Over ten years ago my students urged me to see the film, ‘Shawshank Redemption.’ I finished viewing it last week and found it a worthwhile film. I often ask the Lord to reveal truth to me in the movies I watch and this is what I saw in this film. An old inmate came to the end of his term and was being released into the wide world. Someone philosophising on this remarked, ‘ When you come here you hate it and you fight against it. After some years you embrace it and later still it becomes part of you. Once you have reached this stage you can’t do without it.’
Sadly the old convict could not face the ‘terrors’ of freedom and hung himself. This is like religion. It becomes a prison which people embrace and it becomes part of them. It is them and they carry around ‘prison’ in their being. Prison become the ‘lens’ through which they view the world. Freedom looks scary and with many freedom is the enemy. So rather than embrace the opportunity to grow they ‘hang themselves’ and become dead in religion.
Jesus came to set captives free. This is the message of Isaiah 61 and Luke 4.18. Jesus offers freedom, safety and comfort in Himself. He offers a higher life – the life of sons who administer and reign in the Kingdom of God. A stubborn adherence to law and a refusal to leave the Old Covenant behind is to value our prison more than Christ and to rob the cross of its power. Let’s be clear. The New Covenant is not a virus as users of the tendentious phrase, ‘New Covenant Theology’ imply. It is the Kingdom of God.
In the current scene their are two kinds of churches. Those whose life flows from Jesus and those who are attempting to produce life through mechanical means. In the former life flows from the heart of Jesus and people are ignited by His Presence. In the latter people are attempting to perform to criteria, adopt church growth methods and configure their gatherings so that some how Jesus is ‘produced.’ But in doing so they have turned the cross on its head. They are attempting to produce life when life is already present in simplicity and power – in Christ.
Years ago I wrote about the plague of ‘aboutism.’ I was describing a disease in which the Kingdom of God is described but never lived in. I refer to the kind of discussion that prompted Jesus to remark, ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God.’ Near it but not in it.
Church is more than an entity that is about Christ. Church is Christ because it is His life, His Body. But more than this, the Bride of Christ shares His heart. Thus the question on the lips of the those who are the Bride is not how can this fellowship meet my needs? It is how can I meet the needs of Jesus’ heart.
How can one explain the obsession with church and ‘getting church right,’ except as a delusion of the religious spirit? We either live in the Spirit or the letter that kills. We either live from performance or from Christ’s heart. Christ is either your life or you are. Christ is the life of the church or the church purports to be life. We either live out of the mechanical or we live from Christ’s heart.
When Christ is the life of the church it is alive and free. When some configuration 0f the church is ‘the life’ we have a creaking and a clacking. We have no life at all. Like corpses dangling in the breeze we have hung ourselves out in the name of God. The penchant for formulaic christianity on the part of religious professionals and house church ‘messiahs’ might lead one to suppose that many need to understand what they have not yet understood: Jesus is: LIFE IN HIMSELF.
Jesus is your life and the life of the church. To know Jesus as He is; to increase in the knowledge of His heart, is to know life an to know love. In the revelation of His heart, we ourselves are revealed. We see each other’s hearts and we grow in loving each other as Jesus loves us. In Jesus we are the church and are arranged as His Body to multiply life without measure.
‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full‘ John 10.10 NIV.