Lighten Up – Trust Him – Be Free!

by Greg Albrecht

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”—1 Peter 2:1-6

We need to lighten up! Institutionalized religion has turned many of us into timid little souls. Some people seem to think of God in a similar way as they recall their grandmothers. Some may remember when they visited Grandma that they had to be extremely careful not to disturb the museum-like setting of what was erroneously called her “living room.” As children, they weren’t allowed to sit down, to touch anything, and they had to take great care not to break anything.

God’s kingdom of heaven is not a grandmother’s living room that’s virtually roped off, to be used for viewing purposes only. Our relationship with God is more like sitting down at his kitchen table (which, to be fair to grandmothers, is a memorable, positive feature that many of us discovered in our relationship with Grandma). In God’s kitchen, there’s always something cooking, the smell of a pie or baked bread just out of the oven fills the room, and a freshly brewed pot of coffee beckons us.

Our relationship with God is all about sitting, talking, and being filled with nourishing, tasty spiritual food. What’s there to be cautious about? But we often have this idea that, instead of loving the Lord with all our heart, all our minds and all of our strength, we, as Christians, need to walk on eggshells around God. Instead of thinking of our relationship with God as a robust, open, say-anything-that’s-on-your-mind kind of relationship, we think of cowering in fear before someone who has little, if any time for the likes of us.

This wrong-headed perception of God can cause us to turn inward and regard our efforts to gain God’s good graces far too seriously.

Instead of luxuriating and wallowing in God’s love, Christ-less religion can cause us to shift our focus from what God has already done for us to a focus on what we must do. Religion can subtly cause us to begin to deify our own virtue.

Ash Wednesday falls somewhere between early February and early March, and represents a dedicated time when some religious traditions within Christendom believe in putting ashes on one’s forehead. Whatever you do about Ash Wednesday, please don’t think the presence or absence of ashes will make you more special in the eyes of God. If you allow ashes to be applied to your face, then it may be a true outward manifestation of your God-given inner repentance, or it may be just one more reason to wash your face. If you apply ashes, it may well be just one more ritual you can carry out which can lead you to conclude that you are pleasing God through an action or a ceremony.

When we become overly impressed with our own good deeds, we find ourselves trying to impress others, and God, with our respectability. If your main concentration as a Christian is to live a respectable life, you’re not living in Christ at all.

If virtue is your goal, you’re going to find yourself in a spiritual salt mine where your primary focus in life is producing a quota you believe will make your taskmaster happy. Such religious places are not about trusting in Christ, they are all about meeting a production quota.

If your main focus and purpose is to be a good person, then your life will, in one way or another, consist of slogging your way through deeds and ceremonies that you are convinced will make you spiritually respectable to God.

God does not call you and me to respectability—he calls us to life—freedom in Christ! I want to challenge you to Lighten Up—Trust Him—Be Free.

Since God rescued me from religion, he transformed so much of the way I live life. Once I truly started to trust him, change has characterized my life. Yet one of the constants over the past 39 years has been the house in which my wife and I have lived.

It’s a house which is just a few years older than I am. In the 39 years we have lived in our house, we have seen neighbors come and go, and for that matter, we have seen a few houses come and go.

In Southern California, when a house is 50 or 60 years old—particularly a small house like the ones originally constructed in our neighborhood—it’s considered a candidate for a “tear-down.” Developers and builders often look at such houses as having outlived their usefulness. They often see them as occupying space that could make more money if a new house were constructed. At my age, I’m relieved to know that our culture still puts up with people like me who are that old, without considering us to be ready for a “tear-down”!

Several years ago the house directly behind us was demolished. It’s a strange feeling watching a bulldozer level a house which was once a home for a family—a family whose children you watched grow up.

And then, after the leveling of the house, not one stone was left standing on another (somewhat like Jesus said about the destruction of the Jewish temple in Matthew 24:2). After the demolition of the house, all that was left was dirt. Then the bulldozer and workers started digging a new foundation upon which the construction of a new house began.

While it can be sad to watch a house demolished, it can also be inspiring to observe workers slowly fashion a new house from the ground up.

Shortly before the house on the lot directly behind our backyard wall was finished, a house across the street from our front yard was demolished. Once again, we watched the same process. And we experienced the same emotions. We had known several families who had lived in that home. We had watched their children grow. Our own children, when they were young, were invited to swim in the swimming pool of that house—at the time it was the only house on the street with a pool.

In addition to the emotions, we again experienced the noise, the dust, the earth rumbling and our house shaking as a huge Caterpillar relentlessly chewed up building materials—brick, lumber and concrete. At times we felt like soldiers on a battlefield, as a thundering tank-like machine pounded and pulverized the earth.

And then the builders arrived. Once again we were transfixed by watching, right across the street, a new house being constructed, a house that would eventually become someone’s home.

1 Peter 2:1-6 is all about the work that Jesus Christ, the master builder, the carpenter from Nazareth, the heavenly contractor, does in transforming us from what we once were to a new and living house. He transforms us into a temple that is a house for not only us, but for him, because he takes up residence in this new house that he builds for us.

You see, in this metaphor, Jesus is not only the builder, he is the very material that he uses to build our new spiritual house. He is the living stone!

If we don’t carefully read 1 Peter 2:1-6, we might think that God’s goal for our lives is for us to make ourselves into people that are virtuous and respectable. We might think that our relationship with God is all about us. But as we read our passage in its context, we see that the message is that we, as Christians, like newborn babes, grow because of spiritual milk, and that we will come to crave that spiritual milk once we taste of God’s goodness.

As we continue to study our passage we see that Peter changes the metaphor from human growth to a spiritual house. Our passage says that we are built into a spiritual house as we come to him (vs. 4). Peter is thinking of how we draw near to God. Peter is contrasting the distance between God and his people in the old covenant, with the intimacy enjoyed by Christians who trust in Christ, and believe in him, under the new covenant. Now, as Peter says, in the new covenant, all Christians are priests who can draw near to God. In the old covenant, of course, it was only a select handful of priests who could draw near to God.

To whom do we come? To whom do we draw near? We come to the Rock of ages. We come to the Foundation of our spiritual house. We come to the core and center of our beings. We come to him, the Living Stone. We come to him because we are being built, and he is the Master Builder.

When we decide that the old house that we have been living in is falling in around our ears, when we decide that the roof of our spiritual house has holes in it, that the foundation is cracked beyond repair, that our spiritual house is riddled with termites and infested with religious rats, then we need to come to the Living Stone.

Did I just say that your spiritual house might be infested with “religious rats”? Yes I did. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Jesus has a plan to get rid of those pesky religious rats.

God, by his grace, opens our eyes to our spiritual predicament, helping us realize that the religious house in which we have been living can never be a healthy and safe spiritual home. He helps us to see the true condition of our spiritual house—it’s decaying, decrepit, infested with insects and rodents. He helps us to see that the foundation of our religious house is flawed.

Many people live in religious houses that are constructed on the foundation of their own vain attempts at respectability. Realizing that any spiritual house that is constructed on religious legalisms is actually a house built on sand can help us come to him—the Living Stone.

Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27?

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

When Jesus builds a new house in us, he is not interested in remodeling the religious traditions we have constructed and cherished in our old spiritual house. They have to go. When we come to Jesus, the Living Stone, he won’t stop by our religious house to “estimate the job” and tell us all we need is a few minor repairs. Jesus, the Master Builder, won’t say something like this: “All you need is some new paint to brighten up the place, and maybe some new floor coverings. But don’t worry, you have all those religious trophy cases, you have all those religious medals and ribbons. I won’t disturb those. All those cherished special little beliefs and practices that someone convinced you makes you better than other people—no problem, you can keep those. I’ll just put the new wine of my new covenant into those old religious wineskins you’ve been using—you don’t need a new house—you don’t need a new container for my new life. I’ll just make a few cosmetic changes, put a little putty in the cracks, smear some paint here and there and you can just remain in your old spiritual house that will now look like new.”

Jesus is a master builder, not a cosmetician. The new wine he gives means that the old containers have to go. Everything that Jesus builds is new, not some partial remodel. We’re talking about a religious tear down.

In order to build a new house the old one has to be demolished. That’s exactly why Jesus said that the old covenant temple in Jerusalem had to go. It had to be completely demolished because it had become a virtual icon, a physical symbol of religious stuff that was now obsolete. The temple in Jerusalem had to go because of the new covenant given in and through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus and his disciples were walking through the grounds of the temple of Herod, a magnificent structure. It was an edifice that invited admiration. It was a religious symbol that stood for the old covenant. Jesus had come to effectively terminate religion as a means of relating to God, and instead offer the new covenant in his blood. Jesus had come to end the idea that the Jews (or any other religion, for that matter) “owned” God. Jesus had come to do something new.

And what exactly had to happen? Here’s what we read in Matthew 24:1-2.

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.

Sadly, many people read Matthew 24 and then go and try to find some headlines in their newspapers that they believe will enable them to foretell the future. The entire chapter is all about Jesus foretelling the soon-coming destruction of the Jewish temple. The Jewish temple was, in Jesus’ immediate audience’s minds (the disciples in this case), the very epitome of all religion.

What Jesus did then, with his disciples, would be like Jesus taking a tour with a group of Catholics to the Vatican today. It would be as if he walked around the Vatican, and then stopped to say, “You see all this? It’s got to come down.” Jesus makes the same statement, by the way, at any grand and exalted “holy place” whether we think they are Christian or not.

His message is always the same. All of the religious stuff has to go. All of the religious “holy places” will eventually come down. What Jesus did then, with his disciples, would be like Jesus taking people today to their trusted and admired religious brick edifices, with their massive parking lots, and saying, “This has got to go.”

How in the world can I say such a thing? Start with John’s vision about the New Jerusalem. What’s missing in the New Jerusalem? No churches. No temples. No religious “holy places.” What? Your church never read that passage to you? Read it—it’s in Revelation 21:22.

When Jesus transforms us into a place where he lives his risen life, he takes each of us on a guided tour of our own cherished religious traditions, convictions and practices, and he says, “Take a good look. It’s either all of this stuff or me. If I come and live within you, if you come to me, then all your religious belongings and possessions will have to be left behind. Lose them. Take them to the dump. Kick them to the curb. Get over it. And then, come and follow me. Here’s my offer: Lighten Up—Trust Me—Be Free.”

He takes a look at the cramped, disease-ridden, smelly little spiritual hamster cage we’ve been living in and he says, “You’ve been existing in that cramped environment, spinning on that wheel, around and around, thinking that I am happy with all of your never-ending activity. I am come that you might have life! (John 10:10). Come to me, come to freedom in me. Come to me, bring your burdens to me (Matthew 11:28-30). Lighten Up—Trust Me—Be Free.”

Jesus examines the oppressive Christ-less religion we’ve been serving, where day and night we tote that barge and lift that bale; he takes a look at the religion that makes us feel good for a little while, the religion where we get a little spiritually drunk and we land in religious bondage, in chains to religious taskmasters. Jesus, the Living Stone, says to us, “What kind of a life are you living? You don’t have a life, all you have is death. Spiritual death. You’re no better off than the Israelites were when they were slaves in Egypt. You’re in religious bondage. Your religious house is infested with rats. Let me help you. Let me release you. Let me build you a new house, where you and I can both live. Let’s get out of here. I’ll come to you if you come to me.”

He comes to our religious God-box where we congregate every week, the place we go thinking that God will be oh-so-happy if we just show up and pay him our religious dues. Jesus comes, and as the third chapter of Revelation (Revelation 3:20) says, he knocks on the door of this place we attend, religiously. He knocks on the door, he’s on the outside, looking in.

He knocks on the door, and says, “This place is not where you want to be. I’m going to run a bulldozer through here, nothing will be left. Not one stone on top of another. Then what we’ll do is start all over. I’ll be the master architect, I’ll be the contractor, I’ll be the worker, I’ll even be the building material used to make this new house. I will be the Living Stone. I will be the Rock. I will be the Foundation. What about it, you want a new house, or do you wish to remain chained in the basement, held in darkness and servitude by this religious dump you’re dying in?”

The Living Stone, the Rock, our Foundation, comes to us and says, “Lighten up—Trust me—Be Free. I want to give you freedom from the bondage you are experiencing. I want to live in you, and you can live in me, let’s build a new house for you, let’s do this together.”

You know what many people say when Jesus arrives, ready to demolish their old house, inviting them to live in eternal relationship with him, offering them freedom from their religious addictions and suffering? They say, “I don’t know. That grace stuff sounds so radical! I think I’ll just stay where I am. The words to that old favorite religious hymn tell me ‘Just give me that old time religion, it’s good enough for me.'”

I believe Jesus responds, “Old time religion is the problem. That’s what has to go. I’m offering to abide with you, now and forever. But in order for that to happen, the old time religion has to go.”

His offer, friends, is open to everyone. Let Jesus help you lighten up. Come unto him, all of you who are carrying heavy religious burdens. All of you who are enslaved by religion, all of you who are serving time in a religious salt mine, carrying weights and expectations, laboring to meet quotas placed on you by your taskmasters, come to him. Allow Jesus to construct a new spiritual place, a place where he will live in you, and you in him, forever. Accept his deliverance, freedom, and transformation. Jesus will give you an eternal home. Come to him. Lighten Up—Trust Him—Be Free.