The Father-pleaser, however, doesn't view life as trying to imitate or copy the life of Jesus and live for Him, but seeks daily to find His life hidden in Christ and to experience the fullness that comes from Jesus living His life through them. Although he may have high standards, his identity isn't wrapped up in those standards. Furthermore, he doesn't avoid or judge those who don't hold to his standards.
I have introduced you to Marty, a teenager, who lived under the curse of his parents who were caught up in false religion, man-made religion, but the curse doesn't only affect young adults in the home. It may also have an affect on generations of marriages and family relationships. In the next chapter, we'll take a deeper look into Satan's schemes and how sincere, zealous Christians can fall into his trap.