We live in a society that is constantly reminding us that we are not enough. We are not attractive enough… rich enough… popular enough… smart enough… successful enough… the list goes on. Various media show us glimpses of other people’s lives. The illusion that they have it all only serves to reinforce our insecurities. We never stop to ask ourselves who we are trying to impress or why the approval of others matter so much to us. These insecurities are exactly was false religious leaders exploit to gain dependence from their followers.
We must prove our worthiness to God.
False teaching emphasizes what we must do to earn God’s favor and forgiveness. According to this philosophy the good and bad things we do in our lives are weighed on a scale. In order to be worthy of God our good deeds must outweigh the bad things we’ve done. This means followers need to follow a strict set of rules provided by their religious leader to earn God’s favor. But as good as you may try to be, you can’t ever be sure you’ve done enough good to outweigh the bad. This only fuels feeling of guilt and fear. This fear drives people to cling closer to religious leaders. By claiming to have a greater insight into God, people begin to blindly follow the direction of these false teachers.
“But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see:..”Matthew 23:3-5
Unaware that they can have a personal relationship with Jesus, false teachers portray themselves as a gateway to Jesus. Obedience or disobedience to the leader or doctrine is equated with obedience or disobedience to God. Once this occurs the “church” has the ability to ask anything of their followers under the guise that it is what God wants.
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.1 Timothy 6:3-5
To maintain control, church members are often isolated from outside influences. Teaching that those outside of the church are corrupt and sinful, association with nonbelievers is discouraged. Surrounded by only their community of believers increases the pressure to conform and maintain and outward image of perfection. Sharing feelings of doubt, worry, fear, or depression is not encouraged or accepted. Anyone facing these issues feels isolated and alone because invisible walls keep members separated from each other. This keeps relationships within the church superficial and devoid of honesty.
“Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”Matthew 15:14
Projecting an image of perfection not only separates us from each other, it separates us from God. If we are already perfect why do we need forgiveness? If we can’t even admit our sin why do we need Jesus? By looking to other fallible human beings for approval or guidance we will never feel truly satisfied. We just continue to chase something that’s outside of our grasp.
The truth is alone we aren’t good enough. You aren’t good enough… I’m not good enough… even the Pope isn’t good enough! By nature we are sinful, imperfect beings incapable of earning God’s grace.
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23
The good news? We don’t have earn it! God continues to love us even with our flaws and imperfections. We are so loved that God already had our redemption planned from the time of the first sin. We are so loved that Jesus willingly laid down his life to save ours.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11
Because of this sacrifice we are no longer slaves to sin because Jesus has covered our sin. We are no longer slaves to worldly approval because he has made us worthy. Accepting the life-changing grace offered by Christ changes everything.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:6-8
This world loses its hold over us when we turn our lives over to Christ. We no longer need to follow a long list of rules because Jesus has satisfied the law. We’re no longer dependent on religious leaders to gain access to God because Jesus now intercedes for us. We can now have a direct relationship with our Father in heaven. Christ is not just our Savior and Redeemer, he is also the only Teacher we need because he leads to God’s truth. He came to teach us something new, and if we will never be lead astray if we follow his teaching.
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.Matthew 23:8-10
If we continue to chase after worldly things then how can we say we are changed? If our words and our actions simply blend in with those around us, how can we say the Holy Spirit is living within us? Evidence of his life-changing message should be reflected in our lives.
… Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.John 8:31
We aren’t expected to prove our worth, but we are expected to follow. We hold to his teaching when we are guided by what Jesus calls the greatest commandments.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”Mark 12:30-31
Following Jesus doesn’t make you a perfect person. We will often struggle to follow these two commands, but the Holy Spirit living within us provides us the strength to keep trying. As our faith grows it becomes easier to align our desires with those of our Heavenly Father.