In John 14:12, as Jesus prepared His followers for the end of His earthly ministry, He said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12 NIV).
Put simply, if we are Christ followers, we will do as Jesus did. That should be the theme for everyone who claims to be one of His followers, but so often we fail in that.
It’s a whole lot easier for us to create institutions and develop and follow a set of religious regulations than it is for us to imitate Jesus. For me, if we’re not careful, our gravitational pull is toward doing something quicker than it is to “being something,” because doing is just so much easier.
We do church — we attend, participate in the service, get our brownie points, and then we’re pretty much free the rest of the week. We simply go through the motions, sing the songs, put a tip in the bucket when it’s passed, but then get back to real life and Sunday doesn’t impact us much Monday through Saturday.
You know that’s true, because that’s exactly why some of you have stopped going to church on a regular basis: you didn’t see the connection to your real life, or you’ve been hurt by people who didn’t make that connection either.
Have you ever noticed that when we make the rules for the Christian religion, they always tend to be external? When we make the rules, they’re always safe, stuff that won’t really affect us too much.
When I was growing up, those things included hair length. We were always told, “It’s a shame for a man to have long hair.” That’s from 1 Corinthians 11:14 in the King James Bible. The standard apparently Paul had in mind here was WWII crew-cuts because everyone knew that anything longer than that was sin.
One church, and I’m not kidding, employed 11 full-time barbers and before a man could enter the service, he had to be properly shorn. Wonder how that worked for Samson who, by divine order, was not to ever cut his hair. He couldn’t get into those churches. Neither could Jesus.
Back in the days of prohibition, the Billy Sunday, a baseball player turned evangelist, focused much of his preaching against the sin of alcohol. If you go to most Baptist churches today and they have a series of special meetings, one of those meetings will be on the topic of alcohol because that’s a safe topic for us.
I’ve never heard them speak on the sin of gluttony, because that’s not a safe topic, because we do like to eat.
When we make external rules of “do” and “don’t,” it’s safe and we can feel good about ourselves, kind of compare ourselves to other people and feel superior.
When God makes the rules, they are always internal. His rules are rules of the heart that deal with relationship, not external rules that exist only for show (and what we do behind closed doors nobody knows).
Because God’s rules are rules of the heart, they are always much harder. But, here’s the thing: God’s rules really are for our good and if we follow them we will discover what John called a full and meaningful life.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.