Breaking free from guilt-based religion

Man in field freedom

"How did you break free  from religious Christianity?" I asked Tony early one morning last week.  

"There were two things," he said. "George Tarleton was the first. The second was the role of the Holy Spirit in my life."

It's interesting how often in the New Testament, living according to the law is contrasted with living by the Spirit.

For example, Romans 7:6 says:

But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:6

The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.

Galatians 5:18:

But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

Can you imagine anything better than living at the time of Jesus, able to see him, speak with him, touch him?

Jesus told his disciples that it was better for them that he went away because if he did, he would send the Holy Spirit to them. (John 16:7) The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth; he brings glory to Jesus by telling us whatever he receives from Jesus. (John 16:13-15)  This Holy Spirit dwells in every true believer. (John 14:17; Acts 2:38-39)

So why is it that so many believers still live a life of rules and regulations?

I think it's sometimes because we don't trust the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We've never learned to listen to those inner promptings of the Spirit within us and  to act on them. If we dare to trust those inner whispers really are the Holy Spirit, and to respond to them, we will learn what it is to live life in the Spirit.

Under the new covenant, we can live a life of freedom from the law by following the Holy Spirit. 

What does it look life for you to live in the Spirit, to be directed by the Spirit?

Taking the leap to freedom from guilt-based religion

Many religious people live their lives by the Scriptures. So why is the fruit of their lives  sometimes legalism and guilt rather than life?  They feel like they continually fall short of God's standards for their lives. 

Jesus said to the religious people of his day, "You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!  Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life. (John 5:39-40)" Jesus is the source of life, not the Bible. But the Bible points us continually to Jesus.  We find him there.

Is our relationship with the Bible or with Jesus?

Does the written word bring life or death? Several people have commented on the last couple of posts that they found freedom from legalism and guilt-based religion through their study of the Scriptures.  If we truly believe what the Scriptures say we can take the leap to the freedom of living by the Spirit.

Man leaping over chasm freedom

The Bible is very plain. The Old Covenant has ended.

Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in (Luke 16:16)."

The old covenant is obsolete (Heb 8:13). Until Jesus came, people's only hope of salvation was through keeping the letter of the law. Now we are under a new covenant. With our sins forgiven through Christ's death on the cross, we have a relationship with God and are not led any longer by written laws but by the Spirit.

He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life." (2 cor 3:6)

Under this New Covenant, the law is written on our hearts.(Heb 8:8-12)  Now it's natural for us to live a life pleasing to God.

In the context of the New Covenant, 2 cor 3:17  says this: 

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

 And Romans 7:6:

But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

So we have a choice: we can live by the law or we can live by the Spirit. I've made my choice. How about you?

How did you come to make that choice?

How to set yourself free from guilt-based religion

In my last post on this subject, I looked at my personal journey  and how God set me free from guilt-based religion. For me, that liberty came many years ago during my medical school days. I've not always lived in that freedom, but it has formed a basic backdrop for my life.

Man on beach freedom

My advice to people wanting to be set free from legalism and guilt/shame-based religion today would be a little different.

Guilt-based religion relies on keeping a series of laws whether external  (a good Christian is expected to have to have a daily quiet time/speak to other people about their relationship with Jesus/ pray at least one hour per day) or internal (I'm going to get closer to God; therefore I will pray for one hour every day/read my Bible through in one year etc.). Note these are all good things that will enhance your walk with the Lord. And over the years I've made many a promise to myself to do them, tried for a few days/weeks and then lived with the guilt of letting God down.

These days I do it differently. I make an active practice of listening to God.

Most days I try to journal. This is a skill I picked up from a book by Mark Virkler many years ago called "Dialog with God." He outlines four basic steps to hearing from God. 

  1. Free yourself from distractions
  2. Focus on Jesus
  3. Listen for the flow of spontaneous thoughts
  4. Write down what you hear

After I have written down the flow of thoughts, then I go back and weigh what I wrote. Is it Scriptural? Does it bring a sense of peace? (Col 3:15)

Most of the time when I journal, what I write is good and Scriptural but not earth shattering. Often I sense the Lord expressing his love and approval of me. Sometimes I ask him specific questions and get very relevant answers. Sometimes I sense him telling me to focus on a particular subject which will form the basis of my studies in the Word for a while. Sometimes I go back through what I have written and put a large question mark beside it because I'm not convinced I heard the Lord accurately. Sometimes I write things that make a profound difference in my life.

For example, a few months ago, I sensed the Lord saying, "Lean into me," with the sense of having to rely on him for strength, courage etc. Within a couple of weeks, I found myself in the middle of all kinds of events I couldn't have foreseen including being with my mother in the UK as she went through major cardiac surgery, a cardiac arrest, collapsed vertebrae and a house move, Tony's mother in a coma for a few days (both mothers are now doing well), a week trip to India without Tony speaking for several hours a day at conferences and so on. The number of times I said to the Lord during that time, "Father, I don't have what it takes, but I lean into you!" were too numerous to count.

For me, listening to God (and doing what he says) is the antidote to legalism because it creates a two-way relationship. Jesus said to his disciples, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).

Having a friendship with Jesus is not a chore or duty. It's a desire.