Religion is a powerful insulator against the Holy Spirit.
I’ve said this more than once and I stand by it. The typical way I mean the word “religion” is the outward, religious show we put on for others. This type of religion calls us to perform certain actions because it benefits us.
We do things to be seen and congratulated.
We perform religious acts so we feel spiritual.
We look a certain way because our religion demands we do.
But that religion will cause us to miss Heaven by a mile because that religion insulates us from the real thing.
True discipleship in Jesus calls us to transformation from the inside-out. It’s a total reorientation of our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs—all those things people can’t see.
Our fake religion will have us running away when we are criticized for our faith. The real thing we can’t run away from because it consumes us, defines us, and calls us to surrender.
The Apostle Paul knew a lot about both of these expressions of religion. In our ongoing study of 2 Timothy he writes in 2 Timothy 2:8-9:
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.2 Timothy 2:8-9
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The Apostle Paul had been drawing analogies to inspire and clarify the mission Timothy was called to. Now, he changes to history.
The resurrection of Jesus was recent memory for the Christians as we’re only a few decades from it at this point in history. Yet, there were plenty of Christians who’d not seen it with their own eyes—Timothy among them.
The powerful memory of the long-awaited prophesied son of David who was the Messiah would have stirred powerful emotions in Timothy’s mind. Jesus was the fulfillment of thousands of years of promise and hope. The Gospel the Apostle Paul proclaimed to all was one based on the evidence of history: Jesus rose from the dead.
It’s been said the early church did not believe because they had an empty tomb, but a risen Savior. True words. The body of Jesus could have been stolen to produce an empty tomb, but the early followers of Jesus saw Him. It was a historical reality for them.
Also very vivid in Timothy’s mind is Paul’s history. He’d endured arrests, beatings, and persecution for the Gospel of Jesus. Even as Timothy reads these words, his beloved father in the faith is in prison because of the persecution he’s faced.
The Gospel wasn’t Paul’s in the sense that he made it up and owned some kind of intellectual property rights over it. It was his Gospel because it had gripped him, changed him, and drove him.
Why is it worth it?
Expressly because it wasn’t something Paul made up. Because the Good News of Jesus “is not chained”. The power of God is not limited by our efforts, creativity, ingenuity, systems, processes, strengths, or weaknesses.
The Apostle Paul’s movement was limited by the chains he was in. The Word of God, however, isn’t bound—it can’t be bound! Instead, the Word of God goes where the Lord desires it to go. It changes people when we’re not around. It changes people when we least expect it. It changes people because God has willed it to be so.
Therefore, suffering is worth it. We might get chained in many different ways. Not at all chains are iron and shackle. But while our “chains” will limit our effectiveness for the Gospel, it doesn’t slow God down one little bit.
When the Gospel become my Gospel, we don’t get out of the kitchen when it gets hot, we adjust to the heat.
When the Gospel become my Gospel, we don’t run; we stand.
When the Gospel becomes my Gospel, our world is changed because we are changed.
When the Gospel becomes my Gospel, the Apostles, early church, and martyrs of then and today don’t seem crazy…they seem normal.