Religious Control Opposes God’s Grace by Greg Albrecht
Friend and Partner Letter from February 2022
I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on their dozing congregations, steal their bottle of religious pills…and flush them all down the drain. The church, by and large, has drugged itself into thinking that proper human behavior is the key to its relationship with God. What preachers need to do is force it to go cold turkey with nothing but the word of the cross—and then be brave enough to stick around while [the congregation] goes through the inevitable withdrawal symptoms.—“The Foolishness of Preaching,” Robert Farrar Capon
During your lifetime, chances are you have filled and imbibed some prescriptions written for you by religious professionals. If you are at all like me, at some point in your past, you swallowed religious pills hook, line and sinker and you became addicted. I know many of you, formerly addicted to “hollow and deceptive philosophy”—to “elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8) —to “observing special days and months and seasons and years” (Galatians 4:10) have now, by the grace of God, gone cold turkey, kicked the habit and are free from religious fears and superstitions. Thank God for his grace that detoxes us!
The basic, common denominator ingredient in all religious pills is the assumption that human beings, by our efforts, can achieve spiritual righteousness, which of course we lack the ability to do. But if the religious pills create an impossible expectation, then why do people remain hooked on religious drugs?
The word “control” is one of the most important elements appearing on the side of the religious pill bottle that lists the active ingredients. It doesn’t take much of a sales job by big religious pharma companies to convince humans that we can control our lives without any help from God. We are low hanging fruit, ripe for picking.
Who wants to admit they need God? We are hard wired to insist on doing things ourselves. We would rather God be obligated to reward us for our good behavior than humbly admit that we can only receive his favor by his grace.
Of course, the doctors and pharmacists of Christ-less religion within Christendom know that the gospel is based on the grace of God, but they water it down and dilute it. They explain that grace is what God gives us when he calls us, but our obedience, compliance, moral behavior, good character and devotion is necessary to remain within God’s good grace(s). We are in control of our relationship with God, says Christ-less religion, and it keeps on dispensing pills to keep us addicted to this proposition.
Legalistic religion explains that God’s grace kick-starts our relationship with God, like a down payment, but it is necessary for us to keep up the weekly payments. God’s grace initiates our relationship with him, but it is up to us to maintain it—so they say.
Control opposes God’s grace. Christ-less religious institutions can only remain in business if they can control the inmates of their institutions. Many ecclesiastical institutions admit that controlling their members and followers is a priority. Religious institutions at large are at war with grace because God’s grace, if universally embraced, will put religion out of business. And one day it will!
Religious laws pretend to give spiritual slaves all they will ever need after the prisoners conform and comply. Christ-less laws are all about controlling members and constituents—keeping them in line. By contrast, the ministry and teaching of Jesus—his gospel—is all about freedom in Christ.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.—Galatians 5:1
If you think I am being too hard on religious institutions, in an attempt to be fair, let me restate the issue. We humans invented religion, because we hate God’s grace. Our nature is self-centered. We despise hand-outs. We want to be in control. We want to be masters of our own destiny, even if we must be addicted to religious pills to keep us medicated with the illusion of control.
We humans “invented” religion? “Now you sound like an atheist, Greg,” some might respond. No, by the grace of God, now I sound like a Christ-follower. Christ-followers are men and women of faith, who solely rely on Jesus, who trust in him and follow him, accepting his goodness, rejecting anyone who suggests that they have the power to produce enough goodness and righteousness to please God.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.—Romans 3:21-22
Week after week, at many religious addresses and buildings, people dutifully line up to get their “God-fix.” Week after week, religious pharmacies dispense a week’s supply of religious pills that keep the congregation deluded, sedated and “high” on the illusion they can control their destiny—they can please and appease God if they just work hard enough. They believe they can actually control God and what he will do for them if they can just run faster, work harder and do more.
After Robert Farrar Capon suggests that preachers be naughty and steal the religious pills that keep the congregation deceived and docile, he continues in the same context, explaining Christ-centered, grace-based preaching:
“Unless the faith of preachers is in that [that is, in the grace and mercy of God] alone [as in faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone]—and not in any other person, ecclesiastical institution, theological system, moral prescription or master recipe for human loveliness—they will be of very little use in the pulpit.”
In the quotation of Capon at the beginning of this letter, he insists that after stealing the religious pills the congregation relies on, the preacher should preach “the word of the cross” so that the congregation can go “cold turkey” and embrace the grace of our Lord.
The central message of the cross of Christ is that God does for us what we can never do for ourselves.
The central message of the cross of Christ is the once and for all forgiveness of all sin, past and future, by the love of God poured out on the cross.
The central message of the cross of Christ is that God, in Christ, accepted all human hatred and all human attempts to be good enough for God to love them. All human rejection of God, all human hatred of God, all human sin (whether immoral behavior or religious pride) burned itself out on the cross of Christ.
All that remains after the cross is an invitation, an offer, the outstretched arms of Jesus…
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.—Matthew 11:28-30
- Jesus is not interested in controlling you. He doesn’t enslave you in a spiritual prison and throw away the key.
- Jesus does not prescribe and dispense religious sedatives and narcotics to keep you and me in a continual state of delusional addiction.
- Jesus is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6)—rather than rituals, performances and ceremonies.
- Jesus doesn’t dispense religious pills, he offers to detox us so that we will be free from religious slavery and bondage.
- Jesus invites us to accept him and leaves the decision with us.
- Jesus will not force us to follow him. Jesus does not intimidate or threaten us. Jesus’ relationship with you and me is about love, mercy and grace—not fear, shame and guilt.
It is difficult to see, with any Christ-centered clarity, the fog that shrouds a life when a person is imprisoned by Christ-less religion. When someone is spiritually medicated or drugged, their spiritual vision is impaired. Spiritual toxins overload the souls of those in religious bondage, somewhat like intoxication or even hypnotism or perhaps, in the worst case, brainwashing.
This horrific predicament can only be seen from the outside, looking in. The New Testament speaks of spiritual blindness and healing and of the miraculous impartation of spiritual vision, the very mind and eyes of Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God for imparting spiritual vision that we may see Jesus, and follow him! Thanks be to God for his mercies, grace and love whereby we are delivered from the control of religion and its taskmasters, that we may rest in Christ and follow him…and him alone!
Your brother in Christ,