Click on the image to enlarge it.
SOLD, Acrylic, 30cm x 41.5cm (12″ x 16.5″), Prints and Cards Available
“…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)
“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)
True Christianity is having a loving, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. (See “Message“). It is a living faith that expresses itself through love for God and for others (Galatians 5:6). Counterfeit christianity is based on dead orthodoxy that emphasizes religion and an outward adherence to rules and human traditions rather than a genuine personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning blood (Galatians 4:9). Furthermore, the true kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power (1 Corinthians 2:20) whereas the counterfeit kingdom of “god” is a form of godliness that denies that power (2 Timothy 3:5).
For believers, God is our life and our heart’s desire (John 14:6, John 15:5). When we assemble together for fellowship, our primary purpose is to commune with God–a Living Person, to worship him and to be strengthened and encouraged by him as he operates through each believer’s giftings (2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Corinthians 14:26). Whenever our assemblies drift away from this Biblical model for fellowship, they become empty, dead religiousity, which imparts no life to those who practice it.
In contrast, Jesus said, “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Elsewhere the Bible says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking [ceremonial observances], but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). As we tangibly encounter the Living God in our assemblies he strengthens and revitalises us with his spiritual life.
Sadly, however, for various reasons, many churches and even entire denominations have introduced extraneous things into their fellowship meetings (their own man-made structures, schedules, ecclesiastical hierarchies, rules, traditions, rituals, etc.). While some human traditions are not inherently evil in and of themselves, when they begin to prevent and cage believers from communing with God to the fullness that he wants to commune with them, they have become evil. When traditions and church “culture” begin to usurp or replace an assembly’s pursuit of intimacy with God, it is evil. The Lord is jealous for our love and our exclusive devotion (Exodus 34:14); he doesn’t want anything to come in between us or to hinder our beautiful communion with him. May we never be found perpetuating or tolerating these hindrances to intimacy with God within our assemblies.
Are we as jealous for God as he is for us (Numbers 25)? “Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:6)
Jesus himself spoke against religious practices that get in the way of true relationship:
“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were ‘unclean,’ that is, unwashed. “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?’
He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’
‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’
And he said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.'” (Mark 7:1-13)
Manmade rules and control can grieve and quench the Spirit of God right out of our fellowship meetings (Ephesians 4:30, 1 Thessalonians 5:19). And if the Spirit of God is not present within our assemblies, what is the point of what we’re doing? When God threatened to revoke his Presence from the Israelites after the idolatry of the golden calf (Exodus 32-33) Moses pleaded with God and said, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16).
Jesus has set us free as birds to soar up into his presence and enjoy intimate fellowship with him (John 8:32, 36). (See “It’s Time To Fly, Church” (John the Baptist Artworks Series)). However, when these extraneous man-made hindrances are imposed upon Christians in fellowship assemblies (and sometimes even beyond these assemblies into our personal lives), they are like a cage around us free birds. We can only fly around as far as the structures, hierarchies, schedules, traditions, etc. allow us.
However, Jesus puts no cage over us!
“…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
He beckons us to fly as high as we want with him without any hindrances! He came to give us abundant life (John 10:10)! (See “Just Fly” (John the Baptist Artworks Series).)
WE are the ones who CHOOSE to live under the constraints of these man-made cages, for God places NO constraints on the fullness of life he gives to us in Jesus.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Ironically, many Christians today are tricked into thinking submission to these cages is actually a form of submission to God. The apostles, however, knew the difference between true submission to God and submission to the ungodly control of men.
In Acts 3, the “authorities” came to bring the apostles into line with their man-made “authority” (Acts 3-5):
“Then they [the religious authorities] called them [the apostles Peter and John] in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. After further threats they let them go.” (Acts 4:18-21)
Of course, Peter and John obeyed God instead of submitting to the earthly religious authorities who were trying to put a cage over them. They ignored man and continued to soar with God. The Lord Jesus worked through them in mighty miraculous power and many were saved. Unsurprisingly, this got them back into trouble with the religious authorities, who arrested them and threw them into jail:
“But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. ‘Go, stand in the temple courts,’ he said, ‘and tell the people the full message of this new life.’
At daybreak, they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.” (Acts 5:19-21)
God himself was on the side of freedom, fighting against and thwarting all of those who were trying to put a religious cage over his people (Acts 5:33-39)!
The apostles were again apprehended by the religious “authorities”, but notice what they continued to say and do. They would not submit themselves to being taken captive by a religious spirit:
“Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,’ he said. ‘Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’
“Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.'” (Acts 5:27-32)
We Christians were created to soar with God (Isaiah 40:31). (See “On Eagles’ Wings” (Believer’s Road Series)). Whenever we submit ourselves to ungodly, religious cages, we become weak, depressed, discontent and full of compromise, sin and hypocrisy. We cease to soar and only flutter around every now and again, getting ever weaker and ever deeper into compromise and spiritual depression with every passing day.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is not how we’re meant to live. Jesus suffered intensely in order to give us abundant life–a much fuller, freer life than what many of us often settle for. We must ask God to give us the grace to fear him more than man and to break us free from the religious spirits we submit ourselves to. Above all we must guard our intimacy with God and live in the fullness of life that Christ purchased for us. (See “Return To The Good Shepherd” (John the Baptist Artworks Series 2).)
Free birds cannot stand to be in cages; they love their freedom with God too much. Wherever religious cages have been erected, the Spirit of God flies away for, “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17). The Holy Spirit, who indwells believers, causes them to fly out of such cages too.
“You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:23)
The religious church cage in this painting presents no barrier to the birds. They realize they are only caged when they choose to submit to being caged. There is no cage that can ever hold a free bird away from their freedom for, “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). They freely fly away out of the cage, for it has no inherent power to constrain them. These free birds soar up to God, for this is what God created them to do.
It is a blessed thing to be completely free from a religious spirit and soar in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. The church building in this painting is a conventional way I have chosen to portray religiousity. I am NOT saying that every assembly that meets in a church building is bound by a religious spirit. Whether it’s a cathedral or a house, the place where we meet for fellowship is irrelevant for, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). What God cares about is the spirit in which we meet, not the place where we meet.
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Let us fully value the costly sacrifice of Christ on the cross. May we never allow anything to hinder us from living in the fullness of the abundant life he purchased for us. Let us soar in his Presence in the fullness of our freedom.
Listen to “Fly” By Jason Upton, a beautiful prophetic song about soaring free with God.