guy in desert

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. Gal. 1:6

It’s a sorrowful thing to watch an individual reject God when they have never known Him or experienced His grace. If only they would give Him a chance. If only they would allow Jesus to speak fresh words of freedom and hope to their soul. If only they would give the Spirit the opportunity to expose them to the joys of abundant life. If they would only surrender themselves to His mercy, then they would come to know the true love their hearts have always wanted.

But even more sorrowful than watching the unbeliever reject God, is watching the believer desert God. For the believer has experienced God’s love and grace. They have tasted the joy and delight of abundant life, yet they’ve fallen prey to lies that say true life is found in things that can never fully satisfy.

The temptation to turn away from God is nothing new. Ever since the beginning of time, humanity has been listening to other voices seeking to convince us that God doesn’t have our best interest in mind, or that he is holding out on us, or that we are in need of new revelation. These voices raise doubt in our hearts and cause us to question things we know to be true. Without full confidence that we have everything we need in the grace of Christ, we will be lured away by these voices.

But don’t think that those who desert God exchange the grace of Christ for an overtly immoral lifestyle. The picture we may draw up in our mind of the deserter is that of an individual who’s cheating on their spouse, cheating in their business, and overcome by addiction. However, in the Galatian church, those who are deserting God are not turning from the grace of Christ to immorality but to the law. Essentially, they are becoming more religious. They are being deceived into believing that added regulations and rituals will enhance their faith and bring fulfillment to it. However, the law doesn’t enhance our faith. It burdens our faith and perverts the gospel.

Deserting God for a religious lifestyle can actually be more dangerous than deserting God for an immoral one. The deserter headed for immorality most likely knows they’re deserting God. There’s no confusing a life surrendered to Christ and a life steeped in sin. It’s relatively easy to see the disparity. The danger of deserting God for religion is that on the outside a religious life can look very similar to a life oriented towards Christ. For the religious person, it’s easy to convince yourself that there’s nothing wrong with the way you are living. “I regularly attend church! How can that be bad? I read the scriptures daily and memorize them too! I serve in the community and help the poor! I’m doing the things scripture call us to do.” But inside the religious person is empty, hollow, and dead.

Not that long ago my wife and I went to a good friends house for dinner. His wife is an incredible baker. That evening, as we arrived, my eyes were immediately drawn to a beautiful cake sitting in an enclosed glass cake plate on the counter. The frosting was perfect. There was fresh fruit on top. The light from the kitchen even made the glass plate sparkle. It may have been the most beautiful cake I had ever seen. My taste buds were anticipating a party just looking at it.

After a few minutes of catching up, I excitedly asked about the cake wondering if we were having it for dessert? My friend’s wife began to chuckle and said no. She said it was only for decoration. My excitement dissipated into confusion. I asked why in the world would you have a cake for decoration? She began to tell me that it wasn’t a real cake. I looked back and forth between her and the cake in bewilderment. Not a real cake? It looked like a real cake. The frosting was real. The fruit on top was real. I asked how it could not be real? She laughed some more and said it was merely frosted cardboard. It had the appearance of a real cake. It was beautiful on the outside, but empty and hollow on the inside.

In the book of Revelation, an angel of the Lord warns the church in Sardis saying, I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Rev. 3:1)

The danger in deserting Christ for religion lies in a subtle shift from having our confidence rooted in Christ’s righteousness to our own. Those who trust in their own righteousness lack spiritual vitality. Our righteousness, in comparison to Christ’s, is merely a filthy rag (Is. 64:4). The Christian life is a vicarious life. It’s Christ’s life in us. We are called to abandon ourselves so that we can inherit His life and His righteousness. That’s Paul’s gospel.

If a new voice comes around proclaiming that something needs to be added to the death and resurrection of Christ, beware! Don’t be deceived. Remember the words of the Apostle Peter when he says, in Christ we have everything we need (1 Pt. 1:3f).

Reflect:

1. What’s tempting about deserting God for a religious lifestyle?
2. In what ways to do you find you slip into religiosity?

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