I would like to start my time with you by sharing with you my definition of the Spirit of Religion.  Religion will always try to minimize Jesus and everything He did for us on The Cross.  This is what Ken was really showing us today, religion minimizes Jesus and all that He did for us on the Cross.  Anytime you and I try to do what Jesus already did for us we will have a real mess on our hands.  The kind of mess that leaves us confused.  The kind of mess that leaves us tired and hurt.  You know what, for many of us that is how we would describe our church experience though isn’t it?  Messy, leaving us feeling tired, hurt and probably pretty confused on how we ended up in that spot.  This is what happens when religion runs the show, rather than relationship running the show and the big challenge of that is we really don’t see it coming, because religion looks so close to the real deal!  It feels good, because you are doing a lot of good things.  It looks good because you are looking the part in every way but something is missing, and deep down inside you know it, and over time you feel it.

You see, religion will always have you trying to earn something.  You will always have to work for God’s love, His grace, and your own salvation but there is a huge problem with that idea…it runs completely opposite of what our Bible tells us.  There is nothing you can do to earn God’s love.  There is nothing you can do to earn God’s grace.  Remember grace is literally defined as unmerited favor, and unearned gift and there is absolutely nothing you can do to earn your salvation.  Do you know why?  It’s because Jesus already did it for you!  This is the beauty of Jesus and the amazing love of our Heavenly Father that he would take care of everything for us!  Jesus, God’s one and only Son comes to do what we could just never handle on our own…but here’s the thing.  There is not a person in here who doesn’t know that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  We know this.  We are celebrating His resurrection today!  We all know it!  This is one of the two big Sundays right?  We come to church when Jesus was born on Christmas and when He rose from the dead on Easter!  We know that is what Easter is all about!   We have this information in our brains…but for whatever reason it doesn’t seem to translate from our minds to our hearts allowing us to walk in the kind of joy and freedom that a Christian should walk in.  Timeout, you do know that a Christian should walk in freedom, and joy with fulfillment beyond what any other human should have right?  Yes, that is the kind of life a Christian should live because of Jesus and all of His victorious work for us on the Cross.  Remember that verse I read to you almost every Sunday?  It’s that verse where Jesus tells you why He came to this Earth!

John 10:10  …I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. NIV

So someone walking in a relationship with Jesus should live this life to the full thing out.  They should walk with joy and a lightness in the knowledge that they are saved by the amazing love and the amazing grace of God.  But can I ask you something today?  Is that your experience as a Christian?  How about for you who just came today because it’s a big holiday and it makes your mom happy to have you show up at church on Easter?  How would you describe a Christian?  What is your interaction with Christians like today?  Do they look happy?  Do they look like they are living life to the full?  Do you think they are enjoying life at all?  It’s interesting, we have the Good News of Jesus in our lives.  We are told we are loved beyond anything our human brains could ever comprehend by the God of the Universe…yet for most people, if they were to describe a Christian I think the popular answer would be to say, that most Christians don’t seem to live out this bold and free lifestyle…most Christians just seem tired and stuck.  Most Christians just seem miserable.  So there is a problem.  Something is missing or maybe more importantly something has been taken away.  What has been taken away is Jesus and the Cross and what has taken it away is religion that Ken was talking about earlier.  Remember Religion is trying to take away Jesus and everything that he did for you and for me on the Cross.

There is nothing harder for us people to identify in our lives than the Spirit of Religion.  It is so difficult to see because it is so close to the real thing, but when we see it, we can live differently.  When we see it, we can move forward into a truly free life in Jesus because He is central.  We allow Jesus to do all the heavy lifting for us…because if we are honest living a holy life is hard.  Working to earn something like our salvation that we have no ability to earn feels like work.  It is exhausting, it’s frustrating, and it really doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun.  It’s certainly not that life to the full thing that Jesus told you that He came to give you.  So why do so many Christians seem so grumpy, tired, and frustrated?  It’s religion.  Religion has slid into the place in their life where relationship should be.  It’s because so many Christians have made the decision that they need to earn all the things from God that Jesus came and already gave you…which would be frustrating, tiring, and exhausting because you can’t earn something that you already have!  A person walking in religion struggles to see the truth.  They can celebrate Easter today, and be amazed at Jesus’ sacrifice for them on the Cross and never allow that amazing victory to consume their own life.  Let me tell you this is the biggest tragedy in our world today.  It’s people deciding that religion is the answer over a true relationship with Jesus…and it’s our deepest prayer for you today that no matter where you are in life, you will be consumed by God’s love in such a way that you could walk in freedom, in joy, and in the peace that can only come from understanding that Jesus did it all for you.  This is what we celebrate today Jesus taking the rule dominated way of life down into a tomb and leaving it there.  Jesus destroyed religion and left us with relationship which is a beautiful thing!

Romans 7:4 So, my friends, this is something like what has taken place with you. When Christ died he took that entire rule-dominated way of life down with him and left it in the tomb, leaving you free to “marry” a resurrection life and bear “offspring” of faith for God. MSG

I love that verse it tells us that Jesus tore down religion and left it in the tomb…this is so clearly laid out in Scripture, yet so many of us struggle to find that kind of freedom in our own lives.  We seem to try to dig up the very thing Jesus buried in the tomb.  Remember religion (that entire rule dominated way of living) seems right but it is taking away Jesus and all that He did for us on the cross.  What’s amazing to me is how close religion can be to what we believe in our human eyes, while completely contradicting everything that we believe, celebrate, and worship in every way!  Religion tells me things like this…I cannot sin our I will burn in hell, I must be perfect.  Then every time I do sin, I wallow in guilt and shame…yet my Bible tells me this…

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. NIV

It’s always opposite.  Amazing isn’t it.  So many people inside and outside of the church hear you say that you are a Christian and all they hear you say is that you think you are perfect!  When in actuality all you are saying is that you are far from perfect, and you readily admit it, but you know the one who is perfect who took away all your sins for you.  No one is perfect.  We weren’t created to be perfect, so how in the world did we ever get to the place where we thought we should try to be?  Yes we are growing towards holiness everyday but that is done through relationship not religious work or duty.  You want to stop sinning?  I like to tell people this, first you are a human being and you will mess up so just breathe through your nose on the idea of perfection and do this…focus on loving God, and the holiness thing will take care of itself.  So many people fall for this stuff, they choose to make it about them and not about Jesus.  They choose to make it about all the things that they need to do to earn God’s love and earn their own salvation…and the brutal thing is they can’t earn any of it.  Why because it’s already theirs through Jesus, and the only thing they really need to do is believe in Him and it’s their gift.  From a God who loves them.  The choice that will change your life is the choice to leave that religious nonsense and engage into a true relationship with God.  Listen to Paul’s words here and allow these 5 verses to soak into your heart and into your life today.  This is what it’s all about.

Galatians 2:16 We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it — and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good. 17 Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. 18 If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan. 19 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. 20 Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I am not going to go back on that.  Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily. MSG

This is your Bible speaking today!  This is so clear.  This is why we are here today celebrating Jesus and His victory over death.  It’s because He is the answer.  So the question I have for you today is how are you doing with this?  Are you tired?  Is your Christian faith exhausting and frustrating?  Are you working your head off trying to please God?  It doesn’t work so why are you doing it?  Listen we have all been there.  If this is how your life would be described than you have a choice to make and this choice will change your entire life.  You can drop all the religious stuff and choose Jesus today.  This is how freeing the Gospel message should be in your life…do you see it?  I know, I know you sinned too much and you have messed up too much, and now you have work to do to earn God’s love or make it up to God or whatever the lie may be.  Here’s my problem with that, the moment you decide that as reality, you have minimized Jesus and His amazingly loving work for you on the cross…which is you choosing religion over relationship.

Here at MRC there is nothing that matters to us more than you understanding all that Jesus did for you on the Cross.  There is nothing we pray for more than for you to make the decision to drop all the religious nonsense and enter into a free, joy filled life and relationship with Jesus…but we can’t make that choice for you.  All we can do is show it to you and pray that this message wouldn’t just stay in your brain, or be some part of a weird Sunday ceremony for you, but that the Holy Spirit would drive it into your hearts in such a way that you would make the choice to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior…and that you would allow the Savior to do the saving.  For many of us up to this point, we have tried to do the saving, and it just doesn’t work.