by guest blogger, Gage Browning!
Is Religion itself a bad thing? I have heard people say, “it’s not about rules, it’s about relationship.” Funny, in all of my relationships, there are certain rules to follow. What husband doesn’t have rules in his home, most of them dictated by his wife? Nevertheless, I understand the mentality that says, “Religion” is a bad thing. I grew up seeing what oppressive legalistic religion looks like in my early years as an independent, fundamental Baptist. But God rescued me from that tradition that adds burdensome “blue laws” to the Law of God, as if the Law wasn’t heavy enough.
So I understand some of what Steve Brown is saying. The brand of Christianity that I was in when I was young, would never allow its pastors to “eat and drink” with sinners. I dare say that if “religion” is a set of man-made rules followed by those who’ve never experienced the grace of God in the gospel, then yes, that type of religion is “dead orthodoxy.” That type of “religion” wouldn’t have done the woman caught in adultery any good, and would have hurt the woman with the issue of blood.
What type of religion is good? True religion is consumed with the gospel. True religion is consumed, obsessed, and overcome by the gospel. A life overcome by the gospel acts a certain way. A life overcome by the gospel lives a certain way. A life overcome by the gospel believes certain things. A life consumed by the gospe . . . is what it means to be “experimental.” In other words, it’s experiential. This is not a simple, “head and heart” thing. It’s a kind of religion that is affected by the Scripture, that it invades all of your being. After reading what Steve Brown said, I couldn’t help but think of a story.
There was a young oriental boy that accepted an apprenticeship to learn to carve jade.
The first day he arrived at his new master’s hut, his master gave him a small piece of jade to hold in his hand. His master said, “Hold this jade, squeeze it, rub it. Do not put it down until I say.”
With that admonition, the boy’s teacher went about his chores. Finally at the end of the day, the master asked the boy to give him the stone and sent him home.
The next day, the boy was looking forward to carving his first piece of jade. He was disappointed when his master asked him to do the same thing all over again. His master repeated, “Hold this jade, squeeze it, rub it. Do not put it down until I say.”
The boy grew tired of holding the jade and was glad when dark came and he was able to go home, but the next day it was the same thing all over again, even the very same words! “Hold this jade, squeeze it, rub it. Do not put it down until I say.”
The same tiring routine went on day after day, until the boy decided he absolutely could take it no more. He made up his mind: he would find another vocation. So, when he saw his master he blurted out, “Today is my last day. I am wasting my time and yours. You have taught me nothing. I have spent all my time squeezing your stupid jade. I cannot endure another day.”
He expected his master to explode in rage. Bu the old man peered into his eyes and softly said, “Ah, just so. Well, since it is your last day and you have learned nothing perhaps you would humor your master and repeat the same old stupid task one last time.”
With that, he reached out his old wrinkled hand and dropped a beautiful lime green stone in the boy’s hand. The boy instinctively began to rub it and the old man shuffled off to do his chores. The boy realized something was wrong. He looked down at the stone and looked up at the bowed figure of the old man, and suddenly, he found himself shouting, “Master! Master!”
The old man turned around and the boy wondered why the old man was smiling a toothless smile. “Yes, my son?” he asked.
Breathless, the young boy stammered, “Master, I do not know what this stone is, but I know what it is not. It is most definitely no jade.”
You see, the young apprentice was now an experienced, or “experimental,” apprentice. Likewise, to be an experimental Calvinist, one must know and have experienced the gospel. It is still amazing to me to know that when God the Father looks at me, he doesn’t say, “Guilty,” he says, “Innocent,” because Jesus’ righteousness has been credited to me. Is this not the experience of the prophet in Isaiah, chapter 6?
When Isaiah was confronted with the Majesty of God, he was overcome by his own sin. Then he hit the streets with the good news when his sin was taken away. “Here I am, Lord, send me.”
This is true religion. One that has seen the glory of God compared to his own sinfulness, and lived to tell about it, because of the grace of God in Christ. True religion is when an adulturous woman is forgiven, and then goes home and gratefully tries to sin no more. It is when a woman pours out her heart and soul, and yes, even her perfume, and pours it on the feet of the Savior and wipes his feet with her hair.
True religion is experimental. It’s not Presbyterian, although I am one. It’s not heady, intellectual Calvinism, although I wave the TULIP flag.
True religion is experimental. True religion knows and loves the gospel.
True religion has experienced saving grace. True religion is not concerned with legalistic rules, but loves the Law of God.
True religion is the experience of a brand that is plucked from the fire, begging to serve the risen Christ.
This is true religion, and this is what I long for in my own life. I want to feel it, taste it, know it, believe it, experience and tell others about it.
True religion is consumed with the gospel so that when he sees fake religion he knows it immediately, much like the young apprentice knew when fake jade was in his hand. We are all apprentices, hopefully, “experimental” ones.