Can you imagine how awful it would be to have a disease inside you?  How much worse would it be if the following were the symptoms of the disease: you will never be able to see it, feel it or know it’s inside you?  Actually, most people have this disease.  It’s called pride.  The amazing thing about pride is, the people who have it, never see it or take ownership of it.  Why?  They can’t see it.

The reason they can’t see pride in themselves is because they externally appear to do good things.  ‘Serving others’ makes them feel good because they appear to be ‘serving.’  The reality is, that service is ultimately for themselves.  So it appears to be a great act of giving or serving but the motivation, the agenda, is to serve themselves to feel good.

Pride is a disease that blurs the person’s ability to see life with clarity and slowly kills all relationships they are in.  Pride destroys their relationship with God, with others, an ultimately themselves.  A prideful person views themselves as superior when compared to others.  They have an inordinately high view of themselves.  They live with an arrogant assumption that they are better than others.  When they see others through the grid of ‘I am better than you’ or ‘I am more educated than you’ or ‘I having nothing to learn from you’ they lose their ability to genuinely love and serve others.  And, those are the very two qualities needed to grow meaningful relationships.  They are unable to love and serve others, instead, they love and serve themselves. That’s why, the prideful person ultimately leaves a trail of broken relationships.

Pride is the fertile ground where Religion is born.  The source of Religion is pride and selfishness.  The person with pride will know the rules and follow the rules.  They feel good in following the rules.  They want others to know how well they follow the rules.  Actually, they break rules too, but they hide their anger, addictions, and others sins.  They struggle to be transparent because others around them would discover they are actually failing at following all the rules.  They like to make sure that others follow the rules; this makes them very critical. If you ask them, they say, “I’m not critical, I’m just concerned.” That’s a much nicer way of saying, “I am very critical of you.”   Pointing out when others don’t follow the rules comes naturally to them because they don’t reflect on the true condition of their heart. Why? If you don’t have anything wrong with you, why would you have to work on your heart? Again, they can’t see pride.

When they give, they give 10% as God has asked. Maybe even 11%.  They think, ‘I am good, I am obedient.’  When they serve, they serve with character and loyalty as God has asked.  They think, ‘I am faithful, I am reliable.’  They normally do not show too much emotion because the good mature Christian person, they think, has it all under control. To show emotion, or to reveal that they have a wounded heart, would be less than mature. “New Christians do that,” they think. They are busy doing all the right things and emotionally keeping everything in check.

The product of Religion is the slow, painful, death of all relationships around them.  I am not saying relationships end necessarily, although that does happen.  I am talking about being in a relationship with a prideful person is like a slow death.  A better word would be ‘oppressive.’  You always feel judged.  You feel weighed and measured and you came up short.  There is less and less fun, happiness and acceptance. It’s like being in a room with less and less oxygen. It’s a slow death to everything that brings joy to a relationship.  The relationship is void of compliments and encouragement. Instead there are discussions to be had, critiques to wrestle with and you will always walk away with work for you to do.

When you walk away from this person, you have private conversations in your head. You think to yourself, ‘What they said seems right but for some reason it doesn’t feel right to my heart.’ You make excuses for the person that sound like, ‘Ya, I know what they said but if you knew them, they are actually good people.’ Truth is, over time, you stop making excuses for them.

In general, the person with pride leaves a trail of broken relationships and shredded people. The crazy thing is, they don’t understand why they can’t keep long term friendships. The reality is, people feel gutted and oppressed around them.  That’s what Religion does to people. It destroys relationships. The prideful person’s understanding of broken relationships around them is, “The other people had to work out a few things.”

When a local church is filled with people who are filled with Religion, the culture is simply awful.  The people appear to do all the right things but will tear each other to pieces.  They walk in unforgiveness, division, criticalness, gossip, judgmentalism, etc.  On the outside, everything appears to be good as they follow the rules but the result is a slow death of all that is good.  When confronted with truth, the religious culture will not allow it to penetrate their hearts and behaviors.

If you are raised in Religion, it becomes a learned behavior.  It’s the way you live.  To question it leads to the leaders of the community, or parents, making you feel guilty.  You are a bad person to question it.  You aren’t loyal or faithful.  You need to mature and submit more.  To break out of Religion is a gut wretching time.  You fight for spiritual freedom but experience tremendous doubt and guilt.

What is Religion?  The foundation of Religion is pride and selfishness.  It blinds people from the disease that is in them.  It blinds people from their need of God’s grace.  The simple definition if Religion is:  when people, instead of embracing God’s grace, get absorbed in their outward activity to be holy. When absorbed on activity and living out the rules, it completely eliminates our need of what Christ did on the cross and in the grave.

I want you to read what scripture says about God grace.

Romans 4:4-5  If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it – you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked – well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.

The job of being holy is too big for us so Jesus did for us.  It’s that simple.  A religious person would agree with this but would want to add, “And you need to follow the rules.” To make salvation so easy is a struggle for the religious. Why? They don’t fully experience God’s grace. Since they follow the rules, they don’t need God’s grace as much as others do. The grace talk is too simple and easy.

Paul continues to write about what breaks his heart.

Romans 9:1-5  You need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow. It’s an enormous pain deep within me, and I’m never free of it. I’m not exaggerating – Christ and the Holy Spirit are my witnesses. It’s the Israelites . . . If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I’d do it in a minute. They’re my family. I grew up with them. They had everything going for them -family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises, to say nothing of being the race that produced the Messiah, the Christ, who is God over everything, always. Oh, yes! 

…How can we sum this up? All those people who didn’t seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he straightened out their lives. And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and wentsprawling. Isaiah (again!) gives us the metaphor for pulling this together:

Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion, a stone you can’t get around. But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me, you’ll find me on the way, not in the way.

Paul broke out of Religion.  He is walking in the grace and freedom of Christ.  Who is arguing with Paul? Who is hunting him down to kill him?  The religious people, actually, the people he grew up with.  Paul is saying, my family and my church family missed it. They didn’t trust in God’s grace. They took over with activities. They got absorbed in doing all the right things and missed the simplicity of God’s grace. They are so focused on the rules, they missed Jesus.

Paul continues in the next chapter.

Romans 10:1-3  I readily admit that the Jews are impressively energetic regarding God – but they are doing everything exactly backward. They don’t seem to realize that this comprehensive setting-things-right that is salvation is God’s business, and a most flourishing business it is. Right across the street they set up their own salvation shops and noisily hawk their wares. After all these years of refusing to really deal with God on his terms, insisting instead on making their own deals, they have nothing to show for it.

…It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God -“Jesus is my Master” – embracing, body   and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!”

The simplicity of calling out to God for help IS salvation.  All the religious people around him are busy, energetically trying to follow the rules.  What they are doing is backwards Paul said. They missed God’s grace.  Instead of focusing on their deep need of God, they just keep on being busy.

Paul then writes about his frustration in trying to communicate with them.

Romans 10:18-21 haven’t there been plenty of opportunities for Israel to listen and understand what’s going on? Plenty, I’d say.  Preachers’ voices have gone ’round the world, their message to earth’s seven seas.

So the big question is, why didn’t Israel understand that she had no corner on this message? Moses had it right when he predicted, when you see God reach out to those you consider your inferiors -outsiders! – you’ll become insanely jealous.  When you see God reach out to people you think are religiously stupid, you’ll throw temper tantrums.

Isaiah dared to speak out these words of God:  People found and welcomed me who never so much as looked for me.  And I found and welcomed people who had never even asked about me.

Then he capped it with a damning indictment: Day after day after day, I beckoned Israel with open arms, and got nothing for my trouble but cold shoulders and icy stares.

Paul says that for hundreds of years, when God’s grace was preached, the religious were like deer in headlights, they looked at him with cold shoulders and icy stares. That sums up what it is like to deal with pride. If you address a person with pride, you will have a ‘cold’ experience. They will be absolutely stunned that you see pride in them. They will be shocked, offended and quickly point to all the right things they do. Even with a trail of busted up people and relationships behind them, they quickly conclude that those wounded people just didn’t understand.

When you confront Religion, the response is so predictable. The following five responses are very common. The common theme from a religious person in all of the responses is, “I demand control.”

Share concerns in an effort to control. Anyone who works or serves in a business or church should be able to share openly their concerns. What makes a religious person’s concern different is their expectation that will agree with them. If you do, all is good, you are forgiven and highly praised for listening to the opinion of others. If you don’t agree with them, oh my. The issue may go under the carpet, so to say, but it will never go away. It will be the beginning of them talking to others to gain support for their cause. It will come back to bite you.

How you will feel. If you agree, they celebrate you and you feel like a great leader. If you don’t agree, you leave the meeting feeling okay. You might even believe that they understand you and you both are able to move forward. When they revisit this issue, it will be confusing to you because you thought it was done and over.

Others share the same concerns. In discussions with a religious person, they will be quick to point out that others share their concern. They have been talking with others, never in a sinful gossip way, and everyone agrees with them. When you ask who they are addressing, they will never say.

How you will feel. They want you to feel the weight of their words. Because they met you and you didn’t agree, they now need leverage, or weight, to get you to change. Dropping the idea that others feel like they feel is supposed to give you the feeling that you are up against way more than you can handle. You should see things their way and just give in. You will feel tired after this.

I am bigger than being accountable. If you want to raise the level of the discussion to Def Con 3, point out their pride and arrogance using specific examples. You will discover an amazing thing. They will never admit any mistake and they will never offer any apology. If someone brought up these issues with you, you would immediately do some self- reflection. However, the person with Religion does not. They simply disregard your comments and the battle begins. They don’t become repentant to spiritual leadership, they get angry, real angry. The people with better people skills won’t show that anger. Instead, they simply dismiss your factual comments with statements like, “That never happened.” 

How you will feel. You will feel disappointed. You will wonder when your relationship took a turn. You will wonder how you both got to this point. You become disheartened because you realize, unless the religious person has a God moment, there is no way you will ever be on the same page again.

I will threaten you. The threats can vary from, I will leave this church to I will make your life miserable. I have heard both. The threats are real. Think about it. They had a concern. They met with you and couldn’t get you to agree. They told you other people agreed with them and you still didn’t relent. Then you actually have the nerve to try to hold them accountable? What’s is left? Threats. Maybe a threat will force you to cave. 

How you will feel. There is no way to escape feeling ‘the hit.’ It will be a real spiritual hit. If you are close to them, it will hurt deeply. If you aren’t close, you might see it as it is and shrug it off.

I am angry. If you never cave, the religious person gets angry. What did the religious people do to Jesus? They manipulated the system to have Jesus killed. That’s what will happen. They will manipulate the system any way they can to have you removed. 

How you will feel. Defeated. All you wanted to do is love people and your reward? People hate you and want you removed. Really!?! You will think, “I don’t get paid enough for this.” And you’re right.

Do you see Religion in you? Ask those around you, they know. What to do now?  Begin by renouncing pride. It is a sin, an evil sin, renounce it. “In the Name of Jesus, pride is a sin and I see it in me. Please forgive me of my pride. Do whatever you need to do in me to shatter my pride. Please anoint me with the Holy Spirit and give me a humble heart.” 

Put yourself in a spot, on purpose, where you declare your absolute need of God’s grace. How?  3 Practical ways

1.) Serve. Serve in your local church. Have the maturity to disagree privately and agree publically with your leader. Serve your leader. Defend your leader. Never say a negative thing            about your leader to others, ever.   Never leverage your money, time or energy to get what you want. People who do this are insecure, manipulative, controlling people.

Remember David’s story? 1 Samuel 24:6-7 He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD.” With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. NIV

2.) Give. Give with no strings attached. Give all 10% as a tithe. Then meet with your leader and ask if there is anything you can privately fund. Yes, do it. It is the practical way to kill pride in                the soul. Have the maturity to know that you are serving God’s kingdom and God has placed your leader there to lead you.

3.) Encourage. What you think is ‘sharing your concern’ others think is criticism. People around you feel ‘oppressed’ because you always weigh and measure them and they come up short. Do  you know why this is? You’re insecure. You have to put others down to make yourself look good.

Don’t believe me? Ask those around you. Ask those you work with, work for and live with.

Every time the desire comes over you to say something negative or share a ‘concern’ stop it. Immediately begin writing a note of what you see that is good. Encourage them. Build them up.

Can’t do it? Prideful people can’t. People smashed by God’s grace recognize their need of God and realize the importance of building others up. Yes, do this. It’s is the practical way to remove and heal your heart from pride and Religion.