Religion’s Empty Promise

“These have indeed the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”– Colossians 2:23 (ESV)

I bought a box of Band-Aids over the weekend. I’ll likely have to buy another box by next weekend, because I can all but assure you that these won’t last that long.

Why not?” you may ask. To which I would reply, “Because my children are absolutely obsessed with them.” I mean, the vigor and persistence with which they use these things is nothing short of amazing.

You see, in my kids’ five-, three-, and two-year-old minds, Band-Aids are the answer to everything that could ever be wrong with them. And I do mean everything.

Stubbed your toe? Put a Band-Aid on it.
Got a headache? Put a Band-Aid on it.
Feeling a little nauseous? There’s a Band-Aid for that, too.
Got your feelings hurt? Band-Aid, baby!

Needless to say, when you add up all these ailments and more between the five of us, the Band-Aids fly pretty fast. And while this innocent misunderstanding about a Band-Aid’s purpose and usefulness is pretty funny, I’m afraid many of us have bought into a similar- and much more damaging- misconception.

What am I talking about? The idea that what Paul terms “self-made religion” (see above, Colossians 2:23) is capable of healing what’s broken in the human heart, of making us right with God once again.

Consider the numerous ways in which we do this. At some point, we all come face to face with our own brokenness, our own utter sinfulness before God. Live long enough, and if you’re even a little bit honest with yourself, this will become self-evident. If it hasn’t yet, you’re either a) God (not likely!) or b) wildly out of touch with reality.

At this point of humbling recognition, we have a choice to make. How can we make whole what’s been broken? How can we healing in the wounds that our sin has caused, in us and in others? Most significantly, how can we be in a right and secure relationship with God?

Far too often, at times even knowing better than to do so, we choose the “Band-Aid approach” of “self-made religion.” We renew our commitment to attend church. We double down on Bible reading and prayer. Perhaps we even push beyond our comfort zone to give, serve, or sacrifice in some way that would seem to “pay God back” for what we did wrong. The promise of religion is that if we could just do enough, we’ll be able to rebalance the scales and move forward in peace.

The problem is, this is an utterly empty promise, the equivalent of slapping a Band-Aid on a broken leg (or even more accurately, on a broken heart). Sure, it’s something to look at (having “the appearance of wisdom”), and perhaps it makes us feel a little better for a moment. But in the end, it has left the root cause of our problem wholly unaddressed. It is, to pick up Paul’s phrasing, “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

Hear me well- Your sin is not first and foremost a behavior issue, but a heart issue, and the longer you seek to apply behavioral solutions to a heart problem, the more frustrated and defeated you’ll become. Jesus is wholly disinterested in putting a religious Band-Aid on your sin problem. Instead, He desires to perform what one of my favorite artists calls “His sanctifying surgery,” transplanting our old, sinful heart with a brand new one characterized by His righteousness. He loves you far, far too much to allow you to settle for less than that level of radical transformation- and He knows that for all its external impressiveness, “self-made religion” can never offer that to you.

Now, consider yourself- Where and how have you been attempting to put a Band-Aid on your sin, instead of submitting your heart to Jesus? Make no mistake- When you do that, behavioral changes will result, but they will be far more firmly rooted, and thus lasting, than anything you can chase down for yourself. I implore you this week, as Paul does time and again in His letter to the Colossians, to “hold fast to the Head,” who is Jesus Christ, and none other. It is in Him alone that we find hope for healing, wholeness in the face of our brokenness.

This week, don’t settle for a Band-Aid. Give Jesus free reign to “rip your heart out” and replace it with His own.

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